Saturday, December 24, 2016


I’m white.  Scots-Irish.  Born that way.  Nothing I can do about it.  Came to Browning, Montana, the Blackfeet Reservation in 1961 to teach high school English.  No one said that since I was white I couldn’t teach Indians.  In those days "Indians" was what everyone called them, including them.  But they told me if any student called me “Napi Yaki” I should take them to the Principal’s office forthwith.  Actually, the Chief of Police took me to the Superintendent’s office because I let the kids speak “libelous” angry words about the cops beating them up.  The Superintendent backed off the Chief by saying that the defense for libel would be proof that it was true, and therefore the ticket the chief proposed to give me would trigger an investigation of the beating of local kids by police.  Likely, there would be media stories.

At the time I thought that was very clever.  Now I think there was something wrong that none of the three of us immediately started that investigation.  Why was the focus on the handling of the information instead of on the clearly criminal and immoral acts?

The angst about white people writing about Indians is beginning again.  I’m not going to discuss the principles.  Instead I’ll tell you how I wrote a book about Blackfeet.

The first thing was that a book called “Generations: The History of America's Future, 1584 to 2069”  (1992)  by Neil Howe and William Strauss was getting a lot of attention.  I thought, “Why shouldn’t this part of the world be looked at this way?”  The authors had separated their time period by twenty years and then given each doubledecade a motif, a little symbolic focus.  So I did that, but I only started with the formation of the US.

(1742 - 1766) 
(1767 - 1791)
(1792 - 1821) 
(1821 - 1841) 
(1843 - 1859) 
(1860 - 1882)
(1883 - 1900)
(1901 - 1924) 
(1924 - 1953)
(1953 - 1969)
(1969 - 1991) 

Then I got out the history books and made notes of what happened to the Blackfeet in those intervals.  That’s how I got the titles and theme.

I. “Dogwoman” 
1742 - 1766: THE HORSE
1720: Some say guns and horses got to the Blackfeet this early. 1730: Blackfeet knew of horses from the Shoshone. 
1739: Trading posts established at the forks of the Saskatchewan River. 1754: Anthony Hendry, guided by Cree, meets Pikuni Blackfeet in Alberta or Saskatchewan. It’s a little dubious since the Cree called them “Archithune” which means strange/enemy/slave. 
1769: First recorded contact between Blackfeet and white men: de le Verendrye in 

II. “Eats Alone” 
1767-1791 PROSPERITY 
1769: First recorded contact between Blackfeet and white men: de le Verendrye. 1772: Mathew Cocking of Hudson Bay Co. describes Blackfoot and their allies.
1774: Cumberland House trading post established on the lower Saskatchewan River. 1778: Continental Congress signs the first Indian 
treaty. It is with the Delaware Nation. The Articles of Confederation state as one purpose to regulate trade with the Indians. 1780: The population of the Blackfoot Nation is estimated to be 15,000. They occupy a broad area that stretches over the top half of Montana and the bottom halves of Alberta and Saskatchewan. 
1781: Devastating epidemic of smallpox. The Shoshoni's flee their country. Smallpox
spreads to the Blackfeet after they raid a Shoshoni camp.
1782: Snakes and Shoshoni tribes leave Bow River area. Major smallpox epidemic among the Pikuni. Possibly 50% mortality. 
1784: Congress grants the War Department rule over Indian Affairs. Hudson Bay and NorthWest Fur Co. are competing for Blackfoot. 
1787: David Thompson winters with the Blackfoot on the Bow River. "Dog Days" old men (those who remember pre-horse) say they came from the Northwest. Blackfoot war partygoessouthtoSantaFe.Stealshorses from Spanish miners. 
1788: The winter when the stars fell. III. “Two Medicine” 

1792 - 1821 BLACK ROBES 
1792: Peter Fidler approaches Chief Mountain through Canada. 1794: Blackfoot trade at Fort George on the Saskatchewan River. 
1795: Kutenai offer horses to the Blackfoot to get passage to Fort George, but the Blackfoot say no for fear of the Kutenai getting guns. 1796: On July 14 Chief Mountain is identified and named by whites. 
1799: Northwest Fur Company builds Rocky Mountain House at the mouth of the Saskatchewan River.
1800: Trappers LeBlanc and La Grosse of the Northwest Fur Company come to live with Kutenai. Pikuni group are masters of the Plains from N. Saskatchewan River to tributaries of the Missouri River, Battle 
River to the Rockie Mountains.
1801: McKenzie, explorer, estimates the Blackfoot warrior class as 9,000 men.
1804: On March 10 formal ceremonies in St. Louis finalize the Louisiana Purchase, the drainage of the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers. In May Lewis and Clark start west to 
see what the U.S. has “bought.” 
1805: Lewis and Clark approach Blackfeet country. Francois LeRocque finds twelve lodges of Shoshoni living with the Crow and identifiesthemasremnantsofalargergroup destroyed by Blackfeet. 
1806: Captain Lewis and men has a skirmish on the Marias after leaving Camp Disappointment at the junction of Two Medicine and Badger. He- That-Looks-at-the- Calf is shot and one other Piegan Blackfeet is killed. 
1807: John Colter makes his famous stripped “race for life.”
1809: David Thompson founds a post at Thompson Falls, visits Flathead Lake. Henry submits this population count: Piegan, 350 lodges and 700 warriors; Blackfoot, 200 lodges and 520 warriors; Blood 100 lodges and 200 warriors. 200 whites in trading posts. 
1810: Thompson sends McDonald, Michel Bourdeaux and Batist Boucher with many Indians over Marias Pass. They battle the Blackfeet near Skyland Siding on Bear Creek. Andrew Henry and Pierre Menard are driven out of Three Forks by Blackfeet. Joseph Howse may have a post near present Kalispell. Blackfeet have first contact wiht U.S. soldiers. Robert Stewart skirts Blackfeet territory and charts the Oregon Trail. 
1818: 49th parallel becomes the US/Canada border. 1820: Hugh Monroe is living with the 

IV. “Horse Healer” 
1821 to 1841: FORTS 
1823: Blackfeet attack Henry near Great Falls.
1828: Kenneth McKenzie and James Kipp found Fort Union. 
1830: McKenzie sends Jacob Berger to win over the Blackfeet for trade. Berger meets Blackfeet on Badger Creek. Blackfeet agree to traders but NOT trappers. Worcester vs. Georgia: this Supreme Court case recognized Indian tribes as foreign nations with the right to govern their own internal affairs. Severe winter: many Blackfeet perish. In summer they go on the warpath to capture women and children to recoup the losses. 
1831: McKenzie arranges a peace between Blackfeet & Assiniboine. 1832: First steamboat reaches Fort Union, bringing George Catlin, who says the Blackfeet are “perhaps the most powerful tribe on the continent.” The tribe numbers 16,500 people. 
1833: Prince Maximilian and Alexander Culbertson arrive upriver. (Fort Benton) Maximilian estimates 18,000 to 20,000 Blackfeet. Stars fall, which is taken as bad luck. On August 28, 600 Sioux and Assiniboine attack 20 Blackfeet lodges outside Fort McKenzie. Bodmer witnesses and depicts it. Blackfeet push Sioux and Assiniboine back to the Marias River and east past the Bear Paws. There is a total eclipse of the sun. 1834: Bureau of Indian Affairs is formed in the War Department. First governmental official designated to meet with the Blackfeet. Fort McKenzie lists their intake: 9,000 buffalo hides; 1,020 beaver; 180 wolf; 19 bear skins; 390 buffalo tongues; 40 otter; 2,800 muskrat; 200 red fox; 1,500 prairie dogs. 
1836: Hugh Monroe sees the St. Mary Lakes. Smallpox pandemic along the Missouri. The Mandan are exterminated. Pikuni/Piegan suffer grave losses. 6,000 Blood and North Peigan perish. Estimated 7 - 12 thousand 
Blackfeet perish in the U.S. No life from Fort Benton to Three Forks. Horses and dogs dead. Some evidence of deliberate infection. (Clothes and/or blankets infected.) 
1837: Smallpox in all tribes north of the Sioux. Alfred Jacob Miller estimates 40 to 50 trappers killed by the Blackfeet. Americans blame the British for inciting killings.
1839: Kutenai War
1840: DeSmet visits the Small Robes band of 
1841: DeSmet founds St.MaryMission in the Bitterroot Valley. Point and Manuel visit the Blackfeet. On December 25 the first five Blackfeet are baptized by FatherDeSmet. 

V. “Horizon” 
1843-1859: RESERVATIONS 
1844: Harvey and his men massacre Blackfeet at Piegan post and ruin trade. 50 lodgesofSmallRobesbanddestroyedbyan invasion of Crow. 160 women and children captures. Small Robes are down to 20 lodges. Smallpox strikes again. 
1845: Culbertson makes a new peace with the Blackfeet. (His wife, Natawista, is Blood.) Monroe camps with Kutenais at St. Mary. DeSmet approaches Waterton/Glacier area from the north.
1846: Fathers DeSmet and Point (Jesuits) visit Piegan and make a map. Chief Victor (Flathead) helps the Small Robes (now 12 lodges) defeat a superior force of Crow who strike in retaliation for 1844. In September 2,000 lodges of Piegan, Blood, North Piegan, Gros Ventre, Flathead and Nez Perce attend a mass by Father DeSmet. All wish to learn the “Black Robe” medicine. 
1847: Fort Benton is built. Paul Kane hears the Big Horn battle story. (Custer) 
1849: BIA transferred from the War Department to the newly formed Department of the Interior. Blackfeet wipe out a 52 man Assiniboine horse-raiding party.
1850: Treaty. Negotiations begun by Isaac Stevens, Governor of Washington Territory, to provide for a transcontinental railroad route. Alfred cumming, head of Central Indian Affairs Superintendency in St. Louis, came to incorporate the Blackfeet and Gros Ventre into “The Peace of the Plains” because they were not in Fort Laramie in 1851 when the others signed. Part of this treaty was the allotment of $15,000 for the instruction of Indians in 
proper agricultural skills. Annuity goods were delivered through the Chouteau Company (Successor of the American Fur Company). 
1851: Cholera epidemic on the upper Missouri. LaramieTreatyCouncildefinesthe hunting grounds of the various Plains Indians. 
1853: Isaac Stevens meets with the Blackfeet to prepare a treaty meeting. He remarks that the “quantity of buffalo is unbelievable.” 
1854: Lieutenant Doty and Monroe explore eastern Glacier Park area. Crow forgo their Laramie Treaty annuities for fear of the Blackfeet. 
1855: Isaac Stevens makes the Judith Treaty (AKA“TheLameBullTreaty”). $15,000gift to the tribe. This is the first treaty between the Blackfeet and the U.S. Government except that Congress didn’t ratify it. No more Small Robes band is left. 
1856: Edwin Hatch appointed first agent for the Blackfeet Agency. He was present for five out of the next nine months. Lame Bull, chief signer of the Judith Treaty, is killed when his horse is run over by a large bull during a hunt. 
1857: “The Slipping Year” -- the area is covered with ice. Alfred J. Vaughn is the next agent and establishes the Sun River farm. He has worked for the Office of Indian Affairs for fifteen years and is married to an Indian. He complains constantly about the bad quality of annuity goods. Smallpox strikes again.
1858: Thomas Blakiston explores Waterton and northern Glacier Park. He estimates there are 7,000 Blackfeet. 
1859: Jesuits accept Alfred Vaughn’s invitation to build a mission among the Blackfeet.

VI. “Eclipse” 
1860-1882: POVERTY 
1860: Boundaries of the reservation surveyed. Bull Society (the big powerful men) dies out. First steamboat makes it to Fort Benton. 
1861: Henry Reed is the agent, described as “weak and inept.” That same year the Blackfeet annuities supposedly burned with the steamboat “Chippewa.” Chouteau offered to replace from his own stock. Reed put Malcolm Clarke in charge of the problem: suggestions of graft. 
1862: Mullen road is in progress. Finally the annuities came with no proper bills of lading and 20 boxes were missing.
1863: Reed goes home to Iowa. 18 month gap with no agent. James Vail is the supervising farmer. An eclipse in summer. 
1864: Montana Territory created. Gad E. Upson is agent. He is inexperienced and more interested in private mining. Whiskey trade booming. Goods arrived late, damaged, and incomplete. 
1865: Fort Benton is the Blackfeet Agency. Meagher attempts an unauthorized treaty with the Blackfeet which precipitates hostilities at Fort Benton between the Blackfeet and white settlers. Another reservation boundary push- back, moving agency to Fort Shaw. Fort Benton men attack Bloods who then retaliated against wood-cutters. (Steamboats used great quantities of wood.) Annuities were suspended. Upson died on his way to Washington, D.C. DeputyAgentHiramUphambecameaclerkto Indian Trader T.C. Power and Co. 
1866: Little Dog and son were assassinated. George B. Wright is the agent. He rents warehouse space from William J. Clarke, a business partner of the late Gad Upson.
Wright does a lot of traveling and is accused of selling annuity goods. A 
five year war between Blackfeet and Gros Ventre now ends: the Gros Ventre are starving. 
1867: Acting Governor Thomas Francis Meagher issues a proclamation for volunteers to join the war against the Blackfeet. Idea terminated when Meagher evidently falls into the Missouri in the middle of the night and is never seen again. The new Governor, Green Clay Smith, is ex-officio Superintendent of Indian Affairs for Montana. He asks for the Indian goods money to be deposited in cash in his own account, but “can’t keep track of it.” Uses Indian money to pay his debts and gambles some of it. Agency is moved to Teton River and then Milk River. Special Agent Nathaniel Pope finds the situation corrupt and recommends reform. 

VII. “Whiteout” 
1884: January 23: Starvation Winter Oct 12: Buffalo virtually exterminated
Oct 13: Last Piegan buffalo hunt near Sweet Grass Hills 
1885: March 12: Agency moved to Willow Creek
Nov 12: Blackfeet reduced to 2,000, few adapted to US farming concept 
1886: Horse raiding ceased.
1889: Aug 24: First Blackfeet sent to Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania
1890: Sept 15: Blackfeet agency moved to Browning
1892: Sept 1: First boarding school at Willow Creek
1893: Nov3: CompletionoftheNorthern Transcontinental Railroad through the Blackfeet Reservation
1894: May 18: Town of Browning established. 
1896: July 10: Blackfeet Indians sold Glacier National Park to US 1897: March 21: Medical clinic established in Browning
1899: May 13: Post office at Durham relocated to Browning. 

VIII. “Cutnose Woman” 
1901 - 1924: ASSIMILATION 
1903: April 4: First Tribal Council elected 1904: Sept 5: Boarding School on Cut Bank 
Creek opened
Dec. 6: Finished fencing off the reservation 1907: March 5: Reservation was surveyed and land parceled out to individual members 1909: April 1: Fence around the reservation was gone.
1910 : May 11: Glacier Park created 1919: Dec 1: Election betwen Browning and Cut Bank for County Seat 

IX. “Gay Paree” 
1924: February 22: US Chief Justice John Marshall made the decision that Indian tribes were “Domestic Dependent Nations: subject to the US Congress but not to state law. 
1934: June 18: Indian Reorganization Act, the right for the Blackfeet to establish a government.
1941: June 24: Museum of the Plains Indian opened to the public. 
1953: Alcohol becomes legal on the Blackfeet Reservation. 

X. “Basketball Warrior” 
1953 - 1969: RE-EMPOWERMENT 
1969: Nov. 19: Occupation of Alcatraz Island by Indians of all tribes. 
1972: February 7: Pencil factory begun. November 3 - 9: Trail of Broken Treaties occupation of the Washington DC BIA building 
1973: March 18: Percy DeWolf was elected as President of Montana State Senate 

XI. “Sweetgrass Hills” 

1976: Nov. 8: Congress enacted the Indian Child Welfare Act
1977: Sept 16: Forest Gerard confirmed as the first Indian Assistant Secretary of the Interior for the BIA 
1978: July 15: Earl Old Person made Chief of the Blackfeet Nation, first since Chief White Calf.
1981: July 12: Renaming of Trick Falls to Running Eagle Falls 
1983: October 14: Ground breaking for new Blackfeet Medical Center Nov 10: First National Bank of Browning closed. 

XII. “The Sun Comes Up” 
1994: Nov 15: National Congress of American Indians organized. 
2005: Blackfeet go in teams to help New Orleans. 

There's more.  Using the book above which was privately published by Bob Scriver to make a permanent record of the Scriver collection of Blackfeet material culture, I started writing each story by choosing an object from these images.  I debate with myself whether I should tell you what page each image in on or whether I should let you find them for yourself.  I'll compromise.  The object in "Whiteout" is the big boulder, which is not in this book, but is still on the road out to Heart Butte.  The object in "Horse Healer" is a little black wooden silhouette of a horse.  The objects in "Sweetgrass Hills" are the rattles, but also the hills themselves.  

Then I cut loose my imagination to roam among people and animals I knew, places I'd been, ideas from listening to historians, possibilities I didn't think had been considered by anyone else.  

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