The Life & Times of Robert Yellowtail, Crow

Good Morning, Afternoon or Evening (depending on when you’re joining us today)!  Before we begin, I need to let you know that I’ve been up all night working on a project, so I won’t be on the blog until later in the day.  To make up for this, I will be giving away a book to some lucky blogger.  So come on in and leave a comment.

Today I thought we’d journey into the past, but the more recent past.  Usually I blog about the early or mid 1800’s, but today I hope you’ll come along with me as I tell you the story of an incredible man, Robert Yellowtail, a Crow Indian hero.

The picture to the left is not of Robert, but of a handsome youth taken about this same time in history.  He is definitely Crow — easily identified by the style of his hair and accessories.  Robert may have looked similar in his youth.  Robert Yellowtail was born on August 4, 1889, but was boarded at a government school, away from any his parents and any influence from his tribe at an early age.  He was only four years old.  The 1890’s were an extremely difficult time for the American Indian in general.  Not only was it forbidden by “do-gooders” and government agents for the American Indian to practice their traditional way of life, but Indian land was being looked upon as desirable by powerful corporations who had influence over the government and Indian agents.  Land was needed.  Land was important.  And here were the Indians with “lots” of land, or so it was said.

It was also a tough life at government schools.  No youngster was allowed to speak his own language, or to practice any skill that might be similar to that of the old ways.  The idea was to “kill” the Indian and “give birth” to a “red-white-man.”  Yellowtail was both intelligent and stubborn and gave his teachers much trouble (so would I have done, I like to think).  So much was this the case that Robert was sent to the Sherman Institute in Riverside, California.  California was more tolerant in those days, and here he did very well and graduated in 1907.  He studied law at the Extension Law School in Los Angeles, where he would go on to earn a law degree via correspondence courses.  His main interest was to use the law to help his people.  He also learned to play the clarinet. 🙂

In 1910, senator Thomas Walsh introduced a bill to open up the Crow reservation to homesteaders. Crow Chief Plenty Coups (one of the most famous chiefs of the Crow) knew he needed someone with knowledge of the law, someone with knowledge of the white man’s ways, and someone stubborn and intelligent enough to fight for the Crow.  He called upon Yellowtail, and Yellowtail rose to the occasion.

It was a seven year struggle, a battle that was fought in courts and in Congress, with Walsh attacking the Crow and Yellowtail in particular ferociously.  However, finally, the Crow won this battle much because Yellowtail was an experienced orator and he went on to speak for hours at the Senate — much like a filabuster.  He simply refused to give up.  At last he won, and the reservation lands were kept under the control of the Crow.  Yellowtail was only twenty-eight years old.

In the following years, Yellowtail’s accomplishments grew even more incredible:

  • In 1919, Yellowtail was needed again in Washington D.C. to help write and fight for (if need be) the 1920 “Crow Act.”  Here he shined.  Using his experience in law for the good of his people, he went on to ensure that Crow Lands would never be able to be taken away from the Crow again.

It’s also important to note that because of Yellowtail’s work, the American Indians were at last “given”  the right to vote in 1924.

In 1934, Yellowtail went on to become the Superintendent of the Crow Indian Reservation.  This might not sound like the accomplishment that it was because he was the first Indian superintendent of his own tribe.  Working under the duty to improve his people’s lot in life, the culture of the Crow flourished under his leadership.

Yellowtail was also a prosperous rancher.  And sometime in the mid-30’s he managed to get the ranchers (whites in the area) to return 40,000 acres of land.  Under his leadership buffalo were brought back to the reservation, as well as some breds of horses and cattle.

This photo to the left, by the way, is one of my most favorite photos of the Crow.  It has served me well as images of handsome Indian warriors.

The only controversy that shadowed Robert Yellowtail’s life was what happened at Bighorn River.  Commissioners and unelected officials wanted to damn up the Bighorn River.  Yellowtail was completely against it.  In fact fighting that damn consumed him.  The Bighorn Canyon (which the damn would cause to be flooded) was considered sacred. The tribal council sided with Yellowtail, but as we know, those with unscrupulous morals often take underhanded roles to accomplish what they want.

Unity of the Crow began to crumble under the onslaught of rumor campaigns.  Yellowtail, himself, was said to be willing to sell out the tribe.  It was all a lie, but even to this day, this haunts his image.  In the end, Yellowtail was forced to negotiate or lose everything.  He rose to the challenge and demanded the government pay the Crow tribe $1 million a year for 50 years.  And when those 50 years were finished, the Crow would get their land back.

More rumor campaigns ensued.  In the end, Yellowtail lost and the government got everything and paid an equivalent of only $600 per tribal member.  Yellowtail was downtrodden, and the funny thing about it is that the damn is named after him.

But there was another battle ahead, which came much later, in the 1970’s. This time it was over mineral right (coal) and this time, despite rumor campaigns and attempts to blacken his name, he won.

Yellowtail lived to a ripe old age of 98, but he lives on in the legacy that he left.  Because of him, the reservation retained most of their land, they were able to govern themselves and they hadn’t sold away their mineral rights (and by the way, the offer was a pitance).  It was a different sort of war that he fought, he was a different sort of warrior, but he will never be forgotten so long as the Crow people live.

Don’t forget.  Seneca Surrender is still on sale.  Pick up your copy today.  And please come on in and leave a comment.  I won’t be able to answer right away, but I will be picking a winner at the end of the day.

Also, off to the left here, is a book that I wrote about the Crow, LONE ARROW’S PRIDE.

Now, here’s my question for you today:  In an age where criminality becomes more and more the “norm” for a society, do you think a hero, similar to Robert Yellowtail, with honest concern for his people, has a chance to exist?

All I can say is I certainly hope so.  Come on in, leave a comment.

Karen Kay
KAREN KAY aka GEN BAILEY is the multi-published author of American Indian Historical Romances. She has written for such prestigious publishers as AVON/HarperCollins, Berkley/Penguin/Putnam and Samhain Publishing. KAREN KAY’S great grandmother was Choctaw Indian and Kay is honored to be able to write about the American Indian Culture.
Please refer to https://petticoatsandpistols.com/sweepstakesrules for all contest rules.
Updated: May 24, 2011 — 12:38 am

36 Comments

  1. Yes. His name is Obama. Whether he has a chance to protect his people is up to Congress!

  2. Enjoyed reading your article. I think the concept of “heroes” today is different than in the days of Yellowtail. It means different things to different generations. When I was growing up, the hero rode in on a white horse and “saved the day”. Now I think peope refer to heroes as those people in everyday life that do extraordinary things, and not necessarily “saving the day.”
    I enjoy reading your kinds of stories.

  3. Kay,
    Loved this post. I do think that a hero such as Robert Yellowtail has a chance to exist. When I think of how the odds were stacked against him in his day and time, there HAS to be a person (or more than one, hopefully) out there who will take on such a challenge. Think how great it would be if they would all band together for the good. It reminds me of King Arthur’s idea for the round table. Good thoughts to think on, my friend. I guess that’s why we write romance isn’t it, to bring those kinds of men and women to life.
    Hugs,
    Cheryl

  4. A very informative post and I enjoyed reading it. I do think that a hero like Robert Yellowtail does have a chance to exist now days.

  5. Yes, we do have a few heroes around today. Like Mr. Obama. Loved the post and that you brought up the ‘boarding school’ days.
    My husband HAD to go to a boarding school when he was 4 years old. Since he was half MONO and half Paiute/Shoshone he was sent to the boarding school in North Fork (California). He was four years old! He was scared to death and it was helpful that his sisters were there, too, but they were separated—-male/female. So he didn’t see them very often. He stayed there until he finished the 8th grade and then he came home. That was 1941. When he left in 1932, he didn’t even know where he was going. Only that it took three days to get there. So he couldn’t even run away, because he didn’t know which way to run. It was a horrible thing to do to kids and the practice was finally stopped only recently.
    Navajo children were kidnapped and taken from their families to these boarding schools. A very sorry part of white American history.

  6. I have to agree with Laurie. I think it is becoming rarer and rarer that someone can overcome great odds but I still believe anything is possible. Wonderful post and as always, I learn so much that should have and should be taught in our schools.

  7. Thanks for sharing another interesting post… I was not familiar with Yellowtail. As for a hero like him existing today, I would say yes!

  8. I just keep thinking of those children, taken
    from their families. Isn’t this the same thing
    that happened to young English boys way back when?
    Shouldn’t happen to any child! Thanks for the post
    and information, Karen.

    Pat Cochran

  9. Good afternoon, Karen. Hope you get a good rest.

    I think the more criminality becomes the “norm” in society, the more a person of honor and courage will stand out. They may not get the respect they deserve, being considered naive and out of touch with reality. They will even be attacked, as Yellowtail was, to try to diminish them and their influence. Nevertheless, who they are and what they represent will stand out and be remembered. Society needs these people to remind them of what is right and where the moral compass points.

    It is a shame so many children suffered from the indignities and abuses of the indian schools. In trying to destroy a culture, they were destroying the children by taking the traditions they needed to hold to and grow with. Many of the problems in the native communities can be traced back to this lost of cultural identity.

    Thanks for another interesting post.

  10. I am unsure that I agree that criminality has become more and more the “norm” or that there is any lack of heroes. Surely adherence to values has always been the challenge and daily persistence of average individuals in the effort to be good is heroic.

  11. Thank you for the great article on Robert Yellowtail. I was raised in that area (Hardin, which is directly off Crow Nation) and we camped at Yellowtail Dam every year.

  12. Very interesting post!

  13. Another interesting post Karen. And I always love studying the great pictures that go with your posts.

  14. I liked this post, Kay. It reminded me of an article I read once of a First Nations’ lawyer up here who’d just graduated from law school. When asked where he planned to work, he said his goal had always been to represent his people in the best way he could and now he had the means to do it.
    Many First Nation tribes including the Inuit had their children taken away and sent to residential schools in the south ie the northern part of the provinces. It created deplorable situations and a breakdown of the family across the north and wherever it occured. I never did figure out how the government thought taking children away from their parents could be construed as humane when there only ‘crime’ was the colour of their skin.

  15. Kay,

    Great post….Yes I think so I love your post always

    Have a great day

    Walk in harmony,
    Melinda

  16. Hi Kay, another wonderful and informative post. I, like you, try to include the historical events and people in my Apache and Navajo stories, as well as their beliefs and customs. The Apache children were separated the same way and sent to Carlyle, PA to a boarding school and treated shamefully. They had to cut their hair, were not allowed to ever again speak in their language (punished if they were found doing so), made to wear white clothing and hard shoes, and were not able to keep any mementos from their homeland or previous life. Today, I think values have changed so much, the children don’t know what a real hero is, and sad to say, the ones they choose to emulate, are not heros at all. I feel we’ve lost the core values that made our country what it is and I fear for where we’re going. Just my opinion. But that’s why I write romances and create my own heros.

    Love you, Carol Ann

  17. Once again, a very thought provoking blog. Can a hero exist today…I am sure they do…I pray that they do…..I think we are all lost if they don’t.

  18. Whew! What a day! Hi Laurie! Thanks for your comment.

    Now, because it’s a political comment (and I tend to steer clear of them usually) — I am going to comment if only because it’s right here staring me in the face — and I have a differing opinion. I believe firmly that politics, much like religion, is a personal thing and that one should allow others to think and believe as they see fit. I also believe that one should be able to speak freely one’s beliefs.

    I must admit that I don’t see Obama as a hero, and as briefly as I can, I’ll say why. I was hoping that Obama would keep his campaign promises. He made many wonderful ones. But alas he, like he who went before him, lied to us. He promised to bring the troops home. He hasn’t. He promised to close Guantamo Bay (can’t spell it). He hasn’t. He promised to bring prosperity to America and instead sanctioned banker bailouts, at taxpayer expense — and at our children and their children and their children’s expense. The bailouts are still continuing to this day with another bailout to Goldman Sacs and Fannie Mae very recently. Notice there are no bail outs to regular people.

    Recently he went public with a statement that he now sanctions assassination of American citizens if suspected of wrongdoing…without a trial, without due process, without being confronted by their accusors. This is not the mind set or action of a hero. At least not as I see it.

    Don’t get me wrong. I was just as critical of Bush and Clinton and Bush, Sr. In fact, I believe that politics — regardless of what caption it has — has lead us all down a garden path. For myself, I don’t “believe” in politics anymore.

    Anyway, enough said. I appreciate your point of view and although I don’t agree, I treasure your right to believe as you do and to speak out about it Which founding father was it who said that he might not agree with you, but he would defend to the death your right to speak out. 🙂

  19. HI Joye!

    I love this viewpoint. I think we have every day heros that somehow escape our notice. So often our noses are pointed in what’s wrong, that we tend to forget to look at what’s right. 🙂 I know many real heros. Truly. Those who have saved the day — my husband is one. 🙂

  20. Hi Cheryl,

    I always enjoy your posts — so insightful. 🙂

  21. Good Evening, Becky. I so agree with you. Where would our world be without heros. I truly know many, many heros. Real, honest-to-good heros. So yes, I think not only is it possible today, but it is something that happens every single day. 🙂

  22. Hi Mary J!

    Well, I’ve already said my opinion of Obama. He is no hero. No one who makes promises and breaks them and then lies about it is a hero. Same is true of Bush Jr., and unfortunately many of our politicians. I, however, respect your opinion and viewpoint and am glad that you voiced it. 🙂 The children were taken away from their parents and tribe, etc., in order to make them into something they weren’t and to CONTROL them. And I don’t mean control in a good sense. In many respects the same thing goes on today, also, unfortunately. Sigh…

    Thanks so much for coming here today and for your opinions and insights.

  23. Hi Catslady!

    Wow! What a good observation. I, too, believe that our world has many heros and heroines, also. I do believe I have been lucky to know many. 🙂

  24. Hi Colleen! I would have to agree. Yes!

  25. Pat, you are so right. That did happen to English boys, also.

  26. Gosh, Patricia, you have said it so well. Thank you for your insights and for sharing them with me — with us — to day. 🙂

  27. Hi Liz!

    Thanks so much for your comment. My opinion, based on observations of the world in which I live and some recent Supreme Court decisions, is that I think we live in an environment that is slipping further and further into the mire of criminality…where honest people suffer and criminals are let go by. Witness the poisons now rampant in our food supply and water supply and in the air we breathe. Witness the police recently raiding an Amish farmer with full guns drawn — the Amish, for goodness sake… Witness a food co-op raided in California, with the police with full guns drawn. It’s not the same world that I grew up in — or maybe it is and I simply didn’t see the corruption. I don’t know. I do, however, agree with you that their are heros all around us. Thanks for your comment! 🙂

  28. Hi Dev! Wow! You’ve been there. I’ve been in Crow country, but not specifically at the damn. Is it a beautiful spot?

  29. Hi Estella! Thanks so much for coming to the blog today. 🙂

  30. Gosh, Anita, you said it so well. Nice to see you here on the blog, by the way. And I know several people on the reservations who are using their talents to help their people. They are heros–heroines.

  31. Hi Carol Ann!

    Gosh, it’s good to hear from you. It’s been a while. I know you have a new book out right now, too, don’t you?

    Yes, I think it is why we write, although I must admit that I have been lucky enough to know many heros in my life. Real, true heros. They are inspirational. 🙂

  32. Hi Connie! Yes, I pray there are more and more heros. But I think the world runs on such people. So nice to see you here today!

  33. Karen – Yellowtail is a wonderful place (not to mention there’s some great fishing to be had!!!) They give tours where you can actually go down into the dam – we’ve done that several times as well.

  34. ….I forgot to add: I’m not sure what part of the Crow area you got to visit, but we are flooded right now! Our interstate that travels between Hardin to the Wyoming border is completely shut down, and there is no way to get out of Crow Agency or Lodge Grass right now. It’s still raining here with no sign of stopping until at least Sunday.

  35. Hi Karen, the story is so good, you know I love the indians, and still learning more and more, I am going for your book as soon as my hubby gets back to town, Keep up the good work, your books never fail to move me, Love you; your fan and friend,Rita Robison,Bakersfield,Ca.

  36. I believe they exist on the reservation. But the survival of dirty politics has corrupted the minds of the people to become survivals and have left their morals and values, ethics of our ancestors behind and become another kind of people. It is heart breaking on the reservation to see a once well rounded healthy people who stood for a great nation now would lower themselves to corruption. I stand alone myself in my beliefs of my ancestors and probably some others but today it is not popular place to be when its the right thing to do. We are here but we are outnumberd. Proud great,great grandchild of Robert Yellowtail. Kristi

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