James Welch, a poet and author who wrote about Native American culture, died on Aug. 4 of a heart attack. He was 62.
Welch was raised on the Blackfeet and Fort Belknap Indian reservations. The son of a Blackfeet father and a Gros Ventre mother, Welch referred to himself as an Indian — not a Native American or an American Indian.
“Indian writers might come from different eras, from different geographies, from different tribes, but we all have one thing in common: We are storytellers from a long way back. And we will be heard for generations to come,” Welch once wrote.
After two years at Northern Montana College, Welch transferred to the University of Montana and took a poetry workshop with Richard Hugo. Hugo became Welch’s friend and mentor, and the two made a wager with writer J.D. Reed to each write a poem about a bar and get it published. All three succeeded when their barroom writings appeared in The New Yorker.
Welch published his first collection, “Riding the Earthboy 40,” in 1971. Eight books followed, including “Winter in the Blood,” “Fools Crow” and “The Indian Lawyer.” He was best known for his retelling of the Battle of Little Bighorn in “Killing Custer,” which served as a companion book to the PBS documentary “Last Stand at Little Bighorn.” Welch received the American Book Award in 1986.