Early observers often commented on the appearance of a Crow camp on the move. Charles Larpenteur, a trader among the Crow in the 1830's reported, “…it was really a beautiful sight to see the tribe on the move.” Edwin Denig, bourgeois at Fort Union in the 1850's, stated that a Crow camp on the move “…presents a gay and lively appearance, more so perhaps than any other.”

In the innovative and artistic character that typifies Crow people, they turned the camp movement into much more then simple travel from one place to another. Instead, they created a whole new genre of artistic and symbolic expression. The camp movement became a time in which Crow women could display their creative abilities and, through symbolism, describe the military accomplishments of their husbands, their social status and respect for family and group.

As the reservation was formed Federal policy was developed to limit the movements of the Crow people. Inter-tribal warfare was slowly suppressed until the last Crow raid in 1888. As the reservation boundaries were established and constricted, nomadic movements eventually ended when camps became permanently sedentary and Anglo style houses were constructed.

During this time period parading was virtually nonexistent, but not forgotten. In 1904 Crow Reservation Agent S. C. Reynolds conceived of a fair to promote agriculture among the Crow people based on the poplar county fairs of the time. Making nomadic Indians into gentlemen farmers was the official Federal policy in the early 1900's. The early fall fair centered on displays of agricultural goods produced over the previous growing season. However, Crow people began to appropriate the fair for their own desires and wants. As Crow Tribal historian Joe Medicine Crow stated, “Before long the women started exhibiting their processed native foods and costumes of buckskin and beads that they had made during the winter. Horseback-riding paraphernalia were popular exhibit items.”

After World War II, the Crow had come to claim the annual Crow Fair as theirs; no longer were products of the garden displayed, instead Crow people erected tipis in separate camps based on reservation districts, which in turn were founded by the original Crow bands. In the morning Crow people reenacted the camp movements from old camp to new camp with a formal parade through the Crow Fair campgrounds, followed by horse racing in the afternoon and celebratory dancing in the evening; activities reminiscent of historic Crow camps gathering for the late summer buffalo hunt. During this time period horse parades were recast, maintaining much of the historic meaning, yet adapting to the new set of circumstances.

The activities of the present Crow Fair begin every morning with a parade. Horses and floats displaying a family’s native possessions; clothing, household items and, of course, horse gear. The parade, sometimes over a mile long, winds through the campground, finishing at a field near the entrance to the fairgrounds. In this small way, the Crow evoke their nomadic heritage and modern observers, as of old, marvel at the beauty of the procession.

[Adapted from “The Occasion of Horse Parading Among the Crow Indians” by Timothy P. McCleary, Crow Agency, MT: Little Big Horn College, 1993]