Thursday, June 30, 2005

Four Mountain Man Books

John C. Jackson’s first book was “Shadow on the Tetons,” a bio of David Jackson, a fur trader “for whom Jackson Hole is named.” His second book is “Children of the Fur Trade: Forgotten Metis of the Pacific Northwest.” (Mountain Press Publishing Co., copyright 1996. ISBN 0-87842-339-7. Paperback.) 276 pages of text, plus 48 pages of notes, bibliography, index. Lots of photos. I couldn’t find the name of the artist who drew the lively little sketches here and there. This book is not so much about Montana. In fact, it appealed to me because much of it was about Portland, where I grew up. From my grade school one could see through the Douglas fir of Alberta Park, on across the Columbia to what was once Fort Vancouver. There is enough convoluted plot in Jackson’s book to supply a novelist for a lifetime. I never have figured out the relationship between James McKay, the Scots fur trader, and the McKays on the Blackft reservation. I don’t know whether they have either. Might not be one.

Perhaps Metis are neglected as a group because they did so well at assimilation. After all, they are simply the diasphora of the European countries, woven together with the webbing of indigenous peoples. Only on the great prairie of Assiniboia did they claim identity as a New People, the Red River Nation and try to start their own country. The many families described by Jackson took only a few generations to become simply American “citizens.”

James A. Crutchfield’s book “Mountain Men of the American West” is a directory to the inadvertent patriarchs of hundreds of Metis families. (Tamarack Books, Inc., PO Box 190313, Boise, ID 83719-0313. Copyright 1997. ISBN 1-886609-0701) This book is a reference book but packed with snapshot stories about Bridger, Coulter, Beckwourth, et al. Crutchfield’s bibliography is actually a third of the book, an annotated list of sources, invaluable when working through historical questions.

Crutchfield is a veteran writer, a prize-winning member of the Western Writers of America. He’s not a fancy scholar, but a “buff” which implies a more popular readership so the writing is plain and clear, but make no mistake. This is a man who knows the territory. There is art work, some of it sketches by the author.

The third book I want to mention -- and highly recommend -- is “Many Tender Ties: Women in Fur-Trade Society, 1670-1870” by Sylvia Van Kirk. (University of Oklahoma Press, copyright 1980. ISBN 0-8061-1847-4. Paperback.) 242 pages of text, 56 pages of notes, references, and index. Many quite wonderful photos of Metis women in black silk dresses with hoop skirts! The daughters clearly “try harder” and appear poised, coiffed, brooched with cameos -- standing gracefully in the photographic setting of cherub and carpet. On the cover is a portrait of a beautiful dark young woman with her adorable pale child in her arms.

Western history often neglects the lives of the women, adding to the insults of their treatment. This book makes the point that some Hudson’s Bay-type men plainly took Indian women as wives “in the fashion of the country” so as to have the convenience of a cook/housekeeper/translator in the house, and cheerfully “turned them off” when they finally achieved a European wife. (Later General Custer did exactly that, although he already had the white wife when he took an Indian companion.) But some of the couples bonded in a true marriage, regardless of the ceremonies involved, and were faithful and supportive to each other throughout their lives. Nothing is so revealing of character as marriage in a time of cultural tumult.

This book is beloved by many women and quite unlike any mountain man literature written by men. Maybe Wheeler’s series about “Mister” Skye comes close, since he gives weight to Skye’s two wives, their emotions and opinions. I look forward to the day when a movie script about Metis women is shot on location with enough authenticity to make us realize what it meant to be a woman from a culture that deeply honored the self-sacrifice of mothers (I mean Indians), who has hooked up with a man from a culture that considers them somewhat subhuman -- a woman whose life will depend on his ability to separate from that opinion. Often the children make the difference, creating “Tender Ties.”

The fourth book I wanted to include in this piece is “Scottish Highlanders, Indian Peoples: Thirty Generations of a Montana Family” by James Hunter. (Montana Historical Society Press, copyright 1996. ISBN 0-917298-52-7. Paperback.) The thirty generations in question go back from Tom Branson, a contemporary forester on the Flathead Reservation, all the way to Fergus, twelve centuries ago the chief of a tribe in County Derry in northern Ireland. All the steps in between are recorded. This is a longitudinal study of a phenomenon often only looked at horizontally. The first tie in the generations between Scot and Indian was the marriage of Angus McDonald to a Nez Perce woman, Catharine, in 1842. (Her father was part Mohawk, showing a beaver-trapping migration across the continent rather than across the ocean.) The impact of this time-line is enormous, especially if one has the surname McDonald or MacDonald.

There are 198 pages of text and 25 pages of notes, bibiliography and index. This undertaking was so enormous that Hunter required help from people in Scotland as well as Americans and he seems to have gotten enthusiastic support from everyone. There is an insert of excellent photographs, including a portrait of Charlie McDonald, the grandchild of Angus and Catharine, still living at the time of the writing of this book.

People say “half-breed” or “mountain man” or “fur trapper” without much thought, using the words for categories without regard for the individual human beings and their challenges. Brief but turbulent, the cultural “surf” gave rise to many pejorative terms like “squaw man.” If a person sat down to read these four books, the stereotypes would be replaced by personalities worthy of both contempt and admiration, but individuals in real dilemmas. They made our world possible and their children are us or dwell with us in the “surf” of our own times. Some of them were heroes and some of those heroes were female.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

"The Piikani Blackfeet" by John C. Jackson

If one were to see “The Piikani Blackfeet: A Culture Under Siege” by John C. Jackson on a bibliography next to “The Blackfeet” by Theresa Jensen Lacey, one might assume they were similar books, but they are NOT AT ALL! John Jackson, like Lacey, has a Native American genetic connection, but his is Algonkin, he is from Oregon and he spent twenty years as an advertising designer in Portland. Then he jumped ship in 1982, moved to Olympia, and became associated with the Kitchen Garden Project, which develops vegetable gardens for low-income people. He is an independent scholar with at least two points of attachment to the larger community of historians: he’s related to Tom Connell here on the Blackft reservation and he is friends with Alvin Josephy, a scholar and advocate of Indians esp. the Nez PercĂ©.

The formal text of this book is 213 pages and the notes and so-on are 62 pages. Nine pages of bibliography and eight of index. If one is looking for a reference to a person or incident, these are numbers that make you grin and gloat. There are no photographs except for a photograph of a bison hide with a picture story on it. All other illustrations are from pictographs or drawings by Indians, one at every chapter heading. One of those “candlelabra-shaped” maps from 1802 is on page 61. There is a whole chapter on “Manly-Hearted Women.”

But the biggest difference is that the writing is poetic, evocative, and aimed at awakening a new understanding, a new synthesis of old historical stories. An advanced high school student could appreciate this, but it is not an easy book. To make the point, here’s the first paragraph of the preface: “The old ones are only shadows now, silhouettes moving silently in the soft dawn toward another camp and dancing around the glow of a buffalo-chip fire. Sometimes, in the sunset, a feathered horseman casts a long shadow across the hillside; too often, the image recedes and vanishes. Like a child trying to capture a shadow by tracing it in the sand, this book attempts to outline figures that have stepped away from definition.”

Another paragraph, the second: “For the brief span of a century and a half, the horse people shimmered in the dazzling light of the northern plains. Then, like the buffalo, they are gone. Their lives merit careful attention that goes beyond stereotyping, sketchy images caught by a fur trader’s pen, or cold scientific re-examination. Yet this is not another book about injustices, laden with unresolved guilt and smothering sympathy.”

The book is really a personal and interesting synthesis that comes out sort of halfway between the wildly unreal plastic shaman novels and a tough sociological study. There’s no talk about the present, much less an effort like McFee’s to come up with an explanation or description of where to go from here. Nor does he want to speculate on Dog Days. Jackson wants to contemplate and reflect on the climax culture enabled by horses and guns -- then snuffed by the source of those same elements.

The danger in doing so is the possibility of leaving us behind. For instance, he maintains that Piikani, or Piegan were sometimes spelled “Peekanow, Pahkee, Pekan, Piedgan, Pikenow, Pekannekoon, Pikaraminiouach” among other ways. (He doesn’t include the Canadian Peigan.) He asserts that “the name comes from “pa’ksikahko,” a muddy place, which in Cree becomes pikan or pikakamiw, muddy or turbid water.” So his idea is that the Piegan are properly “the Muddy River Indians.” I don’t think it will catch on. Wait a minute -- is Tom Connell a Cree? Maybe Metis?

Jackson’s bibliography is heavy on Pacific Northwest fur traders, about whom he has also written a book, but includes both Canadian and US sources, French as well as English. He touches the main Blackft bases: Ewers, Schaeffer, Wissler, Dempsey and even Alice Beck Kehoe, who was also a curator at the Museum of the Plains Indian in the 1950’s but didn’t publish much until lately.

Another circumstance that recommends this book is that it is published in Montana by Mountain Press Publishing Company. Possibly they are the ones who brought Bill Farr, University of Montana history professor, into consultation, which resulted in a colorful cover. It is “Blackfeet: Raiders of the Plains,” a painting by Julius Seylor, a German expressionist who visited the reservation in 1913-14. The drawings at chapter headings and occasionally other places are from “Writing on Stone,” a Canadian Provincial Park that is just north of the Sweet Grass Hills.

My training in judging scholarship is that one should value those who define their goals and methods, then go ahead to fulfill them. If you were to read this book to get information about the Blackft in more recent times or to get the conventional consensus, you might be disconcerted. (There are a few places where he doesn’t agree with other scholars.) But if you wanted a sympathetic taste of the stories, the images, the controversies and dilemmas -- this is your book. A sort of latter-day James Willard Schultz. “Why gone those times?”

(“The Piikani Blackfeet: A Culture Under Siege,” by John C. Jackson. Published by Mountain Press Publishing Company in Missoula, Montana. Copyright 2000. ISBN 0-87842-386-9 Paperback)

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Crafts or Artifacts?

At one time the vocational education program of Haskell Indian Junior College in Lawrence, Kansas, printed a series on Indian Handcraft books for the Bureau of Indian Affairs. This was discontinued long ago, but Richard C. Schneider, a professor of art at the University of Wisconsin found there was still enough interest in 1986 to reprint the series. (In case he still exists, his address was “R. Schneider, Publishers, 312 Linwood Ave., Stevens Point, Wisconsin, 54481.) The Blackft crafts book was written by John Ewers, one of the several expert Blackft anthropologists, and the man who built the Museum of the Plains Indian.

“Indian Crafts” and “Material Culture” appear to be the “low” and “high” ways of approaching things made by Native Americans. Maybe the difference is that Indian “Crafts” are still made today -- but maybe not by Indians and probably for sale rather than use. “Material Culture” is the antique kind of object, one that shows real use in a world gone by. Cub Scouts with a bead band loom are making crafts. A quilled pipe bag from 1750 is something else entirely, and probably worth a lot of money.

Ewers’ book is somewhere in the middle of the muddle. On the one hand he was an anthropologist at a time when much of the work was sorting -- creating taxonomies of objects with close attention to their construction and use. “Just exactly what IS a typical Blackft moccasin beadwork design?” they might ask, with full confidence that there was always a “typical” to be found. Jessie Schultz, surviving wife of James Willard Schultz, was famous for insisting that Blackft designs were geometric and Cree designs were floral. After she’d been saying this for a while, it certainly became true of all the moccasins made for sale to her.

Jessie and John Ewers were collaborators in the creation of the Museum of the Plains Indian in Browning, Montana, which was funded in part by the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs Craft Board. The building has a workroom on one end, supplied with tables that have drawers for storing half-finished work. The vision was that tourists would come to visit the museum where many wonderful objects were displayed and then they would buy reproductions or new creations from the dedicated workers, through the little shop also in the building. This would be much needed income for them.

Ewers’ little 66 page book (“Blackfeet Crafts,” no copyright given, paperback, ISBN 0-936984-0) would be useful for someone buying artifacts and concerned about their authenticity, or it could also help a person who wanted to make new reproductions or original creations. Adolf Hungry Wolf began his literary career with dozens of this sort of book, full of photos and diagrams.

At the elite “material culture” end of the spectrum, one would do well to buy a “book on demand” reproduction from UMI (300 North Zeeb Road, Ann Arbor, Michigan, 48106-13460). “Material Culture of the Blackfoot Indian” was edited by Clark Wissler, an earlier anthropologist of the Blackft. The book was originally published by the American Museum of Natural History, Vol. V, Part 1. Wissler’s introduction is dated October 1, 1909. He acknowledges Robert H. Lowie and Walter McClintock, his contemporaries, for helping.

It’s interesting that of Bob Scriver’s three self-published books, the one that has doubled in value is not about sculpture, but rather the high-quality, super-close-up photo inventory of the Scriver Artifact Collection. (The book is called, “The Blackfeet, Artists of the Northern Plains,” in homage to Ewers’ history, “The Blackfeet, Raiders of the Northern Plains. It is out-of-print.) Several crafts workers on the Internet advertise that they take their designs from this book.

When the first Euros came up the Mississippi and then the Missouri, they arrived in Montana with trunks and crates capable of taking many objects back to Europe with them. Just as the Blackfeet were enamored of needles, awls, strike-a-lights, falconry bells, brass buttons, iron kettles -- metal objects -- the Europeans fell in love with the buckskin/bone/fur objects of the prairie people. Some, like millionaire Heye who had to have one of everything in existence, even if there WAS only one, became obsessive. (His collection is the foundation of the new Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C.)

When Europeans saw the wonderful things unpacked by aristocrats returned from the great American plains, they were also smitten. The effect on the ones unlikely to travel was to try to duplicate what they saw. Today there are German craft clubs who make “arti-fakes” so authentically that no one can tell them from the real objects -- except that they’re not old.

While this imitation Indian phenomenon has continued to the present day in Germany, something entirely different has happened in the United States. Instead of treasuring and defending the unique tribal characteristics of dance gear, the Pan-Indian Pow-Wow movement has supported the development of cross-cultural styles that become ever more flashy and ingenious. They rather remind me of Ball Room Dancing Competition costumes: many feathers, much glitter, and -- on grass dance costumes -- much bright yarn. Anything that might distinguish a person from the others and catch the eye of the judges. After all, the prizes are money and a person has to pay for the gas to get there.

Even so, individuals have discovered that they will stand out in competition if they wear costumes designed like those Catlin painted, with their faces painted in striking ways. These folks can run into trouble in two ways: some of the most authentic and striking accoutrements were once considered sacred and some purists might claim that using them at a pow-wow is disrespectful.

The other problem is that the more authentic the costume is, the more likely it is to include some material that comes from protected or extinct animals like eagles or swift foxes. This imposes a legal taboo that could get problematic. Who can kill enough elk today to adorn an entire dress with their ivory incisors?

A quite different stream of consciousness than pow-wows focuses on originality and treats material objects and their making as art. These people don’t necessarily think of themselves as doing “crafts” but as creating something like a fine painting or sculpture, an expression of their vision, maybe something never seen before. This is undoubtedly what the first Blackft craftpeople believed, too, but their vision was conditioned by their own world, much of which is gone now. What was once the inventory of a museum crafts shop has now become the display of an art gallery.

Monday, June 27, 2005

"The Blackfeet" by Theresa Jensen Lacey

“The Blackfeet” by Theresa Jensen Lacey is a good example of a steady stream of small books about Indians that are rarely even acknowledged by scholars, but constantly offered to the public. This one, again typically, is one book from a series, each devoted to a different tribe. This specific series, “Indians of North America” is generally edited by Frank W. Porter III, whose degrees are from the University of Maryland. The author of “The Blackfeet,” Ms. Lacey, is a descendant of Chief Quanah Parker (Comanche and Cherokee). She has a website with her photo and confides that when she began this book, her first baby was six weeks old. She researched for a year and talks as though she made at least one trip out to Blackfeet Country, probably to Lethbridge.

Lethbridge is a city of 200,000 in Alberta, Canada. (No city in Montana exceeds 100,000, except Billings -- some years -- if the surrounding county is included.) The University of Lethbridge is built like a wall across the mouth of a deep coulee, with a big space under it so it won’t become a dam. The hillsides roundabout are dotted with silhouettes of howling wolves, looking very realistic. Their Indian Studies program is well-developed and pretty much focused on the Blackfeet -- although they, being Canadian, generally use “Blackfoot.” Lacey is trapped by her title into using Blackfeet most of the time, but she usually uses the Canadian spelling of Piegan, which is Peigan. In fact, in a number of places she seems pretty influenced by Canadian views.

But maybe that’s what’s interesting about this book. It’s meant for juveniles, probably high school age, and strives to be colorful, exciting and (Lacey’s word) “amazing.” The photos are quite different from what we usually see. She managed to write the whole book without ever mentioning Napi! This book was published in 1995, so surely it wasn’t a matter of prudery, but it certainly COULD have been. It seems like a shame to deprive teenagers of a sex-obsessed trickster! The long creation story she quotes includes a lot of Christian notions plus intrusions from other tribes and modern science.

After a person has been exploring Blackft materials for a few years, one learns to look first at the index and the bibliography. The bibliography here reveals the problem: no Ewers and no Schafer, though they are the acknowledged experts on the American side. Hugh Dempsey, the outstanding Calgary historian, is there with three books. Grinnell’s “Blackfoot Lodge Tales” is referenced, rather than later more bold versions. or earlier more anthropological ones. One of Adolf Hungry Wolf’s books is present (“The Blood People”) but she spells Adolf’s name with a ph. Beverly Hungry Wolf’s book, “The Ways of my Grandmothers,” is on the list. She includes McClintock’s later and more minor book, “Old Indian Trails,” but not “The Old North Trail.” Happily, she found Malcolm McFee’s small but influential “Modern Blackfeet, Montanans on a Reservation.”

One book I don’t know at all: Ann Walton’s “After the Buffalo Were Gone: The Louis Warren Hill, Sr., Collection of Indian Art.” I assume that’s where Lacey found many of these excellent illustrations.

Two books I know very well indeed. One is Richard Lancaster’s “Piegan,” mostly about Old Jim Whitecalf whom Lancaster claimed had adopted him. I dislike Lancaster personally and cannot give you an undistorted opinion. My distorted opinion is that he was a nutcase and a patronizing ego-maniac.

The other is “The Blackfeet: Artists of the Northern Plains” which was written and personally published by Bob Scriver, to whom I was married and of whom I have an opinion highly biased in his favor. It is an inventory of the so-called “million dollar artifact collection” that was sold to the Provincial Museum in Edmonton, Alberta, in the midst of much controversy. Sacred objects in the book were returned to the Alberta Blackfoot tribes by Premier Klein. Other objects were intercepted at the border when being carried back and forth between Edmonton and Helena, Montana, where the Montana Historical Society is the guardian of the entire Scriver archive and body of work. The United States Federal Fish and Game authorities repatriated these materials to selected Piegan personalities, who kept the valuable items for themselves and sold the rest through an auction house that specializes in Indian artifacts. The collection in this book no longer exists as a unified entity.

Maybe this little run-through makes it clear why Lacey’s “The Blackfeet” is not considered a major reference. Nevertheless, it is appealing and as an introduction to the tribe for high school kids across the continent, it ought to do the job.

There is a whole photo section in the middle about modern Indian crafts, made new on the pattern of old examples. The closest to a photo of modern Blackft is a 1939 shot of King George and Queen Mary in Alberta -- Queen Mary’s fox-trimmed coat goes well with the ermine-fringed buckskin suits of the chiefs. The actual account of historical events is not inaccurate but not the usual narrative.

At the very least this book offers a kind of example or template for a compact book suitable for a unit on Indian studies. Maybe it could even be a model for a high school class sophisticated enough to compose and “publish” their own book on the computer, basing it on their own research. If McLaughlin’s high schoolers could produce a textbook using a mimeograph machine in the 1970’s, surely a good desktop publishing program and careful use of the internet could turn up more materials than Lacey had to work with. (I have a mental image of her in a library with her baby on her back.) The University of Lethbridge website would not be a bad place to start.

(“The Blackfeet” by Theresa Jensen Lacey. Frank W. Porter III, General Editor of the series “Indians of North America.” Chelsea House Publishers, a division of Main Line Book Co. Copyright 1995. ISBN 0-7910-2491-1 Paperback, 103 pages.)

Sunday, June 26, 2005

Sam the Worm Man in the Sweet Grass Hills

When a teenaged boy likes something, he says “sweeeeet,” and that’s close to what the “sweet” in “Sweet Grass Hills” means! No, that’s too frivolous. The Sweet Grass Hills strike everyone as special to the point of sacredness. On Friday Sam James, a professor and worm expert from the University of Kansas, and I went up there with a shovel to look for worms. It was a gorgeous day with a long horizon, a little hazy, a blessing of a breeze. The grass was up to our knees. Sam, who is from Kansas, dug divots and turned rocks (always replacing them) until we did indeed find worms.

The trouble is that exotic worms -- imported somehow from Europe in potted plants or ship ballast -- have invaded Montana just like every other place on the North American continent. The worms follow the example of the people. We were looking for worms that might have been saved from the glaciers of ten thousand years ago because the Sweet Grass Hills were tall enough that they were not entirely engulfed by ice. Plants and animals were able to survive on the peaks. But every worm we found was European and so was every person we talked to. Sam went back today to look some more.

The name of the Sweet Grass Hills is a misnomer: the original Blackfeet word means Sweet Pine, which is balsam fir. The sweetness of both is from coumadin which many of us know as a blood thinner. Holterman gives this: katoyisix (accent on the first “i”) as an animate (living) plural for sweet pines. McClintock used katoya to translate balsam fir, sweet pine or abies lasiocarpa. But he calls sweetgrass sipazimot(i) and says it is Vanilla Grass or sevastana odorata. Katoyis (accent on the “i”) is also the name of Bloodclot Boy or Monster Slayer. Did the old-timers know the uses of coumadin?

Gold (that monster metal) was discovered on the center butte in 1884 when they were still surrounded by the Blackft reservation, and almost instantly there were a hundred reasons why the Blackft would have to give up those hills. The government didn’t care that it was the last holdout of the buffalo, who liked to calve in the sheltering folds of the coulees. Title changed hands in February, 1887, but it was not until late in the twentieth century that the compensatory “Big Claim” payout arrived in the hands of the tribe.

There was a little ghost town around the gold mine, but the local ranchers got tired of animals getting trapped in the buildings and prowlers coming to pry in the remains, so they bulldozed the place flat. The next threat to them (How often do the ranchers follow the same paths as the Indians before them!) was the invention of cyanide heap leach mining: If one makes a lake, lines it with “impermeable” membrane, heaps up gold ore in the middle and pours cyanide over it, one can recover tiny traces of gold. Of course, there is NO membrane that doesn’t leak, and the Sweet Grass Hills (still full of value after the buffalo and gold are gone) is the watershed for wells for many miles around -- cyanide would poison them all. Even worse, by the time the whole butte is chewed up and “leached,” there would no longer be anything to which one can lift one’s eyes.

A search engine such as Google is exceptionally rewarding if you look for “Sweet Grass Hills.” For one thing, there is excellent photography so that you can see for yourself the “signature” horizon line of these volcanic peaks. For another, one can make contact with the organization that works to block any more moves towards cyanide leach pads. Not least, students at Chester High School have posted essays about what the Hills mean to them. And John Holt, Montana writer, has written about the blue fire he claims he sees there.

Spanish Basque sheepherders also lost their hearts to the Hills when they pastured bands of sheep there. They built tall stone cairns from the morainie stones that abound. But there are far more ancient and mysterious structures.

The U.S. Government, in the course of the Big Claim, tried to refute the claim of the Blackft that the place was sacred by saying that there was no church there, no altar or Stonehenge to prove that anyone ever worshipped there. This is a false notion, since to the Native American peoples all land and life was sacred. Still, a place so distinguished was a “power center,” a place a little more holy than others. And the “proof” turned out to be low stone walls just about the right outline for a man to lie down in and just about high enough to make a bit of shelter from the wind. I don’t know where they are. I’ve seen photos. They are for vision-fasting.

Part of the reason, in my opinion, that Native peoples were hit so hard by alcohol and continue to be so clobbered by drugs is that they were a people who had learned how to tune their own spirits to control consciousness in exquisite calibrations through the use of solitude, meditation, and fasting. Alcohol and drugs are cyanide to such spirits. Vision quests, often coming-of-age ordeals, were dangerous enough that those who did it asked a friend to check on them to make sure that they didn’t slip over the edge into death. There is a story about a man who was supposed to guard his son, but out of pride let the boy fast too long. The boy changed into a small bird and disappeared.

In his former life, before being a worm biologist, Sam taught Transcendental Meditation for a decade. When he got back last night, I asked him what he thought about this idea. “TM was developed by the kind of Indian in India,” he said. “I have no idea about people here.” He wanted to talk about what a guide book said: the Sweet Grass Hills were formed by volcanic intrusions that came up from the core of the earth and “blistered” between layers of earth. Though they were hot enough to transform some of the rock around them, they could not be seen at the surface until erosion wore the earth away. Great metaphor for contemplation.

My hostess gift was a beautiful blue ceramic jam jar that Joy, Sam’s wife, made herself. The handle for the lid is a looped-up angleworm. Sweeeeeeet!

Saturday, June 25, 2005

Major Steele, Indian Agent

Two agents of the Blackft Tribe have had daughters who married locally. One was Eula Churchill, who married J.L. Sherburne, and the other was the daughter of George Steele (b. 1837). The Sherburne’s were both white, but George Steele’s daughters were from his second marriage to a woman Jack Holterman calls “Annie” who is rather mysteriously a member of the Blackft tribe. A mountain up behind Heart Butte is named “Major Steele’s Backbone.” Probably not a compliment.

Steele was another of those interface people. His mother was English and his father was Scots, but he was born in Quebec -- part of the same migration stream as Bob Scriver’s parents. George was educated in the public schools , went to New York State, then Boston, and then went West. He came up the Missouri from St. Louis to Fort Benton in 1857. For seven years in Helena with the American Fur Company, he worked for Mathew Carroll at Fort Benton.

One romantic story is that Steele, whose Indian name was Sleeping Thunder, had a remarkable black stallion named Puhpoom. Eagle Ribs stole Puhpoom and Joe Kipp made a great show of stealing the horse back.

Steele, on the other side, was a Republican linked to fellow Republican T.C. Power, and became a commissioner of the early Choteau County. In March of 1869, he married Eva Treadway in Ticonderoga, New York, and brought her to Helena where she died before Christmas. (The novelist in me wonders about her dowry, estate, connections and all that.)

Steele, Carroll, C.A. Broadwater and their buddies were freighters and probably whiskey bootleggers on the Whoop-Up Trail. For a while Steele cooled off in Salt Lake City. In 1875 he pops up as a rancher along the Sun River and the Missouri, which puts him close to Great Falls, the confluence. In May, 1877, he marries Mary Lukin in Helena. This is probably “Annie.”

MARY LUKIN (62, Full Blood)
Mary’s father was LAME BULL, signer of the Treaty called by his name.
By this marriage, Mary and George had two children:
Dora Steele, married to GEORGE WELLS, a white man. They had one child, a girl, who went to England with her father.
Adelaide Steele married William Thomas, a white man. She died leaving three children:
Marie Thomas (15)
George Thomas (13)
Rachel Thomas (11)
The girls were sent to relatives in Dubuque, Iowa, and the son remained with his father in Highwood, Montana.

In 1877 and 1879 Steele serves in the territorial legislatures and the constitutional convention of 1884. In 1890 he’s appointed agent to the Blackfeet, though most of the time he doesn’t leave his ranch. In 1891 he and Joe Kipp took a panel of chiefs to Washington, D.C.

Then it all went to hell. The Great Northern Railroad came through, demanding timber for ties and cord wood for steam engines as well as hay for the wagons. They took 200 feet of right-of-way instead of the legal 150. They brought in whiskey but somehow the Indian shipments of flour and beef evaporated. And the government would just as soon Steele not make a big fuss about it.

He built a new school on Willow Creek, just west of Browning, which even his friend, Lt. Beacom, officially declared unfit and it stayed unfit for many years afterwards. (Now it’s a private residence owned by an architect.) Major Steele’s back gave him so much trouble that he resorted to morphine and was soon hooked. He related to the world through a little door he had cut in his office door -- like the entrance to a speakeasy.

It got worse. James. J. Hill heard about oil and maybe gold in the nearby mountains and wanted to move the Blackft to the Dakotas. James Willard Schultz, along with Steele, teased prospector Dutch Louis Meyer by getting him to work a Ouija board which told Louis where to find gold. It was there, but not much. Then the government got the idea of buying the east side of the Rockies from the Blackft, not for a park but for the minerals.

Montana went back and forth between Republicans and Democrats. Grinnell was a Republican, which might explain why he backed the sale of what became Glacier Park. But Jim Hill and Marcus Daly were Democrats and when they got into power they threw out Steele and put in an Army captain who wished to eradicate Blackft culture, right down to beadwork. Soon Repubs Power, Carter, and buddies put Steele back in office, morphine and all. In 1895 he was undoubtedly in on the negotiations for the park. There is ambiguity about whether it was a sale or a lease.

Steele separated from “Annie.” He began to be at odds with the Dawsons and Clarkes. His cattle seemed strangely confused with tribal cattle. In 1897, his career was over. Probably he continued to ranch but my authorities record no final end for him.

(Again I’m indebted to Holterman’s “Who Was Who in Glacier Land.”)

Friday, June 24, 2005


So, we begin with this fellow named Isidoro Sandoval, from New Mexico, a Shoshone speaker and an engage of the American Fur Company about the time James Kipp built a fort at the mouth of the Marias in 1831 or so. Isidoro married a Piegan woman, “Catch for Nothing,” and was a guide for Prince Maximillian of Wied-Neuwied. You remember that we saw the latter lolling about the German forest with Pomp, Sacajawea’s son, in a famous painting.

Soon after Maximilian went home, Isidoro led a packtrain up the Teton River and then north along the Rockies, maybe heading for the St. Mary Valley. They were looking for mountain goat hides. It was a good place to look, and they took two Kootenais because it was a Kootenai hunting ground at that time. Unfortunately, a Kainah Blackft party ran out both Kootenai hunters and Sandoval’s little pack string, but at least he got a good look at the country at a time few whites knew it.

In 1837, the midst of a smallpox pandemic, Sandoval took charge of Fort McKenzie for Alexander Culbertson. About 1840 he was murdered by an engage named Harvey. Isidoro and Catch for Nothing had had two children, a boy and a girl. The boy, named Isidoro for his father, stayed with Malcolm Clarke at a fort on the Marias that came under siege by Arikaras. When the gates were hastily barred, Isidoro, Malcolm’s baby daughter Helen, and a blind girl were left outside. Before Malcolm and a Frenchman could get out there to rescue them, the blind girl was killed and little Isidoro was wounded.

In 1862 Malcolm married the younger Isidoro’s sister, Good Singing, in a Catholic ceremony celebrated by Father DeSmet. Isidoro, Jr., married a Piegan named Margaret, daughter of Red Bird-Tail. One could say these families (Clarke, Sandoval, Kipp, et al) were half-breeds produced by Euros taking advantage of native American people, or you could say that these were people who made their living at the interface between two nations -- in the process becoming blended, the boldest of both worlds. Factually, they interpreted, traded, and transported materials for T.C. Power, I.G. Baker and the US Cavalry -- as well as the occasional aristocrat or artist.

Isidoro Jr. had two sons with Margaret: Oliver (b. January, 1862) and Richard (b. April, 1867). Oliver (aged ten) was living with the Clarkes on what is now the Baucus ranch when Malcolm was murdered. When things got so rough (the Baker Massacre), Isidoro Jr. and Oliver went to Canada to work for Mounties and the Canadian officials organizing the reserves and treaties up there. Isidoro is said to have interpreted for meetings with Louis Riel, but in 1881 Isidoro Jr. was killed in a drunken brawl at Dupuyer, a little town not far from Valier. (The last killing that I know of in Dupuyer was a Piegan in 1990 who had laid siege to the Ranger Bar by pounding on the door and yelling. The new owner of the bar, an old man with no reservation experience and dramatic notions of the 19th century, got a rifle and shot the unarmed drunk.)

Oliver’s career continues. Called Inoyinam or Looks Furry, he carried the mail between Choteau and Old Agency along Badger Creek. In 1883, the Starvation Winter, he guided James Willard Schultz and other Good Samaritans on a hunting trip north through the reservation -- they returned distributing carcasses among the families. Maybe not all the meat was wild.

From 1894 to 1897, Oliver interpreted for agents Allen, Baldwin, Catlin, Steele and Cook and was a tribal policeman for Steele. Oliver and Mary, daughter of Fast Buffalo Horse, lived in Heart Butte and had a boy named Johnnie. Oliver clerked at the Sherburne Merc in Browning for six years and was active in tribal politics. In 1908 death claimed him during a visit to his niece and nephew in Hayes, Montana, and he was brought home for burial at St. Anne’s in Heart Butte where this time of year baby’s breath seeded from generations of bouquets spreads out a lacy cloth across the graveyard.

Richard Sanderville, often called Dick Sanderville, and sometimes “Chief Bull,” took quite a different path. Educated at St. Ignatius and then Carlisle, he became very active in Methodist circles where money was raised by selling china dishes with his logo on them. An activist who was key to the building of the Museum of the Plains Indian, he swung aboard Secretary of State Ickes’ train in order to pressure his cooperation. His aunt, Good Singing, once married to Malcolm Clarke, had a daughter named Judith Patterson, who left her children with Tom Dawson at Midvale (Now East Glacier). Perhaps this was the connection that pulled Dick Sanderville into the circle of writers, naturalists, and personalities who swirled around the Big Hotel in summer.

(The keeper of the 1907-08 census says that Pablo Starr -- founder of Starr School -- and Isabelle Cooper were half-brothers to Isadore Sandoval Sr. and that he should be called Pablo Sanderville. No way to check all this out. The matter is ignored, or at least no one changed the name of the town.)

Otherwise, Dick Sanderville claims:
A full brother: Oliver Sanderville
A full sister, Cecile, wife of Yellow Wolf, whose niece is Fine Shield Woman, the beloved wife of James Willard Schultz and mother of Hart Schultz.
A full sister, Louise, who married John Croff.
A half-sister, Ellen, who married James Welch, the GRANDfather of James Welch Jr. who is actually the third with that name.
A half-brother, Tom Sanderville.

Dick Sanderville married first Eloise Tear Lodge, full Piegan, who at the time of the census was remarried to John Eagle Ribs. Dick and Eloise had one daughter, Agnes, 19 at the time of the census, and was married to Henry Horn.
Dick married a second time in 1894 to Nancy Sheppard in a Methodist ceremony. Nancy was 36, 3/8th Piegan. Her father was Newton Sheppard, a white man, and her mother was Julia, 3/4 Piegan. Julia’s father was Joseph Finley, 50% white.

The children of this marriage were:
Bridget Sanderville, 8 years old at the time of the census, and Martha Sanderville, born February 23, 1911. (This information must have been added later since the census was in 1907-08.)

Getting back to Ellen Welch, she was first married to George McMullen but they had no children.
On November 13, 1905 at Browning she married James Welch, 33, one-quarter Cherokee. The ceremony was Methodist.
At the time of the census, Cora Lucretia Welch was an infant born on February 10, 1908. There’s no reference to the novelist’s father, who must have been born in 1914, since he was a classmate of Bob Scriver. He is presently in Browning in the nursing home.

This grandfather Welch had been previously married to a woman named Mary who lived in North Carolina on the East Cherokee Reservation and who remained there.
Their children were:
Lloyd Welch (10 yrs at the time of the census)
Theodore Welch (8 yrs)
Clarence Welch (6 years)

One wonders if any of these children became writers. Many of the Sanderville, Kipp, Clarke descendants have been gifted artists and writers.

I'm indebted to most of this material to Jack Holterman's "Who Was Who in Glacier Land" which is available from the Glacier Historical Society in West Glacier, Montana.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Rez Rivers (Part 2)

Rez Rivers (part 2)

The more important perennial streams entering Cut Bank Creek from the south are the South Fork of Cut Bank Creek, and Spring Creek. The former heads on the eastern slopes of the continental divide and flows east through a wide morainie basin between Cut Bank and Two Medicine ridges.

Willow Creek rises on the eastern slope of Two Medicine Ridge and flows northeast through a gravelly glacial lake basin, below high morainie ridges. It enters Cut Bank Creek a few miles northwest of the old townsite of Bombay. [There’s still a sign on the railroad track.] West of Blackfoot is a large swamp extending west and north of Browning.

Spring Creek heads in a gap south of the Seville bench and flows east through a wide heavy alkaline basin, entering Cut Bank Creek south of Cut Bank. It is a small perennial stream draining a wide basin below the bench on the north and a broken escarpment lying north of a high rolling drift-covered area on the south.

Two Medicine Creek is also one of the larger streams on the reservation. It heads on the continental divide in the southwestern reservation and flows northeast through several finger lakes, such as Upper and Lower Two Medicine. After emerging from the lakes its course is to the southeast and east through a deep canyon bordered by shaly breaks for 6 or 7 miles east of East Glacier. In the south-central Blackfeet Reservation its course is again to the northeast and east through a deep narrow valley locally bordered with sandstone breaks below the stony hummocky drift-covered uplands. Below the mouth of Little Badger Creek its valley is from one-fourth to one-third mile wide, and east of Family [Holy Family Mission] for 4 to 5 miles is about 2 miles wide. A low terrace or island extends east of Family for about 4 miles and is bordered on the north by a poorly drained bottom one-half mile wide. The valley again closes up to the east along the county line and is bordered by high sandstone breaks and bad lands on the north. Locally, below the breaks, the valley widens out and its rolliing terraced bottom is quite stony.

Summit Creek is a small perennial stream flowing through a deep canyon and entering Two Medicine Creek south of East Glacier. The South Fork of Two Medicine Creek is a large stream draining a large tract on the eastern slopes of the continental divide. It also flows through a deep canyon below a stony bench and joins Two Medicine Creek 6 miles east of East Glacier. Little Badger Creek rises in a morainie area on the eastern slopes of the continental divide and enters Two Medicine Creek in the south-central reservation through a deep valley. Flat Creek heads in a gap northeast of Family. It is an intermittent stream draining a sharply rolling drift-covered area above the breaks of the gap.

Badger Creek carries about the same volume of water as Two Medicine Creek. It heads on the continental divide in Pondera County and flows northeast through a rolling to sharply rolling drift-covered area, entering Two Medicine Creek west of the county line. The stream is enclosed in a deep canyon on the slopes of the mountaiins, but in the south-central part of the reservation its valley widens out to one-fourth to three-fourths of a mile and is bordered locally by sandstone and shaly breaks. Gravelly terraces rise above the stream and its first bottom is largely river wash. Blacktail Creek is a perennial stream entering Badger Creek through a deep valley in the north-central portion of the reservation. It drains a rolling drift-covered area.

Birch Creek forms the south and southeastern boundaries of the Blackfeet Reservation. It flows through a narrow valley bordered by high sandstone breaks. It is a large perennial stream that unites with Cut Bank Creek to form the Marias River.

At this time, no comprehensive study of ground water on the Blackfeet Reservation has been made. Generally speaking, however, the valleys of the major streams such as the Two Medicine, Milk and Cut Bank contains variable amounts of unconsolidated clay, sand and gravel. The beds of sand and gravel are generally water-bearing and will yield water in sufficient quantity for average farm and domestic needs and in places for municipal or industrial requirements. In the stream or river valleys, water often maybe obtained at a depth of 50 feet or less. Elsewhere, depths of 500 to 1000 are not uncommon. In some locations the water is of not too good quality, being alkaline in nature. [Just west of Browning on the “Methodist ranch,” the water is too loaded with iron to wash clothes in -- at least if you want the whites to be white instead of orange.]
As it turned out, Browning was founded in one of the few watersheds where there is not enough good water for a town. Particularly crucial has been water of good enough quality to support dialysis, which requires very high standards. When Browning was founded no one understood diabetes and dialysis was strictly “sci-fi.” The present solution has been a huge water piping project that begins in Two Medicine inside Glacier Park.

There is much irony, not the mineral kind, in this water project. One factor is that the Rocky Mountains have been getting so much less snowpack that the glaciers that feed all the reservation creeks are shrinking and will disappear, sooner or later. Another is that even after being built, the water pipe will be a point of vulnerability and on-going maintenance expense. A third is that irrigation on the reservation, though it has been for crops, has not gone well and turned out to be a financial burden to the tribe for a century -- even without maintenance, which has been spotty. And the fourth irony, of course, is the Milk River Irrigation project, now in expensive disrepair though several communities depend upon it.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Rez Rivers (Part one)

(This material is from the Harrison Fagg Browning-Blackfeet Comprehensive Plan.)

The Blackfeet Reservation lies in two continental drainage patterns -- the Hudson Bay and the Gulf of Mexico. Water falling on the eastern slopes of the the continental divide in the northern portion of the reservation flows north into Hudson Bay, and the southern portion, south into the Gulf of Mexico. St. Mary’s Divide and Divide Mountain separate the two drainage basins. [Those of us who call this mountain “Triple Divide” know that the third drainage basin is to the west, towards the Columbia River and Pacific Ocean.] West of St. Mary’s Divide the drainage is chiefly into the St. Mary’s River, but east and south of the divide it is into such streams as the forks of the Milk River, Cut Bank, Two Medicine and Badger which unite to form several large streams before entering the Missouri River. The reservation drainage was not greatly influenced by the mountain and continental ice sheets. The streams were locally diverted, but most of them returned to their pre-glacial valleys after the ice receded.

St. Mary’s River, a tributary of Saskatchewan River in Canada, heads on the continental divide in the west-central part of Glacier County. It extends in a northeasterly direction and south of Babb emerges from several long finger lakes, such as Upper and Lower St. Mary’s, onto an outwash gravel flat about one mile in width north of Kennedy Creek. It flows through a drift-covered basin between the mountains and a high bench south of the Canadian line. The larger streams entering St. Mary’s River are Swift Current and Kennedy creeks. These streams are fed by mountain glaciers on the continental divide and flow east through deep valleys. Between Many Glaciers and the park boundary the valley of Swift Current Creek and its branches flow through a number of finger lakes, of which the Sherburne Lakes are storage reservoirs for the Milk River Irrigation Project. [Now in bad shape, this system supplies water for much of the High-Line.] East of the park line the stream enters an enclosed canyon above the gravelly flat.

Forks of Milk River: the North Fork of Milk River heads in the morainic sag north of St. Mary’s Divide and flows northeast into Canada. It is a small perennial stream flowing through a deep, narrow valley entrenched in a wide stony basic between the high benches. South of the Canadian line the supply canal of the Milk River Irrigation Project enters it and during the summer months its volume is greatly increased.

The South Fork of Milk River heads on Milk River Ridge east of Divide Mountain. It is a larger stream than the North Fork and also flows northeast, crossing the international line. The bottom of this stream above the mouth of the Middle Fork is a flat, wet meadow, but below it varies from poorly alkaline clays to sandy gravelly terraces. Toad, Fox, and Livermore creeks are small perennial streams, heading on St. Mary’s Divide and entering the stream from the west. The bottom of these streams are narrow and poorly drained. The intermittent streams entering the river from the south head within 2 to 5 miles of the river. A few of them have perennial springs along their courses.

The Middle Fork of Milk River neads on St. Mary’s Divide and flows east, and enters the South Fork. It is a small perennial stream, flowing through a flat swampy bottom one-fourth to one-half mile wide below the plateau. A narrow gravel-capped bench forms the divide between North and South Forks.

Several other branches of Milk River and its forks head in the northern Blackfeet Reservation and flow northeast into Canada. Willow Creek heads in Spider Lake, located in a gap east of St. Mary’s River, below the high bench. It flows through an open poorly drained valley, in which are located several small lakes. Red River rises in the northwestern reservation. It is an intermittent stream draining a drift-covered upland above a heavy basin along the branches of the stream.

Cut Bank Creek is one of the larger streams that heads on the continental divide in the west-central reservation and takes an easterly course until it turns sharply to the south, leaving the reservation near Cut Bank. It has eroded a valley 1,000 to 1,500 feet deep through the stony plateau, which rises above the stream as the Milk River and Cut Bank ridges.

The larger perennial steams entering Cut Bank Creek from the north in the central Blackfeet Reservation are Greasewood, Trail Cabelle, and Powell. These streams drain a rather sharply rolling area, characterized by gravel-capped hills and ridges east of the high benches and by sandstone riddges and buttes in the central part. Trail and Powell creeks are enclosed in narrow valleys, while Greasewood and Cabelle creeks have more open valleys. The bottoms of Greasewood and Cabelle creeks widen out locally to one-fourth to one-half mile. All streams have heavy alkaline bottoms. Little Rocky Coulee is a perennial stream except in very dry seasons. It heads on the eastern slopes of Red Buttes and flows southwest, entering Cut Bank Creek about 6 miles northwest of Cut Bank. Its bottom is heavy and alkaline along most of its course. Rocky Creek heads in the morainic ridges east of the South Fork of Milk River and flows south, entering Cut Bank Creek a few miles east of the mouth of Little Rocky Coulee. It is a small perennial stream enclosed in a deep sandstone canyon below the moraines. It drains a drift-covered area in the northeastern Blackfeet Reservation. One branch of this stream heads in the gap connecting the South Fork of Milk River with Rocky Creek. Snake Creek is an intermittent stream heading below the sandstone excarpment south of Hay Lake. It flows southwest and enters Cut Bank Creek north of Cut Bank. It drains a gently sloping outwash section below the sandstone escarpment and the stony moraines to the east.

(To be continued)

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Contours of the Land

For the last few days I’ve been posting a section of the Harrison Fagg Browning-Blackfeet Comprehensive Planning report that was called “Background,” and mostly consisted of history. It was competently (if diplomatically) written but merely scratched the surface.

It’s useful to accumulate bibliographies of such writing, both so a person can explore more and so facts can be checked. This is the bibliography used by the anonymous writer of “Background.” It was not written in proper scholar’s form.

“The Story of the Blackfeet” by the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs.
“Investigation of the B.I.A.” by the U.S. 82nd Congress.
“Blackfeet Withdrawal” from a U.S. Congressional Hearing.
“Annual Reports of Blackfeet Agents” by the U.S. Dept. of the Interior.
“The Story of the Blackfeet” by John Ewers, Smithsonian Institute.
“Blackfeet Crafts” by John Ewers, Smithsonian Institute.
“From Wilderness to Statehood” by James McClellan Hamilton.
“Ledger of St. Peter’s Mission” by Father Francis Xavier Kuppens, S.J.
“The Frontier and Midland, XII. No. 3” by Albert J. Partoll.
“Blackfoot Lodge Tales” by George Grinnell.
“The Old North Trail” by Walter McClintock.
“Material Culture of the Blackfeet Indians” by Clark Wissler
“The Social Life of the Blackfeet” by Clark Wissler.

This Harrison Fagg report goes on to discuss geology. The following is their line of organization and facts, with my notions interwoven.

1. The Blackfeet reservation “encompasses 1,525,621 acres.” That’s how many acres are within the formal boundaries set by treaty, but in fact much of the land doesn’t belong to any enrolled Blackfeet individual or to the tribe as a whole or to any business subsidiary of the tribe. Only recently a large chunk, until now owned by white lawyers in Cut Bank, was sold to a Hutterite colony. Much of the land belongs to the Farmers’ Home Administration because it was lost in default to a loan.

2. The reservation measures 52 miles at its longest (N>S) point and 58 miles at its widest (W>E). I’m fonding of remarking that his is roughly the size of the Serengeti wildlife refuge in Africa.

3. “From the timbered western boundary mountains, foothills and talus slopes [talus is the pile of rock that has fallen and slid off the side of the mountains], the rolling plains slope gently east and northeastward. The area includes some of the extreme eastern peaks of the Rockies, reaching to altitudes of over 9,000 feet. The slopes along the boundary are very abrupt, so that the average elevation a few miles inside the Reservation is approximately 4,500 feet. From this point, the topography consists, in general, of a rolling plain with a gentle slope toward the east and northeast, giving a minimum elevation of about 3,700 feet along Cut Bank Creek, on the Eastern boundary to a minimum of about 3,400 feet along the Milk River in the northeast. [Roughly the same altitude in Valier, just off the reservation to the SE.] Most of the reservation covers a transitional foothill area between the Rocky Mountains and the Great Plains.” [Thus it is an ecotone -- the transition between two ecologies which mingle, making the area rich in varieties of life. Some classify it as “prairie parkland,” meaning that prairie trees and grasses are interrupted by trees more typical of the timbered higher foothills.]

4. “Buttes are not uncommon. Some of them include Horsethief, Landslide, Headlight, Chalk and Rimrock Buttes.” [Horsethief is not on my topo map, but “Horsethief Rd.” is shown branching off to the west of Meriwether Road about halfway between Highway 2 and the Canadian border. That would put it between Red Buttes and Rimrock Butte. Landslide Butte (el. 4685) is also up that way, but northeast of Buffalo Lake. Chalk Butte is a bit to the south. The Chalk Butte road ranches off just to the north of Buffalo Lake and goes east and a bit south to connect to a complex of section roads north of Cut Bank. Headlight Butte is off the reservation, just north of these section roads. Just west of Cut Bank are the Squaw Buttes -- which doubtless need a new name -- and south of them, almost to the Birch Creek Border is Flag Butte.}

5. Though they are not mentioned, ridges are as important, maybe more important, than buttes because they mark the limits of watersheds. The Continental Divide is, of course, the biggest ridge, followed by the Hudson Bay Divide on the north side of which water drains to (natch) Hudson’s Bay. Milk River Ridge and Cut Bank Ridge come off the Hudson Bay Divide, as those who keep their eyes open will see when they drive from Browning to St. Mary. In the southeast corner of the reservation is Buffalo Ridge, made even more impressive because Two Medicine River runs close to it. This Ridge is full of oil wells and probably is named for another earlier oil strike in Minnesota.

6. Long broad flat areas good for raising grain are called “flats” and two of the most important are Birch Creek Flats, on the way off the reservation to Valier, and Seville Flats near Cut Bank on the way to Browning. These areas may be hot in summer and bitter in winter, but they respond to cultivation -- at least in wet years.

If one decided to explore, it would be necessary to cope with gravel roads which abruptly convert to gumbo when wet. “Gumbo” or caleche or bentonite -- which originates in volcanic ash and is commercially valuable in proper quantity and quality -- is one of the slickest surfaces possible and sticky besides. The great stone blocks of the pyramids were moved by slathering wet gumbo ahead of them which so reduced friction that a line of men could move a huge stone. If it rains and one is on gumbo, best to just wait.

If exploring back roads, before taking off check for:
1. A book to read while you wait. (Might be a guide to plants, animals, clouds or geology.)
2. Drinking water, esp. in summer. You may be there a while.
3. Flashlight in case it gets REALLY late.
4. Spare tire.
5. Make sure the gas tank is full.
6. Bug repellant.
7. Sunscreen.
8. Broad-brimmed hat.
9. Small backpack or fanny pack for collecting on side trips.
10. Camera.
11. GPS
12. Curley Bear Wagner, who will take you all over the rez to see historical spots and maybe feed you an authentic lunch. Check the phone book or inquire at the Blackfeet Heritage Center in Browning or maybe at the Blackfeet Community Center. DeRosier’s Sun Tours are also excellent and go into Glacier Park.

Monday, June 20, 2005

Browning Blackfeet Comprehensive Plan

“On December 1, 1919, Browning became incorporated and now had all the firepower it and its citizens needed to do battle with Cut Bank for the County seat. Browning had the advantage of being near the center of the county and was the site of the Blackfeet agency, whose reservation covered all but a small portion of the county. Cut Bank, on the other hand, was the oldest incorporated town in the county and was the tax paying center.

“Some skull-duggery was evident in both sides of the campaign with spies from either side infiltrating the ranks of the opposition. J. H. Sherburne led the Browning campaign and Frank Van Denmark headed the Cut Bank forces.

“The election was held at the Charles Chattin ranch with the Browning Band there to help brighten up the occasion. Cut Bank supporters were more than just a little apprehensive about the outcome of the election. The few Blackfeet who had their land patents at the time cast their vote for Browning even though the majority of the Indians couldn’t vote. If they could have, the county seat would almost certainly be in Browning today.

"Despite the election crowd of over two hundred people at any given time, the Chattin ranch house was large enough to handle it. Located some five miles west of Cut Bank on the reservation, the huge log house had a 35’ X 60’ living room in which dancing went on through the night and into the next morning while the votes were counted. The party as over when the judges announced that Browning, despite their battle, had lost the race by 530 votes.

“Although the area farmers suffered more drought periods during the 1920’s and 1930’s, most of them adopted good farming procedures despite the advice of the Great Northern Railroad’s farm “expert” in the person of Professor Shaw. A lot of farmers had laughed at a fellow homesteader back in the late teens and early twenties as he planted his crops with alternating strips of summer fallow; he was called a ‘skunk-farmer.’ But many of those who survived became ‘skunk-farmers’, too. Those who didn’t left their fenceposts and blowing top soil as a mute testimony to Professor Shaw and his advice.

“The Indian Reorganization Act was passed by Congress in 1934 and provided for re-vesting the landless Indians with land for subsistence and for instituting conservation practices on timber, grass, soil and water resources. In additon, the Indians gained a provision for advanced schooling, adequate credit programs, and the right to organize a Tribal Government, which has been instituted in the Tribal Business Council compose of nine elected members.

“With the re-establishment of tribal powers in 1935, the Blackfeet have made slow but steady progress towards becoming the proud and industrious people they were prior to the arrival of the whites. Recent years have seen the educational level of the tribe steadily increase to rank as the highest among Montana Indians. New jobs and retraining programs have substantially decreased the number of unemployed and those on public assistance.

“A great many jobs for both white and Indian people has been provided by the production of crude oil and natural gas since discovery of Swift Current in 1904 and the first producing well in 1929. The oil industry has paid out royalties to many local residents and has provided a primary source of tax income, as well as being important to supply and service organizations and merchants.

“The Cut Bank oil field, on the eastern reservation edge, remains one of the Montana’s largest producers, second only to the recently discovered Bell Creek Field. This still producing field has pumped over 120,000,000,000,000 barrels of oil, while the gas wells are still capable of producing over 30,000,000,000,000 cubic feet every day.

“New explorations are currently underway in the shadow of the Rocky Mountains on the western slope of the reservation where lands are leased from the Canadian border to Lewis and Clark County. Recent discoveries just north of the Canadian line in Alberta continue and indications are that a new field is likely in the recesses of Marias Pass near East Glacier. [We know this today as Badger/Two Medicine.] Additional untapped mineral reserves lie on the reservation in the form of high quality bituminous coal, titaniferous magnetite, and extensive clay and gravel deposits of commercial quality.”
This whole section above is very carefully worded and massaged so as not to offend anyone who’s paying for the study.

First of all, this information about oil is 35 years old now. In the intervening time period, most of the oil has been removed that can be pumped out by conventional means. There are new technologies but they are often controversial and run risks of producing salty and mineral-laden water where it’s not wanted or sometimes can contaminate water tables for long distances. Even in 1970, this was clearly on the horizon.

The section is accompanied by a photo from the Historical Society of a number of old-time Indians on the Old Agency by Badger Creek in 1888. There is no photo of a modern blue collar OR white collar competent-seeming Blackfeet, though they certainly existed in 1970. Without saying a word, the writers manage to give the reader the impression that Blackfeet wear blankets and long hair -- even breechclouts -- so what can be wrong with a fancy planning outfit advising them? They can’t figure things out themselves.

The strategy of the writer often seems to be to stir up animosity against the Great Northern Railroad or Anaconda Copper in order to unite the reservation Blackfeet and Glacier County whites in resentment.

The tension among federal/county/tribal entities continues. The county (actually parts of the reservation extend into Pondera county as well) are very good at pushing off their expenses onto the tribe or federal agencies: law and order, schools, welfare, family law, roads -- it seems as though every small issue has to be fought and argued through since the beginning.

This writing is just a bit early for the wave of ecological consciousness that swept over the West and often united with the Native American Empowerment movement to break up sweet little deals like the Badger/Two Medicine drilling project. These movements have changed everything and pointed out that not all technology is an improvement -- some of it leaves permanent damage. Even more ironic, it may not provide much profit for those who need it most.

Sunday, June 19, 2005

The Browning Blackfeet Comprehensive Plan (3)

“As the financial and agricultural fields were experiencing difficulties, so was the government. Montana originally had only the nine counties of Beaverhead, Big Horn, Choteau, Deer Lodge, Edgerton, Gallatin, Jefferson, Madison and Missoula. The 1893 Legislative Assembly split Choteau County and made a portion of it into Teton County. Even with the creation of Teton County, with the county seat at Choteau, things were still not convenient. When people from Browning wished to transact business at the county seat, or when they were called to jury duty or had their day in court, they had to travel to Choteau. Whether they journeyed by stage coach, buggy, train, or even automobile, the trip was an unpleasant one. Summer travel was hot and dry and winter travel was in snow and bitter winds. No matter what method of travel was chosen or what the financial status of the individual was, the trip was expensive.

“One of the main expenses of Teton County during the homesteader days was to purchase seed grain for those who could not afford it due to drought, cut worms and other misfortunes. In 1918 Teton County spent $75,000.00 for this purpose. In 1919, when this expenditure was needed even more, the budget was cut to $45,000.00

“In this atmosphere it wasn’t long before the move in the Browning/Cut Bank area was to ‘bust.’ For that matter, this move wasn’t just located in Teton County -- disgruntled citizens could be found throughout Montana. All they needed was some leadership to show them the way; this appeared in the form of Dan McKay of Glasgow.

“McKay was dissatisfied that the political power of the state centered in Butte and Anaconda. He figured the best way to break the political hold of “Copper Kings” Marcus Daley and William A. Clarke was to split the counties and thus elect more senators and representatives who would hopefully be opposed to Anaconda Copper and Standard Oil. By becoming involved in the political maneuvers in each of the counties and by playing one hand against the other, he was eventually responsible for the creation of twenty new Montana counties. This was a far cry from his original goal of splitting the state into 300 pieces, but it was a great accomplishment.

“In order for a new county to become a reality it was necessary for fifty-one percent of the residents of the proposed county to petition the county commissioners to call a special election. The new county had to gain a minimum of sixty-five per cent affirmative votes cast in the proposed area. A positive vote would send the issue to the legislature for approval.

“The hour of decision for the proposed Glacier County came in 1919. By this time many of the homesteaders had gone broke and abandoned their farms and were scattered from ‘hell to breakfast.’ A slush fund to pay travel for thse who had taken off for better parts was established and many citizens came from as far as the East Coast to cast their vote.

“In February, 1919, the Montana State Senate passed the Glacier County bill by a vote of 25 to 15, a margin of ten votes. The Glacier County bill was placed on the Governor’s desk for approval along with the bills for the counties of Garfield, McCone, Pondera, Powder River, Roosevelt and Treasure. It was rumored that Governor Stevens was opposed to the new counties and had refused to sign his approval. By midnight of the fifth day the Governor had neither approved nor vetoed the bills and they became law.

“With the creation of Glacier County it was time to do battle over the site of the county seat and both Cut Bank and Browning wanted the distinction.

“By this time Browning had come a long way and was growing in population and business every day. In 1912 the Orpheum Theater was built. It burned down and was replaced by another theater with the same name. This was abandoned a few years later for a modern modern facility, the Park Theater. A second theater was opened in 1919 where vaudeville shows were held twice a week until it burned down.

“Silent films were the order of the day and they occasionally had a fiddler, piano player or small orchestra to accompany the dialogue on the screen. Two bits was the entrance fee for adults and a dime for children to see big name stars like Bill Hart, Theda Bara, Cowboy Bill, and later Abbott and Costello. Tom Mix, Hoot Gibson, and Z.Z. Pitts. Cowboy and Indian pictures always drew a crowd in Browning if for not other reason than that the real cowboys and Indians who watched them found a great source of entertainment in finding out ‘how it really was’ Hollywood style.

“Moving pictures weren’t the only education the children of Browning received. A school for the Blackfeet had been established at the Willow Creek or Cut Bank Boarding School in 1892. From here the Indian children could go on to ‘colleges’ at Carlisle in Pennsylvania, Haskelll in Kansas, Riverside in California, Chimauwa in Oregon or at Fort Shaw. Most of these ‘colleges’ were, in fact, trade schools and in many ways were harmful to the Indian children. The attending students were removed from their parents and placed in a strict, unnatural white surrounding where nothing of their own culture was taught. However, many of those who attended thought they were good schools.

"The first school for white children was conducted in an upstairs room of banker J.H. Sherburne’s home with subjects being taught by his nephew. The classes were composed of the Sherburne children, children of some of the government employees and some Indian children. The upstairs classroom was utilized until the formal school facilities were completed."

(to be continued)

Saturday, June 18, 2005

Browning Blackfeet Comprehensive Plan (2)

(continued 2)

“When spring arrived the homesteaders began to break the sod and almost universally made a fatal mistake in the semiarid land. The Spalding Deep Tiller used by many could plow 18” deep in the ground. Most homesteaders plowed as deep as they could and thus destroyed the sub-moisure pack where the seed bed lay. The plowing was back-breaking labor even with the often used horse-drawn plow. Shear after shear waas broken in the rocky terrain during the turning of the sod. Repairs required the services of a blacksmith as there were no welding operations in those days.

“Even with the setbacks, more homesteaders arrived each year. Many were induced to make the trip by special incentives offered by the Great Northern Railroad. One plan offered the prospective homesteaders a one-way ticket to any point on the railroad at a special reduced rate. However, the special rate wasn’t available for those who decided they wanted to return. A second incentive plan allowed a man to load his machinery, household goods, family and stock into one car and be shipped to a point on the Great Northern route as a special immigrant car rate.

“These promotions were well received and Northern Montana and the Browning area mushroomed in population. New homesteads were planned to be as diversified and self-sufficient as possible. Despite this planning, most dirt farmers found it necessary to work part-time on the railroad or on threshing crews even during the first few years when there was adequate moisture and the crops were good. The makers of the Homestead Acts had imagined that the 100 or 320 acres would provide as good a living in the West and Mid-West as they had in the East. What they failed to account for was the much reduced annual rainfall that resulted in northern plains crops of such low yield that they generally were not sufficient to support a family.

“Most of the newcomers were not rich men; they only had a thirst for success. Crops were going well in the early part of the homesteader era and farming looked like a good investment. Banks began to spring up in almost every town along the ‘high-line.’ Browning was no exception as J. H. Sherburne started the First National Bank of Browning in 1917. With the reservation thrown open to settlement, money was loose and the homesteaders borrowed heavily to purchase more land and machinery. With their land as the collateral, very few homesteaders were turned away from the banks. Even in the early stages of this era, farmers could borrow up to $10.00 per acre at 10 to 12 percent interest. A lot of money went out to the farmers but very little money came back to the banks.

“Relinquishment advertisements began as early as 1914, but it wasn’t until 1917, when the precipitation dropped to only 10”, that the trouble really started. The following year the moisture dropped to 8” and the next year the moisture was down to 7”. In many cases those crops that grew, despite the minimal rainfall, were hailed out. Then, to top off the other misfortunes the black [Spanish] flu swept the country in 1918 and thousands of Montanans were struck down. The Browning area was hit hard and many died due to the lack of antibiotics. Neighboring districts of Hay Lake, Headlight Butte, Cut Bank, Long Lake and others fared no better than Browning.”

[See Wallace Stegner’s “Wolf Willow” or “The Big Rock Candy Mountain” for accounts of this period. Stegner grew up along the High-Line. His father was hard-pressed enough to turn to boot-legging, but both Stegner’s parents survived the flu. A contrasting story might be the history of the Thronsons, a white family who starved out of homesteading and moved to Babb where they operated a store and tourist cabins -- still there.]

“During the good years many homesteaders had mortgaged heavily in order to purchase more land and equipment. With the arrival of the drought, the only alternative for many was to declare bankruptcy and pull out. After cut-worms ruined the crops in 1920-21 even more were convinced that there had to be a better place. They turned their horses and equipment over to the banks and departed to try their luck elsewhere.

“Few banks could survive under those conditions and those of the Montana ‘high-line’ were no exception. The crash began in 1920 with the First National Bank of Cut Bank the first to close its doors. During the summer of 1921 the Farmers State Bank of Cut Bank was forced to close because the First Security National withdrew support from all its country banks. A second factor in the closing of this establishment was that the Farmer’s State made several unsuccessful attempts to re-open. The Glacier County State Bank opened in the Farmers State building in 1922. About three months after opening their doors, the bankers received the Great Northern payroll, close their doors and left for California. This financial experience made it difficult to borrow more than $30.00 in the entire area.

“Cut Bank wasn’t the only community experiencing this financial disaster as the banks in Shelby and Sweetgrass also closed their doors. For some time the First National Bank of Browning was the only financial institution in operation. Several bankers from throughout the state looked over the situation and considered opening new facilities but none were immediately established.

“It was during this period that many Indians had been pressing the government for the right to patent their land. In 1918 their wish was granted and those who obtained trust patents could now trade their land to another Indian on the reservation or he could sell it to anyone if he obtained a fee patent.

In 1919 the government realized that the acreage allotted the Indians was not enough to sustain them so an additional 80 acres of farm land was given to each Indian. Much of the new allotments were in choice locations and, as a result, some Indians had patents forced on them so they would have to sell their land. In any case, most of them didn’t understand what the patent process was and they sold their property for unbelievably low prices. It wasn’t unusual for a man to trade his acreage for one horse.

(to be continued)

Friday, June 17, 2005

The Browning Blackfeet Comprehensive Plan of 1970 (1)

In 1970 the Browning Blackfeet Comprehensive Plan was presented to the Browning-Blackfeet City-County Planning Board by Harrison G. Fagg and Associates, Architects and Planners. The Planning Board consisted of Ed Aubert, George Henkle, Vern Hartford, Bill Bercovich, Jim Fisher, Bob Garrow, Wes House, Paul Van de Jagt, and Julian Weter. All these people and entities are gone now, but I have the Plan and am going to take the next few days to post parts of it. Most of the inch-thick paperbound document is maps, which I can’t post.

I’ll begin on page 15 which is “Background” because it gives a good picture of the context of the reservation. Too many people treat the reservation as though it were behind a moat, not continuous with and connected to the rest of the state. In fact, this information begins just after the actual fence around the reservation was removed. I’m assuming the report is out of copyright.


The first discovery of oil in Montana resulted from drilling on the western edge of the reservation. The Swift Current Valley between Babb and Many Glacier is where history was made. Three wells were drilled with one at Boulder Creek finding prduction at 1,500 feet. Samples from the efforts were sent to the 1906-07 state fairs, but none of the wells proved to have commercial potential. The discovery of oil did lead to later exploration and the slime oil produced from the three wells provided grease for wagon wheel hubs for many years.

In 1907 the government decided to reverse its policy of treating the reservation as the property of the entire tribe. Provisions were made in the Congressional Act of that year to survey the entire reservation and parcel out the land to the individual tribal members. The act also provided that each family should be given an additional five head of cattle and that each district be allotted a registered bull. With the stock and the soon-to-acquired land holdings, many Indians were able to obtain capital and build large ranch operations. Most of the Indians raised horses as well as cattle -- reminiscent of the days when many considered them the finest cavalrymen in the world. At a given time, there were usually between ten and twenty thousand fine horses on the reservation with a government allotted thoroughbred stud servicing each district.

Land allottments were made to the 2, 450 Blackfeet on the tribal rolls following completion of the reservation-wide survey in 1912. Individual parcels amounted to 40 acres of irrigated and 280 acres of grazing land, or the individual could take the entire 320 acres in grazing land if he so desired. A sizeable acreage with full mineral rights could be held by a large family. Additional acreage was reserved for townsites at Browning and Babb with all remaining land to be sold under the Homestead Act. The proceeds from such sales were deposited in the U.S. Treasury to the credit of the Blackfeet and to repay the government for the irrigation projects. [This is what the Eloise Cobell lawsuit is addressing.]

The president of the Great Northern Railroad had done his homework well with his efforts resulting in the Homestead Act of 1862 being changed by Congress. The original act made it possible for a man to locate on 160 acres and obtain patent on the land if he remained on it for five years and “proved it up.” Under the Enlarged Homestead Act of 1909 the acreage was increased to 320 acres. Another amendment in 1912 provided for the prospective landowner to be able to leave the land for five months and reduced the residency requirement to three years. The patent fee on the land was set at $10.00.

The Great Northern conducted an extensive advertising campaign with posters being placed throughout the country. The posters illustrated a farmer plowing up gold dollars while his wife and children stood in the doorway of their cozy cabin nestled in the cottonwood trees. The railroad also built a special exhibit showing what could be grown in Montana. This exhibit toured the nation and brochures advertising the area wwere distributed at every stop.

The promotional push of the Great Northern resulted in a homestead boom with the first prospective settlers arriving about 1909. The boom was to extend into 1917. Ironically, the coming of the dirt farmers was resented by many of the same ranchers who had pushed Congress for opening the reservation back in 1873-74. They now found their widespread operations stopped by homesteader fences. Resentment against the homesteaders was also found in those who saw the civilized ways replacing the “Old West” with its lawless, untamed frontiers. The day of loose living was all but over as towns became established with their local governments, laws, churches and respectable citizenry. With the new law and order came the end of loose women and open brawls, just as with the plow came the end of acre after acre of the native short grass on which the cattle thrived.

Many settlers arrived with little or no farming experience -- only dreams created by the colorful railroad brochures. Others came with a fast dollar in mind -- they were intent only upon “proving up” and then selling or mortgaging their ground after three years. Still others arrived without dollar or tool to try to make it in the fabled land of milk and honey.

Homesteaders soon found they had to make do with what was available, and that was very little. Dreams of the cozy cabin or the quaint frame houses were more often than not replaced by tarpaper shacks. Even if ample lumber had been available, few homesteaders could have afforded to buy it. Those that were more practiced built sod houses, by now familiar to the great plains. In at least one recorded case a hillside cave was utilized for living quarters.

With the coming of winter, the wind and snow began to blow around the flimsy shacks and a new problem was created. Coal was the main source of heat but few homesteaders had the money to buy it. Many tore down fences and barns to obtain fuel; others stole coal off the railroad cars; other searched the windswept plains for dried cattle and horse dung.

(to be continued)

Thursday, June 16, 2005

A Homemade Blackft History Textbook

Back in 1969-70, G.R. McLaughlin, Browning High School history teacher and later principal, decided that Blackft history and culture ought to be taught. Undaunted by the lack of material, especially anything gathered into one volume, “Mac” and his students composed their own. It is an inch thick so I won’t try to replicate it, but I will try to give you an idea of what was in it.

First we should note who composed this book. Students included Ron Crawford (artist), Viney Kennedy, Sadi Ann Fisher, Kyla Scarborough, Kathy McLaughlin, Frank and Jim Glaze, Jessie Hall, Leonda Croff, Virgil Salway (artist), Pierre Pepion (artist), John Onstad, Don Oscarson, Dennis Juneau, Matthew After Buffalo, and Robert DesRosier and others who were not recorded. The elders consulted included Mary Ground, Peter Red Horn, Francis X. Guardipee, Agnes Mad Plume, Dan and Gertie Crawford. Also illustrating was Vernon No Runner. Lynda Morrison typed the formidable pile of material. G.R. McLaughlin himself compiled the actual selections.

There are seven chapters: History, Culture, Religion, Indian War Stories, Indian Stories, Myths and Legends and a Conclusion. Extras include a glossary, a bibliography, and lists of books, movies, tapes and maps available.

Mac doesn’t tell exactly where he gets his information on history except that he includes Bear Head’s version, word-for-word, of the Baker Massacre plus a second version from another source. In most places he seems to be using Ewers or McClintock, the two main Blackft history experts.

In the “Culture” chapter, there are pages of pictographs, some vocabulary and some sign talk. “Indian Hunting” includes piskuns, which he calls “impoundment,” and trapping eagles as well as gathering plants and how to cook what you get. The lodge, the horse, the dance, the equipment are included, along with anecdotes such as Richard Sanderville finding an old camp near Buffalo Lake where a large boulder (“boulder erratic”) adjoined the tipi circles of an old camp. On the west side of the boulder was a buffalo stone, an iniskim, which Sanderville meant to convey to the Museum of the Plains Indian.

The chapter on “Religion” describes the familiar Sun Dance, Medicine Bundle, Beaver Medicine, Medicine Pipe, Painted Tipi, Medicine Shield, and Indian Burial. Some of this material sounds like James Willard Schultz. The obituary of Charles “Crow Chief” Reevis is included as an account of the life of the last Medicine Man.

“Indian War Stories” are six: general strategy, Three Sun’s war record, counting coup (By Joseph Jonas with Tom Kapwitz translating), a Kootenay/Blackfoot duel, a Schultz story, and one about Running Eagle (the female warrior) which also sounds like Schultz. At one time Browning High School had its own small collection of artifacts and a complete set of all James Willard Schultz books.

“Indian stories” are five: The story of Culbertson and Natawista, Heavy Collar and the Ghost Woman, the legend of Chief Mountain, Running Fisher’s retrieval of his brother’s bones, and tale of the Sacred Buffalo Horn.

There are twelve “Myths and Legends, which lead off with “Concept of Peace,” an Iroquois story.

One of the most interesting sections is the conclusion, which includes what computer geeks call “FAQ’s” or “frequently asked questions” and some legal considerations like the ten major crimes and land ownership on a reservation. The Constitution and By-Laws of the Blackft Tribe, as of May, 1969, are included. A separate document is the “By-Laws of the Blackft Tribal Business Council of Montana.”

The list of “Indian movies” are all documentaries from the Montana State Film Library. One wonders if they’ve been translated to video or DVD, especially titles like “Piegan Medicine Lodge,” 24 minutes long. Likewise, dozens of sound tapes are listed as belonging to Browning High School, including one by Earl Old Person on the “Duties and Responsibilities of the Tribal Council.”

There are 37 books in the bibliography but all that is listed is their titles and authors rather than the traditional scholars’ form. They appear to be a mix of standard books and smaller unknown books, probably paperbacked. Deciding what to use and adapting it must have been an enormous task that gave the students involved an invaluable insight into doing research. None of the short pieces are attributed to writers, so the whole enterprise was flying just under the copyright radar. Of course, the writers as historical as McClintock would have entered the public domain anyway. A few pieces are evidently written from oral material offered by living people.

I didn’t go back to teaching until 1971, which was just after this book was produced, but I was aware that the newfangled tape and earphone machinery had just arrived for the language lab, where Terry Sherburne was teaching French. He was open to the idea of teaching Blackft and was joined by Katharine Grant, who was a Blackft speaker. They would have made teaching tapes, but I don’t know where they went. Katharine’s son, Marvin Weatherwax, now teaches Blackft at Blackft Community College. Terry left teaching a long time, partly because the “culture police” came down on him for being a white man dealing with Blackft materials.

The only shortfall I see is in terms of natural history and geology. The terrain of the Blackft range, and especially the fact of being on the East Slope of the Rockies, had a lot to do with shaping their society. Today many Blackft are working for the tribe to manage natural resources, so the relationship continues.

There is a mountain of material like this on the Internet. The more one experiments with terms on Google, the more one can find. Digital documents are easy to print out for a class so a teacher or student can easily make their own textbook in the same way that McLaughlin did with a lot less effort. Kinko’s or some version thereof will laminate covers and bind pages. It is not illegal to create one copy for one’s own use. A person should be much more careful about sources and copyrights than McLaughlin was. He was not a patient man -- he believed in results and he got them.

The list of “Indian Values” in this homemade textbook says, “Patience: To have much patience and to wait is considered to be a good quality.” It also says “The respected member of many Indian cultures is the one who shares and gives all his wealth to others.” That’s where G.R. McLaughlin shone.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

An Invisible Nation: Metis

Plenty of people can tell you that “Metis” means mixed. Also, “mitchif” (Archaic French), “mestizo” (Spanish) and “creole” (Louisiana French). I even knew a woman whose husband always told her she was “moskeeto” (husband-talk) because he knew she was mestizo but never got the word right. Once the Europeans got into their ships and began invading everyone else, there were plenty of mixed people who were really “white-and -”

Close by the Blackft hunting grounds, on the Canadian side, there were enough mixed people that they began to cohere into their own nation. Most people think of them as French/Cree but they might also be other combinations of Euro and tribe. Still, the “marks” of them, the fiddle playing and sashes and creaky tumbrils they used for carts, were mostly French. The wild, wonderful and profane Gabriel Dupree, who features as the hero of Peter Bowen’s mystery tales, is Metis. In fact, “Stay Away Joe” is more Metis than Indian. Charlie Russell’s sash is Metis.

The formal history book to read is called “Strange Empire: A Narrative of the Northwest” by Joseph Kinsey Howard. (Minnesota Historical Society Press, St. (First copyright 1952. ISBN 0-87351-298-7) Howard was himself a descendent of Metis and, as a journalist and writer, he made this book a work of his heart. As well, he had a cabin in one of the deep valleys along the east front of the Rockies where he could just about live their life, not so far from the cemetary of early Metis refugees where forty ancestors lie at rest.

(Partly because of Howard, a kind of writers’ colony developed there which included A.B. Guthrie, Mildred Walker, and Walker’s daughter Ripley Schemm who later married Richard Hugo.)

Why were they refugees? Because the forces of economics, human relationships, and governmental vacuum (the same neglect of the territory labeled “Assiniboia” that allowed the whiskey trade) thrust them together in early southern Saskatchewan and Manitoba with enough in common to create a nation of people in sympathy, who wished to live their own way. Though the men tended to be white and the women tended to be Indian, after a generation or two the community as a whole was soon inextricably melded into new generations who combined the best of both worlds. In 1800 there were 30,000 Metis living on the prairie. By the second Riel Rebellion in 1885 (one was put down, then regathered.) there was a settlement of twenty-five cabins sheltering a hundred people up the South Fork of the Teton Canyon, still nearly inaccessible today.

When Canada realized what had happened, and since the mounties were already there, they set about dismantling this new Red River nation that threatened to challenge their authority. But the Red River people persisted with such dedication, mostly because of the visionary leadership of Louis Riel, that only a group hanging of rebels would shut down the Rebellion. And so it came to pass. Riel, who seems to been visionary to the point of madness (possibly bipolar disorder or maybe schizophrenia) finally did not try to escape. He is one of those extraordinary figures, like Crazy Horse, who served as the focus for a movement that was both heartfelt and realistic, but ultimately not successful.

Howard points out that in 1870, the time of the first rebellion, the US had its eye on Western Canada but Canada itself was intending to become a continental nation clear to the Pacific. If the Red River Community had won the right to be its own country, it could have united Cree and Blackfeet and created a three-part coalition of enormous power which would have changed history, especially if they worked through the Fenian movement to ally with Ireland.

Many Metis fled to the territory and reservations of Montana and their names are still in the phone book: “saint” this and “mac” that and names like Augare, Baudry, Billedeaux, Cadotte, DeBoo and DeRouche... so on through the phone book, the half-French melded with the Blackfeet. Louis Riel, an educated man, taught at the Sun River mission school for a year or so. St. Mary’s valley, which opens north into Alberta, was one place Metis settled. At Heart Butte on major occasions, jigging to the music of fiddles will alternate with pow-wow style Indian dancing.

In Choteau there is an old log Metis cabin built in 1902. It is sixteen feet by twenty-four feet with a half-story loft and a lean-to for the kitchen. The corners are dove-tailed. Nine children were raised there, the current baby sleeping in a hammock over the parental bed. I love visiting it since it is furnished as it would have been a hundred years ago, so it is easy to imagine oneself back in those days. I could move in tomorrow and live there happily -- if the tourists weren’t constantly coming through!

The introduction to my 1994 paperback of “Strange Empire” was written by Nicholas C.P. Vrooman, director of the Institute for Metis Studies at the College of Great Falls in Montana. Other places to look for materials might be Pemmican Publications in Winnipeg, the Gabriel Dumont Institute of Metis Studies and Applied Research in Regina, the Turtle Mountain Tribal College in Belcourt, or the Metis Cultural Recovery Trust based in Choteau which is the group that restored that cabin.

Maybe it’s not surprising that a tightly woven group, ethnically based and often victims of prejudice from outsiders (Metis were the original half-breeds), should try to maintain their existence. Two hundred years later, the Metis community still exists. In fact, the Little Shell Band of Indians (which is largely Metis) is still petitioning for legal status as a tribe.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

"Viet Cong at Wounded Knee" by Woody Kipp

“Viet Cong at Wounded Knee: The Trail of a Blackfeet Activist” by Woody Kipp (University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln, NE 68588-0255. Copyright 2004. ISBN 0-8032-2760-4) is another in the American Indian Lives series. Woody grew up a little farther along the High Line, west of Sid Larson, in Cut Bank, an oil town like Shelby. Maybe the most salient difference between the two is that Sid went to law school and Woody went to journalism school. Sid writes cool; Woody writes hot. Of course, they’re different tribes -- their families had different styles -- and yet they both ended up college professors. Both were avid readers as kids and as adults.

The title of Woody’s autobiography is clear: that he became a Marine, was proud of it, then gradually “went native” as his commanding officer said, and ended up radicalized with tracer bullets zipping over his head at Wounded Knee, that iconic example of American insurgency. He sticks close to his theme, like a man with a hand on a rope during a blinding blizzard.

When I asked someone about Woody, they said, "Well... I don't know what to tell you, but there sure are a lot of women mad at him." Clearly, reading the dance card presented here, he hasn't forgotten many or maybe ANY of them, including a woman in Vietnam and his Blackfeet daughters who are babies in this book. Neither has he forgotten what he was drinking during each incident, nor the make and year of his rez bomb at the time.

Woody is six years younger than me, and if he hadn't gone to high school in Cut Bank instead of Browning, I'd have been his English teacher. Most of the other Blackfeet "Viet Cong" his age were in my classes. Because of being the informal bailiff when drunks were tried the “morning after” by Bob Scriver, who was City Magistrate and JP in the Fifties and Sixties in Browning, I knew most of the older drinkers he mentions and I knew both Louis Plenty Treaty and Joe Eagle Child because of sitting in their Thunder Pipe Bundle Circle. Though I'm a Napi-yah-kee -- white woman -- and pretty much a non-drinker, I agree with his descriptions of that time. I knew those Browning bars from the outside. They're gone now. Alcohol is easy compared to meth. That "’Nam" and empowerment generation was easy compared to their children and grandchildren.

All that out of the way, this book is free of theory and lecturing, quite simple and straightforward, one story after another, the way information is transmitted in the old Blackfeet world. Sure ‘nuff, it begins with his birth and ends with Wounded Knee II, but without chest-pounding or even TOO much rolling around in the pathos and deprivation of it all -- which was quite real. The stories I liked best, of course, were about being out on the ranch with his older brother. The stories that Woody tells are on the lean side, but if you know the times and the characters, they are pretty eloquent. They mark a clear set of stepping stones for a baby born to a Blackfeet woman named "Shanghai Monroe" but raised by Joe and Isabell Kipp, then in their fifties, in the white corner of Glacier County. It's pretty clear how he ended up being shot at by artillery he had been taught to operate in Vietnam. What's less clear is why he went on back to Missoula to finish up college. But that's the next book maybe.

The great usefulness of this book, I think, is that it is clear, short, and accessible enough for anyone to read. No need to be a fancy literati. Maybe there's a little too much about booze and women (after a while it sounds like bragging) but that would keep those readers interested. It has no tricky humor like Sherman Alexie nor is there anything kinky. Strangely, there's a kind of "Kipp-ness" to it. Since the second-to-the-original Kipp adopted a lot of survivors of Heavy Runner's band after the Baker Massacre, a lot of Kipps are really Heavy Runners. What everyone forgets is that Heavy Runner was a PEACE chief. It was Mountain Chief who was brilliantly resistant. Heavy Runner was thoughtful and conciliatory. It's a kind of sweetness. Which got him killed.

But part of Kipp-ness is getting out there and participating in whatever comes along. This is different from the writing done by Jim Welch, who grew up on a different reservation anyway (Fort Belknap near Havre). Welch, like Kipp, learned to write in Missoula, but he learned as an academic and a poet. Woody learned as a journalist though he did take a course from Richard Hugo. (Sid Larson began his college years at Eastern in Billings -- very different from hippie Missoula.)

The dust jacket does one of my favorite tricks -- Sherman Alexie did it earlier. On the front is Woody in his dance costume with his dance roach and his face painted. On the back cover is Woody in a three piece suit, braids and spectacles. What you learn from reading the book is that when he's in costume, without his glasses, he can't see beyond his formerly broken nose. In his suit, with his glasses, he can see you very well and he's smiling.

Sid claims that when he was born, his ears were pierced, a sign of having been an old wise person in a former life. Woody’s claim is that the family got snowed in and ran out of canned evaporated milk, so for six days he was fed chewed-up bull elk meat and did well on it.

When I last saw Woody, this just-past Christmas Day, he had grown a rather remarkable Yosemite Sam mustache and was in love again. He says he’ll finish the second book soon, a book that is really a continuation of the first book (which was about war) but leads into the spiritual growth that redeems the first book (peace). I look forward to it.