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Chief Plenty Coups - Crow Chief

[From an article by Fred C. Kreig-Chairman of Chief Plenty Coup Trust in 1960] 

Revised 5 May 2002 [Corrected Spelling]

 

 This was the sod-roofed home of Chief Plenty Coups located near to Pryor, MT. He urged his Crow tribesmen to follow the ‘ways of the white man’, and gave his 190-acre farm and this cabin to Big Horn County to be used as a park for both Indians and whites. He was still living at its dedication on August 8, 1928. After his death in 1932 the Big Horn Commissioners used income from the farm to construct a two-story log farmhouse, used as a museum.

The Crow Chieftain was a prominent man in the Billings area. He was born in 1874 near to the present site of Billings, and led a typical Indian nomadic life during his first 30 years. [Frank B. Linderman describes his life in a book titled “American.”]  Plenty Coups realized in 1888 that if his people were to survive they must adopt the white man’s way’s of life and dedicated his life to set an example. He selected a ‘farm allotment’ on the reservation near to the town of Pryor and plowed the land. He was the first Indian to do so. He also planted fruit trees. His Indian name is “Ales-cheah-ahoosh”, meaning “many accomplishments.” The tribal clerk, apparently not knowing how to spell, placed his name on the roll as “Plenty Coos.” Many other variations have existed, with “Plentycus” being one of the many.  He became a leader at an early age and was recognized as Chief before 1875. The Chief title is an earned one, not inherited. It is granted if four types of achievement are made:

        Touch an enemy in combat (Plenty Coups did it seven times)

        Take a horse tied in an enemy camp (he did it four times)

        Be a leader in a war party, carry the pipe (he did it 11 times)

        Snatch a bow or gun from an enemy in combat (he did it five times)

For more than 200 years the Crow Indians had lived on the eastern slopes of the mountains, an area described by Crow Chief Arappish in 1825 as “being exactly in the right place.” The Crows had to constantly defend their land of “Snowy Mountains and Sunny Plains” from the Blackfeet to the north, followed by the Sioux who were driven from their homes by the white-man’s advance. This made it logical for the Army to recruit the Crows to help fight against the Blackfeet and Sioux. Chief Plenty Coups was one of several chieftains who led 135 warriors in the ‘Battle of Rosebud” on June 17, 1876. He personally rescued Capt. Guy V. Henry, who was seriously wounded, by the Sioux.

The first picture, taken of Chief Plenty Coups, was made in 1879 by L. H. Huffman, noted pioneer photographer living in Miles City. There were older chiefs, but the American government recognized him as the tribe’s leading chief. He visited Washington many times in the interests of his people. Vice President Charles Curtis visited him at his cabin home on Pryor Creek. He, and other tribal representatives including Old Crow, Long Elk, Two Belly and Pretty Eagle, signed the treaty that removed Cooke City and areas west of the Boulder River from their reservation.

In 1885 the Crow census had 26 chiefs listed, Plenty Coups’ band of Indians had 47 lodges and 294 persons. There were a total of 3,124 Crow Indians listed. During the dedication of the tomb of the “unknown soldier” in Washington’s Arlington Cemetery, he was selected to represent all American Indians at the ceremony. As a result he considered himself chief of all American Indians. His headdress and peace pipe at on display at Arlington. In 1928 he established a trust deed with his third wife, Strikes the Iron, providing for a part of the land to set aside for a park and recreation ground. One room was to be used for letters and pictures.  General James G. Harbord represented the government in accepting the trust presentation from Chief Plenty Coups. Hundreds of people attended the event. That same year, Joseph Zimmerman strung a phone line from his clothing store to his home. Plenty Coups was listening on the store end, while a friend Judge Goddard was talking at the other end. Plenty Coups refused to believe the voice was coming from the phone, and searched the store for his friend.

The Big Horn Commissioners turned over the trust to the Kiwanis Club in Billings in 1951. Earlier, in 1940, the club erected a monument at his grave, restored the sod roof and the cabin, erected signs and display cases in the museum building. The government constructed the museum building, and he lived there until his death in 1932. The bronze grave marker was executed by LeRoy Greene, cast by the Anaconda Copper Mining Co, and embedded in an 8-ton piece of sandstone from the Billings area Indian Caves. The marker plaque reads; “Plenty Coups, Chief of the Crows, 1848-1932.”  Plenty Coups had no children of his own, and considered all Crows to be his children. He was made an honorary member of the Kiwanis Club at age 84. The museum houses a lock from Chief Long Hair. He believed that he would live forever if he didn’t cut his hair. It grew to 26 feet in length.

 

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