Clara Caufield: Northern Cheyenne and Crow hold long rivalry

The following is the opinion of Clara Caufield. All content © Native Sun News.

Clara Caufield
Clara Caufield. Photo from Native News Project / University of Montana School of Journalism

The Crows of old loved to capture Cheyenne women
By Clara Caufield

The Northern Cheyenne and Crow Tribes have had a long rivalry. From what we know it goes way back to the traditional days when to our people were still living freely on the Great Plains, hunting buffalo and raiding other Tribes with inter-tribal warfare.

Back then both Tribes liked to steal women, children and horses (in that order I think). Those captured women were often married into the Tribe and the children raised by adoptive parents who treated them as their own. The old Cheyennes say that the Crows loved to capture Cheyenne women to marry (They were a little leaner -- Jokes).

In our own Tribe, many captured Crow children were adopted by Cheyennes who had lost or couldn’t have children. One example is Crazy Head, one of our famous war leaders for whom Crazy Head Springs, a tribal recreation area, is named. Crazy Head was born a Crow, but had the good fortune to be captured as a child and raised as a Cheyenne. (If you think that’s a joke, consider the source). He became a highly respected war leader and his descendants on both sides are still proud to claim him.

Though the days of inter-tribal raiding are long gone, the two Tribes are situated right next door in southeastern Montana. Indeed, a sliver of the current Northern Cheyenne Reservation was actually carved out of the Crow Reservation. Though it would seem that the two tribal governments have much in common, they rarely work together on any issues, the Crows go their way and the Cheyennes go theirs. A common Cheyenne expression is “Don’t act like a Crow,” and I’m sure they have a similar saying.

A significant difference over the years has been coal development. Both Tribes have rich coal resources. The Crow have aggressively worked with industry to develop their tribal reserves, while the Northern Cheyenne have, thus far, resisted development. No matter what you think about development, one fact is clear: as a result, the Crow Tribe generates significantly more revenue than does Northern Cheyenne and is thus able to provide many more direct benefits to its membership. A few years back, for example, the Crow general fund revenue was more than $50 million, while Northern Cheyenne had only about two million in its general fund.

Rivalry between the Crows and Cheyenne continues today most often expressed in sports, hand games, rodeo, horse racing and other social activities, where fans from both Tribes can be very enthusiastic, dedicated to say the least. And over the years, there has been much intermarriage and friendship between members of the two Tribes.

I, myself have many Crow friends and to give you a hint, Caufield is a Crow name. I have grandchildren who are both Crow and Northern Cheyenne, but enrolled at Crow. Though some of them were eligible for enrollment in either Tribe, my son opted for Crow for very pragmatic reasons: benefits which can make a huge difference to a young family.

Enrolled Crows receive quarterly per capita payment (their share of coal royalties) averaging about $300-400 per member (yes, that is four times a year); generous assistance for college; and the Crow Senior Benefit, a $300 monthly pension for tribal members age 67 and over. So, literally from birth to grave, the Crow Tribe provides very specific dividends and other services directly to its members. The Cheyenne, on the other hand, are lucky to receive an occasional per capita from non-tribal sources such as the Cobell settlement. When we received that last windfall, some wag quipped “Don’t get used to it.”

In light of my last column about tribal charity funds for Cheyenne elders (more precisely, the lack thereof), I bring to light the Crow Tribe for its Senior Benefit. I recently learned about it from my good friend, Pam Spang, a Crow married to Leroy Spang, former Northern Cheyenne Tribal President. She is a good very friend and during the Spang administration, I teasingly called her our “Crow First Lady.”

Over a recent dinner at the Spangs, we talked about my mother’s sad experience at the tribal office, seeking wood. By the way, thank you to the kind readers from different parts of the county who emailed offering donations for this purpose. Every little bit helps.

At any rate, Pam said “Too bad your Mom is not a Crow,” and pulled out the check stub from her most recent $300 monthly Crow Senior Benefit check, proof in spades. Even though Pam and Leroy are some of our more successful tribal members, the reality is that they are both elders and on a fixed income.

“It really helps me, especially with medication costs,” Pam remarked. Leroy agreed

I personally think that this is an example of very responsible and compassionate leadership by the Crow Tribe which can provide an excellent example for other Tribes. I commend them. (Yikes! Did I actually write that?) All politicians campaign on the backs of elders and poor people. Yet, when many of them, including tribal officials, get elected those promises turn out to be nice, but empty, rhetoric. At Crow, they must honor those promises.

I told Mom about the Crow Senior Benefit, but didn’t repeat Pam’s comment “Too bad you’re not a Crow.” (That wouldn’t have gone over too well.)

Mom replied “Wouldn’t it be nice if our Tribe did that?”

Since we’re not holding our breath about that possibility, I suggested she maybe look for an elderly Crow bachelor who gets the monthly Senior Benefit. She giggled, “I couldn’t do that. Your grandma Kinzel would roll over in her grave.” And then, right back at me she quipped “But maybe, you could find another one.”

Hmm. Maybe she’s got a point.

(Clara Caufield can be reached at

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