Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Chief Plenty Coups

After we visited the home and grounds of this Crow Indian Chief I expressed my frustration to John again about how poorly our United States history books are written. Why had I not heard about Chief Plenty Coups before? Well, I guess that is why we are traveling; to get the rest of the story of our country's history. Chief Plenty Coups (in the Crow language his name means "man of many accomplishments") was born in 1848. He quickly rose through the ranks of his tribe and became chief. The late 1880s were a very turbulent time for Native Americans. Already much of their land had been taken from them by the white man. Chief Plenty Coups advocated for change, among his people he was a figure of controversy. He felt it was better to work with the white man rather than constantly to be at odds with him. An interpretive sign at the museum commented that " he represented transition from the primitive as did no other figure red or white in our history, to his race he was in every respect what George Washington was to colonial America". He became a rancher, farmer and proprietor of a small store. He traveled to Mount Vernon to view George Washington's home, orchard and gardens. He took what he learned there and copied it back on his ranch. He was proud of the home he built here in Montana, because it was the only one that had two stories in Pryor County at the time. I must say that his home was one of the most unusual historic homes we have toured so far. Interestingly enough, it has many features of an Indian tepee. He at first built it with one opening, a door which faced to the east. Later he remodeled the house to include windows.
 Chief Plenty Coups was a deeply spiritual man. In  his earlier years he had a vision which directed him to build a house by some sacred springs. He did find those springs, and built his home near them. They bubble up from underneath a tall cottonwood tree. At the museum there is a picture of him and his family bathing in these springs. Below is a picture of those springs. Many small trinkets are hung on the branches of a tree nearby. It is the custom of  Native Americans to hang pretty shiny objects near springs.
It was not until the early 1900s when the chief converted to Catholicism. Here I would like to quote him regarding his take on the white man's religion, and I am not sure when he made this comment : "when we tried to understand it (religion) we found that there were too many kinds of religion among white men for us to understand, and that scarcely any two white men agreed which was the right one..this bothered us..until we saw that the white man did not take his religion any more seriously than he did his laws."  And finally I would like to add another quote here from the Billings Gazette, written at the time of the chief's death in 1932: " his courage, character and genius were such that, set down in any race and in any era, he would have made an everlasting mark".

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