The Crow Tribe reclaimed a piece of its past Wednesday.
The tribe took ownership of the 1,933-acre Hairpin Cavvy Ranch, which it purchased at auction in March for $989,400. Hundreds of tribal members came out Wednesday for a picnic and the opportunity to explore the grounds.
Tribal officials, with help from members, also renamed the property as the Arrow Creek Ranch. The new name was chosen Wednesday.
The tribe once owned the acreage that it recently repurchased. In the 1950s, it sold the land to R.B. Fraser, a cattle and horse rancher and owner of a local Hudson car dealership.
The Fraser family sold the ranch once, and then James Leachman, a Billings cattle and horse breeder, bought it and named it the Hairpin Cavvy after his horse brand.
After a long legal battle, the Farm Service Agency foreclosed on the ranch. It was then sold at auction.
The loss of tribal land went beyond the ranch, Chairman Darrin Old Coyote said before the start of a flag-raising ceremony to kick off the festivities.
Since the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868, the Crow Reservation has shrunk from its original 30 million acres to just over 2 million acres. The 1920 Allotment Act, which let tribal members sell their parcels of land, compounded the problem.
A recent study by the U.S. Department of the Interior revealed that the Crow Reservation ranks fourth-highest in the number of acres that have been sold to nontribal members.
“This is one of the first steps to gain that trust land back,” Old Coyote said. “So it’s an exciting time.”
Tribal members gathered not far from the entrance of the ranch Wednesday morning. Some took time to enjoy the panoramic view of the pine-dotted hills and distant mountains.
“All the land you see belongs to the Crows,” said Robert “Corky” Old Horn, a tribal elder and aide to the executive officers.
During a brief ceremony, Crow Secretary Alvin Not Afraid Jr. and Vice Secretary Shawn Backbone raised the colorful flag of the Apsaalooke Nation, as Old Coyote and others sang a flag song.
The blue flag with a yellow border and the Crow seal in the center flapped in the breeze as it was hoisted.
Then the crowd hopped into their cars and drove down to the indoor arena, where the ranch’s new name was decided and where they ate lunch. After that, the visitors were invited to take trail rides on horseback and ATVs to see the ranch’s layout.
Forty entries were submitted for the ranch’s new name. People on site Wednesday voted for their favorite among the top three: Apsaalooke Nation Ranch, Bull Horse Ranch and Arrow Creek Ranch.
Ben Cloud, a spokesman for the tribe, explained that although most people know the area that spreads out below the ranch as Pryor Creek, to the Crow people, it’s known as the Arrow Creek Valley. Carlson Goes Ahead, of the Arrow Creek District, submitted the winning name.
Before the event got underway, Old Coyote said the tribe has an operation plan in place for the ranch.
“It’s going to be more or less a tourist destination, using our Indian culture,” he said. “We have already made contacts with international tourist markets.”
The tribe has one of the largest private herds of bison, he said, which would be transplanted to the ranch. Tourists would be invited to stay in a lodge, use RV hookups that already exist or sleep in tepees, Old Coyote said.
They would be invited to go on trail rides and enjoy the culture and the scenery. When that can all happen depends on how long it will take to do needed repairs.
Along with renovations to the two lodges, all fencing must be repaired, Old Coyote said.
The ranch contains a well and two reservoirs, he said, and money is available through the USDA for spring development.
The tribe will work with federal and tribal agencies and Little Big Horn College to turn the ranch into a profitable enterprise, Old Coyote said. That will help repay the loan the tribe secured from First Interstate Bank to buy the ranch.
And with the ranch as close as it is to Billings, it could provide employment for off-reservation members.
“The ultimate goal is to preserve our ancestral lands and the Apsaalooke way of life,” he said.