The Heavy Runner Massacre

American history is filled with accounts of Indians being massacred by the U.S. Army, by American civilians, and others. Some of these “incidents” are well-known to the general public: Wounded Knee, the Washita, and Sand Creek. Others, such as the massacre of Heavy Runner’s Blackfoot band, are less well-known. In 1870, soldiers under the leadership of Colonel E. M. Baker killed 217 peaceful Blackfoot men, women, and children on the Marias River in Montana.

Background:

In the years both before and after the Civil War, many Americans came to Montana seeking their wealth either through mining or cattle ranching. Malcolm Clarke was one of those who settled down as a cattle rancher. Clarke soon married a Blackfoot woman, Kohkokima (Cutting Off Head Woman). Clarke gains the respect of the Blackfoot and was initially given the name White Lodgepole. Later, he was given the name Four Bears after he killed four grizzlies in one day.

In 1867, some Blackfoot relatives of Kohkokima, come to visit the Clarke ranch. In the group were Owl Child (Ne-tus-che-o, Kohkokima’s cousin), his wife, mother, sister, and younger brother. As a result of this visit something went wrong which created bad blood between Owl Child and the Clarke men. One version of the story, told by the Blackfoot, alludes to improper advances made by the rancher to the wife of the Piegan cousin while Horace Clarke and Owl Child were hunting in the nearby mountains. Another version of the story, usually told by non-Indians, says that Owl Child stole some Clarke horses and that Clarke publically beat him.

Two years later, a Blackfoot party led by Owl Child approached the Clarke ranch in a friendly fashion. With Owl Child are Black Weasel, Eagle’s Rib, Bear Chief, and Black Bear. Owl Child told Clarke that he had come to invite him to Mountain Chief’s village. Black Weasel, who was with the party, was Mountain Chief’s son.

Mountain Chief had disliked Americans since three Americans shot his brother and the authorities had done nothing about it. He banned all Americans from his village, but he stayed friendly with Malcolm Clarke because of his marriage to Kohkokima.

Suddenly, Bear Chief shot one of Clarke’s sons in the head. When Clarke rushed out of the house, he was shot dead by Eagle’s Rib. About 25 warriors then came out of the woods and proceeded to destroy everything in the house.

Since Malcolm Clarke was a prominent rancher, the Montana press clamored for revenge against the Blackfoot, with little concern for the actual killers. However, the military commander at Fort Shaw remained calm. He reported:

“The only Indians within reach are friendly, and nothing could be worse than to chastise them for offenses of which they are not guilty.”

However, General Sheridan, with a reputation as an Indian fighter, was in Chicago and hearing from the American settlers who wanted revenge. In his book Blackfoot Fur Trade on the Upper Missouri, John Lepley writes:

“An aggressive man, General Sheridan believed in total war against the Indians to make them pay for their predations on the whites.”

Sheridan ordered Colonel E. M. Baker to obtain revenge. It was not about justice: there was little concern for capturing the actual murderers. It was about retaliation: attacking the Blackfoot camps– any Blackfoot camp. Baker was ordered to give the Blackfoot an exhibition of military force to show the Blackfoot that they were not to trifle with the Americans. Baker’s orders from General Sheridan:

“If the lives & property of the citizens of Montana can best be protected by striking Mountain Chief’s band of Piegans, I want them struck.”

The Battle:

It was January of 1870 when the soldiers set out in search of Mountain Chief’s camp. The temperature was well below zero. Riding with the soldiers is Horace Clarke, Malcolm Clarke’s son.

On the Marias River, the soldiers encounter a Blackfoot camp. As the army approached the camp, scout Joe Kipp recognized that it is the friendly village of Heavy Runner and informed the commander that this was the wrong village. The officer ordered the soldiers to shoot Kipp if he yelled again.

As the soldiers attacked, Heavy Runner ran toward Baker waving his Washington medals and his letters of recommendation showing that he was friendly to the United States. One of the soldiers shot Heavy Runner, killing him. Baker ordered his troops to fire. The Indians did not return fire as all of their able-bodied men were on a buffalo hunt. When the firing was over the soldiers simply shot the wounded Indians. They then collected the lodges and property of the Indians in great piles, and set fire to them.

One hundred and forty women and children were taken prisoner in the attack. In her book Montana Battlefields 1806-1877: Native Americans and the U.S. Army at War, Barbara Fifer describes the camp:

“The temperature hovered about forty degrees below zero and many people were sick with smallpox, aching with high fevers and covered with running sores.”

After being held for a short time, they were released to face the cold without blankets, shelter, or food. Many died from exposure.

The first official account of the “incident” claimed that 120 Blackfoot warriors were killed, an interesting statistic since nearly all of the men were out hunting. Later, the official report was modified to indicate that a total of 173 Blackfoot were killed and that 148 of these were women, children, and elders. However, the scout Joe Kipp reported that he personally counted 217 dead.

The Aftermath:

At the time of the Heavy Runner massacre (dubbed the Baker Massacre in the eastern press), the U.S. government was debating over whether the Indian Office (later known as the Bureau of Indian Affairs) was to remain in the Department of the Interior or be transferred back to the War Department. The accounts of army brutality in this incident, including Horace Clarke’s testimony about the brutality of the attack against this friendly camp, helped stop the proposal to move Indian Affairs to the War Department. Commissioner of Indian Affairs Ely Parker, who was a Seneca Indian, was put in the position of defending the military operation as an effective way of dealing with the Blackfoot.

Mountain Chief and his people, upon hearing about the attack on Heavy Runner, avoided the army by crossing the border into Canada.

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.

Blackfoot Sacred Places

By the time fur traders from the Hudson’s Bay Company first made contact with the Blackfoot tribes in 1735, their territory included much of the Northern Plains of present-day Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Montana. There are three Blackfoot tribes: Pikuni (also called Piegan), Kainah (also called Blood), Siksika (also called Northern Blackfoot). The Piegan are currently divided into South Piegan (located in Montana) and North Peigan (located in Alberta). These tribes, while politically independent, shared the same language and many of the same ceremonies.

One of the common accounts of Blackfoot origins often given by non-Indians is that they had been woodland dwellers who entered the Plains and adopted a Plains buffalo-hunting lifestyle just prior to European contact in the eighteenth century. On the other hand, anthropologist Hugh Dempsey, in his chapter on the Blackfoot in the Handbook of North American Indians, writes:  “The belief that they were woodland dwellers who drifted onto the plains from the region of the Eagle Hills in Saskatchewan in the immediate precontact period has been rejected by Indians and some anthropologists.”

Since Blackfoot culture shows almost no influence from the woodland cultures to the northeast, it is generally felt today that the Blackfoot had lived on the Northern Plains for a very long time prior to their contact with the fur traders.

For the Blackfoot, as well as other Plains Indian tribes, there were places which were regarded as particularly sacred. These sacred places were not marked with structures or shrines, but were usually places on the landscape which served as portals to the spiritual world. Some of these sacred places were used for ceremonies, such as the Medicine Lodge (Sun Dance), vision quest, and sweat lodge. Others were places where sacred plants could be gathered. Many of the sites are mentioned in the tribal oral traditions and therefore tend to be invisible for those unfamiliar with these traditions.

A few of the places which are sacred to the Blackfoot are described below.

Chief Mountain:

Chief Mountain is located to the east of Glacier National Park, Montana. It is used as a vision quest and prayer site. The Blackfoot name for the mountain is Niinastoko which means “Father Mountain.” According to Blackfoot elder Long Standing Bear Chief, writing in Spirit Talk News:   “On Chief Mountain, or rather Father Mountain, the Great Holy Being called upon the spirits of the universe to meet and decide what they were to offer in order to make life meaningful to the newest form of life: mankind.”  He goes on to say:  “When you go to the base of Chief Mountain today, you will find cloth of many different colors tied to the trees as offerings to the Source of Life and to the Spirits who continue to contribute to the wellness of mankind.”

Badger-Two Medicine:

 Another area sacred to the Blackfoot is Badger-Two Medicine, an area near the Blackfeet Reservation in Montana. It is an area which contains hundreds of features which are associated with Blackfoot oral tradition and creation. According to Arlene Hirschfelder and Paulette Molin, in The Encyclopedia of Native American Religions:  “For centuries, the Blackfeet have carried out practices in this sacred region that are vital to the Blackfeet culture and people.”

In an article in The Journal of Law and Religion, Jay Vest writes:  “Spiritually, the Badger-Two Medicine is a source for the gathering of traditional Blackfeet ‘medicine power’ and this quality has a significant role in restoring the moral fabric of the Blackfeet Nation.”

The area is endangered by oil and gas exploration which the elders feel will destroy the region’s spirituality.

Sweetgrass Hills:

 The Sweetgrass Hills is an area in Montana which is sacred to the Blackfoot, Gros Ventre, Chippewa-Cree, Kootenai, and Assiniboine. The area is used as a fasting area and ceremonial area. The National Trust for Historic Preservation has placed the Sweetgrass Hills on its list of ten most endangered places. The area is managed by the Bureau of Land Management and there have been attempts to explore the area for gold, oil, and gas.

Writing-on-Stone:

Writing-on-Stone is now a provincial park in Alberta, Canada which is well-known for its large collection of traditional rock art. Along a seven kilometer stretch of the Milk River, sandstone outcrops have been used for petroglyphs (rock carvings). Among the Blackfoot, this place is known as the “place of mystery” and the place “where the ghosts live”. According to Blackfoot elders Bird Rattle and Split Ears, the writings are messages from the spirit world which can be read by medicine men. According to these elders, the messages “which frequently changed overnight, warned of enemies in the area, told them the location of the buffalo herds or strayed horses, and foretold future events.”

Tribes Ask That Oil and Gas Leases be Cancelled

On Friday, Blackfeet tribal leaders in Montana sent letters to Interior Secretary Sally Jewell and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack asking that all federal oil and gas leases in the Badger-Two Medicine area be cancelled. According to the letter:  “We respectfully request that you and your staff meet directly with representatives of the Blackfeet Tribal Business Council regarding the Badger-Two Medicine oil and gas leases, and long-term co-management strategies for permanent protection of this most sacred mountain land.”

The Badger-Two Medicine area is adjacent to the Blackfeet Reservation and Glacier National Park and is administered by the National Forest Service. The Blackfoot Confederacy (a group of related Indian nations in the United States and Canada) and the Montana-Wyoming Tribal Leaders Council also joined in this request. According to the tribes, oil and gas exploration threatens the sacred and cultural values of the region.

In 1896, the United States forced the Blackfeet Tribe to give up that portion of their reservation known as the Mineral Strip as the government feared that there might be potential mineral wealth in the area and did not want Indians to have possible wealth. This ceded area included portions of what would become Glacier National Park and the Badger-Two Medicine area. While this was a sacred area for the Blackfoot people—an area where ceremonies are conducted and sacred plants gathered—all American Indian religions were illegal at this time and so the elders had to remain quiet about the importance of the land to their spirituality and culture. The treaty, however, does include an agreement that the Blackfoot have a right to “go upon” the land, to hunt, to fish, and to cut timber.

Badger-Two Medicine is a part of the Lewis and Clark National Forest and is named for Badger Creek and the Two Medicine River which originate along the Continental Divide. It is an ecosystem that includes elk, gray wolves, bighorn sheep, moose, lynx, eagles, harlequin ducks, and wolverines. Under the provision of the National Historic Preservation Act, the Blackfeet Tribe and the Lewis and Clark National Forest have proposed that the region be designated as a Traditional Cultural District (TCD). According to the keeper of the National Register:  “The remote wilderness area is associated with the significant oral traditions and cultural practices of the Blackfoot people, who have used the lands for traditional purposes for generations and continue to value the area as important to maintaining their community’s continuing cultural identity.”

In 1997, the Forest Service placed a ten-year ban on oil drilling in the area. Since 2002, proposed drilling has centered on an area about two miles north of the TCD. In 2006, Blackfeet Community College completed a cultural resources inventory of the area and recommended that the TCD be expanded.

In 2009, the Lewis and Clark National Forest adopted a travel plan for the Badger-Two Medicine which emphasized traditional non-motorized uses. Motorized vehicles, such as all-terrain vehicles and dirt bikes are now prohibited on the 200 miles of trail in the area.

Of the 47 oil and gas leases granted by the federal government in 1982, 18 are still active. One of these leases is held by Sidney Longwell of Solenex of Louisiana. Longwell is currently suing the federal government so that his firm can proceed with development. With regard to the Solenex well, a representative of the Montana Petroleum Association stated:  “I truly believe they can drill an exploratory well in a very environmentally friendly way, and that any assumptions about future development at this time are really unwarranted.”

Traditionalists, who see the area as sacred and as both culturally and historically important to the Blackfoot tribes, do not feel that oil exploration is compatible with the nature of the land.

Fort Manuel Lisa and the Indians

When the Corps of Discovery under the leadership of Meriwether Lewis and William Clark returned to St. Louis after their journey to the Pacific Ocean in 1807, they brought back reports of the rich beaver country at the headwaters of the Missouri River. As a result, the Upper Missouri in Montana became one of the most sought after prizes of the fur trade. In St. Louis, 12 separate companies were formed to exploit this newfound source of wealth.

One of the first fur traders to enter into the upper Missouri River area of what is now Montana was Manuel Lisa, a Louisiana Spaniard by birth. Lisa established a fort at the confluence of the Bighorn and Yellowstone Rivers. The venture was under the auspices of the Missouri Fur Trading Company of St. Louis and included four men who had been with Lewis and Clark. The expedition had a total of 42 men, including 37 French Canadians.

The trading post was named Fort Raymond by Lisa, but most people called it Fort Manuel. Some historians claim that the log cabin, consisting of two rooms and a loft, was the first permanent building in what would become the state of Montana. This claim, however, either ignores or is unaware of the permanent structures which had been built centuries earlier by Indian peoples.

Fort Manual was unusual it that it had coal for fuel. This was a luxury which was rare in the upper Missouri area.

Fur trading companies at this time would establish a trading post at a location convenient for several tribes, then have the Indians come to them bringing in the furs to trade. The new fort was located in Crow country. However, the Yellowstone Valley at this time was also used by the Sioux, Cheyenne, and Blackfoot hunting parties. This meant that the new trading post was also positioned to trade with these Indian nations as well as the Crow.

Lisa departed from the usual practice of waiting for Indians to bring in furs to trade by sending out his own trappers. He ignored any possible concerns that Indians might have about taking their animal resources.

In 1807, John Colter, one of Manuel Lisa’s employees, set out from Fort Manuel to make trade alliances with the Absaroka (Crow). He found the Crow to be friendly and travelled with them into the area that is now known as Yellowstone National Park. When he later reported about the geysers and other sights that he had seen, many non-Indians did not believe him.

In 1808, John Colter set out from Fort Manuel (now also known as Lisa’s Fort and Fort Ramon) on the Yellowstone River, crossed the Bozeman Pass and encountered a Flathead buffalo hunting party. He convinced them to return with him to the fort to establish trade relations. Near Bozeman Pass they were attacked by a large Blackfoot war party. Colter was wounded in the thigh. As the Flathead were about to be defeated, the Crow entered the battle and the Blackfoot were driven off. As a result of this battle, the Blackfoot considered the fur traders to be allies of their enemies and treated them accordingly. As a result, the Blackfoot attacked the fur trading and fur trapping parties.

The following year, John Colter was trapping when he was discovered by a Blackfoot party. From the Blackfoot perspective, he was not only trespassing on their hunting grounds, but he was also stealing their resources. Colter is captured. Instead of killing him, they strip him naked, and tell him to run for his life. This was a traditional punishment for people who were banished. Colter managed to escape and his story became legendary.

Lisa had hoped to monopolize the Missouri River fur trade and to establish trade with the Blackfoot. However, when he failed to establish peaceful relations with the Blackfoot, the fort was abandoned in 1811. The Blackfoot had not only refused to patronize the fort, but they had also run off the fort’s livestock and harassed the traders.

Old Fort Benton (Photo Diary)

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Fort Benton was originally established as a trading post in 1846. It traded with the Blackfoot Indians primarily for buffalo robes which were then sent by boat down the Missouri River to St. Louis. While the fort was originally made from timbers, it was soon reconstructed using adobe brick.  

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Typical of trading posts, it was walled for protection and had a contained a large courtyard surrounded by a number of buildings. It has two blockhouses on opposite corners which have rifle slits and cannons. The entrance to the fort was-and still is-a large gate which faces the river. The gate leads into a large courtyard which today contains some wagons and Indian tipis and provides a setting for activities such as concerts.

Across the courtyard from the main gate is the agent’s quarters and the clerks’ quarters, two story adjacent structures. The lower story of this structure currently houses a gallery of art by Karl Bodmer and Bob Scriver.

To the right of the main gate is a building which housed the carpenter shop and the blacksmith shop.

To the left of the main gate is the warehouse and the trade room. The warehouse currently houses an extensive display on the Blackfoot and the trade room allows visitors to experience the feel of a trading post.

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Shown above is an 1860 photograph of the fort.

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Shown above is a model providing an overview of the original fort.

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Shown above is a replica of a buffalo hide press. The buffalo hides would be folded, hair side out, into a three-foot square. Then 10-12 hides would be pressed into a bundle which weighed about 150 pounds.  According to the display:

“The long tree pole of cotton-wood is anchored into the ground at one end. It is lifted up at the other end with the gin pole which opens up the bed of the press. The folded robes are placed on the lower bed and the cottonwood log is lowered with the top bed of the press. With the men adding their weight, the furs are tightly pressed together and tied before they are removed and carried to the boat for shipment down river.”

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Shown above are photographs of the outside of the reconstructed fort. The blockhouse is original and is the longest continually utilized structure in the state of Montana.

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Shown above is the inside of the blockhouse.

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Shown above is the blacksmith shop at the fort. This was an important part of the fort during the fur trade era as many tools, including axes and traps, were manufactured here.

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Shown above is a tool display at the blacksmith shop at the fort.

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Shown above is a Red River Cart. These carts were characteristic of the Métis of Canada. The large wheels meant that they would not get mired down in mud. No grease was used and consequently they were more than a little noisy.

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Shown above is Bruce Druliner (Burnt Spoon), a living history interpreter, demonstrating equipment in the wood shop.

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Montana Murders

The Territory of Montana came into existence in 1864 with the passage of the Organic Act. Section 1 of the act states:

“That nothing in this act contained shall be construed to impair the rights of person or property now pertaining to the Indians in said territory so long as such rights remain unextinguished by treaty between the United States and such Indians…”

In general, the Americans living in the new territory ignored any potential rights of the aboriginal inhabitants and viewed them as unwanted intruders. One of the first acts of the newly formed Montana Territorial Assembly was to pass a resolution calling for the expropriation of Indian lands.

In 1865, in response to an attack by a Blood war party led by Calf Shirt in which ten woodcutters were killed, the governor attempted to organize a militia to chastise the Indians. However, the Blood had already crossed the border into Canada and the militia was disbanded without seeing any action. Some of those who had volunteered for the militia had done so because they wanted to kill Indians.

In 1866, violent Indian-hater John Morgan, who had led the unsuccessful militia group in an attempt to kill Indians, invited four Blackfoot Indians to his home under the pretense of giving them some whiskey. They were met by a group of his friends who hung three of them and shot the fourth as he was trying to escape. While there was no law enforcement response to the murders or any call for justice, there was Indian retaliation.

A group of Kainai (Blood, who are a part of the Blackfoot Confederacy) raided a horse herd in the Sun River Valley and captured all of the horses and mules from a wagon train headed to Fort Benton.

Chief Bull Head led a group of North Blackfoot warriors in an attack on the government farm at Sun River. They killed one employee and burned the buildings. John Morgan and his family took refuge with the Jesuits at Saint Peter’s Mission. In the meantime, the raiders killed his livestock, captured his horses, and then followed his trail to the mission.

At the mission, the Blackfoot warriors slaughtered the cattle herd and killed the young herder. As a result of this attack, the Jesuits gave up on trying to pacify the Blackfoot: they closed the mission and moved back to the Flathead Reservation west of the Rocky Mountains.

As a result of the Indian attacks, an unorganized band of non-Indians (described by some historians as “ruffians” but which may have included some prominent Montanans) attacked a small Blackfoot band near Fort Benton. They killed one Indian. The next day, they attacked another band, killed six Indians and scalped them. They then returned to Fort Benton where they conducted a scalp dance in the street.  

Treeing a Town

In 1864, gold was discovered in Montana. Ignoring a treaty, the gold seekers invaded the Blackfoot country north of the Missouri River. The illegal invasion upset the Blackfoot, and the American government, instead of stopping the prospectors, attempted to transfer this mineral wealth from the Indians to non-Indians. The illegal squatters had little respect for Indian culture, land, or lives.  

In 1868, representatives of the American government met with representatives from the Blackfeet Confederacy (South Piegan, North Peigan, Blood, and Siksika), Gros Ventre, and River Crow at Fort Benton, Montana. The reason for the new treaty, according the Montana Post, was that the current treaty needed be changed

“because the gold discoveries created valuable assets which should be taken from the Indians”

While the Montana press lauded the treaty as being advantageous to the Americans, transferring wealth from Indians to non-Indians, the Indians were not particularly happy with the terms which they had been forced to accept. While the treaties called for a series of land sessions, they were not ratified by the Senate. The annuities promised to the Indians were never delivered and the Indians simply assumed that once again the American government had lied to them.

After the treaty council had left Fort Benton, Blackfoot chief Little Dog rode into town to warn people that Mountain Chief and his band of North Peigan, together with some Kainai (Blood) and Siksika had been celebrating with some whiskey. They were threatening to attack both Fort Benton and the Gros Ventre (Atsina) who were camped nearby. Mountain Chief’s brother had been murdered in Fort Benton and his body stuffed into a well. As with all Indian murders, the government had refused to investigate or attempt to bring the killers, who were well-known in the community, to justice. As a result, Mountain Chief disliked Americans, particularly those living in Fort Benton.

Little Dog told the residents of Fort Benton that he would help in the defense of the town. Little Dog was well-known as a friend of the Americans.

About 500 warriors rode across the bottom by the fort and town and then circled the nearby Gros Ventre camp. Insults and challenges were exchanged as they rode around the camp. There was only verbal abuse: no shots were fired.

The war party then turned and rode into the town, yelling and firing their guns into the air. On Front Street-the main street of Fort Benton which parallels the Missouri River-the war party stopped and made a half-circle. Some of the chiefs rode forward, making threats and calling names. However, the possibility that Little Dog and his warriors, who were watching from a nearby hill, might enter the fray was a deterrent to further action.

Later that afternoon, the war party returned. This time they had tied calico cloth to their horses’ tails. They rode full speed, calico trailing colorfully out behind, through the bottom and into the town. Once again they were yelling and firing their rifles into the air. The non-Indian population of Fort Benton scattered, many seeking shelter in their cellars. The Indians continued to terrorize the town through the night. This event was called “treeing the town.” It was neither the first time nor the last time that Indians treed a Montana town.  

Natawista, a Trader’s Wife

American Indians were involved in trade for thousands of years prior to the arrival of the European and American fur traders. Traditional Indian trade was about relationships as much as it was about the material which was traded. In order to trade, a person needed to have trading partners, primarily relatives. An individual gained these trading partners through marriage and/or by being adopted into a family. The first fur traders quickly understood this and subsequently they usually married women from the tribes with whom they carried on trade.  

In 1829, Fort Union, located on the boundary between Montana and North Dakota, was established as a trading post for the American Fur Company at the request of Iron Arrow Point, an Assiniboine chief. It soon became a trading center for many of the Northern Plains tribes, including the Blackfoot, Crow, Cree, Ojibwa, and Hidatsa. In order to strengthen their trade relations with these tribes, all of the traders took Indian wives, thus creating a web of alliances. This type of alliance was generally called a country marriage (le marriage á la façon du pays).

Alexander Culbertson, the trader with the American Fur Company, insisted that Fort Union was a stable outpost of civilization and therefore there had to be white linen on the table as well as milk and butter. Culbertson would sit at the head of the table and the visitors and clerks would be seated according to rank.

Natawista (also spelled Natoapxíxina, Na-ta-wis-ta-cha and Natoyist-Siksina), the daughter of Kaina (Blood) chief Man’stokos (Two Suns) and sister of the chief Seen From Afar, was Culbertson’s second wife. Her name translates into English as Sacred Serpent or Medicine Snake. She was fifteen years old when she was brought to him in 1840 to be married. She arrived at Fort Union in a procession of Blood and Blackfoot warriors. It is unlikely that she had selected Culbertson as her husband: it was more likely that the chiefs and Culbertson saw this as an economic opportunity. Natawista helped her husband by cultivating friendly relationships between Indians and Americans and thus enhancing her husband’s profitable trade. She also adopted the children from his first wife as her own.

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The Blood, whose homelands are in Alberta, Canada, are closely related to the Blackfoot and were often close allies. Chief Seen From Afar was a great Kainai chief and had influence in many of the other bands. He had ten wives and more than 100 horses. Culbertson’s relationship with Seen From Afar through his wife Natawista enhanced his credibility with the Blackfoot tribes.

In 1846, Culbertson established Fort Lewis (later renamed Fort Benton) at the confluence of the Marias and Missouri Rivers in Montana to accommodate the large number of buffalo robes offered by the Blackfoot. Natawista became invaluable to this trade by advising her husband.

At Fort Lewis, Natawista had a run-in with Father Point, a Jesuit priest. Her daughter Julia had become sick and the medicines used by the American traders were not working. She turned to traditional medicine and had a medicine woman come in to treat her daughter. When Father Point heard the chanting, he asked Culbertson what was happening. Culbertson explained that a Kainai medicine woman was healing his daughter. Furious, the priest rushed into the room, seized the woman by her throat, and threw her down on the ground. Natawista, holding her temper, told the priest to mind his own business, and asked the woman to continue with her treatment. Following the traditional sweat lodge healing ceremony and chanting, Julia recovered.

While she did not speak English well, Natawista did adopt American dress and manners. At the many balls held at the trading posts, Natawista was well-gowned in European fashion and performed as a model hostess. While there were times when her taste for raw liver and calf brains was disturbing to some guests, her beauty and social skills charmed nearly everyone. Among the notable visitors who met her were John J. Audubon, Swiss artist Rudolf Friedrich Kurz, Father Pierre DeSmet, Lewis Henry Morgan, and others.

In 1843, John J. Audubon described Natawista, whom he called Mrs. Culbertson, this way:

…the Ladies had their hair loose and flying in the breeze and then all mounted on horses with Indian saddles and trappings. Mrs. Culbertson and her maid rode astride like men, and all rode a furious race, under whip the whole way, for more than one mile on the prairie; and how amazed would have been any European lady, or some of our modern belles who boast their equestrian skill at seeing the magnificent riding of this Indian princess-for that is Mrs. Culbertson’s rank-and her servant.

Rudolf Friedrich Kurz described her as

One of the most beautiful Indian women…would be an excellent model for a Venus.

Natawista and Culbertson played important roles in the 1851 Fort Laramie Treaty Conference, in the 1853 Fort Benton Council, and in the 1855 Judith River Treaty Conference with the Blackfoot. While the Blackfoot were not present at the 1851 conference, Natawitsa and Culbertson helped the treaty council understand the extent of Blackfoot tribal territory. In 1854 she told the American treaty commissioners:

My people are a good people but they are jealous and vindictive. I am afraid that they and the whites will not understand each other, but if I go, I may be able to explain things to them and sooth them if they should be irritated. I know there is great danger.

In 1846, the Blackfoot suggested, probably through Natawista, that Fort Lewis would serve them better if it were located on the north side of the Missouri River. In 1847, the log palisades of Fort Lewis were dismantled and floated to the new post on the north side of the river. In order to provide a more comfortable home for Natawista, Culbertson then had the men start making adobe bricks. The first adobe building at the new fort, which would become Fort Benton, was the two-story house for Culbertson and Natawista.

At Fort Benton, Natawista’s cousin, Chief Little Dog, became very protective of the American traders at the trading post. While at Fort Benton, Culbertson and Natawista would often travel among the various Blackfoot tribes which enabled her to maintain contacts with her relatives and for Culbertson to encourage them to come to in to trade. In addition, small groups of her relatives would often stop by the fort to visit and to trade.

In 1857, Culbertson retired from the fur and hide trade as a very wealthy man. He moved to Peoria, Illinois where he built a large manor house which he called Locust Grove. In order to persuade Natawista to join him, he had to make a number of concessions, including having a tipi in the front yard.

In Peoria, Natawista was baptized as Nelly and the couple was married by a Catholic priest in an ornate ceremony that hit the social column in the local newspaper. She enjoyed the fast horses and the private paddock of buffalo on the large estate. The tipi on the front lawn of her magnificent mansion, however, did not please the neighbors.

Each year until 1861 Culbertson and Natawista returned to the Upper Missouri .

The Civil War ruined Culbertson’s fortune and so they moved back to Fort Benton, Montana where they struggled to make ends meet. In 1870, Natawista left Culbertson for John Riplinger.

In 1870, the army attacked a peaceful Blackfoot camp in what came to be known as the Baker Massacre. Many Blackfoot fled to Canada for sanctuary. Natawista also fled north to her Blood people in Alberta. In 1877 she accepted treaty status as a Blood Indian in Canada. There she died in 1893 and was buried at the Catholic Church in Stand Off. Natawista Lake, also known as Janet Lake, in Glacier National Park is named for her.

Natawista’s story leaves us with many unanswered questions about Indian wives, country marriages, and the frontier. We don’t know to what extent she was a slave-wife or a concubine. We do know that she was an important part of her husband’s fur trading business, but she does not appear to be a true business partner, nor does the marriage appear to have been based on romance. Her story was a common one during the nineteenth century and most of the women involved have been forgotten by history, and in some cases, by their families.

Blackfoot Fur Trade (Photo Diary)

By the end of the eighteenth century, the two largest fur trading companies in North America-the Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC, headquartered in London) and the North West Company (Nor’westers, headquartered in Montreal) were vying with each other to establish trading relations with the Blackfoot. With their homelands stretching along the eastern slope of the Rocky Mountains, the Indian tribes of the Blackfoot Confederacy (South Piegan, North Peigan, Kainai (Blood), and Siksika) were in prime beaver territory.  

In 1807, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark returned to St. Louis from their journey across North America with reports of the vast wealth of beaver in the Rocky Mountain area. At least a dozen fur companies were almost immediately organized to go up the Missouri River and establish trade with the Blackfoot. None were successful: the Blackfoot, with a reputation as being a fierce and warlike people, did not look favorably upon the American fur traders who were invading their land.

In 1846, Alexander Culbertson and his wife Natawista (the daughter of Blood chief Two Suns) established Fort Benton at a site favorable for trade with the Blackfoot. By this time, the European market demand for beaver was basically dead and the 60 million beaver which had inhabited the headwaters of the Missouri River in 1800 were now almost extinct. On the other hand, the market demand for buffalo robes was strong, and the Blackfoot were located in prime buffalo country.

Today there is a modern replica of Old Fort Benton on the original site-the original blockhouse has been incorporated into it. The warehouse in the Old Fort Benton is dedicated to displays on the Blackfoot Fur Trade. Photographs of these exhibits are shown below.

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Shown above is a display showing how the Blackfoot captured eagles. The trap was baited with a dead rabbit. The hunter then waited concealed in a hole for the eagle to come to the bait. According to the explanation on the display:

“Golden eagle feathers were used by the Blackfoot for ceremonial regalia. Tail and wing feathers were collected by grabbing the eagle by the legs, pulling it into a hole and crushing it. It was high risk work, with injury from beak and talons almost a certainty.”

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Shown above is a display of stone pipe bowls. The pipe is an important part of Blackfoot spirituality.

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Shown above are Indian saddles. While there is a popular stereotype perpetuated by Hollywood movies that Indians rode bareback, in reality they not only used saddles, but also made them.

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Shown above is a Hudson’s Bay Blanket, a very popular Indian trade item which was introduced in 1740. Each short line or “point” woven into the edge of the blanket indicated the number of beaver pelts to be exchanged for the blanket.

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Shown above is a display showing the inside of a tipi.

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Shown above is a medicine bundle. The bundle contains items which symbolize the individual’s personal spiritual power.

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Shown above is a display of a sweat lodge. The sweat lodge is an important part of Plains Indian ceremony. The small lodge is heated using rocks which have been “cooked” in a nearby fire until they are red hot. Within the lodge, water is sprinkled on the rocks to create steam.

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Shown above is a grass dance outfit which belonged to the Indian artist William Standing. According to the display:

“The legend of the Grass Dance began when a mighty warrior had a vision that carried him to a spacious lodge in the sky. The warrior found only a large white rooster inside the lodge. The rooster instructed him in the ways of the new dance and ordered him to take the knowledge back to his people to unify and bring them closer together. The costume consists of a headdress representing the comb of the white rooster, rightly decorated moccasins, and a whipstock made of wood and rawhide lashes which was used during the dance to punish the unruly.”

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Calf Shirt’s Revenge

Gold was discovered in Montana north of the Missouri River in 1862 and this brought a flood of gold-seekers into the area who ignored the fact that this was Blackfoot land and the treaty did not allow their presence. The government ignored the treaty, too, and attempted to negotiate a new treaty in which the gold-rich lands would be ceded to the United States. The general feeling was that Indian reservations should not contain gold mines.  

Calf Shirt was a prominent Kainae (Blood) chief in the era after the Civil War. This was an era in which the American traders no longer viewed the Indians as equal partners in the fur and hide trade and had no respect for Indian culture. Calf Shirt is generally described as a large and powerful man. He was aggressive and became a terror when drunk. While “under the influence” he was considered a mean bully and had killed a number of his own people while in one of his drunken rages.

In the spring of 1865, a group of American miners established Ophir at the mouth of the Marias River in an attempt to challenge Fort Benton’s dominance as the head of steamboat navigation on the Missouri River. There was, however, trouble with the Blackfoot. During the winter, some horses went missing and the Americans simply assumed that Indians-meaning the Blackfoot-had stolen them. A group of four Americans then killed three Blood Indians (the Blood are a part of the larger Blackfoot Confederacy) who they assumed were the thieves. It was later found that the horses had actually been liberated by a Crow war party.

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In May 1865, Chief Calf Shirt led a war party of about 100 warriors seeking revenge. They found a group of woodcutters from Ophir near the Marias River and attacked them. They killed ten in revenge for the death of the three Blood warriors. In the eyes of the Blood, this was an equal trade. As a result of this attack, the community of Ophir dissipated and the wood from the cabins was used to fuel the steamboats.

In December 1873, after trading his buffalo robes at Fort Kipp, Calf Shirt kept demanding more whiskey. Young Joe Kipp refused and Calf Shirt pulled a gun. He missed, but Joe Kipp did not. Calf Shirt stumbled, wounded, out of the trading post where a volley of 15 more shots from other whiskey traders brought him down. His wives asked a medicine man to pray over his body for 3 days in an attempt to bring him back to life. Both the Bloods and the Americans asked them not to do this. They did not want him resurrected.  

Bob Scriver and the Indians (Photo Diary)

Bob Scriver (1914-1999) is among the West’s greatest sculptors. He was born on the Blackfeet Reservation in Montana. His forte was American Indians. As a scholar of Blackfoot Indian culture and history, he is known for his ability to capture historically accurate detail in his sculptures. He was given the Blackfoot name Sik-Poke-Sah-Ma-Pee.  

Scriver’s biography in the Fine Art Dealers Association states:

An accomplished musician, Scriver earned his master’s degree in music, taught in Montana public schools, and played professionally in big bands before taking up taxidermy, which would assist him in his ultimate profession, sculpture. A student and scholar of Native American artifacts, Scriver is best remembered for creating a series of sculptures that chronicled the history of the Blackfeet Tribe, as well as a series devoted to rodeo subjects.

Scriver operated the Museum of Montana Wildlife and the Hall of Bronze in Browning on the Blackfeet Reservation. After his death in 1999, these two collections were given to the Montana Historical Society.

The Scriver family collection of Blackfoot artifacts was sold to the Royal Alberta Museum in Edmonton, Alberta. This collection included some ceremonial Blackfoot bundles and this upset many of the tribal elders. Alberta returned the sacred objects to the Canadian Blackfoot.

Shown below are some of the Scriver sculptures which are on display at the Old Fort Benton in Fort Benton, Montana.

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The Blackfoot Beaver Dance is shown above.  According to the display:

“The beaver bundle was the largest and oldest sacred bundle of the Blackfoot and is uniquely theirs. For years beaver holy men added parts and songs from other bundles. As the ritual grew, there were more and more participants. The sacred rites and songs multiplied to such an extent that the owner and his wife needed help with the ceremony. The part of the bundle opening ceremony depicted here is the Dance of the Beaver done by the wives of the Beaver Men. Holding beaver sticks in their mouths and carrying a stuffed beaver skin, they imitate a beaver swimming in and out of the lodge to the beat and songs of the rattles. Today there are too few beaver people to perform the complete ceremony.”

American Indian Place Names in Glacier National Park

Since there is going to be a meet up in Glacier Park in June, I thought it might be interesting to do a tour of the park from west to east along today’s traditional tourist trail, commenting on some of the Indian names and heritage along the way. As with many national parks, the names of many of the mountains, creeks, and lakes have been changed to reflect the egos of the conquerors and the traditional Indian names are often ignored.  

Kalispell:

We are going to start our tour in Kalispell, the closest city to the park. Kalispell was named for the Kalispel Indians who currently have a reservation in eastern Washington. The designation “Kalispel” refers to camas, an important food plant, and we might translate this as “camas eater.”

Belton:

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The original name of the town at the west entrance to the park was Belton (notice that the sign on the railroad station still says Belton) and it was changed to West Glacier in 1949. The Kootenai call the Belton Hills “Spotted Foot Mountains.”

Flathead River:

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We enter Glacier National Park by crossing over the Middle Fork of the Flathead River. Two of the park’s boundaries are formed by the North Fork of the Flathead River and the Middle Fork of the Flathead River. The river is named for the Bitterroot Salish who are also known as the Flathead.

Lake McDonald:  

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Shortly after entering the park (stopping at the entrance stand to pay the fee or show a park pass), we come to Lake McDonald which was probably named after Duncan McDonald, the son of Hudson’s Bay Company trader Angus MacDonald who founded Fort Conah (now on the Flathead Indian Reservation) and Catherine Baptiste (Eagle in the Wind) whose heritage was Nez Perce, Mohawk, and French.

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The foot of Lake McDonald had traditionally been used by the Kootenai as a ceremonial site and thus the Kootenai name for the lake and the area around it seems to have been “good place to dance” or “where people dance.” This is sometimes indicated as “sacred dancing.”

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There is an oral tradition which tells of a time when a Kalispel band was camped at the foot of the lake when they were attacked by a Sixika (North Blackfoot) band.

Upper McDonald Creek, which flows into the lake, was called Barrier Creek by the Kootenai.

Avalanche:

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Within Glacier Park, a creek, a lake, and a campground all carry the name Avalanche. Long before this area was part of a national park it was used by the Kootenai who hunted in the area. They designated it as Beaver Head (lake, creek, and basin). They also have creation stories about this area and conducted ceremonies here.

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Logan Pass:

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Located at the top of the Going to the Sun Road, Logan Pass today is a very popular tourist stop that offers spectacular views of the mountains as well as opportunities to see mountain goats and marmots. The pass is named for William Logan, the first superintendent of the park. While he had previously been the Indian agent for the Blackfeet Reservation and for the Fort Belnap Reservation (Gros Ventre and Assiniboine tribes), he was not known for his empathy for Indians.

For thousands of years, Indian people had used this pass in crossing the Rocky Mountains. The Blackfoot, whose traditional homelands lie just to the east of the mountains, call it the Ancient Road. The Kootenai, whose traditional home is just to the west of the mountains, would cross through this pass on snowshoes in the wintertime. The Kootenai called it the trail “where packs are pulled up in a line.”

St. Mary Lake:

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Leaving Logan Pass and driving down the east side of the mountains on the Going to the Sun Road you will come to St. Mary Lake. The origin of the English designation “St. Mary” is somewhat controversial with lots of speculation about its origin. There are some who champion its origin with the Jesuit missionary Father DeSmet, who probably never saw the lake. Other missionaries, French Canadian métis, fur trappers, and many others have also been credited with naming the lake. However, for thousands of years prior to the European invasion and the arrival of the Jesuits, this was Blackfoot land. The Blackfoot referred to the lake as “inside big water” or “blue banks.” There are also some indications that it might have been called “many chiefs gathered” in reference to intertribal meetings in the area.

Other:  

There are lots of other waterfalls and mountains which carry Indian names along the Going to the Sun Road. In addition, there are Indian names to many of the lakes, mountains, creeks, and other features in other parts of the park, but these are topics for further discussion.

Trying to research for my daughter the Blackfoot tribe

Hi

My name is Jennifer and I am looking to

find out more information for my daughter.

She connected with her biological father

last year and as they got to know each

other better he had told her that she had

some native american in her. He thought

they had came from the Blackfoot tribe. I

am wondering if you might be able to help

me or point me in a direction so I can find

out how to verify if she does or does not

have Native American in her. She is very

interested in finding out more about this

whole other side of her family.

I do know a few names and have did some

research on Ancestry.com but it does not

list if they were Native American or not.

Her father and I were very young when we

got pregnant. He was 14 and I was 15. With

being this young it was to much for him to

handle and as most young fathers he

“bailed”. He found her last year on

Facebook and that is how they started

getting to know each other. She is very

intested in knowing more about that side of

her familly but alot of them are deceased.

I found many records on ancestry.com but am

not sure if they are the right people or

not. I have never did any type of reasearch

like this before so I don’t really know

where to start.

I had came across your website along with a

few others and thought I would go ahead and

email you to see if you might be able to

help us. I have visited the bia.gov site

but I can’t find any contact information

for the Blackfoot tribe. I know that her

grandfather lives in Hooker OK and was born

and raised in Blackwell OK. I do know some

names that her grandmother gave me that she

could remember. They were not married very

long. This has became very important to my

daughter and she wants to find out if there

is a way to possibly connect with others

that had ancestors that belonged to this

tribe so she might be able to learn more

about the culture. But there are so many

sites out there and I want to make sure I

getting the right information. So any

information you can provide me with would

be greatly appreciated.

Thank you for your time.

Jennifer Bennett

I found many records on ancestry.com but am

not sure if they are the right people or

not. I have never did any type of reasearch

like this before so I don’t really know

where to start.

I had came across your website along with a

few others and thought I would go ahead and

email you to see if you might be able to

help us. I have visited the bia.gov site

but I can’t find any contact information

for the Blackfoot tribe. I know that her

grandfather lives in Hooker OK and was born

and raised in Blackwell OK. I do know some

names that her grandmother gave me that she

could remember. They were not married very

long. This has became very important to my

daughter and she wants to find out if there

is a way to possibly connect with others

that had ancestors that belonged to this

tribe so she might be able to learn more

about the culture. But there are so many

sites out there and I want to make sure I

getting the right information. So any

information you can provide me with would

be greatly appreciated.

Thank you for your time.

Jennifer Bennett

The Heavy Runner Massacre

( – promoted by navajo)

American history is filled with accounts of Indians being massacred by the U.S. Army, by American civilians, and others. Some of these “incidents” are well-known to the general public: Wounded Knee, the Washita, and Sand Creek. Others, such as the massacre of Heavy Runner’s Blackfoot band, are less well-known. In 1870, soldiers under the leadership of Colonel E. M. Baker killed 217 peaceful Blackfoot men, women, and children on the Marias River in Montana.

Background:

In the years both before and after the Civil War, many Americans came to Montana seeking to find their wealth either through mining or cattle ranching. Malcolm Clarke was one of those who settled down as a cattle rancher.  Clarke soon married a Blackfoot woman, Kohkokima (Cutting Off Head Woman). Clarke gains the respect of the Blackfoot and was initially given the name White Lodgepole. Later, he was given the name Four Bears after he killed four grizzlies in one day.

In 1867, some Blackfoot relatives of Kohkokima, come to visit the Clarke ranch. In the group were Owl Child (Ne-tus-che-o, Kohkokima’s cousin), his wife, mother, sister, and younger brother. As a result of this visit something went wrong which created bad blood between Owl Child and the Clarke men. One version of the story, told by the Blackfoot, alludes to improper advances made by the rancher to the wife of the Piegan cousin while Horace Clarke and Owl Child were hunting in the nearby mountains. Another version of the story, usually told by non-Indians, says that Owl Child stole some Clarke horses and that Clarke publically beat him.

Two years later, a Blackfoot party led by Owl Child approaches the Clarke ranch in a friendly fashion. With Owl Child are Black Weasel, Eagle’s Rib, Bear Chief, and Black Bear. Owl Child told Clarke that he had come to invite him to Mountain Chief’s village. Black Weasel, who was with the party, was Mountain Chief’s son.

Mountain Chief had disliked Americans since three Americans shot his brother and the authorities had done nothing about it. He banned all Americans from his village, but he stayed friendly with Malcolm Clarke because of his marriage to Kohkokima.  

Suddenly, Bear Chief shot one of Clarke’s sons in the head. When Clarke rushed out of the house, he was shot dead by Eagle’s Rib. About 25 warriors then came out of the woods and proceeded to destroy everything in the house.

Since Malcolm Clarke was a prominent rancher,  the Montana press clamored for revenge against the Blackfoot, with little concern for the actual killers. However, the military commander at Fort Shaw remained calm. He reported:

“The only Indians within reach are friendly, and nothing could be worse than to chastise them for offenses of which they are not guilty.”

However, General Sheridan, with a reputation as an Indian fighter, was in Chicago and hearing from the American settlers who wanted revenge. He ordered Colonel E. M. Baker to obtain that revenge. It was not about justice: there was little concern for capturing the actual murderers. It was about retaliation: attacking the Blackfoot camps, any Blackfoot camp. Baker was ordered to give the Blackfoot an exhibition of military force to show the Blackfoot that they were not to trifle with the Americans. Baker’s orders from General Sheridan:

“If the lives & property of the citizens of Montana can best be protected by striking Mountain Chief’s band of Piegans, I want them struck.”

The Battle:

It was January of 1870 when the soldiers set out in search of Mountain Chief’s camp. The temperature was well below zero. Riding with the soldiers is Horace Clarke, Malcolm Clarke’s son.

On the Marias River, the soldiers encounter a Blackfoot camp. As the army approached the camp, scout Joe Kipp recognized that it is the friendly village of Heavy Runner and informed the commander that this was the wrong village. The officer ordered the soldiers to shoot Kipp if he yelled again.

As the soldiers attacked, Heavy Runner ran toward Baker waving his Washington medals and his letters of recommendation showing that he was friendly to the United States. One of the soldiers shot Heavy Runner, killing him. Baker ordered his troops to fire. The Indians did not return fire as all of their able-bodied men were on a buffalo hunt. When the firing was over the soldiers simply shot the wounded Indians. They then collected the lodges and property of the Indians in great piles, and set fire to them.

One hundred and forty women and children were taken prisoner in the attack. After being held for a short time, they were released to face the cold-estimated to be 40 below zero-without blankets, shelter, or food. Many died from exposure.

The first official account of the “incident” claimed that 120 Blackfoot warriors were killed, an interesting statistic since nearly all of the men were out hunting. Later, the official report was modified to indicate that a total of 173 Blackfoot were killed and that 148 of these were women, children, and elders. However, the scout Joe Kipp reported that he personally counted 217 dead.

The Aftermath:

At the time of the Heavy Runner massacre (dubbed the Baker Massacre in the eastern press), the U.S. government was debating over whether the Indian Office (later known as the Bureau of Indian Affairs) was to remain in the Department of the Interior or be transferred back to the War Department. The accounts of army brutality in this incident, including Horace Clarke’s testimony about the brutality of the attack against this friendly camp, helped stop the proposal to move Indian Affairs to the War Department. Commissioner of Indian Affairs Ely Parker, who was a Seneca Indian, was put in the position of defending the military operation as an effective way of dealing with the Blackfoot.  

Mountain Chief and his people, upon hearing about the attack on Heavy Runner, avoided the army by crossing the border into Canada.  

National Parks & American Indians: Glacier National Park

( – promoted by navajo)

Glacier National Park was designated our nation’s 10th national park on May 11, 1910. Half of the new park was formed by the “mineral strip” which had been sold by the Blackfoot to the United States in 1895. The enabling legislation for the park, however, contained no reference to the Blackfoot, nor does it acknowledge their hunting, fishing, and timber rights to the area, rights which they had reserved in their treaty with the government. The tribe was not invited to the congressional hearing about the park.

Lake McDonald

Glacier’s first superintendent was William Richard Logan, the son of an Army captain who made a career out of fighting Indians. He was no friend to Indians, calling them “natural beggars and bummers” and subsequently served as the Indian agent to the Blackfeet and to the Assiniboine and Gros Ventre at the Fort Belknap Reservation. Since he also had little sympathy for conservation, he was made superintendent of Glacier National Park and introduced programs that were developmental rather than environmental.  

Glacier National Park, according to archaeological data and Native American oral tradition, has been used by American Indians for more than 10,000 years. When the first Euroamerican explorers began entering the region about two hundred years ago, the Blackfoot controlled the prairies to the east of the Park and used the mountains in the park for hunting, for ceremonies, and for gathering plants. The Salish-speaking tribes (Pend d’Oreille, Kalispel, Flathead) and the Kootenai lived in the valleys to the west.

By the end of the nineteenth century, the policy of the American government was that all Indians were to become farmers with small, family farms. All other forms of economic development were discouraged. Therefore, when there were rumors about the possibility of gold in the mountains on the western portion of the Blackfoot reservation, there was no consideration given to the possibility that the Indians could mine the gold themselves. All of the Americans agreed that the Indians would have to sell the land so that the gold could be exploited by non-Indian mining interests.

In 1895 representatives from the United States government met with 35 handpicked Blackfoot leaders. The United States wanted to purchase the western mountains, but the Blackfoot were reluctant to sell. Under much pressure, the handpicked leaders agreed to the sale and asked for $3 million, but the government paid them only $1.5 million.

The mountainous area involved in the sale was an area in which the Blackfoot traditionally hunted, fished, gathered plants, cut timber, and conducted religious ceremonies. Indian religions were illegal at this time so the Blackfoot were quiet about the spiritual use of the mountains. However, since the government seemed concerned about minerals, the Blackfoot insisted that they must maintain all non-mineral rights to the area. White Calf told the Americans:

“I would like to have the right to hunt game and fish in the mountains. We will sell you the mountain lands from Birch Creek to the boundary, reserving the timber and grazing land.”

One of the American negotiators was George Bird Grinnell who felt that there would be few minerals found in the area. Grinnell, however, felt that it was important to destroy Indian cultures by breaking up the communal ownership of land. Grinnell also felt that the area had great scenic potential and could be a tourist destination.

Indians and Hunting:

Two years after the creation of Glacier National Park, two Blackfoot hunters were arrested for hunting in their usual areas within the park. Their firearms, traps, and hides were taken from them. The Department of the Interior later instructed the park to return these items, but the Indians were not to be allowed in the park.

At this time, non-Indians were allowed to hunt in the park and government hunters were actively seeking to exterminate coyotes, wolves, and mountain lions within the park. While the Blackfoot felt that the treaty had reserved their right to hunt in the park, the government simply ignored their concerns.

In 1924, Peter Oscar Little Chief began to circulate a petition among the Blackfoot calling for a recognition of their hunting rights in Glacier National Park. He claimed that the Blackfoot retained these rights in their 1895 treaty:

“We sold to the U.S. Government nothing but rocks only. We still control timber, grass, water, and all big or small game or all the animals living in this [sic] mountains”

He submitted his petition to the Bureau of Indian affairs, but received no response.

In 1929, Peter Oscar Little Chief complained to Senator James Walsh that the Bureau of Indian Affairs had not responded to his 1924 petition regarding Blackfoot hunting rights in Glacier National Park. Walsh contacted the Commissioner of Indian Affairs who knew nothing about the petition but informed Walsh that Indians had no hunting rights in the park.

In 1929, assuming that the Blackfoot were subject to state law, the National Park Service attempted to end hunting near the eastern border of the park. Wardens arrested Blackfoot and Cree hunters for killing elk east of the park boundary. The judge, however, released the men and returned the elk to them. State officials were angered by the judge’s decision and demanded further prosecution. The National Park Service then advised the Indian agent in Browning, the capital of the Blackfoot Nation, that the elk in Glacier National Park were not native, but had been imported from Yellowstone National Park and therefore the Indians did not have the right to hunt them. The Indians simply laughed at this tale.

In 1955, the deer and elk herds in Glacier National Park increased beyond the park’s capacity. Rangers killed many animals and drove others onto the adjacent Blackfoot reservation. Blackfoot hunters, however, were not allowed to hunt the animals within the park.

In 1991, Blackfoot tribal chairman Earl Old Person, commenting on Indian rights to hunt, fish, gather, and cut timber in Glacier National Park, said: “We only sold them the rocks.”

In 2000, two Blackfoot tribal members killed two bighorn sheep in Glacier National Park. When the two were charged with violating a federal wildlife protection statute, they argued that the Blackfoot have treaty hunting rights to the area. They pointed out that in the1896 agreement with the United States, the tribe retained its right to hunt, fish, and harvest timber in the area. The federal judge did not agree and one of the two men was found guilty of violating the Lacey Act which prohibits the sale of wildlife parts when the animals are killed illegally.

Indians and Tourists:

Glacier National Park was created in part because of the commercial interests of the Great Northern Railway. The park provided a tourist destination and the Great Northern provided the transportation and also owned the concessions within the park. Great Northern promoted the park as an “Indian” destination and referred to the Blackfoot as “Glacier Park Indians.” Tourists were met by Indians as they got off the train and there were tipis around the park lodges.

As a part of its Glacier National Park promotion, the Great Northern Railway in 1915 produced a movie entitled A Day in the Life of a Glacier Park Indian. In addition, the Great Northern Railway took six Blackfoot to the San Francisco Exhibition where they presented lectures, movies, and transparencies about Glacier National Park.

In 1928, the Great Northern Railway published American Indian Portraits which featured paintings of Blackfoot Indians.

Indian Rights:

The Blackfoot and the Kootenai had explored and used what is now Glacier National Park for thousands of years and during this time they had given names to all of the major geographic features of the area. The United States government, however, ignored the aboriginal names and proceeded to rename these features. Thus the mountain known as Napi (Old Man or Trickster) to the Blackfoot was named Mount Cleveland in 1898 as a way of honoring President Grover Cleveland.  The glacier known as Azina Kokutoi (Gros Ventre Ice) to the Blackfoot was named Dixon Glacier in honor of Senator Joseph M. Dixon, who had helped push through the legislation which established Glacier National Park. Dixon also pushed through a bill which broke up the Flathead Reservation and added greatly to his personal wealth. The list of geographic features named for presidents, wealthy men, politicians, and their friends is fairly long.

In 1915, Blackfoot leaders Curly Bear, Wolf Plume, and Tail Feathers Coming Over The Hill visited Washington, D.C. to complain about the renaming of mountains, lakes, rivers, and glaciers in Glacier National Park. The Indians wanted Blackfoot names used and they were promised that in the future only Indian names or their translations would be used.

In 1925, as a part of a publicity program for the Park,  author J.W. Schultz, known for his autobiographical novel My Life as an Indian, began a program of assigning Blackfoot names to the Park’s features. Working with Eli Guardipee, Curly Bear, and other Blackfoot elders, the plan was to begin at the southeastern corner of the Park and work northward along the eastern slope of the Rocky Mountains. The idea was to assign names of Indians painted by George Catlin and Charles Bodmer rather than reasserting the aboriginal names.

In 1929, the National Park Service proposed to enlarge Glacier National Park by adding more Blackfoot land to the park. Ignoring the Blackfoot, the National Park Service asked the Bureau of Indian Affairs for help in the matter and enlisted the aid of an “Indian expert”. The park was told that the Blackfoot would not give up an additional area to the park for any money consideration.

In 1973, Blackfoot tribal member Woodrow L. Kipp refused to pay the entrance fee to Glacier National Park and was cited. In federal court Kipp was acquitted because of the 1895 agreement which allows the tribe free access to public lands taken from the tribe.

In 1975, the Blackfoot with the aid of the Native American Rights Fund petitioned the Secretary of the Interior claiming that the tribe has retained rights in the ceded “mineral strip” area which became Glacier National Park. Environmentalists condemned the Blackfoot:

“Indians may destroy something of value to both themselves and the rest of the nation.”

The Department of the Interior rejected the petition.

In 1973, Blackfoot tribal member Darrell R. Momberg was arrested for tree cutting inside Glacier National Park. While the 1895 agreement does allow timber harvest, Momberg was convicted because he had not cut the wood for personal use as specified in the agreement.