Sunday, July 16, 2006


From the Great Falls Tribune, July, 1906

An offer has been made to the directors of the Nothern Montana Fair Association, which if accepted will result in the providing of a large and most unique attraction for the coming fair.

The offer was made by F.C. Campbell, superintendent of the Fort Shaw Indian School, who agrees to bring in the prindipal part of his school, excepting the buildings, and to conduct all of the branches of the school work at the fair grounds, providing quarters can be provided for the children and equipment.

It is his suggestion that all of the school work be carried out here, including the famous manual training department of blacksmithing, carpentering, sewing, cooking and other branches which are taught the little Indians at the school.

In the neighborhood of 400 people would take part in this exhibit, including the Fort Shaw band and mandolin club.

The pupils would be quartered in tents but one or more buildings would have to be provided for the school work.

In case the offer should be accepted, Mr. Campbell may decide to take the children on to Helena for a similar exhibit at the state fair, the idea being to impress upon the people of the state the great work which is being done by the government, through this school, in educating the Indian and develping his talents so he may become self-supporting.


Fred C. Campbell was one of the more enlightened Indian agents to serve the reservation. In “Rebirth of the Blackfeet Nation, 1912-1954,” Paul Rosier describes him as “an imposing red-headed figure of six feet, two inches,” which would also have fitted William Clark of the Lewis & Clark Expedition or George Washington. He was of a “type,” unusually strong and qualified for leadership. He’d had several BIA jobs under several administrations and arrived in March 1921, a time of drought and severe winter. Though these conditions are hard on the mixed-blood stockmen who normally did well, they pressed full-bloods into starvation. Campbell’s first act was to visit every household on the reservation with the agency doctor in tow. His whole approach was more like an extension agent or a 4-H leader.

His solution was to try to make the people self-sufficient through mixed farming: small gardens, pigs and chickens, and small grain fields with a flour mill in Heart Butte. His method was to organize a Five Year Industrial Program (the “industry” involved meaning hard work rather than the use of machines) through 29 chapters of the Piegan Farming and Livestock Association that somewhat echoed the old-time bands of related persons. These folks were put in competition with each other as chapters or granges, but also encouraged to cooperate among themselves in the purchase of stock and farm machines. (Darrell Kipp’s father at one point won a competition for big fat mutton sheep!)

There was enough success for Commissioner of Indian Affairs Charles Burke to say, “Without making any invidious comparisons, I may say that no tribe of Indians in the United States has made better progress during the past two years than the Blackfeet.”

But it only looked good to the outside, where having Indian children demonstrate their 4-H-type skills seemed progressive and not just a way of preparing them for domestic service or humble farms. On the inside Campbell’s success with the full-bloods began a prejudice against the “south siders” as being sheep (like their herds), Bolsheviks (because of their communal ownership of some things), and old-fashioned, that has persisted in tribal politics to this day. (For images of these people and their work, see William Farr’s photo album: “The Reservation Blackfeet, 1882-1945.”

The other dynamic was the discovery of oil which immediately pushed aside all other sources of wealth so far as either the mixed-bloods or whites were concerned. The Osage were the example: rich enough to buy cars and live high and idle. (The Osage murders over ownership of oil wells were muffled. Not until Linda Hogan’s novel, “Mean Spirits,” did the dark side of being rich rise to awareness.) The mixed-blood and white influence was so strong that they managed to push Campbell out. Campbell had little or no interest in the oil industry and paid little attention to it at a time when oil barons were on the prowl. The result of that inattention has been continuing cheating of the tribe while Cut Bank, just off to the east and the county seat, was flush with oil for a few decades.

Controversy over oil, now much stripped out, continues on the reservation. The only force strong enough to compete with it is gambling casinos, which threaten to reproduce all the victimization and exploitation of both land allotment and oil rights. Campbell would be appalled, but one wonders if he could be effective in the face of today’s social forces. One wonders what house-to-house visits on the rez would reveal.

1 comment:

Chas S. Clifton said...

I note with some cynicism that reporters a century ago also tried to create levels of uniqueness. Did it go from unique to more unique to most unique? Tsk.