After the buffalo days : documents on the Crow Indians from the 1880's to the 1920's
Bradley, Charles Crane
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To many of the Crows who had witnessed the disappearance of the buffalo this dramatic change to a great extent spelled the disappearance of the Crow culture. After that "nothing happened - we just lived" according to Chief Two Leggins. According to Mr. Bradley, however, a lot of things happened. Ratification of the Agreement of 1880 in 1882 began the policy of selling Crow land for money to run the remaining reservation. During the latter part of the 19th century the Crows had been taught how to plow fields, run cattle, and dig ditches. No effort was made to teach them land management and economics, which caused significant difficulties when the Indians eventually wanted to govern themselves. During this period the white Indian agents had the power. They kept the Crows from visiting other reservations in the 1880s and 1890s. The most important issues from the government viewpoint at this time included: leasing tribal lands, granting right of ways to railroads, authorizing irrigation construction, and establishing schools. The irrigation work was the first large scale employment opportunity to the Crows. TThis thesis deals with the history of the Crows between 1880 and 1920s - a period of major transition. It is based on nearly 2000 letters received by the Commissioner of Indian Affairs concerning the Crow reservation. The major issues concerning the Crow reservation were: leasing tribal lands, ceding lands, the irrigation of the land inside the reservation boundaries, and establishment of schools.First cattle herds were driven into Montana in 1866. By 1882 stockmen were clamoring to use the reservation lands for grazing. At first the Indians were allowed to choose the lessees, but by 1887 the Department of the Interior decided to regulate the process by leasing to the highest bidder on the lands the Indians chose to lease. The Crow disliked the system, wanting to grant the leases to people who treated them fairly. This often led to disputes between the Indians and the agent. Many of the leases were contingent on the lessees buying all Crow surplus hay.The Northern Pacific railroad survey party reached the Crow reservation in 1880. The Crows gave consent to it in 1881. In 1887 they allowed a branch line to be built to Red Lodge. However, the negative effects - such as more whites inside the reservation, cattlemen driving their herds to nearest shipping point, and liquor available in towns near reservation boundaries made the Crows rethink the advantages of railroads. They withheld further consent, but this was made irrelevant by the government deciding such consent was no longer needed.The government began the planning of irrigation ditches on the reservation in 1884. To make the Crows agree with the plans the majority of the work was to be done by the Indians. The irrigation work brought employment, money and gambling to the reservation. Once the canals were finished, though, the trained workforce was left idle. The Crows seemed to accept the idea of allotments until Sitting Bull's visit, which turned them against it. From then on they were generally against the idea of individual ownership of land. It was nearly impossible for them to hang onto their allotments among white people on the lands the tribe ceded to the government. Whites commonly caused trouble by relinquishing, leasing, or squatting on these allotments. The Crows eventually came to realize that the government would sell whatever land was left over after allotments had been granted.With the increased pressure from the white settlers to open the reservation, the government started to backpedal on such issues as the necessity of Crow consent to selling the Crow lands. Because the Indians had been declared "government wards" in 1903, such consent was unnecessary if the government acted in the best interest of the Indians. The Crows vehemently opposed such attitudes. To counter such actions, the Crows suggested using their "educated young men" to make sense of the various propositions. New bills to open the remainder of the reservation were introduced to congress in 1907, 1910, 1915, and 1918. The Crow Act, largely written by the tribe itself, finally passed in 1920 ending 15 years of political haggling. The Act divided the entire reservation under individual ownership by tribal members.Government opened the first school on the reservation in 1883 in Crow Agency. This was followed by Catholic and Unitarian boarding schools. Some students were sent to off-reservation schools despite an earlier agreement with the government. The students were taught basic academics and a variety of "industrial" skills. The main focus was converting the children to white man's culture.