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.