The territory of Crow Indians historically included the eastern half of Yellowstone National Park. After the park’s creation and the relegation of the Crow to a reservation, park officials tried to include them in park ceremonies in an attempt to create a historical narrative that highlighted Western and Great Plains stereotypes for tourists.
The Crow, also known as the Apsaalooke or Absaroka, historically lived in parts of Northern Wyoming and Southern Montana. The largest division, the Mountain Crow, claim a region including the eastern half of Yellowstone National Park as their aboriginal territory. Crow Leader Iron Bull said that the “Great Spirit had put us right in the middle of the earth, because we are the best people in the world.”
The Fort Laramie Treaty of 1851 marked the western edge of Crow territory at the Yellowstone River, designating the eastern portion of what would become Yellowstone National Park as Crow land. In the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868, the Crow lost all lands in Wyoming. They gave up 38 million acres, keeping only 8 million acres that included a narrow strip on the northern edge of Yellowstone. Crow leader Sits in the Middle of the Land said, “we asked whether we might eat the buffalo for a long time. They said yes. That is not in the treaty. We told them we wanted a big country. They said we should have it; and that is not in the treaty. They said, ‘will you sell the Powder River country, Judith Basin and Wind River country?’ I told them ‘No’; but that is not in the treaty.”
Yellowstone National Park was created in 1872. By the early 1880s, the Northern Pacific Railroad had cut through Crow land in an attempt to bring tourists to the park. Nearly 2,000 Crow were invited to attend the last-spike ceremony in Yellowstone. Iron Bull was assigned to give the last spike to the president of the Railroad during the ceremony. At the end of the ceremony, Iron Bull gave a speech and was reported to have said that he understood the “meaning in [his] part of the ceremony” and that the days of his people were “almost numbered.”
Further cuts to their territory occurred in the late 19th and early 20th century, bringing the reservation to its current size of about 2 million acres. Like other Native Americans in the area, they were not allowed to use the park as they had traditionally for hunting, trading, and gathering food and other supplies.
In the early 20th century, Superintendent Horace Albright hoped to create a relationship between the Crow and Yellowstone National Park similar to that of the Blackfeet and Glacier National Park. Albright chose the Crow over the ‘timid’ Sheepeaters, historically the only full-time residents of the Park, because they seemed to better fit the American stereotype of Western American Indians and would be better for tourism and marketing campaigns. In 1925, he invited them to round up the Yellowstone bison herd in “hunting costumes.” He often invited them to participate in opening ceremonies or special occasions. However, the relationship Albright had hoped for never developed, largely because the Crow were not the only group associated with residence in the Yellowstone area.