Coming Home

War bonnet repatriated back to Crow tribe, college to curate
Thursday, November 14, 2019
Article Image Alt Text

Photo by Rusty LaFrance

Dr. Tim McCleary, anthropologist and department head of academics at Little Big Horn College, holds a war bonnet recently given back to the tribe by Michelle Ryan of Seal Beach, California. The war bonnet was given to her grandparents in the early 20th century.

An old Crow war bonnet, which was gifted to the former owner of the St. Xavier general store, was recently returned to the Crow Tribe.

The war bonnet was given to the owners of the St. X General Store, Charles McGarity and his wife Cecilia during the early 1920s. The original owner is unknown.

The granddaughter of McGarity, Michelle Ryan who now resides in Seal Beach, California spoke to Big Horn County News about the decision to give the war bonnet back to the tribe.

“It just felt like the right thing to do, to return it back to the people that it came from,” Ryan said.

The war bonnet was presumably from one of the many chiefs who lived in the St. Xavier area during that time period.

The McGaritys came to Montana from Philadelphia in 1908, settling in Plevna and building a homestead.

After some family hardships, including the loss of several children, the McGarity family decided that it was time to move.

In 1918, the McGaritys moved to St. Xavier, a well-established town during the Roaring 20s. Their decision was finalized by the picturesque scenery, the proximity to the Big Horn Mountains and the growing economy of the town at the time, Ryan.

During the 1920s, the tiny town of St. Xavier had a garage, a bank, a theater, a pool hall, and even a hotel. It was quickly growing due to the discovery of oil in the Soap Creek Valley.

Many families, hoping to cash in on the oil boom and the availability of fertile Indian Allotment lands, quickly settled in the area and St. Xavier sprung to life.

Once the family had arrived to the area, the McGaritys quickly took over the ownership of a critical element in the small town, they ran one of two general stores in the tiny settlement and were good friends with many Crow families and chiefs, including Chief Plenty Coups.

“My grandparents did a lot of trading with the Crow people,” Ryan said. “My grandmother gave the war bonnet to my mother after they had retired and gotten older.”

Ryan’s mother, Nancy McGarity, knowing the value and importance of such an artifact, kept the war bonnet hidden safely away.

“She knew the value of this war bonnet, and she protected it with her life,” Ryan said.

After her mother passed on, ownership of the war bonnet was transferred to Michelle, who decided that the it would be better if it transferred to the care of the people from which it had came.

“We just knew that this war bonnet had to go back to the Crow,” Ryan said.

Since the war bonnet came from St. Xavier, which is located within the Big Horn/Valley Of The Giveaway District of the Crow people, Ryan worked out on exactly whom it would be going to as the war bonnet had such sentimental value to her family.

Upon Ryan’s arrival to Crow Agency, it was decided that since the war bonnet had come from St. Xavier that former Big Horn District senator Pat Alden Jr. would be the one to accept the war bonnet on the tribe’s behalf.

From there, the war bonnet was placed into the care of the Little Big Horn College Archives, where it currently resides as part of the colleges expanding collection of repatriated artifacts.

Dr. Tim McCleary, anthropologist and department head of academics at Little Big Horn College says that a Crow chief most likely captured the war bonnet from the Blackfeet during a raid or in a skirmish, as the design is typical of the Blackfoot construction.

“It’s very difficult to try to track down which individual owner that it came from without any solid leads,” McCleary said, “but we can identify who the chiefs in that area were during that time period.”

While trying to decipher and narrow down exactly who the war bonnet belongs to is quite an undertaking, Mc-Cleary says that the college does not currently have a plan to find who the war bonnet would have come from, they are very thrilled to welcome it back to Crow country.

Exactly which chief the war bonnet belongs to remains a secret, whose only answer lies hidden in the depths of history.