Crow Nation

Official Seal of the Crow Nation


The Crow, also called the Apsáalooke in their own Siouan language, or Absaroka, are a federally recognized tribe of Native Americans who in historical times lived in the Yellowstone River valley, which extends from present-day Wyoming, through Montana and into North Dakota, where it joins the Missouri River. They had migrated there from Eastern Woodland areas. In turn, they were pushed to the west by the Lakota (Sioux), who took over the territory from the Black Hills of North Dakota to the Big Horn Mountains of Montana.

Since the nineteenth century, the people have been concentrated on a reservation established south of Billings, Montana. They also live in several major, mainly western, cities. Tribal headquarters are located at Crow Agency, Montana.

Some historians believe the early home of the Crow-Hidatsa ancestral tribe was near the headwaters of the Mississippi River in either northern Minnesota or Wisconsin; others place them in the Winnipeg area of Manitoba. Later the people moved to the Devil’s Lake region of North Dakota before the Crow split from the Hidatsa and moved westward. The Crow were largely pushed westward by the intrusion and influx of the Sioux, who had been pushed westerly by European-American expansion.

Once established in the Valley of the Yellowstone River and its tributaries on the Northern Plains in Montana and Wyoming, the Crow eventually divided into three groups: the Mountain Crow, River Crow, and Kicked in the Bellies. Formerly semi-nomad hunters and farmers in the northeastern woodland, they picked up the nomadic lifestyle of the Plains Indians as hunters and gatherers and hunted bison. Before 1700, they were using dog travois for carrying goods.

Crow Tipi Encampment


Traditional Crow shelters are tipis made with bison skins stretched over wooden poles. The Crow are historically known to construct some of the largest tipis. Inside the tipi, mattresses and buffalo-hide seats were arranged around the edge, with a fireplace in the center. The smoke from the fire escaped through a hole in the top of the tipi. Many Crow families still own and use the tipi, especially when traveling. The annual Crow Fair has been described as the largest gathering of tipis in the world.

The Crow wore clothing distinguished by gender. Women wore simple clothes – dresses made of deer and buffalo skins, decorated with elk teeth. They covered their legs with leggings during winter and their feet with moccasins. Crow women wore their hair in two braids, unlike the men. Male clothing usually consisted of a shirt, trimmed leggings with a belt, a robe, and moccasins. Their hair was long, in some cases reaching or dragging the ground, and often part was styled into a pompadour.

The Crows’ main source of food was bison, but they also hunted mountain sheep, deer, and other game. Buffalo meat was often roasted or boiled in a stew with prairie turnips. The rump, tongue, liver, heart, and kidneys all were considered delicacies. Dried bison meat was ground with fat and berries to make pemmican.

The Crow had more horses than any other Plains tribe; in 1914 they numbered approximately thirty to forty thousand head. By 1921 the number of mounts had dwindled to just one thousand. They also had many dogs; one source counted five to six hundred. Unlike some other tribes, they did not eat dog but used them as guards, to carry burdens and to hunt. The Crow were a nomadic people.

The Crow had a matrilineal system. After marriage, the couple was matrilocal (the husband moved to the wife’s mother’s house upon marriage). Women held a significant role within the tribe.

Crow kinship is a system used to define family. Identified by Lewis Henry Morgan in his 1871 work Systems of Consanguinity and Affinity of the Human Family, the Crow system is one of the six major types among indigenous people which he described: Eskimo, Hawaiian, Iroquois, Crow, Omaha, and Sudanese.






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