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Crow Country & Chief Plenty Coups

“Thank you for coming to Crow country. The land you are standing on is mixed with Crow blood.” ALDEN BIG MAN JR.

I’m blogging about the Western Writers of America conference held in Billings and the field trip opportunities. I hopped on a bus and enjoyed a sack lunch while we journeyed to the Crow Nation to learn about Chief Plenty Coups.

Chief Plenty Coups State Park is located on land still occupied by the Crow Nation south of Billings, Montana, a tribe once occupying the Yellowstone river valley from Wyoming, Montana and into North Dakota before being pushed west by the Cheyenne and Sioux. We walked the land and toured the home of one of the great Chiefs, best know for protecting the original homeland of his people and guiding by example for five decades. The land is everything, and all exist together as an inseparable whole.

The State Park is peaceful and beautifully kept. There is a calming spirit about the grounds, especially around the sacred spring, and I couldn’t help but think about past generations that had walked the same pathways.

There is an unmistakable positive energy and it is the perfect place for reflection.

Becoming chief at age 29 in 1876, Plenty Coups was known to be fearless and cunning, as well as a wise and eloquent speaker.

Our tour started at the visitor’s center where we were allowed into the basement vault. In Native American tradition and reverence, sweet grass was burning to cleanse the air and our presence was announced before entering.  Upon his death in 1932 his home and everything in it was preserved. We viewed several significant items from the collection. Pictures were allowed, but are prohibited from being posted on social media.

The home we toured is the only preserved home of an Indian leader. The original portion was constructed in 1886, built near his sacred spring to fulfill a vision he had as a young boy.  Impressed by the stately Mount Vernon on his first visit in 1880, Chief Plenty Coups planted cottonwood trees, gardens, and orchards, and introduced farming and ranching. He even opened a store to sell fruit from his orchard. Because of a vision, Chief Plenty Coups believed that he would die inside that house so he lived most of his life in a tipi located nearby. A second story, wood floors and window were added in 1890.

View from the second story. Chief Plenty Coups State Park.

The most interesting room was the second floor chamber where he kept his medicine bundles and personal ceremonial items. The walls and ceiling were papered in large floral patterned cloth, and the room was furnished with an iron bed, personal photos, and keepsakes. The door was kept locked. Visitors recall hearing movement at night from the sacred medicine bundles and guardian spirits. The ceremonial bundles signify a spiritual path for either individual or the well-being of the tribe as a whole.

In 1909 a spacious front room and additional second floor rooms were added, making it the only two-story house in the country. The large, open fireplace was fashioned after the one at Mount Vernon. A wide porch stretched across the entire front with views of a meadow and the Pryor Creek valley. The front room reserved for visitors was kept bare, with no furniture, rugs or pictures. Euro-American visitors entered here by the front porch and were usually not invited into other parts of the house, unless they were considered to be close friends.

Front entrance inspired by Mount Vernon. Chief Plenty Coups State Park.

Crow people entered through the door of the original house, leading them into the kitchen as trusted friends and family, or allowed to visit the tipi. Both tribal and personal business was conducted in this way.

The Chief was so impressed with Mount Vernon and inspired by the fact that people could visit the home of a great white chief, he left his home to the State of Montana, preserving his legacy for others to learn about.

Kitchen entrance and doorway into the original part of the house. Chief Plenty Coups State Park.

“For though he was a man of his people and of the world, he was even more so a man of the spirit. Not one ordained of the cloth, he sought insight and guidance from his incredibly intense personal spirituality, from deep and powerful currents within himself and his strong connection to the natural world.” RICH PITTSLEY, 2001

Photos by N. Bright. Chief Plenty Coups State Park, Montana.

Western Writers of America boasts historians, nonfiction authors, young adult, romance writers, songwriters, poets, and screenwriters for film and television within its 650 members. We all have one thing in common—our work in every medium is set in the ever-changing American West. For more information go here Join us in Tuscon, Arizona in June 19-22, 2019.

Natalie Bright is an author, blogger and speaker. The two newest books in her RESCUE ANIMAL SERIES features a Tennessee Walker named Flash and a registered Hackney named Taz. Click on the books tab above for more information, and check the events calendar. For a funny, Wild West adventure, the TROUBLE IN TEXAS series is perfect for middle grades and family read-a-longs. Coming soon is book #2, The Great Train Caper.  Also in the works, tales from an Arkansas Vet and a book for novice cow punchers about the unwritten rules of the cowboy code.

Click the BOOKS tab at the top for more information.