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Cultural History

The Legend of Crow Creek 
(Retyped from a 1986 report)

The legend of Crow Creek is a long one.  It is a history of hardship and spirit, of trouble and miracles.The very origin of the Crow Creek Reservation was one of tribulation and victory.  Groups of Indian people, exiles of society and from their own tribes, were sent to the area as a virtual prison.  They traveled as a band, across many miles, with few horses and even fewer supplies.  Somehow, the wondering band became separated from the supply wagon, for some days they continued on, hungry and lost.  At long last they came into grove of trees right by a small stream, an offshoot of the Missouri River.  This location was about 6 miles from the present Fort Thompson area.  It was at this location that the lost tribe elected to camp for the night.  As if by divine intervention, a huge flock of crows flew into the grove, and nested.  It was by killing and eating the crows that the band stayed their hunger, and how the area acquired its name—KANG OKUTE—Kills Crow Creek. Crow Creek continued to be the site of hardship, determination, and pride, when the exiles decided that this holy place should have a black robe, the colloquial expression of the time for a catholic priest.  After much trial and trouble, they got their priest, yet they were not pleased, and the Father was soon released from his holy duties, to be replaced by a medicine man, named Spirit Horse.In 1886, Father Pierre DeSmet came to the area, and was seized with a holy desire to build a mission for the Indians on the Crow Creek Reservation.  Being a careful man, the Father first acquired a land grant from the “White Fathers in Washington” for 180 acres of land on the reservation for the purpose of a Catholic Mission.  Then Father Pierre went to Highmore by “Ironhorse” to meet with the chief of the Crow Creek people, Drifting Goose.  Both men were known for their pride and determination, and in fact, for their downright stubbornness.  The meeting of the two was not to occur for some weeks, for Father Pierre expected Drifting Goose to come to his hotel in Highmore, and Drifting Goose demanded that the Black Robe should come to his tepee.  Both men waited, demanding that the other give way, like two great buffalo standing head to head on a narrow bridge, waiting for the other to turn.Finally, a compromise was reached, and the men, with their retinues met in a lean-to half way.  Yet, even once the great obstacle of where to meet was scaled, each man expected a lot from the other.  The tribe’s Medicine man, Spirit Horse, did not want a return of the black robe God.  He challenged the Father to a test of whose god was most powerful.  Since it was a year of terrible drought, a semi-typical state in South Dakota, the medicine man dared Father Pierre to make rain.  Since the medicine man had tried for many, many days to invoke the favor of his gods, he challenged the priest to do what he could.  Father Pierre bowed his head in silent prayer.  After but a few moments the soft patter of rain was heard.  As the black robe prayed on, the rain grew harder, and heavier, drenching the assembled group, including Drifting Goose and his three wives, whom he had brought along.  When, at last, the father raised his head. The medicine man was furious but fairly beaten.   So impressed by the rain, Drifting Goose granted the area where they met to Father Pierre.  However, the Father had a demand of his own.  He felt that as a gesture of approval, the chief should convert to Catholicism.  But, since Drifting Goose had 3 wives, he would be considered a bigamist in the church, therefore he agreed that when 2 of the wives died he would join the church.  He did and when he died he was buried in the Crow Creek Cemetery.  Father Pierre built his humble mission in 1886 and it was a boarding school for boys.  In 1887 the school was opened to girls.In 1888, on January 2, Sister Wilhlmina Kaufman, one of the sisters teaching and taking care of the students, was frozen to death in the worst blizzard in South Dakota history.  Her body was found kneeling by a fence, less than 100 yards from the door of the dormitory.  She was buried in the Crow Creek Cemetery, and then known as the Immaculate Conception Cemetery.The early years of Crow Creek were hard, yet these years molded the men and women who are the finest leaders we have known.Drought and fire took their toll on the school in 1895, October 30.  A fire gutted out the main building.  Yet another fire destroyed the boy’s dormitory in 1918, January 13.  This fire burned the entire building down in less than 2 hours, and left 48 students homeless.  Yet the school was determined to go on, despite the hardship.  Wagonloads of clothing, beds, and bedding were brought up from Fort Thompson, and classrooms doubled as bedrooms.  By December of that year, a new dormitory was built.The next disaster hit the little school on the prairie in 1942, when a tornado ripped through the campus and did not leave a single building undamaged.In 1935, just before his death, Father Pius finalized plans for the mission schools first brick building a gymnasium.  This building still stands, and was named in the memory of Father Pius, completed in 1935.In 1938, another tornado visited the school, and again left its calling card by severely damaging every building on the place.  In 1938, the school acquired its very own bus, in as many students who ride buses are sure, it may just still be in use.  Shock absorbers were invented in 1949.Fire again erupted in 1946, the dormitory, and claimed the lives of three sisters, who were buried in the mission cemetery.In 1954 a new three story building was constructed.  This structure is the current high school.  It housed both grades and high schools.  Because of fund shortages, the grade school curriculum was dropped.In 1957, two new buildings were added to the mission.  They were the Infant of Prague gymnasium, still in use now, and the Dining Hall, Dormitory building, also in use.In 1962 the 125 ft. tall water tower was built to help way lay the sewer water shortages with a 50,000 gallon holding tank.In 1970, the mission was released from Catholic custodianship to the care of the Sioux Nation…..However; the hard luck that befell the school when it was a mission didn’t change with the switch of ownership.  In 1972, lightening struck the church and it burned to the ground.  A new church was built in 1974.Throughout all the years of hardship, Crow Creek has continued on.  It seemed to inherit the pride and determination of the two men whose stubborn nature nearly cost its existence.   In 1986, Crow Creek will be 100 years old.  When Halley’s Comet sears across the night sky, its brightness may just be dimmer when passing over the glowing spirit and pride of the Crow Creek School.

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