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Barney (left) and Henry Old Coyote worked for decades to capture traditional Crow stories, which are the vehicle to pass down mores, customs, values and history from one generation to the next.

After serving in the Army Air Corps during World War II, Barney (left) and Henry Old Coyote came home with a better understanding of the world beyond the reservation and the need to retain its culture.
(P. Bauerle family photos)

Student passion, purpose create "Way of the Warrior"

by Carol Schmidt

It takes decades for many people to find their passion and purpose. Phenocia Bauerle found both in a literature course in her junior year at Montana State University, and as a result, thousands of readers have a new understanding of traditional Crow culture.

Now in her second year as a graduate student at the University of California, Berkeley, Bauerle is the editor of "The Way of the Warrior: Stories of the Crow People," published in the spring by the University of Nebraska Press. The book has sold out of its 2,180 first-run edition, and a paperback edition is planned later this year, said a pleased University of Nebraska Press Native American editor Gary Dunham.

"It's highly unusual for an undergraduate to be involved this heavily in a book published by a university press," Dunham said. "She (Bauerle) is a remarkable young woman who has just started her academic career."

"I've been really lucky," said Bauerle, who is working on a doctorate in interdisciplinary studies focusing on language, literature, society and culture.

Phenocia Bauerle loved her grandfather's stories and thought they were better than the existing Native texts. Now she and Barney Old Coyote are working on a second book.(P. Bauerle family photo)

Her partner on the book was her grandfather, distinguished Crow elder Barney Old Coyote of Billings. Old Coyote worked for decades with his brother, the late Henry Old Coyote, to record the stories told by traditional Crow storytellers before the storytellers and the stories disappeared. Bauerle edited those stories into a book that preserves the sacred stories and enlightens non-Crow readers about the tribe's history and background.

To understand the significance of Bauerle's and the Old Coyote brothers' work, it is important to understand the structure and importance of stories in Native American culture. Oral stories are the vehicle to pass down mores, customs, values and history from one generation to the next. The stories are often lengthy, containing stories within stories.

And, the story of how Bauerle came to edit the book as a senior in college is also compelling. That story began more than 60 years ago after Barney and Henry Old Coyote came home after serving in the Army Air Corps in the European and African Theatres during World War II. They returned home with Silver Star medals and other decorations and with a better understanding of the world beyond the reservation in southern Montana. Soon after their return, Henry formed the Crow Cultural Commission. Part of the commission's work was to record the stories of the old ones before the stories and their storytellers died. Henry and his wife, Stella, underwrote the project, and in their spare time the two Old Coyote brothers traveled from Pryor to Wyola to St. Xavier with a reel-to-reel-recorder powered by a cigarette lighter. They taped as the storytellers told about warriors, spirituality and the way of life along the Elk (Yellowstone) River before the arrival of the White culture (roughly about 1800-1860). Altogether, they recorded more than 100 hours of tape.

While they continued to work on the project, the brothers led accomplished lives. Barney served as a special assistant to the Secretary of the Interior for Lyndon Johnson, challenged the government's recognition of the Native American Church with a landmark case, chartered the American Indian National Bank and established the Department of Native American Studies at MSU. Henry served as a cultural specialist for the Select Senate Committee on Indian Affairs.

Part of the commission's work was to record the stories of the old ones before the stories and their storytellers died.

After Henry and Stella died, the stories passed to Barney. A grant from the Montana Committee for the Humanities enabled the recordings to be transcribed into a 138-page manuscript that was used at Little Big Horn College and became a family treasure.

Bauerle loved when her grandfather told her the stories on their drives from Bauerle's home in Bozeman to Billings. So when Bauerle enrolled in MSU professor Alanna Brown's independent study course in Native American literature, she told Brown that she thought her grandfathers' work was better than the published Native texts that she had read in the past. She asked if she could use the family stories as the basis of her research project.

Brown said she was astounded by the quality of the work Bauerle showed her. Brown, herself a scholar of Native American texts, believed the work would change the way scholars looked at Native texts. She mentored Bauerle as she edited the stories into a book.

One aspect that made the manuscript distinctive was that the brothers had asked each storyteller to tell his or her version of common stories and later they wove the versions together into one account. Bauerle said that insight gave the eventual book manuscript its richness, much like a rope in which several similar threads are braided into one strong narrative.

The resulting work was submitted to the University of Nebraska press the summer before Bauerle's senior year. The book was accepted for publication a few months later and was released last May, while Bauerle was in her first year of grad school. Crow elders are considering distributing it to Crow schools and libraries.

The book has been pivotal to Bauerle's life. Already a recipient of a Rockefeller Brothers Scholarship for graduate studies in education, Bauerle was also selected as a member of the prestigious USA Today 2002 USA College Academic Team. When the book came out, Bauerle and Old Coyote were also featured in a USA Today story, "'Warrior' tales saved for the ages." An article about the book will soon be published in Montana Magazine.

Now in her second year of grad school, Bauerle says her goal is to increase the achievement of children in reservation schools. Bauerle would like to start a school on the reservation based on the foreign boarding or private school model in which cultural components are incorporated. A current interest, which is also the topic of her thesis, is communicative competence.

"The students on the reservation know English better than the tests show," she said. She would like to show why standardized tests aren't effective measures of Crow students' abilities on the reservation.

Bauerle and her grandfather are beginning work on a second book, this one focusing on Crow stories dealing with spirituality. Bauerle said she still finds research "on this level scary, but I think it's important. More things need to be done to correct misinformation."

Old Coyote said that the Crow have "waited a very long time" for his granddaughter.

"There have been other books written by Crows, but none embraced by the Crow tribal administration except this book," Old Coyote said. "I think that says something."

Life on Ice | Big things from tiny technology | Avalanche Research | Searching Through Hell
Genetics are key to those amber waves of grain | From the bone beds and back
Finding hope in hard times | Group rethinks radar with lasers and crystals | Foreword | Home
Student passion, purpose create "Way of the Warrior"
Chemistry sounded good until the sinus infections
Research Notes | Faculty and Student Awards | Research Expenditures for Fiscal Year 2003

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