XVII World-View

THE Crow universe was narrowly bounded. To the north and east flowed the "Great River" on which their kin, the Hidatsa, lived with their fellow-agriculturists, the Mandan and Arikara. But that far to the south there were Indians planting corn to the practical exclusion of hunting, people who dwelt in stone houses, made painted pottery, wove cotton fabrics, and, among many strange calendric festivals, also danced with snakes in their mouths, -- that was something wholly beyond the Crow ken. In 1916 I once sketched to a few elderly Lodge Grass men what I had seen among the Hopi; they listened with interest but without the slightest sense of kinship with these weird folk: I might have been telling of a trip to the moon. Nor did any Crow divine that on the coast of British Columbia there were members of their race who traveled in forty-foot canoes, built solid wooden houses, and recognized sharply separated social castes. Crow geography was of the Northern Plains, sweeping within their ethnographic horizon only a few marginal parasites like the "Pierced Noses" (Nez Percé) and "Bad Lodges" (Shoshone).

Within the radius, then, of a few hundred miles the gunless, horseless Crow of pre-Caucasian days sought to preserve his existence. It was a sorry kind of life. "Savages," says Dr. Marett, "live at but one remove from death." The ancient tales are charged with that theme: "In the early days the Crow were moving camp, they were roaming about seeking food." And Old Man Coyote is forever pictured going about, racked with hunger, "looking for food." But to seek and to find were not the same. Again and again a band was reduced to rabbit fare and threatened with starvation when big game capriciously stayed away. But even at best foraging was no light task. Individual hunters were gored by buffalo; the tribal hunt failed unless there was perfect coöperation; women on a berrying-bee were surprised by bears or abducted by enemies; even a fair-sized party of men were liable to find themselves surrounded by a superior force of Cheyenne or Dakota.


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The Crow Indians


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