banner with lettersHowdy!  Before we begin, let me say that I’ll be giving away a free ebook today 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.

thumbnailCAN7V3MK-150x150[1]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 of 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.

thumbnailCAG88QTR-150x150[1]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, an instrument I also play.

thumbnailCAK9PWJKIn 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.

5lftew6oyvy33yo[1]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.

thumbnailCAANJP35-150x150[1]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.

thumbnailCAOYTUN1[1]This photo to the right, 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.

thumbnailCASS51BJMore 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.

LoneArrowsPride72sm[1]One of my favorite books,  LONE ARROW’S PRIDE. is a book about the Crow, about one of the best friends I’ve ever had, and about a legend that lives on and on.  Here’s a link to purchase the book:

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?

Although my gut answer is “not in this environment,” because all he’d have to do is raise his head a little and assassination might loom in his future, a thing no man does without consideration.  Still, I’d like to think that such a hero can still exist.  What do you think?

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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.
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21 thoughts on “”

  1. Karen, I love reading your articles about the Indian. I had a great-great grandmother on both of my parents sides. Just wish I knew more about them. This was very interesting. I didn’t know this about the Crow. I hate I can’t enter, but I only do print books. MAXIE mac262(at)me(dot)com

  2. I tend to agree – “not in this day and age”. I like to think we would all stand up for what we know is right, but I feel we would still be quieted. I am always saddened when I read about the American Indian. What a great story knowing he really did care about his people.
    lattebooks at hotmail dot com

  3. Hi Maxie!

    Thanks so much for your sweet, sweet comment. Doesn’t matter if it’s a print book that you need. I can do either. I just prefer the ebooks cause it’s easier for me. : )

  4. Hi Susan!

    Thanks so much for your comment. Yes, I’d like to think that we’d stand up for what is near and dear to our hearts. Unfortunately in this day and age, it’s a decision that can bring with it the force of oppression and all that entails.

    But there are those, that despite this all, still hold firm to their values, as did this very good man.

  5. I do believe a hero can still exist. A hero might not always be popular or praised, but they can still stand for what they believe in and do what is right!

    texaggs2000 at gmail dot com

  6. Hi Patricia!

    I like to think so, too. And I think we have many today — they’re not song about in the news or media or TV or radio, but they still exist — doing their best to right evils in their environment, despite it all. : )

  7. I believe such a person can exist, but it would take a lot to continue to fight against those that oppose you… there is good and there is bad… and I want to see the good shine more.

  8. Kay,

    This post hits close to home, literally. One of the lady’s I interviewed for a local oral history project had a sister who married into the Yellowtail clan. (Her parents supported her, but you can imagine how a white gal marrying a Crow in 30s and 40s Montana went over). Anyway, like Chief Washakie of the Shoshone, I’ve always found Robert Yellowtail to be a true and honorable leader who thought of his people above self.

    In answer to your question, I do believe true heroes exist. I think that’s what’s great about humans is even when it seems there’s more dark than light in the world there’s always someone willing to step up regardless of the cost and seek what’s right.

  9. Hi Kirsten!

    Wow! Isn’t that interesting, huh? She married into the Yellowtail clan. That would make an interesting study, I think.

    I thank you so much for your warmhearted comment and I do agree. I just think that because the real good guys don’t get any press, it really has to come from the heart. : )

  10. thanks for your post! I love learning new things from your posts! I think it is possible for the hero to exist in our culture today but I think the problem with us is that we think the hero’s are going to pop out of Marvel Comic book or movie and while those are fun to dream about I think we need to see the true day to day hero’s all around us.

  11. I know heroes and heroines still exist. Or what would you call a girl who is a friend of a another girl, even though that other girl is bullied day after day by other kids at school?

  12. Karen, as usual I learn so much from your posts. I have read about Yellowtail in the past and admired his tenacity.

    I refuse to believe that the heroes and heroines no longer exist! Even those sticking up for those bullied in school are heroes and they do exist!

  13. Hi Cori!

    I do agree with you. I think heros and heroines are all around us — but we don’t always see them for what they are, expecting them, as perhaps we are conditioned, to pop out of marvel comics. : ) Great analogy.

  14. I think one could exist, but it would be hard for him (or her for that matter) to get a forum and keep it. There are too many opportunities for individuals or groups to prevent the message from getting out. Rumors and misinformation can easily be spread and there is often little one can do to counter it. On a small, regional level, one could make a difference and they have. Getting to a national level, I’m not so sure.

    Thanks for the information on Yellowtail. Interesting story and a man to be admired and honored.

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