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Crow Nation


Excerpt from Plenty-Coups: Chief of the Crows

by Frank B. Linderman
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I decided to go afoot to the Crazy Mountains, two days' long journey from the village.

The traveling without food or drink was good for me, and as soon as I reached the Crazies I took a sweat-bath and climbed the highest peak...

But even though I fasted two more days and nights, walking over the mountain top, no Person came to me, nothing was offered...

Back in the village I told my closest friends about the high peaks I had seen, about the white grizzly bears, and the lake. They were interested and said they would go back with me and that we would all try to dream.

There were three besides myself who set out...But no person came to me, nothing was offered...

All day the sun was hot...I had eaten nothing, taken no water, for nearly four days and nights, and my mind must have left me while I sat there under the hot sun on the mountain top...

I dreamed. I heard a voice at midnight and saw a Person standing at my feet, in the east.

He said, 'Plenty-coups, the Person down there wants you now...When I reached his side he began to sink slowly into the ground...he spoke "Follow Me"...

A fierce storm was coming fast...I saw the Four Winds gathering to strike the forest...Saw beautiful trees twist like blades of grass and fall...Only one tree, tall and straight, was left standing...

"What does this mean?" I whispered in my dream. "Listen Plenty-coups," said a voice. "In that tree is the lodge of the Chickadee. He is least in strength but strongest in mind among his kind. He is willing to work for wisdom...Develop your body, but do not neglect your mind Plenty-coups. It is the mind that leads man to power, not the strength of his body."

I wakened then. My three friends were standing at my feet in the sunshine. They helped me stand. I was very weak, but my heart was singing...

Yellowstone River, Montana, North Dakota, and Wyoming

Called the "Elk River" in the Crow language

Yellowstone River
Billings, Montana the Yellowstone River. Photograph by Sara Goth (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons.

There is an ancient site on the river, the Hagen Site, also called "Where Corn Was Planted but Died." The bluffs along the river by Billings, Montana, are the site of Four Dance's Vision.

Little Big Horn College: Tribal Histories Project, Crow Migrations Story Version II.

Black Hills, Absaroka and Beartooth Mountains, Wind River, and Bearpaw Mountains

Black Hills, Absaroka and Beartooth Mountains, Wind River, and Bearpaw Mountains

Black Hills, Absaroka and Beartooth Mountains, Wind River, and Bearpaw Mountains

Black Hills, Absaroka and Beartooth Mountains, Wind River, and Bearpaw Mountains

Black Hills, Absaroka and Beartooth Mountains, Wind River, and Bearpaw Mountains

The Four Tipi Poles of the Crow Nation. Crow oral history tells of an intentional migration west to their present homelands

Tipi Rings
Tipi Rings in Bighorn Mountains, Photographs by Peter de Lory, Courtesy of Peter de Lory ©

"I have but one tipi. It has but four poles. It is held to the ground by big rocks. My east lodge pole touches the ground at the Black Hills, my south, the ground at the headwaters of the Wind River, my west, the snow capped Absaroke and Beartooth Ranges, the north lodge pole resting on the Bearpaw Mountains."
– Two Leggings, Crow

Nabokov, Peter, ed. 1967. Two Leggings: The Making of a Crow Warrior. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.

Pryor Mountains, Montana

Castle Rocks is a prayer and fasting site located in the Pryor Mountains

Castle Rocks, with "Arrow Rock" in the foreground is a very important place to the Crow Nation. "This is the doorway here into these sacred mountains. We get permission from the creator to come in a good way."

– Crow Elder, Burton Pretty On Top.

Bighorn River, Montana and Wyoming

Called Big Horn Ram's River by Crow

Bighorn Canyon
Aerial view of a portion Bighorn Canyon in Montana, showing the Bighorn River, February 2010, Photograph by National Park Service. United States Department of the Interior. [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

This river flows through the center of the Crow reservation. A series of court cases that invoked the 1851 and 1868 treaties delineating Crow lands went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. The Crow Nation asserted their right to regulate hunting and fishing on the reservation. The case ended with the state of Montana claiming jurisdiction over the beds and the banks of the Bighorn River and the right to regulate non Crow people's activities on the river. The Crow tribe could then only regulate Crow tribal members using the river.

Bighorn Mountains, Montana and Wyoming

Mountain range where Crow oral history tells of finding the sacred seeds shown to No Intestines in his vision

Bighorn Mountains
Clouds over the Bighorn Mountains of Wyoming, May 2012. Photograph by Conniemod. [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons.

Many prayer, fasting, and ancient buffalo hunting sites can be found at numerous locations within the mountains.

Heart Mountain, Wyoming

Considered a sacred site

Heart Mountain
Heart Mountain and surrounding mountains covered in snow, October 2003. Photo courtesy of Northwest College and David Vaughan, NWC photographer (Northwest College) [CC BY-SA 3.0 ( or GFDL (], via Wikimedia Commons.

Once located in the Crow tribe's 1851 Horse Creek (Ft. Laramie) Treaty lands, this site is now owned by the Nature Conservancy.

Little Big Horn College: Tribal Histories Project, Crow Migrations Story Version II.

Devil's Lake, North Dakota

Where brothers No Intestines and Red Scout, leaders of their people, sought spiritual guidance during the people's migration west. Late Crow historian, Joseph Medicine Crow, related this migration history telling that No Intestines "received a pod of sacred seeds and was told to go west to the high mountains and plant the seeds there." Red Scout received "an ear of corn and was told to settle down and plant the seeds for sustenance."

Devils Lake
Dead trees in the water of Devils Lake, North Dakota, 2008. Courtesy of Alamy Stock Photo.

Crow oral history relates that after receiving spiritual guidance, the two brothers separated. No Intestines and his followers continued west and this group eventually end up in the Montana-Wyoming area and become the Crow Nation. Red Scout and his followers settled in the Missouri River country in what is now North Dakota.

Crazy Mountains, Montana

Fasting and prayer site

Plenty Coups, Crow leader, fasted four years in a row in the Crazy Mountains in order to receive spiritual guidance for his life.

Linderman, Frank B. 1930. Plenty-coups: Chief of the Crows. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.

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According to Crow oral history, the Crow Nation intentionally migrated from the east. The people of the Crow Nation call themselves the Apsáalooke : Children of the Large Beaked Bird. Their historical homelands extended across a large area that included parts of present-day Montana, Wyoming, and South Dakota. There were three Crow political divisions: the Mountain Crow, the River Crow, and the Kicked In The Bellies. The River Crow ranged from the Yellowstone River north to the Milk River. The Kicked In The Bellies lived in an area from the Bighorn Mountains to the Wind River Range in central Wyoming. The Mountain Crow lands straddled the present Montana-Wyoming border, with the Black Hills of South Dakota as the eastern edge of their territory. Today, the people and the government of the Crow Nation are located on a reservation in the southeastern part of Montana.

"All the mountain ranges in the territory of the Apsáalooke (Crow) Nation are sacred because that is where First Maker travels as he watches his creation." Letter to Custer National Forest from George Reed, former Chairman of Crow Cultural Committee, 2007.

Looking at the Pryor Mountains from Deaver, Wyoming, January 1, 2006. Photograph by Betty Jo Tindle. [CC BY-SA 3.0]
The Yellowstone River and its nearby lands are important to the history and culture of the Crow people. The Crow still remember the places where important events occurred long ago and where sacred sites are located along the river.

Yellowstone River near Livingston, Montana, August 2016. Photograph by Bill Campbell, courtesy of © Bill Campbell
The Crow Nation was famous for having some of the largest horse herds on the northern Great Plains. Crow artists created elaborate horse regalia to honor horses. Mounted parades, such as the one here, were an important part of fairs, rodeos, and other events where the Crow and other Northern Great Plains Nations could proclaim their identity.

Crow men wearing feather headdresses in parade formation. NMAI P22474
Every August, the Crow Nation hosts the Crow Fair on their lands in Montana. It is one of the largest Native gatherings in the country and attracts more than 50,000 participants and spectators from around the world. The fair opens with a parade, in which participants dress themselves and their horses in elaborate regalia that reflects their culture and their homelands.

Miss Tiny Tot Crow Nation at the Crow Nation opening parade, 2014. Photograph by Emil Her Many Horses, NMAI

"The Crow country is in exactly the right place. It has snowy mountains, sunny plains, all kinds of climates and good things for every season. When the summer heat scorches the prairies you can draw up under the mountains where the air is sweet and cool, the grass fresh, and the bright streams come tumbling out of the snow banks. There you can hunt the elk, the deer, and the antelope when their skins are fit for dressing. There you will find plenty of white bears and mountain sheep.

In the autumn, when your horses are strong and fat from the mountain pastures, you can go down into the plains and hunt the buffalo or trap beaver in the streams. And when winter comes on you can take shelter in the woody bottoms along the rivers. There you will find buffalo meat for yourselves and cottonwood bark for your horses. Or you may winter in the Wind River valley where there is salt weed in abundance. The Crow country is exactly at the right place. Everything good is to be found there. There is no country like the Crow country."

Crow Chief Eelápuash Speech to Rocky Mountain Fur Company

Washington Irving, "Account of the country as rendered by Arapooish, a Crow chief, to Mr. Robert Campbell, of the Rocky Mountain Fur Company." In The Adventures of Captain Bonneville, U.S.A. in the Rocky Mountains and Far West (New York: G. P. Putnam and Son, 1868).

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