First published in 1935, The Crow Indians offers a concise and accessible introduction to the nineteenth-century world of the Crow Indians. Drawing on interviews with Crow elders in the early twentieth century, Robert H. Lowie showcases many facets of Crow life, including ceremonies, religious beliefs, a rich storytelling tradition, everyday life, the ties of kinship and the practice of war, and the relations between men and women. Lowie also tells of memorable individuals, including Gray-bull, the great visionary Medicine-crow, and Yellow-brow, the gifted storyteller. The Crow nation today is vital and active, creatively blending the old and the new. The way of life recounted in these pages provides insight into both the historical foundation and the enduring, vibrant heart of the Crow people in the twenty-first century.
Lowie seems quite sympathetic to the Crow, given the time when he was writing. Some Crow customs he documents probably shocked contemporary whites; the constant warfare with neighboring tribes and Crow sexual behavior. Fighting was not campaigns of conquest but tit-for-tat; if a Crow was killed by a Lakota, it was necessary to kill a Lakota in turn – any Lakota would do. Crows were not considered “men” until they accomplished some heroic deed – touching an enemy (“counting coup”), seizing an enemy weapon, stealing an enemy horse (it had to be a tethered horse) and eventually leading a war party. Crow boys who hadn’t done any of these things were mocked by their age mates until they accomplished something. (Crow women could, and did, participate in war; this was considered laudable but not necessary).
Crow sex life was pretty easy going. Although Lowie uses the term “husband” and “wife”, there was no formal marriage ceremony – you could go to your sweetheart’s family and formally negotiate a purchase, or you could just hook up. Polyandry and polygamy were possible and unremarkable, as were sexual relations before “marriage”. “Virtue” – in the sense that you didn’t have sexual relations with anyone but a recognized spouse – was commendable, but apparently rather rare; Lowie notes that certain religious activities could only be performed by a “virtuous” man or women and the Crow had a hard time finding one. There was a strong clan system, and sexual relations with someone from your own clan was abhorrent. Pubescent Crow boys might take the initiative by attempting the touch the genitalia of a sleeping girl; if this was acceptable the couple might continue to more involved activities; of not the offended girl would scream in outrage, raise a hue and cry among her sisters and girlfriends, and chase the boy through the camp, pelting him with dog excrement. Kind of reminds me of my own adolescence. Lowie also uses the term “berdache” (and notes the Crow word is baté) to describe Crow men who adopt women’s roles. He notes Indian agents had attempt to make the baté dress as a man but the Crow objected, saying it was against their nature.
Lowie continues with descriptions of Crow mythology, daily life, military clubs and ceremonials. He’s apologetic about his command of Crow language, noting that he could only follow a conversation if he was conversant with the subject being discussed and was unable to successfully translate a schoolbook story into Crow; thus he still used interpreters for his studies. (OTOH his Crow friends were amazed by his ability to write down Crow and reread it to them; he uses this as an illustration of Crow idiom. On hearing Lowie read Crow, a Crow man declares “I arrived where they seized my arms” – meaning he was amazed).
Lowie’s writing flows smoothly and is quite readable, while remaining scholarly. A few line drawings of Crow implements. A glossary, and an extensive index. No footnotes, endnotes, or formal bibliography, but an appendix on sources.