The Blackfeet Indians

 

 

            In the beginning of time, the creator Old Man walked the lifeless earth.  He decided he wanted to create plants, animals, and mountains, so he did.  He created the Milk River, and crossed it.  He created the Great Yellowstone River.  He created the buffalo and the deer.  After everything was finished, he still felt something was missing, so he decided to create an intelligent animal, something that could walk, talk, and think.  These he would call humans.  He picked up a handful of clay and molded it into a human.  Then he put a sheet over it and left to rest.  The next day he returned.  The clay’s appearance had changed slightly.  Human characteristics began to form.  Old man left again, and again returned the next day.  The clay had changed even more.  He repeated this for four more days. On the fifth day the clay was no longer clay. It was walking and laughing.   This now living human was the beginning of the Blackfeet Indians.

            The Blackfeet were said to have originated from Eastern North America for unknown reasons.  The Indians ancient ancestors, who also lived in North America, were  called the “Algonquin”.  The name “Blackfeet” came from the color of their moccasins, which were painted black.

            The Blackfeet Indians had a very dangerous and defiant reputation.  Other tribes described them as aggressive, and without any fears.  They were extraordinary fighters and all Indians feared getting in quarrels with them.  The Blackfeet were said to be one of the meanest tribes on the northwest plains.

             An example of the Blackfeet's vindictiveness was found in 1806 when the Lewis and Clark expedition were confronted by an angry mob of Blackfeet Indians.  As Clark later wrote in his journal,  “From the tone of their characters, I expected to have some difficulty with them”  and he was right.  The party was just returning from a horse raid with the Crow Indians, when several Blackfeet warriors jumped out and attacked the men.  Two loud shots were heard, and two Blackfeet  fell.  These were the only Indian casualties on the whole expedition.

            All Indian tribes are unique in their own ways, each having their own customs.  The Blackfeet had many special characteristics of their own.  The Blackfeet elders had various ways of training their children.  They would rarely ever physically harm them, but were very firm in the way they disciplined.  Sometimes the wisest elders of the tribe would give the boys long talks and lectures on how to be courageous and wise.

            As the sun rises, men and children start their short walk to the icy cold river, blankets draped over their shoulders.  Once they arrive at the water, they plunge into it.  This is a daily custom.  The cold water makes their body's tough, and teaches the young boys how to be warriors.  When father and son return from the river, the women have breakfast ready.  After everyone has eaten, the men and boys round up all the best horses and leave to go hunting.  

            When the boys are not hunting with their fathers, they did pretty much what they liked.  Much of the time they played war games.  One boy would be a white man, and the rest of the boys would chase after him and capture him.  To pass the time, boys often told stories  to each other.  All these things prepared them for the day when they would be a great Indian cheif.

            Girls on the other hand had many more rules.  Each girl would have to do duties starting at a very early age.  They carried water, chopped and carried wood, cooked meals, and repaired and sewed moccasins and other small pieces of clothing.  The girls were taught to be serious, and not to giggle or laugh, but to instead do their everyday tasks.  The girls fathers would often take them outside and tell them a funny story or joke, or do a funny dance, and usually the girl would break out laughing.  Then he would stop telling the story and wait until she stopped laughing.  This was done quit a lot and soon the girl learned to control her laughter.

            At around noon, the hunters would return to camp.  If hunting was good they would return with buffalo, deer, rabbits, and even bears.  Buffalo were the Blackfeet's most important food source.  They roamed the grassy plains of Montana and  there were millions of them before their near extinction.  When night came and the sun began to set, the women would again prepaid another meal.  After this a large fire was built and everyone would sit around it and tell stories. 

            Storytelling was always saved for the night time.  The gods had said that if a story was told in day light, the teller of the story would be cursed.  Blackfeet were some of the best story tellers.  Often when a story was being told, to make sure it was true, the tribes Medicine man would be summoned.  The story teller would be asked to smoke a pipe.  The medicine man would then pray over it and ask the gods to curse this man if he were telling lies.  Then the storyteller would smoke the pipe. 

            Clothing was a major part of the Blackfeet Indian culture.   It represented them, their beliefs, and most of all, nature.  For example, a circle sewed on blue represented the sun in the sky.  Green symbolized grass, and red circles were mountain ash berries.  There were special clothes for certain occasions such as ceremonies and dances.  When an Indian from another tribe was captured, the Blackfeet would often steal his clothes and copy them, making it their own design, and using it as their own.  Men wore native- tanned buckskin garments, with porcupine quilled shirts.  Chiefs often wore elaborated head dresses, with white leggings and beaded moccasins.

            Women are very important in the Blackfeet Indian tribe, and this is represented in their style of clothing.  They are considered to be the most holy of people.  They often wore stringed, beaded dresses with assortments of bells, beads, shells, and even elk tusks, which were very rare.  On the ordinary working day, they would generally wear a loose fitting gingham dress, about three feet wide and knee length.  The sides of the dress were frayed and often beaded.

            Smoking tobacco was another daily custom in the tribe and practically everyone smoked.  Children started as soon as they were considered mature and the older Indians constantly smoked.  Major decisions were sealing with a traditional smoking or a gift of the finest tobacco.  The Blackfeet planted their own tobacco and it was a very special event, which was honored with a ceremony and a tobacco dance.  Tobacco was said to have certain healing powers and the medicine man often used it because it had a “medicine property” to it.  Tobacco was used at social events and gatherings.  At ceremonies only men smoked, but ordinarily women also did.  Usually tobacco was smoked in long handcrafted wooden pipes, and sometimes was smoked from a bowl.

            The Blackfeet were known for their traditional and unique dancing.  In the 1800’s, their dances usually symbolized something from nature, for instance the animals, birds, flowers and stars, but today the dances are mostly fancy steps with no meaning at all.  There were two major dances, social and ceremonial.  Dancing usually involved singing and drumming.  Some of the most famous dances were the Pipe dance, the Blacktail Deer dance, and the Medicine Pipe dance.

            The Blackfeet Indians were very skilled with weaponry.  When and Indian from another tribe was captured and scalped, they did not always die.  They would wake up a while later to find to their horror that half of their face was missing.  This proved how savage the Blackfeet really were.  The Blackfeet were also known to be very skilled with the bow and arrow.  Each arrow was marked with its owners special design.  The bow and arrow kept popular until the 1870’s, the date in which more and more fir trappers and explorers came into the west and introduced the shotgun to the Indians.  The Blackfeet nicknamed the gun “thunder stick”, because of its loud sound.  The Hudson Bay Company would pay three dollars for a gun and then trade them to the Blackfeet for furs and pellets.

            The Blackfeet were very religious and worshiped many of their own gods.  Old man was said to be the creator of all things.  Other Blackfeet gods were the Sun god and the Moon god.  They are said to be the mother and father of all other planets.  Magic had much to do with their religion.  What I will now describe was a religious act called The Tent Act.  A small tent was set up in the center of a lodge.  A man was then tied up tightly with ropes and then set inside the tent.  He was then left alone.  The tent would start to violently shake and loud sing and crying would emerge from its tanned hide walls.  After a short while the Indian would walk out of the tent, ropes gone, and walk from person to person, telling them there fortunes.

            Today there are still Blackfeet in Montana.  Many have lost their heritage,   customs and religion but there are a few who keep the true spirit of the Blackfeet alive.  Most of the Blackfeet live on a reservation located in Northwest Montana along the Rocky Mountains.  Its headquarters are located in Browning, Montana.  The reservation is one and a half million acres and is home to 9,000 enrolled members and another 7,000 members living on or around the reservation.  The Blackfeet have adopted many ways and characteristics of the whites.  Today on the reservation the Blackfeet are manufacturing pencils, pens, and markers, and many farm and ranch wheat, barley, and hay.


 

Works Cited

Ewers, John.  The Blackfeet.  Oklahoma: Norman, 1948.

Grinnel, George.  Paconee, Blackfeet, and Cheyenne.  New York:  Charles Scribers, 1961.

“Lewis and Clark.”  4/6/00.  Available Internet:  http://www.askjeeves.com/main/metaanswer

Lacey, Theresa.  The Blackfeet.  New York:  Chelsea House, 1995.

Scriver, Bob.  The Blackfeet.  Kansas City:  Lowell Press, 1990.

Shultz, Jame.  Blackfeet and Buffalo.  University of Oklahoma:  1961.