Exhibits > American Indians

The ancestors of the Crow Indians came from a "land of many lakes," probably in the headwaters of the Mississippi or further north in the Winnipeg Lake region. They eventually settled along the Missouri River in what are now the states of North and South Dakota. The people lived in semi-permanent villages of lodges covered with earth. They became known as the "people who lived in earth lodge."


Nearly 400 years ago, the people divided into two factions. One group, the Hidatsa, remained along the Missouri. The other group, the Apsaalooke, migrated westward and eventually claimed most of what is now eastern Montana and northern Wyoming as homeland. At the time of the breakup, this group, numbering about 500, was made up of several families. Its population reached about 8,000 before the smallpox epidemic of the middle 1800's. At that time, the Apsaalooke, or Crow Tribe, traveled in two or three groups or bands.


In 1851 the first of many U.S. treaties was signed with the Crow tribe, and by 1883 they were moved to their present location at Crow Agency, just south of Hardin, Montana.


Plenty Coups, Crow Chief, did much for his people during the late 1800s including many talks and negotiations with the whites to keep the peace. He never moved to the Crow reservation but stayed near his beloved Beartooth Mountains in the Pryor Mountains. Plenty Coups' name came from the coup stick, on which many deeds of valor were recorded by the notching the stick.


The legend of how Red Lodge got its name varies. The most romantic is of Crow origin. Told by an old man perhaps eighty and interpreted by Jo Childs (Child-in-Month). The Crow nation was composed of two clans, the Black-Lodge and the Kick-in-the-Belly. A large family from the Kick-in-the-Belly clan separated from the clan putting a lodge (teepee) on what is now called Red Lodge Creek and painting their lodge (teepee) with red clay. One night a Blackfoot raiding party broke through the Black-Lodge guards and raided the Red-Lodge destroying the teepee. From this sprang the Red-Lodge clan. Quoting the old man, "Here we raised our families in peace and the Great-Spirit was kind to his Red-Lodge children. The game has gone; the Red-Lodge clan still exists. The white man has saved the name..."


What you will see in the American Indian exhibit

  • Crow Artifacts