Robert Yellowtail, a Crow & American Hero

bannerGood Morning, Afternoon or Evening (depending on when you’re joining us today)!   I will be giving away the book, LONE ARROW’S PRIDE, to some lucky blogger.  So come on in and leave a comment.  Also, remember that if I pick your name, you must contain me personally (email) to claim your prize.

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.


Also, off to the left here, is a book that I wrote about the Crow, LONE ARROW’S PRIDE.  I’ll be giving away a copy of that e-book today.  And off to the right is THE ANGEL AND THE WARRIOR, which is coming soon for presale on March 8, 2015 for Tradepaper.AngelAndTheWarrior-The-Cover

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

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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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35 thoughts on “Robert Yellowtail, a Crow & American Hero”

  1. Just a reminder, if your name is picked for the free e-book, you must contact me personally at my email address, which I’ll leave in the post.

    So do check back.

  2. What a story about Robert Yellowtail. I am enjoying history more with all the wonderful posts here at Petticoats & Pistols. I agree with you this is certainly an attractive cover. I’d love to win a copy… dkstevensneAToutlookDoTCo M

    • Hi Deanna!

      Thanks so much. I certainly enjoy history, also — not the kind one learns in school, but true, vivid history. : )

      This man was an unsung hero. : )

  3. I’m with you, I certainly pray that there is a hero out there for us in this world that seems to be spinning out of control.

    The history you have written about for us is always so interesting. Thank you fr sharing.

    • Hi Connie!

      I certainly hope so, too. Perhaps we can all be heros in our own right. Every mother and father are heros — Grandmothers, Grandpas. We are all heros in our own way. Perhaps if we all concentrated on that, (and turn off the propaganda machine — TV) we might come right. : )

      My humble opinion.

  4. Of course there are such heroes and heroines like Anna Politkovskaja, Oskar Schindler, Albert Göring, Malala Yousafzai and Denis Mukwege who risk their own lives for others or just speak up when others are silent in societies where criminality is the norm and most people take the “see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil” approach -if they are not directly part of the criminality themselves.

  5. What’s interesting to me — this is a little more added to Minna’s comment. What’s amazing to me is how “easily” it would seem that people who aren’t criminal are lured into becoming or doing criminal activities.

    I do believe that television, combined with drugs — legal or illegal contributes to this, too. The Indians, one must remember, were destroyed by alcohol (a drug).

    Without that drug, would they have been conquered? I tend to think it would have been almost impossible. Of course, they were also put on that way by the “Black Robes” who destroyed the Mohawk by completely dividing them — even taking half of the tribe to Canada.

  6. Hi Karen. Enjoyed your post. Sad the way they made children not talk or dress in their own ways. And made boys cut their hair. They must have thought they were GOD. Hoping to win your book. Maxie > mac262(at)me(dot)com <

    • ‘Tis indeed one way to destroy a culture — we should look further into the Indian history — because they were destroyed by certain things: 1)drugs (alcohol) 2) taking the children and teaching them an alien culture — one they would never use on the reservation 3) taking away their language and 4) dividing them completely.

      These are the ways I’ve seen from my research.

  7. I believe there is still a chance for such a hero to exist. There are still men and women of honor and integrity in this world. There are also still people out to take advantage of and cheat others, sometimes seemly more than ever before. I think it is just that we are more aware of what they are doing. Good people will step up and speak for what is right. It is both easier and harder to be heard. Media allows them better access to reach more people, but it also helps their enemies. They may not be able to win all the time, but they will be heard and make it more difficult for those who try to take advantage of others.
    It is much harder today because so much is done behind closed doors and too many politicians are willing to profit from doing wrong and justifying it is “for the good of the country” when it is for the good of the moneyed few. We need to keep our eyes and ears open to know the truth and find those of integrity so we can support them.

  8. Between Sweethearts of the West and Petticoats and Pistols, I have been missing out on some great posts on a lot of interesting Old West characters. I am going to have to stop back on a regular basis to see what else I can learn. It had been years since I had heard the story of Yellowtail and I had forgotten most of it. Great post, and a grim reminder of how our government has waged literal and cultural genocide against Native Americans, something we still don’t own up to.

    • Hi JD!

      Well said. You look very much like a cowboy, yourself, and I’m wondering where you first heard the story of Yellowtail. Have just run across it in my research, and I was fascinated by it.

      It just goes to show that heros aren’t always warriors on the field of physical battle. There are other wars, subtle wars — and he stood up under the pressure. A real American hero.

      • Well, if I can’t be a cowboy, I can at least look like one occasionally. Tha picture is a crop from one of our annual family photos where we all dress up in Old West garb. I use it as my author picture because it’s really the only “professional” pic I’ve had done for a while.

        It’s been so long since I read about Yellowtail I can’t recall the circumstances of my enlightenment, but you are right, there are many ways to be a hero without being in the middle of a physical battle. He persevered and won, even though the deck was stacked against him.

      • Hi JD!

        Thanks so much for the enlightenment. Truth is, you look very at home in the garb. It’s a perfect picture, also — don’t you write Westerns?

        It’s my hope and several other of the fillies that you’ll come to the blog again, and also blog for us, too. : )

      • Karen,
        You’re correct. I do write westerns. In fact, I just finished a fun interview session on Sweethearts of the West where I got to talk a little about my new novel. I had fun visiting with Cheryl and Kathleen, along with all the other lovely ladies there. And yes, I would love to do a guest blog for you sometime. My reason for scouting your blog and others more frequently than I usually do is that I’m looking for inspiration for a plot for a third novel. So far, I haven’t come up with anything that strikes my fancy. I’m hopeful something will spark my imagination at some point. To my delight, I have discovered a number of fascinating articles written by you ladies, and as soon as I have a bit more time, I’m going to go check out the older posts to see what I have been missing. My day starts at 5:30 in the morning and ends somewhere around 5:30-6:30, so I don’t have much spare time. Anyhow, expect to see me commenting now and then. Take care.

  9. This looks like an instance where the white man’s attempt to drive the “Indian” out of Robert Yellowtail worked against them. It sounds like he never forgot his roots and worked for them in the way he had been trained.

    As for your question, yes, in this “criminal” world with corruption and fraud often seem to prevail, heroes like Robert Yellowtail can make a difference. Will they always prevail? Probably not. But, each victory is a step in the right direction and offers hope for a brighter future.

    Robyn Echols writing as Zina Abbott

  10. Hi Karen – Thanks, for your post about Robert Yellowtail & the Crow tribe. Their history is always sad to read. Whites always took & took like they were God & had the right to do so, all in the name of getting their land. We are a sad lot. Thanks, for the book giveaway. I enjoy all your books.

    • Hi Lois!

      It would seem to be true, but you know what I’ve discovered from my research of what’s what — it not the individual white person usually who went after grabbing land — unlike some movies would like us to believe. It was usually some corporation or in some instances churches. In the instance of the corporation, greed was indeed a factor. In the instance of churches, some felt it was their “duty” to “tame” the Indian — and some — like the black robes for the Mohawk, deliberately separated the tribe at a time in history when there was war and they needed unity.

      To this day, the Indian who wasn’t educated in government schools refers to such people as “do-gooders.” It’s a derogatory term, because these “do-gooders” believed they knew better for the Indian than the Indian himself.

      Gee,kinda sounds like what’s going on in our world today — only not with churches, but rogue agencies…again the corporation.

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