Saturday, April 30, 2005

Those Guys Are Like That

The Blackfeet were a nomadic people who constantly moved over their range in relatively small groups, mostly affiliated by family ties. Far from wandering randomly, the groups followed a rough pattern that was mostly seasonal (and therefore varied if the weather did) harvesting camas here, gathering sarvisberries there, and always on the lookout for small bands of buffalo (not unlike their own bands) that might be conveniently close to a nice steep cliff where they could be panicked into stampeding over. That way even stone knives could make them into dry meat.

The small family groups, over time, developed personalities and reputations or had some leader with a quirk worth noting by others and then used to indicate which band was being discussed. Thus, “Never Laughs” or “Eats Alone” became the names of bands, rather like surnames. Here is a list someone in the past made of the bands at that time. (They would, of course, change as they merged, spun off parts, or died out.) The translations are not much good, so look for a Blackft speaker to give you the REAL names.) They’re not always flattering because jokesters invented the names -- not the band themselves.

Siks-uh-kah (Blackfoot) from
Siks-i-nuts (black) + uh-kuh-tehit (foot)

Puh-ksi-nah-mah-yiks (Rotten bows)
Mo-tah-tos-iks (Many medicines)
Siks-in-o-kahs (Black elks)
E-ma-ta-pahk-si-yiks (Dogs naked)
Ah-ki-stan-iks (Much manure)
I-yo-mo-ki-kan-iks (Sliders)
Si-yeks (Liars)
I-sik-stuk-iks (Biters)
Sin-ik-sis-tso-yiks (Early finished eating)
Ap-pe-ki-yiks (Skunks)
Is-si-sak-wi-ah-wat-op-iks (Meat-eaters)

Ki-nah (“Bloods” or maybe
Many Chiefs from Ah-ki-nah)

Siks-in-o-kahs (Black elks)
I-yo-mo-ke-kan-iks (Sliders)
Ah-uo-nis-tsests (Many lodge poles)
Ah-tut-o-si-ki-nah (Behind direction “Bloods”)
Is-tse-Ke-nah (“Bloods”)
In-uhk-so-yis-sum-iks (Long tail lodge pole)
Ne-tit-skihs (One fighters)
Siks-ah-pun-iks (Black blood)
E-sis-o-kas-im-iks (Hair shirts)
Ah-ki-po-kaks (Many children)
Sak-se-nah-mah-yiks (Short bows)
Ap-pe-ki-yiks (Skunks)
Ak-o-tash-iks (Many horses)

Piegans or Pe-kun-i (spotted tan, a robe that has hard spots on it after being tanned.)

E-nuk-s-iks (Small)
Ap-pe-ki-yiks (Skunks)
Ke-me-tiks (Buffalo manure)
E-pok-se-miks (Fat roasters)
Ah-pi-tup-iks (Blood people)
Ne-tyu-yiks (One eaters)
Kut-i-im-iks (? Laugh)
Sik-ut-si-pum-iks (Black moccasin soles)
Sin-ik-sis-two-yis (Early finished eating)
Me-ah-wah-pet-seks (Seldom lonesome)
Mo-twin-iks (All chiefs)
Isk-sin-i-tup-iks (Worm people)
Me-oh-kiu-i-yeks (Big tops)
Sik-o-pok-si-miks (Black fat roasters)
Mo-kum-iks (Mad campers)
Ne-tot-si-tsis-stum:iks (Bulls come close)
Sik-oh-ket-sim-iks (Black smoke holes)
Mo-tah-tos-iks (Many medicines)
Ne-takus-kit-se-pup-iks (One will their hearts)
Ah-ki-ye-ko-kin-iks (Many loose women)

I asked Darrell Kipp, the Harvard Indian, which band his family had claimed. Without hesitating, he said, “Camps by a lake.” He said the phrase in Blackft somehow includes a reference to the blue heron, who is often seen along a lake. This pleased him since his cabin in the St. Mary’s valley is indeed along the lake. The people liked that location because first thing in the morning they would plunge into the lake to wake up and start the day clean.

Last summer Piegan Institute, of which Darrell is a founder, sponsored a summer history seminar where the presenters included a team from the North Piegan tribe far north in Alberta. They arrived a little late: wide straw hats, slim hips in jeans, hiking boots, packs, dark skin, white smiles -- walking easy. They’d been covering the prairie all summer, mostly on foot, with GPS instruments, looking for the ancient camping spots. Once they found the first few it was pretty easy to know what they were looking for and how far apart they would be. Not only were there subtle signs of old campfires and shelters, but also it became apparent that the Old People were packing plants or seeds along to establish in each spot, so they would be growing there when needed. Sometimes they did a little cultivating to help their favorite things grow. Might be tobacco, though it was more likely to be in hidden spots so no one else would harvest it. Could be sweet grass, which doesn’t spread well by itself.

When the team found one of these places, they noted it on the GPS and when they got back to their tribal college, they put the information into a huge computer-driven map-drawing machine that traced it all out on paper. Two “trails” were very old, camps about as far apart as a person and a dog could comfortably travel in a day on terrain where a dog could drag a travois. That meant gradual slopes to riverbeds and around big brushy patches. Then there was one newer trail, for horses, where the distances were greater, not just because they could travel farther but also because the horses needed more water and lots of grass.

When the reservation system forced everyone to stop moving around, the bands settled as they could, some in favorite places and others in not-such-happy places and today they are still associated with those places. Individuals might move to Browning or go to Canada for a year, or even travel out to a city for a while. But they remain attached to the place they grew up and don’t miss moving across the prairie to follow camas or buffalo as their great-great-grandparents did.

Today it’s the white people who restlessly move back and forth over the continent, looking for work.

Friday, April 29, 2005

Whose History Is It?

In 1961 when I came to Browning, Bob Scriver’s outfit on the highway was next to Ed Anderson’s Fifties ranch-style house was next to Bill Kipling’s quite modest frame house was next to Alonzo Skunkcap’s log cabin. ‘Lonzo, very old, had been blinded by epidemic trachoma in the early part of the century and so had his wife. Their allotment was out of town to the West, maybe ten miles, and to heat his log cabin in town ‘Lonzo would hitch up horses and bring wood to town on the running gear of a wagon. If he needed to get out to the ranch and didn’t have his horses, he’d come over and ask for a ride. Since he was agreeable to waiting until we had a break in our work, we always took him. Bob said he had been one of the best hunters on the reservation and his sons were as well. But they verged on the disreputable.

Recently the governor of Montana appointed Gayle Skunkcap to a state commission. Shannon Augare, Elouise Cobell and Wayne Smith have also been appointed to various posts. In four generations, maybe five, the Skunkcaps have gone from subsistence life in a log cabin to being on state regulatory bodies that require a good bit of expertise, which they have acquired in part through managing the reservation. The American story and we’re all proud, right? Wrong. The governnor has gotten DEATH THREATS by phone in the middle of the night for being “too Indian friendly.”

Part of the reason I began this blog project was that in conversation with a town librarian she remarked, “I don’t see why WE should have to learn THEIR history.” She was a bit taken aback by my reaction, probably because she’d never been taught how interwoven is the history of both whites and Indians, Belgians and Blackfeet. The stories of the Conrads and the Sherburnes make that clear. The plot lines include all humans here as well as “natural” history -- even geology. (Coal? Gold? Rivers?) And world history. Blackfeet were warriors in both World Wars.

The story of Bob Scriver is also the story of the Cree Medicine family, skilled foundrymen and mold makers. My autobiography must include all those students I taught (and who taught me). Those who try to draw a line between white history and Indian history are simply not paying attention. The dynamics, both personal and political, alternate between opposition and collaboration, tragic error and idealistic intimacy, business downturn and economic success.

For a while the claim has been made that only Indians can properly write about Indians. Indian scholars wish to claim back the right to look at events from their own perspective, so that they can reap the benefits of Indian intellectual achievements and so they can tell parts of the story that are resisted by the larger society. (Today I read a review that said if Hitler had won WWII, there would have been genocide of Jews in the United States. There was no consciousness that genocide of Indians only stopped a little more than a century ago.)

A lot of energy has been wasted on the pedigrees of “volunteer Indians” (sounds nicer than “wannabe,” don’t you think?) when the same amount of attention to their ideas might have been more productive. If it’s a good idea, who cares what color the author is? If it’s a bad idea, what does the color of the author matter?

At a recent “health fair” in Browning, Thunder Pipe Bundle Keeper wives formed a panel. These women were nothing like each other. One is the young wife of a rather colorful restauranteur. One is a diligent television producer. One is the wife of a prominent Neotraditionalist, a man who once objected to whites being Keepers but who now includes a white Keeper in his Bundle Circle. Another wife is a former president of the Blackft Community College -- her husband is also a strong Neotraditionalist. All are relatively prosperous. The focus of the panel, surprisingly, was “letting go of the past.”

In the past it was unheard of for Bundle Keeper wives to be on a panel that advised others what to do. And only recently people thought of Bundle Keepers as people of status, not as people with an obligation to guide others by their example and advice, though that was clearly the role of very old Keepers. These are not “old-timey” women, but modern, educated professionals. Some of them have devoted many years to recovering the past, for instance, organizing the annual commemoration of the Baker Massacre.

I’m forever telling a story though not everyone appreciates it. Bob and I went fishing out at ‘Lonzo’s place which is full of beaver dams and willow. We waded and lounged and generally were lousy fishermen, but we did catch one small trout. When we stopped back by the log cabin house, Bob put the wee fish on the bare table and told ‘Lonzo we’d brought some fish for dinner.

‘Lonzo felt around until his hands touched the fish and then he laughed, which is what Bob had hoped he would do. Afterwards, thinking of that bare house, I thought it was a cruel trick for an old couple and we’d ought to have given them some real food. But then I remembered that Blackft don’t even eat fish, at least old time ones never did, even when starving. To me, this little story is like a koan or a gospel lesson. But what does it mean? It tugs at my mind.

‘Lonzo laughed. That’s the point. No matter what we did -- what mattered was how ‘Lonzo took it, and he chose to laugh. After all, he could SEE what lousy fishermen we were, so wasn’t the joke on us?

As history meshes and morphs, engages and elaborates and withdraws, the joke is on different people at different times. Certainly the advice of the Bundle Keeping Women is wise in terms of not hoarding old grudges and past offenses. Their own behavior shows that they are not against innovation and experiments. They are not pretending to be 19th century Indians by only preserving ancient rituals, but pointing the way forward towards how Indians can be in the future. They are making history. So is Governor Schweitzer.

Thursday, April 28, 2005

The Conrad Brothers

Let’s do some Conrad begats.

In the beginning were three brothers: William, Charles and John. In 1868, William (16) and (14) were sent to Montana by their father, Colonel James Conrad, an officer in Mosby’s Raiders and once a plantation owner. He kept John two more years until he turned 14. The first two soon found work with Isaac G. Baker, merchant, river master and whiskey trader. They supervised ox teams, built trading stockades, and John, as soon as he came, handled the gold dust and acted as a courier and road escort. He was six foot three. By 1873 he brothers had a controlling interest in the Baker Company and were operating eight trading posts spread out clear the the Arctic Circle.

Charles Conrad found his first wife in the 1870’s. “Singing in the Middle,” a Blood Indian, at one of the Canadian forts and formally married her. In 1876 she gave birth to a son, also named Charles. She drifted off and remarried to an Indian but died in childbirth in 1881. Charles Jr., at his mother’s request, was sent to a Catholic boarding school in Montreal and raised there. By then Charles Sr. was a 37-year-old prosperous trader and banker. Letitia Stanford arrived from Nova Scotia with her mother and and sister to start the Select School for Ladies and Children. Charles Sr. married her and built her a red brick house on the corner of Washington and Sixteenth Street in Fort Benton.

In 1882 Lettie had a son and they named him Charles. So now Charles had two sons, Charles Edward, the half-breed, and Charles Davenport, the all-white. Charles Senior, known by the Indians as “Spotted Cap,” had a reputation as a special friend of the Indian and gave advice in the sale of the Ceded Strip (Glacier National Park) to the government. It had to do with how the payout was made; whether it was good advice depends on opinion.

William became deeply involved in cattle ranching, though all the Conrads were ranchers for a while. The village of Valier was once part of the Conrad Circle Cattle Company, specifically the Block Hanging Seven. Founder of Conrad, William helped develop irrigation along the southern edge of the reservation. Lake Frances, next to Valier, is the man-made impoundment lake for that system which starts at Swift Dam in the mountains. He cooperated with Jesuits to bring in Belgian grain farmers and occasionally worked behind the scenes (unsuccessfully) to move the reservation boundary farther north so that the work done there at Blackft expense would be part of his system.

There was a Fort Conrad at once point, but it was eaten by the flooding of nearby Marias River. Charles Sr. ran it, as one among a string along the Whoop-Up Trail, now commemorated by markers. The whole complex was based on running what passed for whiskey. James Willard Schultz (sometimes accused of using “grass”) was a friend of the Conrads, especially Charles. Mounties were specifically sent to close the whiskey trade and in 1874 they had about succeeded. Joe Kipp, Schultz, Hiram Upham, and Charles ran the fort for a few years, then sold it to a rancher in 1885. The buffalo had been used up in 1883-84, so there was nothing for Indians to trade.

But the prairie was emptied for the great open-range cattle operations. In 1878 the three Conrads put half a million dollars into cattle. William ran these operations and was not sentimental about feeding Indians. For a good price the Conrads supplied over five million pounds of beef for Mounties and reservation Indians in 1880. By then they were thinking about railroads and coal.

In 1890 James J. Hill was building tracks and Charles Conrad agreed to found a town that would provide a meeting point -- the result was Kalispell. In 1892 Charles Conrad opened a bank and built the fabulous house that appears in “Heavensgate.” He enjoyed inviting Indian leaders to formal dinners, complete with crystal, silver, china and linen. Then all repaired to the Great Entry Hall where there they settled before the huge fireplace to share cigars and stories. Charles’ daughter Alicia said that she would crouch on the stairs to listen, watching the firelight play across their faces and make their eyes glitter. She also remembers the first appearance of her half-Indian brother, Charles Edward, who picked her up and swung her over his head. She loved him.

Neither of the junior Charleses was a success. Charles Edward, handsome and proud, married Marie Blanche Lionais, a French girl from a fine family, in Montreal’s cathedral with the archbishop presiding. Charles Sr. gave the newlyweds a fine house and created a trading company for his son. Edward ran it into the ground. More money was sent, but it was never enough and then Charles Sr., knowing he was dying of diabetes, turned his attention to designing his own mausoleum. He died on Thanksgiving, 1902, aged 52. Edward took as much more money as he could get from the estate and from his stepmother until business and wife were gone. In September, 1905, not quite thirty, he committed suicide.

Charles Davenport, the all-white son, was no better. He was a party-hearty guy even after he married Kokoa Baldwin, daughter of a prominent lawyer. Insulted beyond bearing, she rode her horse to the bank, carried her riding crop into his office and lashed his face. She filed for divorce in 1915 and left to be in silent Western movies. After not-enough-success she returned to Kalispell and is rumored to have died of suicide.

Charley D. remarried. In 1930 his 21-year-old son went into the woods and died of a shotgun blast to the chest, maybe another suicide. Lettie died in 1924, leaving a fortune to Charley D. and his sisters, Alicia and Katherine. He managed to get control of all the money. His last scheme was to turn that elegant big house into a casino and bordello, but Alicia found out in time and saved the house with a secret down payment from the last of her money. In 1940 a group of Kalispell businessmen bought the Conrad bank and two years later he died of lung cancer.

Alicia was married long enough to lose the last bits of money and to produce a daughter, Alicia Ann. Alicia and a stepfather lived in the big Conrad house while it fell apart around them. There was no money for rehabilitation. When it became impossible, the couple lived in a mobile home in the driveway. In 1973, the stepfather died, and in the late 1970’s Alicia Ann’s son Chris made arrangements to transform the building into a museum.

Rewind to 1880. Now we turn to John Conrad. His cattle were in the Hurlbut-Conrad Cattle Company, based in the notorious Johnson County, Wyoming. It’s unclear whether he was part of the cattle mogul vigilante groups, but certainly his cowboys were also gunslingers. By 1891 he had sold out his cows.

He met Mabel Barnaby during the 1884 Democratic National Convention. She was nineteen, accompanying her father, who was a Rhode Island merchant and politician. John was 29, identified by the newspapers as a “Western millionaire.” In 1887 he installed his wife in a log cabin home in Billings and opened a fancy store. He also established an attachment to Samuel Hauser (banking, railroad, mining, and cattle) who was one of the Big Four. the others were Charles Broadwater (railroads and a fabulous health spa in Helena), Marcus Daly and Willliam A. Clark (both copper kings). John’s goal was becoming governor. He bought a house as 702 Madison Avenue in Helena.

In the spring of 1891, Mabel’s mother was poisoned to death in Denver. John went berzerk in pursuit of the poisoner, who might well have been a doctor who had ingratiated himself with the woman. The doctor had a mentally unstable wife who eventually collected $25,000 from her will, but the doctor poisoned himself before he could be convicted. Under the pressure the John Conrad marriage came totally unglued -- the master and mistress accusing each other of repeated adultery and the household so disorderly that at one point there was an in-house riot featuring the coachman wielding a stick and the Chinese cook swinging a frying pan. John was the loser.

The divorce was complete in 1895 and Mabel took her children (Florence, Maud and the first Barnaby) back to civilization in Europe. Since she had her own fortune, it was not difficult to marry an American named George Choate Kendall and move into a chateau in France.

John Conrad disappeared for a while, popped up again in the Yukon and made a mighty effort to repeat the past on this new frontier. At sixty, his Venus Mine was a success until 1912. He died in 1928, drunk and indigent, in an SRO hotel in Seattle.

The three Barnaby Conrads all grew up educated, sophisticated world-citizens. Absinthe and martinis are a far cry from the product sold on the Whoop Up trail, flavored with tobacco and hot peppers. Barnaby Conrad II has written 37 books, and Barnaby Conrad III is in close pursuit of that record. Any of the three could be portrayed on the screen by Kris Christopherson. Maybe Barnaby Conrad III is a little young -- let’s say Brad Pitt as in “Legends of the Fall” -- not such a different story.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

The Hunt for Conrads

Earlier and MUCH tougher than the merchants of Browning were the Conrad brothers. My favorite Conrad is Barnaby Conrad III, author of “Ghost Hunting in Montana: A Search for Roots in the Old West” (@ 1994. HarperCollins. ISBN 0-06-258551-7) He is the great-grandson of the frontier Conrads and the son of a very sophisticated Conrad, Barnaby Conrad II, whom you can check out on his website. ( This is how it begins: “Author, artist, and raconteur Barnaby Conrad is the founding director of the Santa Barbara Writers' Conference and the author of more than 27 books... The native San Franciscan is also a former vice consul to Spain, amateur bullfighter, art teacher, and onetime secretary to novelist Sinclair Lewis. He studied art at the Academie Julien in Paris and named his former North Beach night spot after his successful 1952 novel, “Matador”.)

The third Barnaby has written books about absinthe, martinis, cigars and blondes. But this “Ghost Hunting” book is about his (ahem) vigorous ancestors. For purposes of contrast, let us start with the maternal genteel side.

William Henry Hunt arrived in Fort Benton in 1879. (That’s two years after James Willard Schultz arrived in the same place.) Rather better connected than Schultz, Hunt was a direct descendent of Robert Livingston, “coauthor of the Declaration of Independence, ambassador to France and the chief negotiator of the Louisiana Purchase.” He followed an older brother to Fargo, Dakota Territory, where he worked as a surveyor, a newspaper reporter and a law clerk -- typical occupations for a resourceful educated man in an expanding environment. In Fort Benton he hooked up with another Yalie and ran a law office until 1881 when his father was named Secretary of the Navy by President Garfield and he named young Hunt (24 years old) U.S. Collector of Customs for the Montana and Idaho Territories.

In 1882 he went back east to wed Gertrude Upshur, daughter of an admiral. Early Fort Benton was a shock to her. In 1884 Hunt became the Attorney General of Montana Territory. Then he became a judge and legislator in Helena where it was possible to live quite an elegant life with no curious Indians peering in the windows.

Hunt proved to be one of the unbribeable sturdy figures. In 1901 he became governor of Puerto Rico. Then Teddy Roosevelt wanted to put him on the Supreme Court, but there was no vacancy, so he was appointed the U.S. District Judge for Montana. Taft appointed him to the Court of Customs Appeals in Washington, D.C. and then Woodrow Wilson assigned him to the Second Circuit Court out of New York where he presided over the trial of William Rockefeller. Next was a judgeship on the 9th Circuit Court, based in San Francisco, and then a request that he run for the senate, which he turned down. Once more he was suggested for the U.S. Supreme Court but it didn’t happen. He retired from the bench in 1928 and opened a private practice. In 1949, 92 years old, he died. His most cherished memory was a great herd of buffalo that interrupted that first trip on a steamship up to Fort Benton.

Not often are we told about the successes on the frontier who then go east or even to Europe, building their careers on sterling values and hard work. Everyone loves a rascal, which this story will provide in the form of the Conrad brothers.

This material in fictionalized form is the origin of the ponderous movie called “Heavensgate” which was filmed in part around here. Kris Christofferson was more like a Conrad than a Hunt, but the general dynamics were similar. The mansion house in the movie, where the cattle barons meet in a wood-paneled dining room and Kris plays a quick table of pool on the mezzanine, was built in Kalispell (which he founded in 1892) by Charles E. Conrad. You can visit the house for a small admission, and imagine yourself back in that Gilded Age when everything seemed possible.

Barnaby III takes a rather cynical tone as he describes his hegira around the state and down into Wyoming (which was still Montana territory in those days). He includes the usual tales about squalor and violence, time-worn places and people, and kitsch attempts at livening things up. But he probably saw Bob Scriver more accurately than most. “A short, powerful man with a graying Vandyke beard and a slightly crazed look in his blue eyes.” His account of what Bob said is cooked up, but when Bob had company he was trying to impress, he did assume a kind of movie personality -- corny, in my opinion. He took Barnaby out to the studio, showed him his treasures, and broke the rules by opening the Thunder Pipe Bundle. This means he really liked his interviewer very much.

Barnaby (what do you suppose his friends call him? “Barn?”) did a good job of reporting on Darrell Kipp and Vicky Santana. His guide was Ed Anderson, who normally guides fishermen, and who was our next door neighbor for many years. He did not come away with an upbeat impression, but this was just before some of the real turnarounds, like Piegan Institute and some law reforms and agreements.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Reservation Whites

Synchronistically, the newspaper came last week with the obituary of William Bercovich, son-in-law of J.L. Sherburne. I copy it here:

William “Bill” Bercovich, 91, a longtime resident of Browning and a California native, died after a stroke Monday (4-18-05) at his home in Sacramento.

A memorial service will be held at his cottage in East Glacier at a later date.

Survivors include Bill’s daughter Elaine, a schoolteacher in Sacramento, her husband Ric Elliot, and their daughter Rachael.

Bill was born Feb. 27, 1914, in Sacramento and grew up in San Francisco, where his parents lived. He worked in California, Texas, Massachusetts and Montana as a U.S. Border Patrol officer.

In Browning, he met Faithe Sherburne, from a pioneer family that operated the Sherburne Mercantile Co., on the Blackfeet Reservation. They were married in 1943 and then Bill operated the Sherburne Mercantile lumber and hardware business until he retired. In 1988 he moved to California with Faithe, who preceded him in death.

Bill was active in local organizations in Browning including the Lions Club and Shriners. His favorite pastime was golfing, and he spent many evenngs pursuing the sport on the East Glacier Golf Course with numerous good friends from Browning.

He will be remembered by all who knew him for his keen wit and great sense of humor.

Out there on the book shelves is a good deal of historical material about the split between the old non-English-speaking full-blood Blackft and the next generation that was half-white, English-speaking, and educated to some degree -- some quite assimilated. But no one says anything about a similar split within the WHITE community on the reservation between those who grew up there, attending school with local people (necessarily mostly Blackft), and relating to them as friends and equals, versus those who came in from “outside,” who always saw Indians as Indians. It’s a hard difference to explain, except that some people (I would say Bob Scriver, his brother and dad) identified with the place and whoever lived there -- marking off outsiders without regard to sociology. The other group identified with white people and the larger state and nation, partly out of feeling superior, more knowledgeable about the world.

Bill Bercovich brings this to mind because he was always an outsider. His wit and humor were funnier to people with whom he aligned (prosperous whites) -- otherwise they often amounted to put-downs. Notice that J.L. Sherburne’s biography makes a big point out of how friendly he was to Indians. But J.H.’s biography (which J.L. probably also wrote) reports that he spoke Indian languages and signtalk.

Bill didn’t like Bob Scriver much until Bob began to have a national reputation for his art. Then at least Bill concealed his dislike. For contrast, Cooper, another border patrolman, was an enthusiastic friend of Bob’s and never cared about status, even though he came in from outside. Wessie was in the opposite dilemma. She had been taught to value social status, especially since her ancestors were landed gentry in Scotland. That didn’t even register on an Indian reservation. I think she took refuge in thinking that her birth family exceeded in status all represented here. Since Eula Sherburne (nee Churchill) thought rather the same way, they didn’t exactly get along.

Poor Bill is taking the brunt here, but a different split was within the Sherburne family between J. L Sherburne (Eula’s husband) and Frank Ponca Sherburne (J.L.’s brother). Only family members know how the original division in style and goals began, but it ended with J.L. anxious to be a politician, a state-wide force, and a wealthy man. Frank Ponca was far more aligned with the tribe and the locality of Browning.

According to Herb Sherburne (Frank Ponca’s son), when the “big green book” (in which the previously blog-posted biographies originally appeared) was published, J.L. Sherburne felt it was good advertising, a chance to represent himself well. Frank Ponca said he was not inclined to “brag and bray” and was not recorded in the book. T.E. Scriver the same. Herb, a loyal soul who came to Frank Ponca by adoption, speaks fondly and gratefully of the whole family and was friendly with Bill Bercovich. He is a geologist with a special interest in laccoliths, like the Sweetgrass Hills.

The point is that while schisms among the Blackft were affecting events, so were small competitions and resentments determining who socialized with whom (oh, those bridge parties!), how contracts and stock tips went, who had political links out to Helena and who dealt only at home. When it came to ethical matters, one’s frame of reference was very much controlled by these alignments. A person who focussed on white business contacts other places would come to a very different understanding of what to do than a person who was friends with someone whose grandfather was starving at Heart Butte.

The usual socioeconomics of whites applied to the reservation. Both Thad’s sons made first marriages to the daughters of Scandinavian carpenters who worked for the Agency. Whether that was desired or equitable, I don’t know. Bob’s subsequent marriages were to outsiders. The Sherburnes mostly married “up.”

Outsiders from the artistic and literary world (who tended to be critical of local whites) were not trusted by the white burghers. Walter McClintock, Charlie Russell, Frank Bird Linderman, James Willard Schultz, or George Bird Grinnell put the local white-identified-whites on the defensive. Most of what we know about Blackft was gathered by these romantic visitors during summer weeks. They wasted little time on white townsmen because they identified with the Indian people. In terms of respect from the outside world, the split that really counted, ironically, was between whites who identified with other Montana whites and whites who identified with Indians -- with the latter having the advantage.

Even MORE ironically, the Indians who were anxious to offer themselves as experts were often the Indians who identified with whites and wanted to be close to them. Indians who identified with their own old people were elusive, even invisible. They never met trains or went to Washington or took in stray writers. Most of them slipped away without being entirely known, even by their own families.

What I’m saying is that you should never assume you know the real truth about a reservation.

Monday, April 25, 2005

Joseph Lockley Sherburne

Joseph Lockley Sherburne, in the line of the Sherburne family, Joseph VIII, was born November 22, 1883, at Ponca Indian Agency. His father, J.H. Sherburne, was licensed by the United States to trade with the Indians on the reservation. He was also the first Postmaster in Ponca.

When his father sold his business at Ponca and moved to Arkansas City, Kansas, he moved not only his family but his house across the prairie, a distance of some thirty-five miles by team. They lived there for a number of years. School memories here with so many strange white children were not as pleasant as they had been among the Indians who were so friendly and with whom acquaintance was made so easily.

After leaving Arkansas City, the family moved to Pawnee, where his father established a trading post under Federal License with T.M. or Tom Finney as his partner. It was here during the McKinley and Hobart campaign he began early in his life to defend his political beliefs. His father and family were ardent Republicans. Young Finney and the Sherburne boys were some of the few to wear the Republican labels which were printed at the printer’s office. As the community was almost entirely Democratic, they took many a beating on the school grounds through the weeks of that campaign trying to wear those badges and maintain their rights as Republicans. No harm came of it except they often got bloody noses and black eyes.

In the spring of 1896, his father left Pawnee for Montana to establish a new store and home. In June, the family, consisting of his mother, his brothers, Frank and Arthur; his three sisters, Hazel, Agnes and Theo, left for Montana. The first part of the trip was to Topeka, Kansas, where the family visited a short while. They left Topeka early in July to go West by train. after the long, hard and slow trip they finally ended their train trip at Blackfoot, Montana, and made an eight mile wagon trip to Browning. In contrast to the heat of the south, here was a beautiful, cool country -- never hot in the daytime and always cool at night, being only twelve miles east of the Rocky Mountains.

The only school in this vicinity at this time was the Indian Boarding School about two miles west of Browning, which was filled to capacity, so in the newly finished home his father arranged for private classes for the Sherburne family and several others until a regular school house could be built.

His high school education was completed in Minneapolis, where the entire family went each school season. His father remained in Browning to carry on his business. Joe’s spring and summer vacations were spent in Montana, employed with the United States Survey parties working around the St. Mary’s Lake and the Swift Current Valley area.

During that time the first oil wells in the State of Montana were being drilled in the Valley. He frequently spent Sundays watching those operations. The first oil produced on the old Swift Current Land and Power Company drilling location was placed on display at the State Fair in Montana.

In June, 1908, Joe and a cousin, Walter Sheppard, left Browning to make a bicycle trip to Yellowstone Park. This distance took a week and from there they continued on to Portland and then Salem, Oregon where Walter’s home was located. They worked through the cherry picking season, into the summer harvest and helped thresh wheat and other grain. He ended his vacation by taking a fishing and camping trip with his uncle, Fred Lockley Sherburne, at Yaquina Bay, Oregon. He returned to his home in Montana by train from Portland.

After graduation from high school in Minneapolis in 1904, J.L. Sherburne entered the University of Minnesota as a freshman. Early in the school year he became ill with typhoid and that long and severe illness prevented his returning to classes that year. This ended his planned college career.

He returned to Montana at the end of that year to hep his father operate the Sherburne Mercantile, a well-established store in Browning. A branch store was opened at Babb in 1906, where Joe lived until his marriage to Eula Churchill on June 28, 1908. They were married at Cut Bank Boarding School about five miles northeast of Browning, where her father was superintendent of that Indian school. To obtain their lincense it was necessary to send a messenger by horseback about seventy-eight miles to Choteau, the county seat of Teton County, the nearest place a license could be obtained.

Eula Churchill was the only daughter of Clarence A. and Drusilla Churchill. She was born in 1888 in Geneso, Kansas. Her childhood and early childhood were spent on various Indian reservations, where her father was Superintendent, employed by the Bureau of Indian Affairs. He came to Browning as Superintendent of the Cut Bank Boarding School and later became Superintendent of the Blackfeet Indian Agency.

During the period of the next few yaers, three children were born to Joe and Eula -- one of which died at an early age; Faithe Sherburne Bercovich, now residing with her husband William and small daughter Elaine at Browning; and Frederic Churchill Sherburne, who with his wife Doris and four small sons owns and operates the Mountain Pine Motel at East Glacier Park, Montana.

In 1915 he was elected a member of the School Board and for the next ten years he remained on the board, part of the time as chairman. During that period the first modern school building was built in Browning. Up until then, there had been just the old fashioned type of one room school which began in the Sherburne home in Browning with a tutor hired to conduct classes.

Also in 1915, he was made vice president and assistant manager of the Sherburne Mercantile Company established by his father, J.H. Sherburne, in 1896. He served as such until 1938, when upon the death of his father he became president and manager and conducted the business until his death.

In 1942, the original building, which had housed the Mercantile since its establishment, burned to the ground. Since it was during World War II and building materials were unavailable for non-essential construction, business was continued without losing a day’s transactions on the books by moving the various departments into quarters scattered about the business district of Browning. In 1945 the drug department and the grocery and dry goods were sold to Buttrey’s of Montana. The Sherburne Mercantile Company continues its existence as a lumberyard, hardware and materials outlet.

In 1916, the First National Bank of Browning was established by Joe’s father in order to set up a regular banking business which had started in a small way as part of the Mercantile as a loan “department.” Joe was cashier and served in that capacity for a number of years until 1938 when he was made president. He filled that office until his death. He was recognized in banking circles as one of the pioneer bankers of Montana.

In 1920, Joe became agent for several fire and casualty insurance companies, all stock companies, and from that date until the time of his death he had maintained an office for sale of insurance, real estate and bonds.

At various times he was an officer or director of the Browning Development Company, the Rocky Mountain Realty Company, Yellowstone to Glacier Highway Association, the Montana Citizens Council, Montana Tax Equality Association, Montana Stock Grower’s Association, National and State Associations of Realtors, and Chamber of Commerce, both local and state.

For a number of years he served as Home Service Chairman for the Blackfeet Reservation Chapter of the American Red Cross which his mother had been instrumental in orqanizing in 1917. During World War II, besides being a member of the War Labor Board, he was also chairman of the “Dogs for Defense” committee.

He was an ardent Republican during his lifetime and gave much of his time and effort on behalf of the organization, on both local and state levels. In 1940, he went as alternate delegate to the National Republican Convention in Philadelphia.

He was a member of the Methodist Episcopal Church, serving at various times on the Board of Trustees and acting as treasurer.

He was a Thirty-Second Degree Mason, having been a charter member of Glacier Lodge, Ancient Free and Accepted Masons No. 147. He was a Shriner and a charter member of the Browning Chapter No. 120, Order of the Eastern Star, serving as Patron for several years.

As an adopted member of the Blackfeet Tribe, his Indian name was Natucina which meant Sun Chief.

He had lived among Indians all his life, first in Indian Territory in Oklahoma, where he was born, and at Browning on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation. He admired and revered a host of them and counted them among his most cherished friends. Their interests were always first and foremost in his mind and it was never too much trouble or too time-consuming to listen to their stories or needs and to help them. Some of the happiest days of his life were spent among them at meetings or celebrations on the reservation. He spent much time in their homes and always enjoyed dropping in for a noonday meal. He had only hoped he could live long enough to see the income from producing oil or gas wells so every member of the Blackfeet Tribe would benefit to the extent that they would all have modern homes and live in comfort.

He was a charter member of the Browning Lions Club and was their first president. Civic betterment, one of the aims of Lions International, was one of his main purposes and he gave much time to furthering his special projects. Nothing could have been more appropriate than the fact that he was in attendance at a regular Lions Club dinner and Christmas party when he was fatally stricken by a heart attack, and it was from there that he was taken by his brother Lions to his home where he lived only about four hours, passing away that same evening on December 14, 1955.

Sunday, April 24, 2005

Joseph Herbert Sherburne

(This material is copied from a big “State of Montana” biography book at the Montana Historical Society. The books were created by itinerant biographers, bound by a private publisher, and sold back to the citizens. The subjects of the biographies collaborated in providing facts.)

Joseph Herbert Sherburne was born December 12, 1851, in Philips, Maine. The early years of Joseph’s life were spent in the Maine woods where his father owned fifteen thousand acres of timber land. At the age of fifteen he left school to work with his uncle on the new railroad extending westward from Minnesota. Later, he went into business at Arkansas City, Kansas, which led to contact with the Indians.

In 1876 he moved to Ponca to establish his own business, an Indian trading post under a Federal license. During his trips between the Indian Territory and Arkansas City he met Gertrude Lockley, the daughter of Frederick and Agnes Hill Lockley. Gertrude was born in Albany, New York. In 1878, when she went to Arkansas City, she became acquainted with J.H. Sherburne and married him on September 24, 1879. The children of Joseph and Gertrude were Joseph Lockley VIII, Frank Ponca, Hazel, Arthur, Agnes and Theodosia.

At Ponca he leased land from the Indians and brought cattle from Texas. During the early spring, there was a severe spell of winter and then heavy rains drenched the country. When the hot weather came, the remaining cattle were stricken with Texas Fever and the entire herd was lost. To pay off his obligation for these cattle, he moved to Arkansas City where he had a real estate and insurance business.

He returned to Ponca to sell his cattle ranch to George Miller, a big rancher in that part of the country. This ranch became known as the Miller Brothers 101 Ranch. After selling his ranch, he contracted with the Miller Brothers to furnish dressed beef to sell to the various Indian agencies.

During the time Mr. Sherburne was located in this area, the Nez Perce War was taking place in the West. After Chief Joseph and his little band were taken prisoners in the Sweet Grass Hills [incorrect -- it was the Bear Paw’s Hills.] near the Canadian border, they were shipped by train and boat to the Indian Territory, about nine miles from the trading post. These prisoners became friends with Mr. Sherburne and traded at his trading post often. When Chief Joseph and his little band left, he gave Mr. Sherburne his stirrups, which his wife had made for him before he left on his war-like trip across the country. They were rawhide stretched over green wood. After Mr. Sherburne’s death, these stirrups were placed in the Museum of History in Helena, as a memento of the Nez Perce War.

After the Nez Perce War and several other outbreaks between the Indians and the white people, the government made a decision to allot to the individual Indians on the several reservations a half section to be his own. Miss Helen P. Clark, a member of the Blackfeet Tribe, was instrumental in completing the allotting. It was her influence which took Mr. Sherburne to Montana later.

Mr. Sherburne worked with the Indians to set up a means of disposing of the things they could collect. Buffalo bones were gathered for beads, bracelets and breast plates, which were shipped to a New York manufacturer. He bought Indian beadwork of every kind and description for outside markets. He also bought and sold Indian ponies.

His next move was southward to Pawnee Indian Agency, where he remained for a couple of years. From here, he decided to make his move westward to Montana. That spring he shipped a few horses, wagons, harnesses, household goods and merchandise to Browning.

When Mr. Sherburne arrived, construction started immediately on a store and home. The family came in June and lived temporarily in a dwelling leased from the Indian Agency.

Until then, Joseph Kipp, a member of the Blackfeet Tribe, had operated a small store which went out of business just before Mr. Sherburne arrived. The Sherburne Mercantile became a meeting place as well as a business center, open from early morning until midnight.

Along with her duties as housewife and mother and ardent worker in the Presbyterian Church, Mrs. Sherburne organized the first Red Cross unit in Montana in 1917, known as the Blackfeet Reservation Chapter, which is still in existence. She remained active in such organizations until the time of her death on May 4, 1935.

Since no school facilities were available, an upstairs room of the Sherburne home was used, and Mr. Sherburne’s nephew, Alter Shepard, come from Oregon to Browning to teach the family and several employee’s children and reservation children.

Mr. Sherburne was an energetic worker in the community and in his own business. From a small stock of a few thousand dollars he built his store inventory to around seventy thousand dollars, carrying everything from Indian beads, sewing silk, and clothes to groceries, medicine, farm implements, wagons, buggies and lumber.

Along with the operation of his store, Mr. Sherburne participated indirectly in the prospecting for copper and silver in the Glacier Park area. He set up “grub stakes” for some who wished to do assessment work on claims they staked out in the Swift Current Valley.

Following this, oil was discovered in the area and numerous stock companies were formed. In this instance, Mr. Sherburne and his company, The Swift Current Oil, Land and Power Company, made the first oil discovery in Montana. Samples of this were displayed at an early Montana State Fair.

Soon after Mr. Sherburne’s arrival at Browning, the railroad established a depot about two miles south of town. Mr. Sherburne built the first telephone line on the reservation to the depot. Later, he and other local associates built telephone lines from Browning to Babb and to the Canadian line, north of Browning. This became the St. Mary’s International Telephone Company, the first commercial company to install telephones on the reservation and within Glacier County.

The Sherburne Mercantile business expanded to a branch store at Babb and one at Glacier Park. Store operations included the purchase of hay from the Indians, which was shipped as far west as Seattle and as far east as Havre, Montana. Meat was purchased from the Indians and was sold to the public in the butcher shop, shipped to hotels and cafes along the Great Northern Railway and to construction camps in Glacier Park. He also bought and sold furs and bead work. Horses were bought and sold to homesteaders.

With the growth of the small loan service in the store, Mr. Sherburne established the First National Bank in 1917. This is still the only bank on the Blackfeet Reservation.

At a party given on his eighty-fifth birthday, the guests also honored his twentieth anniversary as president of the First National Bank and his fortieth anniversary as president of the Sherburne Mercantile Company. Mr. Sherburne was an ardent Republican, a Mason and member of the Zurah Temple in Minneapolis, and a member of the Presbyterian Church.

[J.H. Sherburne had six children: Joseph Lockley; Frank Ponca who adopted Herb and Betsy; Hazel who married Clarence Frisbee and gave birth to Selden (a lawyer in Cut Bank); Arthur who died in the flu epidemic; Agnes, a fine artist who died of Alzheimers and who had married the head of the music program for the Seattle School System; and Theodosia, who married a lawyer and lived in Pasadena.]

Saturday, April 23, 2005

1935 - 1968

1935: Warren O’Hara is superintendent. Blackfeet Tribal Constitution prepared and Tribal Charter approved by the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
1936: C.L. Graves in superintendent. New four year drought cycle beginning. An inventory of tribal goods and equipment shows much is missing, at a value of $100,000. For years now there has been a growing schism between the old full-bloods and the younger mixed-bloods. The mixed-bloods ally with the whites and they are accused of chicanery and dominating the Tribal Council.
1939: The Council’s cashbook journal is not updated betwen 1/1 and 9/1, so the books can’t be audited. Many payments have not been receipted by Nancy M. Goss, the treasurer. Hazlett is the Chair. Council includes Brian Connolly, Wright Hagerty, and Levi Burd.
1940: U.S. Census counts 4,000 Blackft. Hazlett removed from Chair. Levi Burd is new chair. Brian Connolly is identified as a lease trespasser.
1943: Makes Cold Weather gives his Blood Medicine Pipe to John Ewers for the Museum of the Plains Indian. The Council files suit agaiinst Superintendent McBride and the Forester A.D. Stephenson, defending Connolly. A certain amount of double-leasing seems to be going on. Different authorities make different deals with different people -- about the same land. The drought cattle, which were supposed to have been relief, have somehow become a debt.

1944: National Congress of American Indians formed as an Indian lobbying group. John Ewers is the curator at the Museum of the Plains Indian. Brian Connolly accuses George Pambrun of shady doings. D’Arcy McNickle is a member of the government commission that investigates the whole complication. So is Felix Cohen, who (as assistant Secretary of the Interior) had helped to create the Tribal Council and didn’t want to hurt it now. He was one of the most celebrated practitioners of Indian law in America and is employed by the tribe.

1945: The Tribal Council has gone into the red from 1942 to 1946.

1946: Warren O’Hara is the superintendent.

1949: Iliff McKay is the Tribal Treasurer. He was bonded, resigned, terminated his bond, and then was reinstated but without the bond. This meant the Council couldn’t receive funds from the local accounts on deposit with the Superintendent (Agent) Rex Kildow and precipitated an audit, which the bonding company insisted upon. The Council had loaned themselves $63,000. There was much other evidence of mismanagement. The Charter was not being enforced. Cohen advised the Council to put the money in a separate account of their own until he could work out the difficulties. The superintendent suggests terminating supervision. He asks for the FBI. D’Arcy McNickle, Chief of the Tribal Relations Branch, urges the Indian Bureau to sort things out as the new law requires.

1950: Relocation of Indians to cities. Indian slums form in Midwest and West Coast cities.

1951: The squabble goes on. Louis Plenty Treaty asks a senator via a petition if four or five hundred Blackft, voting as a block, could abolish the Tribal Council. George Pambrun is the Chair.

1953: Law forbidding Indians to purchase liquor off-reservation is repealed. White whiskey towns had sprung up around the dry reservations, causing accidents as drinkers in faulty cars tried to get to them. Termination of the reservation policy begins.

1954: Indian Health is transferred from the BIA to U.S. Public Health Service.

1960: JF Kennedy extends federal housing assistance to reservations, increases commodities, kills heirship bill. His influence extends to his death and begins the housing projects that cleared Moccasin Flats.

1964: Devastating flood of the reservation, caused by three poorly maintained federal dams breaking, sending walls of water down the valleys. Territorial centennial celebrations were cut short. Housing patterns were changed.

1968: AIM is organized in Minneapolis. From here on, the story involves many pan-Indian and national elements

The people in these stories are colorful and robust. They are, Montanans would say, “characters.” Many have wondered what would have happened if Iliff McKay had lived, since he was a strong leader with many good ideas. He had a cold, went to the Indian Health Service hospital, was given a penicillin shot and went into anaphylactic shock, soon dying. He is one among many leaders whose lives were cut short one way or another. His wife and children became leaders in their own right. In 2005 his daughter, Mary Margaret Johnson, is the Superintendent of Schools, which has grown to be a huge complex of buildings and programs. Tom McKay is a lawyer. Mike McKay is a comedian of skill and power, with a collection of characters in his repertoire that leave people on the res aching from laughter and thinking about his satirical points.

Friday, April 22, 2005

1921 - 1934

1921: Louis HIll (the railroad tycoon) gets a ten year lease for oil through Agent Wilson. A second competing application was denied. Hill did not drill successfully. Wild cat leases through the tribe granted. Hazlett acting as agent and go-between. Wilson dismissed and convicted of bigamy. (Elsie was right!) Blackft are still starving. Over the winter of 1920-21, two thirds of the people need rations. F.C. Campbell is the new superintendent. He says the reservation is bankrupt and he starts a series of “five year plans.” He goes house-to-house, visitng four-fifths of the people. Half of the full-bloods have no cash and not everyone is cutting wood for winter. He feels they will have to do some small farming to survive and organized them into groups who could share heavy equipment. All this was to be financed by the “Reimbursable Plan” which had lost the people much of their land. James Willard Schultz became critical and headed The Executive Committee for the National Association to Help the Indian. He felt his father-in-law Yellow Wolf was allowed to starve. The Red Cross is present, but their funds are lost in a bank closure. A little flour mill is established in Heart Butte. (Indians think of meat -- white men think of bread.)

1922: James Willard Schultz publishes a pamphlet entitled, “The Blackfeet are Starving.”

1923: Prospects for farming are poor and the white farmers are not renewing their leases. Robert Hamilton becomes chairman of the Tribal Council and Joseph Spanish becomes secretary of the Tribal Council. Richard Sandervile and Levi Bird are loyal to the agent. Campbell wants to remove Oliver Racine (a Hamilton supporter) from the Council on grounds of adultery. There are more problems with overgrazing, trespassing and rustling, to say nothing of the confusion over who leased what from whom for how long. Forrest Stone is the assistant to the superintendent.

1924: All Native Americans become citizens of the United States.

1925: The Browning City Council asks the government to provide relief for the aged and infirm. Oliver Sanderville complains about Campbell, but he is cleared by the inspector. Campbell was bypassing the Council and going by the community chapters’ directions. The Council, in turn, voted him out. (Campbell had organized “granges” who focused on agriculture. The Tribal Council wants to drill for oil and get rich that way.)

1926: Merriam Report delineates Indian poverty, unemployment, lack of health care and education for all Indians, not just Blackft. (For more material plus photos, see the website at: You might Google a bit -- there’s quite a lot of material on the Web.)

1928: Campbell charges horse owners for mange control and for roundup costs, then sells the horses to Chappel Brothers exclusively.

1929: Stone becomes the new superintendent. Major hearings in the summer as part of a general investigation of all reservations. (Senators Frazier, Wheeler and Pine). Senate Investigator Liggett write a long report, not released until 1932. It boils down to six clusters of complaints:
1. Indian are defauded by deliberate conspiracy.
2. Tribal possessions are dissipated.
3. No accounting of the tribal herd.
4. Indians’ interest seem secondary. (This is mostly about the Great Northern, including their practice of exploiting Indians as tourist attractions.)
5. Agency officials dominate the Tribal Council.
6. No accounting is made to the Indians about leasing. (This is the matter now -- 75 years later -- being pursued by Eloise Cobell in her lawsuit against the Department of the Interior.)
(This report has been running in installments in the Glacier Reporter this year.)

1930: Holy Family Mission closes. Many accusations about how and why. The Depression is beginning and religious congregations are suffering. U.S. Census counts 3,000 Blackft on the rez. Stone asks for $300 from the tribe to pay the hospital bill of a sick old man: Robert Hamilton, leader of full-bloods. “Tip” O’Neill and Louis Hill hit the first big gusher of oil on Michael’s ranch near Cut Bank. Stone asks for a geological survey of the reservation but is denied.

1933: Santa Rita well comes in. Much drilling in the Cut Bank area. Many bids for leases, but no criteria are developed and not much regulation for how to go about it.

1934: Indian Reorganization Act (part of the New Deal). Creates the present form of tribal government. (See Rosier notes later.) Government supplies 5,500 head of drought relief cattle, but 300 are lost over a hard winter, partly because they were in rough shape to begin with. 138 Indian families are classified as self-supporting. 747 families are receiving federal welfare assistance.

These notes are beginning now to reach modern times. People born after 1934 were the grandchildren of the original traders and Indian leaders and the tensions remain alive today in ordinary life. This is the part that newcomers never really understand, even if they have the means of researching some of the competitions and double-crosses, the incomplete schemes, and sudden wealth of some. The granddaughter of T.E. Scriver was determined that her family not be subjected to the raking that the Sherburnes continue to receive, so she took all the records of the Browning Merc out to the burning barrel. (The actual Browning Merc burned down during the big Scriver Artifact Sale to Edmonton in 1990 -- the artifact collection itself has been partly dispersed. What remains of the Sherburne papers are in the Mike Mansfield Library in Missoula. The Sherburne Artifact Collection went to Gonzaga and is now at Cowles-Cheney Museum. It is also partly dispersed.)

1929 was evidently a watershed year. That was when the footprints of the last sign-talkers were recorded in bronze -- you can stand in them now in a circle in front of the Museum of the Plains Indian. A silent movie of the signing was also made. Adrien Voisin, a Paris-educated sculptor whose wife was a sign-talker, was on the reservation and her father was employed here. Voisin worked with John Clarke, the deaf-mute wood-carver grandson of Malcolm Clarke, creating John’s bust and busts of a dozen other old-time Blackft. They are in the Denver Art Museum.

One wonders what would have happened if the Depression had not struck. Bob Scriver was in high school through those years and had very little consciousness of it. “Everyone was already poor and living off the federal government,” he said.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

1911 - 1920

McFatridge is the new agent. He, his wife and his son are called “The father, son and Holy Terror.” 9,000 outsiders’ cattle remain and McFatridge asks to throw them off. (Part of the problem these agents have is that they are “remote-controlled” by higher authorities.) His reservation doctors quit, so he ends up treating tuberculosis, trachoma, and VD himself. Rev. R.A. Riggin, the Methodist missionary, is running cattle instead of doing mission work, so he is assessed $1,700 in fees and pays half that. There is constant wrestling with the Conrad Investment Company and the Conrad-Valier Water Company over water rights. The cost of the rez irrigation systems is charged against the assets of the tribe, a million dollar burden. The Indian Office gave Great Northern a right-of-way for a wagon road from Midvale to the Glacier Park entrance as well as timber and gravel. Congress approved the Great Northern to build hotels and take land from townsites for $30 an acre. McFatridge first valued them at $90, but was clued in by the Indian Office and made adjustment downward.

1912: Reservation allotted to individuals. Blackfeet reservation-wide survey on land. Cattle rustling still a major problem. McFatridge formed “The Blackfeet Stock Protective Association.” The reservation fence was taken down and sold. Rocky Boy’s Chippewa had been allotted Blackft land, but showed little enthusiasm and instead were given Ft. Assiniboine’s abandoned land. Robert J. Hamilton, a half-breed who had been adopted by A.B. Hamilton, a Fort Whoop-Up whiskey trader, led a delegation to Washington, D.C., to complain that the old people were starving, the tribal council was being run by the agent, and the Blackft water rights had been stolen. (Hamilton built a career on representing the old-time full-bloods who could not speak English.) McFatridge’s son, Leslie, had threatened S.E. Selecman, the Browning Public School principal, who thrashed him. From then on it was war between the agent and the principal. Selecman had to go to court to keep his job.

1913: T.E. Scriver, now an American citizen, buys Willets out of the Browning Mercantile. The Great Northern railroad had stumpage fees for their new road waived.

1914: Dealing with “surplus” lands (unalloted) becomes an issue. McFatridge has his own committee which includes James Perrine, Levi Burd, Malcolm Clarke, and Charles Buck. (Relatively assimilated mixed bloods.) The only land being farmed by irrigation was a thirty-acre demo plot on Seville Flats, toward Cut Bank. Wolf Tail is the Chair of the Tribal Council and James Perrine is the secretary. Perrine says that only half-breeds of proven competence (i.e. like himself) should get their allotments and that the irrigation project should be shut down. The Blackfeet want to reserve the mineral rights, but the Indian Office tries to assure them there are no minerals except low grade coal. Now McFatridge is willing to allow outside cattle (Rocky Creek Ranch Company, which is C. B. Power and friends -- C.B. is the son of T.C.) as many as 20,000 head. At the time the Blackft owned 12,000 cows and 9,000 horses. Indians with allotments were leasing them to white ranchers. Many complain that the elderly full bloods around Heart Butte are starving. White Antelope leads a group of 200 full-bloods who complain of agent corruption. Elsie Newton, sent to investigate morals, reports six or eight polygamous families, adultery, prostitution and “two flourishing churches.” (Methodist and Catholic probably, but maybe she means Methodist and Presbyterian, as both had missionaries in place.) She thought the whites were as immoral as the Indians. Other inspectors from the government find McFatridge in chaos, Cut Bank Boarding School a tragedy, and the stock and land allotments confused if not unfairly distributed on purpose. They recommend the agent be removed.

1915: McFatridge is dismissed and runs off to Canada with $1200. C.L. Ellis takes charge. A million dollars has been spent on irrigation projects that are not used. Some were badly made and others are in disrepair. All this cost was handled as liens on the allotments. The Indians are collectively in debt to Indian traders for $115,000 and the agent feels they are overcharged anyway. Everyone is after the “surplus” lands. A tribal herd (as opposed to cattle distributed to individuals) includes 1200 head but is in danger from rustlers and other attrition. 90% of the full bloods have trachoma and 75% have tuberculosis. Over 1,000 are on rations including some of Rocky Boy’s band who didn’t leave. McFatridge has failed to register the tribal brand with the state. The allotment boundary markers are missing and must be resurveyed.

1916: Standard Oil of Ohio requests a blanket lease for oil and gas. Sampson Bird and Hamilton go to Washington but don’t get permission.

1917: Mountain Chief is told Washington is still consideriing the oil lease. There are 35,000 head of cattle on the reservation, excluding the tribal herd, but nine-tenths of them are owned by thirty families. By now allotments have been approved and patented and some half-breeds are mortgaging their land to make profits on the war-driven meat prices. The full bloods are making money from hay. Thomas Ferris is briefly the acting agent.

1918: A quick succession of superintendents includes Wadsworth, F.C. Campbell, and Harvey O. Power, who is dismissed for offences. Four years of severe drought. Tribal herd is up to 6,000 head. Stuart Hazlett, the lease clerk, conspires to strip people of their land by improperly certifying them. Sherburne Mercantile (a corporation) ends up with 40,000 acres that have been improperly allotted to incompetent and in-debt Indians. Livestock on the res numbers 65,000 cattle, 25,000 horses and 5,000 sheep. There are worries about overgrazing. The sawmill is in disrepair and borer beetles are killing trees. There is a forest guard now. Dr. George Martin is a reputed morphine addict.

1919: Dec. 1 election to see whether Cut Bank or Browning should be the county seat of Glacier County. Many stories about how Cut Bank managed to capture the honor. Power is ejected. The Agency staff is openly drunk. Horace Wilson is superintendent. He shows up drunk on the Navajo reservation in the middle of prohibition, shows up at a hearing about illegal liquor on the rez -- drunk himself. There are few internal fences, so stock wanders and trespasses. Tribal herd estimated at 4,000. John Hall handled the sales and shipment that year.

1920: The mismanaged tribal herd is finally disposed of, at a loss. Wilson and Snell, project manager from the Reclamation Bureau, are pushing more irrigation projects. They call a meeting, take minutes of what they say to each other, and send it up the chain of command as what the people want. The only people on the rez doing a good job of irrigation farming are the Jesuits -- and they haven’t paid anything for the water.

The chronology has now met the beginning point of Paul Rosier’s book, “Rebirth of the Blackfeet Nation, 1912 - 1954” which is currently being remaindered by Edward R. Hamilton, Bookseller. (The website is or The latter accepts credit cards.) Rosier’s is a dense, hard-to-read book but I’ll try to post notes from it later. It certainly rewards effort. The GOOD news is that everyone goes on trying and trying to make the reservation work, maybe for selfish reasons, but inching bit by bit towards success.

The bad news is that in 2005 the irrigation system still has problems.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

1902 - 1910

1902: “Great Falls Tribune” headline: “Piegan Indians in Open Revolt.” Monteath threatens to arrest White Calf, whereupon the Indian police all quit and Little Dog comes to the agency office to say that if he dares to do such a thing, Monteath will be bound with ropes and thrown in front of the next train. Blackfeet population is estimated at 2,084 with 50 births and 33 deaths. (This is the first time for a long time that births have exceeded deaths.) Cattle are at 10,000 (with 4,000 calves) and horses at over 22,000. Mike Connelly is one of the Montana stockmen running cows on the rez. The entire focus is on farming and much attention is given to irrigation and water rights. This is a flood year, washing out 75% of the seeds. 64 kids attend the Jesuit school at Holy Family and 57 go to the deplorable Willow Creek School run by the agency. Monteath blames his troubles on half-breeds, especially Joe Kipp, Maggie Wetzel (who married Joe Kipp) and Horace Clarke. He wants them confined to a separate reservation or removed completely.
1903: Old White Calf dies. He is the last of the head chiefs. A formal tribal council is organized. Joe Kipp and Horace Clark are on it, plus seven older full-bloods. By now the ration roll is cut down from 2,100 to 550. Cattle have gone from 19,709 to 19,090. Monteath is complaining about Horace and Helen Clarke (siblings) and Horace is banned from the reservation, though he’s on the tribal council. There is an outbreak of mange among the cattle.
1904: Through a lease for cattle grazing, the Conrad Investment Company manages to divert water from Birch Creek. (Valier, where I live, grew up alongside the irrigation reservoir, now called “Frances Lake.”) Ration roll cut to less than 100. This is a drought year and gardens fail. Grass is dried up. The north and south boundary fences are finished. Rev. Matson, who had run the Willow Creek mission for ten years, dies. Grazing permit system begins. Daniel Floweree brings 7,000 cattle in. Hugh Denson gets thrown off, as an example. J. H. Sherburne, W.C. Broadwater, and Simon Pepin are in business around the town square, though the latter partnership is denied permits at first. T.E. Scriver has arrived as a clerk for Sherburne.
1905: A list of stock on the reservation shows 12,000 Blackfeet horses, 1,200 cattle owned by the Agency traders, 300 cows belong to the Jesuits at the Holy Family Mission, and enough others to total 42,464. Most of these are “lease” or “permit” cattle which the fence built to keep them out are now being kept in by it. Charles Conrad’s heirs claim he is due $30,000 for helping with negotiations in 1896.
1906: James Jensen comes as acting agent, then Captain J.Z. Dare. He discovers that the Indians are having to pay the same grazing fees on the rez as the white cattlemen are. Dare lets Horace Clarke come back. Floweree, Pepin, and Broadwater all expand their grazing permits. The drought continues and overgrazing begins to be evident. ‘06-’07 was a bad winter and much stock was lost. Floweree wanted a 40% rebate on his permit.
1907: The Blackfeet ask Dare, who asks Washington, whether there isn’t a “Big Claim.” This idea is traced back to Agent Baldwin, but the government denies any claims at all. The Blackfeet win the case over water with the Conrad Investment Company. 1907-08 turns out to be another rough winter. Montanans succeeded in getting “allotments” on the reservation, which they equated with it being opened for exploitation. (It meant that instead of the tribe holding the land communally, it would be divided up and assigned to individuals -- with a good bit left over for sale to outsiders.) In the end allotment takes ten years and requires Congressional intervention to solve the scramble over oil and mineral lands. It turns out Dare had not been properly putting Tribal money in the Tribal fund. Rather he has been putting it into the United States account. There is no way to trace the lost money. Lebreche is encouraged to sell all his cattle and buy a much-needed sawmill, but once he has it, the government prohibits him from using it. Willits and Scriver begin what became the Browning Mercantile.
1908: James Sanders briefly acts as agent and then C.A. Churchill comes. Churchill gets into a fracas with Broadwater, who allowed several thousand sheep to graze on the rez through his job as Stockyard Manager for the Great Northern. Churchill is depositing stock permit money in his personal account. He divides the rez into districts and tries to control the removal of cattle, but Floweree defies him. Churchill points out that the money brought in by permits is at least balanced by amount of damage (overgrazing and diseases) and informal rustling that goes on, so there is little or no profit. Churchill’s daughter, Eula, marries J. L. Sherburne, the son of J. H. Sherburne
1910: US Census counts 2,268 Blackft on the rez. Complaints that traders are overcharging or have a number of different prices, depending on who is asking. Hints that Churchill uses his position as agent to pressure those who don’t pay their trading bills. 150 Rocky Boy Chippewa are dumped on the rez. They have no place to go.

These events are recent enough that I’ve known some of these people and taught their descendants -- almost always with braided together heritages of white and Indian, though carrying names familiar from these tales. T.E. Scriver, my father-in-law, didn’t talk about political matters or even economic matters from those times. What he remembered were high times and bright prospects, everyone feeling that they were poised on the edge of oil strikes, with an expanding town, and a new century of progress. People believed in progress, often industrial -- like the railroad.

They were young. The “media” were an eight page newspaper and the telegraph. Roads anywhere were nearly impassable unless conditions were just right, but most people still depended on horses anyway. The reservation was an intense microcosm where everyone knew everyone else.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

William S. Elliott Memorial -- April 19, 2005


The best quotes I could use came from Bill and Jeanne. Bill said, “I guess I can manage to die all right -- my ancestors have been doing it for generations.”

And Jeanne said, after Bill’s death, “All his life he wondered what was behind that crossing, behind that door, where death is. I guess now he knows and he will be pleased to know.”

Bill had clearly worked out a theory of what life and death are all about, as Unitarian Universalists are supposed to do. It was much informed by science, especially the part we call “natural history,” and by his strong connection to family, black sheep and all, which is also a kind of history. I think some of this was due to his mother, lively and vivid, whom we buried in a spring snowstorm like a lace curtain with a meadowlark for a choir. And some was due to his father, who must have been much like Bill, and who collected antique books. I mean, remarkable books, one with a homemade wooden cover. In the last days, Bill carefully divided the last of the books into three bundles, one for each daughter. Before that, with equal care, the family had sorted and divided the marvelous wild flower portraits his mother had painted. Conservation and creation were two watchwords.

One of the stories he told about himself was when we had a UU meeting at the Sacagawea Inn in Three Forks. His family moved from Deer Lodge to Three Forks, and while the grownups were unloading furniture, small Bill went exploring the town. When suppertime came, he’d gotten a little turned around about where their new house was, but somehow he decided that they must be going to live at the Sacagawea Inn, so he went there and sat on the broad steps out front until his family came looking for him. He wasn’t scared, or worried about starving. He knew his mother would send someone for him.

Bill loved women, which was lucky, and useful to him when he was an elementary principal. His teachers were mostly female and the dynamics could be like a henhouse. Bill kept the pecking down by always dealing with problems directly, on as simple and human a level as possible, and with enormous attention. He always reminded me of the Chinese philosopher who recommended that a head of state rule as delicately and with as much attention as a person frying a small fish. I often turned to him for advice in the early years of my ministry. When it came to social action, he didn’t make a big fuss -- just showed up regularly to walk women into clinics where they could receive needed care. Not only did it help to keep the catcalls and accusations down when someone so tall and dignified escorted them, but also few would dare violence.

When this fellowship was in its early years in 1982, we considered naming it the Big Sky UU Fellowship and Moving Company, because we were mostly young and growing families who were in transition. I vividly recall Bill standing in the middle of a little girls’ bedroom where he had just taken about thirty frilly pastel little dresses off the clothespole by sandwiching them between his big hands -- but now he was wondering where he would put this frothy gauzy double-handful with hangers sticking out the top. He was the one who shook his head over the young mothers’ ability to take everything out of one house and know right where it went in the next house. They explained that you always put the glasses next to the sink, the frying pan next to the stove, and the breakfast cereal and cookies over the refrigerator where they will stay dry and out of the hands of short people. He actually listened.

Finding Jeanne was the best of luck. He said he needed to have a second partner who would be willing to sleep sitting up on the train to save the cost of a hotel room, and who could be happy with a meal of bread, cheese and beer. Someone young enough to be enthusiastic about touring Europe or hiking in mountains. He was very much aware of the limits of his own life and energy, and I don’t think either of them dreamed that they would do as much or hike as far as they have. Fourteen years is a long time.

On one trip, Bill sent me a postcard of Hadrian’s Wall, a stone wall built across Britain, just south of a terrible swamp (like the one in “Lord of the Rings”) which gave cover to the barbarians of the north. The point of the wall was not to protect against those invaders. Rather, according to Hadrian, it was meant to mark the limit of Roman Empire. “We can responsibly govern up to this line,” declared Hadrian. “Beyond it, we would be stretched too thin to be good governors.” This was another of Bill’s secrets to success. He did what he could -- when he hit limits, he changed his plans. When his scheme for early retirement (which depended on selling a system for inventorying one’s home and contents) proved impractical, he quietly went back to work for a few more years. He relished his two years at NASA, partly because he loved science and adventure and partly because he was in an environment full of “guys” and got to do “guy things,” like shooting pool, horsing around and telling terrible stories. When he was diagnosed with the ultimate limit, stage four renal cancer, he knew what it meant and became a team with Jeanne and the doctors. His courage was amazing.

A couple of summers ago Bill came through Valier and stopped to see my tumbledown house. He gave me some tips about how to manage asbestos siding (You use a cutting wheel to sever the heads of the nails, then lift the whole piece out. It’s undamaged and can be replaced. Much better than busting the siding off in pieces as many people do. Conservation again.) Then we went off to the Blackfeet Reservation to look around.

Bill had been there before. In the Seventies there was a Free School -- actually, the Blackfeet Free School and Sandwich Shop -- and Bill was sent with an OPI committee to see whether or not it was bogus. The school was housed in an old Bureau of Indian Affairs warehouse which came with a bank of empty filing cabinets. The girls of the school, many of them mothers, had converted the filing drawers into cradles, the babies tucked in with pillows and blankets, sweetly content. Bill harked back to that often, partly because I also knew that Free School. The committee certified it.

This more recent summer we went up to Heart Butte to look at the school dug into the top of a hill and then we went on an old two-track road I knew about from teaching there. It wanders way back through a valley and comes out onto a wide meadow behind the butte. Spring comes late up there and the grass was ablaze with wildflowers. Hawks veered across the sky. Wind teased our faces. We just hung around and soaked it up for a while.

Jeanne said, “All his life he wondered what was beyond that crossing, behind that door, where death is. I guess now he knows and he will be pleased to know.” What I think Bill found on the other side of death was something very like the hidden back side of Heart Butte, except that his family and friends -- those who went ahead -- were there to meet him. You just can’t do much better than that.

Monday, April 18, 2005

1894 - 1901

1894: The Town of Browning is established on the flood plain of Willow Creek, about two miles from the railroad depot. Cooke’s son, who had been acting as a clerk, was terminated by the Indian Office, along with Chief Clerk Garrett. Richard Sanderville had been acting as Assistant Clerk, but now Cooke fired him and gave his job to Cooke’s son. Cooke began a campaign of driving off “half-breeds” and “Squaw men.” Cooke had been busily filing on the “mineral strip” towards Cut Bank, which is expected to yield oil.
1895: A park or reserve established at Waterton Lakes. Treaty with the Blackft for the “ceded strip,” south of Glacier Park. (Now Badger/Two Med.) Henry Kennerly has now come as trading competition for Joe Kipp. James McKnight is also a licensed trader. They are interested in the “mineral strip” (along the eastern edge of the reservation which is near Cut Bank, an oil field town), as are E.C. Garrett and J. W. Schultz. At a formal inquiry Little Dog speaks for the Christian Indians and Three Suns speaks for the “heathen” Indians. Little Bear Chief is impatient, but White Calf is conciliatory. Horace Clarke (son of Malcolm Clarke, the murder victim) suggests the government should help the Piegan develop their own minerals instead of just selling them. White Calf finally leads to the capitulation of the Blackfeet. Steell is reinstated. Thomas Dawson (son-in-law of the murdered Clarke) objects. Steell has him arrested for branding a slick calf and because he had a dance without getting permission.
1896: Glacier National Park sale concluded. Payments until 1912. $1,500,000 price. Some Blackft still don’t want to sell. Others want three million. George Bird Grinnell plays go-between. The Blackft cattle struggle but seem to be surviving. Steell insists upon branding them himself, thus diverting some. The inspector confirms the Blackft own 20,000 head and have shipped 600 to Chicago. There are 6,500 waitiing and the inspector recommends getting rid of 4,500 of them. 500 people are camped along the border, waiting for homesteading and mining to open. It is a regular practice to “pay” Indian labor with goods and money that are already supposed to be theirs according to treaty promises.
1897: George McLaughlin has been an editor of the “Benton River Press” and sheriff of Choteau County before he became agent. (He had asked for the position of consul in Hawaii.) Problems continue to include decrepit buildings, bad meat, cattle men who don’t want to pay passage acrtoss the rez, and increasing horse herds -- up to 10,000 now. A fire burned the boy’s dorm at the Boarding School.
1898: Ceded strip thrown open to “Sooners.” Rush of prospectors begins. Altyn (East Glacier) village is started. Landless Indians wander Montana. Thomas Fuller, the new agent, is not in good health and dies in office. Robert Hamilton asks the Indian Office for funds to support a “Red Man’s Literary Society” of young educated Indians (all male) who had attended Carlisle or the equivalent. They wanted to put up a building for meetings (probably with some political content as they were quite restless). Fuller labeled it a clubhouse for bad doings and denied the money. Bear Chief writes to Washington requesting a fence on the south and east sides of the rez to keep the whiteman’s cows out. Fuller belittled the chief, saying he was so foolish he had requested money for a brass band earlier. Fuller (and Grinnell) preferred the idea of range riders on the border, so they could watch for whiskey trader’s, too. Fuller points out that a fence could be easily cut. Fuller wants funds for proper bull management. Now cattle are estimated at 10,000 and horses are estimated at 20,000. Finally, Grinnell begins to advocate a fence. Meat and lumber are not issued fairly, but just put out for whoever can grab it. No records are kept and Canadians are not excluded. Sewage contaminates the boarding school water. Elisha B. Reynolds is the interim agent appointed.
1899. William Logan starts out strong as agent, but then wearies. Now the cows are down to 8,500 and the horses are over 21,000. The buiidings are collapsing, the school is a scandal, the hay crop is a failure, the irrigation ditches are empty, and Queen Victoria dies. Logan was often gone and resigned in 1900.
1900: Roosevelt appoints Herrig the first ranger of the Glacier area. There is smallpox again. James H. Monteath, the new agent, adopts a “New Policy,” which once again hopes to make farmers of the Indians. Cattlemen come onto the reservation with permits -- or at least that’s the theory. When they take their cattle back, they take Indian cattle along with them. Monteath is instructed to prosecute them for trespass and rustling, but doesn’t.
1901: Last recorded smallpox epidemic. Willow Creek School is in a disastrous state. Discipline is enforced with confinement to “cells,” like an old meat refrigerator with holes in it or a root cellar often flooded and full of rodents and rotten vegetables. These places were too small to permit lying down. The offenders were fed bread and water. Monteath recommends the Cut Bank Creek location for a new school. Smallpox returns. it seems impossible to keep a quarantine, especially with the railroad going through. There is much tuberculosis. Commissioner Jones wants the Indians to cut their hair and for their rations to be cut, though the rations were the legal compensation for giviing up parts of the reservation.

Over the last forty-five years, I’ve taught ten years on the Blackft reservation, but I’m always startled when I read the old history and see how often the school was a point of uproar and how often the superintendent of the reservation was pitted against the superintendent of the school. These are still schools attached to the Indian Agency rather than the state, as they were when I came in 1961. But right up until now, schools have always been the main chance for improvement (How one aches for that Carlisle graduate “Literary Club!” What an incubator for leadership it would have been!) and the main way to pocket money, often by skimming food money.

Even back then they were worrying about hair length. On the rez it’s not about being a hippie -- it’s often about being an Indian.

Sunday, April 17, 2005

1884 - 1894

1884 - This is the winter the buffalo never returned. Allen, the new agent, asks if he shouldn’t be collecting a fee for the tens of thousands of cattle and sheep being driven across the rez in order to reach the newly completed Canadian Pacific Railroad to the Northwest Territory or to other markets in the south. He wants to use the money to pay Indian policemen to keep the people from eating the stock as it travels through. At least three ranchers have set up operations on the rez without permission or payment.
1885: Second Rebellion of Riel in Canada. (The definitive book about the Red River people is “Strange Empire: A Narrative of the Northwest,” by Joseph Kinsey Howard. @1952 &1994. Published by Minnesota Historical Society Press. ISBN 0-87351-298-7) Many metis refugees in Montana. General John Biddle explores the Cut Bank area of Glacier. 2,000 Blackfeet on the reservation. Mining strikes in the Little Rockies, Bear’s Paw and Sweetgrass Hills are technically on the rez. Allen is instructed to evict the miners, but didn’t. Allen drinks, has difficulty managing the ordering of supplies of acceptable quality, and hires his own relatives. He is instructed to shut down the ration ticket system, which supports a black market, but doesn’t. Several companies begin cutting timber on the rez.
1886: Severe winter wipes out range livestock. CMR paints ”The Last of the 10,000.” This is the end of open range grazing. DHS Cattle Co. alone lost 40,000 head. According to Gene Guardipee, horse raiding also ceased now.
1887: Cattlemen demand range on Blackft rez. Dawes Allotment Act -- NOT ratified by the Blackft. Whitecalf gave the land on the lower Two Medicine for the Holy Family Mission. Mark Baldwin is the agent and attracts scathing attack by George Bird Grinnell. Baldwin can’t seem to get his accounts straight. He and his clerk are said to be “in the power of the cattle syndicate.” Many Blood and Cree Indians come to visit and there is an exodus of white agency employees. White ranchers complain that the cattle they are grazing on the reservation are confiscated by Mounties when they wander into Canada. Baldwin’s daughter dies for lack of even a few doctor books. Baldwin and Mead, the school superintendent, have a violent feud.
1888: Sweet Grass Hills Treaty. Blackft have now lost one-fourth of the state of Montana. The center of power in Montana shifts from Fort Benton to Great Falls because of Jim Hill’s railroad, but the cast of characters remains about the same. Bob Ford, Dan Floweree, the Conrads, T.C. Power, Sam Houser, Con Kohrs. Mandan halfbreed Joe Kipp becomes licensed trader on the rez. Grinnell ( with G. Gould and J.W. Schultz) holds his own investigation and begins a barrage of letters. White Calf is leading the Indian complaints. Also, “Old Eagle Flag.” J.K. Toole wants permission for Floweree, Jessie Taylor, and others to graze cattle on the rez because of fires (which he blames on the Indians) and drought -- without having to pay fees. When an Indian inspector, Frank C. Armstrong, comes, J.B. Monroe and George Starr reverse their opinion about abuses, covering up.
1889: This time John F. Stevens reconnoiters Marias Pass and C.F. Haskell explores the western approach. MONTANA BECOMES A STATE. The first Blackft men are sent off to Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania. Agent Catlin gives jobs to all his friends and family. He pays Indian labor with the commodities that were supposed to be payment for the land according to the treaty. The buildings are decrepit. School Superintendent Coe reports the schools are a disaster. The agent reports both Coe and the chief clerk of the agency, Livinstone, are drunks. George Magee, a local justice of the peace, complains about Catlin to the Indian office, specifically that he had collaborated with a salesman of cheap jewelry to cheat the Indians. C.L. Bristol, a former agency trader, Joe Kipp, and Bud Allison, a foreman for Dan Floweree, backed up this complaint. But Kipp used the agency sawmill when he was building the Jesuit Holy Family Mission School on Two Medicine.
1890: The railroad is being built through Marias Pass. McCarthyville is settled. Lt. Ahern makes an extensive exploration of Glacier. Dalton gang is here. Holy Family Mission begins operation. The Sioux Massacre at Wounded Knee, what we now call “Wounded Knee I.” Steell is the agent. (A mountain visible from Heart Butte is named “Major Steell’s Backbone,” which is decidedly sway-baked.) He was a morphine addict who would only talk to the Indians through a tiny peephole door in the office door. Somehow he got the support of Grinnell, who tried to save his job. By this time there was an “Agency Ring” of cattle barons and merchants. (Steell was one of the founding partners of the “Diamond R” freighting company and associated with C.A. Broadwater and T.C. Power.) Grinnell complains abut the whiskey towns at the edge of the reservation: Robare, Dupuyer and Muddy. Railroad crews were working on the rez by presidential authority. Bear Chief complained that they were cutting Blackft hay for their horses and Blackft wood without any payment. At first Steel makes a great point of cleaning up the whiskey trade. He gets payment for the hay and wood, but leaves too little for the Blackft themselves. The railroad wants to store dynamite on the rez (against regulations) and is taking a 200 foot right-of-way when they are supposed to take 150. Steell fights with Bartlett, the school superintendent. Neither farming, nor irrigation, nor cattle are working out. At last, Dr. John E. Jenkins, agency physican blew the whistle on Steell for his major morphine addiction. Steell was the first agent to allow a delegation of chiefs to go to Washington, D.C. (With Joe Kipp as interpreter.) White Calf was with them and complained abut cattle trespass. Bear Chief and Little Plume also spoke.
1892: First settlers on Lake McDonald. Willow Creek Boarding School west of Browning. (Now Archambault’s house.) Great Northern finally admitted they took too much land for their stations and paid for some of the wood, the amount determined by themselves. Steell wants to move the agency close to the railroad and to build a bridge with free Indian labor. George Magee, White Calf, Bear Chief, Tail Feathers Over-the-Hill, Mountain Chief and others protest. Paris Gibson, founder of Great Falls and friend of Hill, played a part in the final removal.
1893: Agent Cooke criticizes the reservation irrigation project as a waste of money. BIA had appropriated funds for it since 1891. Few Blackft used it, but it was charged against their account. Great Northern Railroad is completed through the reservation. (A tunnel is necessary to cross the Rockies.) Cooke orders the removal of the Agency to Willow Creek (where it remains until now), but he is gone before the new buildings are occupied. Hill is using various contacts to pursue mining strikes on the western part of the rez and in what became Glacier Park. Rev. E.S. Dutcher, a Methodist, constructs a home and chapel. The home -- very modest -- was in a cluster of cottonwoods west of Browning. It has been replaced with a modern house nearer the highway. The chapel was moved to Browning where it still serves the congregation -- with additions. (For a history of the Methodist mission, see “Mission Among the Blackfeet” by Howard L. Harrod. University of Oklahoma Press, @ 1971. ISBN 0-8061-1301-4) Cooke is so much opposed to Blackft culture that Ewers noted he “even threatened to jail women who did beadwork.” The Willow Creek irrigation project was begun, but never seemed to work. Steell moved his cattle across Birch Creek and befriended the new agent. (His herd had gone from 80 to 400 in two years.)
1894: Town of Browning established. J.H. Sherburne arrives from Ponca City, Ok. There are already hints that the Blackft may have oil, just like the Ponca. (See “Mean Spirit” by Linda Hogan. @ 1990. Ballantine Books. ISBN 0-8041-0863-3)

The hustlers and exploiters have arrived by now and are struggling among themselves for the resources of the reservation, altogether ignoring the Blackft whose reservation this is. The Blackft are supposed to be making a living from it, but these outsiders are determined to make a killing.

Saturday, April 16, 2005

George Kicking Woman Passes Away

George Kicking Woman, Blackft religious leader, died last week.

The first time I ever heard anything about a Sacred Thunder Pipe Bundle was when I assigned my high school students in the early Sixties to write an essay about their favorite room. Clifford Kicking Woman wrote about his bedroom because the Sacred Bundle hung above his bed. He loved both looking at it and feeling that it protected him.

The first time that I know of Clifford’s parents, George and Molly Kicking Woman, being written about was in a slantwise way by Doug Gold in his book “A Schoolmaster among the Blackfeet.” (Caxton Printers, @1963. LOC 63-7444) They seem to be the focus of the chapter called “The Honeymoon of George Hitting Woman. ” Actually, many of the stories in this book are not personal experiences at all but floating Montana tales rather like urban myths -- things that COULD happen but probably didn’t, which often recounted funny encounters with new-fangled stuff. My father told some of the same stories only they were from South Dakota, where my father grew up.

Anyway, the gimmick in this story is that Gold reserved a hotel room so George could take Molly there for a honeymoon. When the happy couple got there, they turned down the room because they saw that it had a bathroom connected and, being used to bathrooms down the hall to be shared by anyone on the floor, they assumed that everyone on the floor would have to come through their room to use the bathroom. Making the story involve a honeymoon was a way to make interruptions even worse than they would be otherwise.

Gold was writing, or at least published, at a time when ideas and understandings were changing rapidly. In the Sixties with Bob Scriver, I attended my first Sacred Thunder Pipe Bundle Opening at George and Molly Kicking Woman’s house. Molly came from a Canadian family that included many old-time ritualists so their opening was always extra large and rather vigorous, since there is always competition between parts of the Blackfoot Confederacy on the two sides of the 49th parallel. Earl Old Person was there and he asked to tape the ceremony. Refused, he bowed politely, and left.

Then Jim Ludwig insisted that he was going to video tape. They said no, but Ludwig wouldn’t leave. Finally Bob came in handy because he was the City Magistrate and told Ludwig, a white man from back east, that if he didn’t leave, Bob would have him put in jail until after the ceremony. Then Ludwig buckled.

We sat behind old Jim Whitecalf, Jr. who was chewing tobacco and to our enjoyment he (nearly blind), kept spitting the juice accidentally on R.L. Lancaster, a writer from Texas who got a lot of prizes for his book about Jim, but no prizes at all for his social skills. Lancaster had on a crisp new white shirt. Well, at the beginning.

Later on, we became Bundle Keepers ourselves, accepting Richard Little Dog’s Bundle with as authentic a transfer ceremony as we could muster out on the campgrounds on the west end of Browning, right down to Crazy Dogs hired to keep tourists away. The Bundle Keeper’s circle then was recorded by Bob in a sculptor’s way: miniature portraits seated in a circle. Molly and George Kickiing Woman (with one of their grandchildren -- Clyde Heavyrunner, Jr. -- nestled next to Molly), Richard Little Dog, Margaret and Tom Many Guns, Joe Gambler, Louis and Mary Jane Fish, The drummers were Joseph Young Eagle, Joe Old Chief, Louis Fish Wolf Robe and Joe Turtle. I believe that Joe Old Chief and I are the last living members of that circle. George and Molly were the youngest Bundle Keepers then. Several whites entered the circles, but Bob and I were the only all-white couple. The others had Blackfeet wives.

Adolf Hungry Wolf writes about his experiences in “Shadows of the Buffalo: A Family Odyssey Among the Indians.” Beverly, his wife, is a collaborating author. (William Morrow and Co.Inc., @1983. ISBN 0-688-01680-4.) He tells a gentle story that includes these same people.

As the years passed, George and Molly became the oldest, but they never faltered. Every Mother’s Day, partly as an honor to Molly, the Kicking Woman Bundle was opened. They didn’t exclude visitors, though they didn’t advertise, and they were generous when young members of the tribe, some of them militant about reclaiming their heritage, began to be Bundle Keepers. The younger ones were educated, progressive, and determined to keep their heritage alive. Those who couldn’t find anyone with a Bundle to transfer to them found repatriated Bundles returned from museums and “re-kindled” them. Accustomed to Christian church for an hour or so on Sunday morning, they were a little surprised to find out how much time the ceremony took.

George was not, of course, because his whole life was preparation for and participation in Bundle Openings. One smudges and prays with a Bundle at dawn and dusk. One obeys rules, often having to do with avoiding newfangled stuff. For instance, one is not to turn frying meat with a fork. (Use wooden tongs.) There’s that hotel story coming back the other way.

Molly and George were an exceptionally bonded couple -- they never ended their honeymoon. When Molly died, George was devastated. As long as he could still drive, he would go out to the cemetary and park by her grave for many hours. The cemetary workers shared their lunches with him and made sure he left for home while it was still light. There is no doubt that George and Molly are reunited by his death, if you even say they were separated at all.

In more recent years Howard Terpning came through Browning and took a lot of photos of George in Bob Scriver’s lodges and up on the shoulder of Chief Mountain. You’ll find George portrayed in “Grandfather Tells Stories,” sitting by a campfire with a bunch of kids, or up in the mountains holding up a pipe with feathers on it. (He would not have agreed to open to his Thunder Pipe Bundle, so Terpning had to get the pipe details somewhere else.)

It would have been easy for this couple to have closed off everyone from their Keeper ceremonies, even the youngsters of their own tribe, but they didn’t. Rather, they saw the ceremony as something living and tough-fibered that might change but should not be extinguished. In their gentle stubbornness, they are the same.