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Homestead History
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Crow tepees.
hortly after the treaty was signed, gold was discovered in the western part of the new reservation, and settlers began demanding that the Crow cede more of their lands. Additionally, many settlers who were in the region before the treaty was made refused to leave. Cattlemen and miners alike were interested in lands that had been designated as reservation, and the Crow were urged to make yet another land cession. In 1880, the Crow ceded more land from their once vast domain, in exchange for annuities to support "traditional" homebuilding and the development of farming on the reservation. The nomadic, buffalo-hunting Crow were, in the government's eyes, best suited for raising crops on their land.

Settlers near the Crow lands in the 1880s were not always entirely comfortable with their Indian neighbors. In addition to the Crow, southern Montana was continuously being crisscrossed by other tribes of the Northern Plains, many of whom aroused suspicion and fear in panicky white settlers. Jennie C. Forsythe, who settled in Sweet Grass County in 1883, wrote:

"Indians were very numerous, mostly passing through on horse-stealing trips. The Piegans used to come down from Canada and steal horses from the Crows, and also from the whites. The horses were stolen from our ranch four times. One evening, while after the cows, I came over the hill and saw an Indian lying on the ground holding his horse. Soon, another Indian came out of the timber on the hill and joined him. I decided that if they came after me, I would ride for [her neighbor] Bill Bromble's place, as his was closest, but they did not bother me."

Other settlers' mistrust of the Indians forced them to prepare for emergencies that rarely came. Josephine Gage Bartlett, another 1880s settler, reported, "Our [family's] cabins had been built with portholes all around the basement, with a passageway between them. If the Indians raided us, we would all go to the basement, and each of us had a gun. I was thirteen years old, but I had been taught to shoot ... the Indians once tried to stampede our stock, and one night they shot one of the dogs and a calf."

Like the other Indian nations of the North American continent, the Crow were plagued by "white man's diseases" -- such as smallpox -- after contact with Europeans and Americans.
The Crow continued to sell lands to the government in the following years, allowing the railroad to be built across the reservation, and selling off portions of their lands for the "seed money" needed to bolster their economy. In 1887, Congress passed the General Allotment Act, which awarded 160 acres of the reservation to the head of each tribal family, 80 acres to orphans and single adults, and 40 acres to persons under eighteen born before the allotment order. The land that remained after allotments were made could then be opened up for white settlement.

By the dawn of the twentieth century, the Crow were confined to their reservation, struggling to adapt to the agrarian lifestyle the government had deemed suitable for them. Ethnologist Robert H. Lowie, visiting the Crow reservation in 1907, commented:

"The Indians had turned into tillers of the soil, farming as best they could with such as the government gave them. Many still wore moccasins, and some clung to the traditional style of dress, but the materials, except for those used on festive occasions, came from the white man's stores. Tipis were still abundant, but the covering was of canvas and it required no ethnologist to determine the origins of the stoves, tables, and chairs."

Today, close to the site of FRONTIER HOUSE, approximately 5,800 Crow live on the reservation, which now stands at 2,235,093 acres. The Crow are still fiercely dedicated to their culture, with 82% of all tribal members speaking the Crow language. The average annual per capita income on the reservation is $4, 243.

Throughout the history of their interactions with the U.S. government, the Crow Indians used their land as a bargaining tool, hoping to gain protection from whites while simultaneously giving themselves time to adapt to a radically changing society. However, regardless of the actions they took, the Crow found themselves in a position where they were forced to sell off more and more of their resources, and to re-shape their culture to comply with that of their conquerors

Works Consulted

Hoxie, Frederick E. PARADING THROUGH HISTORY: THE MAKING OF THE CROW NATION IN AMERICA 1805-1935. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995.

Isenberg, Andrew C. THE DESTRUCTION OF THE BISON. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000.

Medicine Crow, Joseph. FROM THE HEART OF THE CROW COUNTRY. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1992.

NOT IN PRECIOUS METALS ALONE. Compiled and edited by the Montana Historical Society. Undated. Helena: Montana Historical Society.

PIONEER MEMORIES. By the Pioneer Society of Sweet Grass County, Montana, 1960. From the collection of the Montana Historical Society.

Smith, Burton M. "Politics and the Crow Indian Land Cessions." Montana: The Magazine of Western History. Autumn 1986.

Stennard, David. AMERICAN GENOCIDE. New York: Oxford University Press,

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