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Scott King
Dr. Dyck
Native American Literature
24 September 2015
Yellow Kidney’s Parallel
In the novel Fool’s Crow by James Welch, a particular character plays a very significant
role in the foreshadowing of the Pikuni, and specifically the Blackfeet tribe’s demise. Yellow
Kidney, the fierce warrior and admired Blackfeet leader, undergoes a series of trials and
difficulties that leads to his untimely death. There is a wealth of numerous emotions that Yellow
Kidney has to deal with due to the nature of events by which he becomes influenced. His
strengths and the physical aspects that establish and define his role in the Blackfeet culture
become challenged once he is handicapped after a raid. His injuries and story provides a unique
perspective on what defines a man in Native American and Blackfeet culture. I believe that how
he responds to his disability and challenges he faces portrays an interesting insight into what it
means to overcome adversity. Particularly due to his realizations at the end of his life and how he
had grown through facing his challenges is an important reflection of the growth and change the
Blackfeet people must embrace. Yellow Kidney is an important minor character because his role
parallels, and in a sense, foreshadows the challenges that come with impending arrival of
American settlers and demise of the Blackfeet lifestyle.
To begin with, it is important to establish Yellow Kidney’s role in Blackfeet society. As a
warrior of 38 summers, he has the war experience that establishes his authority in the camp. Due
to his high stature, Yellow Kidney was present at the signing of the first treaty with the
Napikwans (American settlers). This brings me to my first important point in the parallel
between Yellow Kidney’s life and the Blackfeet. The Blackfeet people, upon the signing of the
treaty, were confident with the treaty and the nature of their relationship with the Napikwans.

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Yellow Kidney, with the rest of the Blackfeet was satisfied, “[T]he Napikwans promised them
many goods in exchange for their land…But their agreement had made the white chiefs happy,
for now the Napikwans could move onto the Pikuni lands. Everyone was happy” (Welch. Page
16). The universal confidence felt around the deal set the table for the unforeseen ruin of
Blackfeet culture at the hands of the Napikwans. The treaty gave the Blackfeet a false sense of
confidence that left them vulnerable to the betrayal. In much of the same way, Yellow Kidney
had a false sense of confidence when it came to his approach to the raid on the Crows. Yellow
Kidney was designated, because of his experience, the leader of the raid with an inexperienced
group of young soldiers. Despite his doubts in one or two individuals, he was steadfast that the
group would achieve their objective and steal the Crow horses, “He had always been confident in
his own medicine, and he was confident in his ability to lead these youths” (14). This is
important because just as Yellow Kidney had some reservations regarding his fellow Blackfeet
on the raid, he still was confident they would succeed. This parallel the Blackfeet, some of whom
had reservations about the treaty with the Napikwans, were still happy with the treaty and
confident their lifestyle would endure. Yellow Kidney believed in his strength and ability to
survive, and so he continued with the raid. The Blackfeet believed that their strength in numbers
and fighting abilities would enable them to survive, despite the treaties. Unfortunately in both
scenarios, the sense of confidence held no weight, as the Blackfeet would be overcome by the
Napikwans and Yellow Kidney was maimed and nearly killed in the raid.
Additionally, I must draw on a parallel between what ultimately happened to Yellow
Kidney and the Blackfeet despite their confidence. Yellow Kidney, who did not return to the
Blackfeet camp until sometime after the raid, revealed to his tribesman what had happened. One
of the individuals Yellow Kidney had concerns for was Fast Horse and it was Fast Horse’s
mistake that left Yellow Kidney maimed. During the raid, Fast Horse taunted and scolded the

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Crows, revealing the raid party’s presence and endangering Yellow Kidney. Due to this, Yellow
Kidney was captured by the Crows, who then cut off each of the Yellow Kidney’s fingers as a
humiliating and painful punishment (76-77). Yellow Kidney’s confidence in his ability to run the
raid consequently led to his humiliation and loss of his fingers. This punishment was the first of a
series of events that ultimately led to Yellow Kidney’s death. In a similar fashion, the Blackfeet
were fooled by their sense of confidence and security in their relationship with the Napikwans.
This comes to light when a meeting is arranged between the Pikuni chiefs and the Napikwan
leaders. The Pikunis, who had yet to receive goods promised by the Napikwans in the treaties,
were presented an ultimatum to be met, or face war. The three conditions of the ultimatum
entailed the death or capture of outcast Owl Child, the return of all horses stolen from the
Napikwans, and the termination of all hostilities and attacks against the Napikwans (282-283).
Most of these offenses were committed by Owl Child, whom the Pikunis had no control over as
he was an outcast of their tribe. Since there was no possible way the Pikunis could meet these
conditions, they knew that war with the Napikwans was imminent. Due to the Napikwans’
increasing numbers, immunity to disease, and advanced weaponry, the Pikuni people would not
stand much of a chance in a war with them. Therefore, the false sense of confidence and security
that the Blackfeet had in regards to the treaty ultimately led to their imminent demise.
A final parallel to be addressed is the unwarranted hope found at the end of both Yellow
Kidney’s life, and the Blackfeet people. Yellow Kidney due to his deemed worthlessness without
his fingers, left Blackfeet camp to die alone. However, while away he found a new purpose to
keep living and decided there was hope for him and his family.
“He wanted to watch his sons grow up, to help them become men. He knew that things
would never be as good as they once were, but he did like to share the lodge with Heavy

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Shield Woman. They could live together, grow old together. And he wanted to live to see
his grandson (244).
This is an instrumental aspect of the story, that despite the grim situation Yellow Kidney
was in, he still found a hope and a purpose to live. This hope is grounded in the concept of
family. His family was all he needed to push forward despite his circumstances. This parallels the
hope the Blackfeet have at the end of the novel after an epidemic of smallpox wiped out much of
the tribe. This sense of hope engulfs the camp once the winter weather breaks, “That night there
was much feasting in all the Pikuni camps. Winter was over and the men talked of hunting, of
moving the camps out of the valleys, of moving on…The blackhorns had returned and, all
around, it was as it should be” (390-391). This hope says a lot about the Blackfeet people.
Despite the epidemic of smallpox that wiped out many of their own, they still will try to maintain
their lifestyle in the face of war with the Napikwans. The basis of their hope also falls in family,
that as long as they have each other they can endure through any difficulty. The purpose to live is
one that was foreshadowed by Yellow Kidney’s positivity at the end of his life. This parallel is
particularly important as it brings the book to a proper conclusion.
The role of Yellow Kidney in the novel is particularly important in the parallels with the
Blackfeet people. Without these parallels throughout the novel, the story would lack much of the
substance that makes this book so great and well-written. Welch expertly crafted Yellow Kidney
to play this role in relation to the Blackfeet people. It is an important role and the parallels are the
exact aspect of the novel that makes it a must-read in Native American literature.
Works Cited
Welch, James. Fools Crow. New York: Penguin, 1986. Print.