Crow Dog's Story

Written by Richard Erdoes

Music location

The home of the Crow Dog family is situated on the Little White River ten miles south of Rosebud, South Dakota. It is a place of great natural beauty–a grassy hollow surrounded by pine-studded hills. At the entrance to the little valley rises a huge, man-high truck tire topped by a buffalo skull. Painted on the tire in white letters are the words: "Crow Dog's Paradise, how kola." How Kola means "Welcome, friend." and indeed–everybody is welcome at Crow Dog's Paradise.

The place consists, first and foremost, of a picturesque structure, painted sky-blue and red, which Henry Crow Dog, the patriarch of the clan, built for himself a long time ago. It is a rambling jumble of tree-trunks, part of old railroad cars, abandoned homesteads, odds and ends–just about anything Henry was able to lay his hands on. It has a happy, age-worn, artistic look. Fifty feet from the "main house" is a modern pre-fab, or rather a bungalow, neat looking but lightly built, without a basement–the government's answer to the Indians' housing problem. This is the home of Henry's son, Leonard Crow Dog, his beautiful wife Francine, and their three small children. There is also a large tipi which is mainly used for religious ceremonies, and a "Squaw Cooler," a brush shelter for outdoor cooking and eating during the hot summer days. Back among the trees and out of sight is the sweat-lodge, a small, beehive-shaped hut which serves as a ritual steam bath.

Crow Dong's Paradise is alive with the happy song of playing kids, Henry's numerous grandchildren ranging from toddlers to teenagers. Horses are wandering about, browsing on the yellow buffalo grass. There are dogs, cats and chickens. This, then, is the setting–a place where one always hears a drum beating, someone making up a new song. The Crow Dogs are proud of being full-blood Sioux Indians. The are members of the Brulé tribe. About two hundred years ago a band of Sioux families was caught in a prairie fire. They escaped death by wading into a nearby lake, but got their legs badly burned. From that time on they were known as the Sicangu–the "Burned Thighs," or Brulés, as the French traders called them.

The first Crow Dog, Henry's grandfather, was a great warrior, famous for his reckless bravery. He was a Ghost-Dancer, a believer in a red Messiah who would roll up the earth like a carpet, together with the white man's stinking mines, pig farms, and smoke-belching railroads. Underneath the rolled-up "carpet" would emerge a new earth, a beautiful, unspoiled prairie teeming once more with the multitudes of elk and buffalo. When the Ghost-Dance dream collapsed in the tragedy of Wounded Knee, Crow Dog was one of the last hold-outs to come out of the Bad Lands. He was a life-long rival and enemy of the great Chief Spotted Tail, who had the support of the U.S. Government. One day, in 1881, Crow Dog and his wife were driving in their old buckboard when they encountered Spotted Tail coming from a council meeting. In a flash Crow Dog aimed his shotgun and fired on the chief. Spotted Tail toppled from his horse trying to draw his six-shooter; he was dead before it left its holster. Crow Dog was brought to Deadwood for trial and sentenced to hang. He faced his end calmly, singing his death-songs. His lawyer, however, discovered that there was no laws under which an Indian could be hanged for killing another Indian and Crow Dog was set free, very much to his own surprise.

Since then the Crow Dogs have been somewhat aloof, keeping their old religion and ceremonies alive, spending much time in their place of meditation–a vision-pit dug into a hilltop, where they fasted for days in total darkness, waiting for the dreams to come to them.