The Legend of Crazy Woman Creek
Johnson County Wyoming

The name, Crazy Woman Creek, is unique enough that the first time visitor to Wyoming will almost always ask about its origin suspecting there is an interesting story behind it. The stream has its headwaters in the Hazelton Peak area of the Big Horn Mountains and is a tributary of the Powder river. Flow is northeastward and eventually joins the Yellowstone River in Montana.

There are actually several "legends" or "myths" that explain the name. In these legends, the "crazy" woman is either white or Indian. According to one Indian woman version, a squaw who was left completely alone after her village had been attacked, lost her mind and lived in the area in a dirty, squalid manner until her death. Another story involves a white family named Morgan, traveling by covered wagon, who was attacked by Sioux warriors. They tomahawked and scalped the husband and three children. Mrs. Morgan was not killed but was driven out of her mind from witnessing the terrible fate of her family. However, she had seized an ax and killed four of the attacking Indians who then left her alone. Supposedly, a mountain man named Johnson chanced upon the scene shortly thereafter, buried the dead family members, but could not persuade the woman to leave the gravesides. As a warning to the Indians not to bother her, he decapitated the dean warriors and placed their heads upon stakes near the graves. Johnson then built the woman a small cabin and stopped by occasionally to bring her supplies. Because of her presence on the stream it came to be known as Crazy Woman Creek. Johnson eventually found her frozen body, apparently dead from starvation.

Yet another legend, also said to be due to the Sioux, has the stream as haunted by an old, insane squaw who could be seen on moonlit nights shooting the stream's rapids in her canoe and leaping from village to village like a spirit. Since she had be "touched" by the Great Spirit, she was believed to be good medicine and her sightings were welcomed by the Indian Villagers.

A "lost in translation" story tells that one Indian word equivalent for "prostitute" is "fool woman." It has been suggested that the stream was known as "prostitute or fool woman creek" to the Indians and that the whites lost the meaning in their own translation of the term.

The most persistent and credible explanation for the creek's name has to do with a trader and his wife. According to Crow stories, in the mid-1840's a half-breed and his white wife built a small trading post on the stream and were carrying on a successful business with the Indians. For some reasons, the trader began to give liquor to one of the older chiefs, a dignified man, who would then act strangely after his visits with the trader. The Crows soon figured out what was going on and the trader was compelled to provide all of the men in the village with plenty of "fire water." Once they had formed a dependency on the liquid, he began charging them more and more for drinks. Finally, he claimed to be out of liquor and said he would leave to obtain more. Since the trader had virtually all of the village goods by that time they didn't believe him. Rather, they suspected that he would now go to trade with their enemies, the Sioux. They killed and then scalped him in front of his wife and she was struck in the head with a tomahawk and left for dead but not scalped. After the warriors had departed a Crow woman said that she was not dead and secretly nursed her back to health. Thereafter, the trader's wife lived in the area but was deathly afraid of the Crow warriors and would hide at their approach. Some of the Crow women continued to feed her for a time but eventually she was never seen again and presumed dead from starvation or animal attack. The Crow annually returned to the area of the trader's post and with time the stream became known as the Crazy Woman's Fork and then later Creek.

The preceding story has been attributed to a George P. Belden, a Second Lieutenant in the 2nd Cavalry, who was stationed at Fort Phil Kearny in 1867-68 and had lived with the Crow Indians in the years prior to his military service. It has also been said to be due to a Frenchman named LaFrombe who had lived with the Crow many years and had visited the site on the stream with them. The former source seems the most credible but the questions remains as to which is the true one.

There is a "Crazy Woman Crossing" where the Bozeman Trail crosses the stream. The site provided particularly good camping, grazing and water for the Trail's travelers and thus was much used. It was also where the Sioux and Cheyenne would frequently attack the encamped travelers. The most significant such encounter occurred on July 20, 1866, when a band of Sioux attacked a small detachment of soldiers headed for Fort Phil Kearny. While the battle was going on, a column of cavalry from the Fort led by Captain David Jordan and guided by Jim Bridger arrived in time to rescue the group but not before two of its members, a Lieutenant Daniels and a Sergeant Terrel, were killed.

There is a gravel road that parallels Crazy Woman Creek from near its source in the Big Horn Mountains through its deep gorge and out onto the prairie flats to the east. Take U.S. Highway 16 west from Buffalo, Wyoming about 22 miles into the Big Horn Mountains. Then make a left turn (east) onto gravel Forest Route 33/County Road 14, which is Crazy Woman Canyon Road. The trip through the gorge is spectacular with sections of sheer, rock walls nearby on both sides of the road. Vehicles larger than a SUV or pickup are not permitted. It is a truly beautiful drive.

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