Indian country is loaded with pow wows. Many are outstanding, but a few seem to rise to the top, to have something that draws attention and encourages you to drive those extra miles to be part of something special. Many people would agree that Crow Fair is one of those special pow wows. Perhaps even an event to put on your “bucket list.”
The Crow Tribe of Indians promotes its fair as the “teepee capital of the world.” It’s the largest Native encampment in the country, and the pow wow usually takes place over the third weekend in August -- this summer its August 14-18. But long before the pow wow begins, the camp site starts to fill up with at least 1,000 teepees that are stretched into the Montana sky (some years, the estimates are closer to 1,500 teepees; it’s acres and acres of teepees). It’s a wonderful sight.
Quirky Old Horn, an elder in the Crow Tribe, has long been associated with the Crow Fair. Quirky’s late father, Allan Old Horn, was the voice of the pow wow for many, many years. He says that part of the fair’s magic is that, “nowhere else would you see as many teepees as at Crow Fair; nowhere in the world.”
But there are also several attractions. Each year the fair holds a parade, which winds its way through the campsites. What’s most impressive is the large number of women on horseback using the old-style saddles of bone and rawhide, a style that’s been around almost as long as the tribe has had horses. Many of the saddles are cherished family heirlooms. Old Horn pointed out that in addition to these old saddles are the paraphernalia of the warriors, the spirit cases, shields and other things which would display their bravery and accomplishments in battle. “It’s a reenactment of a way of life back before the coming of the Europeans,” Old Horn said. “The band, when they moved, would kind of caravan. There was an appeal made to the forces of nature, and the Almighty, that the journey, the caravan, [would] be safe. That’s what we’re reenacting in the parade.”
Teepees in a circle at the Crow Fair
In addition to the massive number of teepees and outstanding parade which help place Crow Fair in that elite category, is rodeo and racing, especially relay racing. “Relay racing basically started in Crow country,” Old Horn said. “We had horseracing way back when the animal came to this part of the country. Competition was a way of life. The relay is basically a reenactment of when the warriors had to jump horses to survive and escape from enemies.” Many now consider it the most exciting event to watch; the horsemanship while riding bareback and dismounting and remounting horses eager to get going. Cowboys say it’s the only event they’ll climb up on the fences to watch.”
Then, there’s the dancing, which is a lot like pow wows throughout the west. But there is a difference. There’s more emphasis on traditional dance styles as Small Salmon commented. Old Horn said, “The attire. You can pick out [the Crow tribe’s style] from hundreds of dancers because the dress ways are the same as the turn of the last century. The only additions are material things to decorate their regalia.”
Darrell Tso, Navajo, pointed out another aspect of the Crow Fair that’s, perhaps, not so obvious, but separates this pow wow from many others. “They don’t hesitate to speak their language. They don’t hesitate to make clear what they still value. When I go there, I feel that language very strong. People go there because they feel that spirit of the language and spirit of the culture.”