Friday, June 12, 2009


The little snippet of movie about the signing of the 1928 oil lease mentioned “Kills Across the Way” which is not a familiar name, so I thought I’d look him up in the 1907-08 census, that dependable resource. (Available from the Blackfeet Heritage Center and the Museum of the Plains Indian -- both have websites.)

There he was: full-Piegan, 33 years old so born in 1864, before the People settled down into reservation life.

His father, Striped Dog, was deceased. No one knew who his parents were. Neither did they know about any of his sisters or brothers.

John’s mother was named Kills Across the Way, so he had her name. She was 60 at this time. Her father was unknown and her mother was Quill Work, who was deceased. She had two sisters, Bounces Up, wife of Eagle Flag, and Knows No More.

Quill Work, Bounces Up and Knows No More are not listed under their own names, but Eagle Flag is in the census. He is full-Piegan and eighty years old. His father was “Packing Tail Feathers Coming Up Hill,” and is deceased, but the name survives, much shortened, as “Tail Feathers.” Eagle Flag’s mother was “Kills First” and she is dead. (Women are often named for the exploits of their fathers or husbands.) His sibs were Fox-Head (same father, different mother) deceased who had three sons: Weasel Bear, Aims Back and another.

Red Snake was Eagle Flag’s full sister. She died, leaving John and Henry Merchant; Shadow, the wife of Peter Oscar; and Elizabeth.

Eagle Flag had three recorded wives and lived on Badger Creek just above the forks of Two Medicine. The three wives were Diving at Night, Good Looking Down, and Bounces Up. The first two had died by the time of the census.

Here’s the information about Bounces Up, who was sixty in 1907 but married at ten, “Indian custom” which only means she joined the household then. Her father was Wolf Robe Inside Out (child of North Chief, father; and Berry Eater, mother.) and her mother was Spotted Kill (child of Long Hair, father; and Hairy Eyes, mother). All these people were deceased.

Bounces Up’s brother Many White Horses had the same father but had died. His wife, Walking in the Water, was married to Little Dog, and her other brother was Garrett Many White Horses.

Her uncle, Many Braids, died leaving her cousin, Chief All Over; her half-sister Crow Head (who married Three Bears) had the same father as Bounces Up’s father but a different mother. The same was true of Big Lodge Pole, also Yellow Robe Inside Out. The latter is deceased. His daughter was Baby Girl Wrapped Up, widow of John Middle Calf.

Bounces Up’s aunts and uncles on her mother’s side were Spotted Calf (Running Crane) who died, leaving Young Running Crane and Catches Inside, the widow of Crow Cut. Her full brother, Mountain Chief, died leaving a son. Old Woman Child died, leaving James Gambler and Under Otter, a daughter, who died, leaving Weasel Gut, a daughter who died, leaving Louise After Buffalo. This paragraph is confusing as the punctuation and so on don’t make it clear who is whose sib or descendant.

There are many names in this round-up that are familiar today, sometimes for sorrowful reasons, like Many White Horses. The most famous is Mountain Chief. Spotted Calf, Running Crane, Wolf Robe and Aimsback and After Buffalo all persist. Walking in the Water is probably Wades in the Water, an important name. Merchant and Oscar were mixed blood families. Joe Gambler was one of the figures in Bob Scriver’s depiction of the Opening of the Medicine Pipe Bundle and Little Dog was the ceremonialist.

We’ve been talking about Bounces Up, aunt of John Kills Across the way, so let’s get back to John. At age 33 he’d already had four wives. The first is significant but she only lived with him for four months and had no children with him. She was already the mother of David Duvall, the collaborator who so crucially contributed to the work of Clarke Wissler.

The second wife was Hear Her All the Time, deceased, no children. The third wife was named Caught! She lived with him for a year, went off with another man, had a baby as soon as she left, and neither man would claim it. She died and so did the baby.

The fourth wife was Making Signs to One Another who lived with him for five years. She was full Piegan and her father was Sore Mouth. Her mother and grandparents were unknown, also her aunts and uncles. Before John, she was married to Old Bear Chief but had no children with him, and then Long Time Pine Squirrel, who is Blood and living. With him she had two children, one died and one lives. The latter is Blood Woman, 22 years old, married to Ira Sheriff, and living on Milk River.

With John, Making Signs had three children, one of which died. The daughters who lived were Double Shouting Woman, 6 years old at this census, and Louise, 5 years old, who was named by the priest.

“Making Signs” had a sister and three cousins. Her full-sister was Goes in Many, wife of Chief Coward. I taught Stanley Chief Coward in the eighth grade in 1961-62. This may be the granny who raised him. The cousins were Weasel Fat, Home Gun and Three Guns.

People away from here are not accustomed to Indian names and get distracted by them, trying to understand what they mean. The media encourages colorful, even poetic, phrases so something like “Weasel Fat” or a long phrase like “Making Signs to One Another” is startling.

There are two things in this account that strike me. First there are so many people dead -- this is a period in which the tribe had not quite emerged from holocaust, sort of like the years right after WWII when so many concentration camp prisoners were wandering and dazed. The saving mercy is that the Blackfeet were never displaced from their own high prairie home against the Rockies. But they were refugees in their own land, dependent on food aid and improvised shelter. It is Shadow who has the name that might have been fitting for many people.

The other is that John Kills Across the Way was 33 and already had had four wives, yet only two little girls survive as his children, whom the last wife presumably took with her when she left. Yet twenty years later this lonesome, evidently hard-to-live-with man is negotiating oil leases as a member of the Tribal Council, one of fifty-something voting members who control the future of the whole tribe, now numbering 16,000.

Where IS Stanley Chief Coward anyway? When I ask, they tell me “He’s over in Washington somewhere.” He’d be in his sixties now. How many wives? How many children?


dr. hypercube said...

Thank you.

Kelly Gonzales said...

John Killsacrosstheway is my great great grandpa on my mothers side. My grandma was raised by John her name was Viola Hameline. Her mother was Louise Killsacrosstheway. My mom took Killsacrosstheway as her legal name on her birth certificate.