The Extreme History Project Announces that the Archaeological Conservancy has Finalized the Purchase of the site of Fort Parker, the First Crow Indian Agency.
Bozeman, MT, 3/17/2016: The Extreme History Project is excited to announce that the Archaeological Conservancy has finalized the purchase of Fort Parker, the First Crow Agency. The agency, which lies just 9 miles east of Livingston, MT along Mission Creek, was built in 1869 and functioned until 1875 when it was moved to a site near Absarokee, MT on the Stillwater River. The history of Fort Parker is directly related to the development of Bozeman, MT, the creation of Yellowstone as the first national park and the movement of Montana Territory to Statehood.
More importantly, though, Fort Parker represents the first stage of enforced governmental intrusion into the lives of the Crow People. Though the agency was established by treaty as a distribution point for government goods promised the Crows in exchange for their government appropriated lands, it was also meant to transition these traditional buffalo hunters to a life of settled agriculture – a drastic change in lifestyle, still felt on the Crow Reservation today. “There are mixed emotions when discussing Fort Parker,” shared George Reed, Crow Cultural Committee Chairman, “somewhere between Fort Parker and Livingston is the place, Bisshiilannuusaao, where the Apsáalooke placed the government issued rations and the khaki army blankets on the ground and burned them, somehow they found out they were festered with the small pox germ. When the bison herds were annihilated that was the beginning of the end of the Apsáalooke way of life that ended our nomadic lifestyle. We relied on the bison for everything, when they moved on to better pasture we took down our tepees and followed them. When the bison were gone our warriors could no longer go on war parties to prove their worth, leadership was earned, this changed our form of government, it also changed our diet from natural foods to beef and rations which has drastic effect, the most effected were the pregnant women our infantile mortality rate was very high.”
It is this history that makes the purchase of Fort Parker so significant. It is one of the first sites of the early reservation period of the Plains’ Tribes to be nationally recognized as an important historic site. This offers the long-awaited recognition of this dark period in our country’s history, the legacy of which is still felt today in Native American reservations across the Plains.
“We’ve purchased 15 acres along the creek.” noted Jim Walker, Southeast Director of the Archaeological Conservancy, The Conservancy’s purchase includes the extant remains of the agency building’s foundations and the adjacent stone construction known as ‘Kennelly’s Castle,’ which was constructed at a later period after the Fort was abandoned. Walker went on to insure that the site was now under perpetual protection from any purchase or development. The site will be fenced with access given by request through the Conservancy for educational and cultural programs. The Crow tribe will have unlimited and unregulated access to the site, which is still considered sacred as many ancestors lived, died and were buried at Fort Parker.
Emerson Bull Chief, Crow Tribal Historic Preservation Officer expressed the Tribe’s feelings about having this site preserved. “It is good that the Archeology Conservancy has made this purchase to preserve this historical site. For the Apsáalooke, history doesn’t begin at the Fort, our connection stretches back beyond 2500 years ago. The landscapes still hold the scars of our fasting beds, the names of places that are still used today and the final resting places of our ancestors. Although the Fort represented the darker times of Euro-American interaction with Native Americans, it is also an acknowledgement by the United States for the Western boundary of the Apsáalooke territorial homeland. In that sense, the Crow Tribal Historic Preservation Office supports The Extreme History Project and the Archeology Conservancy in the purchase, protection, and preservation of this important historic site.”
Marsha Fulton and Crystal Alegria of the Extreme History Project approached the Archaeological Conservancy in 2010 to look into the possibility of preserving the site. Livingston resident and Conservancy board member Roddy Stanton was instrumental in bringing Jim Walker to the table to start the conversation. Landowners Zena Dell Lowe, Darcy Lebeau and Rob Stephens of the Mission Ranch were enthusiastic about working with the Conservancy to insure the site’s protection, a place very significant to their late mother who owned the site up to her passing in 2011. “The family had taken excellent care of the site,” offered Marsha Fulton of the Extreme History Project, “and we were confident that in their hands the site would have remained protected and respected. However, if the property were to ever change hands, the site on private land would have been endangered. We all wanted to insure that this important historical place was honored, interpreted and preserved for future generations. Not only because it is significant to the history of Montana and the West, but because it is a place of sacred memory to the Crow Nation.”
The Archaeological Conservancy will manage and administer the site and the Extreme History Project in partnership with the Crow Tribal Cultural Committee, will create educational and interpretive programming about Fort Parker’s history. Fulton and Alegria have been compiling the documented history of the site and conducting oral histories with Crow tribal members to create a comprehensive database of historical materials. They are currently writing a book on the history of the site and intend to make all of their research materials accessible to the public in an online database.
“We are honored to facilitate the sharing of the Fort Parker story with everyone,” noted Fulton, “as it reminds us all of this painful history that we all share, though it’s not often told.”