Frank Fools Crow
Frank Fools Crow (circa 1890 – 1989) was a deeply–respected Oglala Lakota civic and religious leader. 'Grandfather', or 'Grandpa Frank' as he was often called, was a nephew of Black Elk who worked to preserve Lakota traditions, including the Sun Dance and yuwipi ceremonies. He supported Lakota sovereignty and treaty rights, and was a leader of the traditional faction during the armed standoff at Wounded Knee in 1973. He was considered instrumental in negotiating an end to the incident. He worked with writer Thomas E. Mails to produce two books about his life and work, Fools Crow in 1979, and Fools Crow: Wisdom and Power in 1980.
Fools Crow was born near Porcupine Creek on Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota on either June 24 or 27 between 1890 and 1892. His father, Fools Crow (also called Eagle Bear), was the Porcupine District leader. His mother was Spoon Hunter, who died four days after giving birth to him. She was the daughter of Porcupine Tail, for whom the community was named. His paternal grandfather, Knife Chief, fought with warriors who defeated Custer at the Battle of Little Big Horn, and his great-grandfather, Holds the Eagle, was a medicine man and Wičháša Wakȟáŋ (holy man). Raised in the traditional way by his father, aunt, and stepmother Emily Big Road, he did not attend "the white man's school" as his father did not approve. This is why he did not speak fluent English. As a young man he traveled around the United States with the Buffalo Bill Cody Wild West Show. He spent much of his life serving his people as a medicine man, healer, and teacher.
"Go to Wounded Knee ... "
On February 28, 1973, members of the American Indian Movement, with their allies and supporters, including Fools Crow, seized and occupied the village of Wounded Knee. It was here, in 1890, that the followers of Spotted Elk, another, earlier traditional leader, had been massacred by the United States Army's Seventh Cavalry. Two weeks earlier, Sitting Bull himself had been killed, by police acting at the behest of these new rulers. Thus had begun the relentless suppression of the Lakota nation: their institutions, their religion, and even the language itself. Every decade which had passed since that time, when the hopes for Lakota sovereignty had died "in bloody snow", had brought renewed demands for more Lakota land, always in violation of the treaty agreements.
In 1972, Dick Wilson had become tribal chairman of the Pine Ridge Reservation. A heavy-drinking bootlegger who was already known for corruption, he favored giving up more Lakota land, even Pahá Sápa itself. He soon used federal government funds to create his own private vigilante "goon squad", which began to terrorize his adversaries. Those who opposed Wilson and his regime had formed the Oglala Sioux Civil Rights Organization, led by Pedro Bissonette, and worked to impeach him. One petition to impeach Wilson contained more signatures than the number of people who had originally voted for him. Wilson postponed impeachment hearings which were scheduled for February 14. Immediately thereafter, federal forces moved into the area, including a counter-insurgency "Special Operations Group", which set up and manned sand-bagged machine gun positions at the BIA building. On February 23, thus reinforced and without a proper tribal council quorum, Wilson was "exonerated" and quickly banned "all public meetings and demonstrations" on the reservation.
The night that the occupation took place, the leaders of AIM met with the traditional Oglala elders and leaders. As senior elder, Fools Crow spoke to the young leaders in his native Lakota language (he never spoke English in public) and said to them, "Go ahead and do it, go to Wounded Knee. You can't get in the BIA office and the tribal office, so take your brothers from the American Indian Movement and go to Wounded Knee and make your stand there."
Dennis Banks rode in the lead car with Chief Fools Crow, and on arrival at Wounded Knee, a hamlet of around one hundred residents, people from the car gathered at the mass grave for a prayer with movement spiritual leaders Pete Catches and Leonard Crow Dog.
— Smith & Warrior, Like a Hurricane, page 201
On the list of demands presented to a Justice Department operative, Frank Fools Crow’s name was listed along with other chiefs and medicine men as supporters of the movement. After the occupiers named themselves The Independent Oglala Nations, Fools Crow traveled with Matthew King, his interpreter, and Russell Means to the United Nations to make a speech. Though no official transcript of this speech remains, there is no doubt to its significance.
The occupation continued for 71 days, ending after an agreement was reached between federal officials and a Sioux delegation, of which Fools Crow was a prominent member. Fools Crow played an important role in the negotiations to end the occupation. Hank Adams, the personal representative of the President, arrived with the agreement to the proposal that the chiefs had sent to the White House on May 3. Adams met Fools Crow and a hundred others near a fence around the property. Adams handed a letter through a barbed-wire fence to Fools Crow, who was wearing the traditional attire of buckskin and a headdress. The letter appealed for the siege of the village to come to a close. Fools Crow and the other leaders accepted the proposal, which stated that the White House would send representatives to Pine Ridge to discuss a treaty in the third week of May and would “get tough” on Dick Wilson, the unscrupulous chairman of Pine Ridge Reservation. Fools Crow and the other chiefs delivered the letter to the AIM leaders and told them that he believed that it was time to end it.
After the murder of Frank Clearwater at Wounded Knee, and because the U.S. government wouldn’t allow his body to be buried there, his wife agreed to bury him on Leonard Crow Dog’s property on the Rosebud Indian Reservation, and had the wake at Fools Crow’s house, where the body was placed in a tipi and covered with a blanket as the mourners came to pay their respect.
In an article in the New York Times on May 8, 1973, the negotiations were said to have taken place at Fools Crow's house around the third week of May. In an interview, Dick Wilson said, “My people know that Fools Crow is a zero,” plainly showing that he had no respect for the traditions that Fools Crow stood for. In Washington D.C. on May 17, The Oglalas had their promised White House meeting, and Fools Crow was present. Of the five promised White House aides, two were there. Fools Crow was told that the historic treaties were dead.
Fools Crow spoke at a congressional hearing on June 16 and 17, 1973, following the conclusion of the Wounded Knee occupation; he only spoke Lakota, as was his way, and used an interpreter, Matthew King, to translate for him. He gave his reasons for the occupation, the main reason being the removal of Dick Wilson. Senator George McGovern said that he would try to remove Wilson, but wasn’t sure if he had the power to do so. Fools Crow asserted that McGovern had promised earlier to remove Dick Wilson, yet the violence continued.
In the dark month of March 1975, at least seven people, two of them young children, perished in the AIM–goon warfare on Pine Ridge... Meanwhile, harassment of traditionals continued. Bullets were fired through the house of Matthew King, an Oglala elder and interpreter for Chief Frank Fools Crow, and Fools Crow's own small house in Kyle, with a lifetime's belongings, was burned to the ground; both old men were threatened with death by marauding goons.
Ultimately, Wilson held his position until losing re-election in 1976.
Prayer Before the United States Senate
In 1970 he was invited to offer a prayer before the United States Senate. This is the prayer he gave:
|“||In the presence of this house, Grandfather, Wakan-Tanka, and from the directions where the sun sets, and from the direction of cleansing power, and from the direction of the rising, and from the direction of the middle of the day. Grandfather, Wakan-Tanka, Grandmother, the Earth who hears everything, Grandmother, because you are woman, for this reason you are kind, I come to you this day. To tell you to love the red men, and watch over them, and give these young men the understanding because, Grandmother, from you comes the good things, good things that are beyond our eyes to see have been blessed in our midst for this reason I make my supplication known to you again. Give us a blessing so that our words and actions be one in unity, and that we be able to listen to each other, in so doing, we shall with good heart walk hand in hand to face the future. In the presence of the outside, we are thankful for many blessings. I make my prayer for all people, the children, the women and the men. I pray that no harm will come to them, and that on the great island, there be no war, that there be no ill feelings among us. From this day on may we walk hand in hand. So be it.||”|
"We Shall Never Sell Our Sacred Black Hills."
On September 10, 1976, Fools Crow delivered a lengthy speech to the Congressional Subcommittee on Interior and Insular Affairs. The speech, entitled the Joint Statement of Chief Frank Fools Crow and Frank Kills Enemy on Behalf of the Traditional Lakota Treaty Council Before Honorable Lloyd Meads Sub-Committee on Interior and Insular Affairs, was a plea for the return of the Black Hills to his people. Later, the speech was printed up in poster form and widely disseminated over the reservations. The full speech can be read here.
|“||Survival of the world depends on our sharing what we have, and working together. If we do not the whole world will die. First the planet, and next the people.||”|
|“||The ones who complain and talk the most about giving away Medicine Secrets, are always those who know the least.||”|
Film, cassette, & books
- Screenwriter John Fusco was an adopted "hunka" relative of Fools Crow and based the character Grandpa Sam Reaches on his film Thunderheart.
- In 1990, Fusco brought actor Robert De Niro to the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation to meet Fools Crow. Fools Crow traded gifts with De Niro in the traditional Lakota manner.
- Native Spirit and the Sun Dance Way, DVD documentary, 2007, World Wisdom
- Audio Cassette: Fools Crow Holy Man (January 21, 2000)
Original Release Date: May 1, 1993; Label: Etherean
- Books with Thomas E. Mails:
Fools Crow, University of Nebraska Press, 1979, 1990 ISBN 978-0-8032-8174-5
Fools Crow: Wisdom and Power, Council Oak Books, 1980, 2002; ISBN 978-1-57178-104-8
- "Frank Fools Crow, a Sioux Tribal Leader," the NY Times
- Mails, Thomas (1979). Fools Crow (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press), p. 33
- Fools Crow, p. 356
- Fools Crow, p. 36
- Fools Crow, p. 35
- Peter Mathiessen, "In The Spirit of Crazy Horse", The Viking Press, New York, 1983, page 62
- "Voices From Wounded Knee", Akwesasne Notes, Rooseveltown, NY, 1974, page 28.
- Smith, Paul Chaat and Warrior, Robert Allen (1997). Like a Hurricane: The Indian Movement from Alcatraz to Wounded Knee (New York: The New Press).
- Frank Fools Crow
- Fools Crow, p. 210)
- Fools Crow - Ceremonial Chief - Teton Sioux
- Frank Fools Crow On Healing
- New York Times Obituary: "Frank Fools Crow, a Sioux Tribal Leader" *
- Publisher webpage for the book: Fools Crow *
- Publisher website for: Fools Crow: Wisdom and Power *