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Homestead History
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Crow Tribe, Principal Chief. 1882-1885. Photo courtesy of the National Archive.
fter nearly three decades of trading with trappers, the Crow entered into their first formal treaty with the United States government in 1825. The treaty promised Federal protection of the Crow if they agreed to acknowledge the absolute supremacy of the government, and that they lived within the borders of the United States of America. For a time, the Crow continued to live their nomadic life hunting buffalo, having occasional run-ins with the Sioux, and trading with white trappers. Beginning in the 1840s, the Crow found their lands being traversed by emigrants on their way to Oregon and California, but still, relations with whites remained strong. It was only a matter of time before the Crow found their own land being claimed by the thousands of white settlers flooding in from the east.

In 1851, representatives of the Crow, Arapaho, Arikara, Cheyenne, Teton Sioux, and other Northern Plains tribes traveled to Fort Laramie to sign a new treaty with the United States. Under the provisions of the treaty, the U.S. government set up boundaries designed to restrict the movement of war parties in the Upper Missouri. The government set aside 38,500,000 acres of land for the Crow, as well as an annual payment of $50,000 for the next 50 years. When the treaty was ratified in 1852, the Senate rejected the 50-year term, and decided to instead pay the Indians for 10 years, with the possibility of a five-year extension. Several of the tribes rejected these revised conditions, but the Crow accepted them. Crow Chief Plenty Croups explained, "War was always with us until the white man came; then because we were not against him he became our friend. Our lands are ours by treaty, and not by chance."

The Crow, restricted to predetermined land for the first time in their history, moved onto their reservation. For the next fifteen years, the Crow lived fairly free from white intrusion, until white settlers found a use for the land on which they were living: By the 1860s, settlers were pouring into Montana in search of gold. In 1863, John Bozeman mapped out the Bozeman Trail, which traveled across the land set aside for the Crow from Julesburg, Colorado to Virginia City, Montana.

frontier fact In 1874, the U.S. Commissioner of Indian Affairs reported that there were 22,486 Indians in Montana, including 4,200 members of the Mountain and River Crow tribes.
Though portions of the land along the trail technically belonged to the Crow, their archrivals -- the Cheyenne and the Sioux -- controlled it. These tribes became enraged when the Federal government built three forts to protect settlers. Though the presence of settlers and forts on the trail greatly diminished the dwindling bison herds, and increased competition between the warring tribes, the Crow, eager to keep the protection of the government, agreed to protect settlers on the trail. Still, the Bozeman Trail became known as one of the most dangerous on the frontier; the U.S. government, hoping to protect settlers, brought the warring tribes together for another round of treaty negotiations.

While negotiating their new treaty at Fort Laramie, Crow Chief Bear Tooth told the government representatives, "Your young men have destroyed my timber and green grass and burnt up my country. Your young men ... have killed my game, my buffalo. They did not kill it to eat it. They left it where it fell. Father, were I to go to your country, to kill game or your cattle, what would you say? Would you not declare war?"

When the government agreed to close the hated forts and abandon the Bozeman Trail, and to guarantee the Crow's safety on their reservation, the Crow signed their second Fort Laramie Treaty in 1868. Under the provisions of the treaty, the Crow, again hoping for government protection from their enemies, agreed to settle permanently on 8 million acres in Southern Montana, ceding nearly 30 million acres to the government.

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