How the public uses Archaeological Conservancy Preserves: Fort Parker, Montana

Southwest Region update

 The Archaeological Conservancy acquired 15 acres containing the ruins of Fort Parker in Park County, Montana in 2015 as our second archaeological preserve in the state.  Fort Parker, the first Crow Indian Agency, was established under the terms of the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868. Ft. Parker is located along Interstate 90 east of Bozeman, Montana beside Mission Creek, a tributary of the Yellowstone River. Fort Parker had been part of a large cattle ranch owned by a Montana family who has diligently protected the site for four generations.

Ft. Parker, like all Conservancy preserves, is available for public tours. In a unique annual cross-cultural educational program, 5th and 6th grade students from the Pryor Public Schools, located in Pryor, Montana (the current capital of the Crow Nation), and 5th grade students from the Livingston East Side Independent School (Livingston is a small town near the Ft. Parker Archaeological Preserve), participated in program called “Building Bridges Building Friendships” as part of a Montana “Indian Education for All” project.  When Montana created a new state constitution in 1972, the following proclamation was included:

“The State recognizes the distinct and unique cultural heritage of the American Indians and is committed in their educational goals to the preservation of their cultural integrity”

In 1999, the Montana legislature passed a Constitutional Mandate that stated:

“…every Montanan, whether Indian or non-Indian, be encouraged to learn about the distinct and unique heritage of American Indians in a culturally responsive manner…”

The “Building Bridges Building Friendships” program involves Livingston students visiting the Pryor classroom and Pryor students visiting the Livingston classroom as well as both groups visiting the Ft. Parker preserve. This year’s event occurred in late May. Click the video below to watch cultural education in action:

The history of the Fort began in 1869. The original wooden buildings at the agency, constructed in 1869, were destroyed by fire in 1872. Immediately following the fire, construction was begun on adobe and stone structures built to replace the destroyed original buildings. The foundations of the second structures are visible today on the surface of the preserve.

Historic photo from 1871 by William Henry Jackson of the original wooden building, Ft. Parker.
Historic photo from 1871 by William Henry Jackson of the original wooden building, Ft. Parker.

The Ft. Parker Indian Agency was established to relocate the Crow and to force their transition from a traditional buffalo hunting lifestyle to a sedentary ranching and farming way of life. The relocation and lifestyle transition was driven by Westward expansion: the increasing European settlement in the West, decreasing buffalo herds through the government policy to destroy the buffalo, the mining and discovery of gold in Montana, and the westward expansion of the railroad.

Although the treaty promised that the agency would teach the Crow farming skills, and provide them with food, medicine, and educational opportunities for their children, none of these goals were accomplished. Floods, grasshopper infestations, and early fall frosts all took their toll on the Ft. Parker fields, often destroying the entire season’s crop. Several Sioux, Cheyenne, and Arapahoe raiding episodes occurred at the agency, some of them resulted in the loss of human life.

The Crow relocation to central Montana following the signing of the Ft. Laramie Treaty, was a period marked by hardship as they adjusted to new surroundings and dealt with culture change. The Crow visited the Ft. Parker Indian Agency only occasionally to take advantage of the goods and services available. They spent their time away from Ft. Parker hunting and trading. The changing world around them and government policy would soon transform the Crow into a group totally dependent upon the government for survival.

Historic Photo of the Crow People of Fort Parker, Montana in 1871.
Historic Photo of the Crow People of Fort Parker, Montana in 1871.

The Crow reservation was reconfigured in 1873, which led to the establishment in 1875 of a second location for the Crow Agency (also known as the Absorka Agency) about 50 miles to the southeast of Ft. Parker along the banks of the Stillwater River near the present-day town of Absarokee, Montana. Learn more about the in-depth history of the Crow and Fort Parker.

Historic Photo of Crow Family at the Second location of the Crow Agency, Montana (post 1875)
Historic Photo of Crow Family at the Second location of the Crow Agency, Montana (post 1875)

Ft. Parker is a place where significant events occurred that shaped who the Crow are today. It is a place that should be known, protected and preserved.

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