Monday, August 25, 2014


In 1977-78 the Blackfeet Heritage Program undertook to create a set of small booklets that preserved some of the old stories.  One booklet is focused on Mary Ground, born in 1883 and married at sixteen.  She had fourteen children, one husband, and a LOT of ideas and opinions.  Her children have been dynamic in the community and had a big part in producing this series.  Chuck No Runner, her grandson, illustrated this booklet.  It is probably time to re-publish the series, using up-to-date online technology, but a small stapled booklet is always appealing to the lovers of the local.

Mary was controversial because she had blue eyes, implying white genes.  In fact, she is said to have gotten her name, “Grass Woman,” because her putated father rejected her and insisted that she be exposed out in the prairie grass.  She survived a night and was then rescued.  Like many of the old-timers, she was active in both the Catholic church and the surviving Bundle Keeper circles.

This material was transcribed from a sound recording.  I won’t even try to capture the local ways of talking that flavor the tale and give it authenticity, but it is a wildly exciting story.  In 1886 she was living at the Holy Family Mission on Two Medicine as a student and often acted as an interpreter.  “Old Brocky” came grieving to ask the Mother Superior to ask Father Damiani and Father Prando to get their carpenter to make him a coffin for his son, who had been killed by Frank Double Runner.

Frank was one of three brothers.  Ed and Paul went to school at the mission but Frank, who was inclined to be wild was “running around with” Brocky’s daughter.  Paul Brocky was breaking a big pinto horse and rode him up the cliff along Two Med, when suddenly Frank Double Runner stood up from the brush and shot him.  Paul’s horse bucked but he hung on. Then the pinto ran down to the river where Paul died and fell off.

Holy Family Mission School on Two Medicine

Frank, on his own horse, came to the little cabin where Rose Big Beaver’s mother, Paul Brocky’s wife, lived and told her he had killed her husband and would shoot her if she didn’t come with him.  Rosie (whom I knew as a grandmother) was five years old and crawled back under the bed to hide.  The mother got her best finery out of a trunk, put everything on, and went with Frank who hid her in the brush near his parents’ home.

He got his brother, Eddie, to come with him on the pretext of wrangling horses and got food from his mother.  They went back to the top of the buffalo jump cliffs, hid the horse, and watched what was going on in the valley for three days.  Frank threatened to go down and kill all the children, but Eddie talked him out of it.

Willow Creek Student Body
Photo from the Tom Magee collection via

Finally they went on up to Willow Creek School, just past Browning along highway 89 and Willow Creek.  The superintendent was Mr. Matson, who had been warned by the police about the rampaging Frank.  Eddie, who was hungry by now, went down to the school to get food, but once he was there, he warned Matson who sent a messenger to the Agency. 

The cops were afraid of Frank, so Matson said he would go up and talk to him.  Eddie tried to warn him out of it, but he was determined.  That is, he started to go but Frank, who was an excellent marksman, blew his hat off.  Everyone froze in place for a long time.

Then they saw Frank and the woman go down to Willow Creek where there was always a lot of tall brush.  After a long time there was a shot.  It was Rosie Big Beaver’s mother being killed.  Then in a while there was another shot.  When they finally got the courage to go look, both of the lovers were dead.  “They made one great big rough box for both of them.”  Mary reported that Dick Kipp was the one thought to have finally gone to see what had happened.  

Flint Smoker's Daughter -- a Curtis photo

Dick Kipp is a controversial figure.  He was said to be a survivor of the Baker Massacre who was adopted by Joe Kipp, so that he was actually a child of Heavy Runner.  Every name from those early days is loaded with political and family implications both good and bad.  

Double Runner (as distinguished from Double Rider) is recorded in the 1907 census list, but there are only two facts included: his father was Oh-mak-cro-mak-chist-opee and he is full Piegan, 59 years old. (I have no translation of his name.) None of his children are listed.

By contrast there is information about “Packing Tail Feathers Coming Up Hill” who was the father of Brocky.  Jim Whitecalf claimed that it was Tail Feathers who ran out to try to stop the Baker Massacre -- not Heavy Runner as is claimed other places.  Brocky was the nephew of Double Rider and the step-father of Chewing Black Bone, a familiar figure from the James Willard Schultz books.  Rosie Big Beaver’s grandson, “Hoppy,” was in the first 8th grade class I taught in 1961.  

Might be Brocky -- maybe not.

Holy Family Mission and Willow Creek School both have histories clearly offensive to Frank Double Runner.  Holy Family was Catholic and Willow Creek was Protestant, so religion seems not to be the offense.  Perhaps he was mistreated or humiliated as a child in one of the schools, or maybe both places.  Clearly the echo in our time is strong since we endure so many school shootings.  Willow Creek was a disgrace, according to the government inspectors, but Holy Family was harsh in the opinion of some.  

One of the dynamics of Mary Ground’s reputation is that she LIKED the school, allied herself with the nuns, and generally defended them and their rules.  This is not so surprising when one considers her ostracism due to suspicions that she was partly white.  But resentment against the schools was and is pervasive, in spite of the advantages (food as much as instruction), and probably others would have considered becoming snipers if they’d had a good enough gun and been good enough marksmen.

Piegan chiefs visiting Washington DC.  
Back row l to r: Whitecalf, George Steele (agent and morphine addict), then "Tailfeathers Coming over the Hill".

It’s interesting that Double Runner took his brother and his lover with him on the run.  Is this Bonny and Clyde, plus one, or Butch and Sundance plus one?  A movie of this story, possibly book-ended by an old lady telling the tale, would be a naturally vivid film which is often the case with short intense stories as contrasted with long wandering tales.  It’s easy to imagine the young mother taking out her finery from the trunk and putting it on, knowing what was coming.  Did she hurry so she could join her lover?  Or did she slip on the bright garments solemnly and ceremoniously, knowing they would be bloodied?

If I were writing the script, I would bring in the “gaze,” the constant hidden eyes in high places watching to interpret the encampments along the water.  I would reference Hugh Dempsey’s account of outsider tribes petitioning to hunt buffalo on Piegan land in order to feed their children.  Dempsey tells about them watching covertly for a while from a ridge, then when the moment seemed right, making themselves visible by moving out into plain sight.  At that point they would either be invited into the camp for a parlay, or if tempers were high, simply shot on the spot.

Perhaps Frank knew that the power for the future would lie in education and both craved and despised that.  Maybe he realized that in terms of history he was dead already, unwilling or unable to move past that barrier.  In traditional terms, his lover had no choice but to go with him and probably accepted that.  Did she wear her finery because she knew she would be buried in it?  And what about Eddie -- was he brave or a coward to desert Frank?

On the lawn at the Big Hotel in East Glacier.  I don't know who it is.

Mary Ground’s story is a thread that leads us through a past that presages our present.  She would not be surprised.  It’s possible to find photos of some of these people and many interlocking stories have been recorded.

No comments: