Crow Chief Plenty Coups
Old-Man-Coyote (isa ka-wuate) (Supreme Being) showed people how to make fire; he took dried buffalo chips and decayed wood and drilled till the friction produced a fire.
Crow Chief Plenty Coups described the mood of his people to his biographer, Frank B. Linderman: “[When] the buffalo went away, the hearts of my people fell to the ground.…After this, nothing happened. There was little singing anywhere.”
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Defending Crow lands in Washington, D.C., promoting education
Plenty Coups (otherwise known as Aleek-chea-ahoosh) (1848 – 1932) was a Crow chief and visionary leader. He allied Crow with the whites when the war for the West was being fought, because the Sioux and Cheyenne (who were opposing white settlement of the area) were the traditional enemies of the Crow. Plenty Coups had also experienced a vision when he was very young that non-Native people would ultimately take control of his homeland (Montana), so he always felt that cooperation would benefit his people much more than opposition.
One of his famous quotes is: “Education is your greatest weapon. With education you are the white man’s equal, without education you are his victim and so shall remain all of your lives. Study, learn, help one another always. Remember there is only poverty and misery in idleness and dreams – but in work there is self respect and independence.”
He very much wanted the Crow to continue as a people and their customs and spiritual beliefs to carry on. His efforts on their behalf ensured that this happened and he led his people peacefully into the 20th century.
He was the principal chief of the Mountain Crows, or the Apsáalooke, of the Crow Nation.
Construction of Dam on Big Horn River Was First Brought to Mind Nearly Forty Years Ago
Crows Were Both Praised And Assailed by First Whites to See Them. (Published 1931)
FRIENDLY relations have always existed between the Crow Indians as a tribe and the mass of the white men with whom they came into contact. There have been times when these relations have been somewhat strained and there are particular instances in which the conduct of one side or the other was not exactly what was to be expected between friends.
Before the white men settled in the land of the Crows, the most serious charge that was laid against them was their propensity for stealing horses. When Capt. William Clark came along the Yellowstone in July 1806, his horses were stolen by Indians that he never saw. That they were Crows is most probable.
A hard name was given the Crows by the Astoria expedition headed by Willis Hunt which passed through the Crow lands in 1811. Washington Irving wrote the account of the expedition from narratives furnished by members of the expedition. Thieving rascals was one of the gentler epithets applied to them.
George Catlin, the artist, who drew pictures of Indians at Fort Union, in 1832, on the other hand, regarded the Crows with the highest esteem. “The most honest and honorable race of men I ever knew in my life,” he declares in one of his letters. And, in another, he describes them as one of the most high-minded races of people on the face of the earth, with a high sense of honor, fearless and proud and quick to punish an insult.”
Catlin thought the Astoria party largely to blame for their troubles with the Crows.’ They had with them a large quantity of guns and ammunition which they refused to trade to the Crows but told them they were going to take them to open up trade with the Indians around Astoria, a place of which the Crows knew nothing. They understood, however, that the party would go through the country inhabited by their enemies and they thought the Astorians intended to give them the coveted arms. Catlin considered the Crows showed a good deal of self-restraint in not dealing more harshly with them than they did.
De Smet Tells of Crows.
Father De Smet passed through the Crow country in 1840 on his way back to St. Louis from his beloved Flathead people. In his Journals, the Crows suffer in comparison with the Flatheads, who had eagerly heard his message. The Crows were harder to convince. The Black Robe tells how when he described to the Crows the torments of hell, a chief spoke up and said: “There are only two Crows, Otter and Weasel, who have never killed, stolen, or been guilty of the excesses of which you speak. I will ask them. It may be I am mistaken and in that case, we will all go to hell together.”
The Crows, however, entertained the good father royally enough. In one day, he was called upon to partake of 20 different banquets and was expected to show his friendship by eating a little at each. He took the precaution of inviting some eaters along to empty the dishes for him.
For many years, the Crows had only casual contact with the whites, Like other tribes, they journeyed down to Fort Union or to the series of posts which the American Fur Company had at different times on the Yellowstone from the mouth of the Big Horn to the Rosebud. The Crows, until the invasion of their country by the Sioux, made them anxious for protection, did not encourage the whites to make permanent settlements in their country. More than once an expedition, civilian or semi-military, was assured that they would not be molested provided they kept moving but was warned against remaining in the country.
History tells of several men who Abandoned civilization to live among the Crows and who arose to positions or considerable power among them The most notable of these were Edward Rose, said to have been a Louisiana pirate, and Jim Beckwith or Beckwourth, probably a mulatto, whose life contains much valuable information about aboriginal customs although the romantic account of his own adventures is considered unreliable.
In later years, the number of white men who intermarried with the Crows increased, and some of these “squaw men” proved valuable intermediaries to the government and helped maintain friendship and straighten out difficulties between the two races. Others were not far from renegades and outlaws, and at one time an Indian agent gave an order; afterward revoked, for the removal of all the squaw men” from the reservation.
Indians Were Patient.
When the settlement of Montana began in earnest, steady pressure was brought to bear on the Crows to cede portions of their lands to the government, when a treaty was being negotiated every means of cajoling the chiefs and their followers into the proposed bargain was used by Indian agents, army officers, and special negotiators. In reading the accounts of some of these negotiations, it seems a wonder that the Indians did not sometimes rise in their wrath and scalp the negotiators.. No sooner was one concession made by the Indians than some new concession was asked.
The first treaty signed by the Crows was in 1851 when at Fort Laramie at a meeting of many tribes, the Crows were allotted a vast country taking in most of southeastern Montana and northern Wyoming. Every few years after that, there were new negotiations and the reservation was whittled down a little more. The Crows in later years managed to drive some shrewd bargains and secured fairly substantial payments either in cash for the tribal funds or in the way of irrigation projects and other improvements, for the lands that were ceded Chief Plenty Coups was a very capable negotiator for his people.
Catlin In 1832 noted that while the Crows were a very warlike people. their numerical inferiority to the Blackfeet and Sioux was likely in time to bring about their extinction When the whites began about 1860 to push the Sioux westward, these tribes invaded more and more the country of the Crows, both to hunt buffalo and to plunder the Crows. The building of Fort C. F. Smith on the Big Horn in 1868, helped the Crows in maintaining themselves in their historic land but when the soldiers were withdrawn from the forts along the Bozeman trail, as Chief Red Cloud’s condition of peace, the Crows found their position much more difficult.
When in the late sixties Fort Ellis was established near Bozeman and shortly afterward the first Crow agency was established on Mission creek, east of the present Livingston, most of the Crows concentrated about these points, and their contacts with the whites greatly increased. They still roved through the summers, however, seeking buffalo on the Musselshell, Yellowstone, and Big Horn. But if any substantial body of Sioux came into the country, they retreated, bringing a warning to the settlements in the Gallatin.
Agency Is Moved.
The Crow agency was moved about 1875 to Rosebud creek near the present Absarokee. This was more remote from the white settlements than at Mission creek, which was to the liking of the agency officials for one of the chief difficulties was in preventing illicit trading with the Indians. Almost Immediately several Indian traders set up establishments across from the mouth of the Stillwater near the present Columbus, which thus became the first permanent settlement on the Yellowstone. A recognized trader was allowed under contract at the agency.
Indian agents of the early days had a hard name but there were several of those among the Crows who made an earnest effort to protect their wards from exploiting whites and to train the Indians to become self-supporting.
In a series of letters written in 1879 and 1880 by C. H. Barstow, who was chief clerk at the agency to Capt. E. C. Gilbreath, who at that time was detailed to duty as Inspector of rations given by the government to the Indians, he tells of the efforts of A. R. Kellar, the agent, and himself to get the Indians to take up farms in severalty. They got 10 chiefs to promise to go on farms but because of their fear of the Sioux, only one. Old Nest, would go down the Stillwater below the agency.
In one letter, he tells of the difficulty they were having in getting a band of Indians who were out hunting to come to the agency. The snow was too deep for them to move and they had a variety of excuses. Barstow was of the opinion that the traders were more anxious than the Indians for them to stay out. Contracts were let for furnishing beef and flour for the Indians. The inspector was obliged to make a trip to the agency each time there was a delivery to see that the goods were up to government specifications. At an earlier date, there had been quite a few government scandals in connection with ration deliveries to various tribes. These letters indicate the officials often had trouble in getting the contractors to deliver on time.
Maj. H. J. Armstrong, who succeeded Kellar, had a great deal of difficulty with prospectors who were in the upper Rosebud country. He once sent some Indians who burned cabins belonging to “Uncle Billy Hamilton, Jack Nye, and others at the Stillwater mines and brought a peck of trouble about his ears.
Indian Pupils Hard to Handle.
Efforts to teach the Indian children began about the time that a regular agency was established. The teachers found their pupils by no means easy to manage and school-room rebellions mutinies and desertions were common. About 1882 or 1883, some 10 or 12 Indian children were taken east to the school at Carlisle. Nearly every year others went to Carlisle or other Indian schools, while on the reservation, agency and mission schools gave the smaller children the opportunity to get the rudiments of an education.
After the building of the Northern Pacific railway with its towns large and small along the edge of the reservation, the contacts between the whites and the Indians became more numerous. In 1883 and 1884, the agency was again moved, this time to its present location on the Little Big Horn. Fort Custer was about 12 miles distant.
The Crows had given valuable service with their war bands and scouting parties under Crook, Custer, Gibbon, and Miles in the conflicts of 1878 to 1873 which finally broke the power of the Sioux and Cheyenne tribes. They were after that time much less necessary to keep together and the government encouraged their bands’ scattering and renewed attention was given to their farming.
At Fort Custer, the government kept together a large number of Crow scouts who afterward formed the starting point for enlisting a Crow troop of cavalry. These soldiers and their families lived along the Little Big Horn river near the fort, where some land was cultivated. The troop proved another means of winning the Crows over to civilized ways.
From the beginning of Billings, the Crows were fond of making visits here. With the curiosity of children, they wandered through the streets, amused and entertained by the things they saw. The country immediately across the river was then on the reservation and camps of Indians were often pitched at the opposite side of the ferry from Coulson.
The early Billings paper records many stories of early visits from the Crows. Several times, there were foot traces between young Crows and young whites. The Crows brought in their horses to race, too. Once there was a smallpox scare and the Indians promptly took to the tall timbers and were not seen around Billings for months afterward.
Fairs Attract Indians.
From the very first time that fair or Fourth of July celebration was held here, there were Indians present to add color to the scene. Their dances and parades in war toggery early became an accepted part of fairs and other public programs and have continued to be in demand up to the present time. Certain chiefs were frequent visitors to Billings and are often mentioned in its early chronicles. The connotations of the name Old Crow may have struck the editor’s fancy at least, his comings and goings are frequently mentioned. Followed by several squaws, he once wandered into a church meeting. After listening for some time in impressive silence, he gave a disapproving grunt and stalked out, followed by his harem.
Another of the mighty was Bobtail Crow. Old Bobtail had a humorous turn. Otto Franc, one of the best-known stockmen of northern Wyoming, was once walking down the street with a local man who was a strapping six-footer. Franc was a Frenchman of diminutive stature and somewhat sensitive about it. Bobtail Crow, who knew them both perfectly well, pointed to Franc and then said to his comrade: “De (your) papoose?”
Chief Plenty Coups is also often mentioned as a Billings visitor in the early days. He was one of the first Crows to make an earnest effort to follow agriculture. Once he brought some fine potatoes to Billings to show what he could do with his farm. The chief’s efforts to find where Judge O. F. Goddard was when he was induced to listen over a telephone with the Judge at the other end is one of the stories of early days in the Judge’s repertoire.
Many of the Billings businessmen and stockmen formed a deep friendship with certain Crows. Their wives sometimes frowned when the Indian came to the house and wanted food and exhibited a great interest in the household than was approved of. Sometime a drunken Indian made himself obnoxious or tried to scare a woman when he knew no men were around but this was more likely to happen on some isolated ranch than in the town.
Crows Exhibit Scalps.
War parties of Crows going on horse-stealing expeditions against the Piegans and incidentally to lift a few scalps if possible, often stopped when they got back into the Yellowstone valley to exhibit their trophies to their white friends. The settlers at first thought the Indians were on the warpath every time, they heard the wild shouts of the returning braves but they soon learned to pay no attention to such demonstrations.
Sometimes, on these war parties the Indians also drove off cattle or horses belonging to white men but it was usually from those at a distance. The people around Billings were always complaining in the press about the raids of the Piegans while those around Fort Benton were equally convinced that all the devilment came from the Crows and perhaps both were right.
Only once was there real cause of alarm about the Crows. That was in 1887 when Swordbearer, a young medicine man, led a large number of Crows to believe that he had supernatural power and that he could drive all the whites out of the country. For all their friendliness, deep in their hearts, most of them revolted against the constant inroads of civilization and the pressure from every side to abandon their accustomed ways.
In Billings, at the height of the trouble, guards were established at the river, women and children were brought to a central location where they could be defended, and every precaution was taken to withstand an attack. At Crow Agency, however, there was a slight skirmish between soldiers and Swordbearer and his followers. Swordbearer was killed at its very beginning and the trouble was soon over.
Dr. A. H. Hersey. Billings druggist and a former editor had gone, to the scene of trouble as a “war correspondent.” An old Indian friend approached him and said. ‘Good-by John. You going die. Me sorry.” It was probably the Indians’ secret hope that the white men would be exterminated although he was sorry that some particular friends would be killed along with the rest.
Since those days, the Crow Indians have progressed far on the road to civilization. Schools, churches, government agencies, and other instruments of advancement have done their part in encouraging his progress and much has been done for his education, physical health, economic independence, and moral and spiritual improvement. Still, to the old Indians particularly there come longings for the old days of the buffalo and skin tepees, when he was as free to come and go as the birds of the air and when there were no white men in the land of his fathers.
THE VOW. (Crow) Sun Dance
As stated in the Introduction, there was only one reason for the performance of a sun dance. A man who had lost a child or younger brother more rarely an elder brother killed by the enemy might decide to show the excess of his grief by undergoing the hardest form of mourning, which would at the same time lead to a vision of retaliation, to be followed by a fulfillment of the promise involved in the vision. Such a man would not express his intentions immediately. For a while, he would fast on the prairies and mourn, no one as yet knowing what he was about. After some time he would hear a herald announcing to the camp that the people were to hunt buffalo and get meat for themselves. When he heard this proclamation, the mourner would call the first person who came near him and ask him to send for the chief. The chief came to look at the mourner, who was emaciated and would not look at the chief. “On this hunt,” the mourner would say, ” I want you to have the hunters keep all the tongues, do not let the children eat any; I want them all. “The chief went back and issued an order through the herald who cried: “Save all tongues, he is going to cut ankles! “The pledger’s name was not mentioned. Then the people knew what was going to happen. The mourner no longer stayed away after telling the chief but returned to camp the same night.
Other informants say that the man who wished to make a sun dance, when having his hair cut for mourning, would say to the haircutter, “Leave a little hair on my head, so that I shall be able to tie a feather to it” The haircutter spread the news about camp, and thus all the people learned of the mourner’s pledge.
Since it was purely optional with a mourner to pledge the sun dance, it was performed at irregular intervals. And as it involved unusual hard ship, there were relatively few mourners who made the vow. Old-dog estimated the number of sun dances he had witnessed at no less than thirty, and Bear-gets-up said he had seen twenty, but these estimates are at variance with those of the oldest informants, who counted no more than thirteen.¹* From comparing different statements I have arrived at the conclusion that during the interval between 1830 and 1874 sun dances were not more frequent than once every three or four years. On the whole, the River Crow
and Mountain Crow seem to have had distinct performances, but there is evidence that the two bands sometimes joined for a common ceremony.
1 Cf. my articles on ” The Crow Sun Dance ” (Journal of American Folk- Lore, XXVII, 1914, pp. 94-96 ) and ” Ceremonialism ” (American Anthropologist, XII, 1914, pp . 602-631).
1* Young-crane, a River Crow about eighty years of age, enumerated six, and Strikes both-ways, the oldest Crow living in 1911, recollected only five.
THE COLLECTION OF BUFFALO TONGUES. (Crow Sun Dance)
As stated in the preceding section, the mourner requested the chief to have all the buffalo tongues saved. He required the tongues both in order to compensate those who performed certain special services and also because he was expected to entertain the people at noon during the entire course of the ceremony. In an exceptional instance noted by Bear-gets -up, Big-shade, as whistler, could not get a vision until the sixth day. Accordingly, the supply of tongues was completely exhausted before the close of the dance, and he was obliged to feast his guests with bā`rice’, a kind of dried meat.
When the people set out on the hunt, the mourner was far ahead of them, though always afoot. He wore nothing but moccasins and a buffalo robe. Sometimes the people were lucky enough to find buffalo very soon, at other times it would take them many days. When they finally got to a herd, the young men were requested to kill the game and take only the tongues, Thus, a large number of tongues was secured.
The essential point in what followed was that the tongues obtained were collected, arranged in sets, and re-distributed among prominent warriors who were to have them sliced and dried. As to the details, the accounts vary.
According to Muskrat, two men, one of whom had had his locks cut, started out with pack-horses from opposite sides of the camp circle, each accompanied by one attendant. The attendants would peep into every lodge on their way and collect the tongues, which had already been prepared for them. When the two parties met, they crossed each other’s paths, turned about, talked, and marched along a diameter of the camp circle to a tent, furnished only with spreads, on which the tongues were unloaded, while two old men were singing songs of joy. The mourner had summoned his relatives to this lodge, where the tongues were strung together in tens, five on each side, and packed on the same horses that had brought them. Then the collectors retraced their steps and unloaded one set of tongues at every war captain’s lodge, where the captains ‘ wives laid them on their best blankets. Finally, the two parties again went back along the same diametrical path and unsaddled their horses, which closed this part of the proceedings.
According to Big-snake, there were eight men who gathered the tongues, two of them leading the horses and the rest actually getting the tongues from the people. When they had done collecting, they decided on the bravest men, who would number about twenty, and redistributed the tongues in sets as described above. Gray-bull says that the tongue-gathering party embraced five or six men who had accompanied the mourned-for man on the fatal war party. After the collection, the men went outside the circle and stood there chatting for a while. When re-approaching the camp, they called out aloud the names of distinguished warriors, bidding them prepare by spreading robes. During this procession songs of joy were sung, and as the famous men’s dwellings were passed the collectors dropped tongues on robes laid outside the lodges in obedience to their request.
Bear-crane’s version does not specifically refer to comrades of the slain man. It makes the mourner borrow five or six horses from as many men, who led them behind the doll owner, who in turn followed the mourner on this tongue-gathering procession. The doll owner’s face was painted black to symbolize in customary Crow fashion the killing of an enemy and thus express a hope for the realization of this event. He sang a glad song and shook a rattle; he also gave the mourner his straight-pipe, facing toward the camp.
A single hunt did not always suffice to secure the desired number of tongues, which some informants set at one thousand. Indeed, according to Gray-bull four successive hunts were customary, after all of which the method of procedure was identical except that the first and third time tongues were redistributed among strikers of coups, while after the second and fourth collections the tongues were given to the men who had stolen enemies’ horses. Bear-crane says that it was optional with the mourner to demand a second hunt. After the first collection his opinion was asked for, and after some deliberations he would say that another hunt was, or was not, necessary. In the former case, a herald was ordered to make a corresponding announcement. Big-snake seems to think that four hunts were proper, but that it depended on circumstances whether there were two or four. -Anthropological Papers American Museum of Natural History.
SARPY CREEK Kill Site— About the time Christ was born and Roman legions marched on much of the known world, hunters honed by millennia of experience trapped a snorting, terrified herd of bison in a narrow drainage near what is now Hardin.
As they systematically killed and processed hundreds of animals, boiling and breaking the bones to retrieve the marrow, these prehistoric people had no notion of the archaeological and political fracas that would arise 2,000 years later.
- (Picture: Huge pile of buffalo bones left at a archaeology dog site, on the Crow Reservation in the path of proposed expansion of a coal mine)
Apache – Arapaho – Blackfeet – Carrizo Comecrudo – Cherokee – Cheyenne – Chickasaw – Choctaw
Comanche – Cree – Crow – Kickapoo – Kiowa – Modoc – Osage – Quapaw – Senaca – Shoshone – Sioux Lakota – Sioux Oglala – Tejas