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On the trail: Chief Plenty Coups State Park a walk through history

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Posted at 8:56 AM, Aug 21, 2023

PRYOR — In the foothills of the Pryor Mountains, in the heart of the Crow reservation, lies Chief Plenty Coups State Park. It's a 40-mile drive south of Billings and right into history.

A visit is a chance to go back in time, and the history of the park’s namesake is almost as rich as the park itself.

"Chief Plenty Coups is one of the last traditional chiefs for the Crow people. He was known as a transitional chief, leading people from the buffalo days to the reservation days," said Aaron Kind, park ranger for Chief Plenty Coups.

The Life’s Way Trail at the park takes visitors on a journey through the life of the last traditional chief of the Apsaalooke people.

The first stop along the trail is the chief's homestead, although it's a place where he spent little time.

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"Funny thing is, Plenty Coups didn’t live in this house until the last three years of his life. He actually had his teepee right outside, and he preferred living in his teepee as most people did at the time. He would just use this house as needed," added Kind.

Although the walking trail is just 1.1 miles, the park spans 196 acres.

"The Crow were traditionally known as a smaller population tribe and through some of their visions, they found around this area in Montana to be what they considered their homeland," Kind added.

The sacred spring is also a popular stop along the trail. It offers a place for prayer and many leave something behind as a token of their visit.

For many Crow people, a visit to the park is a spiritual experience.

"One of Chief Plenty Coups' spirit helpers was the chickadee. A bird that the Crow believed would listen to all sides of the story before making a decision. So, that was one of Chief Plenty Coups' spirit helpers throughout his life," said Kind.

The grounds are also home to another interesting secret, two previously undiscovered species of apples.

Montana State University "came out and genetically tested them, and they were a heritage species. So, we got the naming rights for them. So, the two varieties of apples out here are Chief Plenty Coups Dutchess of Oldenburgh and Chief Plenty Coup Wealthies," added Kind.

No visit to the park is complete without visiting Plenty Coups' grave site. He's buried there next to two of his wives.

It's a hike that’s more than just a path through nature, it's a cultural trip into the past. And a place sacred to not just the Crow people but to all who experience it.

"That’s one of Plenty Coups' things that he wanted is a place where people could come together and learn from each other. No matter what it is, cultures around the world want the same thing, a good place to be, family being safe, and I think we really try to keep the chief's guidelines going here," Kind said.