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The Crow - Skilled Horseman of Montana

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Absaroka (Crow) WarriorsThe Crow are also called the Apsáalooke, Absaroka, and Apsaroke. Their name was given them by the Hidatsa, and meant  "people [or children] of the large-beaked bird." Historically, they lived in the Yellowstone River Valley. A Siouan tribe, they once were part of theHidatsa, living around the head waters of the upper Mississippi River in northern Minnesota and  Wisconsin. Later, the Crow moved to the Devil’s Lake region of North Dakota, before splitting with the Hidatsa and moving westward.


Settling in Montana, the tribe split once again into two divisions, called the Mountain Crow and the River Crow. They were first encountered by two Frenchmen in 1743 near the present-day town of Hardin, Montana. When the Lewis and Clark expedition came upon them in 1804, they estimated some 350 lodges with about 3,500 members.


Like many other Plains Indians, the Crow traditionally lived in teepees, though theirs were often larger than other tribes. Constructed of buffalo skins and wooden poles, flying from the poles were not scalps, but strips of red cloth. Their main source of food was bison, but they also hunted mountain sheep, deer, and other game.


Absaroka winter campThe Crow men were extremely proud of their long hair, which was allowed to grow extremely long, sometimes even dragging the ground, and was usually decorated with various items. Unlike the men, Crow women had short hair. While the men were known as skilled horsemen and hunters, the women were accomplished at decorating both the men’s and women’s clothing with beads, embroidery, and dyed porcupine quills, making them particularly handsome.


Explorers described the wandering tribe of hunters as extremely superstitious, skillful horsemen, and despising of the whites, though they weren’t known to kill them, usually preferring to plunder them. The Crow had more horses than any other plains tribe, numbering some 10,000 in mid 1800’s and more than 40,000 by the beginning of the 20th century. They also had hundreds of dogs, with one explorer counting more than 500. Unlike some other tribes, they did not consume dog.


The Crow were a matrilineal, with descent following the maternal line and the husband moving in with the wife’s family. Females held a significant role in the tribe, often obtaining high ranking status, even including chief.


Today, the vast majority of the Crow live on the Crow Indian Reservation in south-central Montana The reservation, covering more than 3,600 square miles, is the fifth-largest Indian reservation in the United States. It is bordered by Wyoming to the south and the Northern Cheyenne Indian Reservation to the east. The reservation encompasses approximately 2.3 million acres, which includes the northern end of the Bighorn Mountains, the  Wolf Mountains, and the Pryor Mountains. The Bighorn River flows north from Yellowtail Dam and joins the Little Bighorn River just outside Hardin, Montana The city of Billings is approximately 10 miles northwest of the reservation boundary.


Membership in the Apsáalooke Nation numbers about 11,000 with almost 8,000 residing on the Crow Indian Reservation. Eighty-five percent speak Crow as their first language.


The Apsáalooke/Crow People are known for the strength of their Apsáalooke ammaalaátuua, (Crow writing system) and clan system. The Crow Indian language is a part of the greater Siouan language family. The Apsáalooke Ashammalíaxxiia, Clan System consists of several active clans:

  • Ashshitchíte/the Big Lodge, Ashhilaalíoo/ Newly Made Lodge

  • Uuwatashe/ Greasy Mouth, Ashíiooshe/ Sore Lip Clan

  • Xúhkaalaxche/ Ties the Bundle Clan

  • Biliikóoshe/ Whistling Waters Clan Ashkápkawiia/ Bad War Deeds Clan

  • Aashkamne/ Piegan clan. The other name they are called is: Aashbatshua or Treacherous clan



The the Apsáalooke Nation's headquarters are located at the Crow Agency, where the tribe hosts the Annual Crow Fair which features a pow-wow, rodeo, and parade. During this event, which is held each third weekend in August, it becomes known as "The Teepee Capital of the World," where as many as 1,500 teepees can be seen spread across the river valley of the Little Big Horn River.


More Information:

Apsáalooke Nation

Baacheeitche Avenue
P.O. Box 159
Crow Agency, Montana 59022



© Kathy Weiser/Legends of America, updated June, 2017.


Crow Pow-wow

Pow-wow at the Annual Crow Fair


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