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The Way of the Warrior: Stories of the Crow People

The Way of the Warrior: Stories of the Crow People


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780803262300
Publisher: UNP - Bison Books
Publication date: 08/01/2004
Edition description: New Edition
Pages: 133
Sales rank: 469,613
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 8.87(h) x (d)

About the Author

Phenocia Bauerle is a recipient of a Rockefeller Fellowship for Graduate Study in Education and is enrolled at the University of California, Berkeley.

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The Way of the Warrior

Stories of the Crow People

University of Nebraska Press

Copyright © 2003 University of Nebraska Press
All right reserved.

Chapter One

Crow Values in the Stories

Stories of the Crow tribe are readily categorized into three basic periods: the ancient, the legendary, and the historical. Stories from the ancient period include those genesis stories that entail the origins of people and places, and in which all things animate and inanimate talk. The legendary period chronicles human exploits that gain legendary proportions as they are told and retold over time. The historical period consists of stories of events that have happened recently enough to be told as memoirs of great leaders and outstanding members of the tribe. These stories have several important characteristics. First, an ever present element of mysticism threads and weaves its way throughout the accounts. There is an adage that says, "Nothing is done simply," meaning that if one does not have the appropriate background or make adequate preparation, the difficult and impossible should not be attempted. Conversely, when one attempts a major undertaking, it is assumed that he or she has prepared well and has a true direction and success-oriented approach. Particularly, one must have the mystical and supernatural powers to attain predetermined goals and objectives, no matter how difficult. The Crows call this preparation having "backup," not doing things on a whim.

A second significant element in Crow stories is theportrayal of prestige and worthiness to be gained from the accomplishment of deeds. This is to say that those things that are held as most important to the tribe are reflected in the narratives. Foremost of these among men is the accomplishment of deeds leading to "chieftainship." A chief gains that stature in a manner similar to gaining a college degree today. A warrior would endeavor to become a chief and be very accomplished, but until he completed the requirements for chieftainship, he would not be considered for that position of leadership, prestige, and honor. Without the credentials that led to chieftainship, an individual could not assert himself as a leader, although he may have frequently been called upon to serve the chiefs.

A chief was above the "great men," "real men," "pipe carriers," and other distinguished men of the tribe. In the Crow language, the word chief (batchet-che) simply meant a "good man," a name and role that all young men of the tribe aspired to, trained for, and worked toward throughout their lifetime. Opportunities for completing the required deeds were rare. Requirements for becoming a "chief" were several, but the following usually were common.

First to strike the enemy in battle. This was the most prestigious of all the deeds and was used in deciding whether battles were victories or defeats. A victorious homecoming featured the "striker of coup" as the principal hero who was afforded the honor of "leading the procession" (as the victorious war party ran or galloped through the camp). This honor could occur several times in a single battle ("second to strike" and so on).

First to strike the camp. This deed involved "touching the enemy's lodge" and other hazardous and precarious tasks as determined by the war party. The deeds were classified in descending order, with the first "striker" always number one.

Taking a weapon from the enemy in combat. This honor was high, as it signified a deft and daring maneuver performed in the heat of battle. After gunpowder came into use, the taking of a "metal gun" (rifle) from the enemy replaced in importance the simple taking of a weapon.

Taking an enemy's horse and bringing it home. The significance of this act was manifold. Of highest importance was the taking of a horse in battle. Almost equally important was the taking or stealthily cutting of a prized horse from its tether in front of the enemy's lodge. It was a frequent practice of Plains Indians and Crows to tether prized horses immediately in front of lodges so as to frustrate the enemy. The bringing of the enemy's horse(s) home to the camp was festive and regarded with great prestige. The importance of this act is reflected in names that commemorate and memorialize it: "Cuts the Horse in Front of the Lodge," "Brings Ten [Horses]," "Brings a Hundred," and "Goes on a Quest for a Painted Horse."

Leading a successful war party. This accomplishment was the culmination of the deeds required for chieftainship and could occur along with other required deeds in a single foray or incident. A war party leader was usually called the "war party chief" in recognition of having previously completed the other requirements. The word of the war party chief was law. He embodied the potential success or failure of the venture, and the role was one to be at once feared and cherished. It marked the person for the rest of his life. His mystical and supernatural powers, indeed, his "medicine," were all subject to open and critical scrutiny. The degree of his success was a measure of how the tribe and its members would rely upon him in the future.

Of highest prestige were war parties in which the objective was one supported by a significant majority of the tribe or band; the predetermined objectives of the war party were accomplished; the enemy was devastated, ravaged, and humiliated; there was minimal damage and loss to the war party; and the power (mystical and supernatural) and medicine of the leader was clearly demonstrated. When the foregoing were accomplished, a war-party chief was said to have "done things right," indicating that whatever powers he claimed or was said to possess were confirmed. Narratives of his exploits would be included among the legends and stories of the tribe to be remembered throughout the generations.

Crow stories often portray elements of the Crow way of life in a manner that indelibly imprints attributes of Crows upon the minds of the listener, forever perpetuating desirable values and principles. For instance, good people in Crow stories do not just become that way by themselves, or by their blood and upbringing; they have "backup," mystical or supernatural means of accomplishing their goals. A child becomes the object of good wishes, prayers, and mystical influences even before birth, sometimes even before conception. The stories' magical elements capture the imagination and ensure that the narratives live on through retelling, because they capture the essence of Crow beliefs.


According to Crow tradition, mystical powers (medicine) come from the great maker (God) through one or more of His creations. The creations of the Greater Power may be heavenly bodies, birds, animals, and other beings and objects both seen and unseen. Mystical powers or medicine can be vested in a mortal through a variety of visitations (revelations). A common practice for acquiring these supernatural powers is the process called the "vision quest." Individuals deprive themselves of human comforts, fasting and pleading to the spirit world in isolated hills or mountains or alongside waters. When successful, the revelation can be a dream during sleep, a message from the unknown, a vision during delirium, or an actual experience. Among the Crows, such a revelation is called a "dream." When people speak of such events, they might say, "He had a good dream," "His dream was true," or "His dream was what he wanted." When people are disposed to follow what they experienced from a revelation, they say things like, "I saw it in a dream," "I was shown that in a dream," or on rarer occasions, "I actually saw it as backup."

Dreams (in sleep or otherwise) play a major role in the lives of Crow people. Good wishes are parallel to dreams. Dreams and good wishes are shared among people as a means of portraying the future. If a person has dreams and wishes told for him and he accepts them, he makes it his goal to fulfill these and feels certain they will become true.

It might be said, "I saw a particular season. It was good. I will see that season with this person in good health and in good fortune." With that, the future is cast. Both the well-wisher and the subject then look to the future with good expectation. Wishes are also cast over longer periods and toward more specific goals. "I want this child to be a good person." "I want this person to be a good warrior." "I want this person to be healthy and wealthy." "I want this person to have a good home." "I wish for him a good education." The well-wisher or "dream teller" has a role like that of a godparent from then on.

In a dream, vision, or an actual experience (revelation), the recipient is blessed with powers bestowed through the grace of a Greater Power, manifest in something that is familiar. This could be the Morning Star, the Moon (old, old woman), the Sun (old, old man), or other creations, including beings from the bird and animal. So it is that there is bear medicine, bird medicine, and others. Sometimes, living beings dwell within a person and become a part of him or her, a constant companion and a source of mystical power. This is called baachilape. In the Red Bear story, Top of the Mountain saw several occasions in which powerful men painted themselves from within.


The Crow people held good men and women in high esteem. It was not enough to be attractive; one had to meet other demanding qualities to be counted as either a good woman or good man. A good woman was hard to find, a rare being to be sought and cherished. To be numbered as a good woman, one had to embody the following: attractiveness, physically and in personality; industriousness and accomplishment in the skills and arts of women; faithfulness and chastity; soundness and goodness as represented by evenness of disposition. Good women were patient, astute, and clever. They had good health, strength, and endurance and the ability to endure discomfort, pain, and suffering. They were accomplished in social skills such as singing, dancing, and manner of dress.

A good man was the core, life, and strength of the tribe. While both the male and female roles within the tribe were important, the lifestyle of the Crow people made it necessary for a man to be a good provider and warrior to ensure the survival of both the tribe and the family. A listing of a good man's qualities generally included the following: attractiveness, physically and in other ways; strength, speed afoot and great endurance; and possession of a good, loud voice. Such men were unattached to worldly things and were of an outgoing nature, showing kindness to tribal members, particularly the defenseless and poorer tribal members such as children and elders. Good men were good providers, accomplished in social skills such as singing and dancing. They excelled at all things physical, such as being a good marksman.

Good men did not cherish material things or lasting relationships. As the traditional saying goes, "Nothing is forever, only the sky and earth are forever. Glory endures." Hence, good men were not jealous or possessive of wives, family, or earthly things. Men who left wives or "threw them away" were often performing prestigious acts. They demonstrated how little they cared for temporal attachments. "Throwing away" a spouse (it could be done by either sex but was more frequent among men) acknowledged that one was so conscious of this principle that he or she would give up everything, even what was most dear. The act also illustrated the generosity of the individual, as he or she would most likely be giving away a prized "good woman" or "good man."

Many of these qualities are still used today in determining a "good man" or a "good woman." Another common measure of a good person is in the friends (iilapaache) that a person enjoys. The friendships a person has are but one measure of the goodness of that person. An undesirable person is characterized as "one without friends," "one who does not enjoy the good feelings or graces of others (baawittasheleetak)."

Among women, the term hiilla(h) is used to address other women friends and signifies a close friendship or kinship. There are few formal organizations for Crow women, but through activities, friendships among women are born and solidified. For example, women will say to other women, "Hiilla(h)-let's go get water." "Come and let us sew." "Come and let us play games [Indian women's dice game]." "Let us go to the dance." "Sit with me at the hand-game." "Let us pick berries." "Let us dry meat." "Let us go swimming." "Let us go sing with the singers together." All of these activities would exclude males.

Among men, organizations, societies, and clubs were more formal and became "friendship organizations." A friend (iilapaache) was one who shared experiences and activities. Some would live in each other's home for extended periods. Very close friends would continue to stay with one another even after marriage, treating the friend's wife as a sister-in-law. Others who could be called friends were fellow war-party members; men who shared the same woman, even as in the case of taking a woman during "wife-taking" activities; and members of formal clubs and societies, the most demanding form of friendship.


It is unbecoming of a Crow to brag. To recount one's deeds outside of permissible situations is tantamount to bragging and hence frowned upon. When Crows tell of their accomplishments in an inappropriate manner, they are quickly reminded, "You are comparing yourself to me. You are saying your deeds are better than mine. I will take one of your prized possessions!" When there is occasion to tell of personal accomplishments and deeds, it is public and so announced. Retelling is in dramatic and emphatic terms. For example, it can follow an honor situation, such as the singing of one's honor song in a public gathering or dance. At the end of the song, the honoree will preface the retelling of deeds with "Huuk a he! Hook a hay! Beat the drums!" The staccato drumbeat that follows alerts listeners that worthy and outstanding deeds are about to be told. Oftentimes, the drumbeat signals that the accounts to be retold are so outstanding that few, if any, have ever repeated them.

If a group is rejoicing, as in a victory celebration, one can be selected to recount deeds for the entire group. In "The Story of Spotted Horse," there is a hand-game between two clan teams, and one person is selected to retell his deeds for the winning side. He prefaces his incomparable stories with "Huuk a he!" each time, signaling that each is a singular and dramatic occasion.

Not only is bragging unbecoming, but it gives the individual too much credit, as Crows believe that outstanding deeds and accomplishments are brought by Patron Spirits, a Greater Power, a Greater Grace, the Great Maker-God. Whatever one's occupation-warrior, athlete, hunter-it is only through mystical means that he or she is outstanding on the occasion of the event to be retold. Because of Crows' humility about their accomplishments, non-Indians and non-Crows are frequently confused and disappointed when interviewing individual Crows about their lives. Because they are obtained improperly, such interviews are "laid back," and the interviewees may appear to be timid and nondramatic. These interviews ultimately create confusion and distortion.


The Crows punctuate significant occasions with symbolic objects and rituals. A pipe is offered to mourners, for example, to demonstrate the solemnity of the moment. There is no beating of drums. Deeds are recounted to highlight truth and the nonfrivolity of the occasion. In the sacred tobacco ceremony, a warrior is selected to recount his deeds prior to lighting the fire in the sacred lodge.


Excerpted from The Way of the Warrior Copyright © 2003 by University of Nebraska Press . Excerpted by permission.
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