‘Treaties that live’

LBHC set to host two-day symposium on landmark Crow tribal treaties
Thursday, September 6, 2018

Photo by Alexander Gardner

Crow delegates for the 1868 Fort Laramie Treaty line up for a photo. Pictured from the left are Dr. Matthews (Crow agent), Mountain Trail, Pounded Meat, Blackfoot (Sits in the Middle of the Land), White Fawn, Winking Eyes, White Horse, Poor Elk, Shot in the Jaw, Crane and Pretty Young Bull.

Photo by Andrew Turck

Little Big Horn College Library Director Tim Bernardis holds up a printed copy of the 1868 Fort Laramie Treaty in a hallway at the campus library.

Early this year, it occurred to Little Big Horn College Library Director Tim Bernardis that his institution had planned nothing for the 150th anniversary of both the Fort Laramie and Fort Hawley treaties. These documents, he said, “formed the basis for Crow relations with the United States…down to the present day.”

“I said, ‘By God, we can’t let this opportunity slip,’” he said. “We’ve got to do something on that.”

Thus began an idea that turned into a symposium, scheduled Sept. 14-15 at the college’s Health & Wellness Center in Crow Agency. The event’s title is “Treaties that Live: Sesquicentennial of Crow (Apsaalooke) Indian Treaties of 1868 at Fort Laramie, Wyoming and Fort Hawley, Montana.”

According to the “Treaties that Live” website, the Fort Laramie and Hawley documents were designed by the U.S. government with the intention of placing Crow tribal members – their allies in wartime conflict – within a set of boundaries on “agricultural reservations.” The Fort Laramie Treaty is the one most-remembered, Bernardis said, as the Fort Hawley version wasn’t approved by the U.S. Senate and therefore deemed invalid.

Montana Rep. Sharon Stewart-Peregoy (D-Crow Agency) is set to present on the treaties’ ramifications in the years that followed the agreements. Stewart-Peregoy said knowing the documents’ intricacies has helped her represent Montana and clear up misconceptions about “treaty tribes” such as the Crow.

“The treaties are…not archaic, they’re living documents,” she said. “The treaty tribes are the ones who exchanged their land for services and it’s important to know that.

“Those treaty tribes are tied to the Constitution of the United States.”

As stipulated in the 1868 treaties, the Crow would select head chiefs, send their children to schools provided by the U.S. government, make peace with their traditional enemies and adapt to American society. The government, in turn, would provide medical attention, agricultural supplies, food and clothing to the Crow. The treaties stated that roads, military and government trading posts, and travel were allowed through Crow territories.

Bernardis added that provisions within the Fort Laramie Treaty “speak to Crows hunting off the reservation.” A U.S. Supreme Court case regarding a Crow tribal member’s right to hunt on unoccupied land in Wyoming currently is ongoing.

“[The U.S. government] wanted them to become agriculturalists, settle down in one place, give up the nomadic lifestyle and stop hunting the buffalo,” Bernardis said. “Of course, they saw to it that [the nomadic lifestyle] was going to be impossible by killing so many buffalo. I think it was partly deliberate on the part of the government and the army.”

The Fort Laramie Treaty was drafted with the Mountain Crow, who Bernardis said “tended to make their homes in the Yellowstone River Valley down south to the Bighorn Mountains over to the Bighorn Basin in what’s now Wyoming.” As for the Fort Hawley Treaty, he continued, it was drafted with the River Crow, who “tended to be further up north around the Musselshell country, and all the way up to the Missouri and even the Milk rivers.”

Among the Mountain Crow leaders who signed the Fort Laramie Treaty was Blackfoot, also known as Sits in the Middle of the Land. He gained the latter name, the “Treaties that Live” website states, when he united the Mountain and River Crow into one tribe. He served as a mentor to two Crow leaders – Pretty Eagle and Plenty Coups – who would grow up to be recognized as the last traditional chiefs of their now-united tribe.

During treaty negotiations, Blackfoot pushed against the document’s reduction of Crow land from the 38 million acres specified in the 1851 Fort Laramie agreement to eight million acres, as recorded in Frederick E. Hoxie’s 1995 book, Parading through History: The Making of the Crow Nation in America 1805-1933. Hoxie, who has a doctorate in History of American Civilization, also will be speaking at the symposium.

After “throwing back his long, black locks, which fell halfway to his waist,” Hoxie wrote, Blackfoot turned on the U.S. commission “in a cold fury.” The Crow, he said, had remained loyal to the United States, despite offers from the Sioux to ally with them against the Americans.

“Do not speak of confining us to a corner of our territory!” Blackfoot said.

He eventually signed with the other Crow leaders, Hoxie wrote, for three main reasons. First, the transcontinental railroad in southern Wyoming was nearing completion and would doom the Bighorn basin’s bison herds in some of the 1851 territory. Second, he and the other leaders believed the River Crow – who were not represented in treaty deliberations – would be protected in a separate agreement. Third, the treaty corrected an oversight from the 1851 agreement and annuities to the tribe now would be distributed from a closer government agency within Crow lands.

“We wish to separate a part of your territory for your nation where you may live forever,” Commissioner Nathaniel Taylor, a former congressman and preacher from Tennessee, told the tribal delegation. “Great Father in Washington and the commission will not allow any whites to settle.”

In present day, the Crow Reservation has shrunk 2.2 million acres.

At an 1873 summit to find a new homeland for the Crow in the Judith River basin – which eventually failed – Blackfoot continued to criticize the Fort Laramie Treaty, as recorded in Parading through History.

Hoxie’s book quotes Blackfoot as saying promises from the U.S. government to protect buffalo herds and expel the Sioux Tribe – the Crows’ traditional enemies – were “all lies” and never incorporated into the written agreement. Felix R. Brunot, a member of the council described as “a pious Pittsburgh industrialist” from Washington, D.C., concurred with Blackfoot’s opinion, saying the U.S. policy regarding American Indians up to that point was marked by “the tragedy of war and the farce of treaty.”

“I am ashamed about it,” Blackfoot said of the 1868 agreement. “They send us tin kettles; we go to get water to carry to our lodges; we dip the water, but it all runs out again. This is what we get for our land.”

The Northern Pacific railroad was heading toward the Yellowstone, thus dooming buffalo herds in the area, Brunot said. For the tribe’s fresh start, he continued, they must learn to live “on the white man’s food.”

Despite the descriptions of a post-treaty reservation by Blackfoot and Brunot, Stewart-Peregoy said the agreement as a whole represented a U.S. governmental policy shift regarding American Indians. Where it had attempted to eradicate the Native population before, now it aimed to help and preserve them.

Crow populations already had been cut by four-fifths due to smallpox epidemic, dwindling from an estimated 10,000 in 1830 to about 2,000 people by 1850.

From that low, they increased. The New World Encyclopedia places the tribe’s current population between 11,000 and 12,000.

“It’s the issue of homeland,” Stewart-Peregoy said, “living on a shrinking homeland base and trying to survive.”

Speakers set to present at the upcoming symposium – in addition to Bernardis, Hoxie and Stewart-Peregoy – are as follows: Philip Beaumont Jr. (master’s in Native American Studies), Alden Big Man (doctorate in History), C. Adrian Heidenreich (doctorate in Anthropology) and Dale Old Horn (master’s in Linguistics).

The event is sponsored by Humanities Montana, First Interstate Bank Foundation, the Montana History Foundation and the Friends of Chief Plenty Coups Association.


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