The gripping true story of a murder on an Indian reservation, and the unforgettable Arikara woman who becomes obsessed with solving it—an urgent work of literary journalism. “I don’t know a more complicated, original protagonist in literature than Lissa Yellow Bird, or a more dogged reporter in American journalism than Sierra Crane Murdoch.”—William Finnegan, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of Barbarian Days
When Lissa Yellow Bird was released from prison in 2009, she found her home, the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation in North Dakota, transformed by the Bakken oil boom. In her absence, the landscape had been altered beyond recognition, her tribal government swayed by corporate interests, and her community burdened by a surge in violence and addiction. Three years later, when Lissa learned that a young white oil worker, Kristopher “KC” Clarke, had disappeared from his reservation worksite, she became particularly concerned. No one knew where Clarke had gone, and few people were actively looking for him.
Yellow Bird traces Lissa’s steps as she obsessively hunts for clues to Clarke’s disappearance. She navigates two worlds—that of her own tribe, changed by its newfound wealth, and that of the non-Native oilmen, down on their luck, who have come to find work on the heels of the economic recession. Her pursuit of Clarke is also a pursuit of redemption, as Lissa atones for her own crimes and reckons with generations of trauma. Yellow Bird is an exquisitely written, masterfully reported story about a search for justice and a remarkable portrait of a complex woman who is smart, funny, eloquent, compassionate, and—when it serves her cause—manipulative. Drawing on eight years of immersive investigation, Sierra Crane Murdoch has produced a profound examination of the legacy of systematic violence inflicted on a tribal nation and a tale of extraordinary healing.
About the Author
Sierra Crane Murdoch, a journalist based in the American West, has written for The Atlantic, The New Yorker online, Virginia Quarterly Review, Orion, and High Country News. She has held fellowships from Middlebury College and from the Investigative Reporting Program at the University of California, Berkeley. She is a MacDowell Fellow.
“Sierra Crane Murdoch has written a deft, compelling account of an oil field murder and the remarkable woman who made it her business to solve it. Like the best true crime books, Yellow Bird is about much more than an act of violence. Murdoch’s careful reporting delves into the long legacies of greed and exploitation on the reservation and the oil patch, and also the moments of connection and transcendence that chip away at those systems of power. I can’t stop thinking and talking about this book.”—Rachel Monroe, author of Savage Appetites
“This book is a detective story, and a good one, that tells what happens when rootless greed collides with rooted culture. But it’s also a classic slice of American history, and a tale of resilience in the face of remarkable trauma. Sierra Crane Murdoch is a patient, careful, and brilliant chronicler of this moment in time, a new voice who will add much to our literature in the years ahead.”—Bill McKibben, author of Falter: Has the Human Game Begun to Play Itself Out?
“In Yellow Bird, oilfield meets reservation, and readers meet a true-to-life Native sleuth unlike any in literature. Sierra Crane Murdoch takes a modest, ignored sort of American life and renders it large, with a murder mystery driving the action. It’s an empathetic, attentive account by a talented writer and listener.”—Ted Conover, author of Newjack: Guarding Sing Sing and Rolling Nowhere
“A powerful portrayal of an unusual sleuth whose dogged pursuit of a missing person inquiry led to justice . . . Murdoch deepens her narrative with a searinglook at the deficiencies of law and order on Native American land, corruption, and the abrogation of responsibility by the federal government. Admirers of David Grann’s Killers of the Flower Moon will be drawn to this complex crime story with similar themes and settings.”—Publishers Weekly (starred review) “[A] story that expertly blends true crime, environmental drama, and family saga. For a first nonfiction work, Murdoch has outdone herself by telling the story in a beautifully narrative way. . . . Required reading for all fans of true crime.”—Library Journal (starred review)
“Few people gave Kristopher Clarke's disappearance much thought until Lissa Yellow Bird, a member of the Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara Nation based on the Fort Berthold Reservation, made it her cause. . . . An impressive debut that serves as an eye-opening view of both the oil economy and Native American affairs.”—Kirkus Reviews