The Crow get horses - Later Crow History
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Crow get horses

Crow men
Crow men

By the 1600s AD, Crow people, still living in the Dakotas, began to catch smallpox and measles from their neighbors, the Mandan, and many Crow people died. So even though they had not yet met any Europeans, Crow people's lives were still very much changed by European settlers. Crow people met Europeans for the first time in 1743 - these were French fur traders. Around 1750, the Crow traded with the Apache and other people to their south to get their first horses.

By about 1800, the Sioux and Mandan, pushed west by white settlers, forced the Crow to move still further west, out of the Dakotas into Montana and Wyoming. This is where Lewis and Clark saw them in 1805. At this point the Crow people gave up on farming (except for some small fields of tobacco) and took up hunting buffalo more and more. With their horses, they could kill a lot more buffalo. They started to live in very big tipis covered with buffalo hides. They lived mainly on buffalo meat, but also ate deer and mountain sheep. They cooked buffalo fat with berries to make pemmican. Crow men spent a lot of time also fighting small wars with their horses and bows and arrows against their neighbors, the Mandan, the Sioux and the Blackfoot to their north.

Crow woman
A Crow woman embroidering beads on to clothing (late 1800s)

About 1850, the Crow people first were able to buy guns, as the railroad brought white settlers to the Great Plains for the first time. But Crow people soon found themselves in an impossible position. If they sheltered their horses in river valleys in the winter, then the buffalo were pushed onto the cold prairie and died. The northern Great Plains were too crowded, because white settlers had pushed too many people there: the Crow, the Blackfoot, the Cree, and the Sioux. The railroads scared the buffalo. And now white settlers wanted the Great Plains as well, and they were killing all the remaining buffalo.

Crow gas
A natural gas well on the Crow reservation

The Crow tried to make friends with the white settlers; many Crow people worked as guides and soldiers for the settlers and for the United States Army. Crow scouts helped the United States to capture Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce, and Crow soldiers fought with the United States against the Sioux. But when all the other native people were on reservations, the United States forced the Crow people on to a reservation too.

Today, the Crow still live in Montana, on a large reservation there. They mine coal and drill oil and gas wells for income. Many Crow people still own and use tipis when they are traveling.

Bibliography and further reading about Crow history:

Sioux people
Blackfoot people
Ute people
American History
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Karen Carr is Associate Professor Emerita, Department of History, Portland State University. She holds a doctorate in Classical Art and Archaeology from the University of Michigan. Follow her on Instagram or Twitter.
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