BEFORE WE ACCOMPANY Captain Bonneville into the Crow country, we will impart a
few facts about this wild region, and the wild people who inhabit it. We are not aware of
the precise boundaries, if there are any, of the country claimed by the Crows; it
appears to extend from the Black Hills to the Rocky Mountains, including a part of their
lofty ranges, and embracing many of the plains and valleys watered by the Wind River,
the Yellowstone, the Powder River, the Little Missouri, and the Nebraska. The country
varies in soil and climate; there are vast plains of sand and clay, studded with large red
sand-hills; other parts are mountainous and picturesque; it possesses warm springs,
and coal mines, and abounds with game.
But let us give the account of the country as rendered by Arapooish, a Crow chief, to
Mr. Robert Campbell, of the Rocky Mountain Fur Company.
"The Crow country," said he, "is a good country. The Great Spirit has put it exactly in
the right place; while you-are in it you fare well; whenever you go out of it, whichever
way you travel, you fare worse.
"If you go to the south, you have to wander over great barren plains j the water is warm
and bad, and you meet the fever and ague.
"To the north it is cold; the winters are long and bitter, with no grass j you cannot keep
horses there, but must travel with dogs. What is a country without horses?
"On the Columbia they are poor and dirty, paddle about in canoes, and eat fish. Their
teeth are worn out; they are always taking fish-bones out of their mouths. Fish is poor
"To the east, they dwell in villages; they live well; but they drink the muddy water of the
Missouri--that is bad. A Crow's dog would not drink such water.
"About the forks of the Missouri is a fine country; good water; good grass; plenty of
buffalo. In summer, it is almost as good as the Crow country; but in winter it is cold; the
grass is gone; and there is no salt weed for the horses.
"The Crow country is exactly in the right place. It has snowy mountains and sunny
plains; all kinds of climates and good things for every season. When the summer heats
scorch the prairies, you can draw up under the mountains, where the air is sweet and
cool, the grass fresh, and the bright streams come tumbling out of the snow-banks.
There you can hunt the elk, the deer, and the antelope, when their skins are fit for
dressing; there you will find plenty of white bears and mountain sheep.
"In the autumn, when your horses are fat and strong from the mountain pastures, you
can go down into the plains and hunt the buffalo, or trap beaver on the streams. And
when winter comes on, you can take shelter in the woody bottoms along the rivers;
there you will find buffalo meat for yourselves, and cotton-wood bark for your horses: or
you may winter in the Wind River valley, where there is salt weed in abundance.
"The Crow country is exactly in the right place. Everything good is to be found there.
There is no country like the Crow country."
Such is the eulogium on his country by Arapooish.
We have had repeated occasions to speak of the restless and predatory habits of the
Crows. They can muster fifteen hundred fighting men, but their incessant wars with the
Blackfeet, and their vagabond, predatory habits, are gradually wearing them out.
In a recent work, we related the circumstance of a white man named Rose, an outlaw,
and a designing vagabond, who acted as guide and interpreter to Mr. Hunt and his
party, on their journey across the mountains to Astoria, who came near betraying them
into the hands of the Crows, and who remained among the tribe, marrying one of their
women, and adopting their congenial habits. A few anecdotes of the subsequent
fortunes of that renegade may not be uninteresting, especially as they are connected
with the fortunes of the tribe.
Rose was powerful in frame and fearless in spirit; and soon by his daring deeds took
his rank among the first braves of the tribe. He aspired to command, and knew it was
only to be attained by desperate exploits. He distinguished himself in repeated actions
with Blackfeet. On one occasion, a band of those savages had fortified themselves
within a breastwork, and could not be harmed. Rose proposed to storm the work. "Who
will take the lead?" was the demand. "I!" cried he; and putting himself at their head,
rushed forward. The first Blackfoot that opposed him he shot down with his rifle, and,
snatching up the war-club of his victim, killed four others within the fort. The victory was
complete, and Rose returned to the Crow village covered with glory, and bearing five
Blackfoot scalps, to be erected as a trophy before his lodge. From this time, he was
known among the Crows by the name of Che-ku-kaats, or "the man who killed five." He
became chief of the village, or rather band, and for a time was the popular idol. His
popularity soon awakened envy among the native braves; he was a stranger, an
intruder, a white man. A party seceded from his command. Feuds and civil wars
succeeded that lasted for two or three years, until Rose, having contrived to set his
adopted brethren by the ears, left them, and went down the Missouri in 1823. Here he
fell in with one of the earliest trapping expeditions sent by General Ashley across the
mountains. It was conducted by Smith, Fitzpatrick, and Sublette. Rose enlisted with
them as guide and interpreter. When he got them among the Crows, he was
exceedingly generous with their goods; making presents to the braves of his adopted
tribe, as became a high-minded chief.
This, doubtless, helped to revive his popularity. In that expedition, Smith and Fitzpatrick
were robbed of their horses in Green River valley; the place where the robbery took
place still bears the name of Horse Creek. We are not informed whether the horses
were stolen through the instigation and management of Rose; it is not improbable, for
such was the perfidy he had intended to practice on a former occasion toward Mr. Hunt
and his party.
The last anecdote we have of Rose is from an Indian trader. When General Atkinson
made his military expedition up the Missouri, in 1825, to protect the fur trade, he held a
conference with the Crow nation, at which Rose figured as Indian dignitary and Crow
interpreter. The military were stationed at some little distance from the scene of the "big
talk"; while the general and the chiefs were smoking pipes and making speeches, the
officers, supposing all was friendly, left the troops, and drew near the scene of
ceremonial. Some of the more knowing Crows, perceiving this, stole quietly to the
camp, and, unobserved, contrived to stop the touch-holes of the field-pieces with dirt.
Shortly after, a misunderstanding occurred in the conference: some of the Indians,
knowing the cannon to be useless, became insolent. A tumult arose. In the confusion,
Colonel O'Fallan snapped a pistol in the face of a brave, and knocked him down with
the butt end. The Crows were all in a fury. A chance-medley fight was on the point of
taking place, when Rose, his natural sympathies as a white man suddenly recurring,
broke the stock of his fusee over the head of a Crow warrior, and laid so vigorously
about him with the barrel, that he soon put the whole throng to flight. Luckily, as no
lives had been lost, this sturdy rib roasting calmed the fury of the Crows, and the tumult
ended without serious consequences.
What was the ultimate fate of this vagabond hero is not distinctly known. Some report
him to have fallen a victim to disease, brought on by his licentious life; others assert
that he was murdered in a feud among the Crows. After all, his residence among these
savages, and the influence he acquired over them, had, for a time, some beneficial
effects. He is said, not merely to have rendered them more formidable to the Blackfeet,
but to have opened their eyes to the policy of cultivating the friendship of the white
After Rose's death, his policy continued to be cultivated, with indifferent success, by
Arapooish, the chief already mentioned, who had been his great friend, and whose
character he had contributed to develope. This sagacious chief endeavored, on every
occasion, to restrain the predatory propensities of his tribe when directed against the
white men. "If we keep friends with them," said he, "we have nothing to fear from the
Blackfeet, and can rule the mountains." Arapooish pretended to be a great "medicine
man", a character among the Indians which is a compound of priest, doctor, prophet,
and conjurer. He carried about with him a tame eagle, as his "medicine" or familiar.
With the white men, he acknowledged that this was all charlatanism, but said it was
necessary, to give him weight and influence among his people.
Mr. Robert Campbell, from whom we have most of these facts, in the course of one of
his trapping expeditions, was quartered in the village of Arapooish, and a guest in the
lodge of the chieftain. He had collected a large quantity of furs, and, fearful of being
plundered, deposited but a part in the lodge of the chief; the rest he buried in a cache.
One night, Arapooish came into the lodge with a cloudy brow, and seated himself for a
time without saying a word. At length, turning to Campbell, "You have more furs with
you," said he, "than you have brought into my lodge?"
"I have," replied Campbell.
"Where are they?"
Campbell knew the uselessness of any prevarication with an Indian; and the
importance of complete frankness. He described the exact place where he had
concealed his peltries.
" 'Tis well," replied Arapooish; "you speak straight. It is just as you say. But your cache
has been robbed. Go and see how many skins have been taken from it."
Campbell examined the cache, and estimated his loss to be about one hundred and
fifty beaver skins.
Arapooish now summoned a meeting of the village. He bitterly reproached his people
for robbing a stranger who had confided to their honor; and commanded that whoever
had taken the skins, should bring them back: declaring that, as Campbell was his guest
and inmate of his lodge, he would not eat nor drink until every skin was restored to him.
The meeting broke up, and every one dispersed. Arapooish now charged Campbell to
give neither reward nor thanks to any one who should bring in the beaver skins, but to
keep count as they were delivered.
In a little while, the skins began to make their appearance, a few at a time; they were
laid down in the lodge, and those who brought them departed without saying a word.
The day passed away. Arapooish sat in one corner of his lodge, wrapped up in his
robe, scarcely moving a muscle of his countenance. When night arrived, he demanded
if all the skins had been brought in. Above a hundred had been given up, and Campbell
expressed himself contented. Not so the Crow chieftain. He fasted all that night, nor
tasted a drop of water. In the morning, some more skins were brought in, and continued
to come, one and two at a time, throughout the day, until but a few were wanting to
make the number complete. Campbell was now anxious to put an end to this fasting of
the old chief, and again declared that he was perfectly satisfied. Arapooish demanded
what number of skins were yet wanting. On being told, he whispered to some of his
people, who disappeared. After a time the number were brought in, though it was
evident they were not any of the skins that had been stolen, but others gleaned in the
"Is all right now?" demanded Arapooish.
"All is right," replied Campbell.
"Good! Now bring me meat and drink!"
When they were alone together, Arapooish had a conversation with his guest.
"When you come another time among the Crows," said he, "don't hide your goods: trust
to them and they will not wrong you. Put your goods in the lodge of a chief, and they
are sacred; hide them in a cache, and any one who finds will steal them. My people
have now given up your goods for my sake; but there are some foolish young men in
the village, who may be disposed to be troublesome. Don't linger, therefore, but pack
your horses and be off."
Campbell took his advice, and made his way safely out of the Crow country. He has
ever since maintained that the Crows are not so black as they are painted. "Trust to
their honor," says he, "and you are safe: trust to their honesty, and they will steal the
hair off your head."
Having given these few preliminary particulars, we will resume the course of our narrative.