views updated May 29 2018



The name Crow comes from a translation of the tribe’s name for themselves, Apsáalooke (pronounced opp-sah-loh-kay), which means “children of the long-beaked bird” or “bird people.” It is also sometimes spelled Absarokee.


When the Europeans arrived the Crow were roaming the Great Plains of Wyoming and Montana; horses extended their range. Most Crow lived along the Yellowstone River and its branches in Montana. In modern times many live on the Crow Indian Reservation in Bighorn County, Montana, or in the nearby towns of Billings and Hardin. The 2.3 million-acre Crow Indian Reservation is the largest of the seven reservations in Montana. It is bordered by Wyoming to the south and the Northern Cheyenne Indian Reservation to the east, and includes the northern end of the Bighorn, Wolf, and Pryor Mountains.


Before 1740 there were about eight thousand Crow. In 1944, the tribe’s population had dropped to 2,500. In the 1990 U.S. Census, 9,394 people identified themselves as Crow, making the tribe the twenty-ninth largest in the United States at that time. By 2000 the number of Crow had decreased slightly to 9,174, although 14,703 people claimed to have some Crow heritage. According to tribal records, 5,165 Crow lived on the reservation; 7,560 resided in Bighorn County; and 3,950 lived in Yellowstone County.

Language family


Origins and group affiliations

Crow tales say that the tribe originated from a land of many lakes—probably Manitoba, in Canada’s Lake Winnipeg area. Historians agree that the origins of the Crow date back to before 1300 at the headwaters of the Mississippi River and as far north as Lake Winnipeg, where they formed a part of the Hidatsa tribe. The Crow parted ways with the Hidatsa people, wandering westward and first entering Montana in the 1600s. Their enemies were the Blackfeet, the Sioux, and the Cheyenne. They sometimes traded with their allies, the Shoshone, the Flathead, and the Mandan. At times, though, they also fought with the Shoshone.

According to Crow oral history, the tribe went through three transitions. First they were People of the Earth. During this time animals could talk and were one with humans. Next they became Biiluke, or “Our Side.” In this period they lived in a wooded area while they fished, hunted, and gathered. They lived in lean-tos and wickiups until they migrated to the banks of a big river as they searched for the Sacred Tobacco Plant. Now they were called Awashe, or “Earthen Lodges.” Although they still retained their survival skills, they became farmers. They traveled to Canada twice before finding the plant they sought on the Bighorn Mountain. That was the beginning of the present-day Apsáalooke Nation.

When the Europeans arrived the Crow were western hunters. The men were known as fierce warriors, but the tribe was hospitable to strangers. Despite their early cooperation with whites the Crow were forced to give up their claims to all but a small part of their traditional homeland. In modern times the Crow people have managed to preserve much of their cultural and language traditions.


Change from farmers to hunters

Early in their history the Crow were part of the Hidatsa tribe. They stayed in one place and lived as farmers. In the early 1600s a powerful tribal leader called No Vitals had a vision that told him to take his people west into the Rocky Mountains to search for a sacred tobacco plant. He believed that the seeds of the plant would give his people a special identity and make them strong.

Some time during the mid-1600s or early 1700s about five hundred people separated from the Hidatsa to fulfill No Vitals’ vision. They migrated to an area near the Yellowstone River in present-day southern Montana and northern Wyoming. They soon abandoned their former lifestyle in favor of a typical Great Plains existence, living in hide-covered tepees, following the movements of the great buffalo herds, and hunting for the plentiful game in their new homelands. The new tribe took the name the Crow.

In the mid-1700, the tribe possessed horses, which greatly aided them in traveling, hunting, and warfare. By the early 1800s they had more horses than any other tribe east of the Rocky Mountains, averaging between twenty and sixty animals per household.

Important Dates

1600s: The tribe splits off from the Hidatsa and begins its westward move.

1825: After a disagreement between two powerful chiefs, the Crow divide into two main groups, the Mountain Crow and River Crow.

1868: The Second Fort Laramie Treaty establishes a reservation for the Crow in Montana, south of the Yellowstone River.

1876: Crow warriors act as scouts for Lieutenant Colonel Custer before his defeat in the Battle of Little Bighorn.

1934: The Crow refuse to accept the provisions of the Indian Reorganization Act.

1948: The Crow write their own constitution and establish a tribal government.

1961: The tribe receives $9.2 million from the U.S. government for a land claim settlement.

1963: In payment for the Yellowtail Dam and Reservoir property, the Crow receive $2 million from the federal government.

2001: A new, updated constitution is approved.

Crow people split into two groups

When American explorers Meriwether Lewis (1774–1809) and William Clark (1770–1836) encountered them in 1806 the Crow were part of a large group of Native Americans and whites who had gathered to trade near Bismarck, North Dakota. Soon after the Lewis and Clark Expedition, more fur traders arrived in Crow territory and constructed forts and trading posts.

In 1825, following a disagreement between two powerful chiefs, the Crow divided into two main groups. Chief Long Hair led the Mountain Crow into the high country south of the Yellowstone River, while Chief Arapooish and the River Crow remained north of the Yellowstone River, along the Musselshell and Judith rivers that flowed into the larger Missouri River. As white settlers pushed westward, the Crow fought with other tribes, including the Sioux and the Blackfeet (see entries), who moved into their territory. Because they were usually outnumbered, the Crow rarely started wars, but they did steal horses from their neighbors.

Peaceful relations with whites

By the 1850s more and more white settlers streamed into Crow country. At times the Crow conducted raids on the newcomers, but most often their relationships with whites were peaceful.

Wars and smallpox epidemics depleted the Crow population, and experts predicted that the tribe would soon perish. Instead the Crow established a cooperative relationship with the U.S. Army and settled peacefully on a reservation in Montana. The Crow signed the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1851, which gave them 38.5 million acres in southern Montana, northern Wyoming, and western South Dakota. The Second Fort Laramie Treaty, signed in 1868, established the Crow Reservation south of the Yellowstone River.

In the late 1800s the Crow leader Plenty Coups (pronounced Coo;c. 1848–1932) learned in a vision that his people needed to cooperate with the whites to survive. As a result, he had Crow warriors become allies of U.S. Army troops in several battles against enemy tribes. For example, they fought alongside American soldiers against the Nez Perce (see entry) and Sioux in the 1870s, and they acted as scouts for Lieutenant Colonel George Armstrong Custer (1836–1876) before his defeat in 1876 at the Battle of Little Bighorn. (For more information on the Battle of Little Big Horn, see Lakota entry.) Crow cooperation with whites did not earn them any better treatment than the tribes that resisted whites in battle. Still, the protection of the U.S. Army may have saved them from perishing at the hands of the Sioux.

Traditional way of life shattered

During the 1880s many miners, trappers, and settlers moved into Crow country, establishing forts and railroads. Because whites had slaughtered buffalo on a large scale, by 1883 the herds had disappeared. The traditional way of life of the Crow also ended.

The Crow people, suddenly without their main source of food and clothing, were forced to depend on government Indian agents for survival. Over the next few decades the Crow reservation was reduced in size several times, declining to 2.3 million acres by 1905. At the same time the Crow culture began disintegrating as Christian schools were established on the reservation and federal laws were enacted that prohibited traditional Native ceremonies and practices.

The Allotment Act of 1887 divided reservations into individual plots and opened leftover land to white settlement. The purpose of the act was to force the Native Americans to become more like whites, with each one farming a small plot rather than working together on land jointly owned by the whole tribe. Many Crow were not interested in farming and ended up selling their land allotments on the reservation to whites. In time Crow territory became a checkerboard of Native and non-Native parcels.

Regaining Crow culture

In the late 1800s Chief Plenty Coups spent much time in Washington, D.C., where he developed good contacts with important people and became shrewd in dealing with the white government. For example, if a government official refused to listen to his demands for aid for his people, Plenty Coups would visit the official’s rivals. Their adversaries were happy to pay attention. He also learned that when the Crow spoke out about being cheated by government officials or local merchants, Christian church leaders often came to the Native Americans’ defense.

In 1911 the Crow formed a business committee to represent the tribe in all its official business (see “Government”). It was headed by a young Crow man who had been educated in white-run schools, Robert Yellowtail (died 1988). During the 1920s a general council replaced the business committee. Over time the Crow attending the council meetings became active participants in the process, along with their elected leaders.

The year 1934 marked a revival of Crow culture. The tribe refused to adopt provisions of the Indian Reorganization Act. The Act would have allowed the Crow to write a constitution, but only under the supervision of the federal government. The Crow decided to remain independent. In 1948, under the leadership of Chief Robert Yellowtail, the Crow developed their own constitution. The Crow, now more in control of their affairs, practiced their Native religion freely and followed traditional ways without fear of criticism.

The Crow in modern times

During the 1950s the Crow were forced to sell their land rights in Bighorn Canyon to the U.S. government, which planned to build a dam there. In a strange turn, they named the completed project Yellowtail Dam and Reservoir after Chief Robert Yellowtail, who had strongly opposed it.

In the early twenty-first century the Crow reservation is home not only to the Crow people, but also to several thousand non-Native American residents who have leased or purchased land from the Crow. The tribal government employs many Native people, and money from the federal government has helped to establish health, education, and housing programs.


Crow religion was based on the relationship between each tribal member and the guardian spirit who guided him or her throughout life. The guardian spirit was the source of an individual’s power, wealth, and success. Guardian spirits, in the form of animals or features of the natural environment, usually revealed themselves during a vision quest (see “Festivals and ceremonies”).

The Crow believed that tobacco had supernatural power and played an important role in their survival. The people who cared for the tobacco plants, the only crop the tribe cultivated, were members of the Tobacco Society. They had the ability to influence events in the natural world. Only men could smoke tobacco, and strict rules surrounded the practice.

Tobacco still plays a role in Crow religious life in modern times, and the people continue to make use of sweat lodges (buildings in which water is poured over hot rocks to produce steam) for purification. While some belong to Christian churches, others practice the Peyote (pronounced pay-OH-tee) religion in special tepees where ritual smoking of peyote takes place. Peyote, which comes from a cactus plant, can cause visions and is used as part of certain Native religious ceremonies, especially those of the Native American Church. (For more information on the Native American Church, see Makah entry.)


The Crow speak a dialect (variety) of the Siouan language. Although several Great Plains tribes speak the language, the Crow version is most closely related to that spoken by the Hidatsa, since the two tribes descended from the same people. Today the majority of Crow adults and children on the reservation still spoke their language, and it is used in reservation schools through the eighth grade.

Crow Words

Many Crow words are descriptions of objects rather than actual names. For example, the word for key means “what is used to open doors.” The word for chair translates as “where one sits” and table means “something with four legs.”

  • aasuua … “head”
  • ahó … “thank you”
  • baaiihuli … “table”
  • balealawaache … “chair”
  • bishké … “dog”
  • buá … “fish”
  • deaxkaashe … “eagle”
  • íaxassee … “snake”
  • iisashpíte … “rabbit”
  • iiwilialushtuua … “key”
  • kaheé … “hello”
  • xuáhchee … “skunk”


Each band of the Crow was led by a chief who had earned his position by accomplishing four feats: leading a successful raid against an enemy tribe, capturing an enemy’s horses, taking a weapon from a live enemy, and being the first member of a war party to touch an enemy with a coup stick—a practice that was called counting coup. Most bands had more than one chief. The political leader usually demonstrated additional abilities in leadership, influence over the spirits, and public speaking, as well as generosity. When the band experienced a period of bad luck, they agreed upon a new chief.

In 2001 the tribe adopted a new constitution, which called for three branches of government—the executive, legislative, and judicial—and lengthened the terms of office from two to four years to provide more continuity in government.

A general council—a group that consists of all adult members of the tribe—now leads the Crow. Along with four elected officials and various tribal committees, any person of voting age can provide input at council meetings. A tribal court settles disagreements among tribal members.


Early livelihood

The Crow economy in traditional times was mainly based on hunting, which required a great deal of moving. Before horses were introduced in the 1730s the people used tame dogs to carry or pull their belongings as they traveled. Horses provided more mobility and allowed for greater success in hunting. Before European contact Crow territory was full of large game animals—from huge herds of buffalo to deer, elk, bighorn sheep, and grizzly bear. Hunting supplied most of the tribe’s food, clothing, and shelter.

Women prepared the animal carcasses. They also gathered plant foods, collected firewood and water, cooked meals, prepared hides, and made clothing and tepee covers. They set up and disassembled tepees when the tribe moved and cared for the children and the family’s horses. Because of their migrations, the Crow did not generally practice crafts such as basketry or pottery.

Modern-day employment

In the early twenty-first century most of the tribe’s income comes from leasing land to coal, gas, and oil companies and from federal government grants. Timber, fisheries, and hunting bring in additional money. While some tribal members have tried to make a success of farming and ranching, they often lacked the funds to buy the necessary cattle, tools, and seeds. Instead many people leased out their land to outsiders.

The U.S. government is the largest employer on the reservation. Other workers have found jobs as teachers, social workers, police officers, and cowboys, as well as in the restaurant and coal mining businesses. Finding employment is a challenge for the people on the reservation, and by 2001 the unemployment rate was 60 percent, meaning that six out of every ten people looking for work were unable to find a job.

Tourism helps to boost the economy. The Crow reservation is the site of the Custer Battleground National Monument, which commemorates the lives lost during the 1876 Battle of Little Bighorn. Every year tourists attend reenactments of the battle. The Crow earn profits from the motel and heritage center they have built near the site.

Daily life


The Crow lived in bands of various sizes, depending upon the availability of food. The major social unit was the extended family or clan. Clans are a group of families who trace their families back to a common ancestor. In Crow society descent followed the mother’s clan. People could depend on their clan members to protect, defend, and help them in times of trouble. In fact, being told “You are without relatives” was the worst possible insult to a Crow.

The Crow had a strict code of behavior for family interactions. Boys paid special respect to their elder male relatives and to their father’s kin. Some relatives were to be avoided. For example, married men and women were not supposed to talk with their father-in-law or mother-in-law.

Members of the same clan could not marry one another. The complicated and wide-ranging Crow system of relationships ensured that even as they wandered from their immediate homes, tribe members were sure to encounter people with whom they had special ties and with whom they could band together against common enemies.


After separating from the Hidatsa, the Crow adopted the hide-covered tepees used by most tribes of the Great Plains. The tepees had cone-shaped wooden frames—made up of twenty poles, each about 25 feet (7.6 meters) long, which were covered with buffalo skins. Tepees usually had a fireplace in the center and a hole at the top to allow smoke to escape. Crow families slept on hide mattresses laid along the sides of the tepee. The tribe also built small, dome-shaped sweat lodges, in which men poured water over hot rocks and purified themselves in the steam.

Clothing and adornment

The Crow were known for their striking appearance. Crow men, in particular, were very careful about how they dressed, and wore finely made clothes. Their everyday apparel consisted of a shirt, hair-trimmed leggings held up by a belt, moccasins, and a buffalo robe. For special occasions, they wore fancy costumes decorated with dyed porcupine quills or beads. The bridles, saddles, and blankets on their horses were also ornate.

Crow men usually wore their hair long, and they sometimes extended it by gluing human or horsehair to the ends. Some made their hair so long it dragged on the ground. They often hung strings of ornaments in their hair and wore earrings and necklaces of bone, bear claws, or abalone shells. They painted red designs on their faces and applied yellow paint on their eyelids.

Crow women, who spent long hours doing difficult tasks around the camp, tended to be less neat and less elaborately dressed than the men. Women usually wore calf-length dresses made of deer or mountain sheep skins that they often decorated with rows of elk teeth both. They also wore leggings and moccasins. Crow women often had short hair. They either pulled it out or cut it short when they were mourning the death of a relative.


As they moved about the countryside on their hunts, the Crow kept alert for available foods. In spring they searched for wild turnips, rhubarb, and strawberries. Summer, along with the search for buffalo, brought a hunt for chokecherries, plums, and other fruits. Throughout the year the Crow diet depended on rabbit, deer, elk, grizzly bear, bighorn sheep, and other game.

Puffballs with Wild Rice and Hazelnuts

A puffball is a fungus that resembles a mushroom. Single specimens or clusters of round or pear-shaped white puffballs spring up in August or September in the moist soil of forests or on rotting wood. According to author E. Barrie Kavasch, the Crow believed that puffballs were fallen stars that landed to provide food for the people. Kavasch offered this recipe, which incorporates puffballs and two other Native American staples: wild rice and hazelnuts. Unless you are an expert at identifying wild foods, you should substitute cultivated mushrooms for the puffballs.

  • 4 tablespoons hazelnut or sunflower seed oil
  • 1/2 cup scallions or green [spring] onions, chopped fine
  • 1 cup fresh puffballs [or cultivated mushrooms], cut in bite-size pieces
  • 3 cups water or stock
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt (optional)
  • 1 cup wild rice, rinsed [see note]
  • 1 cup maple syrup
  • 1 cup chopped, roasted hazelnuts

Heat the oil in a medium pan over moderate heat. Add the scallions and sauté for 2 minutes; then add the fresh cut puffball [or mushroom] pieces, stirring well, and sauté for another 5 minutes. Set aside.

Bring water or stock to a rolling boil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Lightly salt the water and carefully sprinkle the wild rice over the boiling water; add the maple syrup, stirring well. Cover pot and reduce the heat to a simmer. Continue cooking for about 45 minutes, until almost done. Uncover and stir in the puffball [mushroom] mixture. Simmer for another 5 minutes, then stir well and turn out into a big serving bowl. Top with roasted hazelnuts.

This may be served hot or cool as a side dish or salad over summer greens and herbs.

Serves 6 to 8.

[Note: Wild rice should be carefully rinsed before use. It is also best to soak or pre-cook it before it is used. Before starting the recipe, put the rice in twice its volume of water (2 cups of water to 1 cup of rice) and either soak it for one hour or simmer it for 10 to 15 minutes.]

Kavasch, E. Barrie. Enduring Harvests: Native American Foods and Festivals for Every Season. Old Saybrook, CT: Globe Pequot Press, 1995, p. 300.


Although the early Crow had no formal schools, children learned by imitating adults in the tribe. To prepare their sons to become successful hunters and warriors, fathers taught them survival skills, such as hunting and trapping. Mothers taught their daughters how to prepare food, make clothing, and take care of a home.

Beginning in 1884 Crow children older than six had to attend a day school near the reservation. Some students were sent away to boarding schools in nearby states, and even as far away as Pennsylvania. Most children in these schools were required to dress like whites and speak only English. Conditions at the boarding schools were harsh and some were so unsanitary that the children there became ill. But despite pressures for children to assimilate (adopt the ways of the whites), the Crow made great efforts to keep their families intact and retain their Native beliefs.

In the early twenty-first century the Crow Reservation has eight elementary and three high schools. Because they are financed by the income from coal mining on the reservation, two of their schools are among the wealthiest in Montana. The town of Crow Agency is the home of Little Bighorn Community College, a two-year college with a student body that is 90 percent Crow. It offers associate arts degrees in areas that will contribute to the developing economies of the Crow Indian Reservation community. Because 90 percent of the students are Crow, most student services and business functions of the college are conducted in the Crow language.

Healing practices

The Crow had two types of healers. One treated minor illnesses and injuries using worldly knowledge, such as by rubbing plant products on sores or lancing swollen areas. The other type, shamans (pronounced SHAH-munz or SHAY-munz), treated major problems like snakebites or diseases by consulting with the spirits.

Every Crow person also had his or her own medicine bundle, a small pouch containing sacred objects that symbolized the power of the person’s guardian spirit. The medicine bundle was thought to be the source of health, luck, and power.

As of 2007 people had access to three hospitals or health centers on the reservation. Other services are available off-reservation.



Crow people took special care in decorating the rawhide shields they carried into battle. The images that appeared on them often came from visions experienced by the artist and related to his connection with the supernatural. Shields sometimes had sacred objects such as feathers attached to them. The people believed these protected the user with a special power, and they often passed them down through the generations. Decorated buckskin covers protected the shields.

Oral literature and crafts

Many Crow stories center on Old Man Coyote, who is often portrayed as a trickster. Old Man Coyote is also recognized as the creator of the world and of the Crow people.

The Crow were known for their skillful quillwork and beading with its pastel colors and geometric designs. Men’s costumes in particular were elaborately decorated with beads, dyed porcupine quills, dyed horsehair, and paints. Horses, too, wore beaded harnesses. Collectors are willing to pay high prices for Crow beadwork from the 1800s and early 1900s. For example, in 1998 a Crow pipebag from the 1800s sold for $19,500 at an auction. Crow carvings are also highly valued.



After reaching adulthood most Crow men were recruited into a sodality, or voluntary men’s organization. The members of these groups enjoyed a special, family-like bond with one another. Intense rivalries often existed between different sodalities, such as the Lumpwoods and Foxes, the two most popular.

Vision quest

When a young man undertook a vision quest to connect with his guardian spirit, he first purified himself in a sweat lodge, then traveled to a sacred site on a mountaintop. There he fasted (did not have food or water) for three days and slept uncovered in the cold for three nights. Some visionaries cut off the first joint of one finger and offered it to the rising Sun. On the fourth day, after he had proved his courage and willingness to deprive himself, the young man’s guardian spirit would appear to him in a vision.

The spirit gave the man a sacred song or symbol that he could use to appeal for the spirit’s help in the future. Another way for a young man to seek a vision was to cut two slits in the skin of his chest and insert a wooden skewer. He then tied each end of the skewer to a tall pole, and ran around the pole or leaned back until the skewer ripped from his flesh. Often in the midst of his pain, he would receive a vision.

Courtship and marriage

In the Crow culture girls usually married before their first menstruation. Young men, who could not join the hunt until after they were married, spent most of their time grooming themselves to show off before eligible young women. To propose marriage, the man offered horses to the woman’s brothers and meat to her mother.

To show that he would be a good provider, a young boy collected elk teeth over many years of hunting and saved them until he was ready to marry. Then his mother or sisters would sew them onto a dress for his bride. Because the only elk teeth used on dresses were the two ivory eyeteeth, it took a long time to obtain them. Many elk teeth on a dress meant great wealth.

Upon marriage, the Crow husband would move in with his new wife’s family. Some Crow men had more than one wife. Cheating on one’s spouse was common among both men and women.

Crow women were very important and obtained high status in the tribe. Some women even became chiefs.


Another element of Crow society were berdaches, men who enjoyed dressing as women. The Crow considered berdaches to be a third gender and believed that they possessed special powers.

Festivals and ceremonies

Of all the traditional Crow ceremonies, the Sun Dance was the most sacred. Sun Dances were held so a man would receive a special vision, usually to help him cure a sick child or to exact revenge on an enemy for the death of a relative. The man who held the Sun Dance was called the whistler. He enlisted the help of a shaman who possessed a sacred doll. The dolls were considered gifts from the gods and were passed down from one generation to another.

Other men seeking visions could participate in the Sun Dance by fasting and inflicting wounds on themselves. For many years the U.S. government prohibited traditional Crow ceremonies. The Sun Dance was reintroduced to the tribe in 1941 by William Big Day. Today the tradition continues, and the Crow hold two or three Sun Dances each summer, drawing up to one hundred participants.

Every year during the third week in August, Crow Agency becomes the “Tepee Capital of the World.” At that time the Crow hold a giant homecoming featuring powwows (celebrations of Native singing and dancing), arts and crafts displays, a rodeo, and a road race. This celebration at the Crow Fairgrounds has been held for more than ninety years. Food booths offer frybread, Indian tacos, and the traditional menudo, a mixture of chili and tripe (part of an ox’s stomach). Among other popular treats are puffball mushrooms and blueberry pudding.

In 1990s tribe members hoped to combat drug and alcohol abuse by involving their youth and adults in activities to instill pride in themselves and their heritage. The tribe started Crow Native Days, during which young people could compete in a variety of events. One of the most grueling is the Ultimate Warrior Challenge, where participants race in three events—canoeing, running, and horseback riding. Although it is similar to an Olympic decathlon, this race starts and ends the same day. Initially only for males, this event is now open to females. Other activities featured during Crow Native Days include basketball games, a rodeo, horse races, relays, a powwow (Native singing and dancing), a parade, and a trail ride. A reenactment of the Battle of the Little Big Horn takes place at the actual site. These events are now held yearly on the anniversary date of the battle.

Current tribal issues

Like many other tribes, the Crow have been involved in a number of land claims and land use disputes over the years. They remain concerned about how their lands are being used and feel that too often non-Native Americans are profiting from their land. The parcels of land that tribal members received in the early 1900s were not enough to support the growing population. If a father divided his land among his children at his death and they divided their portion among their children, the plots became to small to farm. As of 2007 much of the reservation land had been sold or leased to large agricultural or mining interests.

The Crow have had trouble in obtaining what they believe to be a fair proportion of the income from the use of their natural resources. However, they did receive a $9.2 million land claim settlement from the U.S. government in 1961, plus another $2 million in 1963 for the Yellowtail Dam and Reservoir property. The Crow used the funds to purchase land, for industrial development programs, and to make loans to tribal members. In recent times, the tribe had plans to invest in a variety of businesses.

Notable people

Plenty Coups (c. 1848–1932), or Alaxchíiaahush (“Bull That Goes Against the Wind”), was the last traditional chief of the Crow. As a boy Plenty Coups had a vision that convinced him that the only way to save the Crow people was to cooperate with non-Native settlers and the U.S. government. Plenty Coups effectively represented the interests of the Crow people before the federal government. In 1921 the chief was chosen to represent all Native Americans at the dedication of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery near Washington, D.C.

Other notable Crow include: scout Curly (c. 1859–c. 1935); educator and administrator Barney Old Coyote (1923–); and Jeanine Pease-Windy Boy (1949–), president of Little Big Horn College.

Bauerle, Phenocia, ed. The Way of the Warrior: Stories of the Crow People. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2003.

Beckwourth, James. The Life and Adventures of James P. Beckwourth, Mountaineer, Scout, and Pioneer, and Chief of the Crow Nation of Indians. Paris: Adamant Media Corporation, 2005.

Crow, Joseph Medicine. Counting Coup: Becoming a Crow Chief on the Reservation and Beyond. Washingon, DC: National Geographic, 2006.

Crow, Joseph Medicine. From the Heart of the Crow Country: The Crow Indians’ Own Stories. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2000.

Linderman, Frank B. Pretty-shield: Medicine Woman of the Crows. Toronto, Canada: Bison Books, 2003.

Lowie, Robert H. The Crow Indians. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2004.

Snell, Alma Hogan. A Taste of Heritage: Crow Indian Recipes & Herbal Medicines. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2006.

Tarbescu, Edith. The Crow. New York: Franklin Watts, 2000.

“Crow/Cheyenne.” Wisdom of the Elders. (accessed on July 29, 2007).

“Crow Indian Language (Apsaalooke, Apsaroke, Absarokee).” Native Languages of the Americas: Preserving and Promoting Indigenous American Indian Languages. (accessed on July 29, 2007).

“Let’s Explore the Crow Language.” Western Heritage Center. (accessed on July 29, 2007).

Crow Tribe, Apsaalooke Nation Official Website. (accessed onJuly 29, 2007).

Gordon L. Pullar, Director, Department of Alaska Native and Rural Development College of Rural and Community Development, UAF, Anchorage, Alaska

Laurie Edwards

Brian Wescott (Athabaskan/Yup’ik)

Laurie Edwards

Amanda Beresford McCarthy

Laurie Edwards


views updated May 14 2018


ETHNONYMS: The Crow often refer to themselves as the Apsaalooke or Absaroka, which are commonly translated as "Children of the Large-Beaked Bird. " Although this bird probably was a raven, a misinterpretation by early Euro-American trappers led to their addressing the Apsaalooke as the Crow.


Identification and Location« The historical homeland of the Crow was in south-central Montana and north-central Wyoming, along the Yellowstone and Big Horn river drainages, north to the Musselshell River, east to the Powder River, south to the Wind River Mountains, and west to Yellowstone Lake and the Rocky Mountains. Located in the heart of former Crow territory in south-central Montana near Billings, the Crow Indian Reservation is close to 2. 3 million acres (5.7 million hectares) in size, of which nearly a third is owned by non-Indians. The environment is a mixture of grassland prairies, cottonwood-treed alluvial river valleys, and deciduous and coniferous foothill and mountain forests rich in edible roots and berries and suitable for grazing herd animals.

Demography. In 1833 the Crow population was estimated to be 6, 400. After smallpox epidemics, the loss of the buffalo, confinement to a reservation in 1868, and the allotment process, by the early 1930s the population had decreased to 1,625. As a result of improved health care and economic opportunities, the 1998 Crow population approached 10, 000 enrolled individuals.

Linguistic Affiliation. The Crow language is part of the Siouan linguistic family, with close affiliation with the Hidatsa of North Dakota. In the 1990s up to a third of the population continued to speak the native language.

History and Cultural Relations

A historic migration of the Crow from the Lake Winnipeg region of Canada into the Bighorn and Yellowstone river drainages of Montana and Wyoming predated the arrival of the horse. After their acquisition of the horse as early as the 1730s, Crow life was socially, politically, and religiously transformed. Among the enemies of the Crow were the Blackfeet, Cheyenne, and Dakota; the Hidatsa and Shoshone were allies. With the signing of the Fort Laramie Treaties of 1851 and 1868, the Crow entered into a trust relationship with the U. S. government and were confined to a reservation. Catholic missionary activity and schools were established, undermining many aspects of tribal culture, particularly ceremonialism. With the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934 and other subsequent federal legislation, the Crow began reasserting their sovereignty and entered into government-togovernment relations with the United States.


Before the acquisition of the horse the Crow lived among the Hidatsa in earthen-lodge sedentary farming communities along the Missouri River. After the Crow became bison hunters, the four-pole-styled, buffalo-hide conical tipi was adopted. The tipis could be moved easily, becoming horse-dragged travois on which family property and provisions could be transported. Noted for their long poles up to twenty-five feet in length, Crow tipis were typically unpainted. During the 1990s much of population lived on the reservation in rural homesteads or in Crow Agency, Lodge Grass, Pryor, and Wyola. A significant Crow population lives off-reservation in Billings, Montana.


Subsistence. After the acquisition of the horse, a sedentary horticultural-based economy revolving around the cultivation of crops such as maize was transformed into a transhumant buffalo-hunting economy. Large game animals such as buffalo, elk, and deer were hunted using communal and individual techniques and bow and arrow technology. Coinciding with the destruction of the bison herds in the 1860s and 1870s and the implementation of the Dawes Act of 1887, sedentary farming, cattle raising, and a cash-based economy were encouraged by governmental and missionary agents.

Commercial Activities. During the 1990s, while unemployment rates remained high, job opportunities were found primarily in education and health care delivery and in local, tribal, and federal government agencies. Cash income is acquired by leasing land to white farmers and ranchers and from a tribal severance tax on coal mining. With the location of the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument on the reservation, limited income is obtained through tourism.

Industrial Arts. Using buffalo or mountain sheep horn, a composite sinew-back bow was made for both hunting and warfare. Women's dress styles included a distinctive elk-tooth front and back decoration. Although elaborately beaded articles of clothing and other objects continue to be produced by many families, this craft seldom is commercialized and the products are not sold publicly. Basketry, pottery, weaving, and intricate woodcarving were not practiced.

Trade. During the era of the buffalo-hunting economy an annual rendezvous with sedentary horticultural tribes such as the Hidatsa and Mandan occurred. Balanced, reciprocitybased exchanges included Crow buffalo hides and meat for Hidatsa maize and other cultivated foods.

Division of Labor. Men were primarily responsible for game hunting, ranching, and tribal governmental and military activities. Women were primarily responsible for house-hold, child rearing, food preparation, and wild plant food collecting activities. Because they owned tipis, women erected and took down the lodges. These dichotomized roles were replaced during the late twentieth century with greater opportunities for women to become involved in political and economic affairs.

Land Tenure. While pursuing a horticultural economy, it was likely that women had a significant influence on land use and inheritance decisions. After the advent of a transhumant buffalo-hunting economy, there was no individual ownership of land. Crow hunting territories were defended against enemy use. Individual land tenure was promoted by the imposition of the Dawes Act.


Kin Groups and Descent. The Crow maintain a matrilineal clan structure with thirteen named clans. The clans are grouped into six unnamed and loosely organized phratries as well as into two primary bands, the Mountain and River divisions, along with a third minor band, the Kicked-in-the-Bellies. The bands are composed of all thirteen clans. Within the clans and extending into the phratry and band groups, members recognize mutual obligations to assist one another.

Kinship Terminology. A "Crow kinship" system is practiced. Cross-generational equivalence is extended to the males in both the matrilineal clan ("older" and "younger brothers") and the father's mother's clan ("fathers"), while sisters within the matrilineal clan are classified as "mothers. " The aassahke ("fathers" or "clan uncles") continue to provide a pivotal kinship relationship. A clan uncle is any male member of the father's mother's clan. Such individuals are to be respected like "medicine, " with gifts of food and blankets provided to them during give-aways. In turn, aassahke bestow on a child an "Indian name, " sing "praise songs" for one's accomplishments, and offer protective prayers.

Marriage and Family

Marriage. Exogamy extended to the members of both the matrilineal and the father's mother's clan. There were no proscriptive marriage rules. In seeking a marriage, a groom would give a bride-price of a horse to the bride's family. Although parents had considerable influence over a young daughter, a woman was not coerced to marry someone she disdained. Matrilocal residence, polygyny, mother-in-law avoidance, and the levirate generally were practiced. No ceremony marked a marriage union, with either a husband or a wife able to secure a divorce easily and free to remarry. Under Christian missionary influence, polygyny is much less frequently practiced and a formal wedding ritual has been introduced.

Domestic Unit. During prereservation times the primary household structure expressed matrilineal, multigenerational influences. This extended family unit typically included maternal grandparents, sisters and their spouses, and the children of those sisters. During the 1990s it was not uncommon to see grandparents residing with their children and multiple sibling marriages with the children living together in a single household, though not necessarily following matrilineal influences.

Inheritance. In a matrilineal society material property and spiritual possessions typically pass along the female line to brothers and sisters and their heirs. Honoring the specific requests of a dying person, property also could go to nonkinsmen and to all the members of the immediate family. On occasion spiritual objects such as medicine bundles might be ritually deposited into a river instead of being passed to a relative.

Socialization. Early child rearing was performed by the women of the family. A descriptive name would be ceremonially bestowed, with the name's attributes influencing the child's life. Few constraints were placed on children. Pre- and early teens began imitating adult camp activities. No formal puberty rituals were conducted for boys or girls, though girls were prohibited from interacting with others during their first and all subsequent menstruations. Vision questing by male youth helped secure a guardian spirit that would guide a young man throughout his life. Berdaches were not discouraged and were relatively common in prereservation times. Public and Catholic boarding schools have assumed much of the responsibility for socialization.

Sociopolitical Organization

Social Organization. Crow society continues to be nonstratified and equalitarian. Complementing the kinshipbased clans are reservation district-based groups. A central organizing principle around which much of Crow society revolves is understood in the Crow term for clan, ashammaleaxia, literally meaning "as driftwood lodges. " As an individual piece of driftwood may not survive the powerful eddies and boulders of the Yellowstone and Bighorn rivers, an individual Crow may have difficulty surviving the river of life with its potential adversaries, whether the Blackfeet or unemployment and discrimination. By tightly lodging itself with other pieces of driftwood along the river's bank, the driftwood is protected. Individual Crow are protected and nurtured when lodged securely in the extensive web of mutually supportive kinship, social, and economic ties.

Political Organization. After the acquisition of the horse male leadership roles such as the "chief came to be based on achieving a series of war deeds or coups. Four generally recognized coups signified chiefly status: touching an enemy during combat, taking an enemy's weapon, taking a tethered horse, and leading a raid on an enemy known as a "pipe holder. " The Crow did not adopt most of the specific provisions of the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934 and wrote their own constitution in 1948. It established a general-council government made up of every adult member of the tribe. The council elects four officers, a chairman, a vice-chairman, a secretary, and a vice-secretary. Both men and women have served in these offices. Various governing committees oversee activities such as land purchases, industrial development, housing, education, and tribal enrollment. Tribal police and court systems are under the jurisdiction of the council.

Social Control. Conflict within the tribe could erupt between rival suitors or take the form of renewed long-standing feuds involving members of clans or military sodalities. In addition to the counsel provided by clan elders and chiefs, the threat of an escalation of fighting could mediate or resolve a conflict. Nevertheless, conflict between tribal members could end in armed fighting. In the 1990s tribal police and Federal Bureau of Investigation agents enforced laws and attempted to prevent intratribal conflicts. Tribal courts oversee tribal law codes and misdemeanors, and felonies are handled in U. S. federal courts.

Conflict. Conflict with another tribe could result from the desire for revenge, to gain honor (coups), or to capture a horse. Warfare did not result from attempts at territorial expansion by the Crow. During combat with another tribe much of the coordination of the warriors was orchestrated through the military sodalities, such as the Foxes and Lump-woods. Each sodality had its own regalia and songs and exhibited intense rivalry as it attempted to outdo the others in combat. Ad hoc war parties could be organized to seek limited ends. During the twentieth century Crow men and women regularly served in the U. S. military and were honored publicly as veterans of foreign wars.

Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs. Although addressed by a number of names, an omnipresent though nonanthropomorphic creator is understood to be ultimately responsible for the animation of the world. Direct spiritual access is mediated through "medicine fathers" or guardian spirits. Often expressed as an animal such as an eagle, buffalo, or elk, medicine fathers are sought in vision quests. If the quest is successful, the vision seeker is "adopted" by the medicine father and given a "medicine, " a spiritual power known as baaxpee. Represented in a medicine bundle, the baaxpee helps guide one's life and is applied when one is ill. The Crow attribute their origins and the creation of the world to the trickster Old Man Coyote. Old Man Coyote is traveling alone in a cold and wet world. As four ducks fly over, he asks each to dive beneath the waters and bring up some earth so that he can make the land. The first three ducks dive unsuccessfully. Old Man Coyote asks the fourth duck, Hell-Diver, to bring up some earth. The duck dives deep and finally surfaces with a small piece of mud. With this earth Old Man Coyote travels from east to west and makes the mountains and rivers and the animals and plants. As it is still a lonely place, he molds from the earth an image he likes and blows a small breath into it. The first man is made, but Old Man Coyote is not satisfied. He tries again and prefers his second attempt, the first woman. Old Man Coyote is no longer alone. He teaches the people how to live and pray and gives them their language and clan system and many of their ceremonies.

Religious Practitioners. A variety of individuals perform different religious functions. Herbalists have extensive knowledge of plant remedies to treat specific illnesses. Certain medicine men and women with baaxpee conduct hunting and healing ceremonies, foretell the future, locate lost items or individuals, and officiate over Sun Dances and Peyote Meetings. Although access to and the acquisition of medicine were widespread among the adult population in former times, being a medicine person continues to entail having a variety of medicines and being publicly acknowledged by other members of the community. Christian practices are coordinated by priests and ministers.

Ceremonies. Ceremonies permeate all aspects of Crow life. Individual family medicine bundles are opened throughout the year, and prayers for the family's welfare are offered. Sweat lodge rituals involve prayer, ritual cleansing, and healing. Youths seek their medicine during a summer's vision quest. Unique to the Crow is the Tobacco Society. The sacred tobacco seeds are planted and harvested by its adopted members. A bountiful tobacco seed harvest foretells a success year for the entire tribe. After the acquisition of the horse the summer's Sun Dance became a prominent ceremonial expression, helping to unite the tribe and providing a means to obtain baaxpee to avenge the death of a relative. Although the last "buffalo-days" Sun Dance was held in 1875, Sun Dancing resumed in the 1940s, though with a different motivation. As many as 120 men and women participate in the dance. Each dancer pledges to go without food and water and "dry up" to help a relative who may be sick or in need. Typically, the dances last three days. During the Sun Dance individual participants offer prayers for family members and the welfare of all peoples, the sick are "doctored" by medicine men, and individual dancers may be given a vision. Other forms of ceremonial expression are found in Native American Church Peyote Meetings as well as Catholic, Baptist, Mormon, and Evangelical Christian services.

Arts. Made with Crow-stitch and overlay-stitch techniques, geometric and floral beadwork designs adorn powwow dance regalia, belts, vests, pipe bags, and horse trappings. A characteristic Crow beadwork and painted raw--hide parfleche design is the "hourglass" formed by two isosceles triangles joined at the apex. Powwow dancing and singing occur throughout the year, culminating in the annual Crow Fair, which involves up to twenty thousand participants attending the weeklong celebrations in August. Among many families the winter is a time for telling Coyote stories and maintaining other oral traditions. The story of Burnt Face is an important oral tradition. A young boy is badly scarred and subsequently ostracized. He fasts from food and water for several days in the Big Horn Mountains. While on the mountain he assembles the "Big Horn Medicine Wheel" as a gift to the Sun. Having given of himself, Burnt Face is "adopted" by the Little People, who remove his scar. He returns to his people and becomes a great healer. Using Euro-American painting techniques and Indian subjects, several Crow artists have gained an international reputation.

Medicine. Illness and misfortune can be attributed to both natural and spiritual causes. A variety of plants were and continue to be used for medicinal purposes. An example is "bear root, " which is used as a tea to treat sore throats and colds, made into a poultice for swelling, and burned as incense during sweat bathing. Ritual healing during a sweat bath, Sun Dance, Peyote Meeting, or medicine bundle opening also be applied to effect a cure. A "jealous" individual may use "bad medicine" to "shoot" an object into a person. The ritual healing can involve a medicine man "sucking" the object out. Sickness also can be treated with an eagle feather fan. The fan and baaxpee are applied to the afflicted area of the patient and then removed, pulling out the sickness. The application of scientific medicine typically is viewed as complementary to the use of tribal healing practices.

Death and Afterlife, Upon death an individual traditionally would be wrapped in a blanket with his or her favorite possessions and placed either on a burial scaffold or in a tree. After decomposition the bones and remaining articles would be buried in the earth or a rock crevice. After death the kinsmen of the deceased would begin a period of mourning lasting up to a year, refraining from participation in most social events. Immediate family members, both male and female, would cut their hair short, gash themselves with knives, and often cut off finger joints. While the spirit of the deceased may remain close to the corpse, it eventually moves on to a camp of the dead. During this transition period the ghost of the deceased may visit its living relatives or may be heard in the call of an owl. If death came in a violent fashion, the ghost may continue to visit relatives until a ceremony placating it is performed. In most families there was little concern with or articulation of the nature of life after death. In the twentieth century Christian practices and ideas increasingly were integrated into wakes and burial ceremonies and in the conceptualization of an afterlife.

For the original article on the Crow, see Volume 1, North America.


Frey, Rodney (1987). The World of the Crow Indians: As Drift--wood Lodges. Norman and London: University of Oklahoma Press.

Linderman, Frank (1930). Plenty Coups: Chief of the Crows. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.

(1932). Pretty Shield: Medicine Woman of the Crows. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.

Lowie, Robert H. (1935, revised 1956). The Crow Indians. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston.

Medicine Crow, Joseph (1992). From the Heart of Crow Country. New York: Orion Books.

Nabokov, Peter (1967). Two Leggings: The Making of a Crow Warrior. New York: Thomas Y. Crowell.

Snell, Alma Logan, and Becky Matthews, editors (2000). Grandmother's Grandchild: My Crow Indian Life. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.

Voget, Fred (1984). The Shoshoni-Crow Sun Dance. Norman and London: University of Oklahoma Press.

(1995). They Call Me Agnes: A Crow Narrative Based on the Life of Agnes Yellow tail Deer nose. Norman and London: University of Oklahoma Press.

Yellow tail, Thomas, as told to Michael Fitzgerald (1991). Yel· lowtail: Crow Medicine Man and Sun Dance Chief (An Autobiography). Norman and London: University of Oklahoma Press.



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ETHNONYMS: Absarokee, Apsaalooke, Apsaroke

The Crow are an American Indian group who today live primarily on the Crow Reservation in Big Horn and Yellowstone counties, Montana. The 1980 U.S. census counted 7,074 Crow of whom 4,846 were in Montana, with about 4,000 living on the reservation. The Crow and Hidatsa are closely related linguistically and evidently formed one group in the past before the Crow split off and moved west where they eventually adopted a nomadic bison-hunting life-style typical of the Plains culture of the 1800s. The Crow and Hidatsa languages are classified as a subfamily in the Siouan language family. The Crow language is still spoken regularly on the reservation. The Crow were often at war with the Blackfoot and Teton but maintained generally peaceful trade relations with the Shoshone and Hidatsa. Regular contact with Whites, which began in the early 1800s, was usually peaceful, with the Crow often serving as scouts for the U.S. Army. In 1851 the Crow were given a 38-million-acre reservation, which was much reduced in size in 1868. The Crow Reservation today contains 335,951 acres of tribal land, with an additional 1,229,628 acres allotted to individuals.

As with other Plains groups, Crow life centered on hunting bison from horseback to obtain food and most other material objects. The tipi was the major type of dwelling. The Crow were divided into thirteen exogamous matrilineal clans and six phratries. There were also named military and social societies, with membership through election. The camps were governed by a council of esteemed warriors and a head chief, who achieved this status through succesful military exploits. Governance today rests with the tribal council composed of all adults on the reservation and an executive committee comprising seventeen district representatives. Special Commissions oversee specific activities or projects such as water and utilities and industrial development. Following the Decline of the bison after 1880, the Crow turned to horse and cattle raising and farming on the reservation. Today, compared to many other American Indian groups, the Crow are well-off financially, although the poverty and unemployment rates are several times higher than the national averages. Individual and tribal income is derived from ranching, farming, manufacturing, commercial establishments, wage and salaried labor, and tourism, with many tourists visiting the Custer Battlefield National Monument on the reservation and the fairs and rodeos run by the Crow. The tribe also operates Little Big Horn College at Crow Agency, Montana.

The traditional religion centered on beliefs in various spirits, the Trickster (Coyote), visions, and vision quests. Shamanism, although not highly developed, existed. Shamans were those who had acquired stronger supernatural powers in certain endeavors through especially important visions. The Sun Dance and Tobacco Society ceremonies were the most important, and both are still performed today. Most Crow have now been converted to either Roman Catholicism or Protestantism, though traditional beliefs and practices continue.


Frey, Rodney (1987). The World of the Crow Indians: As Driftwood Lodges. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press.

Lowie, Robert H. (1935). The Crow Indians. New York: Farrar & Rinehart.


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CROW. The Crow Indians of Montana call themselves Apsáalooke, or "Children of the Large-Beaked Bird." This term was erroneously translated as "Crow" by early European traders and has since been their English name. The ancestors of the Crows were affiliated with the Hidatsa of the upper Missouri River. In the late 1400s they migrated westward, coming to control southeastern Montana and northeastern Wyoming. Historically, the Crows were nomadic hunters and warriors who lived in tipis, traveled in search of game, primarily buffalo, and fought intertribal battles over honors and horses.

The Crows were divided into three political bands: the Mountain Crows, who lived along the Yellowstone River; the River Crows, who occupied the territory north of the Yellowstone River; and the Kicked in the Bellies, who moved about the Bighorn Basin of Wyoming.

By the 1700s the Crows were important middlemen in an intertribal trade network. To the east they traded horses and products of the hunt with the Hidatsa and Mandan for agricultural goods and European trade items, especially the gun. To the west they traded with the Shoshones and Nez Perce for horses, decorative shells, and edible roots.

In the mid-1800s, other native groups, especially the Lakotas and their allies, had moved into Crow territory. In response, the Crows often assisted the U.S. military against a common enemy and to maintain control of their land. With the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868, the Crows gradually came under the control of the federal government.

Their present reservation is a mere 2.2 million acres, compared to the 38 million acres they once controlled. In 2000 their population was slightly more then 10,000 individuals, with most living on or near the reservation. Contemporary Crow people have accepted some Euro-American practices and beliefs, but they continue to utilize their native language and culture.


Frey, Rodney. The World of the Crow Indians: As Driftwood Lodges. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1987.

Hoxie, Frederick E. Parading Through History: The Making of the Crow Nation in America, 1805–1935. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1995.

Lowie, Robert Harry. The Crow Indians. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1983.

McCleary, Timothy P. The Stars We Know: Crow Indian Astronomy and Lifeways. Prospect Heights, Ill.: Waveland Press, 1997.

Medicine Crow, Joseph. From the Heart of the Crow Country: The Crow Indians' Own Stories. New York: Orion Books, 1992.

Timothy P.McCleary

See alsoLaramie, Fort, Treaty of ; Tribes: Great Plains ; andvol. 9:Fort Laramie Treaty of 1851 .


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crow1 / krō/ • n. 1. a large perching bird (genus Corvus) with mostly glossy black plumage, a heavy bill, and a raucous voice. The crow family (Corvidae) also includes the ravens, jays, magpies, choughs, and nutcrackers. 2. (the Crow) the constellation Corvus.PHRASES: as the crow flies in a straight line. eat crow inf. be humiliated by having to admit one's defeats or mistakes.crow2 • v. (past crowed or Brit. crew / kroō/ ) [intr.] (of a cock) utter its characteristic loud cry. ∎  (of a person) make a sound expressing a feeling of happiness or triumph. ∎  say something in a tone of gloating satisfaction: avoid crowing about your success.• n. [usu. in sing.] the cry of a cock. ∎  a sound made by a person expressing triumph or happiness: she gave a little crow of triumph.


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crow figurative uses may refer to carrion crows feeding on the bodies of the dead, and the bird is also taken as a type of blackness.

A crow is the emblem of St Anthony of Egypt and St Paul the first hermit (see St Paul2), who were brought a loaf of bread by a crow or raven.
as the crow flies as directly as possible; the expression is recorded from the early 19th century.
crow quill a quill pen made from a large feather of a crow's wing, formerly used for fine writing.
crow's foot a branching wrinkle at the outer corner of a person's eye.
crow steps the steplike projections on the sloping part of a gable, common in Flemish architecture and 16th- and 17th-century Scottish buildings.
eat crow in North American usage, be humiliated by having to admit one's defeats or mistakes (crow here is taken as a type of poor and unpalatable food).
white crow a rare thing or event, a rara avis; the expression is recorded from the 16th century.

See also on the first of March, the crows begin to search.


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Crow / krō/ • n. (pl. same or Crows) 1. a member of an American Indian people inhabiting eastern Montana.2. the Siouan language of this people.• adj. of or relating to this people or their language.


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Crow Large tribe of Siouan-speaking Native Americans who separated in the early 18th century from the Hidatsa. They migrated into the Rocky Mountains region from the upper Missouri River. Today, they occupy a large reservation area in Montana, where they were settled in 1868. They are noted for their fine costumes, artistic culture, and complex social system.


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crow Large, black bird found in many temperate woodlands and farm areas worldwide. Living in large flocks, crows prey on small animals and eat plants and carrion. They can be crop pests. They are intelligent birds and can sometimes be taught to repeat phrases. The female lays three to six greenish eggs. Family Corvidae. See also jay; magpie; raven; rook


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crow 2 utter the cry of a cock. OE. crāwan, corr. to Du. kraaien, OHG. krā(w)en (G. krähen). WGmc. word of imit. orig. The str. pt. is still prevalent in the proper sense, but crowed is used in the sense ‘utter joyful cries’.
Hence crow sb. act of crowing XIII.