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The Warpath

Here we will take a Step back in time and revisit the Crow in many other aspects of life beginning with the WarPath!

The road to Social standing and Chieftanship were derived from WarPath honors and this was the only road to being distinct! Value on the other hand was set on qualities as liberality, greatness at story-telling or success as a person of medicine. The things a man distributed were from raids and any honors, prized as they were, were merely decorative and not meant to be substitutes, for a reputation or a man's standing as a warrior. War was not the concern of only men or a certain class, but, the concern of the whole people, from birth to death. All people boys and girls received their names from an honored man's exploits. Women would dance wearing scalps, received honor from their husbands war exploits, exhibited their husbands weapons or shields and a woman's mourning of the death of a son was the most effective thing to drive the warriors to a punitive expedition. There were many women of the Crow who went to war, one I have heard of was called Muskrat, she claimed to have struck coup and taken a scalp and earned songs of praise!

War and religion were intertwined, The Sundance was a prayer for revenge and was full of content of war exploits. These were almost as prevalent in the Tobacco ritual whose purpose was generally the welfare of the People. Every single exploit was undertaken because of a dream or vision and because success at life was largely a matter of war honors, these exploits became the main content of prayer. There were four deeds of valor grouped under the term "ackya'pe". A man with any claim to any of them was known as "araxtsi'wice" (honor-bearer). The touching of an enemy, whether he was hurt or not was counted as "da'kce" (coups) Their may have been four Warriors to strike coups on the same enemy, but, the honor became less after the first initial strike and only one warrior could lay claim to being the first to strike coups. The taking of a bow or gun in a hand-to-hand encounter was a second honor. The cutting loose of a horse from inside a hostile camp was yet another, this was called "bapa'ckyua". The fourth thing was being the pipe owner or raid planner "akdu'xigyutsgye" and these are what counted towards chieftanship, a chief had accomplished at least one of all these things.

In Lodge Grass in the year of 1910 there were two men of this distinction Medicine-crow and Gray-bull, in the district of Pryor on the reservation there were several including Bell-rock and Plenty-coups. Plenty-coups was the recognized chief by the U.S. Government, but, it was said that Bell-rock was supreme among the living men at that time. Bell-rock had achieved capturing 5 guns, cut-loose at least two horses, struck at least six undisputable coups and had led more than eleven war parties. Gray-bull who was esteemed for his bravery had performed no more than three of each category. A Warrior called Hillside fell short of his chieftanship only because one of the horses he had cut loose was recaptured by the enemy and Flat-head-woman lacked only a coups.

Training for war began in the early childhood, boys counted coups on game animals and girls danced with the hair of a coyote instead of a scalp. An ambitious young boy however would always try to seek out a chance to go with a raiding party. "Old age is a thing of evil, better for a young to die on the Warpath", summed up there feelings! The wish of the young men to gain renown was first in their hearts. Sometimes a whole band would find itself under siege of course, but, the main form of war exploit was the raid (du'xia) organized by a single leader, the raid planner or pipe owner. The venture would be a purely personal one and was not directed by a chief or by the council, however a chief could stop a party from leaving camp if he had a good reason for doing so. The leader had dreamt about his raid, even down to particulars of a horses color or even down to the way a man may be killed. Even if the leaders medicines were strong there were rules others had to follow, such as not passing him on the right or(left) and however slight the rules may be broken it could lead to dangerous mishap for the whole raiding party.

Lust for fame was an end in all warfare, but, there were also other motives the two greatest being of course horses and revenge. Horse raids and revenge raids could be distinguished as being different, the first was usually directed against the Piegan and the second against the Dakota. At the time for final preparations a Warrior would tie sacred objects to his body and paint his face. One man would be chosen to lead and they would approach the camp. The leader of the party would then pray to the Sun for all of his party to return and then would advance on the camp sending one or two men to drive off the horses, if satisfied with the number of horses they may decide then and there to return to their camp. It was possible that the leader of the party could lay claim to all that was taken, but, this was liberally shared among all participants.

Warriors always blackened their faces to announce the death of an enemy and is always synonimous of a victorious return. Upon the approach of a party there were women who would carry scalp sticks who would dance into camp ahead of the warriors. A homecoming of favorable results was called "ara'tsiwe". Among the Plains Tribes the loss of a tribesman's life should be avoided at all costs, so the sacrifice of lives for strategic gains was completely against the Crow way, hence the Crow prayer saying that a Warrior may kill his enemy easily, safely, but, without injury to himself. Also among the Tribes of the Plains there were never any concerted efforts to actually take territory from other tribes they were always usually small raids for horses or revenge. Although very large raids did occur. Again, it was honorable to kill ones enemy but the slightest tap with a coups stick was viewed with much more honor.


Tobacco, is the most celebrated of all Crow medicines. The Crow call it "Short Tobacco" (op pu'mite) but, it is not the tobacco that was anciently smoked. What was used for smoking was "Tall Tobacco" (op ha'tskite) and came from the Hidatsa. The "Short Tobacco" is considered holy and being identified with the Stars. In one version of the story, of the Creation, "Old Man Coyote" and the two red-eyed ducks were going about the newly created earth, they came upon a human being...and say to each other look That one is of the Stars. As they approached the being transformed itself into a Tobacco plant and there was not at all another plant growing yet. The Creator tells them that the Crow shall plant this plant in the Spring and dance with it, it shall be their medicine! The Sun then adopts a fasting boy and then the order is born. To sow the seed is an honor earned only through becoming a part of the (bacu'sua) organization.

The founder of the Tobacco Society adopted newcomers, as any visionary would and became ceremonial father to any who wished to share in his blessings. In the Ancient times there were far fewer members than in the early 20th century by then it had risen to it's highest social standing. Many would spend large amounts of property to become a member, but, the Tobacco Order was originally and remained for uplifting the Welfare of the People. Only those who were part of the Order were allowed to sow the seed, but, outsiders were allowed access or contact with the Tobacco. Tobacco ritualism included the ceremonies of adoption (initiation) planting and harvesting. As in the ceremonies of the Sacred Pipe and Horse, husband and wife became members at the same time and the participated in the planting and harvesting. Tobacco origninally had very few members and was for the most part restricted. In more recent times children have been initiated and at these times there is a prophetic saying that goes around, "When all of you Crow have joined the Tobacco, you will be poorly off." But shortly after the beginning of the 20th Century, membership, mostly due to discouragement be the Agency, the Order almost died out.

A candidate was usually instructed during the Winter and became amember in the Spring, immediately after the planting of the Sacred Tobacco. The amounts paid for initiation were enormous, some paying up to fifty horses, generally a price of one horse per medicine object. When it came time for planting it was usually done by, people who were called Mixers. For the seeds had to be properly mixed with water and other ingredients. The Mixers usually supplied food for the outsiders who performed various tasks. After the planting it was customary to lie by the garden to get a vision. Between the time of planting and harvesting many rules of do's and dont's were observed, but, the eating of young deer meat was the assurance of a good crop. Also during this period the members danced often to help the plant to grow faster and the song's that were sung were of the Tobacco itself if there were songs of the Otter or Weasel it could bring about a poor crop.

The season for harvesting was "when the cherries are ripe." Originaly to harvest your crop you would be expected to give the Mixers four gifts, but, in recent times all have a right to "take back" their Tobacco! The Crow firmly believe that if they planted and grew the Tobacco it would be good for the continued welfare of the people and the Tobacco is consensually believed to be associated with the stars. The Tobacco is a specific "medicine" that to the Crow is a supernatural gift with it's own laws, positive and negative. As Sacred rocks are wrapped and trimmed with decoarations, also must the Tobacco be planted!

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