The Crow Tribe of Montana is a federally recognized indian tribe which split off from the Hidatsa tribe in the 1400s. The Battle of the Little Big Horn occurred near where the agency headquarters is located today, about 100 miles from the present day city of Billings, Montana.
Official Tribal Name: Crow Tribe of Montana
Address: P.O. Box 159, Crow Agency, Montana
Official Website: http://www.crowtribe.com/
Recognition Status: Federally Recognized
Traditional Name / Traditional Meaning:
The early ancestral name of the Crow Tribe is Awaakiiwilaxpaake (People of the Earth). They later began westward migrations in search of the “Sacred Tobacco Plant,” and eventually split into three groups: the Biiluke (On Our Side), the Awashe (Earthen Lodges), and 2,000 years ago, the Apsáalooke.
Common Name: Crow Tribe
Photo By Boyd Norton, 1936-, Photographer (NARA record: 1111093), U.S. National Archives and Records Administration
Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Meaning of Common Name: Children of the big-beaked bird.
When French speaking Europeans asked what they called themselves, they said “Children of the big beaked bird,” meaning the eagle. At the time there had just been a buffalo hunt and they were butchering. A lot of crows were hanging around the camp eating carrion, and the French mistakenly thought the crow was the big beaked bird referred to.
Moutain Crow, River Crow, Kick in the Belly Band – These are actually divisions of the Crow tribe, which collectively make up the whole.
Biiluke (also known as the River Crow)
Awashe (also known as the Mountain Crow)
Apsáalooke (also known as Kicked in the Bellies, which refers to an early first encounter with the horse).
Ashalaho (‘Many Lodges’, today called Mountain Crow)
Awaxaawaxammilaxpaake (‘Mountain People’) or Ashkuale (‘The Center Camp’)
Beaux hommes, French term meaning “handsome men.”
Binneessiippeele (‘Those Who Live Amongst the River Banks’), today called River Crow or Ashshipite (‘The Black Lodges’)
Eelalapito (Kicked In The Bellies) or Ammitaalasshe (‘Home Away From The Center’, that is, away from the Ashkuale – Mountain Crow)
Alternate spellings / Mispellings:
Often misspelled and mispronouned as Absaroke, Apsalooka, Aparaoke, Apsaalook
Name in other languages:
It was not until 1805 that they began to be called the Crow people—the French Canadian explorer and trader Francois Laroque documented his observations of the tribe and gave them the name gens de corbeaux, People of the Crow.
First Contact with Europeans:
The Crow were first encountered by the La Verendrye brothers, two French-Canadian traders, in 1743 near the present-day town of Hardin, Montana. These explorers called the Apsáalooke beaux hommes, “handsome men.” The Crow called white people baashchiile, “person with white eyes.
Region: Great Plains, formerly Eastern Woodland
State(s) Today: Montana
Some historians believe the early home of the Crow-Hidatsa ancestral tribe was near the headwaters of the Mississippi River in either northern Minnesota or Wisconsin; others place them in the Winnipeg area of Manitoba. Later the people moved to the Devil’s Lake region of North Dakota before the Crow split from the Hidatsa and moved westward. The Crow were largely pushed westward by the intrusion and influx of the Sioux, who had been pushed westerly by European-American expansion.
Once established in the Valley of the Yellowstone River and its tributaries on the Northern Plains in Montana and Wyoming, the Crow eventually divided into three groups: the Mountain Crow, River Crow, and Kicked in the Bellies. Formerly semi-nomad hunters and farmers in the northeastern woodland, they picked up the nomadic lifestyle of the Plains Indians as hunters and gatherers and hunted bison.
The Crow Tribe signed treaties in 1825, 1851, and 1868.
Reservations: Crow Reservation and Off-Reservation Trust Land
The Crow Reservation was first defined by the treaties of 1851 and 1868, negotiated with representatives of the United States at Fort Laramie, Wyoming. Reduced by subsequent land sales, the reservation is today significantly “checkerboarded,” with Indian and non-Indian lands interspersed.
Almost half of the reservation is technically owned by Indians and held in trust by the federal government, but land use by tribal members is minimal. Indian lands have been sold and/or leased to nonmembers to such an extent that the overwhelming majority of Crow Indian land is under the control of white farmers and ranchers.
The populations of Indian and non-Indian residents on the reservation are about equal.The Crow reservation is located about 10 miles south of Billings, Montana. The largest settlement is the tribal headquarters at Crow Agency, Montana. Crow Agency is located about 120 miles south of Billings and a few miles from the site of the Battle of the Little Big Horn, where General Custer was killed.
About 8,000 Crow live on the reservation. Around 3,000 Crow people live off reservation in several major, mainly western, cities, as well as spread across the United States in small numbers.
Land Area: 2.2 million acres (Approximately 60 miles X 40 miles)
Tribal Headquarters: Crow Agency, MT
Time Zone: Mountain
Today, the Crow Indian Reservation spans about 3,600 square miles, making it the 5th or 6th largest reservation in the US – depending on whether you include bodies of water. There are six main communities: Crow Agency, Saint Xavier, Yellowtail, Lodge Grass, Wyola, and Pryor (Arrow Creek). At one time, the reservation was larger. But the US government ceded Crow land after the Reservation Treaty was signed, using the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868 and other acts in 1882, 1890, and 1905.
Population at Contact: When the Lewis and Clark expedition came upon the Crow encampment in 1804, they estimated some 350 lodges with about 3,500 members.
Registered Population Today: 11,357 as of 2008, with almost 8,000 residing on the Crow Indian Reservation.
Tribal Enrollment Requirements:
Charter: In 2001, the Crow Nation approved a new constitution, designating four year terms for elected officers and an elected district legislature. Since adopting the new constitution, the Crow Legislature has approved the Finance Protection and Procedures Act and the Model Tribal Secured Transactions Act. These two acts enable Crow members to obtain home ownership and business ownership financing. This recently enacted legal infrastructure has provided economic opportunity and stability for Crow members and the community.
Name of Governing Body: The Tribal Council consists of the Executive Branch of Government and the Legislative Branch of Government.
Dates of Constitutional amendments:
Number of Executive Officers:
The Executive Branch of Government consists of a Chairperson, Vice-Chairperson, Secretary and Vice-Secretary. Each Executive Officer shall be elected by the qualified voters in an election held in accordance with an Election Ordinance duly adopted by the Crow Tribe. The Executive Branch of the Crow Tribe shall operate as a separate and distinct branch of the Crow Tribal Government and shall exercise a separation of powers from the other branches of the Crow Tribal Government. Members of the Executive Branch shall serve a four (4) year term or until their successors are duly elected and installed. No person may serve as Tribal Chairman, Vice-Chairman, Secretary or Vice-Secretary for more than two (2) four (4) year terms.
A person may not serve in other Executive Branch positions after serving two (2) four (4) year terms as Tribal Chairman. A person may serve two (2) four (4) year terms in the positions of Vice-Secretary, Secretary and Vice-Chairman and still serve in the other Executive Branch positions of a higher level for up to two (2) terms.
A person may not serve in lower level positions after completing terms in a higher level position.
Number of Council members: (LEGISLATIVE BRANCH OF GOVERNMENT) The Crow Tribal General Council shall elect three members from each of the established districts within the Crow Reservation known as Valley of the Giveaway or Big Horn, Black Lodge, Valley of the Chiefs or Lodge Grass, Arrow Creek or Pryor, Center Lodge or Reno, and Mighty Few or Wyola, to serve as legislators comprising the Legislative Branch of the Crow Tribal government.
Elections: Elections are held every four years for the Executive officers and every two years for the council members.
Language Classification: Souian -> Missouri Branch -> Crow
The Crows are of Siouan origin, speaking a language classified as Siouan.The Siouan language family is the second largest family of Amerindian languages in North America, after the Algonquian family.
Language Dialects: Crow
Number of fluent Speakers:
Until the 1930s, the majority of tribal members spoke only the Crow language, but today the majority speak English as a second language. The Crow tribe is one of the few native american tribes where their language is alive and thriving. 85% of Crow people still speak Crow as their first language, although most are also fluent in English.
The Crow tribe is directly descended from the Hidatsa tribe of present-day North Dakota, sometimes called the North Dakota Gros Ventres. The separation of the Crows from the Hidatsas is placed at 1400-1500 by anthropologists, and at a.d. 900-1000 by linguists, whose estimates are based on the age of glottal development and the variance of the Crow language from that of the parent tribe.
There were originally three bands of the tribe: the River Crows, who inhabited the territory along the Musselshell and Yellowstone Rivers south of the Missouri River; the Kicked-in-the-Bellies, the band that frequented the area now known as the Bighorn Basin in northern Wyoming; and the Mountain Crows, also known as the Main Camps, who frequented the area of the Upper Yellowstone River and the Bighorn Mountains. Among the stories told concerning the separation of the Crows from the Hidatsas is that of No Vitals and his search for the sacred tobacco.
No Vitals and his brother were on a vision-quest fast, during which they experienced very similar visitations of the supernatural. The brothers’ shared vision was said to be of corn, which was already grown by the Hidatsas. But in No Vitals’s vision he also saw wild mountain tobacco growing in the foothills of mountains. Thus began the separation on the Missouri River of No Vitals and his followers from the rest of the Hidatsas. No Vitals and his small band of followers embarked on the first of two odysseys, which saw them journey to the eastern slopes of the Canadian Rockies, in present-day Alberta, to the upper reaches of the Arkansas River. To this day the Crows still sing lullabies of the mountains of Glacier Park and the fowl of the Arkansas.
Not finding any tobacco on the first odyssey, the No Vitals band returned to the Missouri to pursue the vision again. When they finally did find wild tobacco (Nicotiana multivalvis and N. quadrivalvis), it was growing among the foothills of the Bighorn Mountains, and the small band relocated to the valleys of the Bighorn and Yellowstone Rivers.
Bands, Gens, and Clans
The Crow tribe originally had four divisions: the Mountain Crow, the River Crow, the Kick in the Belly Band, and the Beaver Dries Its Fur Band. Today, only three divisions are still recognized as Crow, with the River Crow and the Mountain Crow being the two dominant divisions. The Crow divisions each led separate lives, except they would band together for defense in times of conflict.
- Ashalaho (‘Many Lodges’, today called Mountain Crow), Awaxaawaxammilaxpáake (‘Mountain People’) or Ashkúale (‘The Center Camp’). The Ashalaho or Mountain Crow, the largest Crow group, split from the Awatixa Hidatsa and were the first to travel west. (McCleary 1997: 2-3)., (Bowers 1992: 21) Their leader No Intestines had received a vision and led his band on a long migratory search for sacred tobacco, finally settling in southeastern Montana. They lived in the Rocky Mountains and foothills on the present-day Wyoming-Montana border along the Upper Yellowstone River, in the Big Horn and Absaroka Range (also Absalaga Mountains) with the Black Hills comprising the eastern edge of their territory.
- Binnéessiippeele (‘Those Who Live Amongst the River Banks’), today called River Crow or Ashshipíte (‘The Black Lodges’) The Binnéessiippeele, or River Crow, split from the Hidatsa proper, according to tradition because of a dispute over a bison stomach. As a result, the Hidatsa called the Crow Gixáa-iccá—”Those Who Pout Over Tripe”. They lived along the Yellowstone and Musselshell rivers south of the Missouri River and in the river valleys of the Big Horn, Powder and Wind rivers, (historically known as the Powder River Country), sometimes traveling north up to the Milk River.
- Eelalapito (Kicked In The Bellies) or Ammitaalasshé (‘Home Away From The Center’, that is, away from the Ashkúale – Mountain Crow). They claimed the area known as the Bighorn Basin, from the Bighorn Mountains in the east to the Absaroka Range to the west, and south to the Wind River Range in northern Wyoming. Sometimes they settled in the Owl Creek Mountains, Bridger Mountains and along the Sweetwater River in the south.
The oral tradition of the Apsaalooke mentions a fourth group, the Bilapiluutche (‘Beaver Dries its Fur’), who are believed to have merged with the Kiowa in the second half of the eighteenth century.
The Apsáalooke/Crow People are known today for the strength of their Apsáalooke ammaalaátuua, (Crow writing system) and clan system. The Crow Indian language is a part of the greater Siouan language family. The Apsáalooke Ashammalíaxxiia, Clan System still consists of several active clans today:
Ashshitchíte/the Big Lodge, Ashhilaalíoo/ Newly Made Lodge
Uuwatashe/ Greasy Mouth, Ashíiooshe/ Sore Lip Clan
Xúhkaalaxche/ Ties the Bundle Clan
Biliikóoshe/ Whistling Waters Clan Ashkápkawiia/ Bad War Deeds Clan
Aashkamne/ Piegan clan. The other name they are called is: Aashbatshua or Treacherous clan.
Hidatsa – Some time after the Hidatsa reached the Missouri River, internal troubles broke out, and part of the tribe separated and moved westward to the neighborhood of Yellowstone river. This separated faction became the Crow tribe. The Hidatsa tribe is also known by the earlier name Minataree.
The Crow were generally friendly with the northern Plains tribes of the Flathead, Eastern Shoshone and Northern Shoshone (although sometimes they had conflicts); Nez Perce, Kutenai, Kiowa and Kiowa Apache. The Crows maintained relatively good relations with the whites, and many Crow men were scouts for the US Calvary.
When white Americans arrived in numbers, the Crows were resisting heavy pressure from enemies who greatly outnumbered them. In the 1850s, a vision by Plenty Coups, a Crow boy who later became their greatest chief, was interpreted by tribal elders as meaning that the whites would become dominant over the entire country, and that the Crows, if they were to retain any of their land, would need to remain on good terms with the whites.
During the period of the Indian Wars, the Crow supported the United States military by supplying scouts and protecting travelers on the Bozeman Trail. Crow scouts helped to track Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce in his flight to freedom; they supplied information to the Army that helped to defeat and capture many Native tribes, friend and enemy alike, and they took part in the battle against Crazy Horse and his people. Once the fighting was over, and the white man’s domination of the plains was secure and unchallenged, the Crow were sent to a reservation with the same treatment given the other Native Nations that had resisted.
As a show of gratitude for his efforts, Chief Plenty Coup (then a very old man), was chosen to represent all the Native Nations at the dedication of the first Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in 1921, following World War I. In an ultimate display of respect for the fallen soldiers of this war, Chief Plenty Coup left his eagle feather bonnet and coup stick on the grave.
Hidatsa, Blackfeet, Dakota and Lakota Sioux, and Cheyenne. Sometimes Shoshone. The Crow were subject to raids and horse thefts by horse-poor tribes including the powerful Blackfoot Confederacy, Gros Ventre, Assiniboine, Pawnee, and Ute.Later they had to face the Lakota and their allies, the Arapaho and Cheyenne, who also stole horses from their enemies. Their greatest enemies became the tribes of the Blackfoot Confederacy and the Lakota-Cheyenne-Arapaho alliance.
The mighty Iron Confederacy (Nehiyaw-Pwat) developed as enemies to the Crow. The Iron Confederacy was Nehiyaw in Plains Cree, Pwat-sak in Assiniboine. It was named after the dominating Plains Cree and Assiniboine peoples, with the latter including the Stoney, Saulteaux, Ojibwe, and Métis as the most powerful.
Ceremonies / Dances:
The worship system of the Crows’ parent tribe, the Hidatsas, was carried on by the Crows; some forms have persisted to the present day. The tribe also copied, adopted, and adapted worship practices and ceremonies from other tribes.
The original principal ceremony of the Crow tribe is known as the Tobacco Ceremony (sometimes mistakenly called the Beaver Dance). This ceremony surrounds the harvesting, cultivation, and keeping of the sacred tobacco seeds first identified in No Vitals’s vision. No Vitals believed that by practicing the Tobacco Ceremony, the Crows would multiply and grow stronger. The Crow still hold their own Tobacco Society ceremony involving rituals related to tobacco, the tribe’s sacred plant.
As with other plains tribes, the Crow practiced the Sundance and the Vision Quest, had medicine bundles, and carried shields. However, their use of these ancient traditions was very different.
The Crow Sun Dance, a communal worship of the sun, was banned by federal authorities in the late 1800s, but the Shoshone Sun Dance came to the Crows in 1941 and became a popular feature of tribal life. The peyote ceremony also came from the tribes of Oklahoma in the early twentieth century.
The original Crow Sundance was practiced as a way to call down revenge against an enemy, and a special Sundance medicine bundle was used only for this purpose. Customarily, the Sundance is a ceremony of supreme sacrifice and prayer for the welfare of all people, all creatures of the earth, and of Mother Earth herself. Not so with the Crow.
Fasting for divine guidance as practiced by the Hidatsas was retained by the Crows, as were wound healing and other ceremonies for health maintenance, and the sweat lodge.
The Vision Quest was of paramount importance in the life of a Crow. Both boys and girls began their Vision Quests around age 9, and it was believed that the villages carried the combined power of all the visions received, and that this power joined forces to be shared by the tribe as a whole. Until visions were received and explained by the village medicine person or shaman, the child had no standing in the village, or in the tribe. The Vision Quest was repeated at intervals set by the elders and medicine people until visions were received, but to lie about success was unthinkable and an unforgivable sin. However, if there were repeated failures in the Vision Quests, the individual was ostracized. Such repeated failure was cause for dishonor and for scorn as such individuals were not allowed to marry and take their rightful place in the village, or in the tribe. In order to preserve self-worth and dignity, a person could buy a part of the vision of a tribal leader, elder or medicine person until such time as he received his own messages.
Modern Day Events & Tourism:
First held in 1918, the Crow Fair and All Indian Rodeo is always held the third week of August. It is known as the Tipi Capital of the World, with over 1,000 authentic tipis in the encampment, and about 50,000 people in attendance. It has the largest outdoor powwow held in the United States, traditional Crow parades daily that stretch out over two miles, horse races, foot races, a rodeo, and many cultural ceremonies that are all open to the public. Every morning the traditional camp crier rides through the camps, wakening the campers and giving them the news.
The third weekend in June, the Crow tribe performs a reenactment of the Battle of the Little Big Horn. The battlefield memorial and actual land where this battle occurred is on the Crow reservation, a few miles from Crow Agency.
Legends / Oral Stories:
Origin of tobacco as told by the Crow and Hidatsa tribes
Art & Crafts:
The Crow People are probably best known for their beadwork. They adorned basically every aspect of their lives with these beads, giving special attention to ceremonial and ornamental items. Their clothing, horses, cradles, ornamental and ceremonial gear, and leather cases of all shapes, sizes and uses were decorated in beadwork.
In their beadwork, geometric shapes were primarily used with triangles, diamonds and hour-glass structures being the most prevalent. A wide range of colors were utilized by the Crow, but blues and various shades of pink were the most dominant. To intensify or to draw out a certain color or shape, they would surround that figure or color in a white outline.
Pinks represent the various shades of the rising sun with yellow being the East, the origin of the sun’s arrival. Blues are symbolic of the sky; red represents the setting sun or the West; green symbolizes mother earth, black the slaying of an enemy, and white representing clouds, rain or sleet. White is often also used to outline figures or shapes for emphasis.
Although most colors have a common symbolism, each piece’s symbolic significance is fairly subjective to its creator, especially when in reference to the individual shapes. One person’s triangle might symbolize a teepee, a spear head to a different individual or a range of mountains to yet another. Regardless of the individual significance of each piece, the Crow People give reverence to the land and sky with the symbolic references found in the various colors and shapes found on their ornamental gear and clothing.
Some of the clothing that the Crow People decorated with beads included robes, vests, pants, shirts, moccasins and various forms of celebratory and ceremonial gear. In addition to creating a connection with the land, from which they are a part, the various shapes and colors reflected one’s standing and achievements. For example if a warrior were to slay, wound or disarm an enemy, he would return with a blackened face.The black color would then be incorporated in the clothing of that man, most likely in his war attire.
The Crow are also adept at dyed porcupine quillwork.
Unlike many Plains indian tribes, the Crow did not eat dogs or horses, but they are among the tribes that had the most of both, estimated at between 500-600 canines, and up to 40,000 horses in their heyday. Before 1700, dogs were used to pull travois for carrying goods. They also used dogs as guards and to hunt. Unlike most other Plains tribes, the Crow never used horses to replace the dog travois. Instead they used horses as riding and pack animals, which enabled them to travel faster than other tribes in rough terains.
Hidatsa records date the arrival of horses in the Northern Plains to around 1728, and it wasn’t long after that the Crow stole horses from the Hidatsa. The Crow were the most accomplished and most famous horsemen of the northern plains. Only the Comanches of the south came close to the reputation of the Crow as riders, and only the Comanches owned as many, and sometimes more horses than the Crow.
Because of this, the Crow were constantly raided by other tribes who needed horses, especially by the Blackfoot Confederacy and the Arapaho. In 1914, Crow horses numbered approximately thirty to forty thousand head. By 1921 the number of mounts had dwindled to just one thousand. (Do you know the cause of this drastic decline in just 7 years? If so, please email us.) Most of the remaining Crow Tribe’s horses were slaughtered by the federal government in the 1940s to make room for cattle.
Some of the Crow horses in the 1800s were said to be from the Pryor Mountain Wild Mustang line. The tough ponies of the Pryor Mountains are celebrated in the lore of the Crow Tribe.
“The reason the Crow used them is they could run all day and go for a week without food,” said Elias Goes Ahead, a Crow historian who teaches at Pryor.
Today, the Crow Tribe has the largest herd of buffalo in the US.
The Crow wore clothing distinguished by gender. Women wore simple clothes – dresses made of deer and buffalo skins, decorated with elk teeth. They covered their legs with leggings during winter and their feet with moccasins.
Male clothing usually consisted of a shirt, trimmed leggings with a belt, a robe, and moccasins.
Elk teeth dress is epitome of Crow status and style
Elk teeth were a highly prized form of adornment, because there are only two ivory teeth in each elk. Elk teeth were a symbol of wealth.
Crow women wore their hair in two braids, unlike the men, who wore their hair loose and unusually long.
Men kept their hair long, in some cases reaching or dragging the ground, and often part of it was cut in front and styled into a pompadour, which was held high and in place with a combination of bear grease and clay. Hair was of the utmost importance to Crow men, and their goal was to have hair that drug the ground. To accomplish this, they saved the hair they cut, as well as hair that was naturally shed, and wove extensions into the head hair. When this was not long enough, they would braid wide falls of human hair and animal hair (especially horsehair after this became available) which they attached to the head hair with buckskin strips.
Traditional Crow shelters of the nomad Crow people were tipis made with bison skins stretched over wooden poles. The Crow are historically known to construct some of the largest tipis. Inside the tipi, mattresses and buffalo-hide seats were arranged around the edge, with a fireplace in the center. The smoke from the fire escaped through a hole in the top of the tipi. Many Crow families still own and use a tipi when traveling.
The Biiluke (also known as the River Crow) lived in lean-tos and wikiups.
The Crows began as an agricultural and quasi-sedentary tribe. They became a nomadic, hunting tribe,that mostly hunted the buffalo for food. They also hunted mountain sheep, deer, elk, antelope, and other smaller game. Buffalo meat was often roasted or boiled in a stew with prairie turnips, camas or cattail root depending on the time of year (both are similar to a potatoe), and wild carrots and onions. The rump, tongue, liver, heart, and kidneys all were considered delicacies. Dried bison meat was ground with fat and berries to make a food called pemmican that would keep through the winter without spoiling.
The Plains Crow foraged for many roots and berries, but the only crop they planted was tobacco. Before they split with the Hidatsa, they were farmers.
The Biiluke (also known as the River Crow) were fishers and hunters and gathers.
The Mountain Crow were farmers.
The Crows’ yearly cultural round was similar to that of other Indian tribes of the northern Great Plains. Spring, considered the beginning of the cycle, was perhaps the most significant of the seasons.
First thunder was a signal to discontinue the winter’s activities such as storytelling and to take up tools and revive the tribal ceremonies. This activity coincided with the birth of new birds and animals. Adoption and initiation ceremonies were begun, and a new perspective on life blended with new plant growth and the coming abundance of the warm seasons.
Summer was a time of gathering the fruits of Crow country. Fresh berries, roots, and other items of subsistence were plentiful. It was time to enjoy the pure waters and cool winds of the mountains.
Autumn was a time to harvest necessities and prepare for the winter. Traditional war parties were forgone to intensify the hunt for prime animals and the gathering of other necessities. Meat, berries, and other supplies were accumulated and prepared for the winter ahead.
Winter was a time to retreat to the sheltered valleys and to strengthen family and tribal ties. After the first snow, storytelling began, and continued until the first thunder of spring.
The majority of employment is supplied by the Crow Tribe and federal programs, providing work to 2,202 employees in total. More specifically, the Bureau of Indian Affairs provides employment to 87 employees and the Crow/Northern Cheyenne Hospital has 270 employees including all outreach services. Privately owned businesses account for 253 employees.
The basis of the economy is derived from the rich resources of the Tribe’s land, which is used directly to support livestock operations. The Tribe owns vast and varied amounts of renewable and non-renewable resources on the reservation which include land, sand and gravel, water and timber, coal, oil, and methane gas.
The Crow operate only a small portion of their irrigated or dry farm acreage and about 30 percent of their grazing land.
The Crow maintain a buffalo herd of about 300 head.
In October of 2004, the Crow Tribe contracted Koski Geophysical Consulting of Billings to conduct seismic testing, evaluation and interpretation of data. With the findings, the Tribe was able to market its potential for oil and methane gas production at trade shows in Houston and Denver. In May 2005, the Tribe secured a minerals lease agreement with Golden Arrow Energy of Wyoming to begin production on 7,680 acres south of Crow Agency.
This reservation includes about one-fourth of the total US coal reserve. For many years the vast coal deposits under the eastern portion of the reservation remained untapped. One mine is now in operation and providing royalty income and employment to tribal members.
Unemployment is estimated at 50% to 60%, meaning many of these families fall below the federal poverty level. The median income for households with employment is about $30,000.
Points of Interest
Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument and Reno-Benteen Battlefield
Crow Agency, 406-638-2621
These monuments commemorate the Sioux/Cheyenne victory over the Seventh Cavalry. The Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument featuresthe cemetery, museum exhibits, an interpretive center and ranger-led programs.
Chief Plenty Coups State Park
This is the home and grave site of the well-known Crow chief, Plenty Coups. There is a display of Crow artifacts and history, and a scenic picnic area.
Crow Fair & Rodeo
Always the third weekend in August
Claims to be the “Tee Pee Capital of the World” because during Crow Fair, which lasts for five days, there are more than 1,000 traditional tipis on the grounds. If you only get one chance to attend a traditional pow wow, this is the one to visit. There is a traditional parade through camp each morning and an all indian rodeo each afternoon, then dancing and ceremonies until dawn. Hundreds of dancers in traditional regalia will be in attendance.
Religion & Spiritual Beliefs:
The medicine people of the tribe are known as Akbaalia (“healer”).
The Mannegishi, also called little people, are bald humanoids with large bulky, pretty eyes and tiny, tan bodies. They were tricksters and may be similar to fairies.
Baaxpee is a spiritual power that can cause a person to mature, as well as unusual events or circumstances that force maturation. Baaxpee comes upon every human to make them into adults. After transformation, the changed are known as Xapaaliia.
Andiciopec is a warrior hero who is invincible to bullets.
The Crow believe that that people, horses, and dogs are the only creatures that possess the necessary ‘energy’ to have souls.
Medicine bundles were too large to wear, and were constructed for very particular purposes. Depending upon the needs and desires of the individual, the personal medicine bundle would hold a pipe and tobacco for the needs of the spirit, face and body paint, corn for plentiful food, elk teeth or beads for wealth, an otter pelt so that water would be plentiful, horsehair for successful horse raids and many horses, and other items signifying personal importance to the owner. Once the medicine bundle was filled, sacred songs and ceremonies were held to wake up the power of the bundle. Success was shared, and if an individual noticed that a particular member of the tribe had exceedingly good luck and good fortune, he could buy the right to duplicate some of the items in the other medicine bundle, and could even buy the rights to use that other person’s sacred songs and cermonies to empower the copied bundle. There were special bundles for war, for horse stealing, for romance, for healing, for hunting, for witchcraft, and for revenge against others.
Personal medicine shields were painted and decorated with messages and visions received by the owners which foretold the future. These shields were not carried into battle for protection, but were given a place of honor at the tipi. They were considered far too powerful to be seen by the enemy, and were only taken into battle when the owner was told by the Spirits that his was a war shield to be used in such a manner.
The worship system of the Crows’ parent tribe, the Hidatsas, was carried on by the Crows; some forms have persisted to the present day. The tribe also copied, adopted, and adapted worship practices and ceremonies from other tribes.
Fasting for divine guidance as practiced by the Hidatsas was retained by the Crows, as were wound healing and other ceremonies for health maintenance, and the sweat lodge. The Crow Sun Dance, a communal worship of the sun, was banned by federal authorities in the late 1800s, but the Shoshone Sun Dance came to the Crows in 1941 and became a popular feature of tribal life. The peyote ceremony also came from the tribes of Oklahoma in the early twentieth century.
The original ceremony of the tribe is known as the Tobacco Ceremony (sometimes mistakenly called the Beaver Dance). This ceremony surrounds the harvesting, cultivation, and keeping of the sacred tobacco seeds first identified in No Vitals’s vision. No Vitals believed that by practicing the Tobacco Ceremony, the Crows would multiply and grow stronger.
A beaded robe was often given to a bride to be, and could take over a year to produce. It was usually created by the bride’s mother-in-law or another female relative-in-law. These robes were often characterized by a series of parallel horizontal lines, usually consisting of light blue. The lines represented the young women’s new role as a wife and mother. The new bride was encouraged to wear the robe at the next ceremonial gathering to symbolize her addition and welcoming to a new family.
Women played a significant role in practically every phase of Crow culture. They fashioned objects of worship and well-being. They were the eyes and ears for their husband, whether or not he was a chief. They related the feelings and talk of the camp, band, and tribe. As such, women reflected the mood of the tribe and discussed tribal direction and options with the men.
The Crows are matrilineal; clan lineage is traced through the mother. The present-day clan system is derived from the thirteen original clans of the tribe. Today there are ten clans, two in each of five kinship groups. Discussions of the origin of the clans go back to Old Man Coyote, the trickster character in ancient stories of the tribe.
It is said that Old Man Coyote characterized clans as similar to driftwood in that they belonged to whichever group happened upon them. To this day, Crows are identified by clan, in keeping with the characteristics and personalities generally associated with that clan through the ages and generations.
After marriage, the couple was matrilocal (the husband moved to the wife’s mother’s house upon marriage). Women held a significant role within the tribe, often obtaining high ranking status, even chief.
The Crow system is distinctive because unlike most other kinship systems, it chooses not to distinguish between certain generations. The system also distinguishes between the mother’s side and the father’s side. The relatives of the subject’s father’s matrilineage are distinguished only by their gender, regardless of their age or generation. In contrast, differences of generation are noted on the mother’s side. This system is associated with groups that have a strong tradition of matrilineal descent.
Tribal College: In 1980, the Crow Tribe founded the Little Bighorn Community College to offer associate degrees for their young population (one-third under age 18). They enroll about 330 students a year.
The college is home to the Apsaalooke Tours program, which provides area tours and group presentations. The college offers associate’s degrees in eight areas.
The Crows’ leadership roles generally resembled those of the Hidatsas. Warlike endeavors were key to becoming a chief and leader. Four acts of bravery and display were considered prerequisites for leadership; their achievement reflected divine guidance and grace. First, one had to be the first to strike or touch the enemy in battle. There could be only one first striker in a battle, and the race to attain that honor created the fury of the attack on the enemy.
Second, one had to take a weapon from the enemy in battle. With the coming of gunpowder, the taking of a rifle was a prime honor.
Third, one had to take a horse in battle, either from the enemy horse herd or, better, from the doorway of the owner’s lodge. Fourth, one had to lead a successful war party and demonstrate leadership prowess in a demanding situation. The achievement of all these honors qualified one to be a chief, but it remained for the camp, the clan, the band, or other group to select its leader from the pool of eligible candidates. The head or principal chief was selected by a council of chiefs.
- Chief PlentyCoup – Last free chief before the Crow were confined to their reservation.
- Medicine Crow, notable warrior and war chief
- White Man Runs Him, notable Crow Indian Scout and warrior
- Hairy Moccasin, notable Crow Indian Scout and warrior
- Goes Ahead, notable Crow Indian Scout and warrior
- Curley, notable Crow Indian Scout and warrior
- White Swan, notable Crow Indian Scout and warrior
- Half Yellow Face, notable Crow Indian Scout and warrior, leader of the six Crow Scouts who assisted Custer
- Pine Leaf, notable female war chief and warrior
- Pretty Shield, notable Crow woman
- Pretty Eagle, notable chief and warrior
- Bull Chief, notable war chief
- Joseph Medicine Crow, Last Crow War Chief last war chief, educator, historian, author, and World War II veteran
Timeline of Famous Crow Chiefs
- Noah Watts, actor (most known for his role as Ratonhnhaké:ton, the main character of Assassin’s Creed III)
- Joseph Medicine Crow, author and tribal historian.
Other Famous Contemporary People:
- Richard Throssel : – Crow Indian Photographer
Following contact with Europeans, the Crow suffered smallpox epidemics, reducing their population drastically.
In the News:
Crow tribe asserts hunting and other treaty rights granted by the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868