Public Lands and Denise Juneau

One of the differences between Native Americans and the Europeans who invaded this continent is the view of land ownership. Europeans viewed land as something that was supposed to be owned by individuals and developed by them for their personal gain. American Indians, particularly those living on the Northern Plains viewed land differently. Land was owned communally and its resources belonged to all of the people. When the people harvested the buffalo, for example, the meat was shared with the entire band, including those who had not taken part in the hunt.

In the United States today, the controversy of private land versus public or communal land continues. One the one side we have those who argue for private ownership of land or at least private management of public lands so that resources—oil, gas, mineral, timber—can be extracted for the benefit of the wealthy. On the other hand, there are people who feel that public lands should somehow benefit the public, not the privileged few.

Politically, Republicans tend to favor private ownership or private management of lands, while Democrats are concerned with keeping public lands public.

In Montana, Denise Juneau is running for Montana’s only seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. Denise Juneau is an enrolled member of the Mandan Hidatsa tribes and a Blackfoot descendent. She graduated from Browning High School on the Blackfeet Reservation and obtained her bachelor’s degree in English from Montana State University. She continued her education and earned a master’s from the Harvard Graduate School of Education. She was elected Superintendent of Public Instruction in 2008 and re-elected in 2012.

With regard to her position on public lands, this is what her website says:

https://denisejuneau.com/

Public lands offer a promise to every hardworking Montana family that they can access and enjoy the best our state has to offer. A promise that says these places are for all of us, not just for the wealthy or the privileged. That is a promise Denise Juneau will keep to the people of Montana. She will always fight to protect access to our public lands, and is 100 percent opposed to the transfer or sale of our land.

 

It’s long past time that we fully fund and permanently reauthorize the Land and Water Conservation Fund. The fund is why we have city parks in every corner of the state, baseball fields in Butte, Lake Elmo in Billings, Giant Springs in Great Falls, and Spring Meadow Lake State Park in Helena.

 

But, the House’s Interior Appropriations bill that Congressman Zinke just voted for cuts $128 million from an already shrinking LWCF. We must do better so that parks, fishing access sites, and trails are available for future generations.

 

It’s also time we tackle the growing maintenance backlog in our national parks and forests. Between Yellowstone and Glacier National Parks, 5 million visitors spend nearly $500 million enjoying our parks – we need to make sure the National Park Service and Forest Service have the resources they need to keep our outdoor spaces safe and open to the public.

Montana’s Republican Congressman Zinke generally offers platitudes about protecting public lands, but his actions in Congress show a different picture. Congressman Zinke supported a massive federal government budget that proposed selling off our public lands for profit, endangering Montanans’ access to places where they have hunted and fished for generations. He voted for a proposal that 115 conservation groups opposed because it could lead to the loss of clean water, wildlife habitat and recreational use of public lands.

Denise is facing a tough election. She is running as a Democrat is a Republican state. As an Indian, she faces an anti-Indian, racist sentiment among many of the state’s conservatives. To find out more about Denise Juneau, her policies, and how to help, check out her website.

Denise Juneau and Native Languages

We don’t really know how many Native American languages were spoken in what is the United States and Canada when the Europeans began their invasion. Linguists Shirley Silver and Wick Miller, in their book American Indian Languages: Cultural and Social Contexts, estimate that there were 250 American Indian languages in this area. On the other hand, Ives Goddard, in an article in the journal AnthroNotes, estimates that there were as many as 400 distinct languages.

For much of its history, the policies of the United States have discouraged the speaking of Indian languages and, in some contexts such as that of the schools, has prohibited their use. As a result, there have been fewer places where the indigenous languages can be freely spoken. Ellen Lutz, the executive director of Cultural Survival Quarterly, writes:

“Native Americans did not lose their languages. Their languages were taken from them by immigrants to American shores who believed in assimilation, the melting pot, and the great American dream.”

Ethnolinguist Jeffrey Anderson, in an article in Anthropological Linguistics, sums it up this way:

“In short, people speak the language in fewer and fewer places.”

For many Indian languages, the primary place where they are used can be considered as ceremonial.

By the 1960s, Silver and Miller estimate that there were 175 Indian languages still being spoken north of Mexico. Of these languages, 136 had fewer than 2,000 speakers and 34 had fewer than 10 speakers. By 2007, it was estimated that only 154 Indians languages were still being spoken and that half of these were spoken only by elders.

At the present time, it estimated that there are 46 Indian languages which are still being spoken by significant numbers of children. Languages which are being learned by children have some chance of survival.

Retention of the native language is an important issue for many tribes. Linguist Ives Goddard writes:

 “Today, many Native American communities have language programs to try to teach their languages to children.”

As a consequence, there are on many reservations programs which are intended to maintain the language. In communities in which the children no longer speak the native language, the goal is language revival in which the Indian language is taught as a second language. By 1986 there were 98 language projects involving 55 different Indian languages. There was an enrollment of more than 14,000 students in these programs. By 2006, there were 62 native languages being taught in 101 programs in 24 states and provinces.

Denise Juneau, who is running of Montana’s sole member of the House of Representatives, says:

Nistowa niitanikoowa ootskoyiiksistsiikoomahyahkii. Niska Pikunakii kii, niitapohtakii siksiikatsitapiiyawa taakaskiniipoowa nitsiipuhwahsin. Niitapohtakii ka-na-tsitaapiiyawa taakaskiniipoowa nitsiipuhwahsin

Pikuni translated to English as “My name is Blue Cloud Woman. I am a Pikuni woman and I am working for my people to have their language. I am working for all tribal nations to have their language”

Denise Juneau is an enrolled member of the Mandan Hidatsa tribes and a Blackfoot descendent. Denise Juneau was elected Superintendent of Public Instruction in 2008 and re-elected in 2012. She reports:

As Superintendent, I supported Montana funding native language immersion programs. The first immersion program was started in Browning in 1995, and this year’s class of kindergarteners will go through 12th Grade in an immersion program spending half the day speaking in English and half the day in Blackfeet.

She also promises:

As a member of Congress, I will educate my colleagues on the importance of tribal language programs. And, I will work to create new grant opportunities for tribes to create or expand language immersion programs.

Why should we care about Native languages? Mark Cherrington, the editor of Cultural Survival Quarterly, puts it this way:

“But for all its breadth, English cannot substitute for Native American languages, because these languages are based on entirely different histories, spiritual beliefs, scientific and natural-world understandings, and political and legal ideas. In essence they are based on different realities. Native languages capture concepts that do not exist in English.”

Journalist Elizabeth Seay, in her book Searching for Lost City: On the Trail of America’s Native Languages, puts it this way:

“When people have no language to bridge the gap between generations, they diminish their ability to decode their history. When you lose a language, then, the size of the loss is somewhere between a list of bird names and a conception of the world.”

It is important to elect Denise Juneau and others like her to Congress. For more about Denise, check out her website.

https://denisejuneau.com/

Denise Juneau and Indian Education

In has been well documented that American Indians, particularly those living on reservations, have the lowest levels of education in the country. On Indian reservations, the problems of providing education for Indian children are tied in to the rural nature of these populations—a fact which makes it difficult to find and retain good teachers—as well as cultural differences. Historically, there have been three primary structures for providing education to Indian children: (1) the federal government, primarily through an agency known today as the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA); (2) Christian missionary schools which were sometimes financially supported by the federal government; and (3) state and local school systems.

Bureau of Indian Education schools in the 21st century are under-funded and the physical conditions of the schools is poor and sometimes considered dangerous. Denise Juneau, who is running of Montana’s sole member of the House of Representatives, has promised not only to support additional funding for these schools, but also to reform the Bureau so that more of this money actually translates into classroom improvements.

In addition, Juneau has pledged:

“I support the Native Education Support and Training Act to create a system of loan forgiveness, scholarships and additional training for educators who serve in schools with a high percentage of Native American students.”

Denise Juneau is an enrolled member of the Mandan Hidatsa tribes and a Blackfoot descendent. She graduated from Browning High School on the Blackfeet Reservation and obtained her bachelor’s degree in English from Montana State University. She continued her education and earned a master’s from the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

She taught in North Dakota and Montana and worked for the state education agency. She then went back to school and received her juris doctorate from the University of Montana School of Law.

Denise Juneau was elected Superintendent of Public Instruction in 2008 and re-elected in 2012. In 2010, as Superintendent, she launched the Schools of Promise initiative which focuses on improving struggling schools, particularly those on reservations. According to Juneau:

“Children who attend designated Schools of Promise often come from deep, rural poverty. Public assistance services are sparse. The complex needs of these students and their families are often unmet and can make graduation difficult to reach.”

She also points out:

“Schools of Promise is helping these struggling schools make significant progress. The program has become a turnaround model for the U.S. Department of Education given its unique student engagement requirements, school board trustee training, and mental health wrap around services. As a member of Congress I will work to strengthen this initiative to better support struggling schools in all Indian Country.”

Denise Juneau is running as a Democrat against a Republican incumbent. She needs our support. To find out more about Denise Juneau, her policies, and how to help, check out her website.

 

https://denisejuneau.com/

 

Denise Juneau, Putting Montana First

In 1924, Congress passed the Indian Citizenship Act which gave citizenship—the right to vote and to be elected to public office—to all American Indians. Exercising these rights, however, was not easy. It has been unusual for American Indians to be elected to state-wide and national offices.  In Montana, Denise Juneau was elected Superintendent of Public Instruction in 2008 and re-elected in 2012. At the present time, she is running for Montana’s sole seat in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Denise Juneau is an enrolled member of the Mandan Hidatsa tribes and a Blackfoot descendent. She graduated from Browning High School on the Blackfeet Reservation and obtained her bachelor’s degree in English from Montana State University. She continued her education and earned a master’s from the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

She taught in North Dakota and Montana and worked for the state education agency. She then went back to school and received her juris doctorate from the University of Montana School of Law.

In her tenure as Superintendent of Public Instruction, Denise Juneau has raised academic standards, expanded college and career readiness opportunities and advocated for policies to improve the quality of education in our state and nation.

Denise is facing a tough election. She is running as a Democrat is a Republican state. As an Indian, she faces an anti-Indian, racist sentiment among many of the state’s conservatives. To find out more about Denise Juneau, her policies, and how to help, check out her website.

 

https://denisejuneau.com/

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.

Christianity Comes to the Flathead Indians

During the 1830s, a major stir occurred among the missionary groups in North America when there were reports of the “savage” tribes from the interior who had come to St. Louis seeking Christianity. One of these tribes was the Flathead or Bitterroot Salish, a Salish-speaking tribe whose traditional territory included much of Western Montana. After they acquired the horse during the early 1700s, they began going east of the Rocky Mountains to hunt buffalo.

During the 1800s, the buffalo hunting area east of the Rocky Mountains on the Great Plains was claimed by a number of different tribes and there were often battles between them. The animosity between the Flathead and the Blackfoot was particularly intense and Blackfoot warriors were often successful in their raids on Flathead hunting parties.

In 1810, the North West Company established a trading post called Saleesh House in Flathead country on the Clark Fork River near present-day Thompson Falls in Montana. Fur trader David Thompson employed six Iroquois at Saleesh House to help him find bark for making canoes.

Following the establishment of Saleesh House, Nor’wester fur traders accompanied a hunting party of 150 Flathead across the Rocky Mountains through Marias Pass to hunt buffalo on the Plains. The hunting party was attacked by a party of 170 Piegan Blackfoot. The Flatheads won the battle, in part through the aid of the three traders who were traveling with them. The Flathead were armed with 20 guns obtained from the Nor’westers. They killed 7 of the Blackfoot and wounded 13 others. Among the Flathead, 5 were killed and 9 wounded. This was the first time in many years that the Flathead had won a battle against the Blackfoot.

The following year, the North West Company trading post Saleesh House was abandoned because of Blackfoot raids against the Flathead and fear of reprisals for the Nor’westers’ role in the battle against the Blackfoot.

In 1820, a group of about two dozen Christian Iroquois (Catholic Mohawk from Quebec) under the leadership of Old Ignace La Mousse came to live among the Flathead. The Iroquois worked for the Canadian fur traders and were to help establish fur trade and to show the Flathead how to trap.

The Iroquois preached their version of Christianity to the Flathead and taught them a number of Christian prayers and hymns. They told the Flathead about the great power of the Black Robes – the Jesuit Priests of the Catholic Church.

In 1831, some of the Flathead decided that the power of the Black Robes (Jesuits) could help them prevail over their enemies. The American Fur Company transported four Indians, including Silver Eagle and Running Bear, to St. Louis where they met with William Clark. Clark, of Lewis and Clark fame, had first made contact with the tribe when the Corps of Discovery had passed through their territory. While Clark was sympathetic to their request for missionaries, he was unable to find any Black Robes who were free to go to western Montana.

Two of the Flathead men died in St. Louis. The other two traveled part of the way home with the well-known American artist George Catlin who later reported that the Flathead had told him that the Jesuits had a superior religion and that they would be lost if they did not embrace it. The two remaining Flathead men died before returning home.

In 1834, Jason Lee, sent by the Methodist Missionary Board to establish a mission among the Flathead, met with the Flathead and Nez Perce at the Green River Rendezvous in Wyoming. He found the Indians deeply unsettling and concluded that the Indians were slaves to Satan and to alcohol. Instead of establishing an Indian mission, he continued his journey west to Fort Vancouver in Washington.

 In 1835, the Flathead still felt it would be good if they were to have a Black Robe live among them and share with them the great power of the Black Robes. Consequently, a second delegation of Flathead left Western Montana to travel to St. Louis, Missouri. The journey from Western Montana to Missouri was not an easy one for it meant that they had to pass through territories claimed by other tribes, such as the Crow and Lakota. Even though they were on a peaceful mission, it was easy to be mistaken for a war party and to invite attack by other tribes.

In St. Louis they asked for a Black Robe to be assigned to them. The delegation included Old Ignace, the Iroquois who first introduced the Flatheads to Catholicism. Historian Larry Cebula, in his book Plateau Indians and the Quest for Spiritual Power, 1700-1850, reports of Ignace:

“He was familiar with Catholicism and went straight to the cathedral to have his sons baptized. There he told the blackrobes that the Flatheads had sent him to St. Louis to request missionaries and that other Plateau groups, including the Spokans, Nez Perces, Cayuses, and Kutenais, wanted missionaries as well.”

In spite of the request, all available Jesuit manpower was committed to establishing a mission among the Kickapoos on the southern Plains and therefore there was no one available to be assigned to the Flathead.

In 1836, a party of four Flatheads left their Western Montana home for St. Louis to ask for the Blackrobes (Jesuits) to come to their people. This delegation was also lead by the Iroquois Old Ignace. The group was not heard from again. Indian agent Peter Ronan, in his 1890 book History of the Flathead Indians, reports:

“Whether killed while passing through the roaming places of their enemies or died of sickness or fatigue on their wearisome journey has never been known.”

In 1839, a fourth delegation of Flathead, including Peter Gaucher and Young Ignace, left Western Montana to journey to St. Louis. Upon reaching St. Louis, they met with Bishop Rosati. In their meeting with Bishop Rosati they extracted the promise that a priest would be sent to live with them.

In 1840 the Jesuits sent Father Pierre-Jean De Smet to live among the tribes of Western Montana. His first contact with them was at the Three Forks of the Missouri River where he was welcomed into a camp of Flathead and Pend d’Oreille. In his M.A. Thesis Religious Acculturation of the Flathead Indians, Richard Forbis reports:

“Like the Catholics of medieval Europe, De Smet wanted to make all aspects of life subservient to the Church and to Christianity.”

As a part of this assimilation, he wanted the Indians to become farmers.

Upon his arrival in Western Montana’s Bitterroot Valley in 1841, Father De Smet set about constructing St. Mary’s mission, baptizing children, and instructing the people in the ways of Catholic Christianity. He placed a large hand-hewn cross in the center of a circle. According to J. F. McAlear, in the book The Fabulous Flathead: The Story of the Development of Montana’s Flathead Indian Reservation:

 “Following a short service by Father DeSmet, all the Indians, young and old, came forward and solemnly kissed the cross and declared an oath that they would never forsake the religion of the Black Gown.”

At least this was DeSmet’s interpretation of what happened. According to Indian agent Peter Ronan:

“On the 3d day of December, 1841, about one-third of the Flathead tribe were baptized into the Catholic faith, and the others who were under religious instructions were received into the fold on Christmas day of that same year.”

In his book Charlo’s People: The Flathead Tribe, Adolf Hungry Wolf reports:

“But after all their efforts to learn about the Catholic religion, the Flatheads were soon discouraged by the attitudes of the priests. The People wanted to add Catholicism to their own Ways of Life—not to exchange their Ways for the ways that the priests demanded.”

In 1846, the Small Robes band of Blackfoot were living among the Flathead and observed their great victory over the Crow. The Blackfoot felt that the reason for the victory was the great War Medicine of the Blackrobes (Jesuits). Consequently, they had Father De Smet baptize 80 of their children. Encouraged by this baptism, Father De Smet set out to find the main band of the Blackfoot so that he might: (1) establish peace between the Flathead and the Blackfoot, and (2) establish a permanent mission among the Blackfoot.

In a letter to a London supporter, Father De Smet described the Blackfoot:

“They are the most treacherous and wily set of savages among all the nations of the American desert, in whose words no reliance can be placed.”

By seeking to bring Christianity to the Blackfoot De Smet angered the Flatheads. According to Richard Forbis:

“Although De Smet had lived with the Flatheads for five years, he apparently did not appreciate the fact that the Indians were not particularly interested in the moral and non-material aspects of Christianity; they were primarily concerned with its protective powers.”

When the Flathead had become Christian they had become successful in repelling Blackfoot attacks. This success, according to the Flathead, was due to the superior power of the Black Robes and if this power were to be given to their enemies, they reasoned, they might be exterminated. De Smet’s promiscuous proselytizing – giving the power to their enemies – caused Flathead resentment and hostility toward the priests and toward Christianity.

When DeSmet returned to the Flathead he found that their attitude toward the Black Robes had changed. Now they openly challenged the Black Robes by publically gambling, an activity which the priests discouraged. According to historian Larry Cebula:

“One Flathead disrupted religious services and others practiced shamanism within the mission itself.”

In 1847, smallpox struck the Flathead shortly after the hunters left for the buffalo hunt. Eighty-six people died, leaving only fifteen children alive. In her M.A. Thesis Bighorn Sheep and the Salish World View: A Cultural Approach to the Landscape, Marcia Pablo Cross reports:

“The priests regard this as a sign of God’s displeasure with the Flatheads for so many of them turning away from the mission. The Salish could have viewed this incident as the priests withholding their good medicine.”

In 1850, the Jesuits closed their mission to the Flathead and sold the mission to a local trader. The trader turned it into Fort Owen which served as a trading post for the Bitterroot Valley. The Jesuits abandoned the mission because they had little protection from Blackfoot attacks. Indian agent Peter Ronan blamed the lack of Flathead protection for the mission on the traders:

“Those men—licentious, immoral and impure generally, who accept from the great fur companies of the west, situations as trappers, hunters, etc., lead wild and desolate lives, and in their career of debauchery among the simple natives, brooked no opposition, and looked with jealous eyes upon the missionaries’ teachings of Christianity and virtue, and in the councils of the Indians began to sow the seed of discontent against the missionaries for the new order of things, which deprived the Christianized Indian from as many wives as he chose to take and in prohibiting debauchery of the Indian women by those lewd camp followers.”

It should be pointed out that Ronan had been appointed Indian Agent for the Flathead Reservation by the Catholic Church under the U.S. government policy of requiring Indians to convert to Christianity.

In 1854, the Jesuits established St. Ignatius as a mission among the Pend d’Oreille, a Salish-speaking group north of the Flathead. The Jesuits hoped that this mission would encourage the Flathead to abandon their traditional home in the Bitterroot Valley and move north to resettle among the Salish-speaking Pend d’Oreille. The Jesuits were led to the site of the new mission by Chief Alexander.

Today many, if not most, of the Flathead are Catholic and participate in Catholic ceremonies. At the same time, many also practice some of the “old ways” and see no conflict between the two. Christianity provides them with additional power.

 

Grizzly Bears

While Grizzly bears were once found throughout much of the American West, today there are two primary locations where Grizzly bears are abundant: Glacier National Park and Yellowstone National Park. Although at one time there were an estimated 50,000 Grizzly bears in North America, the current population is estimated at about 1,800. At the present time, federal wildlife officials are considering lifting protections for the Grizzly bears in the Yellowstone National Park area. This would allow trophy hunting of Grizzly bears outside of the Park. A number of American Indian tribes are protesting this possible decision, citing the spiritual importance of Grizzly bears to traditional Native religions. For many American Indians, the Grizzly bear is a sacred animal.

Indians and Bears:

In general, American Indian people have seen themselves as being in harmony with nature and animals, such as the bears, are spoken of not only as people, but as relatives. Some examples of the importance of bears to Native American spirituality are described below.

Among the Ute, the veneration of the bear is expressed ceremonially. Anthropologist Bertha Dutton, in her book The Ranchería, Ute, and Southern Paiute Peoples: Indians of the American Southwest, reports:

“The bear is regarded as the wisest of animals and the bravest of all except the mountain lion; he is thought to possess wonderful magic power. Feeling that the bears are fully aware of the relationship existing between themselves and the Ute, their ceremony of the bear dance assists in strengthening this friendship.”

The Bear Dance is a traditional Ute ceremony which is performed in the Spring. During the 10-day ceremony, a group of men play musical rasps (notched and un-notched sticks) to charm the dancers and propitiate bears. According to oral tradition, this dance was given to the Ute by a bear. The circular dance area represents a bear cave with an opening to the south or southeast. Traditionally, the dance area was enclosed with timbers and pine boughs to a height of about seven feet.

In the Ute Bear Dance, women choose male partners and the women lead in the dancing. Spiritual leader Eddie Box, quoted in Nancy Wood’s book When Buffalo Free the Mountains: The Survival of America’s Ute Indians. says:

“Bear Dance is a rebirth, an awakening of the spirit. It’s a time of awareness. You come to learn from the past in order to arrive at the present with an understanding of the harmony of things.”

Historian Richard Young, in his book The Ute Indians of Colorado in the Twentieth Century, describes the Bear Dance this way:

“Probably the oldest of the Ute Dances, the Bear Dance was a festive, social dance that had always been held in the spring before winter camps disbanded and family groups went their separate ways in search of food.”

The Utes are not the only tribe with a bear dance: the Shoshone, who are linguistically related to the Ute, also have a bear dance. This was originally a hunting dance, which had nothing to do with hunting bears. Men and women would face each other in two long lines and dance in a back-and-forth manner. In one form of the dance, a drum is used while in another form an upside-down basket is scraped by a rasp stick.

In the Dakotas, the Arikara, an agricultural nation with villages along the Missouri River, also had a bear ceremony. Among the Arikara, the bear-medicine men would put on a ceremony to gain the bear’s help in hunting. The ceremony was conducted in an earth lodge where seven elders would sing a number of songs. A young man would then be instructed to go out and get a certain kind of clay. From this clay, the bear-medicine men would make little figures of men, horses, and buffalo. They would then have the little men hunt and finally have them jump into the fire.

The bear also has important spiritual significance for many other Indians.

 Non-Indians and Bears:

When the English began their invasion of North America, they tended to view the Americas as a wilderness, a frightening concept with strong religious overtones. Edwin Churchill, the chief curator at the Maine Museum, writes in his chapter in American Beginnings: Exploration, Culture, and Cartography in the Land of Norumbega:

“They viewed the wilderness as a place where a person might lapse into disordered, confused, or ‘wild conditions’ and then succumb to the animal appetites latent in all men and restrained only by society.”

The English world-view tended to reflect the ethnocentric notion that they were divinely commanded to subdue the earth. According to Frank Waters, in his book Brave are My People: Indian Heroes Not Forgotten:

“They leveled whole forests under the axe, plowed under the grasslands, dammed and drained the rivers, gutted the mountains for gold and silver, and divided and sold the land itself. Accompanying all this destruction was the extermination of birds and beasts, not alone for profit or sport, but to indulge in a wanton lust for killing.”

For the English, taming the wilderness and claiming their dominion over the land involved the eradication of many predators, such as wolves, bears, and (in their minds) Indians. During the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the Americans continued the policy of extermination. Even within national parks, government hunters sought to kill as many wolves and bears as possible.

With regard to Grizzly bears, the extermination policy was nearly successful. One display sign in the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center in West Yellowstone, Montana indicates:

“Although the Grizzly inspires fear and can pose real danger to people, human beings are powerful natural enemies of this bear. Through killing this animal and competing for the use of its habitat, humans have eliminated the Grizzly from most of its original range.”

The Current Situation:

Protections for Grizzly bears were imposed in 1975 and since that time the bear population has rebounded. According to one newspaper report:

U.S. wildlife officials and their state counterparts in Montana, Idaho and Wyoming contend the region’s 700 to 1,000 bears are biologically recovered. They’ve been pushing for almost a decade to revoke the animal’s threatened status, a step that was taken in 2007 only to be reversed by a federal judge two years later.

Removing federal protections for Grizzly bears in the Yellowstone region would mean that the animals would be under state management. This would allow the states—Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming—to allow hunting of them. Wildlife officials in these states have been advocating bear hunts as a way to deal with problem bears.

Grizzlies have killed six people in and around Yellowstone National Park since 2010. In addition, they have regularly mauled both domestic livestock and hunters outside of the Park. The ranching industry has lobbied for eliminating protections for the Grizzly bears.

Under the Endangered Species Act, decisions regarding the Grizzly bear should be guided by “best available science,” but federal officials have indicated that they will take tribal views into consideration. Consultation with the tribes is required by Presidential Executive Orders and, according to tribal officials, by treaty obligation. Federal officials report that they have consulted with five tribes and have discussions scheduled with two more. In addition, letters have been sent to more than 50 tribes inviting them to participate in the discussions.

Tribal leaders from several tribes have opposed the removal of Grizzly hunting restrictions. The Fort Hall Reservation in Idaho is the home of the Shoshone and Bannock Tribes. Tribal Vice-Chairman Lee Juan Tyler has stated:

“These are our treaty lands, our ancestral homelands. Too many times in our relationship with the federal government we have surprises. … We want the grizzly bear protected with those lands, and the grizzly bear returned to areas where we can co-manage them.”

Federal officials are expected to rule on lifting protections for the Grizzly bear sometime in the next several months. This decision would impact only the bears in the area around Yellowstone National Park. The area around Glacier National Park would not be impacted by this decision.

Dam Indians: A Tribal Victory!

The flag of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes of the Flathead Indian Reservation in Montana was raised over a hydroelectric facility on the Flathead River on September 4, 2015. The facility, formerly known as the Kerr Dam, was promptly renamed the Salish Kootenai Dam in honor of the new owners. For the past 30 years, the tribes have been battling to reclaim the dam which has a generating capacity of 188 megawatts of electricity.

At the celebration of the transfer, former tribal council member Steve Lozar said: “This day blesses all our tribal hearts collectively. It’s a combination of people of water that once again to rejoice and feel a true tribal baptism of water as it washes over us – and for that I am very thankful for. I am thankful for the people that has brought us this opportunity; for the tribal members that gave their lives to build this facility. And I’m mostly proud for the children that are once again going to be regenerated and rejuvenated by the water that washes over them.”

Source

Background:

The history of the relationship of the federal government with Indian nations has generally focused on the transfer of wealth—land, mineral rights, etc.—from Indian people to non-Indians. For the Pend d’Oreille, Flathead, and Kootenai people this began in 1855 with the Hell Gate Treaty that transferred to the United States millions of acres of tribal land and established what would become the Flathead Indian Reservation.

In 1904 Montana Congressman Joseph Dixon secured the passage of the Flathead Allotment Act which called for the survey and allotment of the Montana reservation without the consent of the Indians. Under allotment, each Indian family was to be given a parcel of land and then the reservation was open to non-Indian settlement. Following allotment, the Indian agent, who favored allotment, needed an armed guard when traveling on the reservation.

To improve farming on the allotted Reservation, the government created the Flathead Indian Irrigation Project. As with most Indian irrigation projects, this project was soon delivering water to non-Indian farms. A national report on Indian irrigation projects released in 1929 showed that the number of acres of Indian land irrigated and used had declined, and that while the cost of constructing irrigation projects had been charged to the Indians, non-Indian farmers had been the primary beneficiaries of these projects.

In 1934, Congress passed the Indian Reorganization Act which allowed tribal governments to reorganize and to create federally chartered corporations which can borrow money, enter into contracts, and sue. Under this Act, the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes came into existence.

The Dam:

 In 1927 the Commissioner of Indian Affairs met with representatives of the Montana Power Company to discuss the development of a hydroelectric site on the Flathead River south of Polson, Montana. An agreement was reached which gave Montana Power the right to generate power. The driving force behind the dam proposal was the need for electricity for copper mining activities in Butte and smelter activities in Anaconda. While the dam site is on the Flathead Reservation, no Indians were invited to the meeting.

The agreement was criticized by John Collier who maintained that it violated the 1855 treaty with the Flatheads. Collier also pointed out that the Federal Water Power Act of 1920 promised Indians all royalties from reservation lands and that the agreement with Montana Power only gave the Indians one-third of the royalties. Collier also questioned why the agreement gives non-Indian settlers on the reservation electricity at cost.

The proposed site for the dam was an important cultural resource for the tribes, but since all Indian religions were illegal at this time, the spiritual concerns of tribal elders were not considered. Many tribal members opposed the construction of the dam.

Construction of the dam began in 1930 and by 1939 the facility was producing power. The new dam was named for Frank Kerr, the president of Montana Power. Kerr dam is a concrete arch dam which controls the elevation of the top ten feet of Flathead Lake. Fourteen tribal members were killed in construction-related accidents during the building of the dam.

In 1985 the dam’s license came up for renewal and the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes (CSKT) bid for the license. As a result, CSKT became a co-licensee with Montana Power Company. During the negotiations, the tribes agreed to take a reduced payment for the use and occupancy of the dam site in exchange for an exclusive option to acquire the dam in 2015.

To take over the operation of the dam, the tribes created a tribally owned corporation, Energy Keepers, Inc., under the Indian Reorganization Act.

Republican Response:

Montana Republicans are not happy about having a tribally-run hydroelectric facility. In an attempt to stop the takeover, state Senator. Bob Keenan and Flathead Conservation District Supervisor Verdell Jackson filed a complaint seeking a temporary injunction. The Missoula Independent reports: “In the kind of sleuthing worthy of a Tom Clancy novel, Keenan and Jackson drew a direct connection between Turkey’s work to help foster economic development in Indian Country and Turkey’s harboring of terrorist groups.”

According to the complaint, the Turkish government is seeking to promote Islam on Indian reservation as well as other dangerous activities, such as seeking access to uranium deposits. The Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes have expertise in uranium mill tailing cleanups and the lawsuit claims that the tribes are too gullible or naïve to realize that the Turks may have terrorist ties. Turkey, by the way, is a U.S. ally and a member of NATO.

According to the Missoula Independent: “While the case was quickly thrown out, one might begin to suspect Keenan and Jackson have something against the Salish and Kootenai people, or against the federal government that approved CSKT’s intent to purchase Kerr Dam three decades ago. But then again, such theories seem a little too grounded and devoid of conspiratorial intrigue for their ilk.”

 

Ancient America: Montana 6000 BCE to 3000 BCE

About 8,000 years ago (6,000 BCE), the American Indian cultures of the Northern Plains and the Columbia Plateau began undergoing a series of major changes. There was a decrease in dependence on big game hunting as the people engaged in a wide range of hunting and gathering patterns.

One of the events of regional importance was the eruption of Mount Mazama in Oregon in 4750 BCE. The volcano crater would later fill with water and become known as Crater Lake. The volcanic ash from this eruption covered much of the region, including parts of Montana. For today’s archaeologists, this ash layer provides a way of dating some archaeological sites.

Briefly described below are some of the Montana sites between 6000 BCE and 3000 BCE.

Sites:

Pretty Creek: By about 5735 BCE, Indian people were occupying the Pretty Creek (24CB4) site near the Bighorn River at the present-day Wyoming border. They were using basin-shaped fire pits into which they added stones to help hold the heat.

Hogback Homestead: In 5400 BCE, Indian people using Cascade points were now occupying the Hogback Homestead site (24GN13).

Black Bear Coulee: In 5000 BCE, Indian people were now occupying the Black Bear Coulee site which is located at an elevation of 4,000 feet just north of present-day Drummond.

In 4750 BCE, Indian people living at the Black Bear Coulee site witnessed ash falling over the hills and streams of western Montana from the eruption of Mount Mazama. Archaeologist Douglas MacDonald writes: “The layer of ash seems to have had little long-term effect on the people of western Montana: Early Archaic peoples lived there before and after the eruption with equal success.”

Middle Kootenai River: On a high terrace along the Middle Kootenai River valley near present-day Libby, Indian people were using site 24LN1054 by 5000 BCE. This was a winter residential base. The primary food resources included deer and elk. Archaeologist Douglas MacDonald, in his book Montana Before History: 11,000 Years of Hunter-Gatherers in the Rockies and Plains, writes: “Artifacts at the site include net weights used for trout fishing and pestles used to process root crops, which are abundant in the Kootenai valley.”

Graybeal: By 4890 BCE, Indian people were now using the Graybeal site (24GN61). This was a semi-permanent site used for wintering. The people at this site were using a type of point which the archaeologists call Salmon River Side-Notched.

Buckeye: In 4300 BCE, Indian people were occupying the Buckeye Site. Archaeologist Douglas MacDonald writes: “Plant remains at the Buckeye Site indicate use of prickly pear cactus and biscuitroot for food, and sagebrush and pine for firewood. The pine probably came from the nearby Pryor Mountains.”

 Kobold: In 3700 BCE, Indian people were using a buffalo jump at the Kobold site (24BH406) along Rosebud Creek. The jump is a 25-foot-high sandstone escarpment. At a buffalo jump, Indian people would harvest bison by running the herd over the cliff and then butchering the carcasses in the area below the cliff.

Bear Paw Mountains: In 3500 BCE, Indian people were now using site 24HL1215 which is at an elevation of 4,680 feet in the Bear Paw Mountains. Archaeologist Douglas MacDonald writes: “The small occupation, perhaps a group of hunters, used the uplands of the Bear Paw Mountains for hunting and gathering.”

While they used local stone for making tools, they also had some exotic stone, including Knife River flint from western North Dakota and obsidian from present-day Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming.

Myers-Hindman: In 3500 BCE, Indian people were using the Myers-Hindman site (24PA504) near present-day Livingston for hunting bighorn sheep.

Pit House: In 3365 BCE, Indian people constructed a pit house in the south central portion of the state (site 24CB1332). They were exploiting many non-bison sources of food, including rabbit, deer, and pronghorn. They were also gathering a variety of plants.

Sun River: In 3200 BCE, Indian people occupied the Sun River site (24CA74) near present-day Great Falls during the fall. A group of about 25 people occupied the site for a few days. They were using a wide array of local fauna, including pronghorns.

Rigler Bluffs: By 3040 BCE, Indian people were using the Rigler Bluffs site (24PA401) on the southern bank of the Yellowstone River.

Complexes:

 A complex is simply a group of tools and artifacts which are associated together at a number of different sites. Archaeologists use complexes for showing the relationships between different sites. A complex is also a chronological unit and thus can be used for the initial dating of a site.

 Bristow Complex: In southeastern British Columbia and northwestern Montana, the period which archaeologists call the Bristow Complex began about 5500 BCE. This complex is characterized by the use of local glacial outwash and river gravels as the primary source for lithic raw materials. Bristow Complex projectile points are shallow or deep side to broad side/corner notched dart points.

 

Note: the information in parenthesis following the name of the site is the Smithsonian Designation System. In this system of recording archaeological sites, the first number refers to the state; this is followed by letters which refer to the county; and then a number indicating its order in being recorded. Thus 5LP 10, means that the site is in Colorado (5th state when the states are listed alphabetically), La Plata County (LP), and was the 10th site recorded in La Plata county in the State Archaeologist’s office.

 

Ancient America: Quarry Sites in Montana

One of the common ways of making stone tools throughout the world is by breaking and flaking: a process commonly called flintknapping. Tools made by flintknapping included points (both spearpoints and later arrowpoints), knives, scrapers, and other cutting implements. The process of breaking stone to form tools is not a random process: it is not simply a matter of banging two stones together. The toolmaker will take a piece of stone and shape it into a culturally acceptable form. Thus, in a culture the same basic tool shapes appear over and over again.

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 research 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.”

Areas in which there were good stones for making stone tools were important to ancient Indian peoples. They would not only return to these sites regularly to obtain tool-making material, but they would also trade this material to other bands. Archaeologist Douglas MacDonald, in his book Montana Before History: 11,000 Years of Hunter-Gatherers in the Rockies and Plains, writes:  “At quarry locations, hunter-gatherers would often shape the stone into the rough form, or preform, of a tool. By producing preforms at quarries, they reduced the amount of stone they had to carry with them when they left the quarry

Obsidian, a natural glass produced by volcanic action, was a valued natural resource for many tribes. In some places it is found in massive flows but is difficult to extract. An active trade in obsidian was going on for several millennia prior to the European invasion. The obsidian used by the Indians at the Hogback Homestead site (24GN13) near present-day Philipsburg, Montana came from the Centennial Mountains in Idaho and from the Teton Pass in Wyoming.

Briefly described below are some of the quarry sites in Montana.

Horse Prairie Valley: By about 13,000 BCE, Indian people had established a quarry at Horse Prairie Valley to obtain chert for stone tools. Tools made from this stone were used by people 200 to 300 miles from the site. Indian people continued to mine chert from this site for about 5,000 years.

Otter Creek: By about 8500 BCE, small bands of about 25 people began to inhabit the Otter Creek area in the southeastern portion of the state. The people existed on a diversified diet of local vegetation and wild game. They camped along canyon rims, on the tops of buttes, and along drainages. One of the reasons for the occupation of this area was porcellanite, a native stone created when burning coal seams bake the surrounding dirt into rock. The porcellanite is easily knapped and was used by the people for tools such as arrowheads, scrapers and lance points.

South Everson Creek: About 7400 BCE, Indian people were using a quarry on South Everson Creek to obtain stone material for the manufacture of tools.

Big Springs: By about 5000 BCE, Indian people were using the quartzite quarry at the Big Springs site (24CB77) in the Big Pryor Mountains. They were using side-notched projectile points similar to those found at Mummy Cave, Wyoming. The quarry was heavily used and Indian people were digging mining pits 3 to 4 feet deep and about 5 feet in diameter.

The quartzite at Big Springs occurs in large nodules. Archaeologist Kent Good, in his M.A. Thesis at the University of Montana, reports:  “Probably a combination of heat and water were used to crack the nodules so as to expose the inner material. Abundant wood and water available at the site would have enabled peoples to use this process.”

Once the inner material is obtained, hammerstones and/or batons are used to manufacture blanks from which blades can be struck. Archaeologist Kent Good also reports:  “While utilizing the quarry material to blank out preforms, the people may have carried on daily activities such as hide preparation and hunting.”

Bowman Creek: By about 1000 BCE, the Kootenai were quarrying chert for making stone tools about 3 miles upstream on Bowman Creek from its confluence with the North Fork of the Flathead River.

Ancient America: Montana Prior to 6000 BCE

While the region of North America known today as Montana entered into written Euro-American histories in the early nineteenth century with the Corps of Discovery led by Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, Indian people had been living in the area for many millennia. Archaeologists often refer to the era prior to 6000 BCE as Paleo-Indian. This appears to have been a time when the people specialized in the hunting of big game.

With regard to the archaeological record for Montana, In his Ph.D. dissertation on the MacHaffie site for Columbia University, Richard Forbis reports:  “The raw material for archeology in Montana consists largely of campsites (most often entirely lithic in content), workshops, scattered hearths and tipi rings, bison kills and traps, trailside offertory stone heaps, burials, and pictographs. Chipped stone work, often found out of meaningful association, is common while ground stone is rare.”

Briefly described below are a few of the ancient sites which have been uncovered by archaeologists.

Anzick Rockshelter:

 By about 9550 BCE, Indian people were using the Anzick rockshelter (24PA506) near present-day Gardiner for burials. Interred with the burials were finely made bone projectile points as well as both finished and unfinished Clovis-like stone points. Archaeologists uncovered more than 100 stone artifacts and a number of bone tools in this collapsed rock shelter. The artifacts had been covered with a heavy coating of red ochre.

Archaeologists also found human remains at the site. Archaeologists Dennis Stanford and Bruce Bradley, in their book Across Atlantic Ice: The Origins of America’s Clovis Culture, write:  “The remains of a toddler consisted primarily of skull fragments, and the artifacts were all stained with red ochre. The other individual has been shown to be unassociated with the Clovis materials.”

In his book Prehistory of the Americas, Stuart Fiedel writes:  “The application of a blood-colored pigment to the corpse may have been a symbolic restoration of life.”

Since the children buried here were accompanied by stone tools, it is assumed that these items were gifts rather than items the deceased had used while living. Archaeologist Douglas MacDonald, in his book Montana Before History: 11,000 Years of Hunter-Gatherers in the Rockies and Plains, writes:  “It seems fairly clear that they were placed with the infant as part of a ritual or ceremony.”  The stones had come from a variety of different locations.

Archaeologists Dennis Stanford and Bruce Bradley report: “Eleven bone rods were among the artifacts collected from the disturbed deposits of the site: two complete rods, four fragments with beveled ends, and five midsections.”

DNA from the remains show that they are related to most modern American Indians.

Mill Iron Site:

 While Clovis points are both well-known today and highly distinctive, there were other lithic technologies being used more than 11,000 years ago. Indian people at the Mill Iron Site (24CT30) were using well-made, bifacial projectile points with a concave base which were neither fluted nor made in a Clovis-style. Archaeologists have classified these large lanceolate projectile points as Goshen. Goshen culture is often associated with bison hunting.

 While contemporaneous with Clovis, Goshen projectile points are not fluted or basally thinned. The Mill Iron site contained 1,709 stone tools. Archaeologist Douglas MacDonald reports: “Most of the raw stone at the site was obtained locally.”

The Indian people at the site killed at least 30 bison, all adults and mostly cows, at a spring or early summer event. Archaeologist Douglas MacDonald writes:  “Low-value animal parts dominate at the kill site, suggesting that the hunters took the best parts of the animals with them when they left.”

MacHaffie Site:

By 9000 BCE, Indians using Folsom technology were using the MacHaffie Site. Their lithic tool kit included points (including the classic Folsom style), knives, scrapers (several kinds), gouges, and choppers. In his Ph.D. dissertation on the MacHaffie site for Columbia University, Richard Forbis reports:   “The absence of grinding stones at the MacHaffie site indicates a lack of concern with seed gathering and seems to indicate that the early hunters at the site gathered nuts, roots, and berries that did not require grinding to make them palatable.”  The Indians at this site were hunting deer.

By 4900 BCE, Indian people using Scottsbluff technology were using the MacHaffie Site. Their lithic toolkit included points, knives (including a stemmed knife), scrapers, choppers. Richard Forbis reports:  “The MacHaffie site yielded a wide range of Scottsbluff artifacts. Like Folsom, Scottsbluff sites may share little more in common than the distinctive projectile points from which their name is derived.”

Some other sites:

False Cougar Cave: Indian people occupied the False Cougar Cave in the Pryor Mountains by about 12,600 BCE. DNA analysis of a hair from the site is associated with haplogroup X.

Lindsay Site: The Lindsay site (24DW501) was a mammoth kill site which was occupied about 11,000 BCE.

Indian Creek Site: Indian people occupied the Indian Creek site (24BW626) prior to 9000 BCE. This site represents a Folsom adaption to a higher elevation.

Baron Gulch Site: By 7400 BCE, Indian people at the Barton Gulch site (21MA171) were gathering and processing a variety of food plants, including slimleaf goosefoot (Chenopodium leptophllum) and prickly pear cactus (Opuntia polyacantha). They were using roasting pits to process these foods.

Pictograph Caves: By 7100 BCE, Indian people were using Pictograph Caves near present-day Billings.

Myers-Hindman Site: By 7000 BCE, Indian people were occupying the Myers-Hindman site near Livingston. They were hunting pronghorn, deer, elk, and sheep. They also had dogs.

Dawson County: By 7000 BCE, Indian people using Goshen projectile points were occupying site 24DW272 in Dawson County.

Some Complexes and Tool Traditions:

A complex is simply a group of tools and artifacts which are associated together at a number of different sites. Archaeologists use complexes for showing the relationships between different sites. A complex is also a chronological unit and thus can be used for the initial dating of a site.

Goatfell Complex: The Goatfell Complex spread throughout southeastern British Columbia and northwestern Montana by 9000 BCE. In her M.A. Thesis for the University of Montana, Mary Collins reports:  “It was defined by a preference for black metamorphosed siltstone, large stemmed lanceolate and leaf shaped spear points, and large flake blanks and tools. Biface manufacture was characterized by the removal of large expanding flakes with acute angled, faceted striking platforms.”

Hell Gap Complex: The cultural tradition which archaeologists call the Hell Gap Complex moved into the Northern Plains about 7600 BCE. Hell Gap people were big game hunters with a primary emphasis on bison. The sites tend to be short-term campsites.

Pryor Stemmed Projectile Point: By 6300 BCE, Indian people were using Pryor Stemmed Projectile Points in the Pryor and Bighorn mountain area as well as in parts of central Wyoming.

Cody Complex: The Cody Complex, which included an assemblage of projectile points, scrapers, gravers, wedges, choppers, hammer stones, and bone tools, was associated with bison kill and processing sites. This complex first appears about 8000 BCE. By 7400 BCE, Indian people using Cody Complex tools were using the Mammoth Meadow site for the production of stone tools. They were killing bison as well as other mammals.

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.

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.