Sunday, August 8, 2010

Billings Diary Day 120: Chief Plenty Coups State Park

Hi Jeni, Nancy and everybody else.

Finally made it down to Pryor, Montana and Chief Plenty Coups State Park.  I've been meaning to go and have done some reading, the foremost being Plenty-Coups: Chief of the Crows by Frank B. Linderman. 

Picture lifted from this website: Newspaper Rock

To give you the context into which Plenty Coups belongs:

Plenty Coups grew up as a traditional Northern Plains nomadic Crow Indian (born around 1848).  The Crows were constantly at war with the Blackfeet, the Souix, the Arapahoe and Cheyenne.  Early on in his life he proved to be a great warrior and soon a Chief of the Mountain Crow tribe. 

After the Civil War, when U.S. policy was to subdue Indians and take their land, he counseled collaboration with the white men instead of war.  This is attributed by some to a vision he had as a young man interpreted to mean that white culture could not successfully be resisted.  Another reason given is that the Crow tribe used the whites as allies against those who wanted Crow land.  Apparently this worked, as the Crow reservation actually is on their traditional lands (of course whittled down to a portion of the original territory).  So it was politics as usual. 

The biographies don't go into how difficult this must have been to do - did  he appear as a collaborator with those undermining the culture?  The Crows still have original lands, and practice their cultural heritage (see Crow Fair).  I wonder how he fares in the hearts and minds of the Crow tribe itself?  Plenty Coups is such an interesting person in our history who has not been given much press, but he's as important as Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse.

The park is a quiet place.  It's listed as a "Cultural" state park rather than a "Recreational" or a "Natural" one.  And it's not near the Interstate either.  No one passes it and pulls in on the spur of the moment.

After Chief Plenty Coups death in 1932 it was given as a "place of peace" to people of all tribes.  This was his plan and he donated it in 1928, before his death.  There is a small museum that tells history of Chief Plenty Coups and the Crow Tribe.  The house Chief Plenty-Coups built when he stopped being nomadic is also there.

He always had a teepee set up they say - perhaps the house was used mostly for white visitors.  He had a store where he sold things he grew and harvested on his farm, and since he couldn't read or write, developed a pictograph way of keeping his accounts.
His house was built to take advantage of a natural spring, which now has a cottonwood growing right on top of it.

The water is so clear you can't see it coming out from under the tree, but those shadows are on water.  Here's another picture especially for Skeeter:

Water bugs at Plenty Coups' spring
Chief Plenty Coups is buried on the land with two of his wives and his adopted daughter.  The Linderman book is hard to find, but it's worth finding and reading.  Linderman let Plenty Coups tell his own life and didn't elaborate on what was said beyond clarifying statements of fact.  There is another bio out there that is not nearly as good.

Now that I've written this, I want more information.  I'll bet I can get it at Little Big Horn College Library.
Love you two, Mary


Skeeter said...

Hey my Eastern Cousins! Thanks for the picture!
(That is how I got the name Skeeter. I was the lifeguard at a camp and having a VW convertible made me the water bug.)

We bought 2 lugs of cherries yesterday in Lakeside. Almost perfect!

Nancy said...

Your posts are so darn educational. Make me feel like a piker. (why a piker I wonder)
Anyway, great post and love the picture of the house.

Mary Drew said...

Educational = boring. Plenty Coups is really a neat character. I don't understand why there aren't a bunch of books about him like there are about Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse. Probably because he died an old man at his home.