Skip to Main Content

Crow Mary

A Novel

LIST PRICE $28.99

PRICE MAY VARY BY RETAILER

Free shipping when you spend $40. Terms apply.

Buy from Other Retailers

About The Book

The New York Times bestselling author of the book club classics The Kitchen House and Glory Over Everything returns with a sweeping and “richly detailed story of a woman caught between two cultures” (Sandra Dallas, New York Times bestselling author) inspired by the real life of Crow Mary—an Indigenous woman in 19th-century North America.

In 1872, sixteen-year-old Goes First, a Crow Native woman, marries Abe Farwell, a white fur trader. He gives her the name Mary, and they set off on the long trip to his trading post in Saskatchewan, Canada. Along the way, she finds a fast friend in a Métis named Jeannie; makes a lifelong enemy in a wolfer named Stiller; and despite learning a dark secret of Farwell’s past, falls in love with her husband.

The winter trading season passes peacefully. Then, on the eve of their return to Montana, a group of drunken whiskey traders slaughters forty Nakota—despite Farwell’s efforts to stop them. Mary, hiding from the hail of bullets, sees the murderers, including Stiller, take five Nakota women back to their fort. She begs Farwell to save them, and when he refuses, Mary takes two guns, creeps into the fort, and saves the women from certain death. Thus, she sets off a whirlwind of colliding cultures that brings out the worst and best in the cast of unforgettable characters and pushes the love between Farwell and Crow Mary to the breaking point.

From “a tremendously gifted storyteller” (Jim Fergus, author of The Vengeance of Mothers), Crow Mary is a “tender, compelling, and profoundly educational and satisfying read” (Sadeqa Johnson, author of The Yellow Wife) that sweeps across decades, showcasing the beauty of the natural world, while at the same time probing the intimacies of a marriage and one woman’s heart.

Excerpt

Prologue PROLOGUE 1891
IT WAS DARK and hot at the back of the big barn as I rolled aside a heavy wagon wheel that leaned against the entry to the storage room. A slam behind me made me jump, heart hammering even more, but it was only a stall door caught by the wind.

Careful of the bottle of whiskey that sat at my feet, I worked a key in the rusty lock. Finally, it clicked and the log door moaned open. This room had been built with one high, small window so none of the ranch hands, drunk or daring, would be tempted to break in, and I squinted into the dim light.

A fine dust covered everything, though the air smelled clean enough. A wood floor had been put in to keep the pelts dry, and the chinking along the logs had kept out the wet ice of our brutal Montana winters and the worst of our hot sun. Leftover goods from our fur-trading post were scattered on the pine shelves. A comb, a few bars of soap, and even an old can of sardines lay next to a mouse-nibbled red blanket and the remainder of one last buffalo hide. But there—there in the corner on the second-highest shelf, two tiny blue bottles shone in the pale yellow light.

Mice scurried when I pushed aside empty liquor barrels to get to the shelf, and as I reached up, my hand trembled. The tiny bottle was no heavier than a pinecone, but the enormity of what it held almost put me on the floor. With great care, I set it next to the liquor, unplugging first the whiskey bottle; then, before I could hesitate, I picked up the strychnine and held it to the light. How much did I need to kill a man? Just a small amount of this would take down any number of animals.

I shrugged and tipped the entire contents of the blue bottle into the whiskey. “Dead is dead,” I told myself. “You can’t overkill him.”

As I was locking up again, I heard the horses circling the corral, answering a whinny that had come up from the direction of my tipi. Was he early? Was he already waiting? My legs went weak, and I leaned against the wall. I was no match for him. I was as good as dead. But then I remembered what he had done to Song Woman, and what would happen to Ella, and rage straightened me.

I gave the whiskey bottle a last shake. “Awe alaxáashih! Hold firm,” I said to myself, and then I went out to greet him.

Reading Group Guide

This reading group guide for Crow Mary includes an introduction, discussion questions, ideas for enhancing your book club, and a Q&A. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.

Introduction

In 1872, sixteen-year-old Goes First, a Crow Native woman, marries Abe Farwell, a white fur trader. He gives her the name Mary, and they set off on the long trip to his trading post in the Cypress Hills of Saskatchewan, Canada. Along the way, she finds a fast friend in a Métis named Jeannie; makes a lifelong enemy in a wolfer named Stiller; and despite learning a dark secret of Farwell’s past, falls in love with her husband.

The winter trading season passes peacefully. Then, on the eve of their return to Montana, a group of drunken whiskey traders slaughters forty Nakota—despite Farwell’s efforts to stop them. Mary, hiding from the hail of bullets, sees the murderers, including Stiller, take five Nakota women back to their fort. She begs Farwell to save them, and when he refuses, Mary takes two guns, creeps into the fort, and saves the women from certain death. Thus, she sets off a whirlwind of colliding cultures that brings out the worst and best in the cast of unforgettable characters and pushes the love between Farwell and Crow Mary to the breaking point.

Topics & Questions for Discussion

1. “What were our young warriors to do but to take a stand and fight for the right to live as their fathers and grandfathers had always done?” Crow Mary is about colliding cultures and a woman caught between the two. Farwell insists throughout the novel that the only way for the Crow people to survive is to adapt to the White laws and customs. Was there ever a way for the Crow people to retain their culture while adapting to the new laws and customs? Even if they adapted, could they survive? How is Crow Mary able to reconcile her Crow past with her husband and their way of life?

2. The Crow people honor and celebrate nature throughout the novel. Discuss the role of nature in Crow Mary. Does Goes First’s connection to the natural world change over the course of the narrative as she evolved into Crow Mary? How do these changes impact her well-being and identity?

3. “We Crow used every part of the buffalo . . . everything we needed came from the buffalo.” The buffalo is essential to the Crow way of life. Both the Crow people and the White people hunt for sustenance, but in distinct ways. Discuss these differences.

4. The Crow people are interdependent. They rely on each other for support, possessions, medicine, and more. How does this compare with the expectations of the White culture? Are the differences reconcilable?

5. “You don’t have to be a warrior to be brave. Women are as brave as any warriors.” The Crow women are raised to be independent, courageous, and strong. They can leave their husbands, they possess their own belongings, and they care for their own horses. Discuss how women are perceived in the novel by the different communities and characters. Does this create a conflict for Crow Mary?

6. Crow Mary’s marriage to Farwell was seen as a great honor when it was first proposed. How does Crow Mary’s decision to marry Farwell impact the rest of her life? How does their relationship evolve throughout the novel? Did they ever understand each other or were they making concessions until they finally couldn’t anymore?

7. Although Jeannie is one of the characters not based on a historical figure, Crow Mary’s friendship with Jeannie brings levity and warmth to the novel. What is the role of their friendship? Why did the two women connect so strongly? What does the friendship represent to Crow Mary?

8. “Another thing I like about you is how confident you are. And there is that—that determination of yours. Some might call it stubborn, but I call it having a mind of your own.” Crow Mary is known for being headstrong and stubborn. Do these attributes aid her throughout the novel or cause her more strife? Discuss times when she is praised for her strength and determination and times when she is rebuked for them.

9. “My mother was gone. Everything had changed. Where did I belong?” Crow Mary is about one woman’s epic journey to determine her own life. Crow Mary’s identity changes throughout the novel, from her name, to the way she dresses, to where she sleeps. Was she able to stay true to herself, even as she adapted? Discuss what parts of her identity she was able to retain and what she sacrificed as her life evolved.

10. Alcohol is the cause of much of the conflict in the novel. Discuss its impact on the people in the novel. How do you feel toward the characters who sold and drank whiskey? Was there another way? To what extent did they have the power to choose?

11. “It seems once I get started, I just can’t stop.” Abe Farwell is a complex character with a dark past always threatening to catch up to him. Discuss your perception of Farwell. Is he a good man who loses his way under the influence of alcohol, or was he never able to be the husband that Crow Mary needed? Does he deserve his fate in the novel?

12. “So this is the ‘justice’ you talked about?” Crow Mary and Farwell disagree on how to get justice for the crimes against the Nakoda people. Discuss how justice looks to the different cultures in the novel. Was justice ever possible?

13. Janet Skeslien Charles, New York Times bestselling author of The Paris Library, said that while reading Crow Mary, she couldn’t help thinking of “the debt we owe to the women who came before us.” Discuss this debt with your group. What can we as readers do today to repay this debt?

14. Martha Conway, author of The Physician’s Daughter, said that Crow Mary is “a superbly spun tale about a life that deserves to be told.” Do you know of any other people in history whose stories have not been told? Discuss these with your group.

15. Kathleen Grissom wrote “my hope in sharing Crow Mary’s life is that others are given insight into this courageous woman’s life, and that it inspires them as it did me.” How has Crow Mary’s story inspired you?

Enhance Your Book Club

1. Ask members of your club about their experiences with the Indigenous population in your area. Ask them to describe what they knew before reading the book. Did their understanding change after reading Crow Mary?

2. Crow Mary confronts many serious questions about race, culture, and territory. Compare the experiences of the characters in the book with what you have learned about the Indigenous populations today. How have the events shown in the book continued to have an impact today? Have there been improvements?

3. Kathleen Grissom first learned of Crow Mary after visiting Fort Walsh in Cypress Hills. There are many local Indigenous cultural centers, reservations, and Indigenous community organizations across the United States and Canada. Visit the historical site or learning center closest to your area with your group.

A Conversation with Kathleen Grissom

Q: You have shared before that your subjects speak to you so that you can bring their untold stories to life. Crow Mary has been speaking to you for over twenty years. What was the message you wanted to make sure came across in your writing, on behalf of Crow Mary?

A: From the beginning I did not know what her message might be. I only knew that I was meant to tell her story. My main concern was that I understand her culture well enough for her voice to come through. In the end, I think Mary’s story speaks for itself and will have specific meaning to each reader.

Q: What surprised you the most as you did research for this novel?

A: Throughout my twenty years of research, I was continually struck by the intricacies of the Crow culture. As a people, the Crow are highly spiritual, and so much of their lifestyle involves their spiritual practices. We see some of this in Mary’s story, but she does not go into detail as their practices are sacred to the Crow.

Q: Some characters were inspired by people in Crow Mary’s life, while others, like Jeannie, were not. Which characters were the easiest and the hardest to write?

A: Jeannie’s voice came through loud and clear, and I loved the deep bond that the two women shared.

Stiller, too, strutted into the story, big and bold. Vile as he was, everything about him was easy to see.

It was more difficult to write Abe’s story. He was a complicated man, and Mary cared deeply for him. Watching him succumb to alcoholism through her eyes was difficult. I cried when I first found his documented obituary.

Q: What is your writing process? Do you outline and plan or do you let the characters guide you in telling their story?

A: For me, the characters always take over. This book was different from my first two in that, with documentation of Crow Mary’s life, I had to work with something of an outline. My challenge was to comprehend her culture well enough so that when Crow Mary acted or spoke, I understood her.

Q: You include Crow dialogue throughout the novel. How did you go about translating and capturing the essence of the language on the page?

A: The Crow words came spontaneously when Crow Mary spoke. However, I relied heavily on Janice Wilson, Bird of Excellence, a Crow elder and teacher of the Crow language, to guide and educate me along the way.

Q: This is your first novel outside of the world of The Kitchen House and Glory Over Everything. How was the writing experience different?

A: Initially, Crow Mary’s culture was completely foreign to me. The structure of the family, the rules of etiquette, their approach to the spiritual world—each had many nuances, and all had great importance. At times, learning the intricacies seemed an overwhelming task, but I was gifted with the experience and patience of many Crow elders.

Q: Writing a novel after your first can often be a very different experience to writing your debut. What advice do you have for writers working on their second or third novels?

A: Actually, I found little difference. My advice is as simple as this. Just do the work. Writing a novel is hard work. Each story requires dedication, research, drafts, edits, and more drafts, until the writer and editor agree that the story is ready to be published.

Kathleen’s Crow Mary Recipes

Creamy Rice and Raisin Pudding

My daughter, Erin, and I worked to get a creamy rich texture to this pudding. We think we’ve accomplished that.

Makes about 6 servings

Ingredients

2/3 cup rice (we used jasmine long grain white rice)

4 cups milk (we used 2% but you can use skim or whole)

1/4 cup granulated sugar

2 tablespoons unsalted or salted butter

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2/3 cup raisins

Directions

Put the rice, milk, sugar, butter, and vanilla in a medium saucepan over medium heat, stirring often, until it comes to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer, stirring frequently, for about 30 minutes. Stir in the raisins and remove from the heat. Let sit for 15 minutes to allow the rice to continue to absorb the liquid.

Serve hot or cold, with or without whipped cream.

We hope you enjoy it as much as Jeannie and Crow Mary did.

Easy Blueberry Syrup

Saskatoon berries, also known as serviceberries and juneberries, are similar to blueberries, though they are usually smaller and have more of a crunch. Serviceberries were highly prized by the Indigenous people for making pemmican, a food staple. Here we’ve made an easy syrup using blueberries. This easy-to-make syrup can be used over pancakes, French toast, or as a base for any number of drinks.

Makes about 1 cup

Ingredients

2 cups blueberries

2 cups water

3/4 cup honey

2 teaspoons fresh squeezed lemon juice

Directions

Combine the blueberries, water, and honey in a medium saucepan over medium heat, stirring until the mixture comes to a low boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for about 15 minutes, stirring often.

Add the lemon juice, whisk, and then strain out the berry pulp.

Serve warm or cold.

Delicious Blueberry Vodka Cocktail

One way to incorporate blueberry syrup is in your favorite cocktails. The sparkling water makes this vodka cocktail light and refreshing.

Makes one serving

Ingredients

1 cup ice

2 ounces vodka (plain, lemon, or vanilla)

3 tablespoons Easy Blueberry Syrup (see previous recipe)

4 ounces sparkling water or soda water

A squeeze of fresh lime or lemon

Fresh blueberries for garnish

Directions

Combine the ice, vodka, blueberry syrup, sparkling water, and lime juice in a cocktail shaker and shake to your heart’s content.

Strain into your glass of choice and garnish with the blueberries. We used a martini glass, but you can use anything you’d like.

For extra credit, spear the blueberries onto a decorative toothpick, mint sprig, or rosemary sprig as a garnish.

Refreshing Blueberry Mocktail

For those who don’t drink alcohol, we thought we deserved a fun drink too! If you don’t have all of the ingredients below, don’t worry—it will taste yummy no matter what you use.

Makes one serving

Ingredients

2 ounces Easy Blueberry Syrup (see recipe above)

Ice

Blueberries, mint leaves, and lime or lemon slices for garnish

6 to 8 ounces limeade (lemonade or sparkling water can be substituted)

Directions

Spoon the blueberry syrup into the bottom of a tall glass.

Then add alternating layers of ice, blueberries, mint leaves, and slices of lime or lemon.

Pour the limeade, lemonade, sparkling water or a combination over the top for a delicious refreshing drink.

Further Reading:

For those who might want to learn more about the Crow Tribe:

GRANDMOTHER’S GRANDCHILD by Alma Hogan Snell

A TASTE OF HERITAGE by Alma Hogan Snell

THEY CALL ME AGNES by Fred W. Voget

THE WOMAN WHO LOVED MANKIND by Lillian Bullshows Hogan

FROM THE HEART OF CROW COUNTRY by Joseph Medicine Crow

COUNTING COUP by Joseph Medicine Crow

THE WAY OF THE WARRIOR edited by Phenocia Bauerle

THE STARS WE KNOW by Timothy P. McCleary

PLENTY COUPS by Frank Linderman

PRETTY- SHIELD by Frank Linderman​

Moe about the Nakoda Tribe:

RECOLLECTIONS OF AN ASSINIBOINE CHIEF BY Dan Kennedy

LAND OF NAKODA Federal Writers’ Project

About the Cypress Hills:

THE CYPRESS HILLS MASSACRE edited by Robert Clipperton

About The Author

Photograph by Erin Plewes

Born and raised in Saskatchewan, Kathleen Grissom is now happily rooted in south-side Virginia. She is the New York Times bestselling author of The Kitchen House, Glory Over Everything, and Crow Mary. Find out more at KathleenGrissom.com.

Product Details

  • Publisher: Atria Books (June 6, 2023)
  • Length: 368 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781476748474

Browse Related Books

Raves and Reviews

“Grissom offers an ambitious account of bravery and initiative inspired by the true story of a Crow woman who married a white man in late-19th-century Montana…With a flashback-heavy narrative, Grissom effectively conveys how Mary’s Crow childhood stays with her over the course of her new life. This moving story of one woman’s grit, survival, and resilience will keep readers turning the pages.”—Publishers Weekly

“Kathleen Grissom is a tremendously gifted storyteller. Here she combines intensive research and her own superb novelistic skills, to unveil one of our nation’s darkest eras. In the process she brings back to life her narrator, the real Crow Mary—a native American woman who with love, wit and pure strength of character, not only survives these seemingly impossible times, but prevails against all odds. A riveting tale, beautifully told.”

Jim Fergus, author of The Vengeance of Mothers

"My favorite novels shine a light on women that history books have forgotten. Over twenty years ago, Kathleen Grissom heard about an incredible woman named Goes First, and Crow Mary is worth the wait. While reading Crow Mary, I couldn’t help but think of My Antonia by Willa Cather, and the debt we owe to the women who came before us."

—Janet Skeslien Charles, New York Times bestselling author of The Paris Library

"Crow Mary left me breathless. Kathleen Grissom has the gift of waking up the past with fever, illuminating an aspect of American history that few know. Each page engulfed me in a world of conflict, love, and heartache. Tender, compelling, and a profoundly educational and satisfying read. The strength and sheer bravery of Crow Mary will stay with me for a long time."

—Sadeqa Johnson, international bestselling author of The Yellow Wife and The House of Eve

“Kudos to Grissom for weaving truth into masterful storytelling about Crow Mary’s epic journey. The result presents the fragile legacy of an emancipated woman determined to make her own destiny. Prepare to marvel at the strength and wisdom of Crow Mary. She is a heroine for all times.”

—Leah Weiss, bestselling author of If the Creek Don't Rise and All the Little Hopes

"I fell into the world of Crow Mary utterly and completely. It’s a superbly spun tale about a life that deserves to be told."
—Martha Conway, author of The Physician’s Daughter

"Crow Mary is a richly detailed story of a woman caught between two cultures. You’ll be captivated by Mary’s strength and determination as she struggles to save her family and her people from destruction. A compassionate and deeply satisfying novel."

—Sandra Dallas, New York Times best-selling author of Where Coyotes Howl

Resources and Downloads

High Resolution Images

More books from this author: Kathleen Grissom