The Cheyenne Medicine Bundles

Medicine bundles are important to many of the Northern Plains tribes. The concept of “medicine” refers to spiritual power, which is not limited to healing. For the Plains Indians, spirit power—medicine—was needed for success in hunting, gambling, war, love, and other activities. The medicine bundle contains sacred objects which are symbols of spiritual power: they are not the spiritual power itself. Thus, if a personal medicine bundle is lost or stolen, the power is not lost as the individual has the power to remake the bundle.

There are basically three kinds of medicine bundles: (1) personal bundles made in accordance with instructions received from spiritual helpers during the vision quest, (2) society bundles maintained by the warrior societies, and (3) tribal bundles which are important to the entire tribe.

Among the Cheyenne, there are two sacred tribal medicine bundles: the Sacred Arrows and the Sacred Buffalo Hat.

The Sacred Arrows (Maahotse) were originally given to the prophet Sweet Medicine by Maheo (the Creator) in a holy cave within the sacred mountain (Novavose or Bear Butte). In his book Sweet Medicine: The Continuing Role of the Sacred Arrows, the Sun Dance, and the Sacred Buffalo Hat in Northern Cheyenne History, Father Peter J. Powell writes:  “Sweet Medicine’s teaching is the spiritual milk by which the Cheyenne have grown in wisdom. His greatest gift to the People was Mahuts, the Sacred Arrows.”

The Sacred Arrows are living things and are the holiest of the Cheyenne tribal possessions. Father Peter J. Powell, in an article in American Indian Art, writes:  “Ma’heo’o pours his life into Cheyenne lives through the Sacred Arrows. The Cheyenne people, in turn, are made one with him and with each other in him through those Sacred Arrows who bless their life and identity as a holy nation.”   He goes on to say:  “So perfect is that unity of the Cheyenne people with Ma’heo’o and each other through Maahotse that when a murder occurs within the Cheyenne nation, flecks of blood appears on the shafts of the Sacred Arrows.”

In his book, Father Powell summarizes the importance of the Sacred Arrows by saying:  “Without the Arrows, there can be no Cheyenne tribe, no People in any supernatural sense.”

The Sacred Arrows are symbols of male power. Father Peter J. Powell reports:  “No female dares look at them when they are exposed to veneration.”

Even today, women will excuse themselves from the presence of men who are speaking about the Sacred Arrows.

The Massaum Ceremony is an ancient Cheyenne ceremony which was given to the people by Sweet Medicine who first performed it at Bear Butte. The five-day ceremony re-enacts the creation of the world. During this ceremony, the Sacred Arrows are cleansed and all creation is renewed.

The second Cheyenne bundle is the Sacred Buffalo Hat (Esevone) which was a gift from Maheo to the Sutai prophet Erect Horns (Tomsivi). In historic times the Cheyenne were composed of two tribes: the Cheyenne (Tsistista) and the Sutai. The Sacred Buffalo Hat is generally associated with the Sutai who became incorporated into the Cheyenne in the late 18th century. The power of the Sacred Buffalo Hat is female. In an article in American Indian Art, Father Peter J. Powell writes:  “Together, the Sacred Arrows and the Sacred Buffalo Hat form the two great covenants of the Cheyenne people.”

Through these two bundles Maheo assures continual life and blessings for the people. The people, however, must venerate and care for the bundles.

When the Sacred Buffalo Hat is renewed, those seeking a blessing stand at the edge of the old lodge cover facing the Sacred Mountain to the east. The keeper of the Hat then prays and offers the pipe to Maheo, the Earth, and the four directions. In single file, those wishing a blessing walk across the old cover to the east.

Regarding the two Cheyenne medicine bundles, George Bird Grinnell writes in his book The Cheyenne Indians: Their History and Lifeways:  “So long as due reverence was paid to these relics, and the ceremonies were performed which the culture heroes had been taught and had told them must be practiced, the influence of these protective gifts was beneficial and helpful, but failure properly to respect them was certain to be followed by misfortune to the tribe.”

Sioux Opposition to Railroads in Montana in 1872

The westward expansion of the United States during the nineteenth century was guided by a quasi-religious philosophy of Manifest Destiny: America had been ordained by God to spread its territory across the continent. Americans generally felt that Indians, who supposedly owned the land, were, as an inferior race, destined to be pushed out of the way of progress and become extinct.

By the middle of the nineteenth century, it was clearly evident railroads would have to play a key role in carrying out Manifest Destiny. It was the railroads which would transport raw materials (minerals, timber, cattle, grain) from the west to the east and manufactured goods from the east to the west. It was envisioned that at least three rail lines—one across the northern portion of the Great Plains, one across the central portion, and one across the southern portion—would be required.

It was not unfettered capitalism that drove the railroads across the Great Plains to the Pacific Ocean, but capitalism nurtured and supported by the federal government. In 1864, President Abraham Lincoln signed legislation which granted “funds to aid the construction of a railroad and telegraph line from Lake Superior to Puget Sound.” Jay Cooke and Company, a Philadelphia banking house, became the financial agents for the railroad in 1869. They broke ground for the new railroad near present-day Carlton, Minnesota in 1870 and soon began grading and track-laying. In 1871, they started construction in the west at Kalama, Washington.

With regard to Indians through whose territories the northern rail line would run, in 1872 William Welsh, the former chairman of the Board of Indian Commissioners, supported the creation of the Northern Pacific Railroad as it would  “bring the lawless Indians of the North into subjection, and thus aid effectively the religious bodies charged with bringing Christian civilization.”

In 1872, surveyors were sent out from Fort Rice and from Fort Ellis under military escort to survey the placement of the railroad through the Yellowstone country. This was a direct affront to the Sioux and their allies

In Montana, about 2,000 Sioux, Cheyenne, and Arapaho gathered at the big bend of the Powder River for a traditional Sun Dance. Following the Sun Dance they launched a major raid against the Crow. More than 1,000 warriors began their invasion of Crow territory when they discovered an American railroad survey party. The survey party of 20 men was protected by about 500 soldiers under the command of Major Baker. The Americans were camped at Arrow Creek (now called Pryor Creek) near present-day Billings.

A group of young warriors attacked the sleeping American camp, scattering the army livestock. The following day, a larger force under Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse took a position on the bluffs above the American’s well-fortified site. Some of the warriors fired down at the soldiers and engineers. Sitting Bull walked down from the promontory and sat down within firing distance of the soldiers. There he opened his pipe bag, loaded the pipe with tobacco, and smoked it with the four warriors who had accompanied him. With bullets kicking up dust around them, Sitting Bull calmly and serenely smoked the pipe and passed it to the others. Historian Robert Larson, in his biography Gall: Lakota War Chief, writes:  “After each man had taken his puff, Sitting Bull, wearing only two simple feathers and carrying his bow, quiver of arrows, and gun, carefully cleaned out the bowl of the pipe. He then got up and slowly led his anxious comrades back to the main Indian lines.”

The Battle of Arrow Creek (also called the Baker Battle) was more of a skirmish than a battle and there were few casualties.  The leader of the surveyors, however, insisted on returning to Fort Ellis and refused to work in the Yellowstone area. This caused the survey efforts to move north to the Musselshell River.

In Montana, a small party of 20 to 30 Sioux warriors under the leadership of Gall encountered a railroad survey party from Fort Buford near the confluence of the Powder and Yellowstone Rivers. Gall’s warriors surprised the sleeping American camp before dawn, but failed to stampede their livestock. The Americans managed to retreat to the west bank of the Powder River.

Gall walked down to the riverbed opposite from the Americans. He placed his rifle on the ground and asked to speak to the leader of the trespassers. Colonel Stanley laid down his pistol and walked to the opposite bank. He asked Gall to meet him on a sandbar in the middle of the river, but Gall refused. Stanley then broke off the talks and there was an immediate exchange of gunfire.

At this point, Sitting Bull arrived with a large war party. However, the Americans were equipped with Gatling guns and easily drove the Sioux warriors back.

In spite of Indian opposition to the intrusion of the railroad, work continued. By 1873, the track from the east had reached Bismarck, North Dakota. However, Jay Cooke and Company went bankrupt with a 1,500 mile gap between the two ends of the track. In 1875, the Northern Pacific Railroad was organized under the leadership of Frederick Billings and by 1878 construction had begun again.

In 1881, the Northern Pacific reached the Yellowstone River at Miles City, Montana. This allowed for the direct shipment of buffalo hides to the east and increased commercial buffalo hunting. In 1883, the last spike of the Northern Pacific Railroad was driven at Independence (now Gold) Creek in Montana, marking the completion of the first of the northern transcontinental railroads.

The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo

While Mexico declared its independence from Spain on September 16, 1810, it did not actually obtain its independence until September 27, 1821. In the Plan de Iguala, Mexico did away with all legal distinctions regarding Indians and reaffirmed that Indians were citizens of Mexico on an equal basis with non-Indians. In other words, Mexico, unlike the United States, gave Indians full citizenship and recognized that Indians had rights to their land.

In the newly established country of Mexico, Spanish policies were blamed for Indian poverty and many felt that by erasing racial, caste, and class distinctions that Spain’s legacy of paternalism could be rectified. According to Daniel Tyler, in an article in the New Mexico Historical Review:  “Even the word ‘Indian’ was supposed to be abolished on public and private documents.”  The Catholic Church, however, opposed equality and advocated a return to the colonial mission system. In reality, each state determined for itself how to incorporate Indians into the new nation.

In 1848, the United States ended its war with Mexico with the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. In this treaty, Mexico gave the United States what is now the Southwest. One newspaper reported: “we take nothing by conquest…Thank God.”

In the treaty, the United States agreed to recognize Indian land holdings, and to allow Indian people to continue their customs and languages. The Mexican negotiators won from the United States multiple promises that Indian land rights would continue as they had been under Mexican law. Van Hastings Garner, in an article in The Indian Historian, writes:  “A major concern of the Mexicans was that if the United States were allowed to follow her normal pattern of dispossessing Indians, northern Mexico would be inundated by a flood of refugees.”  Garner also writes:  “In essence, the United States had agreed by international treaty to continue the Mexican system of white-Indian relations throughout the Southwest, a system that was incompatible with the expansion of the United States, for it protected the property rights of the indigenous inhabitants.”

Navajo historian Jennifer Denetdale, in an article in the New Mexico Historical Review, writes:  “Ironically, the American rationale for claiming these lands was to bring peace and stability to the region, but the United State only escalated the cycles of violence among Navajos, other Native peoples, and New Mexicans.”

As with many of its treaties, the United States tended to ignore any provisions which might be inconvenient. American Indian policy at this time was focused on removing Indians from their lands and confining them to reservations on lands considered to be unsuitable for agricultural and mineral development.

 With the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, the United States acquired what would become New Mexico and Arizona. Included in this territory were the Pueblo Indians who were agricultural peoples who lived in permanent villages. The Pueblos did not fit the established American stereotypes about Indians. In Santa Ana: The People, the Pueblo, and the History of Tamaya Laura Bayer writes:  “They had preserved their own ancient governments, traditions, and religions after three hundred years of contact with European civilization, and they clearly indicated their intention to continue to do so.”

The Pueblos were clearly sovereign entities who had developed the land. American Indian policies did not seem to fit the Pueblo situations. Under Mexican law, Pueblo Indians had been citizens, but under American law their lost their citizenship rights. Some people argued that the Pueblos should be given citizenship, while others felt that they should be considered to be corporate entities under territorial law. It was not clear legally if they should be considered to be “Indians” or not.

In 1850, James S. Calhoun, the first Indian agent in New Mexico, negotiated a treaty between the United States and the Pueblos of Santa Clara, Tesuque, Nambe, Santo Domingo, Jemez, San Felipe, Cochiti, San Ildefonso, Santa Ana, and Zia. The treaty states that the boundaries of each Pueblo  “shall never be diminished, but may be enlarged whenever the Government of the United States shall deem it advisable.”  In addition, the treaty states that the Pueblos shall be governed by their own laws and customs. On the surface, the treaty seem to be in accord with the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, but the treaty was never ratified by the United States Senate.

Under the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, the United States also acquired California, an area which had been densely populated prior to the arrival of the Spanish. Under the Spanish mission system Indian population had declined.

In 1850, Congress authorized the President to appoint negotiators to make treaties with the California Indians. Van Hastings Garner reports:  “These treaties were to set up reservations for Indians into which they could retreat from the encroachment of white settlers.  The price for this security, however, was the surrender of all claims to land not included in the reservations.”  In other words, the Indians were to give up all of the rights which had been reserved to them in the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo with Mexico.

In 1851, the United States formally negotiated 18 treaties with Indian nations which secured legal title to public land and which guaranteed reserved lands for Indians. The treaties were signed by about 400 Indian chiefs and leaders representing 150 tribes (about half the tribes in California). The Indian commissioners explained to the non-Indian residents of the state that the government had two options: to exterminate the Indians or to “domesticate” them. They argued that “domesticating” them was more practical.

None of the commissioners who arranged the California treaties knew anything about California Indians. According to anthropologist Robert Heizer, in the Handbook of North American Indians:  “Their procedure was to travel about until they could collect enough natives, meet with them, and effect the treaty explanation and signing. One wonders how clearly many Indians understood what the whole matter was about.”

Non-Indians in California fiercely opposed the ratification of the treaties. While these treaties were signed by both Indian and U.S. government leaders, they were not debated in Congress, thus did not appear in the Congressional Record, and stayed hidden for more than 50 years. The ratification of the treaties was opposed by the California legislature and Annette Jaimes, in a chapter in Critical Issues in Native North America, reports  “it is rumored that state representatives even succeeded in having the treaties hidden in the archives of the Government Room in Washington, D.C.”

In spite of the assurances given to Mexico by the United States in the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, ensuing legislation deprived California Indians of the rights to their land. The impact on the Indians was immense: many lost their homes, and were persecuted and hunted by non-Indians. During the next 50 years, California Indian population decreased by 80%. In the Handbook of North American Indians, anthropologist Omer Stewart writes:  “The failure to ratify the treaties left the federal government without explicit legal obligation toward the Indians of California.”

In 1851, a number of California Indians were living on land grants issued to them by Spain and Mexico. As non-Indian greed turned to dispossessing these Indians of their lands, Congress passed a law to establish a commission to determine the validity of these land grants. While on the surface it looked like the commission should confirm Indian land rights under these grants, it actually served to do the opposite. Van Hastings Garner explains it this way:  “The law stipulated that no matter how secure the title to the land was, if the grant holder failed to appear before the commission, the grant would revert to public domain. This provision took away the rights of most Indian grant holders, few of whom were told of the commission’s existence, let alone that they had to appear before it.”  In addition, the Indians had to travel to San Francisco to appear before the commission. Only six Indian claims were confirmed.

The American Indian experiences in New Mexico and California with American government promises made to Mexico in the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo suggest that treaty promises are not held in high regard by the United States.

Kootenai Political Organization

The Kootenai (also spelled Kutenai), whose homeland was in the area west of the Rocky Mountains in what is today western Montana, northern Idaho, and southeastern British Columbia, are generally divided into two groups: Upper Kootenai and Lower Kootenai, referring to their position on the drainage of the Kootenay River. The Upper Kootenai lived near the western face of the Rocky Mountains. The Kootenai had several politically independent bands. There was no political unity which tied all of the Kootenai bands together. Kootenai unity was linguistic, cultural, and emotional rather than political.

Among the Upper Kootenai, the War Chief represented the people in “foreign” affairs. For this reason, the Americans considered the War Chief to be the Head Chief. According to ethnographer H.H. Turney-High in his Ethnography of the Kutenai:  “he had nothing to do with the real administration of the band. He did carry with him the love and respect of his people, and he was without doubt the most prestigeful personality in camp, but in everyday life everyone appreciated that the head chief’s contribution was slight.”

This chief was not formally chosen and there was no special regalia associated with the position. The War Chief was simply the warrior who had the strongest military medicine and all members of the band recognized this.

The Guide Chief among the Upper Kootenai was the person who knew most of the trails, the topography, and the geography of the band’s range.  This chief was not selected on the basis of war honors, but rather on intelligence and experience. The Guide Chief selected the camp sites and laid them out. Since the Guide Chief knew the resources of the area well, it was his responsibility to direct subsistence activities.

The Lower Kootenai elected their chiefs. Chiefs needed to be strong in mind, body, skill, and spiritual power. Each band generally elected five chiefs: Band Chief, War Chief, Fish Chief, Deer Chief, and Duck Chief. The Band Chief had the greatest prestige. The War Chief, who was considered to be subordinate to the Band Chief, was a distinguished warrior. One of the responsibilities of the Fish Chief was to supervise the construction of the fishing weirs. The Deer Chief was responsible for leading the communal deer hunts.

The primary functions of the Lower Kootenai Band Chief were spiritual. Among other things, the Band Chief served as the Sun Dance Chief. To be elected as Band Chief, a person would first have a dream or vision in which the spirits would tell him that he was to become chief. The individual would inform council of this vision and would then have to be elected to the position by the council.

The Federal Government and Indians Affairs in 1965

By 1965, the administration of federal Indian relationships and Indian reservations had been firmly entrenched in the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), which is a part of the Department of the Interior. The BIA had traditionally administered Indian affairs for the benefit of large corporations and non-Indian interests. Many Indians felt that the BIA was oppressive. However, a new program associated with the War on Poverty emerged in 1965 and this program was different in that it was not administered by the BIA, but by Indian people within their communities.

Bureau of Indian Affairs:

In Nevada, the Chairman of the Pyramid Lake Paiute criticized the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) and was told by the superintendent of the Nevada Indian Agency to recant or resign. The Chairman resigned. The tribe then lobbied in Washington, D.C. to have the superintendent replaced. In response, the BIA promoted the superintendent for his outstanding work with the Nevada tribes and he was given administrative control over the tribes in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho.

The Pit River Indians fired their attorney of record and hired Melvin Belli to represent them. When Belli brought suit to force severance of the Pit River Indian claim from the general California Indian settlement, he was forced from the bar by the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) which claimed that he could not represent the Indians because the BIA had not approved him as counsel for the Pit River Indians. Belli appealed all the way to the Supreme Court which simply reaffirmed that the BIA has an inherent trust responsibility for the Indians.

The Bureau of Indian Affairs realized that the Indian Peaks Paiute and the Cedar Paiute (both located in southern Utah) were really two different bands.

In Arizona, the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) seized the files of the counsel for the Navajo Tribe and the executive secretary of the tribe’s Department of Administration. A special BIA task force, without warrants, simply loaded the contents of the offices – including locked desks, file cabinets, and safes – into a truck. The counsel was not Indian, but simply an attorney for the tribe and the seizure included his personal papers. According to legal scholars Vine Deloria and David Wilkins, in their book Tribes, Treaties, and Constitutional Tribulations:  “the perceived lack of constitutional rights was applied to him because of his contract with the tribe.”

In Washington, the Colville Business Council voted in favor of termination. Many tribal members favored termination as they saw this as a way of preventing the Bureau of Indian Affairs and outside business interests from continuing to exploit reservation assets. The Secretary of the Interior testified to Congress that termination was unlikely to relieve the conditions of poverty (52% unemployment on the reservation) and that it would likely result in a situation similar to that of the Menominee. (The Menominee had been terminated and the result was massive poverty.)

War on Poverty:

 The Economic Opportunity Act authorized funds for programs adapted to Indian needs. Flathead writer D’Arcy McNickle, in his book Native American Tribalism: Indian Survivals and Renewals, reports that the administration of this law has  “no paternalistic tradition to inhibit its procedures, and it invited tribal officials to prepare and submit plans for local projects.”  This transfer of responsibility to the local community was new to Indian communities which were accustomed to having decisions made outside of the community.

In the Four Corners region of the Southwest, the Navajo established the Office of Navajo Economic Opportunity (ONEO). Peter MacDonald became the ONEO director. According to MacDonald’s biographer, Peter Iverson in American Indian Leaders: Studies in Diversity:  “ONEO programs expanded into many fields and had an impact on almost literally everyone living in the Navajo Nation.”

In Oklahoma, the Oklahomans for Indian Opportunity (OIO) was formed as a part of the federal government’s War on Poverty program. Under the initial leadership of LaDonna Harris (Comanche), representatives from 19 Oklahoma tribes met. Daniel Cobb, in an article in Western Historical Quarterly, writes:  “Unlike other Community Action agencies, OIO not only amplified Indian voices, but projected them into the realm of state and national politics.”

Ancient America: Stone Quarries

Like human beings everywhere, Indians used stone as their primary material for toolmaking for thousands of years. At the time of the European arrival on this continent, Indians, unlike Europeans, were still using a wide variety of stone tools.

Stone tools are neither crude nor inefficient. A blade knapped from obsidian, for example, is sharper than a surgical scalpel and some surgeons use obsidian blades in doing surgery. However, stone blades tend to dull quickly. On the other hand, the sharpness of the blade can be quickly renewed.

One important thing to understand about stone tools is that not all stone can be used in tool-making. In flintknapping, Indian people needed stones that would break in a predictable fashion and would provide a sharp edge. Albert Goodyear, in his monograph A Hypothesis for the Use of Cryptochrystalline Raw Materials Among Paleo-Indian Groups of North America, reports:  “It is a general geological fact in most places of North America and probably throughout the world that lithic raw materials of even minimal suitability for flaking do not occur evenly over the earth’s surface. In fact, some environments such as coastal plains and alluvial valleys have no lithic raw materials whatsoever.”

Writing in 1897, archaeologist Thomas Wilson, in his book Arrowpoints, Spearheads, and Knives of Prehistoric Times, puts it this way:  “As all arrowpoints, spearpoints, and knives, except a few of siate, were chipped or flaked into shape and used in that condition, the prehistoric man would naturally seek a material which had the requisites for such working.”

Such material includes obsidian, flint, jasper, quartz, and quartzite. Thus, for thousands of years Native Americans operated quarries to obtain the stone needed for toolmaking. In her article “Tools from the Earth,” in American Indian Places: A Historical Guidebook, Catherine Cameron writes:  “Their quarries were most often simply gravel terraces or rocky streambeds, where they could easily collect pebbles or cobbles, test them for quality, and then fashion them into tools. But they also constructed complex mines with holes, pits, shafts, and tunnels; the debris included tons of broken rock and large stone hammers and hammerstones for rough shaping.”

Some of the larger quarry areas are described below.

Yellowstone National Park was the source for obsidian which was widely traded. Obsidian from Yellowstone can be found in sites such as Cahokia in Illinois.

Flint Ridge, located in Licking County, Ohio, has a flint bed some 10 to 20 feet beneath the surface. Indian miners would dig pits to get at the flint. Thomas Wilson reports:  “This is probably the most extensive and best known of all prehistoric flint quarries in the United States.”

Michael Durham, in his book Guide to Ancient Native American Sites, writes:  “The translucent flint of various colors is of a quality unmatched in the east. In prehistoric times it was a valuable trade item and samples have been found as far away as Louisiana, the Atlantic Coast, and Kansas City.”

Big Obsidian Flow in the present-day Newberry Volcanic National Monument in Oregon was an important source of obsidian, a volcanic glass from which very sharp tools could be made. Large chunks of obsidian could be easily broken off from this ancient volcanic flow. Trade routes carried the obsidian from this site into the Northwest Coast and into California.

In central-eastern Wyoming there were numerous small quarries. One of the larger ones was located about 50 miles east of present-day Badger and was worked to a depth of about 20 feet. Indians working at this quarry did some tunneling.

Glass Mountain in northern California supplied obsidian to many different tribes. In Ancient Tribes of the Klamath Country Carrol Howe reports:  “Evidence indicates that the arrow makers and traders sat around the base of the cliff to chip large flakes or spalls from the glassy stone. These they shaped into large, crude blades called ‘blanks.’”  The blanks were easier to transport and could be then fashioned into the stylized points of the different tribes.

The Coso volcanic field in eastern California was a major site for stone, particularly obsidian, for tool making. In Prehistoric Use of the Coso Volcanic Field Amy Gilreath and William Hildebrandt report:  “The sheer quantity of chipping debris and discarded items found at the major obsidian quarries in eastern California has led many to conclude that production far exceeded the needs of resident populations.”

Tools made from Coso obsidian are found throughout the southern half of California, from Monterey Bay in the north, to the Colorado River in the east, to the Pacific Ocean in the west.

In Florida, Indian people quarried blue flint from the Trouble Creek area which they used in making arrow points and spear points.

Wyandotte Cave served as a flint mine and  tool-making workshop in Indiana.

Alibates Flint is found in layers on a ridge above the Canadian River north of present-day Amarillo, Texas. This flint holds a sharp edge and was widely traded on the Great Plains. Today the Alibates Flint Quarries National Monument includes more than 730 large quarry pits. Mining began here more than 10,000 years ago. In Ancient Ruins of the Southwest: An Archaeological Guide, David Noble writes:  “Besides its fine flaking qualities and hardness, Alibates flint had another characteristic that made it a popular tool-making material: its rainbow colors.” Alibates flint was used by both Clovis and Folsom hunters.

Trade networks distributed both stones and stone artifacts over long distances. Writing about the Northwest Coast in Stone, Bone, Antler and Shell: Artifacts of the Northwest Coast , Hilary Stewart reports:  “Craftsmen might go far afield to obtain a particular type of stone or trade with another village or nation for the raw material or even the finished implement.”

Stone quarries and the trading networks for distributing the stones remained important features of American Indian cultures and economic systems until the fur and hide trade made metal goods from Europe more plentiful.

 

Blackfoot Political Organization

When the European nations began their invasion of the Americas, they assumed that there was only one natural way for a people to be governed: a monarchy. Since most American Indian nations didn’t have monarchies, the Europeans simply invented the idea that a “chief” ruled over a “tribe” in a manner similar to that of a European monarch. While the United States rejected the concept of monarchy for its own government, it continued to insist that Indian “tribes” were somehow ruled by “chiefs” who acted like monarchs. As a result, there are many people today, including American Indian people, who are not aware that “tribes” and “chiefs” are not aboriginal concepts.

On the Northern Plains, along the eastern edge of the Rocky Mountains in what is now the U.S. state of Montana and the Canadian province of Alberta, the Blackfoot Nation (sometimes called the Blackfoot Confederacy) was composed of three or four large groups who shared the same language, and many of the same ceremonies, but maintained their political independence. These groups included the Siksika (also called Northern Blackfoot), Kainah (also called Blood), and the Pikuni (also called Piegan or Peigan). The Pikuni are currently divided into South Piegan (located in Montana on the Blackfeet Reservation) and North Peigan (located in Alberta). Each of these four groups—Siksika, Kainah, North Peigan, and South Piegan—was composed of many small groups commonly called bands.

Like other Northern Plains Indian nations, the Blackfoot had an economy that was organized around bison hunting. Blackfoot political organization was, therefore, formed around communal buffalo hunting. The band was the primary hunting unit and each band was politically autonomous.

Prior to the horse, bands among the buffalo-hunting tribes tended to be small – perhaps 20-30 related families with a total population of 100-200 people. According to anthropologist John Ewers in his book The Blackfeet: Raiders on the Northwestern Plains:  “These bands were large enough to enable their members to encircle a small herd of buffalo on the prairies and large enough to offer a stiff defense against human enemies; yet they were small enough to permit survival during periods of game scarcity and limited rations.”

Each band had its own chief, usually a man. The position of chief was not hereditary, but a son could succeed his father if he distinguished himself with leadership qualities, including bravery and generosity. Chiefs were not autocratic, that is, they could not tell people what to do, but led through the power of persuasion.

Among the Blackfoot, the band chief was responsible for preserving peace in the group. This meant that the band chief would arbitrate conflicts and disputes which arose in daily life. One of the important aspects of social control in the band was ridicule: in cases of mild misconduct, ridicule was very effective in shaming the offender into changing behavior.

During the summer many of the bands would gather together for a joint encampment which might last as long as two weeks. During this time there would usually be a Sun Dance and the chiefs might gather in council. At this time, the most influential band chief would be recognized as the head chief of the tribe. However, the only time when this rank had any significance was during the summer encampment. At this time, the role of tribal chief was really as chairman of the council of chiefs rather than as a ruler.

One of the important characteristic of Blackfoot leadership was generosity which was often expressed in the give-away– an activity condemned by Christian missionaries and the United States government. The give-aways were – and still are — formal events at which one is expected to give away property to other people. Chiefs were expected to give away most of their property.

Since the primary power of a Blackfoot chief lay in the ability to persuade people, one of the important chiefly qualities was oratory. Chiefs had a reputation of speaking well and telling only the truth. Historian John C. Jackson, in his book The Piikani Blackfeet: A Culture Under Siege, describes the leadership qualities esteemed by the Blackfoot:  “Standing tall, speaking straight, exuding dignity and unshakable self-confidence were the attributes that won respect.”

In addition to generosity, Blackfoot leaders were expected to be experienced warriors with a reputation for bravery in battle. War honors were recorded as counting coup—doing things like taking a weapon from a live enemy, capturing a horse from within an enemy camp, and so on. Killing was not necessarily a form of counting coup. Anthropologist Hugh Dempsey, in one of his articles in the Handbook of North American Indians, writes:  “Generally, a band leader had an outstanding record of success in warfare and was regarded as generous to the poor in his distribution of war booty or inherited wealth.”  Howard Harrod, in his book Mission Among the Blackfeet, puts it this way:  “Without an impressive war record, as well as a history of philanthropy, no man could hope to become a band chief.”

Many bands had both a civil chief and a war chief. The civil chief was generally known for eloquence while the war chief was known for leading successful war parties.

Indian Events in 1715

Three hundred years ago, in 1715, the European colonies in North America were well-established and conflicts with the Indian nations were escalating. Competition between the European powers often meant that Indian nations were caught in the middle of these conflicts with two or more European nations seeking their help.

In the north, in what is today Canada, the French were focused on fostering trade relations. The French were also seeking to find out if there was an inland sea which led to the Pacific Ocean.

While the French viewed Indians are trading partners, the English tended to view them as a hindrance to development. In general English colonial policies focused on: (1) strict segregation so that Indians and colonists did not intermingle, (2) genocide, and (3) the use of a “divide and conquer” strategy to get Indian nations to wage war on one another.

In the southwest, the Spanish missionary program was designed to bring about the total conversion of the Indians: to change them from pagans into Christians and from Indians into tax-paying Spanish citizens.

Briefly described below are some of the Indian events of 1715. It is not meant to be comprehensive.

The Yamasee War, which broke out in 1715, has been described elsewhere and is, therefore, not included in these events.

Census and Population Information:

In the Carolinas, the English colonists now held about 1,850 Indian slaves. Since 1680, British slavers had taken between 24,000 and 51,000 war captives, most of whom were shipped as slaves to New England or to the Caribbean.

In South Carolina, the English colonial governor had a census prepared which described the Indian nations which were considered to be subject to the South Carolina government. The census was based on the observations of traders and travelers and the figures in the census did not represent casual or unconcerned estimates.

In the Southeast, the Cherokee had 19 Upper Towns with a total population of 2,760; 30 Middle Towns with a total population of 6,350; and 11 Lower Towns with a total population of 2,100.

 New England:

 In Massachusetts, the New England Company asked the Natick to sell them the apparently abandoned praying town of Magunkaquog. The Company proposed to rent out the land to English settlers and share the rent money with the Natick families. The Natick, however, were still growing crops in the area and had deep emotional feelings about the area. Magunkaquog means the “place of the giant trees” in reference to the great trees – oak and chestnut – which were found in abundance in the area.

After initially rejecting the offer, the Natick agreed to the deal. After signing the deed, one of the signatories, Isaac Nehemiah, commited suicide by hanging himself with his belt. According to historian Daniel Mandell, in his book Behind the Frontier: Indians in Eighteenth-Century Eastern Massachusetts:  “Nehemiah’s suicide highlighted how some Indians ‘passively’ resisted the sale of their lands to colonists, as well as the emotional attachment that many Natick Indians still held to Magunkaquog.”

 In Connecticut, Mohegan sachem Owaneco died drunk and poor. His son Caesar assumed the position of sachem.

 New York:

In New York, the colonial governor asked the Iroquois to join the English in their war against the Catawba. The Iroquois offered to destroy the Catawba if the English provided them with considerable amounts of guns and ammunition. The English accepted the Iroquois proposal and Iroquois warriors were soon raiding the Catawba.

 Southeast:

 In South Carolina, the Cherokee united with the Chickasaw to drive the Shawnee out of the Cumberland River valley to an area beyond the Ohio River. This opened up the Cumberland area for Cherokee and Chickasaw fishing and hunting.

In Alabama, the Creek began to trade some of their deerskins with the French.

In Alabama, a French diplomat described the Creek leader Brims:  “No one has ever been able to make him take sides with one of the three European nations who know him, he alleging that he wishes to see every one, to be neutral, and not to espouse any of the quarrels which the French, English, and Spaniards have with one another.”  All of the European nations gave him presents hoping to win him to their side.

In Mississippi, a French party going down the Mississippi River refused to stop and smoke the pipe with the Natchez. Interpreting this insult as a sign of hostility, the Natchez killed four French traders and plundered the local French warehouse.

Texas:

In Texas, the Spanish decided to re-occupy east Texas and established four missions among the Indians.

In Texas, the Comanche absorbed and/or annihilated the Jumano and the tribe vanishes from the historical record.

Canada:

The French legalized the Coureurs de Bois. Coureurs de bois is sometimes translated into English as “wood rangers”. Writing in 1851 and with a strong anti-French, anti-Indian bias in his book The Conspiracy of Pontiac and the Indian War After the Conquest of Canada, Francis Parkman describes the coureurs de bois as–“half-civilized vagrants, whose chief vocation was conducting the canoes of the traders along the lakes and rivers of the interior; many of them, however, shaking loose every tie of blood and kindred, identified themselves with the Indians, and sank into utter barbarism.”

These traders frequently married with Indian women (primarily Ojibwa and Cree) and the result was the creation of a new group known as the Métis.

In the Northwest Territories, Governor James Knight sent a group out from the York Factory to establish peace with the Chipewyan and bring them back to trade. The group, under the leadership of William Stuart, was guided by Thanadelthur, a Chipewyan woman who had been captured by the Cree.  Richard Ruggles, in his chapter in North American Exploration. Volume 2: A Continent Defined, reports:  “Her task was to guide the group to her home region and to act as interpreter and intermediary with her people.”

The group started out with about a dozen Cree, but this soon increased to about 150. Their first contact with the Chipewyan was a camp which had been attacked by Cree warriors. Stuart’s Cree wanted to return east as they feared an attack by the Chipewyan, but Thanadelthur persuaded them to wait for ten days while she contacted her people.

Thanadelthur returned with a party of about 160 Chipewyan and a council was held with the Cree. The two groups agreed to maintain the peace. The Chipewyan also agreed to trade with the Hudson’s Bay Company and to allow ten young men to accompany Stuart back to the York factory. The young men were to learn Cree so that they could act as interpreters and guides.

Cree leader Captain Swan (Waupisoo) left the York Factory to establish contact with the Athabascans for the Hudson’s Bay Company.