Thursday, April 21, 2005

1911 - 1920

McFatridge is the new agent. He, his wife and his son are called “The father, son and Holy Terror.” 9,000 outsiders’ cattle remain and McFatridge asks to throw them off. (Part of the problem these agents have is that they are “remote-controlled” by higher authorities.) His reservation doctors quit, so he ends up treating tuberculosis, trachoma, and VD himself. Rev. R.A. Riggin, the Methodist missionary, is running cattle instead of doing mission work, so he is assessed $1,700 in fees and pays half that. There is constant wrestling with the Conrad Investment Company and the Conrad-Valier Water Company over water rights. The cost of the rez irrigation systems is charged against the assets of the tribe, a million dollar burden. The Indian Office gave Great Northern a right-of-way for a wagon road from Midvale to the Glacier Park entrance as well as timber and gravel. Congress approved the Great Northern to build hotels and take land from townsites for $30 an acre. McFatridge first valued them at $90, but was clued in by the Indian Office and made adjustment downward.

1912: Reservation allotted to individuals. Blackfeet reservation-wide survey on land. Cattle rustling still a major problem. McFatridge formed “The Blackfeet Stock Protective Association.” The reservation fence was taken down and sold. Rocky Boy’s Chippewa had been allotted Blackft land, but showed little enthusiasm and instead were given Ft. Assiniboine’s abandoned land. Robert J. Hamilton, a half-breed who had been adopted by A.B. Hamilton, a Fort Whoop-Up whiskey trader, led a delegation to Washington, D.C., to complain that the old people were starving, the tribal council was being run by the agent, and the Blackft water rights had been stolen. (Hamilton built a career on representing the old-time full-bloods who could not speak English.) McFatridge’s son, Leslie, had threatened S.E. Selecman, the Browning Public School principal, who thrashed him. From then on it was war between the agent and the principal. Selecman had to go to court to keep his job.

1913: T.E. Scriver, now an American citizen, buys Willets out of the Browning Mercantile. The Great Northern railroad had stumpage fees for their new road waived.

1914: Dealing with “surplus” lands (unalloted) becomes an issue. McFatridge has his own committee which includes James Perrine, Levi Burd, Malcolm Clarke, and Charles Buck. (Relatively assimilated mixed bloods.) The only land being farmed by irrigation was a thirty-acre demo plot on Seville Flats, toward Cut Bank. Wolf Tail is the Chair of the Tribal Council and James Perrine is the secretary. Perrine says that only half-breeds of proven competence (i.e. like himself) should get their allotments and that the irrigation project should be shut down. The Blackfeet want to reserve the mineral rights, but the Indian Office tries to assure them there are no minerals except low grade coal. Now McFatridge is willing to allow outside cattle (Rocky Creek Ranch Company, which is C. B. Power and friends -- C.B. is the son of T.C.) as many as 20,000 head. At the time the Blackft owned 12,000 cows and 9,000 horses. Indians with allotments were leasing them to white ranchers. Many complain that the elderly full bloods around Heart Butte are starving. White Antelope leads a group of 200 full-bloods who complain of agent corruption. Elsie Newton, sent to investigate morals, reports six or eight polygamous families, adultery, prostitution and “two flourishing churches.” (Methodist and Catholic probably, but maybe she means Methodist and Presbyterian, as both had missionaries in place.) She thought the whites were as immoral as the Indians. Other inspectors from the government find McFatridge in chaos, Cut Bank Boarding School a tragedy, and the stock and land allotments confused if not unfairly distributed on purpose. They recommend the agent be removed.

1915: McFatridge is dismissed and runs off to Canada with $1200. C.L. Ellis takes charge. A million dollars has been spent on irrigation projects that are not used. Some were badly made and others are in disrepair. All this cost was handled as liens on the allotments. The Indians are collectively in debt to Indian traders for $115,000 and the agent feels they are overcharged anyway. Everyone is after the “surplus” lands. A tribal herd (as opposed to cattle distributed to individuals) includes 1200 head but is in danger from rustlers and other attrition. 90% of the full bloods have trachoma and 75% have tuberculosis. Over 1,000 are on rations including some of Rocky Boy’s band who didn’t leave. McFatridge has failed to register the tribal brand with the state. The allotment boundary markers are missing and must be resurveyed.

1916: Standard Oil of Ohio requests a blanket lease for oil and gas. Sampson Bird and Hamilton go to Washington but don’t get permission.

1917: Mountain Chief is told Washington is still consideriing the oil lease. There are 35,000 head of cattle on the reservation, excluding the tribal herd, but nine-tenths of them are owned by thirty families. By now allotments have been approved and patented and some half-breeds are mortgaging their land to make profits on the war-driven meat prices. The full bloods are making money from hay. Thomas Ferris is briefly the acting agent.

1918: A quick succession of superintendents includes Wadsworth, F.C. Campbell, and Harvey O. Power, who is dismissed for offences. Four years of severe drought. Tribal herd is up to 6,000 head. Stuart Hazlett, the lease clerk, conspires to strip people of their land by improperly certifying them. Sherburne Mercantile (a corporation) ends up with 40,000 acres that have been improperly allotted to incompetent and in-debt Indians. Livestock on the res numbers 65,000 cattle, 25,000 horses and 5,000 sheep. There are worries about overgrazing. The sawmill is in disrepair and borer beetles are killing trees. There is a forest guard now. Dr. George Martin is a reputed morphine addict.

1919: Dec. 1 election to see whether Cut Bank or Browning should be the county seat of Glacier County. Many stories about how Cut Bank managed to capture the honor. Power is ejected. The Agency staff is openly drunk. Horace Wilson is superintendent. He shows up drunk on the Navajo reservation in the middle of prohibition, shows up at a hearing about illegal liquor on the rez -- drunk himself. There are few internal fences, so stock wanders and trespasses. Tribal herd estimated at 4,000. John Hall handled the sales and shipment that year.

1920: The mismanaged tribal herd is finally disposed of, at a loss. Wilson and Snell, project manager from the Reclamation Bureau, are pushing more irrigation projects. They call a meeting, take minutes of what they say to each other, and send it up the chain of command as what the people want. The only people on the rez doing a good job of irrigation farming are the Jesuits -- and they haven’t paid anything for the water.

The chronology has now met the beginning point of Paul Rosier’s book, “Rebirth of the Blackfeet Nation, 1912 - 1954” which is currently being remaindered by Edward R. Hamilton, Bookseller. (The website is or The latter accepts credit cards.) Rosier’s is a dense, hard-to-read book but I’ll try to post notes from it later. It certainly rewards effort. The GOOD news is that everyone goes on trying and trying to make the reservation work, maybe for selfish reasons, but inching bit by bit towards success.

The bad news is that in 2005 the irrigation system still has problems.

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