LaForge Featured at Information Center's Wyoming Wednesday

LaForge Featured at Information Center's Wyoming Wednesday (Photo by Pat Blair)
LaForge Featured at Information Center's Wyoming Wednesday (Photo by Pat Blair)

Joe LaForge figures he was born because his grandfather irritated a mule. His grandfather, LaForge explained to his audience at this week's Wyoming Wednesday at Sheridan's Fifth Street Information Center, was a scout for Gen. George Armstrong Custer's Seventh Cavalry.

LaForge said his grandfather “was fooling with a mule,” and the animal kicked him, breaking his shoulder. That prevented his grandfather from accompanying the Seventh Cavalry's ill-fated expedition to the Little Big Horn.

LaForge told his audience Wednesday morning, “Had that not been so, I wouldn't be here.”

A resident of Sheridan and member of the Crow tribe, LaForge – a self-described storyteller – has been sharing stories at Wyoming Wednesday for nine years, interpreting legends and providing insight into the life and beliefs of the Crow people.

Those attending this week's session were unusual in that most were adults. LaForge said his audiences are usually school children.

LaForge changed from his usual repertoire of legends and folktales, and discussed his family's, and his peoples', origins. The Crow were originally part of the Hidatsa, he said, and lived around the Great Lakes.

“There was a big drought,” he said, “and the Hidatsa sent people out (as scouts) north, south, east and west.”

He added, “This was before the horse.”

LaForge believes members of what would later become the Crow tribe first went south, down into Texas, then later turned north again and went into Canada where, he said, after a Canadian winter, “They said we don't belong here” and turned south again.

The Crow call that “the journey of a hundred years,” LaForge said. It was all on foot, and tradition holds that there were seven chiefs during that period. Back then, LaForge reminded his audience, the average life span was no more than 36 years.

The tribe went down the Yellowstone, LaForge said, and a portion of the tribe became “Kick the Belly.” He added, “They kind of disappeared.”

Two other branches of the tribe became “River Crow” and “Mountain Crow.”

LaForge said his father was a River Crow and his mother a Mountain Crow. One of his great-grandfathers was French Huguenot. LaForge said when he was growing up, he was told that his great-grandfather was a trapper. That wasn't true, he said.

Instead, his great-grandfather traveled across the country setting up post offices. The last post office he established was in the Dakotas, LaForge said. That was where he came into contact with the Crow.

LaForge also shared the story of how the Crow finally obtained horses. He said, “The Utes had the horse around Salt Lake. The Crow sent three really brave guys to Yellowstone (today's Yellowstone National Park) and said, load up with obsidian.”

The obsidian was taken to the Utes, who gave them 100 horses in exchange. These were taken back to the rest of the tribe – then it was discovered that all 100 horses were mares.

“So,” LaForge said, “we had to load up with obsidian again.”

None of the horses on the Crow Reservation today are descendants of the original Crow horses, LaForge said.

In 1919, the United States Department of the Interior ordered all the horses on the reservation killed because of complaints from cattlemen who had leased land on the reservation. Local cowboys wouldn't do it, LaForge said, so bounty hunters from Texas were brought in.

LaForge said 35,000 horses were killed during this time – all the horses on the reservation.

“We don't hold it against anybody,” he said. “It was politics.”

A Vietnam veteran, LaForge has presented programs, including demonstrations of Crow tribal dances, elsewhere around Sheridan, including the Senior Citizens Center. His Wyoming Wednesday presentations are accompanied by dance regalia worn by his father and grandfather, as well as his own regalia.

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