Reservation Series: Crow Agency

Enrolled Tribal Members:              11,357
People on the Reservation:           6,863

Programs Partnering with NRC:   23
Sovereign Nation Since:               1825 (but Reservation was formed in 1851)
Official Tribal Web Site:      

A Bit of Culture: 
The Crow Indian Reservation is rich in tradition and history. One of six tribes located in the state of Montana, Crow Agency sits between Billings and the state’s eastern border. About 85% of the people speak Crow and English. The Crow (Apsáalooke) people evolved to live a nomadic lifestyle, after they migrated westward from Lake Erie (Ohio) to North Dakota and then Montana. They were also known for early use of horses in buffalo hunting and combat. At one time, the Crow reportedly had the largest herd of horses “of all the Indian people,” according to the Montana Pioneer.

A Bit of History: 

Dr. Joseph Medicine Crow

Some well-known leaders of the Crow Tribe are Spotted Horse, Old Dog, and Wolf Lays Down. They are joined by Dr. Joseph Medicine Crow, the last member of the Crow Tribe to become a traditional war chief.  As the video mentions, he completed 4 tasks to become a war chief while serving the US Army in World War II, i.e., touching a living enemy soldier, disarming an enemy, leading a successful war party, and stealing an enemy horse. He was said to wear war paint beneath his uniform and a sacred eagle feather beneath his helmet. President Obama awarded Joe Medicine Crow the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2009. Today, he is best known for his books and lectures on the Battle of the Little Bighorn.

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. Apparently, Apsáalooke was misunderstood to mean “Crow” and this is how they came to be called the “Crow” people by a French-Canadian explorer in 1805.

The Biiluke (also known as the River Crow) were fishers and hunters and gathers and lived in lean-tos and wikiups. Those who continued to the mountainous region became the Awashe (also known as the Mountain Crow) and farmers. Those who continued on as part of the “Great Migration” in their quest for the “Sacred Tobacco Plant” settled near the Big Horn Mountains of Montana and became the Apsáalooke (also known as Kicked in the Bellies, which refers to an early first encounter with the horse).

The Land: 
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.

The remaining land, which varies from forested mountains to grasslands and bodies of water, is well suited for livestock and the Crow Tribe has the largest herd of buffalo in the US. Depending on the location (mountain or lower), they enjoy 12-24 inches of precipitation a year.  The land is also rich in natural resources, including about one-fourth of the US coal reserve, as well as sand and gravel, timber, oil, and methane gas. The tribe is working toward industrial production or leasing of oil and methane gas.

Current Economy: 
Most employment opportunities are with the tribal government or federal programs such as the nearby Indian Health Service hospital. 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.

Education & Income: 
In 1980, the Crow Tribe founded teh Little Bighorn Community College to offer associate degrees for their young population (one-third under age 18). They enroll about 330 students a year. This tribal college is an important, local community resource.

Learn More:

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  1. Posted November 7, 2012 at 3:19 pm | Permalink

    We have so much to learn from these elders – such as smiley person in spite of what he had been going through in his life – respect!

  2. Richard Kingsman
    Posted March 1, 2013 at 10:47 pm | Permalink

    I love history.

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