Woman On Horseback Crow Fair

                                  click image to enlarge

This is a portrait is of a woman on horseback in the Sunday morning parade held during Crow fair. The original photo was taken during the 2014 fair. It has been enhanced to appear as if it is a painting in the style of the old masters and was done to bring out the beauty and strength of the subject and to feature her regalia in the best possible light. Be sure to click on the image to see it full size on your monitor.

One of the highlights of the Crow Fair is the parade that is presented Sunday morning. To put it mildly it is spectacular and that is an understatement. Nearly everyone who has brought a horse to the fair enters the parade and is assigned to a category they wish to participate in. Categories included were “Women’s Old Time Saddle”, “Men’s War Shirt”, “Women’s Nez Perce”, Women’s Buckskin”, “Women’s Elk Tooth”, “Teen Boy’s Reservation Hat”, “Men’s War bonnet”, and many more. Each category shows off different aspects of traditional dress. The woman in the image above was entered in the “Women’s Buckskin” category.

Crow Fair, called the “Tipi Capital of the World,” is an annual event held the third weekend in August on the Crow Reservation at Crow Agency in Montana. It is one of the largest Native American events in North America and is run by a committee of the Crow tribe. There can be over a thousand teepees set up during the fair, along with parades, powwows, rodeos and other events too numerous to mention. To see more posts about Crow Fair simply type in CROW into the search box at the top of the page and hit enter. There are dozens of posts about Crow Fair with many pictures to show all aspects of the fair. Also be sure to visit our sister site http://www.OpenChutes.com to see more posts of Western Events. OpenChutes is a blog exclusively dedicated to Powwows, Rodeos, Cowboys, Indians, Indian Relay Races, Mountain Men, Rendezvous and any other western event that may occur in the Rocky Mountain West. Enjoy your visit.

And So It Continues

Back in the far distant past the First People began leaving marks on the walls around them. Simple designs, sometimes no more than a scratch, perhaps signifying that they were there. We call these marks petroglyphs.

As time went on the marks grew more sophisticated, representing more elaborate concepts. Animals, human shapes odd to our eyes, strange swirls or repetitive parallel lines in a group perhaps indicating a river or stream. These were just a few of the shapes amongst thousands left on canyon walls, along stream beds, in caves, anywhere the people went.

The most important of the images they placed on the surface of their surroundings was the shape of the human hand, their hands, the hand of the individual making the drawing. This mark said here I am. I am a person. I am important. Know all of you that I have been here. These are known as pictographs if they are painted onto the surface of the rock.

Usually the images created were chiseled into the surface of the stone by hammering the design into the surface of the rock by striking it with another sharper more pointed stone, chipping away the dark patina of the rock leaving an indelible lighter contrasting representation of the design, a petroglyph. But occasionally a simpler more direct method was used. By simply placing their hands into a medium such as paint or even mud and pressing their palms against the stones surface they achieved the same result although a much more impermanent one, but the meaning was the same, a pictograph. Here I am, I leave my mark for you to see.

That type of image creating usually did not stand the ravages of time, especially if it was left exposed to the elements, but they are found in caves and other protected places looking much as they did when they were created.

We think of these kinds of images as something out of history. An art that served its purpose but has been replaced by newer forms of image creating. Yet it appears that is not totally the case. These handprints on the metal in the image above were left by the direct descendants of those First People just a few days ago at a place that is itself historically significant.

Every year along the banks of the Little Bighorn river there is a reenactment of a famous battle called the Battle of the Little Bighorn where General George Armstrong Custer and all the men of the 7th cavalry under his command were engaged by a superior group of Indians including chiefs Sitting bull, Crazy horse, Gall and others. The result is well-known as it was a critical victory for the tribes fighting to remain independent and self-sufficient. Custer and his men were decimated to the last man.

This year the reenactment of that fateful battle took place on the 23rd, 24th, and 25th of June, on the Real Bird ranch adjacent to the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument near Crow Agency, Montana and included members of the Crow tribe and various groups representing the cavalry. Each side took great pains to be as true to the period as is possible today, with the cavalry in full uniform and equipment and the Indians in full regalia and paint with even their horses painted for battle.

So it was not surprising to see these modern pictographs placed at the site where the warriors of today watered their ponies and waited for the fighting to commence along the Little Bighorn river, near the ford in the river that led to that fateful battle site.  Somehow it’s comforting to see the continuation of these same handprints used today as they were millennia ago. Young men partaking in a mock battle yet still requiring their total participation both mentally, physically and spiritually. By creating these new pictographs they are saying, I too, am here. I am a Man. I am important. History and tradition is moving on through this time period as it has since the beginning. And so it continues.

 

Crow Camp – Nearest The Fire

This post has been moved to OpenChutes.com. All future postings of Powwows, Indian Relay Races, Rodeos and Rendezvous will be posted there from now on exclusively. So if you’re looking for new images and posts for all those events attended this year, plus all the old posts posted on BigShotsNow.com check out OpenChutes.com. See you there!

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Walking through the Crow camp on a moonless night, watching your footing as your eyes are having difficulty adjusting to the darkness, you find yourself entering and leaving one oasis of light after another. Flashlights help but do little to overcome the inky blackness between one set of lodges and another.

The lodges have been set up in a random fashion in rows and groups generally following the banks of the Little Bighorn river as it winds its way from Custer’s battlefield down to the town of Crow Agency. It is one of those places where you have to know where you are before you can get where you’re going. It is very easy to get turned around in the labyrinth that is Crow camp, especially at night. The people living here know where they are. Little kids are out running around, darting like lightning bugs into one campsite after another and back home again as if they had built-in direction finders, which you suspect they do.

The sound of the camp varies from very noisy where one group may be playing the drum and singing, to quieter areas where small groups of the people are sitting around the fire, talking, laughing, enjoying each others company, and on to the stillness of the darkness when you leave the campsites.

Each of these places is a small area where the only light is from the fire and the occasional lantern. These islands of brightness scattered in the sea of blackness are welcoming, making you wish you could enter and sit and be a part of the festivities. Then you’d be home and wouldn’t have to walk and walk until you found your way back to your car and your own temporary home.

At every fireside there is one lodge that is nearest the fire. The flickering light from the burning logs changes the dull white of the lodge, covering it in a wavering, shimmering shade of gold. The lodge poles are highlighted against the darkness, the faint green of the surrounding trees barely visible in the background, the surrounding teepees just catching enough light to show you they are there.

The experience of being in the Crow Camp is one that has many layers, some loud and boisterous, others quieter and filled with subtle visions and sounds. The contrast of night and day is filled with excitement and wonder for someone new to the experience. Perhaps next time you can sit with the people in front of the lodge nearest the fire. What a memory that would be.

Crow Fair 2015

This post has been moved to OpenChutes.com. All future postings of Powwows, Indian Relay Races, Rodeos and Rendezvous will be posted there from now on exclusively. So if you’re looking for new images and posts for all those events attended this year, plus all the old posts posted on BigShotsNow.com check out OpenChutes.com. See you there!

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Crow Fair is here again. This is the 97th year that it has taken place on the banks of the Little Big Horn river. It is billed as the Teepee capital of the world and it lived up to its name again as there were over 1200 lodges set up. That would be one thousand two hundred teepees. That is a lot of teepees. The camp is located between Custer’s Last Stand, or the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument as it’s officially known, and extends along the river to the edge of the town of Crow Agency in Montana. That’s a distance of a little under three miles and maybe ¾ of a mile deep.

The official starting date for all the ceremonies and festivities was August 12th  and lasted until August 17th, but as you can imagine an endeavor this large didn’t happen overnight. For a couple of weeks in some cases, the participants began moving in and setting up their lodges, creating a camp that hasn’t been seen on this scale since probably 1876. All of the teepees have been set up according to family groups and were usually grouped in a circle if possible with an arbor made of poles set in the ground to form a rectangle in the middle. This framework was then covered with fresh-cut branches with their leaves still green to cover the framework and provide shade. As you walked through the camp you could see family groups sitting at the tables having a meal or simply talking to while away the hours between activities.

They also brought their horses and they were kept in pens set up near the lodges where they could be fed and cared for. In the morning and evening the kids were given the task of seeing that the horses were watered. This meant riding them bareback, usually while leading another, down to drink out of the Little Bighorn river. The only difference between now and a hundred years ago were the clothes the kids wore. Lots of jeans and t-shirts and tennis shoes. Lots of smartphones too. It was not unusual to see a youngster riding a horse down to the river texting on the way. Many of the horses seemed to find relief in the cool water and would venture out midway into the river to stand for as long as they were allowed to. Some of the kids were not averse to jumping in the water either as there were several days when the temperature was over 100°.

Over the next few days we’ll be bringing you highlights from the Crow Fair and Rodeo. There was singing and drumming and non-stop dancing. People dressed in regalia that many made themselves. There was ceremony and traditions paid homage to, and most of all a gathering of the Crow people to celebrate their lives and history. Stay tuned.

2014 Crow Nation Fair and Rodeo Day 5 The Camp

This post has been moved to OpenChutes.com. All future postings of Powwows, Indian Relay Races, Rodeos and Rendezvous will be posted there from now on exclusively. So if you’re looking for new images and posts for all those events attended this year, plus all the old posts posted on BigShotsNow.com check out OpenChutes.com. See you there!

This is a brief look at the camp. It isn’t every day one gets the opportunity to explore a gathering of over a thousand teepees and the people who occupy  them. As dawn broke and the sun started its journey through the sky it was still very quiet. After a night where dancing and singing lasted into the early morning hours everyone was still asleep. Occasionally you could hear the nickering of a horse tied near one of the lodges and soon the answering call from another across the camp. There was an absence of camp dogs, although some people had brought pets there didn’t seem to be any free ranging dogs running about the camp to raise the alarm that there was a stranger among them.

The images selected below are from dawn through mid-day and into the evening. The camp stretched for nearly three miles along the Little Bighorn river. Some of the lodges were set up very near each other forming a densely packed small town near the very center of the camp. This is where the Arbor is and where all the festivities took place, the dancing and the singing, the presentation of honors and any other important event, and was central to all the festivities. As you walked through the camp the lodges began to be spaced wider apart where small family groups set their teepees up together, and as you got farther away from the center of the camp you would find the occasional single lodge set up amongst the trees or out into the grasslands surrounding the camp.

 

CrowCamp2918The sun is just beginning its daily voyage and as it rises it begins to illuminate the lodges. It is very quiet and still now. My foot steps are the loudest noise you hear and I’m trying to be very quiet.

 

CrowCamp3000                               It’s about 5:30 in the morning and the birds are just waking up. You can hear the horses shuffling about. They know the day has started.

 

 

CrowCamp2921Those with stock penned near their lodges have already been up and started the feeding.

 

CrowCamp2930                             Still and quiet these horsed are taking the opportunity to relax. It’s going to a busy day.

 

 

CrowCamp4491Always walk facing the traffic. There were several ponies roaming free around the camp. At least as long as the kids were still in bed. As soon as the kids  were up these ponies would be commandeered by any of them that could catch them and ridden all day long.

 

CrowCamp2953                                   Prairie grass and teepees. With all the people here and the constant coming and going you would think you wouldn’t find any grass still standing but the areas around the lodges and the camp in general were surrounded by the natural state of things. Maybe after a summer here things would look different but right now the effects of the camp were minimal.

 

CrowCamp2943It’s getting on towards mid-morning. The sun is rising higher in the sky and it is starting to warm up.

 

CrowCamp3054t                             One of the outlying lodges is highlighted by the sun. Their horses are tethered in the high grass which was belly high. They are sleek, beautiful looking animals.

 

CrowCamp2970These are larger than normal lodges for families and gatherings of many people. There is a method to setting these lodges up. I was given a class by a wonderful family on how a teepee was erected. Every step has meaning and purpose but is rooted in practicality. These lodges can be set up in a very short period of time and taken down  just as fast.

 

CrowCamp4495As you get further away from the camp center the teepees are set up for easy access. There are lanes and even small roads created by the placement of the lodges. The closeness of the lodges to each other usually means there is a family group or close friends staying here. Then there will be a space and the next family sets up. It all seems to work very well.

 

CrowCamp3524Late morning and near noon. Those living further out from the camp center have started getting ready for the afternoons dancing and are traveling towards the Arbor to begin the gathering.

 

CrowCamp3576A family in full regalia. If it weren’t for the pickups and cars in the background what year would this be.

 

CrowCamp4529                                  I was invited into this courtyard to see part of the dance regalia being preparing for the afternoons festivities. The young man explaining its purpose to me was nervous as this was his first time dancing at an event like this. He wanted everything perfect.

 

CrowCamp4459One of the outlying camps. there were many of these wall tents used along  with the teepees. Perhaps these were liberated from the soldiers they fought in the old days.

 

CrowCamp4508t                             This is a selfie. The Bokeh Maru refused to start unless I took her picture and promised I’d include it in the posting. She is so vain.

 

CrowCamp3665Mid-afternoon. It’s hot now, in the high 90’s and it feels good to ride fast and let the wind blow through your hair.

 

CrowCamp4468Half the kids in camp were spending the afternoon swimming and playing in the Little Bighorn. This long easy bend made a perfect swimming hole. Every once in a while the older kids would ride their horses through the water scattering the others like leaves being blown by the wind. Out of frame there were several adults sitting up on the bank in the shade, supervising the activities.

 

CrowCamp3585This is an overview of the camp taken from a small knoll that was the highest point around the camp. You can see how far the camp stretches. About two miles or so from the left side of the picture is the site of the Battlefield of the Little Bighorn monument and immediately to the right of the image is the town of Crow Agency, Montana. Down through all the cottonwoods flows the Little Bighorn. This must have been similar to the sight the members of the 7th had that bad day very long ago.

 

CrowCamp3605This is the countryside just a short way East from the camp. You can see clear into the last century if you look close enough.

 

CrowCamp4539Very few of the lodges were decorated but when they were they were striking. Behind the lodges is the knoll where you can see the entire encampment spread out below. The Bokeh Maru was hesitant to make the climb up to it but when I brought the word ‘shame’ into the conversation she immediately made the ascent and then acted like “What was the big deal? No problem.”

 

CrowCamp4542Late afternoon and the shadows are beginning to creep into this camp. There are horses tied to the left of the tent and they’re whickering, wondering why they weren’t at the center of things.

CrowCamp4930                                 It is very nearly night now. The sun is heading down to the horizon and darkness is about to overtake the camp once again. There are no streetlights in an Indian camp so you need to fire up your night vision if you’re going to get around. I noticed many of the residents utilized flashlights to augment their night vision but of course I had left mine in the Bokeh Maru and she was several miles away. But then by depending on the kindness of strangers I was able to get back to the center of camp and soon the comforting 12 volt lights of the Bokeh Maru.

 

CrowCamp2899tIt is full night now and darkness is complete. The sun is gone for the day and there isn’t the hint of a moon. The lodges are being lit by the glow of  campfires and in some cases the hissing and flickering of a Coleman lantern. You can hear quiet conversations being spoken, some of which were in the people’s native tongue. You couldn’t understand what was being said but it seemed normal and right to hear it. In the background was the constant beating of the drums  and some of the high-pitched singing coming from the Arbor. It was an eerie and alien sound at first, especially in the inky blackness of the night, but as you adapted to its cadence it soon became the only background sound that should be here. As you looked about and saw the lodge poles silhouetted against the dark sky and saw the comforting yellow light against the lodges this all seemed perfect. There was no music being played from a radio or TV, just the sound of their culture resonating through the camp. It was the only soundtrack that was needed.

 

 

2014 Crow Nation Fair and Rodeo Day 1

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This post has been moved to OpenChutes.com. All future postings of Powwows, Indian Relay Races, Rodeos and Rendezvous will be posted there from now on exclusively. So if you’re looking for new images and posts for all those events attended this year, plus all the old posts posted on BigShotsNow.com check out OpenChutes.com. See you there!

An incredible event takes place on the third week-end of August at Crow Agency, Montana. Just a couple of miles from site of the Battle of the Little Bighorn where Custer and his men met their ends, literally thousands of Indians from various tribes but primarily Crows, put on a Fair and Rodeo. The event is not connected to the battle, in fact I didn’t even hear it mentioned in any of the activities. The purpose is for fellowship, gathering, displaying their lodges or teepees, and celebrating their culture.

The event is also known as the World’s Largest Gathering of teepees in one place, and Crow Agency is known as the Teepee Capitol of the World. This weekend there were over 1000 teepees set up along the Little Bighorn river stretching for close to three miles. That was not a typo. There were over 1000 lodges erected. I walked among them early one morning for nearly an hour from one end to the other and still didn’t cover it all. In places they were packed so tightly together you couldn’t walk between them. In other places you would find a solitary teepee nestled in among the trees, or set up alone out in the grasslands that surround the river.

Surprisingly, to me anyway, there were very few decorated lodges. The majority were made of the plain white canvas you see everywhere. That didn’t affect the impression made by seeing so many together however. At times, during sunrise or sunset, the canvas would take on some of the colors of the sky and were wonderful to see in their own rights.

Another unexpected impression was seeing the number of cars and pickup trucks surrounding each lodge. My first impression was it looked like a parking lot where the parkers were all drunk, with the vehicles being parked haphazardly around each lodge. I suppose I went there with certain expectations, fostered by scenes from Dancing With Wolves and other movies, of the way an Indian camp should look. A romanticized impression that had no basis in fact in the modern Indian world. As I came to terms with the reality versus the movie version of camp life I started to realize the cars and trucks were the modern equivalent of horses tied to the front of each lodge. It was simply these horses had four wheels instead of four feet. After a bit it began to seem normal to see them parked there. I do have to admit though that it made me feel good to see the occasional horse tied in front of a lodge. Adapting to facts doesn’t take the romanticism out of the romantic.

The other surprise, and it shouldn’t be a surprise at all, was the incredible friendliness of the Crow people. I didn’t and don’t have any prejudice for Indians, I just had never spent any time amongst a large group of them. They have a different culture, a culture that dovetails with the rest of modern American culture but is strikingly different in some aspects. I never felt like I had entered an alien place even though there were times I didn’t understand the language being spoken, or the reason for some of their traditions. Every person I approached with a question or comments was more than ready to help.

I was lost one time, turned around in the maze of teepees and narrow little lanes, where the passing pickup trucks narrowly missed running over the stakes used to secure the lodges to the ground, (yes, even the Director of one of the largest Institutes in the scientific-speaking world gets disoriented sometimes) and approached a group of serious looking young fellows standing there smoking and watching the chaotic life going on around them. If you had seen this group of young men standing around in a back alley in some city I seriously doubt whether you would have approached them. I asked them where I was and how did I get back to the center of camp where all the dancing was going on. It was getting dark, making the maze I was in even more confusing, and their directions were not very clear. The guys were laughing and teasing me about being lost but in a good-natured way, when one of them decided what I needed was, in his words, an Indian guide to get me back to civilization. A really nice kid walked back with me to the center of the camp where I regained my bearings. He said he was getting ready to go off to college and was a little worried about how all that was going to work but looking forward to it none the less. I wished him well, we shook hands and that was that. It left me with a different perspective about these young people, Crow or other wise, who with all the markings of the modern world, tattoos, piercings, superficial attitudes, were still just young kids worried about life and how to get through it.

There was an incredible amount of activities going on the entire weekend. It was kind of like an Indian Las Vegas, where many of them never seemed to sleep. Dancing went on throughout the night, and when they weren’t dancing they were partying. Being well past the point where I found that interesting or fun I was glad I had the Bokeh Maru to return to for a much-needed break from the festivities. I’ll be posting more on the Crow Fair and Rodeo over the next couple of days. Stay tuned.

 

 

Announcement !

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This post has been moved to OpenChutes.com. All future postings of Powwows, Indian Relay Races, Rodeos and Rendezvous will be posted there from now on exclusively. So if you’re looking for new images and posts for all those events attended this year, plus all the old posts posted on BigShotsNow.com check out OpenChutes.com. See you there!

We’ve had Dozens upon dozens of people writing in asking, well one anyway, but she wrote in big block letters so it seemed like more, where the blog was. What the hell were  we doing? Why haven’t we written, why haven’t we called. It seems that there are some of you out there that actually read the blog and notice when we’re not there. That is daunting and a little scary. Sometimes when I’m sitting up here in the Directors chair, high in the tower overlooking the Institute grounds, not aloof and distant but pampered a little, writing and sending it out into the ozone I forget that there may be actual people out there that read this stuff. Don’t you guys have to go to work? Anyway, Thank You for spending your valuable time with me.

Last Friday as I was working on future posts a small announcement made its way across my computer screen notifying us that The Crow Nation was having the largest gathering of teepees or lodges in the world. The announcement stated that there were to be somewhere between 1000 and 1500 hundred teepees ( that is not a typo) set up along the Little Bighorn river for an Indian Fair and Rodeo at Crow Agency, Montana. The Indians I spoke to thought there were over 1000 but not the 1500 lodges they anticipated being there. Still when was the last time you’ve seen 1000 teepees set up together in one place?

So using the same strategy we always use here at The Institute in planning our expeditions, where we spend an incredible amount of time in researching our destination, gathering the necessary information about logistics, conditions, possibilities, supplies, equipment, staff needed, risks, potentialities, and expected results, I grabbed a few skivvies and my camera gear and threw them in the Bokeh Maru. Twenty minutes after seeing the notice the 2014 Expedition to the Crow Nation was underway.

No extra staff, just me, the Bokeh Maru and the Crow Nation. Eight hours later I was up there, standing on a ridge above the camp staring at the thousand plus teepees stretching out along the Little Bighorn river. I must admit I had a momentary inkling of the feeling that the members of the 7th must have had June 25, 1876. That is a lot of Indians in one place. Fortunately you should not have any apprehension at all. You cannot understand what wonderful, gracious, friendly people the Crow tribe are until you go there and meet them. It was an incredibly interesting and rewarding weekend. I will relate more to you over the next few days and show some of the images from this amazing event.

It is becoming a pattern that up in that part of the country the services that we take for granted down here, and I’m talking internet access mostly, are not as well established as we have in the more crowded part of the country. Consequently finding access is more difficult and I’m always quick to say the hell with it and take in the experience instead, and posting later. Look as you may it’s hard to find an electrical outlet on a horse, and believe me I’ve tried. Then I realized that my new Crow friends were just having a little joke at my expense telling me they had their horses outfitted with AC receptacles, the better to stay connected. The Crow seem to love to laugh. Fortunately I was able to provide them with endless amusement.

So that’s where we’ve been and I intend on going back there next year and maybe setting up a remote site of The Institute, fully staffed, with satellite feed and regular coverage by our trained reporters, having our chef cook regular food, not that corn dogs and frybread aren’t good but they leave a little bit to be desired as a regular diet, and also dancing classes so we might participate more fully. It should be a blast. In fact I might even ask for volunteers to go along and assist us. Anyone thinking about this might look at the postings of The Maiden Voyage of the Bokeh Maru we published not long ago, to get a feel for what the trip might actually be like. Give it some thought anyway.