After many miles of riding back up along the Elk River from its mouth at the Missouri River, Sitting Bull’s band was met somewhere around the Shepherd area by an escort party of Crow scouts in mid-September 1886. The escort party of Crow scouts, who spoke to Sitting Bull in sign language, guided them “to a good camping place” in the Pryor Mountains, where one of the Mountain Crow chiefs first hosted the Lakota visitors. The visiting Sioux Chief and his people would be met by the escorts and taken to the Pryor Gap, where the Crow camp lay, and be hosted by the Crow for the next few nights.
It is here where Josephine Waggoner, a witness to the Sioux chief’s time at the Standing Rock agency, states that “tribal dancing was started.” The Crows hosted a war dance for their visitors with clowns painted in grotesque ways to provide merry and entertainment. These photographs are some of the very first uses of flash photography at night, and they came from the Pryor Mountains. The Sioux would reciprocate by giving the Crows one of their ways of war dancing, with positions that are similar to the Daytime Dance such as Tail Feather Owners and Horse Whip Carrier. This was a joyous occasion. The Crow, in their typical competitive nature, began to make friends with the Sioux visitors by hosting them and their families within their own camps.
After a couple days' rest, Sitting Bull’s group was again guided towards present-day Crow Agency to again be hosted by various Crow family camps set up along the small creeks. The Lakotas eventually made their way into the heart of Crow Agency after a few days, much to the chagrin of Agent Williamson. Upon reaching the agency the Lakota and Crow both set their tepees in a massive circle, beginning to trade and would spend the days and nights singing, feasting, dancing, trading, possibly even snagging.
These celebrations can be seen in various photographs featuring parades, war dancing, and the Crow and Lakota visitors wearing each other’s beadwork. So much in fact, that the Crows began to have a small contest to see who had the best of the new Sioux adornments, such as saddle blankets, tepee bags, moccasins, dresses, men’s shirts, leggings, and more. However, the main reason for the invitation was they gave the Sioux many fine horses. The Sioux visitors had suffered a great loss of their own horses due to harsh winters on the reservation, with little to no grazing in the barren sand hills of the Badlands.
In several photos, one can see how this rich exchange of cultures was uplifting for both tribes, maybe even fun, or even healing of the old wounds brought on by years of conflict. Old enemies sat and shared a meal with each other, conversing by sign or translators, while the young ones who had only heard the stories of the old days, found new love in the people they once hated. These dances are still actively being practiced today, with a focus on reviving the traditional ways of war dancing, recalling back to the times of intertribal warfare.
While in Crow Agency, Sitting Bull also returned back to the famous Custer battlefield, where his massive campsite had been only 10 years earlier and commented on the newly erected monument to Lt. Col. George Custer and the fallen blue coat soldiers. In fact, most of the Crow scouts who joined the Centennial Campaign of 1876 would have been present at this event. Sitting Bull, according to eyewitnesses, allegedly turned towards his Crow hosts, pointed at the monument and said “Look at that stone; That marks the work of our (Lakota) people.”
It was there where Sitting Bull, who greatly opposed the idea of individual allotments on the Standing Rock reservation due to fractionation after each generation, also spoke publicly on his private views to the Crow who were in the midst of a struggle with their allotment agent, Henry Williamson. “See how the white men treat us and how they treat you,” Sitting Bull said, “You are kept at home and made to work like slaves, while we do no labor and are permitted to ride from agency to agency and enjoy ourselves.”
According to reports, sources say that it was apparent that Sitting Bull’s intent was to sow discord amongst the Crow leadership, to inspire them to speak up against the evils of allotment, by attacking an area he knew very well; The enemy's mind.
Sitting Bull insisted and perpetuated the idea to his Crow hosts during his entire stay that “real tribal leaders” would never cooperate with the US government, for this was seen as ingratiating oneself to the whims of others who were otherwise considered “unworthy.”
This would not be received well by the Crow leaders and most notably, by Chief Crazy Head, who felt that a man with Sitting Bull’s history and character ought not to speak on matters not of his concern. In the eyes of the Crow chief, Sitting Bull had spoken too freely, without restraint, and overstepped social boundaries. He would, however, also make his feelings publicly known as well.