A Big Sky Country Surprise

Since posting A Pymatuning Scare, I have received numerous requests to post another personal anecdote. After running through several in my mind – trying to think of something timely – the news of a major snowstorm hitting the northeast last week reminded me of another of my better stories, which shall be be the subject of today’s post.

Back in the early 1990s, I learned that tribal governments had started to issued fish and game stamps again (more about that below). The result was that I made many trips from California to visit Indian reservations throughout the country.

I was in search of information about new tribal issues, attempting to see if they would sell me stamps for my collection as well as those of my clients and, perhaps most exciting, to see if the tribes retained their obsolete stamps and licenses. If so, would they allow me to purchase them?

This took me on an incredible treasure hunt over the course of about six or seven years. After finding out which tribes issued stamps, I often revisited their reservations many times. I enjoyed learning about the local history and politics, developed some lasting friendships and made some great philatelic discoveries.



Historically, the state in which an Indian reservation was located oversaw game management and regulated both hunting and fishing on the reservation. The state conservation agencies had many reasons for this, some of which are seen as politically incorrect today and some of which actually make sense.

Probably the most rational one relayed to me by a state official, is that game cannot read signs and, therefore, freely cross back and forth between state and tribal lands. For this reason, state conservation agencies were, for decades, of the mindset that they should be the ones to oversee game management and regulation across the board.

In 1959, the Rosebud Sioux Tribe (located within the state boundaries of South Dakota) became the first tribal government to exert their game management independence and issued their own fish and game licenses and stamps. Three separate stamps were issued; one for big game, one for fishing and one for game birds – to include waterfowl (see figure 1).



Figure 1. 1959 Rosebud Tribal Game Bird stamp, ex Vanderford.



Both tribal and non-tribal members were allowed to hunt and fish on the Rosebud Reservation, provided they first obtained a tribal permit and any required stamps. In the case of non-tribal members, this often created considerable confusion, and resulted in such philatelic gems as tribal stamps being affixed to state licenses (see Figure 2).



Figure 2. 1961 Rosebud Tribal Game Bird stamp affixed to the reverse of a South Dakota General Hunting License, along with a state small game and a federal waterfowl stamp. The hunter should have purchased a separate Rosebud Hunting Permit and affixed the tribal stamp to it, rather than his state license. Formerly in the Jaffe collection, it is shown courtesy of Will and Abby Csaplar.



Soon, the neighboring Crow Creek and Lower Brule Sioux Tribes (also located within South Dakota) followed Rosebud’s lead by issuing their own fish and game stamps, in 1961 and 1962, respectively (see Figures 3 and 4).



Figure 3. 1964 Crow Creek Big Game stamp. Note the year was changed from 1961 with a ball-point pen. Ex Vanderford.



Figure 4. 1962 Lower Brule Waterfowl stamp, ex Mrs. Powell.



The three tribal governments issued a variety of fish and game stamps throughout the 1960s and into the early 1970s. At this point, native unrest effected by the American Indian Movement (AIM), culminated in the second incident at Wounded Knee.

This infamous site is located on the Pine Ridge Reservation (very close to the Rosebud), home to the Oglala Sioux Tribe. In 1973, a tense standoff between some 200 followers of AIM and the FBI resulted in bloodshed; an FBI agent was shot and paralyzed and two Native Americans were killed.

Following the 1973 incident, the last thing either side desired was for white hunters to enter tribal lands with firearms in hand. This effectively ended non-tribal member hunting on Indian reservations for many years to come.

Starting in the late 1970s, it was the Rosebud Sioux who once again welcomed back non-tribal member sportsmen onto their land. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, many additional tribal governments joined the Rosebud Sioux Tribe in issuing their own licenses and stamps.

In 1989, The Crow Creek Sioux became the first tribal government to issue pictorial fish and game stamps. Modeled after the South Dakota state stamps (produced by the same printing company), the modern Crow Creek stamps would soon inspire a new generation of “Indian Reservation”  stamp collectors (see Figure 5).



Figure 5. 1989 Crow Creek Reservation Waterfowl stamp.



Indian Reservation Odyssey

In the 1960s, pioneer fish and game collectors, including such notables as Mrs. Powell, David Strock and E.L. Vanderford eagerly sought Indian Reservation stamps. They purchased stamps directly from the tribal governments, through the mail.

After the 1973 Wounded Knee incident, they were disappointed when all tribes discontinued issuing stamps. E.L. Vanderford told me that he (and other collectors) wrote to all the tribes year after year, until they eventually came to believe the tribes would never issue stamps again.

For over a decade (all through the 1980s) collectors were unaware the Rosebud Sioux had begun reissuing stamps and that many new tribes had started to issue their own stamps, as well.

One day in 1990, a collector friend in South Dakota sent me a bunch of licenses in the mail. As I was looking them I distinctly remember being unimpressed (South Dakota has issued a great many common, relatively uninteresting fish and game stamps) until I reached the last license…

At this point I probably did a double take that would make Hanna-Barbera proud. The last license was a 1990 Crow Creek Hunting License with one of the pictorial Crow Creek waterfowl stamps affixed (see Figure 6).



Figure 6. Crow Creek Sioux Tribe Hunting License with a 1990 Crow Creek Non-Resident Waterfowl stamp affixed, discovery copy.



This was the day that would set my Indian reservation odyssey in motion. I immediately called the Crow Creek Sioux Tribe and learned they had begun reissuing fish and game stamps in 1989.

I caught the next available flight to South Dakota and made my way to Chamberlain, the closest town to the reservation with a motel. It took four days before the tribal Licensing Supervisor would meet with me.

On this and a subsequent trip, I was allowed to purchase quantities of the current 1990 stamps at face value and all of the 1989 remainders (part for face value and the balance at a discount when I realized I didn’t have enough money to cover it).

For more on the Crow Creek stamps, see Fish and Game Stamps of the Crow Creek Sioux Tribe and Crow Creek Resumes Stamp Program.

From the Crow Creek Sioux I learned the Rosebud Sioux had also begun reissuing stamps. I would eventually visit the Rosebud Reservation 13 times before writing my longest philatelic article about their stamps, titled The Fish and Game Stamps of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe.

The article appeared in The American Revenuer in May of 1995. I plan to update it and place it on this website later this year. From the contacts I made at the Rosebud Reservation, I learned of several other tribes that began issuing fish and game stamps in the 1980s.

My adventure continued. Ultimately, I obtained a directory of all tribal governments in the U.S. and began the time-consuming process of calling each of them, one by one.


Boy’s Trips with Eric

My son, Eric, was born on September 6, 1991. When he turned four years old, I inaugurated a tradition of taking Eric out of school for one week a year and taking him on a trip with me. We called these our “boy’s trips”.

His teachers agreed that these annual trips would provide him with a frame of reference he could not acquire in the classroom and, therefore, were unanimously supportive. This went on for 12 years and it was a great experience for both of us. During this time, we visited 38 states together.

Our boy’s trips were always fun and educational. Sometimes, I planned the trip to include a little business – sort of a two birds thing. On these occasions, when my business was expected to take longer than an hour or so my sister, Carole, came along to keep Eric company.

This was the case on our very first our Boy’s trip, to Montana and Wyoming, in late autumn of 1995. The main purpose of the trip was for us all to go to Glacier (one of my favorite places in the country) and Yellowstone National Parks.

In addition, I had recently learned that the Confederated Kootenai and Salish Tribes of the Flathead Indian Reservation issued fish and game stamps. I had purchase new issues from them over the phone and had had become friendly with a couple of the women working in the License Office. We made plans to stop by for a visit on our boy’s trip.

The Flathead Indian Reservation has the the 4th largest population in the U.S. (over 25,000), and occupies 2,057 square miles in north central Montana, just to the north of Missoula. It encompasses the lower half of Flathead Lake, a scenic wonder that is similar in beauty to Lake Tahoe, only larger and more remote.

Flathead Lake is the largest natural lake west of the Mississippi River. Although known for its crystal clear water (see Figure 7) that makes it appear shallow – at 370 feet it is deeper than the Yellow Sea or the Persian Gulf. Flathead Lake is truly spectacular and If you ever have a chance to visit, I highly recommend it.



Figure 7. Beautiful Flathead Lake, Montana.



On this particular trip, we arranged our itinerary to make several stops. The most significant would be Glacier National Park, Custer Battlefield National Monument, Yellowstone National Park and the Flathead Indian Reservation, in that order.

We arranged the trip in this way because I had learned from my friends in the Flathead License Office that the Confederated Tribes had been issuing fish and game stamps for many years. How many, no one could could tell me. All of their expired license and stamp remainders were kept in boxes in the loft of an out building and I was given permission to search through them!

With the expectation that I might actually find something of value, we arranged to visit the reservation at the end of our trip so that we would not risk having to carry boxes of (potentially valuable) stamps around on our vacation for a week.


A Priceless Moment

Winter was fast approaching, so we packed for our trip as if we were going on a ski trip. We flew from San Fransisco to Spokane, Washington. Here we rented a car and drove east on 95, through Coeur d’ Alene, Idaho and on into Montana. The scenery was simply breathtaking, as much of the terrain – including all of the rugged mountain peaks – were already covered in snow.

Before reaching Missoula, we turned north on 93 and headed toward Glacier. We soon came to the southern edge of the Flathead Reservation and then proceeded to drive through it for over an hour before stopping for lunch in the charming town of Polson, on Flathead Lake.

By this time I had made trips to many different Indian Reservations throughout the country and was impressed by how beautiful this one was in comparison. We had a nice lunch and continued north, along the west side of Flathead Lake. Although it was late in the year and the water did not look anything like the photo shown above, it was still cool with the snow-capped Bitterroot Mountains as a backdrop. We spent the night in Whitefish before heading into Glacier the following morning.

After breakfast we stopped at Lake McDonald and I was touched to share this magical experience with Carole and Eric, neither of which had been there before (see Figure 8).



Figure 8. Eric wades into Lake McDonald. He was kind of cold – but very excited all the same.



The Going to the Sun Road is one of my favorite scenic drives, extending from Lake McDonald up into mountains and the heart of Glacier National Park. Most of the road is closed in the winter, however, on this memorable day we were allowed to drive part of the way.

After driving for a while I thought I noticed something moving on a ridge adjacent to the road. It was not actually snowing but it was a gray, winter day in the high mountains and visibility was relatively poor. Fortunately, I had thought to bring a good pair of binoculars with us on the trip.

I pulled to the side of the road and we piled out of the car. Eric was so excited he was jumping up and down while asking to look through the binoculars first. I showed him how to focus them and helped point him in the right direction.

After several minutes of desperate searching on his part, Eric uttered a phrase that has became a permanent part of our family lore, “I see something… I do… I really see something (now jumping up and down again)… Its a polar bear!”

Eric had indeed seen something – the mountain goat I had previously spotted out of the corner of my eye. It was a treasured experience to share with my sister. Poor Eric, we laughed so hard that we started to cry. A priceless moment.

In fairness to Eric, the Glacier Park mountain goats are big and white, sort of like a polar bear. To a young boy who had never seen either in person – they could easily be confused (see Figure 9). Still pretty funny, though.



Figure 9. A Glacier Park “polar bear”.



We spent the night in the park at a rustic hotel. The next morning, we made our way south to the historic Custer Battlefield. I have to say, the Custer Battlefield National Monument can be kind of boring when the weather is good, consisting entirely of a large grassland where the massacre took place (you need a good imagination).

In the winter, when the grassland is covered in snow, all you can do is can say you were there – where it actually happened back in 1876 (14 years before the first Wounded Knee incident).

From there we drove south and spent the night at a motel outside of Yellowstone National Park. Yellowstone is truly amazing any time of the year. When the snow gets too deep the roads are closed in the park and tourists must rely on snowmobile tours and the like. Fortunately, we arrived prior to the roads being closed and were able to make our way around by car. Another great memory, sharing this wonderland with my sister and 4-year-old son (see Figure 10).



Figure 10. A large hot spring at Yellowstone National Park.



The Flathead Reservation

The time had finally come to visit the Flathead Reservation. I had spoken to my contacts at the License Office just prior to leaving on the trip and set the day and time. I made it for 8:00 AM, as I did not want to run out of time if I found myself in a “treasure hunt” situation.

The women had warned me that it was going to be “very cold and uncomfortable” in the loft at that time of the year and had tried to persuade me to make it later in the day, after lunch. I was heavily into skiing in those days and figured I was tough. Undeterred, I stuck with the original time and packed many layers of warm clothing.

On the day of the visit, I put on a pair of flannel boxers (with leaping deer which I imagined was somehow appropriate), ski socks, long underwear I used to ski in, jeans, a flannel shirt (more deer), a down jacket, heavy boots, a ski cap and ski gloves. I was ready to show those women I was prepared for the most adverse conditions.

After driving us to the reservation, Carole dropped me off and set off with Eric for a day of shopping and eating in Polson and elsewhere along Flathead Lake. We arranged for her to pick me up at 3:30 in the afternoon.

The two women I had spoken to on the phone turned out to be very attractive (early 20s) and friendly. We chatted for a while and then they showed me the licenses and stamps they were currently using. I obtained some tribal publications, including game laws, for reference.


It Was Quite Warm

After our chat, the two women led me across a snow-covered yard to the out building where the old licenses and stamps were stored. When we got inside, there was a tall wooden ladder extending up to a large loft. They led the way up the ladder and when we climbed onto the platform, I was surprised to find it was quite warm.

The women told me that they felt sorry for me after I insisted on the early appointment and had convinced their supervisor to have four space heaters placed in the corners of the loft.

I was taken aback by their thoughtfulness and expressed my gratitude. They told me I was free to search through all of the cardboard file boxes (dozens) that were stacked across the loft floor and left me alone.

Shortly after they left, I took off my cap and gloves and started looking through the nearest boxes. They contained license and stamp remainders from 1994. At this point in time, I already had stamps from 1989 through 1995 in my collection and so these were not of much interest.

There were some scarce varieties from 1989, however, remainders from all the newer stamps had previously made their way into the collector market in large quantities and acquiring additional supplies of them was not really my purpose. I was here to see if I could find anything before 1989.


A Big Surprise

After an hour or so I was starting to feel warm. I examined the heaters and could not figure out how to control them. I thought of going back to the office to see if the women could get someone to turn them down, but decided against it as it might prove to be embarrassing for my friends – they had gone to such an effort to make me feel comfortable.

I took off my jacket and continued searching. After about two hours I was back to the 1989 remainders. I took a water break and was still feeling quite warm, so I took off my flannel shirt. I discovered there were actually several printings of the 1989 stamps and spent about an hour carefully going through the 1989 boxes, looking for any varieties they might yield.

I was in pretty good shape in those days but had been working for several hours and was getting kind of tired – and very hot. There were still many boxes to go and I was starting to feel optimistic that the tribes had indeed issued stamps prior to 1989. Perhaps I was on the verge of a great new discovery. So I took off my boots and jeans and continued on in my long underwear.

After looking through a couple of more boxes, I hit the jackpot – a small pile of licenses with 1988 stamps affixed and a couple of partial booklets of unused stamps. I had just discovered a new fish and game stamp! I took my time looking through the boxes and setting everything of interest aside. For examples, see Figures 11, 12 and 13.



Figure 11. Horizontal (top) pair of the 1988 combination Bird and Fishing stamps. Note the 1988 stamps, as in 1989, contained boxes for the issuing agent to mark the appropriate fees paid.



Figure 12. Vertical pair of the 1988 stamp. I found a total of seven stamps that had the imprint in the top tab – and the position numbers on the stamps – printed in dark red ink.



Figure 13. 1988 combination stamp affixed to the obverse of a 1988 tribal Use & Conservation Permit. Note both boxes on the stamp have been marked and the license was issued to a sportsman classified as “Disabled”.



By this point it was nearing lunchtime and although I had brought a sandwich and chips, I was too excited to stop for long. I took a short break to eat a protein bar and drank my second (and last) bottle of water. I now realized I was sweating bullets and was afraid my hands were damp enough to damage some of the unused stamps I was handling.

I did not know what to do. If I unplugged the heaters now, I would get chilled. Should I put all my clothes back on and go ask the women if they could find someone to possibly lower their output? Again, I decided against it – too much time wasted and, potentially, too embarrassing. So I took off my long underwear and tackled the last few boxes in my boxers and socks.

The very next box had licenses and stamps from 1987! Earth-shaking stuff. Not only that, but there were separate stamps for birds and fishing (see Figures 14 – 17). However, this was not to be the biggest surprise of the day.



Figure 14. 1987 Bird stamp, complete pane of eight. Note each stamp bears a printed position letter (a, b, c and so on) – and is, therefore, face different.



Figure 15. 1987 Fishing stamp, complete pane of eight. Note the position letters were applied to the fishing stamps, as well.



Figure 16. Unused 1987 Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes Use and Conservation Permit with carbon, obverse.



Figure 17. 1987 Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes Use and Conservation Permit, reverse showing tribal Bird and Fishing stamps used with a federal waterfowl stamp.



As I was holding a pile of 1987 licenses in each hand, I suddenly heard giggling and a young female voice ask, “Are you finding anything?” I whirled around to find the two young women standing at the edge of the loft. I instinctively crossed my hands over my boxers (still clutching the licenses) and fumbled, “Why yes… I am”.

It was their lunch break and they had come to check up on me. I was so consumed in my task I had not heard them climb up the ladder and onto the loft. It must have come as a big surprise for them to find me wearing only my boxers and socks, dripping with sweat and holding the newly discovered stamps in both hands!

After Carole and Eric picked me up and I told them what happened, we all had another good laugh – at my expense this time. All in all, it was a very memorable trip.



For years to come, every time I called the Flathead Tribal offices and spoke to a woman (any woman), I imagined (?) I could detect muffled giggling.








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