"A Few Great Men--Chief Plenty Coups: Transitional Period"
The 1800s were traumatic and difficult times for Native Americans. Few can fully comprehend the tragedy inflicted upon Native Americans. During the 1850's, the government negotiated a series of treaties with Plains Indian tribes, Southwestern tribes and the tribes of the Pacific Northwest. Much of this activity was to fulfill Thomas Jefferson's dream of an American Empire stretching from coast to coast made possible through the Louisiana Purchase in 1803. The Discovery Corps lead by Captains Meriwether Lewis and William Clark paved the way for Western settlement. They were soon followed by trappers, miners, and settlers all coveting the promise of wealth in a land of new opportunity and challenge. Then, in the early 1860s, a process of renegotiating original treaties to reduce still further the land holdings of Native Americans in the West had begun. In large part, this was due to the cry of settlers demanding more land and to other commercial interests including mining and timber interests coveting these lands. A transitional period followed as Native Americans were forced onto reservations throughout the west.
Native Americans became divided over how to effectively cope with the changes to their cultural heritage. It was also during this period that we had the emergence of many Native American leaders who either struggled with how to provide a bridge to the future or how to protect the ancestral lands and cultural heritage of their past. In the Pacific Northwest and Montana Territory, great Native American men on both sides of these cataclysmic events became embedded in our hearts and minds forever including: Crazy Horse, Chiefs Joseph, Lawyer, Looking Glass, Plenty Coups, Red Cloud, Sitting Bull and others.
"As a young boy, Chief Plenty Coups, "Bull Who Goes into the Wind," had a vision in which he saw the destruction of the Buffalo herds and the Crow way of life. "To the deeply religious Crow, who understand dreams as agents of spiritual instruction, this vision lent moral weight to a pragmatic course they had been following since the early 1800s. Numbering perhaps 8,000 and surrounded by more powerful, aggressive enemies, the Crow had embraced white fur traders as allies in their persistent conflicts with the Sioux, Blackfeet, Cheyenne, and Arapaho. Over the subsequent years, they responded to the Whites' requests for military assistance, helping protect travelers on the Bozeman Trail, scouting for Custer, and fighting with Crook at the Battle of the Rosebud.
The boy whose dream was instrumental in setting that policy grew during those turbulent years into a courageous and honored warrior. Acquiring the name Plenty Coups, he quickly rose to the rank of chief, emerging as a leader whose forceful advocacy of change brought him fame in the world and made him a figure of controversy among his own people.
By the middle of the 1880s, the Crow Indians had moved to their reservation along the Yellowstone Valley of Montana, and Plenty Coups was becomming successful as a rancher, a farmer, and proprietor of a small general store. Plenty Coups continued to defend the rights of his community and expressed no second thoughts about his lifelong conciliatory policy toward the whites, maintaining that it helped his people repel the most drastic inroads on their freedom. ' When I think back, my heart sings because we acted as we did,' he declared shortly before he died in 1932." 1
To help bridge the gap of change and heal the angry wounds of conflict and destruction, Chief Plenty Coups donated a portion of his allotment as a Nations Park hoping that the Indian and White man alike would come to enjoy that which had been left to them in harmony with one another. In bequeathing the land he loved, Chief Plenty Coups said:
"My reason for making this bequest of land is that it may be a monument to the friendship I have always felt for the white people, I desire that this park may commemorate that attitude and be a reminder to Indians and white people that the two races should live and work together harmoniously."
1 The Editors of Time-Life Books, The Mighty Chieftains, Time-Life Books, Aleandria, VA, 1993, pp. 168-176.