Inviting the World to Share in the Preservation of Fort Parker, Montana

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Crow at Fort Parker 1871
Four of the prominent Crow Chiefs in 1871. Photo taken by William Henry Jackson. The Montana Historical Society holds the right to this photo.
Crow Cheifs 1874
Delegation of Crow Chiefs from Fort Parker that visited Washington DC in 1874. The Smithsonian Institution holds the right to this photo.

It’s not just the majestic landscapes of southern Montana, or the abundance of outdoor activities in nearby Livingston that attracts archaeologists, historians, and those who share in the region’s heritage to Fort Parker. The answer instead lies with the fort’s rich historical significance – the forced transition of the Crow Tribe from a traditional hunting lifestyle to that of sedentary ranching, farming and dependence on the US Government. At

the time, the chosen location for the fort as the first Crow Indian Agency offered a difficult landscape on which to begin agricultural subsistence practices. The tribe soon encountered constant winds, frigid temperatures, and herds of buffalo apathetic to the seedlings over which they roamed. During operation of the fort from 1869 – 1875, inhabitants were offered all the benefits of a full-sized fort with shingled rooftops, storehouses, clinics, and living quarters. The tribe was given access to service personnel such as a physician, an engineer, a miller, a carpenter, a blacksmith, and a school teacher. These services unfortunately failed to consider the effects they would have on the Crow’s cultural heritage. School teachers were trained to suppress the students’ native language and traditions, and law enforcement created regulation against practicing ceremonies or belief systems. The actions taken by the US Government inadvisedly banished the Crow tribe to empty acreage with little support for survival.

The original intent of the Fort/Agency was to be the distribution center for Crow annuities and to encourage farming. However, over time the establishment grew in importance and became much more grounded in the history of the Crow. If the fort’s walls were still standing and could talk, we would hear stories of ancestors that were born and died there, of marriages both within and outside of tribal heritage, and of passing fur-trappers eager to make a trade. The fort became a line of defense for both the Crow tribe and the citizens of Bozeman, Montana from attacks by the Sioux, Cheyenne, and Blackfeet. The people struggled to survive off of the land through their newly acquired farming skills, and when times were rough they had no choice but to depend on the government for the supplies – though they were meager – necessary to survive. This transitional period holds a great deal of importance to the Crow tribe, the people of Montana, and to every U.S. citizen who is now an heir to this rich historical account.

Crow Elders visit the site of Fort Parker
A group of Crow elders who came to visit the site at Fort Parker, which is still very significant to the Crow Nation. Marsha Fulton of The Extreme History Project holds the right to this photo.

Since 2011, the site’s current landowners and the Archaeological Conservancy have worked together to raise a goal of $250,000 for the purchase, maintenance, and timely conservation of Fort Parker’s remains. The latest efforts for raising the money have included a new partnership with a London-based archaeological crowdfunding host known as DigVentures. Using the popular model initiated by other crowdfunding websites like Kickstarter and Crowdfunder, the DigVentures team has set up a donation collection service offering perks to the contributor at varying levels – dependent, of course, by the amount of money contributed.  The goal for this project is $10,000 with a deadline of December 9, 2013. This is the first American project hosted through DigVentures, and if it’s successful we may just see future projects for American cultural resource protection with the support of people from around the world.

“We began to envision a time when we could bring descendants of the Crow People from Fort Parker, together with the descendants of the white employees and agents and initiate a dialogue, create ceremony and explore the future for making the history relevant to both communities.” — Extreme History Project speaking on their Fort Parker research initiative. Extreme History Project is a non-profit corporation and the winner of the Montana Preservation Alliance’s Excellence in Preservation Award in 2012.

If you share this vision, and wish to expand both the knowledge and significance the fort provides to our human history with the rest of the world, please consider taking part in the Fort Parker DigVentures project. Most benefit levels provide the contributor with automatic membership to the Archaeological Conservancy. Some levels outfit the contributor with Conservancy swag and even a private tour of Fort Parker. As always, general tax-deductable donations can be made through your membership to the Conservancy at any time. Together, we can create sustainable public archaeological preservation from the hands of the public.

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