Editor’s Note:“Cultures Commune in Crow Country” is a four-part series discussing the historic relationship between the Crow and the Lakota.
As we begin our journey forward into the journalistic adventures one can find on the Crow Reservation, one comes to the realization: The Crow Agency area itself has witnessed many major events, like transitioning from our traditional lodges to “square houses,” and witnessing the Battle of the Little Big Horn – arguably the most famous fight in the world. Our cozy little hamlet has also witnessed the Crow Rebellion of 1887, to the visit of First Lady Ladybird Johnson, Crow Agency has quite a rich history.
Like most epic stories, it has to begin somewhere. The “Crow Indian Agency”, established in 1868 after the signing of the Fort Laramie Treaty by Mountain Crow and Kicked In The Belly chiefs and headmen, has actually had several different locations over the years. The first one being at Fort Parker, Montana near Mission Creek. In a place where the Crows call a large butte “The Hidescraper.”
A small wooden fort was once nestled underneath the base of the Crazy Mountains. This served as offices for the US Army Soldiers charged with the task of “assisting” the Crow Indians to adapt to the farming culture of the encroaching Americans, and to monitor any Crow enemies on the horizon.
One of history’s most noted rivalries comes from the years’ aggressions between the Apsáalooke and their adversaries, the Lakota Sioux. Part of a much larger confederacy, the seven western bands of the Sioux frequented the area the Crows resided due to better quality game animals under the mountains, however the Teton or Western Lakota, known to the Crows as Dakkoote would grow to become one of the Crows most bitter enemies. The peak of the animosities began after the massacre of a Crow camp along the Tongue River sometime around 1843 at the hands of the combined forces of the Lakota Sioux and their allies, the Cheyennes.
Fighting primarily for hunting, horses, or in retaliation for some prior offense, the Crow and Sioux had many unpleasant interactions over the course of hundreds of years but following the destruction of the camp in 1843, the Crows would offer scouting services to the Army as a form of revenge to console their mourning hearts for the loss of their relatives. However, even after the devastating loss of the Crow camp, the Fort Laramie Treaty two years later resulted in the loss of the Powder River country when lands were divided. In fact, during the 1866 council meeting at Fort Phil Kearney, Col. Henry B. Carrington asked one of the Sioux chiefs sent by Red Cloud why the Sioux desired Crow lands? Black Horse, one of the Sioux representatives, spoke up and stated, “We stole the hunting grounds of the Crows because they were the best.”
This harrassment from the Siouxs led to the thousands of skirmishes between the two tribes for the next 10 years from Alberta, the Dakotas, Wyoming and Nebraska. Here at home, the main battleground for these dramatic meetings lay in the current day Mighty Few district, our southern corridor. However, the peak of their mutual hatred would come to a head in the summer of 1876 when Sitting Bull’s famous resistance to reservation lifestyle spilled into Crow lands.
As part of a campaign to eliminate Sioux resistance, the U.S. Army thought to use the age-old advantage “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” and enlisted the help of the Crow. By reminding the Crows that Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse were Crow enemies using their land and resources illegally, nearly 350 Crow scouts including famous warriors such as Plenty Coups, Medicine Crow, Bull Snake, and even two Crow women, entered the Centennial Campaign. Only six scouts would see the famous battle with Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer, Maj. Marcus Reno, and Cap. Frederick Benteen along the Little Big Horn River, in the area Crows now call “Where Morning Star’s Child Was Killed.”
What is lost to most of the country is what happened between the Crow and the Sioux after the battle.