Billings man captured culture of Crow, Northern Cheyenne tribes

In Richard Throssel’s ”Leader of the Sun Dance,” an unidentified Cheyenne, or Tsistsistas, wears the traditional wraparound kilt, sage wreath, eagle feather, and elaborate body paint. Throssel’s photographs of Northern Cheyenne people were most often of ceremonies such as this. A version of the Sun Dance, or what Cheyenne call New Life Lodge, was held by many tribes. Held once a year during the summer solstice, it lasted about four days, starting at sunset on the first day and ending at sunset on the last. It was a time of self-sacrifice, dance and prayer. Sometimes dancers pierced their flesh with small pegs, which were tethered to the center pole; pulling against this anchor and eventually pulled the peg from the flesh. The ceremony symbolizes the continuity of life, that there is not true end to life but just a cycle of true and symbolic deaths and rebirths. The Sun Dance was suppressed by the government in the late 19th and early 20th centuries in an attempt to anglicize American Indians. There has been a revival of the Sun Dance in recent years among many tribes. - JoAllyn Archambault ”Contraries,” are shown by Throssel during the rarely photographed Cheyenne Animal Dance, or Massaum. The Animal Dance was also called the Buffalo Dance, the Crazy Dance, or the Foolish Dance. It may have been performed to bring food in times of scarcity. During the five-day ceremony, members of the tribe represented different animals. There are two types of Contraries in Cheyenne culture: mostly old men and women who participate in the Animal Dance or a special class of brave. Members of both types fear thunder, do the opposite of what they’re asked or say the opposite of what they mean, do things backward and have great spiritual or healing power. - George Bird Grinnell ”Medicine Crow, One of the Remaining Old Time Chiefs” is a Throssel photo of Perits Shinakpas, whose name is more accurately translated as Sacred Raven. The Crows’ name for themselves, Absaroka, may also be translated as Ravens or Sharp People. He was born in 1848 to Chief Jointed Together and One Buffalo Calf, at a time when the Crow population was reduced by smallpox from about 8,000 to 1,000. Medicine Crow was a visionary medicine man; he didn’t heal the sick but, instead, could see into the future. Medicine Crow became a chief in the traditional way; he passed four tests. These tests were to touch the first enemy fallen whether alive or dead, to wrestle a weapon away from an enemy, to enter an enemy camp at night and steal a horse with its picket and to command a successful war party. In the picture, he wears his hair in the traditional style: a ”pompadour” where the bangs stand up, held with grease. Crow people traditionally cut their hair when they are in mourning - this may be why his braids are short. - Joe Medicine Crow, Dean Curtis Bear Claw, and Mardell Hogan Plainfeather This Throssel photo is titled ”Baby Stuart, Crow,” or Sings to You a Pretty Song. The child was named by her grandfather Crazy Sister-in-Law. ”Pretty” may also be translated as 'good' or 'Medicine.' Names in Crow culture often commemorate deeds - usually performed by the donor. In the case of a chief, he may be nicknamed for his own deeds. The name for this child came after Crazy Sister-in-Law was out hunting alone. He rode over a ridge and in sight of a band of 20 Piegan raiders. They hesitated to attack because they didn’t know if he was alone. Crazy Sister-in-Law primed his musket and sang his death song. Still the Piegans hesitated. Crazy Sister-in-Law sang his medicine song and then charged straight through the raiders. They were so amazed they opened their ranks and let him through. He got away before they realized that he was alone. Note the baby’s elk-tooth dress, a sign of wealth, and the necklaces made of dentalium shells. -Richard Throssel In Throssel’s 'Plenty Coups,' the chief holds 'American: The Life Story of a Great Indian, Plenty Coups, Chief of the Crows' by Fran B. Linderman. Plenty Coups, or Alaxchiiaahush, was named Bull Goes Against the Wind as a young man. He was probably born in about 1848, and his parents were Medicine Bird and Otter Woman of the Sore Lips clan of the Mountain Crow. His vision quests are famous for their meanings and symbolism, and his sacred helpers were the eagle and the chickadee. As the last traditional chief and a reservation chief, he counseled cooperation with whites, which at times made him unpopular with other members of the tribe. Some critics pointed out that his light gray eyes were those of a wolf; in other words, they questioned his racial background. He went to Washington, D.C., many times to speak for the Crow people. He was skilled at uniting his fellow chiefs, and he encouraged young people to both uphold traditional ways and to get a white education. He said: ”Education is your most powerful weapon. With education you are the white man’s equal; without education you are his victim.” Plenty Coups supported Throssel as a member of the tribe and was his friend. They had a lot in common - they both wrestled on the muddy ground between Indian and white culture. - Dean Curtis Bear Claw, Barney Old Coyote Jr. and Richard Throssel 'Albert and Mary Lincoln' is Richard Throssel’s photo of Albert Lincoln, also known as Thunder Iron. The dress of this couple shows their wealth, skill and industriousness. An elk-tooth dress symbolizes the prowess of the husband - the more teeth, the more skilled the husband. Not all an elk’s teeth are used, only the eye-teeth or 'ivories.' Crow women hand-sewed the clothes of their husbands and families, and fancy beadwork showed their artistic abilities and industriousness. Mary’s hair is carefully parted and braided; unbraided hair is a sign of laziness. After settlement on a reservation, women continued to make their dresses in the old pattern but of cloth instead of hide. With the dress, they also wore a necklace, a shawl, a scarf, a leather-tooled belt and moccasins. A few Crow women still wear this traditional dress, but they make their own clothes, as these are not available in stores. - Mardell Hogan Plainfeather and Barney Old Coyote Jr. Throssel’s “Meat Drying” photo shows the Crow Tribe in transition from traditional ways to Euroamerican ways. There is a traditional Crow tepee (undecorated, with poles erected in a specific manner), a tent with a stove and logs to build a cabin. Meat is hung on poles to dry for jerky. Throssel captured all aspects of Crow life in his photos. Edward Curtis would not have taken such a picture.
January 16, 2005 11:00 pm  • 

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