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Born Gods!
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Black Elk Speaks: Visions of the Other World
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Hopi: A Message for All People
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Chief Two Leggings

One of the largest and most well known Native events in North America, Crow Fair is held annually at Crow Agency, Montana.  It began in 1904 as a country fair.  The residing BIA agents, S. C. Reynolds, believed that such an event would encourage the Crow to change into "self supporting farmers" and abandon their nomadic lifestyle.  To promote participation, Reynolds worked with a committee of chiefs and elders to schedule events that would appeal to the Crow people. The committee arranged for parades, horse racing, and dancing--activities in conflict with the Federal government's strict policies forbidding traditional Native American celebrations.  Reynolds overlooked the legalities, and the fair was a great success.  In time, reenactments, storytelling, victory dances, and giveaways were combined with exhibitions of livestock, produce, traditional native foods, clothing, and handicrafts.
Pius Real Bird, uncle of Kennard Real Bird and grandson of Chief Medicine Tail--one of those involved in the founding of Crow Fair--directed the fair for many years.  Pius recalls that, as rodeo manager in 1962, he decided to hold an all-Indian rather than a mixed Indian/non-Indian rodeo.  "At first we feared there might not be enough contestants.  But when the rodeo started, four hundred cowboys and cowgirls from all over Indian country came here.  When they got to know each other, a lot married into each other's tribes."
Today, more than one hundred tribes participate in the festivities that attract visitors from around the world.  A highlight is the mile-long parade held Sunday morning (the final day), when hundreds of Crow riders on horseback and others in flatbed trucks display heirloom Crow regalia, Pendleton blankets, elk-tooth dresses, cradle-boards, and headdresses.  Adds Pius Real Bird, "Four generations are often represented in the parade."
Taken from:

North American Indian Jewelry and Adornment from Prehistory to the Present (Harry N. Abrams, 1999). By Lois Sherr Durbin

Chief Two Leggings Speaks:
Chapter 5
Crow Creation Myths

Now I must tell you some sacred stories which were told to me by our chiefs and medicine men and came from their many winters.   So I will begin at the time when there was no earth, when there was nothing but water.
We have always believed in one creator of everything and call him First Worker.  One day First Worker was looking over the world and did not like all this water.  He made a duck dive down and bring him some mud.  After rubbing this between his palms he blew it everywhere, creating the land and mountains and rivers.  First Worker wanted to make human beings and formed the mud into many groups of clay people.  To test them he made arrows and stuck them into the gound pointing east.  When he ordered the first group of clay people to charge the arrows, they fell back.  The next group also pierced by the arrows, they ran on through.  These different clay peoples became the different Indian tribes, and the bravest, who had charged through, became the Crows.
First Worker was proud fo them because they were not afraid to die.  He told the other groups to spread out and live in different places but he placed the Crows in the center so that whatever direction they traveled they would always meet other tribes.
First Worker alsr created two boys and ordered them to teach the Crows how to live and to give them their religion.  These boys were First Worker's servants and that is why when we dream and have visions we receive both a medicine and a sacred helper to guide us through life.  Except for important ceremonial occassions and when we fast for visions, we address our prayers to our sacred helper, who will pray for us to First Worker.  These helpers are different for each of us as we all have different dreams.
Our medicine men, the chiefs, and our parents wanted us to fast for a medicine when we felt the need.  Sometimes powerful dreams were seen by a child who did not understand them until years later.  But the stories we heard in the winter tipis and around the summer campfires were usually enough to make us want power and protection in our future lives and war trails.
Once I remember a leading medicine man asking through the camp four our young men to fast in the mountains.  Our enemies had been repeatedly successful.  He hoped one of us would receive a medicine and take revenge.
Many of our women fasted and some obtained powerful medicines.  But usually they did not fast until they had married or were old enough to be married, and then it was because they were mourning someone's death or because of an unhappy love affair.
The sweat bath was the first medicine First Worker and his two boy servants gave us.  In the old days it was our most sacred medicine and came before all fasts and important ceremonies.  It cleansed our bodies, and when we burned incense the sweat lodge while praying to First Worker, it cleansed our souls.
The two boys told us that the sweat lodge represented First Worker's body.  The steam from the heated stones, or the smoke from the incense, was his image.  It used to be taken as a cure for an illness, but not it is used at any time, like a bath.  They still pour the four, seven, ten, and countless number of cupfuls on the red-hot stones, but mamy do not know what this means.  The first four cupfuls are First Worker's arms and legs.  They are also the four main supporting willows of the sweat lodge.  The next seven are the pipe-pointer star (The Big Dipper).  The ten cupfuls represents the cluster stars, and the countless number means the Other Side Camp, where we live after we die.
If we were preparing for a fast we followed the sweat bath by carefully washing our bodies in a stream and scrubbing our nails.  Then we purified ourselves in a sacred smudge of burning pine needles.  After that we took no food or water.  This also cleansed our minds and took away as much as possible our human smell.  The Without Fires do not like the smell of men, and we fasted for them to favor us.
The two boy servants taught us to weep and pray as we fasted for our own medicine.  If there was no reason to weep we were to torture ourselves and sprinkle the earth with our tears and blood.  We were told that First Worker's birds like to eat, and when we cut a piece of our flesh it softens their hearts so they will help us and perhaps become our medicine.
If we fasted on a mountaintop we built a small bed of rocks running east and west, spread it with pine branches, and faced east as we lay down.  Then we covered ourselves with a freshly tanned buffalo robe rubbed with white clay to show cleanliness.  For four days we lay there, sleeping and watching the sun until we saw our vision.
The Two Boys sent by First Worker taught us how to make medicine bundles after we had received our vision.  The bundles contained the skins of animals we had seen in our dreams.  If the sun, the moon, clouds, or other things appeared in those dreams, the boys showed us how to represent them in different ways.
The Two Boys servants taught us that there is another world like our earth, the Other Side Camp.  The same animals, birds, fishes, and plants live there.  The same rivers flow and the same mountain rise to the sky.
The Other Side Camp is divided into two clans and together they are called the Without Fires.  One contains the animals, the sun and the moon and the stars, except for the star with a tail which sometimes appear during the summer months, and the souls of the dead--the little whirlwinds which dance over the plains.  All the water animals of both our world and this Other Side Camp world belong to this clan, and so do the birds, the thunder, and the dwarfs.  Old Man Coyote is its chief.
The other Without Fire clan is made up of everything that comes from the earth: the plants, flowers, trees, and rocks.  This earth clan has four chief spirits: the wind, the fire, the water, and the earth itself.  
The earth is our mother; our body is born from it and returns to it after we die.  Our breath is wind and it is also our soul.  Our words are our breath and they are sacred.
Each of the two clans is divided into many clans represented by different Without Fires.  When we receive a medicine we join the Other Side Camp clan of our helper.  Sometimes we fasted many times, dreaming of different helpers.  Then all these and the dreamer made one personal medicine clan.
The Without Fire chiefs also have their servants.  The sun is the chief of all the sky beings and its most important servant is the eagle.  The moon is a lesser chief and has the owl for its servant.  The lightning, wind, and rain also have birds as their helpers.
The chief helpers of the most powerful Without Fires can choose who among the lesser Without Fires will belong to the dreamer's medicine bundle.  He will be told this in his vision.  The objects within a medicine bundle are the actual dwelling places of the members of the dreamer's medicine clan.  Many different things are found in each bundle because every item represents one of the Without Fires or something the dreamer was promised; only he can explain them.
I have seen a shield on which there were pictures of the sun, rain, clouds, and an eagle with lightning striking from its claws.  The dreamer who was told in his vision to make that medicine may have only had a vision of an eagle.  But the sun, lightning, wind, and rain belonged to the eagle's Other Side Camp and he pictured them also.
Certain things in a medicine bundle always means the same: Horsehair represents the hope for horses, elk teeth or beads mean wealth, and a strip of otter skin means water because the otter is the chief of all water animals.
All Crows have a sacred helper from the time of their birth, but some do not know him because they never receive their own medicine or because their dreams are not powerful.  In that case they can buy a duplicate medicine bundle from a well-known medicine man or warrior.  Some of us bought powerful medicine bundles from well-known medicine men even if we had a vision of our own because we wanted their power and their sacred helpers.  But the owner would rarely duplicate all of his bundle.  He would hold a little power over his copies, as was right.
We are fond of gambling and the Two Boys taught us this.  The Two Boys Without Fires clans like to gamble each other and their stakes are the lives of the Indians they have adopted through the medicine dreams.  Wen a clan member loses, his adopted child is "eaten" by the winning clan.
The man who dies fighting is lucky.  He was looked after with special care by some Without Fire father who had won his life in the gambling.  After he dies his soul is dressed with all the honors of a warrior.  He becomes one with the helper who won him and will live an honored life in the Other Side Camp.
We did not want to receive a vision of the sun because he is a bad gambler.  Although the dreamer usually became a powerful medicine man, he almost always died young.  We preferred the moon which gambles often but rarely loses; its adopted children lead long lives.
The clans of the Without Fires also have a servant.  He looks like an Indian but has pine trees growing out of his lower eyelids.  He arranges war parties, brings enemies together, and leads the souls of the dead to be adopted by the winning members.  If no one is killed in these battles he is disappointed and tired as he returns home.
Old age is not an honorable death, but most people want it.  It proves that a sacred helper was powerful and fond of his child.  It also shows that he was a good gambler and never lost a game during his child's earlier life.  When the time comes and we old men go to the Other Side Camp to live in peace and happiness, we are one with our sacred helpers.
Many men die young on the battlefield.  This shows that their sacred helper was not very powerful and lost his game early in the life of his adopted child.  Or perhaps the adopted man did not obey his sacred father.  When we receive a medicine our sacred helper gives us certain instructions.  Sometimes we must not do certain things, like eating certain foods.  If we disobey we may have bad luck or sickness or suffer a wound in battle.  If we keep disobeying our sacred helper he will grow angry and place the life of his child as a stake against some powerful opponent who always wins.  The souls of people whi die this way are of a lower kind, but they are allowed to enter the Other Side Camp.  However, the souls of suicides and murderers must roam the earth as ghosts.
When the Black Robes came to us they talked about the devil but we could not find him in the things we knew.  We think that everything is good and bad and that no person or thing is all good or all bad.  I have known mane men who had the ghosts as their medicine. 
But we are afraid of ghosts because they may have a grudge against someone and plant a cactus needle in his body, making him sick.  This can only be pulled out by a medicine man and that costs many presents.
Rock medicines were also given to us by First Worker's Two Boy helpers.  Before First Worker created people there were only himself, Old Man Coyote, and a man who was the spirit of all rocks.  This man wandered over the earth looking for a mate, but without any luck.  Then he met Old Man Coyote and told him about his search.  Old Man Coyote advised him to go to the tabacco plant.  Inside its husk were seeds, and Old Man Coyote said that these were the female people.  The spirit of all rocks went to the tabacco plant and entered the husk.  There he found a mate and took her to his home.  They were the origin of life.
When the Two Boy helpers gave the Crows the sweat lodge and the Sun Dance they also gave us the tobacco-planting ceremony and the rock medicines.  Four is our sacred number and that is why they gave us four medicines.
Rock medicines are both male and female because they began with the marriage of the male rock and the female tobacco plant.  Sometimes we place a male rock medicine with a female one and do not disturb them for a year.  By the time a little rock will have come into the medicine bundle.
If we pass a strangely shaped rock we will often stop and pray to it, asking it for good luck and health and happiness.  Sometimes we will carry that rock home, hoping it may appear in a dream.  If we do not dream about it, we forget it.  But if we do, we believe it is a medicine rock.  We make it into a bundle and pray to it.
Our bundles, the songs belonging to them, and the ceremony for using them were all taught to us in our dreams.  Together they made our medicine.  A man who ordered his life with this help was a good and happy man and lived for a long time.


c. 1932: On The End Of The Buffalo Way Of Life

Crow Pretty-Shield (Born c. 1857) derived her name from her paternal grandfather, who owned a medicine shield. She became a medicine woman through the spiritual guidance she received in a vision after the death of a baby daughter. Around 1932, Pretty-Shield told her life story to author Frank Linderman and, in her account of the female side of Native life, she recalls her vision as well as the traditional ways of the Crow people before European contact. This extract is from her book Red Mother, which was published in 1932, and later reprinted as Pretty-Shield: Medicine Woman of the Crows. [intro, not mine]


Pretty-shield: Medicine Woman of the Crows Speaks

“Ah, my heart fell down when I began to see dead buffalo scattered all over our beautiful country, killed and skinned, and left to rot by white men, many, many hundreds of buffalo. The first I saw of this was in the Judith basin. The whole country there smelled of rotting meat. Even the flowers could not put down the bad smell. Our hearts were like stones. And yet nobody believed, even then, that the white man could kill all the buffalo. Since the beginning of things there had always been so many! Even the Lacota, bad as their hearts were for us, would not do such a thing as this; not the Cheyenne, nor the Arapahoe, nor the Pecunnie; and yet the white man did this, even when he did not want the meat.


We believe for a long time that the buffalo would again come to us; but they did not. We grew hungry and sick and afraid, all in one. Not believing their own eyes our hunters rode very far looking for buffalo, so far away that even if they had found a herd we could not have reached it a half moon. ‘Nothing; we found nothing,’ they told us; and then, hungry, they stared at the empty plains, as though dreaming. After their hearts were no good any more. If the Great White Chief in Washington had not given us food we should have been wiped out without even a chance to fight for ourselves.


And then white men began to fence the plains so that we could not travel; and anyhow there was now little good in traveling, nothing to travel for. We began to stay in one place, and to grow lazy and sicker all the time. Our men had fought hard against our enemies, holding them back from our beautiful country by their bravery; but now, with everything else going wrong, we began to be whipped by weak foolishness. Our men, our leaders, began to drink the white man’s whiskey, letting it do their thinking. Because we were used to listening to our chiefs in the buffalo days, the days of war and excitement, we listened to them now; and we got whipped. Our wise-ones became fools, and drank the white man’s whiskey. But what else was there for us to do? We knew no other way than to listen to our chiefs and head men. Our old men used to be different; even our children were different when the buffalo were here.”



Pretty-shield: Medicine Woman of the Crows.


“Tell me of your marriage, about your man,” I suggested.


            Her face lighted. “Ahhh, I was sixteen when my man, Goes-ahead, took me. I have already told you that my father had promised me to Goes-ahead, when I was thirteen. When I became sixteen years old my father kept his promise.”


            “Did you fall in love with him before he took you?” I asked.


            “No, no,” she smiled. “I had not often spoken to him until he took me. Then I fell in love with him, because he loved me and was always kind. Young women did not then fall in love, and get married to please themselves, as they now do. They listened to their fathers, married the men selected for them, and this, I believe, is the best way. There were no deformed children born in those days,” she said, thoughtfully. “And men and women were happier, too, I feel sure,” she added, with a challenge in her words. “A man could not take a woman from his own clan, no matter how much he might wish to have her. He had to marry a woman belonging to another clan, and then all their children belonged to their mother’s clan. This law kept our blood strong.”


            “Did your man, Goes-ahead, have another woman when he took you?” I asked, knowing their custom.


            “Yes, my oldest sister, Standing-Medicine-Rock, was his first woman; then he took me, and finally, when my youngest sister, Two-scalps, became sixteen years old, she was also taken by my man, Goes-ahead, so that there were three lodges, all sisters, and all belonging to Goes-ahead.”


            “But I was the only one who gave him children,” she added, eagerly. “It was my face that he painted when he had gained that right by saving a Crow warrior’s life in battle. And it was I who rode his warhorse and carried his shield. Ahh, I felt proud when my man painted my face, “ she did, softly, her eyes lighted by her thoughts. “After this I had the right to paint my face whenever there was a big feast or a big dance; and I did it because it was only showing respect for my man, Goes-ahead.”


“Did you always get along wee together, you three sisters, who were wives of Goes-ahead?” I asked.


“I will hide nothing from you, Sign-talker, Standing-medicine-rock, my oldest sister, was not a very good woman. I mean that she liked other men, and that she sometimes forgot she belonged to Goes-ahead. I knew about this, and talked to her. But I did not tell on her. It was my brother’s duty to do this, according to our tribal custom, and not mine, so that I only talked to her. But my talking did no good. And yet Standing-medicine-rock, my oldest sister, was a good worker. There was nothing lazy about her. There were few women who could dress a robe better than she could, none who kept a neater lodge, and not many who looked nicer; and yet she was not a very good woman. My youngest sister, Two-scalps, was different. We got along well together. I helped her all I could and she helped me; and we both helped our mother, who was growing old.”

Linderman, Frank. Pretty-shield: Medicine Woman of the Crows. University of Nebraska

Taken from:


Linderman, Frank. Pretty-shield: Medicine Woman of the Crows.

University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln: 1932.

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