LODGE GRASS, MONT. -- Robert Summers Yellowtail Sr., 98, a patriarch of the Crow Indian Tribe and a modern-day warrior who fought the tribe's battles with words, died June 18 at his home here. The cause of death was not reported.
Mr. Yellowtail studied law and planned to become a lawyer, but instead became involved in tribal affairs and politics. He said his most memorable experience was a war of words in the U.S. Capitol on April 6, 1917, when all the great chiefs of the Crow tribe gathered to fight homesteading on their reservation, site of Custer's last stand on the Little Bighorn.
The chiefs met with the Senate Indian Affairs Committee to defend their people against a proposal by Sen. Thomas J. Walsh (D-Mont.), who wanted to open their reservation to white settlement and who had a reputation as one of the best legal minds of the era.
The old chiefs did not speak English and the task of arguing their case fell to Mr. Yellowtail, then a 28-year-old law student.
"The gallery was jammed full of spectators," he recalled. "They said I would have 18 minutes to answer Senator Walsh, but I took 4 1/2 hours."
World War I interrupted his speech when the committee was called to a special assembly in which President Woodrow Wilson asked Congress to declare war on Germany. But the committee reconvened to hear Mr. Yellowtail and, when he finished, Walsh withdrew his proposal.
Mr. Yellowtail served several times as tribal chairman. The Bureau of Indian Affairs appointed him superintendent of the reservation, the first Indian named to the post, which he held for 11 years.
He also ran a successful cattle ranch near this southeastern Montana reservation town. During the Eisenhower administration, he was offered the post of commissioner of Indian affairs, but turned it down.
"I never did get along with the Indian bureau, even when I worked for it," he said.
Yellowtail Dam on the reservation is named for him, even though he opposed the dam from the beginning and never changed his mind.