Monday, September 21, 2015


Eddie Big Beaver

Two exceptionally honorable, handsome, and traditional Amskapi Pikuni (US Blackfeet) men I admired were very old in the Sixties:  Louis Plenty Treaty and Chewing Black Bones.  I knew them because they posed for portraits by Bob Scriver.  Eddie Big Beaver also posed for Bob’s “No More Buffalo,” but Eddie was a different sort of man who had also posed for Phimister Proctor and lived in the big cities.  He was a park ranger for years and died tragically before I was in Browning.  By that time he had become fairly assimilated.  I wrote a blog post about him and some of his children, whom I taught in Browning.  
"No More Buffalo" by Bob Scriver

All three of these men are included in Adolf Hungry Wolf’s marvelous four book series about the Pikunni that is available through the Blackfeet Heritage Center and that is now owned by the Browning Public Schools.  Adolf arrived in Browning a couple of years after me but made it a point to sit down with these old people, born at the end of the buffalo days, and to collect old photos of them.

In order to find the entry about Louis Plenty Treaty, it is necessary to know that he also went by Louis Bear Child.  Many Blackfeet had more than one name.  In 1974 Adolf took Louis up Starr School to check out his cabin where he hadn’t lived for twenty years.  By then Maggie, his wife, had gone on “over the horizon” and Louis was living in the Browning old folks’ home.  Though he had moved away from the little old-timer enclave, he had felt confident enough about the building belonging to him that he had left his Crow-Water-Society Bundle tied high in the rafters.  The goal of the trip was to get it and transfer it to Adolf, meaning to teach him the songs and movements that went with opening it.  On the way Louis was trying to find (remember) the song that accompanied the first unbinding and spreading of the skins, tobacco, rattles.

But when they got to the cabin, there was a padlock on the door and it was obvious that someone was living there.  The squatters returned but didn’t make trouble once they understood who Louis was.  The Bundle was gone.  As it turned out, a previous squatter had removed it, but no one knew what she did with it.  Probably sold it.

In those years Bob was deeply interested in these Bundles, which were being destroyed by fundamentalist Christians and simply disappearing, maybe sold though they weren’t flashy objects.  Our deepest glimpse of what they meant to the people was not about Bundles but about the Horn Society, which was meant to encourage the bison to multiply with many calves.  It was deeply secret because it included ritual coitus.  
Ceremonial staffs

The people were gathered in a big circle and we arrived a little before men holding tall staffs with a crook on end would run around the outside of the circle.  It was an arduous task and a stumble, or worse, a fall, would indicate something very bad was in the future.  Louis ran, barely balancing his tall staff.  He was not a young man, but he had done hard physical work in his youth -- cutting wood and haying with wagons.  His face was intense.  He did not stumble.

Adolf includes a photo of Louis in 1933, dressed in a black leather jacket.  His hair is cut to above his ears so that he looks very modern, even hip.  He was leaving for Washington DC to act as an interpreter and councillor for James White Calf, a much more famous man.

Louis Plenty Treaty in 1933

In William Farr’s book, “The Reservation Blackfeet, 1882-1945,” there is a photo of him standing in his field with his long braids, leaning on a shovel.

He is one of the people in Scriver’s circle of portraits called “Opening of the Thunder Pipe Bundle.”

Louis is the one with the blackened face.

Chewing Black Bones was in an earlier bronze.

The portrait of Chewing Black Bones is sold in two forms.  “Transition” shows him seated on the ground, Marie Williamson standing in the middle wearing her elk tooth dress, and a little boy on her other side.  No one remembers his name.

When the seated figure is sold alone, he’s called “The Last Warrior” and, indeed, he was.  On page 1021 of “The Blackfoot Papers” is a photo of him taken in 1910 in his protective hairlock shirt showing the two scalps he took in war, both long hair.  His own hair was remarkably thick and long, worn in the men’s three-braid manner when he was young.  His daughter said each braid was “thick as a pickle!”

Chewing Black Bone was an observant and meticulous man who incongruously wore glasses most of his life.  When weather allowed he lived in a lodge apart from the family ranch-house on Two Medicine, dressed in buckskin, mended his own moccasins, and despised politicians.  His daughter, Agnes MadPlume, made it possible for him to live this way and pretty much maintained old ways herself.  

Despite all this, Chewing Black Bone was a close friend of two remarkable white men:  James Willard Schultz and Keith Seele.  In a letter to his son, Hart, Schultz told about Chewing Black Bone returning an ancient horned headdress to the Yanktonais Sioux in 1939.  Winold Reiss had painted him wearing it.  His most important religious role had been as a Weather Dancer in an Okan lodge, or Sun Dance.  It was another endurance assignment, to stand in a booth blowing an eagle bone whistle for long periods of time.

Schultz, who was a bit disreputable, had a studio next to the Browning Merc, so Bob in boyhood knew him, though he was instructed to stay away from him.  Keith Seele was an eminent and entirely conscientious Egyptologist from the U of Chicago who was involved in the excavations that tried to save whatever there was that would be destroyed by the building of the Aswan Dam.  He was in Egypt when Chewing Black Bone neared his end, was notified, and came at once to Browning.  

We were close to Keith and Diedericka Seele and loved to take a picnic out to Cut Bank Creek and sit by the last of the campfire, listening to Keith tell stories about Egypt. At first Chewing Black Bone did not want to pose for Bob, but Keith helped to persuade the old man.  Keith, who had once intended on going into the ministry, had also been devoted to Schultz.  

This may be Louis in his captured headdress.
The face painting is for the Horn Society.

I think the common denominator was the love of ancient lands and times.  As Schultz’ book title asked,  “Why Gone Those Times?”  There is no answer.  In the times of flowering, the “climax cultures” as the anthros call them, it seems the natural order of the world, deeply true.  But then circumstances that can’t be controlled wipe everything out despite our best efforts to remember.  And we can't yet know what the next flowering climax will be like.

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