Sees Himself

Tests of bravery come in many forms. There is a lot of pressure for a young man wishing to be seen as a man, or at least seen as older than his brothers who must  watch the pony herd instead of going into battle. His older brothers look at him and watch to see if he is ready. Is he strong enough to go along on a raid yet or does he need more time. He has practiced with his bow until he can hit anything in sight, he has made his own shield and done a vision quest. He has fasted. In his mind he is ready.

There has been constant talk of the blue coats entering the area of the Little bighorn river. The older braves have been continually riding in to talk with the elders after spying on the enemy, there is a steady rise of anticipation of what will surely be a big battle with the one they call yellow hair and the rest of the pony soldiers which has made the camp a beehive of activity. There will be much blood on the greasy grass. Tensions are high as squaws are getting their men’s battle gear out of the beaded deer hide cases they are stored in. The younger girls gathering the youngest together to keep them safe. Men are getting their ponies ready, applying paint on the flanks and withers, braiding feathers into their manes, slapping their handprints onto their necks, talking to them of the brave deeds they will perform. The younger boys excitedly riding around the pony herd keeping them in a tight bunch for when they are needed. Anticipation could not be higher.

For several nights this young warrior has had the same dream. He sees himself on his pony waiting near the edge of village to go out with his brothers. His job is to be one of the decoys that lures the first soldiers away from the village. His part is dangerous, the rifle of the soldiers can reach out a long way. His older brother has told him to lay low on the back of his pony, but to yell loudly and appeared scared so that the soldiers looking for an easy kill will follow them. It’s an important job and he is nearly bursting with pride to have been chosen.

He does not want to fail in his task and that is his biggest fear. To some how let down his brothers which is why he has not slept for more than a few hours each night. His dream comes whenever he closes his eyes but as dreams often do, the answer of his bravery is just out of his reach. So it is with some trepidation when the call comes to leap into action. He is certain he will brave but he is slightly worried that for some terrible reason he won’t be. In a few moments he and everyone else will know for sure. He sees himself and now is the moment of truth.

 

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

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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 Camp Life

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Camp life at the Crow Fair is filled with opposites. Some times the camp is a wash of chaotic activity as everyone gets ready to attend the dance ceremonies or the parades and other times, like this morning, which happened to be a Sunday morning, everything was calm and serene.

Walking through the camp in the early morning just after sunup everything is still. There are no motor sounds yet from vehicles, or people calling from one area to another. It is quiet. The only sounds you hear are the horses gently calling to each other and the quiet sounds of camp life where people are just stirring, thinking about getting breakfast going, standing out by their lodges seeing what kind of day it is going to be. It is a good time to see the camp.

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Horses are feeding, taking advantage of this quiet time. Soon enough they’ll be as excited as anyone else in the camp to be getting ready to attend the various activities.

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The teepees are clustered closely together which usually means a large family group are all settled in next to one another.

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Many groups fly the American flag above their camp.

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A horse is waiting for someone to come and take him the river for a long drink. He’s just heard some other horses go by as early risers get a start on the day.

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This is 2015 not 1876 and the rides are different for some of the people. It’s likely there is a horse tucked away somewhere but there is also a new breed of horse, a mechanized one, and it seems fitting to see it tied up in front of the lodge.

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It’s unsure whether these folks that occupy this lodge are coming or going as it looks vacant. The topping to go on the arbor isn’t all in place up on the roof yet, so we’re betting on their coming.

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Horses resting up for the day to come. Their owners lodge is just visible up over the hill.

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There are many of these wall tents in the camp. Someone told me they serve as overflow if the teepees are overcrowded. He also told me he’d rather be in a teepee as the tents were too hot. The opening at the top of the teepees can be adjusted to let the hot air out so they were cooler to be in. After 100+ degree days any thing that would offer coolness was in high demand.

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Placed against the tree line for shade and to block any wind this is a well placed group of lodges.

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These riders are taking their horses down to the river for a drink. It’s also a good time to talk about whatever young women talk about.

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The doors of the lodges are all facing the trees. you can see extra lodge poles leaning against the tree line.

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There were some teepees that were decorated or painted but the majority were of white weathered canvas.

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One evening after the dances ended very late, it seems that my vehicle misplaced itself and I wandered for several hours through the maze of teepees trying to find it. By about 1:30 in the morning I had found all 1200 of the tepees but not my Jeep. Of course never having been lost before in my life I neglected to bring a flashlight and since there is a major absence of street lights in a Crow camp, finding ones way about was difficult. Fortunately I learned an old Indian trick that night and turned on my flashlight app on my cell phone and eventually I found this red striped teepee that I remembered seeing on the way in and shortly after found the Jeep. There are  always adventures on these trips, some big, some little. This was a little one even though it didn’t feel that way as it was happening.

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There were some teepees whose decoration had an unmistakable meaning

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Horses picketed amongst the lodges was an amazing sight to see. The mix of old ways and new was constantly presented to the observer.

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The patina on these lodges indicated that they had seen plenty of use. The ivory color was perfect for the setting.

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It’s getting a little later in the morning now and this horse was definitely interested in going to the river. Shortly after this picture was taken he got his wish.

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This is the Little Bighorn river as it wends its way through the camp. It’s quite shallow here so it’s easy to ride the horses down to the edge.

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Some of the horses were eager to wade out in the water where it was slightly deeper, others preferred to drink at the  bank.

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Boys bringing ponies down to get their drink. There was no horse-play here, pardon the pun, as these guys proceeded to get the stock watered. No rock throwing or goofing around, they got the job done well and were soon on their way back to camp.

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A teepee set up along the river. They had shade all day and you could hear the river running by as well. A bonus for picking a great spot.

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An overview of a small portion of the camp from a little ridge that ran along the back of the camp.

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While out on the edge of the camp and looking towards the plains a flock of Prairie chickens passed by going swiftly over the exposed hilltop to the safety of the ravine on the other side.

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This is a panorama made up of 25 pictures stitched together to try and show the size of the camp. If the picture were printed out it would be over 8′ long. Consequently to compress it down to this size so it would fit on to the page of the blog, details are very small indeed. If you click on it to see the slightly larger version you can see a little more.  But as it was only intended to give you a sense of scale and an overview of just how large the encampment is, hopefully it does that, even if you can’t make out who it is sitting in front of that back teepee is.

It is a good feeling to see that many lodges together and the people that fill them living together in harmony. When you think that there might be an average of four people to a lodge that is 4800 people. That’s a small town any where you want one.. What a great experience to have, to be able to see and take part in this get together. Crow Fair 2015.

 

Crow Fair 2015 Post Parade Gathering

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After gathering together before the parade began the participants of the 2015 Crow Fair Parade then passed through the camp on the parade route and returned to the staging area. The streets were lined with hundreds of parade viewers, most sitting in folding camp chairs, some standing, kids running and following along the sidelines becoming a part of the parade too. It was a very hot day, well over a hundred degrees and everywhere you looked there were umbrellas to keep off the sun and water bottles coming out of coolers.  The parade had traveled down through the assembled teepees, over 1200 of them this year, and followed along the Little Bighorn river before returning to the staging area to disassemble and find out who won for best in their categories.

 

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As the first group in the parade the color guard returned and furled their flags

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Then individuals returned

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Women of the Elk Tooth category remained in formation as they returned to the staging area

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As always seeing the various parade members up close and admiring the trappings on them and their horses up close was a thrill

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This could as easily be a photograph from the mid-1800’s as a modern one. Time travel was possible here today if your imagination was strong enough.

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There was a much more relaxed atmosphere now that the parade was over

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Fathers bring their kids back

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Mom’s too, even if they were ready for a nap

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A gentle touch for a beloved horse, perhaps a moment to enjoy what just transpired

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Generations riding together enjoying the companionship

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Everyone taking in the experience

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Some perhaps a little less than the others, but it’s been a long hot day full of excitement and now that it’s over a well deserved yawn is ok.

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Every type of look imaginable is here, from painted faces to simple yet striking horse trappings

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A smile is always worth a picture

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The tribes were always quick to adopt new things so sunglasses fit right in

 

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Young members of the tribe watch carefully, everything is a learning experience

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There were a lot of smiles scattered throughout the gathering

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Hundreds of Elk Teeth adorn this blanket. Attention to detail was paramount

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Mischievous smiles were also included

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So were good old-fashioned honest ones. There is a lot of joy amongst the people.

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There are still a few chores to be done even at the end of the parade. Holding the horse is one, a big responsibility for a small girl.

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Apparently the parade was a little taxing for one member and a break was indicated.

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This group was chosen as best in their various categories, although every single participant in the parade was a winner.

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Above you see the members of the Parade committee. These tireless participants made this incredible event happen, dedicating time and energy and their boundless enthusiasm to put the parade together. They deserve the praise and thanks of anyone who was in the parade or viewed it. Thanks for and incredible effort, and thanks for an incredible parade. You were amazing.

Crow Lodge Morning

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Last August I had the pleasure of attending the largest gathering of tipi’s in North America, a yearly event sponsored by the Crow Nation, with over a thousand lodges set up along the Little Bighorn River just a long rifle shot from the Little Bighorn Battleground. I woke early one morning wanting to see the Crow camp in the early morning light. Slightly after dawn I set out to roam quietly through the camp, the sun was just beginning to rise sending its streaming light into every corner of the encampment.

It was still quiet, the people just beginning to stir. Horses tied to posts near the tipis whickered softly to those in nearby makeshift corrals. The ravens, those earliest of risers called back and forth, asking each other raven questions in their own raspy tongue. Far off in the distance people were splashing in the river, their shouts of delight echoing among the trees. Morning is a special time. A time for quiet observing, a time for listening to all the sounds that get buried in the days activities but are so prominent in the early hours. It’s normally chilly but not cold, a jacket wasn’t needed but still cold enough to send a shiver through you as you entered a shaded spot. The sun was rapidly rising and it soon took the chill off.

There was a smell of wood smoke here and there as the people slowly went about their morning routines. A good smell, one that made your mouth water even though the cooking hadn’t started in earnest yet. I was fortunate and met some people who, although members of the tribe, lived in a suburb of Denver. We talked, exchanging thoughts on things like what it was to be a Native American and yet live in an urban environment and how much it meant to them to be able to reconnect with their heritage. I must have looked hungry as they invited me to breakfast, introducing me to their extended family. At first I didn’t even notice how at home I felt with them, it was just “pass the sausage please” and “damn that tastes good” and the realization came later as I began to process the experience.

After breakfast and yet more talk I left to continue my wanderings along the winding convoluted roads that sprang up as the different lodges were set up. At first it looked like a totally haphazard system until you looked closer and saw that the placement of the lodges was designed around family groups being together and not for the ease of driving a vehicle through them. I saw that you had to get your head in a different place to make sense of the surroundings but once you did it made sense, just not the kind we may be used to.

When I look at the image above it brings back that morning with a vivid clarity that deeply satisfies me and it makes me want to be there again. So next August that’s where I’ll be if they’ll have me. I want to hear and see and listen to that incredible experience again. And maybe even take some more pictures.

Note: If you’re interested in seeing more about this event check out the original series of posts about it beginning with http://www.bigshotsnow.com/2014/08/21/  and ending with  http://www.bigshotsnow.com/2014/08/27/.

 

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.