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.
Sierra Crane Murdoch is a journalist based in the American West. She 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.
I’m torn on how I feel about this book. For what I was expecting, it’s kind of a let down, but for what it ended up being, it’s pretty well-done. Based off of the title, I knew at least part of the story would be framed around “one woman’s search for justice in Indian country”, but for some reason I assumed that woman was the author. It’s not; the author, Sierra Crane Murdoch, is a reporter who frequently followed stories on a reservation in North Dakota. The actual subject is a woman named Lissa Yellow Bird, who ends up entrenching herself in an amateur investigation into the disappearance of a man working on the local oil fields.
While Lissa is investigating an actual crime, I think fans of the True Crime genre will be disappointed with this work. You can tell Murdoch is endlessly interested in this woman and her life and heritage, but the book wasn’t packaged as a biography. I’d say about half of the content is the Yellow Bird family’s genealogy and history, in conjunction with backstory about the many, many injustices put upon the tribal members over several centuries. I’m interested in those topics, but I don’t think they relate to the narrative being relayed here. If there’s a relevant story or facts, then sure I’ll take it, but an information dump ends up being a disservice to each respective account.
If Lissa Yellow Bird had written this book, I think a lot more time would have been spent focused on the crime. She was obsessed with the disappearance of Kristopher ‘KC’ Clarke and he becomes the sole focus of her life. Murdoch is more interested in Yellow Bird, who admittedly is has had a fascinating and difficult journey, but draws too much of the author’s attention away from the man who was killed. It could border on reductive the way Lissa and tribal politics become the focus of another person’s death.
But Murdoch is an excellent writer and reporter, so I do feel like I’m not being fair by grading her based on my expectations not being met in the way I anticipated. I guess I still would give this book three stars as a True Crime book, but as a ‘True Life’ story probably more like four. It could have been edited down some, and I think a lot of people reading this will end up skimming portions.
*Thanks to Random House & Netgalley for an advance copy!
3.75 stars - A murder mystery with a very different kind of protagonist, “Yellow Bird” is an analytical study of a man who disappeared from the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation in North Dakota in 2012. While journalist Sierra Crane Murdoch delves into a purposeful narrative, she takes time to be contemplative, weighing heavy issues such as the right of a white woman to write a chronicle about life on the reservation; a narrative deeply investigative of tribal politics and Indian culture. Murdoch admits to anxiety about this, but having not only Lissa Yellow Bird’s permission, but her and family member’s editorial advice, she felt that she was able to “get closer to the truth.”
The man who disappears is Kristopher Clark (KC), a white man who worked for a trucking company owned by two other white people, the husband and wife team of James Henrikson and Sarah Creveling. Lissa Yellow Bird is an unlikely sleuth. Mother of five children by five different fathers, she has been a drug user and a drug peddler. Some of her children spent time in foster care; one of them received a brain injury from abuse by a foster parent. She has been on both sides of the law, graduating from the criminal justice program at the University of North Dakota and eventually spending time in prison on drug charges. She insinuates herself into KC’s story, by writing to his mother Jill. They become sort of friends, but most importantly it opens up a passion in Lissa about finding out what happened to KC. Lissa tells Jill that she can ask questions on the reservation where Jill cannot. As she helps Jill manage a Facebook page dedicated to KC’s disappearance, she fields tips and makes responses. Lissa will also end up forming this sort of unlikely friendship with Sarah Creveling, all the while, driving toward her objective of learning KC’s whereabouts, dead or alive. Her children will accuse her of caring more about this missing person than she does her own children. Her oldest daughter, Shauna, comes to think that Lissa’s obsession with KC’s disappearance is how she has channeled her addictive personality; this passion has supplanted her previous drug addiction.
This is a dense narrative and at times I felt like I was reading two stories. Lissa is the connection between both. One is the story of Lissa’s life; the other is the story of KC’s disappearance, but necessarily it entails a lot of information about tribal business and politics. It does not always hold my undivided attention, but Murdoch has an interesting prose style that always drew me back. The stage is the North Dakota oil boom, which transforms the way of life on the reservation as some members get royalties and leasing fees while others do not. It’s a story about greed and a sociopath. While there are some similarities between what happens here and what happened to the Osage Indian Nation in Oklahoma as detailed by David Grann in “Killers of the Flower Moon,” there are many differences, both in scope and focus. While major themes are corruption and greed, Murdoch reaches for themes about spirituality, purpose in life, and the grief of trauma, and in this, I believe, she is mostly successful.
In Yellow Bird, Sierra Crane Murdoch, details how Lissa Yellow Bird, an Indigenous woman with a troubled past and hard life, has become quite adept when it comes to solving missing person cases.
In Yellow Bird, a man employed by questionable employers exploiting natural resources on Native American property disappears and is said to have left the area voluntarily, while Lissa Yellow Bird and others believe his disappearance has not been voluntary.
The background of Lissa Yellow Bird involves substance addictions, time as a sex worker and periods of incarceration, but through her dogged investigation of the disappearance of the worker, Lissa Yellow Bird is able to force criminal investigators to investigate what happened to the missing man.
The book explores the historical exploitation of Native peoples from the past to the present, especially during an episode of what should be an economic boom with benefits to the rightful people, instead of further exploitation that involves theft, fraud, and murder.
Criticism of the book includes tighter editing and reduction of pages and redundant material may have resulted in a modern true crime classic.
The book is interesting enough; but excruciatingly slow. It focuses heavily on Lissa, the woman who obsessively searches for a missing person. It is almost like a biography of sorts which annoyed me because I thought the book was going to be mostly about the oil boom on the reservation and the missing person. Her kids, their different fathers, her mother, her grandmother, her siblings, every town she visited, on and on and on. At least half of the book focuses on every detail of her past and present life.
The book also seemed very repetitive. It wasn't going anywhere. The story itself was interesting but the book just didn't convey the story in an interesting, coherent manner. It was often times hard to keep track of everyone. At times, it was way too detailed about people or side stories that really didn't have anything to do with the overall oil boom and/or missing person.
Thank you goodreads and random house marketing for the advance copy through the goodreads giveaway program.
What white colonisers have done to Indigenous peoples is a fucking atrocity.
This is not a sensational true crime book, this is one of the new (ish, we've all heard of In Cold Blood) types of literary true crime that looks at societal reasons for why these crimes occurred. So there's a lot of Native history, and personal history of Lissa Yellow Bird, woven into this, but I think it's masterfully done.
And I appreciate that she writes in her author's note about the problems surrounding a white person writing this story. If anyone has any recs for more Indigenous writing, I'd love to hear.
Indian Country and the oil fields of North Dakota are two places quality journalism has feared to tread. When they are the same place, even moreso. Yellow Bird is a look at both the historical traumas of the Fort Berthold Reservation and the current and ongoing devastation caused by the oil boom told through the life of Lissa Yellow Bird Chase. Like Lissa, I'm also a member of the MHA Nation at Fort Berthold and while Lissa's life is her own, the traumas are widespread and shared among the Native People of Fort Berthold.. we've all lost somebody or something dear in what i consider the fifth in a string of calamitous traumas at Fort Berthold: European contact, disease (smallpox), reservation confinement, flooding by the Garrison dam being the first four. Visitors to Fort Berthold often joke, "it's not the end of the world, but you can see it from here". To us locals, it's a sacred place, previously quiet high plains and badlands full of resilience and tranquility. I can attest that Sierra Crane Murdoch spent many years in preparation for this story, travelling throughout the reservation, living with and speaking with tribal citizens, attending tribal council meetings, picking at, probing, shaking people out of the don't ask, don't tell code that the oil industry and local governments prefer. Read this book with eyes, minds and hearts wide open.
A well researched story that centers around Lissa Yellow Bird, her determination to find KC and other who have gone missing, and around parts of her life and history. The book also does a great job of showing how the oil boom changed the reservation, both physically on the landscape but also how it widen the gaps between the haves and have-nots, and brought it more drugs and violence. It also showed how the issues and life on the reservation today are shaped by its long history of trauma and policies that stripped the native people in North Dakota and across the country of their land, way of life, and culture. It was fascinating, but saddening to learn more about the history of the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation. Criminal cases and the resolution of violence are often complicated by the fact that tribal police only have jurisdiction over tribal members, they cannot arrest nonmembers. County officers who have jurisdiction over nonmembers are often stretched thin and have other priorities.
Lissa has trauma in her own past and is a complicated protagonist. This book reveals some of her past and her families past. She is also a dogged investigator. The author, Sierra Crane Murdoch, explains, "In choosing to make this book about Lissa, I chose to tell the story of the murders in the way she first saw them and believed them to be true -- that is, amid their historical context, the valuing of wealth over Indigenous lives and over life in general." The violence wasn't so uncommon as most of us would like to think. It is the violence of America and our history.
This book makes and interesting read for anyone interested in the history of indigenous Americans, and the impact of years of policies that shape their lives today, the impact of oil booms on communities, and for those who read Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann.
While Yellow Bird in part is an exploration of the disappearance and likely murder of a truck driver during the Bakken oil boom, the "search for justice" of the book's subtitle is actually more expansive than that. Sierra Crane Murdoch recounts the determined efforts of Lissa Yellow Bird, an Arikara woman living on the Fort Berthold Reservation, to find the missing man, and interweaves that story with a look at Yellow Bird's life as a recovering addict and single mother, and the corrosive and corrupting effects of the oil industry and U.S. government policy on Native communities.
This makes for a lot of ground to cover even in a book of this length. It sprawls a little, and there were still things I didn't feel I had quite a clear grasp on by the time I finished reading, such as what daily life is like at Fort Berthold. However, Yellow Bird makes for a really compelling central figure: vivid, flawed, determined. Getting to see this case through her eyes was absorbing, and I'd recommend the book to anyone interested in stories about the intersection of Indigenous rights and environmental justice in contemporary North America.
This is a hard book to rate. I was going to give it 2 stars, because I found it really slow at times, but I can appreciate the amount of research that went into it and bumped it up to 3.
I expected a true crime book and at times found myself getting frustrated. I felt like the victim, KC, was often put on the backburner. Although the search for his body and his killer was the lens through which this book was written, it often felt more like Lissa's story.
The long-term effects of the social and cultural injustices done to the Native Americans in this country is a terrible legacy and there are plenty of books worth reading on this subject. The same goes for the effects of poverty and drug-use on families. I understand the need for background on Lissa and life on the reservation, but I don't feel it was balanced and the was not enough background on the actual victim.
The book is well-written but I think Sierra Crane Murdoch got caught up in her fascination with Lissa and so we never learn about KC Clarke.
(Elle Rudy has written a review that says exactly what I felt reading this book and I am trying not to repeat her thoughts. I had to mention her review, though, because it is so spot-on with my feelings.)
Im not sure exactly how I should rate this book. Its a true story & justice was finally served but at the same time it's one of the most boring books I've endured. The story commenced on an Indian reservation. The Indiana's land was rich with oil & soon this reservation in North Dakota was seeing more money than they've ever had. With this influx of money conflict began along with deception, crime, drugs, medical issues, and murder. Corruption from the outside of your race, you kind of expect but from people of your own race and related to you is a bitter pill to swallow. When one of the truckers, Casey Clark, is missing, one Indian woman makes it her mission to find the truth. The story focused on the murder, reservation issues, deception towards Indians, the tribal council, laws & criminal repercussions, & how the lives of Indians changed drastically. I believe that if the author had focused on the murder, providing some background information, the outcome of the book would be more interesting. I struggled to keep reading this book & I don't know why when I've put so many others down due to lack of interest. I guess because it was a true story. My rating is actually 2.5
Hard to figure out, categorize, or rate. Ostensibly a memoir of the titular Lissa Yellow Bird — a truly memorable, fascinating, haunting and haunted character — the book is both much more and somewhat less: the Oil Curse; Native American sovereignty and resiliency despite the centuries-long abuses of the U.S. government; corruption; obsession; the power of relationships; and of course murder most foul. Murdoch treated these all as co-themes, not side ones, lending them equal weight, each one captivating but overall a little too choppy for me: I found it hard to track the broader picture.
Memorable, though: I finished the book feeling admiration for Yellow Bird, her family, and even the (outsider) author. I do wish the author had placed the Author's Note, or crucial parts of it, as a foreword instead of at the end — but I'm not sure how that could be done. So I'll just offer a heads-up to potential readers: the author does address some of the discomfort you may feel while reading, and does so to my satisfaction.
I’m surprised how many complainers in the reviews about the book “[being] about Lissa, not about the crime.” guys, it’s in the subtitle! it’s in the framing on the cover blurb! It’s true crime, situated in journalistic investigation of the oil boom in North Dakota, tribal electoral politics, the limits of federal and local jurisdiction in treaty territory, and Lissa’s own past, struggle w addiction and family dynamics. yes, it was a little jumpy to accommodate the different subjects, and I didn’t whiz through it. Murdoch paints a detailed and clearly empathetic portrait of Yellow Bird, but w so much coming from her it felt at times like a journalist sat by and listened to ramblings of someone w a very strong point of view and regurgitated them for us. as w a lot of true crime obsessed ppl, I really was questioning her actions — becoming so directly involved, for /years/.. Murdoch does explore the case as a reflection of Lissa’s own family stuff but it always felt a little iffy. idk the oil stuff and native sovereignty were v good !
The amount of work both women went through to create this book is awe-inducing. This book revealed history of ND that I had not previously known and painted our landscape beautifully despite the racism that impacted it (the garrison dam). It was surreal to hear names of people, towns, and businesses that I know in such an incredible tale. What a story!
I have to be honest. I had a very hard time getting into this book. I felt that it was too bogged down with repetative information. This book was slow and tedious. I found myself skipping some of the book, just to get on with it.
Absolute masterpiece. Astounded by the elegance with which Sierra wove the book's many threads, and the depth of her embeddedness. Lissa Yellow Bird is herself among the best, most complex protagonists in literary nonfiction.
The book YELLOW BIRD: OIL MURDER AND A WOMAN's SEARCH FOR JUSTICE IN INDIAN COUNTRY is about Lissa Yellow Bird-Chase who is a self-proclaimed body hunter. She is the founder of the Sahnish Scouts of North Dakota, which is a non-profit citizen-led organization dedicated to finding missing people for their families.
Like many others, I thought the book was about a murder, instead, it is about Yellow Bird-Chase and her dedication to body recovery. The book touches on several related homicides and missing, but the major case in question in the book is that of Kristopher “KC” Clarke, who was 29 when he disappeared on the reservation. The murder, a hired killing has since been solved, however, Clarke's body has never been located.
From all indications, Ms. Yellow Bird-Chase is an amazing and dedicated woman who seems to have the tenacity of a pit bull in a dog fight. She has battled drug addiction and at present overcome it. At issue is the jurisdiction of an offense committed by nonIndians while on the reservation, while Indians who commit crimes are under the jurisdiction of tribal, state, and federal laws. The Bureau of Indian Affairs has little to no jurisdiction over crimes committed by non-Indians and federal and state officers have little to no jurisdiction over Indians who are on the reservation. Up until this book, I was only mildly aware of the jurisdictional nightmare of tribal properties, but clearly this is almost a magical place to commit a crime!
As such, Yellow Bird-Chase has been looking for KC's body for over five years... the dedication there is pretty amazing!
It is an interesting read and really beyond Ms. Yellow Bird, it is a fairly typical murder based on greed (trucking contracts in the oil field). I listened to the audiobook and it was about 15 hours, so quite long for sure, but I was doing some menial task and it was easy to engage in that instead of the task, so a win-win for me! There is a lot of geographical location descriptions that you can sort of let roll down your back, which I did and I missed nothing.
If you like fast-paced books, this probably isn't for you... It almost wasn't for me... but I hung in there for 3 days.
Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for an ARC in exchange for my honest review of this book!
In Yellow Bird, Murdoch recounts the story of Lissa Yellow Bird--a forty-something Native woman, mother and recovering drug addict--who gets pulled into the search for a white oil worker, KC, who goes missing from the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation in North Dakota in 2012. Lissa's drive to find KC, a man she doesn't know outpaces that of investigators, as well as KC's own friends and family. Her relentlessness confounds her own family, their bond already strained by Lissa's past drug addiction and incarceration.
While the KC Clarke case is the glue that holds this book together, readers looking for a straight-forward crime story will be surprised and perhaps disappointing by the contents of this books. Rather than sensationalizing the crime, Murdoch seeks to understand the case in its broader context. Because of this, the reservation KC disappears from becomes a character in its own right, as much a presence in this narrative as Lissa or KC Clarke.
Before 2006, most of the reservation's budget came from the federal government and its residences were plagued by poverty. When oil company's come calling, it seems like a golden opportunity for the tribe to finally amass wealth and end it's dependence on the oft-unreliable U.S. government. For a time, things are good, but almost no one foresees the wide ranging consequences that the oil boom will have--a legacy of violence and addiction. Before its end, the boom will challenge the very cultural foundations of the tribe. In this way, KC Clarke's disappearance represents more than a single crime, but a major shifting point on the reservation--but the moment when the tribe's dream of a new future begins to disintegrate.
Told in the first-person but maintaining journalistic distance, Yellow Bird was a bold exploration of bureaucracy, greed, family, and inter-generational trauma--all told through the story of one woman's determination to solve a case and, in the process, right some of her own past mistakes. Full disclosure, it's not a quick read, and at times, readers may find themselves frustrated with the glacial pace at which answers are revealed. Despite this, however, I found myself invested because how Murdoch was able to shed light on the inner workings of Lissa's mind, her family, and the larger tribe. I recommend this book for those who appreciate a story steeped with history and social commentary just as much, if not more, than stories about crime. 3.5 stars.
This book doesn’t know what it wants to be. It’s beautifully written and absolutely heartbreaking at times. But it feels like two or three different books kind of mushed together.
There is a absolutely heartbreaking ethnography about the Native American reservation in North Dakota. A searing examination of drug use and how predatory the oil companies in the region are.
There is this sort of mediocre who-done-it, a sort of loosely connected murder that I think the author wants to be the unifying thread of all of these discussions but it ends up just kind of being an oddity and seems to have too much significance compared to the backdrop of these other Sociological threads.
And lastly it’s probably my least favorite part of the book but it also has an examination of a person obsessed with this murder. I really didn’t like “I’ll be gone in the dark” and I really didn’t like this part of this book. It’s strange and frustrating, I didn’t feel like the character or person was sufficiently written are documented. The author never answer the question I had the whole time which was “why is this person so obsessed with this“ other than that she was displacing her addictive tendencies towards investigation.
I’m not sure what I think about this book. The book felt like a mingling of many different stories combined and sometimes it felt jarring to be thrust from one into the other. Among the major stories highlighted: the life and obsession of amateur crime solver Lissa Yellow Bird, the relationship between the author and Yellow Bird, the extended Yellow Bird family, the oil boom, the history and politics on the Fort Berthold reservation in North Dakota, the gray areas of jurisdiction on reservations, the historical effects of treaties on Indian peoples, and the disappearance of so many people in Indian Country.
After hearing about Yellow Bird on This American Life (https://www.thisamericanlife.org/706/...) I think I expected the book to focus on Yellow Bird’s work on locating the missing, but what was written was altogether much more complex. It’s not a bad thing, but it is a lot to process. I’m glad I read the book.
I don’t think it fits within the star rating system.
Too long and meandering much like the Missouri River which figures in the story. An unusual but intriguing story of a Native American woman, a felon with five children from five fathers finding a murdered oil worker in North Dakota. Lissa Yellow Bear is a resilient, resourceful woman. More lives than a cat. Drugs, suicide, prison, hit by a car. She is the person behind the scenes relentlessly seeking and probing. She takes no credit nor wants it.
Native Americans exploiting their neighbors. Native Americans being exploited by outsiders. Greed. Same old story.
Big takeaway is the 1948 flooding of their fields and towns for reservoirs for the Missouri River. The MHA (Mandan, Hidatsa, Ariksra) were a self sufficient thriving farming community until the flooding. The oil boom was just another continuation of environmental change but with even more profound impact as it disrupted tribal solidarity.
True crime about an oil boom on a North Dakota Indian reservation and the violence that came with it. Important to note that the author is a white journalist, which made me a bit cautious, but the focus of the book is Lissa Yellow Bird, the Native woman who tirelessly investigated the murder of a white oil man, combing the reservation for his body long after authorities had lost interest. Lissa is a fascinating person--a book about her life would be interesting enough even without the murder investigation angle.
Lissa Yellow Bird was released from prison in 2009. When she arrived back on her reservation in North Dakota, she found it changed by the Bakken oil boom. When a white oil worker turns up missing, she decides to start investigating on her own, as a distraction to her own substance abuse problems. This is solid reporting and well-written but the narrative could have been tighter and the author focuses more on Lissa’s story than the actual crime itself, which might be a letdown to true crime enthusiasts.
I choose to “read” this book as an audiobook and I really enjoyed it. I liked learning about the reservation and the background of it all. Lissa was very dedicated to finding KC and I was happy she didn’t give up and fought to bring those responsible for justice. I wish there was more background to who KC was and his life before moving to the Rez for the oil boom but other than that I thought the book was well written and informative
Yellow Bird does a fantastic job of setting the scene of the indigenous experience that the MHA Nation has lived with for many years in North Dakota. The author helps those of us that are not from areas where tribal strife is prevalent understand the disconnect between a person going missing on a reservation and someone going missing off reservation. The process is not easy and because of historical dealings, many Indigenous people do not have the means or time to set up a search party. Some feel that off reservation issues are not their problem as many people are barely making ends meet. When the intricacies of tribal law enforcement’s reach as well as the politicking that comes with oil money and business are added, the story makes perfect sense.
I would have liked for the Author’s Note to be at the beginning of the book as some of the things I was concerned about are thoroughly addressed here. This would have allowed me to appreciate the book more fully rather than waiting until the end to realize that the author had already taken my concerns into account. I appreciate that the book has a thorough Reference section, which I will be reading from in the future.
I think this book would be fantastic for a Native American studies class, a general history class and a law enforcement class. Depending on the scope taken, readers could get a lot of content out of this book. I enjoyed reading it.
While ostensibly a true crime story about the murder of an oil worker, Yellow Bird is much broader than that. The story centers on Lissa Yellow Bird, who has lived about 50 lives during her time on earth, and is someone that doesn't give up once she's focused on something. I love her. She starts her own investigation into a local missing oil worker, to the chagrin of pretty much everyone, including her own family who hasn't totally forgiven her for her rough past. A lot of the book focuses on Lissa's family and the generational trauma they have endured as tribal members. Some readers might be disappointed that this is really not a fast-paced murder mystery, but I welcomed the chance to learn about the often horrifying history of Fort Berthold Indian Reservation in North Dakota and the effect that government policies and shady oil deals have had on American Indians.
Murdoch is an excellent researcher and thoughtful writer. Like other reviewers, I think the book could have benefited from better framing or organization. This book is much more about Lissa Yellow Bird than it is about mystery of Clarke or how justice plays out (or doesn't) in Indian Country. And Lissa is a great character. But it was often unclear if the book was a biography, an examination of the disappearance of Clarke and how it was influenced by the hodge podge of laws and law enforcement entities at play on reservations, or a history of the last century of the Fort Berthold Reservation. I learned a lot, I found Lissa interesting, but the book wasn't as compelling as I think it could have been with more editing for structure and pacing.
Terrible- Claims to be investigative journalism, but its mostly regurgitation of undocumented facebook girl fights. Interesting sociological findings are so buried in slop, they never come to the surface; its not worth the effort.
Ever watch family Feud TV show? This is Junkie Feud, and it sucks as a book about such serious issues. I waited 6 weeks to get this book from my library, wasting one of 3 holds. I want my 6 weeks back.