Montana: Crow Reservation


The Crow were known as the “Apsaalooke,” which means “children of the large-beaked bird.” White men later misinterpreted the word as “crow.”   

The Hidatsa-Crow originally lived in the Ohio country, migrating through northern Illinois, western Minnesota and into the Red River Valley. They remained in this region for several hundred years, hunting buffalo and cultivating crops. The mid-sixteenth century brought another migration of the Hidatsa-Crow toward the upper Missouri River. By the late 17th century, the Crow moved to southwestern Montana and northern Wyoming. During the 18th century, the Crow acquired horses from the Shoshone. Then fully nomadic Plains Indians, the Crow Tribe grew wealthy and strong through warring and horse raiding. They assisted the United States military as scouts against the tribe’s traditional enemies, the Lakota and Nez Perce Indians. 

History of the Reservation: The 1851 Fort Laramie Treaty granted the Crow 3.5 million acres, most of it in the Yellowstone region, but despite helping the U.S. during the Indian Wars of the 1870s, the Crow did not fare better than any other tribe. By the 1880s, the Crow were forced by the government to cede a majority of their land.  

Allotments for private land were issued in 1887. Between 1922 and 1962 allotment holders needed income and sold much of their land, mostly along the three rivers that ran through the reservation. In the 1950s the government forced the tribe to sell their right to the Bighorn Canyon to make room for the Yellowtail dam, further gutting the Crow’s territory. In 1981, the state of Montana acquired the Bighorn River, reducing the reservation to 2.3 million acres (about the size of Connecticut). 

Life on the Reservation: Around 14,000 people are enrolled in the Crow Tribe, and more than 7,300 people live on the reserve today. Tradition and heritage are important to the Crow. 85% of the tribe speak Crow as their first language, and their buffalo herd is 300 strong. 

A few service businesses exist in the small communities of Lodge Grass, Crow Agency and Pryor. The tribal government, Little Big Horn College and the federal government provide some jobs. Further tribal income comes through leases for coal, oil, gas and agriculture. One mine is in operation that provides royalty income and employment to tribal members. The Crow operate only a small portion of their irrigated or dry farm acreage and about 30% of their grazing land. Employment opportunities remain largely inadequate, with 31% living in poverty and 18% of the workforce unemployed. The average annual household income is $49,000. 

Crow on the map: Big Horn and Yellowstone counties, Montana 


Income, Poverty, Land Size, Population and  and  


Enrollment, History, Land Size