Set within the Crow Indian Reservation, Chief Plenty Coups State Park’s purpose is to preserve the log home, sacred spring, and farmstead of the important figure.
Visiting the historic park gives insight into the Native American way of life in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries. It’s an educational day out, but can also be enjoyed for the beauty of the scenery – the park sits near the base of the Pryor Mountains in a stunning valley filled with open plains and pristine waters.
The site became a State Park in 1965 and is managed by the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks.
Chief Plenty Coups State Park Stats
- Chief Plenty Coups State Park covers a space of 195 acres (79 ha).
- The park has an elevation 4,033 feet.
- The park is open daily from 8 am to 8 pm in the summer (from mid-May to mid-September).
- The park was established as a State Park in 1967.
- Open Wed-Sunday 8 am to 5 pm in the winter (closed Monday and Tuesday).
- It is roughly 34 miles from Billings.
- Closed December 24th and 31st, and all federal and state holidays except Memorial Day, Fourth of July, and Labor Day.
Visitor Center & Museum
Learn all about the history of the State Park at the Visitor Center and Museum. Discover the history of Chief Plenty Coups and his importance in the difficult transition of the Apsáalooke (Crow) tribe from a nomadic lifestyle to farming reservation life.
Plenty Coups was made chief of the Apsáalooke, or Crow, tribe by age 28 for his bravery and leadership. He helped “bridge a gap between two cultures” by becoming a man of peace, opening and owning a farm and general store, and building his home on the land that is now Chief Plenty Coups State Park.
As a young man, Plenty Coups famously had a vision of the buffalo disappearing, only to be replaced by cattle – only a Chickadee survived. The dream was interpreted as meaning that though the Whites would take over the land, the listening, and adaptable Chickadee, or tribe, would survive.
He was voted as the last traditional tribal chief by the people of the tribe. You can spend quite some time exploring the Visitor Center, which commemorates his life.
Chief’s House, Store & Lodge
See inside the historic buildings built by Chief Plenty Coups himself, which helped the park earn the status of a national historic landmark.
Parts of the log building used as the family home were built in 1884 and were part of the original foundations. It’s not just the age of the Chief’s House that gives it importance, but its significance for the tribe.
The home, which was the first dwelling of its kind for the tribe “became a meeting place for tribal members, local ranchers, and distinguished visitors”. Chief Plenty Coups led by example in assimilating the tribe with a different culture.
The store was used as a place to sell goods from the farm and was used by the Chief to help teach other members of the tribe about the American methods of commerce and trade. Plenty Coups was a vital figure in keeping the peace and transitioning to reservation life. The store was erected in 1893 to the south of the house.
Crow Nation is world-famous for teepees. Even though he had built the house, Chief Plenty Coups used a teepee as a lodge all year-round.
Sacred Spring & Sweat Lodge
Chief Plenty Coups would drink from the waters of the Sacred Medicine Spring every day until his death. For many years after his death, members of the tribe would also drink from the waters, both for healing and purposes and for ceremonies.
An issue with the septic system has been found to contaminate the water, so visitors are now warned to drink from the spring at their own risk.
You can also see the simple wooden structure of the sweat lodge nearby. It was used for a purification ceremony led by spiritual leaders and elders, which was intended to promote prayer and healing in the participants.
It’s an important insight into the culture of the Apsáalooke tribe, and a great example of how Chief Plenty Coups incorporated traditional cultural elements into a settled lifestyle.
Gravesite of Chief Plenty Coups
Visit the gravesite of Chief Plenty Coups, his wives, and his adopted daughter within the park. Many people visit to pay their respects to the Chief and acknowledge his hugely positive effect on relations between people of different cultures.
You will find a monument at the site honoring Plenty Coups. It was erected by the Billings Kiwanis Club in 1941.
You can go directly to the gravesite, but it is also featured on the Lifeways Trail.
The scenic Pryor Creek (or Arrow Creek, depending on who you ask) winds lazily through the State Park.
The setting is incredibly serene. From the creek, you can see seemingly endless fields of greenery and a wide-open sky; following the creek makes for a lovely and relaxing walk.
The Pryor, or Arrowhead, Mountains provide a breath-taking backdrop to the creek and park.
There’s a lovely variety to the landscape of Chief Plenty Coups State Park.
You can meander through cottonwood trees, alongside a creek, or through agricultural fields – all in the view of the Pryor Mountains. It’s the perfect setting for hiking, despite the lack of curated trails.
You could easily weave your way over to the tiny settlement of Pryor for some refreshments, as it is only half a mile away.
Combine a hike through the countryside with a picnic at the park and you have the makings of a perfect afternoon out
Where there’s fish, there’s fishing – and Pryor Creek is usually a great place to fish for trout; especially cutthroat.
You can enjoy a lazy day lounging by the water in this State Park. If the waters are low you’re unlikely to catch anything, but the gorgeous scenery of cottonwood trees, open plains and distant mountaintops should alleviate some of the disappointment.
The Chief Plenty Coups State Park is a fantastic place for bird watching. Yellowstone County in general is blessed with an astonishing variety of birdlife, and you can easily enjoy that here.
Golden eagles are the star of the show if you manage to glimpse them on their migratory routes, but the likes of the green-tailed towhee and calliope hummingbird can also be spotted by the lucky few.
Follow the Lifeways Trail around the park to see the Medicine Spring, Sweat Lodge and Gravesite of Chief Plenty Coups. The trail is only ¾ of a mile long but covers most of the park’s grounds. There are signs filled with information on the walk, detailing both the history of Chief Plenty Coups and describing the local plants and wildlife.
Due to its short length and level ground, this is an easy trail to follow. It’s particularly ideal for families.
Arrow Creek (Pryor Creek) Walk
Wander alongside the creek for a scenic hike.
It’s an unofficial, easy-going trail. You can make it as long or as short as you would like. If you want a brief stretch of the legs, just walking to the creek and back should do it.
For something longer, keep following the creek – just keep in mind that you will have to follow it all the way back again.