MISSIONS IN MONTANA:
CEREMONY OF THE SUN "SUN DANCE"
Earliest man has always recognized that there was a Supreme Force and has always offered prayers of thanks to his creator. Thus the Crow Indians are gathered for three days to go without food and water and pay their respects to our Maker and pray for peace in their own way that has "been done for thousands of years before.
Upon entering the ceremonial ground you will notice a forked center pole with two flags at the top. The white represents, light, purity and truth, the other darker one representing darkness or the evil way of life. Below the two flags you will see an Eagle suspended in mid air. It is the Eagle that will carry the ceremonial message to the Supreme Being. The Eagle "being the strongest bird in the flight of birds. Upon looking further you will discover the people
e have small whistles they are blowing in their mouth made from the wing bones of an Eagle. The spirit of the Eagle is in the hone whistles. the suspended Eagle is the Buffalo head. The Buffalo Spirit is liken to the Horn of Plenty. It represents, plenty to eat, plenty to wear and a peaceful wholesome life. Just below the Buffalo head you will see three dark rings around the center pole showing three days of worship without food and water and prayers every morning at sunrise.
The twelve post around the circle notes the "moons" or months of the year. Opposite the door by which you enter you will see an evergreen after going from West to East on past the center pole and on which its forked branches hang red tassels. These branches note the two paths. The people do not pray to the center as it supposed by the misinformed but to the spirit that made the Sun, that made the tree grow, that supports the Sacred Eagle and Buffalo.
The Crows know in their own hearts that their prayers are heard by the same Great Spirit that hears your prayers whether you be of Protestant, Jewish, Catholic, or any other religious faith. ( source was letters sent to the Sheridan Inn, Sheridan WY. It is an old Buffalo Bill Inn, lots of history there).
The Catholic St. Mary´s Mission for the Flathead Indians, was the first. Founded by the Belgian Father De Smet in 1841 on the Bitterroot River, some 30 miles south of Missoula. It could have been nearby present days little town of Hamilton. The Blackfoot Indians were attacking and the Mission was abandoned in 1850 and relocated north near the Flathead River. It was then called St. Ignatius, which is today still in use.
For the Crows, Father de Smet was probably the first Christian preacher which they ever met. He had visited the Big Horn Valley during his first cross-country trip and preached to the Mountain Crow in 1842. In memory of this first mass the Crow Indians build later at this place a large cross of stones. After his second mass he had planted some trees at this place near Hayfield Battlefield Monument.
A further contact with Christian preachers was in 1859-60, when a pair of Lutherans had wintered in the Big Horn Mountains. A Methodist pastor was at the second Crow Agency on the Rosebud Creek near the Stillwater River in 1873.The Catholic missionary activity began in 1880, when a Mexican Jesuit, Father P. Barcelo, visited the Big Horn country. He returned the follow year and lived for a time with chief Iron Bull´s family in a log house constructed for the chief by U.S. government.
The third time he arrived at Stillwater Agency in 1883 with the Italian Father P. Prando, who came from the St. Ignatius Mission. Crow Agency was then relocated to the Little Bighorn River and the missionary activities came to the end for a while. In February 1887 P. Prando and a new Italian priest, P. Bandini, came to the Crow Reservation. They walked through deep snow drifts from Ft. Custer to Rotten Grass Creek to a spot near chief Pretty Eagle´s cabin, where they pitched a tent and took up their work.
Iron Bull having died the previous year. The location of the new mission had been determined by the proximity of the bands of Iron Bull and Pretty Eagle. The Catholic school opened in October 1887 and 1889 the St. Xavier Mission had room for 150 pupils.
The St. Charles Mission at Pryor was founded in 1893. Chief Plenty Coups and a group of leaders from Pryor came to St. Xavier first in 1891 to request a school. A church was started in Pryor that same year, and a school was opened in 1893.
The first Protestant Mission was the Montana Industrial School, founded in 1886 by a group of New England Unitarians who dispatched one of their number, H.F. Bond and his wife, to the west. The preacher had selected a site for his school at the lower end of the Big Horn Valley, thirty miles from Crow Agency. It was transferred to government control in 1895 and finally closed two years later.
The second Protestant effort in the Little Bighorn was launched by The American Missionary Association, which granted land at Crow Agency in 1895. J. G. Burgess arrived in 1896 and attempted to build a congregation among the students at the government boarding school and the Crow families who lived nearby The Protestant Mission in Lodge Grass was founded in 1904 by Reverend W. A. Petzold. In the Wyola district the Protestant Mission opened in 1910. When the Congregational missionary at Crow Agency died in 1921, his church, together with its subsidiaries at Black Lodge and Reno, 8was acquired by the Baptists.
(Source of the Crow Reservation Missions: Hoxie F. E.: Parading through history-The making of the Crow Nation in America 1805-1935, (in Billings Gazette)
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