The Spirit of Pretty Shield

Alma SnellMy name is Alma Hogan Snell. I am from Yellowtail, Montana. That’s at the foothills of the Little Big Horn. Oh! The Big Horns, really. That’s where I live with my husband. My daughter and her husband live above us. That’s where I’m from. I’m a child of the Whistling Water.


I belong to the Greasy Mouth Clan, my mother’s, and Pretty Shield. Pretty Shield is my grandmother. I didn’t know my mother. She was gone when I was about a year and a half. She died due to an accident and complications from it. I didn’t know anyone by Mother except Pretty Shield. We always said “Kale” which means grandma.

I met my husband in Flandreau. We were all very scared when the Pearl Harbor deal took place. We packed our suitcases and bags and we didn’t know where we were going, but we were waiting to have them send us home because it was that serious to us. Previous to that the boys were sent to wherever service they chose to be in for their education. Most of the football boys, those boys were all gone. My husband was one of them. He joined the Marine Corp and he was sent to, well he was a part of the Second World War. He served in the Pacific. He was in Taiwan, Guadalcanal, and the Solomon Islands and those places.

You ought to hear some of the war stories he has and how involved they were. He could tell you how a bullet went into one of his friend’s helmet, went in between the two layers, and came out the back without touching him when he looked into a foxhole. Those types of things it takes him to tell it. When he tells it on the computer, I sit there and I can’t get away from it until I get to the end of the story. He’s a storyteller, actually very good with his language, and everything and explaining things.

He’s Assiniboine. He’s from the Fort Belknap Reservation. We met over there. The first year though, before this Pearl Harbor happened he came to visit Crow. My Grandma Pretty Shield said, “No way are you going to marry another tribe.” That kind of upset me a little bit because he was such a nice guy. When I told him that then he started working on Pretty Shield. He cut all the piles of wood that she had in the woodpile and stacked them up really neat in the house, up so high. She watched him because none of the boys stuck to that very long. They just chopped a few and that was about it. The rest I had to do. I used to split wood-like, big blocks, like the professionals. I became very strong and was fifteen years old. You would think I was much older than that. We had to because the boys got married and were away and it was just we girls that were left with Pretty Shield.

Pretty Shield was getting old. She was very remarkable in anything she did. I thought all old people were that way, so when I would go somewhere else I would start looking for the elders. I would speak to the elders and see how they operated, how they lived, what they did in the past. I loved that. I began to realize that some of them were good. Some of them were very eligible and industrious and everything. Pretty Shield was remarkable. She’s had a spirit about her that I have never seen in an old person, in an old lady. She could tell the future of people. It didn’t surprise me any because I grew up with her like that.

Alma Hogan Snell

Yellowtail, Montana, at the foothills of the Big Horn Mountains, is where tribal storyteller and ethnobotanist, Alma Hogan Snell, or Well Known Woman (Bea Azeta), lives today with her husband Bill. Her tribal affiliation is Crow. The tribe originally lived in Wyoming and Western Montana. Alma was raised by her grandmother, Pretty Shield, and her grandfather John Goes Ahead. She remembers learning to chop wood without an ax and spending many springs, summers, and falls roaming the surrounding foothills of Crow Agency with her grandmother digging roots, picking plants and berries. She watched her grandmother treat people with natural herbs and plants, which put her on the path to becoming an ethnobotanist. Her grandfather, John Goes Ahead, was one of the four main scouts for General Custer at the Battle of the Little Big Horn. He was also a very powerful medicine man. Pretty Shield was a Crow medicine woman.

Almas Family From left: White Man Runs Him, Hairy Moccasins, Curly, Goes Ahead

A book by Alma, “Grandmother’s Grandchild, My Crow Indian Life” published by Nebraska Press can be found in many schools and universities. She blends humor and history in another book coming out this summer (2005) titled “Taste of Heritage.” In the year 1989, she was awarded a Special Contribution to Indian Education award from the Montana Indian Education Society. The Mayor of Indianapolis has also presented her with the key to their city.

Although Alma is an ethnobotanist, she is also a storyteller. She relates her stories to the age group she is presenting to, ranging from pre-school to elders. She was invited to Germany, Australia, and France to present, but had to decline. Her stories include her birth story, Turtles in the Creek, Pretty Shield, sundance, war dance, hot dance (known as the grass dance to the Assiniboine), dances for celebrations, and a story about a niece running through a fence and separating from her spirit.

Alma Hogan Snell
Box 7548
Yellowtail, MT 59035
(406) 666-9140