“They Were Not Buffalo”

As we move south, the next tribe in the area of the proposed Great Plains Trail is the Crow Nation.  Undoubtedly, its most famous member is its last chief – Plenty Coups.  There is a great book by Frank Linderman from the early 1900s that is essentially an autobiography of the man as told to Linderman in a series of interviews toward the end of his life. 

Plenty Coups is an English translation from his Crow name Alaxchiiaahush, which was given to him by his grandfather when he turned a young man.  The name is a prediction that he will achieve many great things, and Plenty Coups comes from the word “coup,” which is an act of bravery.

Plenty Coups did indeed achieve many great things in his life.  He is perhaps best known for his largely accurate visions of the future which obtained by fasting and sweatlodge.  One, which I will relate in full here, is particularly prophetic for the future of the Great Plains, the buffalo on it, as well as the Crow way of life.  (The “Man-person” he describes is also a vision who he has been following to a point where there is  a view of the plains.)

“Out of the hole in the ground came the buffalo, bulls and cows and calves without number.  They spread wide and blackened the plains.  Everywhere I looked great herds of buffalo were going in every direction, and still others without number were pouring out of the hole in the ground to travel on the wide plains.  When at last they ceased coming out of the hole in the ground, all were gone, all!  There was not one in sight anywhere, even out on the plains.  I saw a few antelope on a hillside, but no buffalo – not a bull, not a cow, not a calf, was anywhere on the plains.

I turned to look at the Man-person beside me.  He shook his red rattle again.  “Look!” he pointed.

Out of the hole in the ground came bulls and cows and calves past counting.  These, like the others, scattered and spread on the plains.  But they stopped in small bands and began to eat the grass.  Many lay down, not as a buffalo does but differently, and many were spotted.  Hardly any two were alike in color and size.  And the bulls bellowed differently too, not deep and far-sounding like the bulls of the buffalo but sharper and yet weaker in  my ears.  Their tails were different, longer, and nearly brushed the ground.  They were not buffalo.  These were strange anmals from another world.”

The meaning of the vision is clear, and needs no interpretation – the buffalo were to be replaced by cattle and the Great Plains would be forever changed.  Plenty Coups received this vision as a mere 9 year old boy.  The year was 1857.  It would be many years yet before his vision came true.

About greatplainstrail

Building the Great Plains Trail.
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