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Blackfoot Lodge Tales by George Bird Grinnell

Part 5 out of 6

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in white apparel, who rides on a white horse. He brings the storm with
him. They pray to him to bring, or not to bring, the storm.

Many of the animals are regarded as typifying some form of wisdom or
craft. They are not gods, yet they have power, which, perhaps, is given
them by the Sun or by Old Man. Examples of this are shown in some of the

Among the animals especially respected and supposed to have great power,
are the buffalo, the bear, the raven, the wolf, the beaver, and the
kit-fox. Geese too, are credited with great wisdom and with foreknowledge
of the weather. They are led by chiefs. As is quite natural among a people
like the Blackfeet, the buffalo stood very high among the animals which
they reverenced. It symbolized food and shelter, and was _Nato'y[)e]_ (of
the Sun), sacred. Not a few considered it a medicine animal, and had it for
their dream, or secret helper. It was the most powerful of all the animal
helpers. Its importance is indicated by the fact that buffalo skulls were
placed on the sweat houses built in connection with the Medicine Lodge. A
similar respect for the buffalo exists among many Plains tribes, which were
formerly dependent on it for food and raiment. A reverence for the bear
appears to be common to all North American tribes, and is based not upon
anything that the animal's body yields, but perhaps on the fact that it is
the largest carnivorous mammal of the continent, the most difficult to kill
and extremely keen in all its senses. The Blackfeet believe it to be part
brute and part human, portions of its body, particularly the ribs and feet,
being like those of a man. The raven is cunning. The wolf has great
endurance and much craft. He can steal close to one without being seen. In
the stories given in the earlier pages of this book, many of the attributes
of the different animals are clearly set forth.

There were various powers and signs connected with these animals so held in
high esteem by the Blackfeet, to which the people gave strict heed. Thus
the raven has the power of giving people far sight. It was also useful in
another way. Often, in going to war, a man would get a raven's skin and
stuff the head and neck, and tie it to the hair of the head behind. If a
man wearing such a skin got near the enemy without knowing it, the skin
would give him warning by tapping him on the back of the head with its
bill. Then he would know that the enemy was near, and would hide. If a
raven flew over a lodge, or a number of lodges, and cried, and then was
joined by other ravens, all flying over the camp and crying, it was a sure
sign that during the day some one would come and tell the news from far
off. The ravens often told the people that game was near, calling to the
hunter and then flying a little way, and then coming back, and again
calling and flying toward the game.

The wolves are the people's great friends; they travel with the wolves. If,
as they are travelling along, they pass close to some wolves, these will
bark at the people, talking to them. Some man will call to them, "No, I
will not give you my body to eat, but I will give you the body of some one
else, if you will go along with us." This applies both to wolves and
coyotes. If a man goes away from the camp at night, and meets a coyote, and
it barks at him, he goes back to the camp, and says to the people: "Look
out now; be smart. A coyote barked at me to-night." Then the people look
out, and are careful, for it is a sure sign that something bad is going to
happen. Perhaps some one will be shot; perhaps the enemy will charge the

If a person is hungry and sings a wolf song, he is likely to find food. Men
going on a hunting trip sing these songs, which bring them good luck. The
bear has very powerful medicine. Sometimes he takes pity on people and
helps them, as in the story of Mik'-api.

Some Piegans, if they wish to travel on a certain day, have the power of
insuring good weather on that day. It is supposed that they do this by
singing a powerful song. Some of the enemy can cause bad weather, when they
want to steal into the camp.

People who belonged to the _Sin'-o-pah_ band of the _I-kun-uh'-kah-tsi,_ if
they were at war in summer and wanted a storm to come up, would take some
dirt and water and rub it on the kit-fox skin, and this would cause a
rain-storm to come up. In winter, snow and dirt would be rubbed on the skin
and this would bring up a snow-storm.

Certain places and inanimate objects are also greatly reverenced by the
Blackfeet, and presents are made to them.

The smallest of the three buttes of the Sweet Grass Hills is regarded as
sacred. "All the Indians are afraid to go there," Four Bears once told
me. Presents are sometimes thrown into the Missouri River, though these are
not offerings made directly to the stream, but are given to the Under Water
People, who live in it.

Mention has already been made of the buffalo rock, which gives its owner
the power to call the buffalo.

Another sacred object is the medicine rock of the Marias. It is a huge
boulder of reddish sandstone, two-thirds the way up a steep hill on the
north bank of the Marias River, about five miles from Fort
Conrad. Formerly, this rock rested on the top of the bluff, but, as the
soil about it is worn away by the wind and the rain, it is slowly moving
down the hill. The Indians believe it to be alive, and make presents to
it. When I first visited it, the ground about it was strewn with decaying
remnants of offerings that had been made to it in the past. Among these I
noticed, besides fragments of clothing, eagle feathers, a steel finger ring,
brass ear-rings, and a little bottle made of two copper cartridge cases.

Down on Milk River, east of the Sweet Grass Hills, is another medicine
rock. It is shaped something like a man's body, and looks like a person
sitting on top of the bluff. Whenever the Blackfeet pass this rock, they
make presents to it. Sometimes, when they give it an article of clothing,
they put it on the rock, "and then," as one of them once said to me, "when
you look at it, it seems more than ever like a person." Down in the big
bend of the Milk River, opposite the eastern end of the Little Rocky
Mountains, lying on the prairie, is a great gray boulder, which is shaped
like a buffalo bull lying down. This is greatly reverenced by all Plains
Indians, Blackfeet included, and they make presents to it. Many other
examples of similar character might be given.

The Blackfeet make daily prayers to the Sun and to Old Man, and nothing of
importance is undertaken without asking for divine assistance. They are
firm believers in dreams. These, they say, are sent by the Sun to enable us
to look ahead, to tell what is going to happen. A dream, especially if it
is a strong one,--that is, if the dream is very clear and vivid,--is almost
always obeyed. As dreams start them on the war path, so, if a dream
threatening bad luck comes to a member of a war party, even if in the
enemy's country and just about to make an attack on a camp, the party is
likely to turn about and go home without making any hostile
demonstrations. The animal or object which appears to the boy, or man, who
is trying to dream for power, is, as has been said, regarded thereafter as
his secret helper, his medicine, and is usually called his dream

The most important religious occasion of the year is the ceremony of the
Medicine Lodge. This is a sacrifice, which, among the Blackfeet, is offered
invariably by women. If a woman has a son or husband away at war, and is
anxious about him, or if she has a dangerously sick child, she may make to
the Sun a vow in the following words:--

"Listen, Sun. Pity me. You have seen my life. You know that I am pure. I
have never committed adultery with any man. Now, therefore, I ask you to
pity me. I will build you a lodge. Let my son survive. Bring him back to
health, so that I may build this lodge for you."

The vow to build the Medicine Lodge is repeated in a loud voice, outside
her lodge, so that all the people may hear it, and if any man can impeach
the woman, he is obliged to speak out, in which case she could be punished
according to the law. The Medicine Lodge is always built in summer, at the
season of the ripening of the sarvis berries, and if, before this time, the
person for whom the vow is made dies, the woman is not obliged to fulfil
her vow. She is regarded with suspicion, and it is generally believed that
she has been guilty of the crime she disavowed. As this cannot be proved,
however, she is not punished.

When the time approaches for the building of the lodge, a suitable locality
is selected, and all the people move to it, putting up their lodges in a
circle about it. In the meantime, at least a hundred buffalo tongues have
been collected, cut, and dried by the woman who may be called the Medicine
Lodge woman. No one but she is allowed to take part in this work.

Before the tongues are cut and dried, they are laid in a pile in the
medicine woman's lodge. She then gives a feast to the old men, and one of
them, noted for his honesty, and well liked by all, repeats a very long
prayer, asking in substance that the coming Medicine Lodge may be
acceptable to the Sun, and that he will look with favor on the people, and
will give them good health, plenty of food, and success in war. A hundred
songs are then sung, each one different from the others. The feast and
singing of these songs lasts a day and a half.[Illustration: MEDICINE

Before the Medicine Lodge is erected, four large sweat lodges are built,
all in a line, fronting to the east or toward the rising sun. Two stand in
front of the Medicine Lodge, and two behind it. The two nearest the
Medicine Lodge are built one day, and the others on the day following. The
sticks for the framework of these lodges are cut only by renowned warriors,
each warrior cutting one, and, as he brings it in and lays it down, he
counts a _coup_, which must be of some especially brave deed. The old men
then take the sticks and erect the lodges, placing on top of each a buffalo
skull, one half of which is painted red, the other black, to represent day
and night, or rather the sun and the moon. When the lodges are finished and
the stones heated, the warriors go in to sweat, and with them the medicine
pipe men, who offer up prayers.

While this is going on, the young men cut the centre post for the Medicine
Lodge, and all the other material for its construction. The women then pack
out the post and the poles on horses, followed by the men shouting,
singing, and shooting.

In the morning of this day the medicine woman begins a fast, which must
last four days and four nights, with only one intermission, as will shortly
appear. During that time she may not go out of doors, except between sunset
and sunrise. During the whole ceremony her face, hands, and clothing are
covered with the sacred red paint.

When all the material has been brought to the spot where the lodge is to be
erected, that warrior who, during the previous year, has done the most
cutting and stabbing in battle is selected to cut the rawhide to bind it,
and while he cuts the strings he counts three _coups_.

The centre post is now placed on the ground, surrounded by the poles and
other smaller posts; and two bands of the _I-kun-uh'-kah-tsi_, the Braves,
and the All Crazy Dogs approach. Each band sings four songs, and then they
raise the lodge amid the shouting of the people. It is said that, in old
times, all the bands of the _I-kun-uh'-kah-tsi_ took part in this
ceremony. For raising the centre post, which is very heavy, lodge poles are
tied in pairs, with rawhide, so as to form "shears," each pair being
handled by two men. If one of the ropes binding the shears breaks, the men
who hold the pair are said to be unlucky; it is thought that they are soon
to die. As soon as the centre post is up, the wall posts are erected, and
the roof of poles put on, the whole structure being covered with brush. The
door-way faces east or southeast, and the lodge is circular in shape, about
forty feet in diameter, with walls about seven feet high.

Inside the Medicine Lodge, at the back, or west side, in the principal
place in the lodge, is now built a little box-shaped house, about seven
feet high, six feet long, and four wide. It is made of brush, so tightly
woven that one cannot see inside of it. This is built by a medicine man,
the high priest of this ceremony, who, for four days, the duration of the
ceremony, neither eats nor goes out of it in the daytime. The people come
to him, two at a time, and he paints them with black, and makes for them an
earnest prayer to the Sun, that they may have good health, long lives, and
good food and shelter. This man is supposed to have power over the rain. As
rain would interfere with the ceremonies, he must stop it, if it threatens.

In the meantime, the sacred dried tongues have been placed in the Medicine
Lodge. The next morning, the Medicine Lodge woman leaves her own lodge,
and, walking very slowly with bowed head, and praying at every step, she
enters the Medicine Lodge, and, standing by the pile of tongues, she cuts
up one of them and holds it toward heaven, offering it to the Sun; then she
eats a part of it and buries the rest in the dirt, praying to the Ground
Man, and calling him to bear witness that she has not defiled his body by
committing adultery. She then proceeds to cut up the tongues, giving a very
small piece to every person, man, woman, or child. Each one first holds it
up to the Sun, and then prays to the Sun, Na'-pi, and the Ground Man for
long life, concluding by depositing a part of the morsel of tongue on the
ground, saying, "I give you this sacred tongue to eat." And now, during the
four days, outside the lodge, goes on the counting of the _coups_. Each
warrior in turn recounts his success in war,--his battles or his
horse-takings. With a number of friends to help him, he goes through a
pantomime of all these encounters, showing how he killed this enemy, took a
gun from that one, or cut horses loose from the lodge of another. When he
has concluded, an old man offers a prayer, and ends by giving him a new
name, saying that he hopes he will live well and long under it.

Inside the lodge, rawhide ropes are suspended from the centre post, and
here the men fulfil the vows that they have made during the previous
year. Some have been sick, or in great danger at war, and they then vowed
that if they were permitted to live, or escape, they would swing at the
Medicine Lodge. Slits are cut in the skin of their breast, ropes passed
through and secured by wooden skewers, and then the men swing and surge
until the skin gives way and tears out. This is very painful, and some
fairly shriek with agony as they do it, but they never give up, for they
believe that if they should fail to fulfil their vow, they would soon die.

On the fourth day every one has been prayed for, every one has made to the
Sun his or her present, which is tied to the centre post, the sacred
tongues have all been consumed, and the ceremony ends, every one feeling
better, assured of long life and plenty.

Most persons have an entirely erroneous idea of the purpose of this annual
ceremony. It has been supposed that it was for the purpose of making
warriors. This is not true. It was essentially a religious festival,
undertaken for the bodily and spiritual welfare of the people according to
their beliefs. Incidentally, it furnished an opportunity for the rehearsal
of daring deeds. But among no tribes who practised it were warriors made by
it. The swinging by the breast and other self-torturings were but the
fulfilment of vows, sacred promises made in time of danger, penances
performed, and not, as many believe, an occasion for young men to test
their courage.

From the Indians of the tribe, the Medicine Lodge woman receives a very
high measure of respect and consideration. Blackfoot men have said to me,
"We look on the Medicine Lodge woman as you white people do on the Roman
Catholic sisters." Not only is she virtuous in deed, but she must be
serious and clean-minded. Her conversation must be sober.

Before the coming of the whites, the Blackfeet used to smoke the leaves of
a plant which they call _na-wuh'-to-ski_, and which is said to have been
received long, long ago from a medicine beaver. It was used unmixed with
any other plant. The story of how this came to the tribe is told
elsewhere.[1] This tobacco is no longer planted by the Piegans, nor by the
Bloods, though it is said that an old Blackfoot each year still goes
through the ceremony, and raises a little. The plant grows about ten
inches high and has a long seed stalk growing from the centre. White Calf,
the chief of the Piegans, has the secrets of the tobacco and is perhaps the
only person in the tribe who knows them. From him I have received the
following account of the ceremonies connected with it:--

[Footnote 1: The Beaver Medicine, p. 117.]

Early in the spring, after the last snow-storm, when the flowers begin to
bud (early in the month of May), the women and children go into the timber
and prepare a large bed, clearing away the underbrush, weeds and grass and
leaves and sticks, raking the ground till the earth is thoroughly
pulverized. Elk, deer, and mountain sheep droppings are collected, pounded
fine, and mixed with the seed which is to be sown.

On the appointed day all the men gather at the bed. Each one holds in his
hand a short, sharp-pointed stick, with which to make a hole in the
ground. The men stand in a row extending across the bed. At a signal they
make the holes in the ground, and drop in some seed, with some sacred
sarvis berries. The tobacco song is sung by the medicine men, all take a
short step forward, make another hole, a foot in front of the last, and
then drop in it some more seed. Another song is sung, another step taken,
and seed is again planted; and this continues until the line of men has
moved all the way across the bed, and the planting is completed. The
tobacco dance follows the planting.

After the seed has been planted, they leave it and go off after the
buffalo. While away during the summer, some important man--one of the
medicine men who had taken part in the planting--announces to the people
his purpose to go back to look after the crop. He starts, and after he has
reached the place, he builds a little fire in the bed, and offers a prayer
for the crop, asking that it may survive and do well. Then he pulls up one
of the plants, which he takes back with him and shows to the people, so
that all may see how the crop is growing. He may thus visit the place three
or four times in the course of the summer.

From time to time, while they are absent from the tobacco patch in summer,
moving about after the buffalo, the men gather in some lodge to perform a
special ceremony for the protection of the crop. Each man holds in his hand
a little stick. They sing and pray to the Sun and Old Man, asking that the
grasshoppers and other insects may not eat their plants. At the end of each
song they strike the ground with their sticks, as if killing grasshoppers
and worms. It has sometimes happened that a young man has said that he does
not believe that these prayers and songs protect the plants, that the Sun
does not send messengers to destroy the worms. To such a one a medicine
man will say, "Well, you can go to the place and see for yourself." The
young man gets on his horse and travels to the place. When he comes to the
edge of the patch and looks out on it, he sees many small children at work
there, killing worms. He has not believed in this before, but now he goes
back convinced. Such a young man does not live very long.

At length the season comes for gathering the crop, and, at a time
appointed, all the camps begin to move back toward the tobacco patch,
timing their marches so that all may reach it on the same day. When they
get there, they camp near it, but no one visits it except the head man of
the medicine men who took charge of the planting. This man goes to the bed,
gathers a little of the plant, and returns to the camp.

A small boy, six or eight years old, is selected to carry this plant to the
centre of the circle. The man who gathered the tobacco ties it to a little
stick, and, under the tobacco, to the stick he ties a baby's moccasin. The
little boy carries this stick to the centre of the camp, and stands it in
the ground in the middle of the circle, the old man accompanying him and
showing him where to put it. It is left there all night. The next day there
is a great feast, and the kettles of food are all brought to the centre of
the camp. The people all gather there, and a prayer is made. Then they sing
the four songs which belong especially to this festival. The first and
fourth are merely airs without words; the second has words, the purport of
which is, "The sun goes with us." The third song says, "Hear your
children's prayer." After the ceremony is over, every one is at liberty to
go and gather the tobacco. It is dried and put in sacks for use during the
year. The seed is collected for the next planting. When they reach the
patch, if the crop is good, every one is glad. After the gathering, they
all move away again after the buffalo.

Sometimes a man who was lazy, and had planted no tobacco, would go secretly
to the patch, and pull a number of plants belonging to some one else, and
hide them for his own use. Now, in these prayers that they offer, they do
not ask for mercy for thieves. A man who had thus taken what did not belong
to him would have a lizard appear to him in a dream, and then he would fall
sick and die. The medicine men would know of all this, but they would not
do anything. They would just let him die.

This tobacco was given us by the one who made us.

The Blackfoot cosmology is imperfect and vague, and I have been able to
obtain nothing like a complete account of it, for I have found no one who
appeared to know the story of the beginning of all things.

Some of the Blackfeet now say that originally there was a great womb, in
which were conceived the progenitors of all animals now on earth. Among
these was Old Man. As the time for their birth drew near, the animals used
to quarrel as to which should be the first to be born, and one day, in a
fierce struggle about this, the womb burst, and Old Man jumped first to the
ground. For this reason, he named all the animals Nis-kum'-iks, Young
Brothers; and they, because he was the first-born, called him Old Man.

There are several different accounts of the creation of the people by Old
Man. One is that he married a female dog, and that their progeny were the
first people. Others, and the ones most often told, have been given in the
Old Man stories already related.

There is an account of the creation which is essentially an Algonquin myth,
and is told by most of the tribes of this stock from the Atlantic to the
Rocky Mountains, though the hero is variously named. Here is the Blackfoot
version of it:--

In the beginning, all the land was covered with water, and Old Man and all
the animals were floating around on a large raft. One day Old Man told the
beaver to dive and try to bring up a little mud. The beaver went down, and
was gone a long time, but could not reach the bottom. Then the loon tried,
and the otter, but the water was too deep for them. At last the muskrat
dived, and he was gone so long that they thought he had drowned, but he
finally came up, almost dead, and when they pulled him on to the raft, they
found, in one of his paws, a little mud. With this, Old Man formed the
world, and afterwards he made the people.

This myth, while often related by the Blackfoot tribe, is seldom heard
among the Bloods or Piegans. It is uncertain whether all three tribes used
to know it, but have forgotten it, or whether it has been learned in
comparatively modern times by the Blackfeet from the Crees, with whom they
have always had more frequent intercourse and a closer connection than the
other two tribes.

There is also another version of the origin of death. When Old Man made the
first people, he gave them very strong bodies, and for a long time no one
was sick. At last, a little child fell ill. Each day it grew weaker and
weaker, and at last it fainted. Then the mother went to Old Man, and prayed
him to do something for it.

"This," said Old Man, "will be the first time it has happened to the
people. You have seen the buffalo fall to the ground when struck with an
arrow. Their hearts stop beating, they do not breathe, and soon their
bodies become cold. They are then dead. Now, woman, it shall be for you to
decide whether death shall come to the people as well as to the other
animals, or whether they shall live forever. Come now with me to the

When they reached the water's edge, Old Man picked up from the ground a dry
buffalo chip and a stone. "Now, woman," he said, "you will tell me which
one of these to throw into the water. If what I throw floats, your child
shall live; the people shall live forever. If it sinks, then your child
shall die, and all the people shall die, each one when his time comes."

The woman stood still a long time, looking from the stone to the buffalo
chip, and from the chip to the stone. At last she said, "Throw the stone."
Then Old Man tossed it into the river, and it sank to the bottom. "Woman,"
he cried, "go home; your child is dead." Thus, on account of a foolish
woman, we all must die.

The shadow of a person, the Blackfeet say, is his soul. Northeast of the
Sweet Grass Hills, near the international boundary line, is a bleak, sandy
country called the Sand Hills, and there all the shadows of the deceased
good Blackfeet are congregated. The shadows of those who in this world led
wicked lives are not allowed to go there. After death, these wicked persons
take the shape of ghosts _(Sta-au'_[1]), and are compelled ever after to
remain near the place where they died. Unhappy themselves, they envy those
who are happy, and continually prowl about the lodges of the living,
seeking to do them some injury. Sometimes they tap on the lodge skins and
whistle down the smoke hole, but if the fire is burning within they will
not enter.

[Footnote 1: The human skeleton is also called _Sta-au', i.e._
ghost. Compare Cheyenne _Mis-tai'_, ghost.]

Outside in the dark they do much harm, especially the ghosts of enemies who
have been killed in battle. These sometimes shoot invisible arrows into
persons, causing sickness and death. They have hit people on the head,
causing them to become crazy. They have paralyzed people's limbs, and drawn
their faces out of shape, and done much other harm. Ghosts walk above the
ground, not on it. An example of this peculiarity is seen in the case of
the young man who visited the lodge of the starving family, in the story
entitled Origin of the _I-kun-uh'-kah-tsi._

Ghosts sometimes speak to people. An instance of this is the following,
which occurred to my friend Young Bear Chief, and which he related to
me. He said: "I once went to war, and took my wife with me. I went to
Buffalo Lip Butte, east of the Cypress Mountains; a little creek runs by
it. I took eighteen horses from an Assinaboine camp one night, when it was
very foggy. I found sixteen horses feeding on the hills, and went into the
camp and cut loose two more. Then we went off with the horses. When we
started, it was so foggy that I could not see the stars, and I did not know
which way to run. I kept travelling in what I supposed was the direction
toward home, but I did not know where I was going. After we had gone a long
way, I stopped and got off my horse to fix my belt. My wife did not
dismount, but sat there waiting for me to mount and ride on.

"I spoke to my wife, and said to her, 'We don't know which way to go.' A
voice spoke up right behind me and said: 'It is well; you go ahead. You are
going right.' When I heard the voice, the top of my head seemed to lift up
and felt as if a lot of needles were sticking into it. My wife, who was
right in front of me, was so frightened that she fainted and fell off her
horse, and it was a long time before she came to. When she got so she could
ride, we went on, and when morning came I found that we were going
straight, and were on the west side of the West Butte of the Sweet Grass
Hills. We got home all right. This must have been a ghost."

Now and then among the Blackfeet, we find evidences of a belief that the
soul of a dead person may take up its abode in the body of an animal. An
example of this is seen in the story of E-k[=u]s'-kini, p. 90. Owls are
thought to be the ghosts of medicine men.

The Blackfeet do not consider the Sand Hills a happy hunting ground. There
the dead, who are themselves shadows, live in shadow lodges, hunt shadow
buffalo, go to war against shadow enemies, and in every way lead an
existence which is but a mimicry of this life. In this respect the
Blackfeet are almost alone. I know of scarcely any other American tribe,
certainly none east of the Rocky Mountains, who are wholly without a belief
in a happy future state. The Blackfeet do not especially say that this
future life is an unhappy one, but, from the way in which they speak of it,
it is clear that for them it promises nothing desirable. It is a
monotonous, never ending, and altogether unsatisfying existence,--a life as
barren and desolate as the country which the ghosts inhabit. These people
are as much attached to life as we are. Notwithstanding the unhappy days
which have befallen them of late years,--days of privation and
hunger,--they cling to life. Yet they seem to have no fear of death. When
their time comes, they accept their fate without a murmur, and tranquilly,
quietly pass away.


The person whom the whites term "medicine man" is called by the Blackfeet
_Ni-namp'-skan_. Mr. Schultz believes this word to be compounded of
_nin'nah_, man, and _namp'-ski_, horned toad (_Phrynosoma_), and in this he
is supported by Mr. Thomas Bird, a very intelligent half-breed, who has
translated a part of the Bible into the Blackfoot language for the
Rev. S. Trivett, a Church of England missionary. These gentlemen conclude
that the word means "all-face man." The horned toad is called _namp'-ski_,
all-face; and as the medicine man, with his hair done up in a huge topknot,
bore a certain resemblance to this creature, he was so named. No one among
the Blackfeet appears to have any idea as to what the word means.

The medicine pipes are really only pipe stems, very long, and beautifully
decorated with bright-colored feathers and the fur of the weasel and other
animals. It is claimed that these stems were given to the people long, long
ago, by the Sun, and that those who own them are regarded by him with
special favor.

Formerly these stems were valued at from fifteen to thirty head of horses,
and were bought and sold like any other property. When not in use, they
were kept rolled up in many thicknesses of fine tanned fur, and with them
were invariably a quantity of tobacco, a sacred whistle, two sacred
rattles, and some dried sweet grass, and sweet pine needles.

In the daytime, in pleasant weather, these sacred bundles were hung out of
doors behind the owners' lodges, on tripods. At night they were suspended
within, above the owners' seat It was said that if at any time a person
should walk completely around the lodge of a medicine man, some bad luck
would befall him. Inside the lodge, no one was allowed to pass between the
fireplace and the pipe stem. No one but a medicine man and his head wife
could move or unroll the bundle. The man and his wife were obliged always
to keep their faces, hands, and clothing painted with _nits'-i-san,_ a dull
red paint, made by burning a certain clay found in the bad lands.

The _Ni-namp'-skan_ appears to be a priest of the Sun, and prayers offered
through him are thought to be specially favored. So the sacred stem is
frequently unrolled for the benefit of the sick, for those who are about to
undertake a dangerous expedition, such as a party departing to war, for
prayers for the general health and prosperity of the people, and for a
bountiful supply of food. At the present time these ancient ceremonies have
largely fallen into disuse. In fact, since the disappearance of the
buffalo, most of the old customs are dying out.

The thunder is believed to bring the rain in spring, and the rain makes the
berries grow. It is a rule that after the first thunder is heard in the
spring, every medicine man must give a feast and offer prayers for a large
berry crop. I have never seen this ceremony, but Mr. Schultz was once
permitted to attend one, and has given me the following account of it. He
said: "When I entered the lodge with the other guests, the pipe stem had
already been unrolled. Before the fire were two huge kettles of cooked
sarvis berries, a large bowlful of which was soon set before each guest.
Each one, before eating, took a few of the berries and rubbed them into the
ground, saying, 'Take pity on us, all Above People, and give us good.'

"When all had finished eating, a large black stone pipe bowl was filled and
fitted to the medicine stem, and the medicine man held it aloft and said:
'Listen, Sun! Listen, Thunder! Listen, Old Man! All Above Animals, all
Above People, listen. Pity us! You will smoke. We fill the sacred pipe. Let
us not starve. Give us rain during this summer. Make the berries large and
sweet. Cover the bushes with them. Look down on us all and pity us. Look
at the women and the little children; look at us all. Let us reach old
age. Let our lives be complete. Let us destroy our enemies. Help the young
men in battle. Man, woman, child, we all pray to you; pity us and give us
good. Let us survive.'

"He then danced the pipe dance, to be described further on. At this time,
another storm had come up, and the thunder crashed directly over our heads.

"'Listen,' said the medicine man. 'It hears us. We are not doing this
uselessly'; and he raised his face, animated with enthusiasm, toward the
sky, his whole body trembling with excitement; and, holding the pipe aloft,
repeated his prayer. All the rest of the people were excited, and
repeatedly clasped their arms over their breasts, saying: 'Pity us; good
give us; good give us. Let us survive.'

"After this, the pipe was handed to a man on the right of the
semi-circle. Another warrior took a lighted brand from the fire, and
counted four _coups_, at the end of each _coup_ touching the pipe bowl with
the brand. When he had counted the fourth _coup_, the pipe was lighted. It
was then smoked in turn around the circle, each one, as he received it,
repeating a short prayer before he put the stem to his lips. When it was
smoked out, a hole was dug in the ground, the ashes were knocked into it
and carefully covered over, and the thunder ceremony was ended."

In the year 1885, I was present at the unwrapping of the medicine pipe by
Red Eagle, an aged _Ni-namp'-skan_ since dead. On this occasion prayers
were made for the success of a party of Piegans who had started in pursuit
of some Crows who had taken a large band of horses from the Piegans the day
before. The ceremony was a very impressive one, and prayers were offered
not only for the success of this war party, but also for the general good,
as well as for the welfare of special individuals, who were mentioned by
name. The concluding words of the general prayer were as follows: "May all
people have full life. Give to all heavy bodies. Let the young people grow;
increase their flesh. Let all men, women, and children have full life.
Harden the bodies of the old people so that they may reach great age."

In 1879, Mr. Schultz saw a sacred pipe unwrapped for the benefit of a sick
woman, and on various occasions since he has been present at this
ceremony. All accounts of what takes place agree so closely with what I saw
that I give only one of them. Mr. Schultz wrote me of the first occasion:
"When I entered the lodge, it was already well filled with men who had been
invited to participate in the ceremony. The medicine man was aged and
gray-headed, and his feeble limbs could scarcely support his body. Between
him and his wife was the bundle which contained the medicine pipe, as yet
unwrapped, lying on a carefully folded buffalo robe. Plates of food were
placed before each guest, and after all had finished eating, and a common
pipe had been lighted to be smoked around the circle, the ceremony began.

"With wooden tongs, the woman took a large coal from the fire, and laid it
on the ground in front of the sacred stem. Then, while every one joined in
singing a chant, a song of the buffalo (without words), she took a bunch of
dried sweet grass, and, raising and lowering her hand in time to the music,
finally placed the grass on the burning coals. As the thin column of
perfumed smoke rose from the burning herb, both she and the medicine man
grasped handfuls of it and rubbed it over their persons, to purify
themselves before touching the sacred roll. They also took each a small
piece of some root from a little pouch, and ate it, signifying that they
purified themselves without and within.

"The man and woman now faced each other and again began the buffalo song,
keeping time by touching with the clenched hands--the right and left
alternately--the wrappings of the pipe, occasionally making the sign for
buffalo. Now, too, one could occasionally hear the word _Nai-ai'_[1] in
the song. After singing this song for about ten minutes, it was changed to
the antelope song, and, instead of touching the roll with the clenched
hands, which represented the heavy tread of buffalo, they closed the hands,
leaving the index finger extended and the thumbs partly open, and in time
to the music, as in the previous song, alternately touched the wrappers
with the tips of the left and right forefinger, the motions being quick and
firm, and occasionally brought the hands to the side of the head, making
the sign for antelope, and at the same time uttering a loud '_Kuh'_ to
represent the whistling or snorting of that animal.

[Footnote 1: My shelter; my covering; my robe.]

"At the conclusion of this song, the woman put another bunch of sweet grass
on a coal, and carefully undid the wrappings of the pipe, holding each one
over the smoke to keep it pure. When the last wrapping was removed, the man
gently grasped the stem and, every one beginning the pipe song, he raised
and lowered it several times, shaking it as he did so, until every feather
and bit of fur and scalp hung loose and could be plainly seen.

"At this moment the sick woman entered the lodge, and with great
difficulty, for she was very weak, walked over to the medicine woman and
knelt down before her. The medicine woman then produced a small bag of red
paint, and painted a broad band across the sick woman's forehead, a stripe
down the nose, and a number of round dots on each cheek. Then picking up
the pipe stem, which the man had laid down, she held it up toward the sky
and prayed, saying, 'Listen, Sun, pity us! Listen, Old Man, pity us! Above
People, pity us! Under Water People, pity us! Listen, Sun! Listen, Sun! Let
us survive, pity us! Let us survive. Look down on our sick daughter this
day. Pity her and give her a complete life.' At the conclusion of this
short prayer, all the people uttered a loud _m-m-m-h_, signifying that they
took the words to their hearts. Every one now commenced the pipe song, and
the medicine woman passed the stem over different parts of the sick woman's
body, after which she rose and left the lodge.

"The medicine man now took a common pipe which had been lighted, and blew
four whiffs of smoke toward the sky, four toward the ground, and four on
the medicine pipe stem, and prayed to the Sun, Old Man, and all medicine
animals, to pity the people and give them long life. The drums were then
produced, the war song commenced, and the old man, with a rattle in each
hand, danced four times to the door-way and back. He stooped slightly, kept
all his limbs very rigid, extending his arms like one giving a benediction,
and danced in time to the drumming and singing with quick, sudden
steps. This is the medicine pipe dance, which no one but a pipe-owner is
allowed to perform. Afterward, he picked up the pipe stem, and, holding it
aloft in front of him, went through the same performance. At the
conclusion of the dance, the pipe stem was passed from one to another of
the guests, and each one in turn held it aloft and repeated a short
prayer. The man on my right prayed for the health of his children, the one
on my left for success in a proposed war expedition. This concluded the

Disease among the Blackfeet is supposed to be caused by evil spirits,
usually the spirits or ghosts of enemies slain in battle. These spirits are
said to wander about at night, and whenever opportunity offers, they shoot
invisible arrows into persons. These cause various internal troubles, such
as consumption, hemorrhages, and diseases of the digestive organs. Mice,
frogs, snakes, and tailed batrachians are said to cause much disease among
women, and hence should be shunned, and on no account handled.

Less important external ailments and hurts, such as ulcers, boils, sprains,
and so on, are treated by applying various lotions or poultices, compounded
by boiling or macerating certain roots or herbs, known only to the person
supplying them. Rheumatic pains are treated in several ways. Sometimes the
sweat lodge is used, or hot rocks are applied over the place where the pain
is most severe, or actual cautery is practised, by inserting prickly pear
thorns in the flesh, and setting fire to them, when they burn to the very

The sweat lodge, so often referred to, is used as a curative agent, as well
as in religious ceremonies, and is considered very beneficial in illness of
all kinds. The sweat lodge is built in the shape of a rough hemisphere,
three or four feet high and six or eight in diameter. The frame is usually
of willow branches, and is covered with cow-skins and robes. In the centre
of the floor, a small hole is dug out, in which are to be placed red hot
stones. Everything being ready, those who are to take the sweat remove
their clothing and crowd into the lodge. The hot rocks are then handed in
from the fire outside, and the cowskins pulled down to the ground to
exclude any cold air. If a medicine pipe man is not at hand, the oldest
person present begins to pray to the Sun, and at the same time sprinkles
water on the hot rocks, and a dense steam rises, making the perspiration
fairly drip from the body. Occasionally, if the heat becomes too intense,
the covering is raised for a few minutes to admit a little air. The sweat
bath lasts for a long time, often an hour or more, during which many
prayers are offered, religious songs chanted, and several pipes smoked to
the Sun. As has been said, the sweat lodge is built to represent the Sun's
own lodge or home, that is, the world. The ground inside the lodge stands
for its surface, which, according to Blackfoot philosophy, is flat and
round. The framework represents the sky, which far off, on the horizon,
reaches down to and touches the world.

As soon as the sweat is over, the men rush out, and plunge into the stream
to cool off. This is invariably done, even in winter, when the ice has to
be broken to make a hole large enough to bathe in. It is said that, when
the small-pox was raging among these Indians, they used the sweat lodge
daily, and that hundreds of them, sick with the disease, were unable to get
out of the river, after taking the bath succeeding a sweat, and were
carried down stream by the current and drowned.

It is said that wolves, which in former days were extremely numerous,
sometimes went crazy, and bit every animal they met with, sometimes even
coming into camps and biting dogs, horses, and people. Persons bitten by a
mad wolf generally went mad, too. They trembled and their limbs jerked,
they made their jaws work and foamed at the mouth, often trying to bite
other people. When any one acted in this way, his relations tied him hand
and foot with ropes, and, having killed a buffalo, they rolled him up in
the green hide, and then built a fire on and around him, leaving him in the
fire until the hide began to dry and burn. Then they pulled him out and
removed the buffalo hide, and he was cured. While in the fire, the great
heat caused him to sweat profusely, so much water coming out of his body
that none was left in it, and with the water the disease went out, too.
All the old people tell me that they have seen individuals cured in this
manner of a mad wolf's bite.

Whenever a person is really sick, a doctor is sent for. Custom requires
that he shall be paid for his services before rendering them. So when he is
called, the messenger says to him, "A---- presents to you a horse, and
asks you to come and doctor him." Sometimes the fee may be several horses,
and sometimes a gun, saddle, or some article of wearing-apparel. This fee
pays only for one visit, but the duration of the visit is seldom less than
twelve hours, and sometimes exceeds forty-eight. If, after the expiration
of the visit, the patient feels that he has been benefited, he will
probably send for the doctor again, but if, on the other hand, he continues
to grow worse, he is likely to send for another. Not infrequently two or
more doctors may be present at the same time, taking turns with the
patient. In early days, if a man fell sick, and remained so for three weeks
or a month, he had to start anew in life when he recovered; for, unless
very wealthy, all his possessions had gone to pay doctor's fees. Often the
last horse, and even the lodge, weapons, and extra clothing were so parted
with. Of late years, however, since the disappearance of the buffalo, the
doctors' fees are much more moderate.

The doctor is named _I-so-kin-[)u]h-kin,_ a word difficult to
translate. The nearest English meaning of the word seems to be "heavy
singer for the sick." As a rule all doctors sing while endeavoring to work
their cures, and, as helpers, a number of women are always present. Disease
being caused by evil spirits, prayers, exhortations, and certain mysterious
methods must be observed to rid the patient of their influence. No two
doctors have the same methods or songs. Herbs are sometimes used, but not
always. One of their medicines is a great yellow fungus which grows on the
pine trees. This is dried and powdered, and administered either dry or in
an infusion. It is a purgative. As a rule, these doctors, while practising
their rites, will not allow any one in the lodge, except the immediate
members of the sick man's family. Mr. Schultz, who on more than one
occasion has been present at a doctoring, gives the following account of
one of the performances.

"The patient was a man in the last stages of consumption. When the doctor
entered the lodge, he handed the sick man a strip of buckskin, and told him
to tie it around his chest. The patient then reclined on a couch, stripped
to the waist, and the doctor kneeled on the floor beside him. Having
cleared a little space of the loose dirt and dust, the doctor took two
coals from the fire, laid them in this place, and put a pinch of dried
sweet grass on each of them. As the smoke arose from the burning grass, he
held his drum over it, turning it from side to side, and round and
round. This was supposed to purify it. Laying aside the drum, he held his
hands in the smoke, and rubbed his arms and body with it. Then, picking up
the drum, he began to tap it rapidly, and prayed, saying: 'Listen, my
dream. This you told me should be done. This you said should be the
way. You said it would cure the sick. Help me now. Do not lie to me. Help
me, Sun person. Help me to cure this sick man.'

"He then began to sing, and as soon as the women had caught the air, he
handed the drum to one of them to beat, and, still singing himself, took an
eagle's wing and dipped the tip of it in a cup of 'medicine.' It was a
clear liquid, and looked as if it might be simply water. Placing the tip of
the wing in his mouth, he seemed to bite off the end of it, and, chewing it
a little, spat it out on the patient's breast. Then, in time to the
singing, he brushed it gently off, beginning at the throat and ending at
the lower ribs. This was repeated three times. Next he took the bandage
from the patient, dipped it in the cup of medicine, and, wringing it out,
placed it on the sick man's chest, and rubbed it up and down, and back and
forth, after which he again brushed the breast with the eagle
wing. Finally, he lighted a pipe, and, placing the bowl in his mouth, blew
the smoke through the stem all over the patient's breast, shoulders, neck,
and arms, and finished the ceremony by again brushing with the wing. At
intervals of two or three hours, the whole ceremony was repeated. The
doctor arrived at the lodge of the sick man about noon, and left the next
morning, having received for his services a saddle and two blankets."

"Listen, my dream--" This is the key to most of the Blackfoot medicine
practices. These doctors for the most part effect their cures by
prayer. Each one has his dream, or secret helper, to whom he prays for aid,
and it is by this help that he expects to restore his patient to health. No
doubt the doctors have the fullest confidence that their practices are
beneficial, and in some cases they undoubtedly do good because of the
implicit confidence felt in them by the patient.

Often, when a person is sick, he will ask some medicine man to unroll his
pipe. If able to dance, he will take part in the ceremony, but if not, the
medicine man paints him with the sacred symbols. In any case a fervent
prayer is offered by the medicine man for the sick person's recovery. The
medicine man administers no remedies; the ceremony is purely
religious. Being a priest of the Sun, it is thought that god will be more
likely to listen to him than he would to an ordinary man.

Although the majority of Blackfoot doctors are men, there are also many
women in the guild, and some of them are quite noted for their
success. Such a woman, named Wood Chief Woman, is now alive on the
Blackfoot reservation. She has effected many wonderful cures. Two Bear
Woman is a good doctor, and there are many others.

In the case of gunshot wounds a man's "dream," or "medicine," often acts
directly and speedily. Many cases are cited in which this charm, often the
stuffed skin of some bird or animal, belonging to the wounded man, becomes
alive, and by its power effects a cure. Many examples of this might be
given but for lack of space. Entirely honest Indians and white men have
seen such cures and believe in them.


In the olden times the Blackfeet were very numerous, and it is said that
then they were a strong and hardy people, and few of them were ever
sick. Most of the men who died were killed in battle, or died of old
age. We may well enough believe that this was the case, because the
conditions of their life in those primitive times were such that the weakly
and those predisposed to any constitutional trouble would not survive early
childhood. Only the strongest of the children would grow up to become the
parents of the next generation. Thus a process of selection was constantly
going on, the effect of which was no doubt seen in the general health of
the people.

With the advent of the whites, came new conditions. Various special
diseases were introduced and swept off large numbers of the people. An
important agent in their destruction was alcohol.

In the year 1845, the Blackfeet were decimated by the small-pox. This
disease appears to have travelled up the Missouri River; and in the early
years, between 1840 and 1850, it swept away hosts of Mandans, Rees, Sioux,
Crows, and other tribes camped along the great river. I have been told, by
a man who was employed at Fort Union in 1842-43, that the Indians died
there in such numbers that the men of the fort were kept constantly at work
digging trenches in which to bury them, and when winter came, and the
ground froze so hard that it was no longer practicable to bury the dead,
their bodies were stacked up like cord wood in great piles to await the
coming of spring. The disease spread from tribe to tribe, and finally
reached the Blackfeet. It is said by whites who were in the country at the
time, that this small-pox almost swept the Plains bare of Indians.

In the winter of 1857-58, small-pox again carried off great numbers, but
the mortality was not to be compared with that of 1845. In 1864, measles
ran through all the Blackfoot camps, and was very fatal, and again in 1869
they had the small-pox.

Between the years 1860 and 1875, a great deal of whiskey was traded to the
Blackfeet. Having once experienced the delights of intoxication, the
Indians were eager for liquor, and the traders found that robes and furs
could be bought to better advantage for whiskey than for anything else. To
be sure, the personal risk to the trader was considerably increased by the
sale of whiskey, for when drunk the Indians fought like demons among
themselves or with the traders. But, on the other hand, whiskey for
trading to Indians cost but a trifle, and could be worked up, and then
diluted, so that a little would go a long way.

As a measure of partial self-protection, the traders used to deal out the
liquor from the keg or barrel in a tin scoop so constructed that it would
not stand on a flat surface, so that an Indian, who was drinking, had to
keep the vessel in his hand until the liquor was consumed, or else it would
be spilled and lost. This lessened the danger of any shooting or stabbing
while the Indian was drinking, and an effort was usually made to get him
out of the store as soon as he had finished. Nevertheless, drunken fights
in the trading-stores were of common occurrence, and the life of a
whiskey-trader was one of constant peril. I have talked with many men who
were engaged in this traffic, and some of the stories they tell are
thrilling. It was a common thing in winter for the man who unbarred and
opened the store in the morning to have a dead Indian fall into his arms as
the door swung open. To prop up against the door a companion who had been
killed or frozen to death during the night seems to have been regarded by
the Indians as rather a delicate bit of humor, in the nature of a joke on
the trader. Long histories of the doings of these whiskey trading days have
been related to me, but the details are too repulsive to be set down. The
traffic was very fatal to the Indians.

The United States has laws which prohibit, under severe penalties, the sale
of intoxicants to Indians, but these laws are seldom enforced. To the north
of the boundary line, however, in the Northwest Territories, the Canadian
Mounted Police have of late years made whiskey-trading perilous
business. Of Major Steell's good work in putting down the whiskey traffic
on the Blackfoot agency in Montana, I shall speak further on, and to-day
there is not very much whiskey sold to the Blackfeet. Constant vigilance is
needed, however, to keep traders from the borders of the reservation.

In the winter of 1883-84 more than a quarter of the Piegan tribe of the
Blackfeet, which then numbered about twenty-five or twenty-six hundred,
died from starvation. It had been reported to the Indian Bureau that the
Blackfeet were practically self-supporting and needed few supplies. As a
consequence of this report, appropriations for them were small. The
statement was entirely and fatally misleading. The Blackfeet had then
never done anything toward self-support, except to kill buffalo. But just
before this, in the year 1883, the buffalo had been exterminated from the
Blackfoot country. In a moment, and without warning, the people had been
deprived of the food supply on which they had depended. At once they had
turned their attention to the smaller game, and, hunting faithfully the
river bottoms, the brush along the small streams, and the sides of the
mountains, had killed off all the deer, elk, and antelope; and at the
beginning of the winter found themselves without their usual stores of
dried meat, and with nothing to depend on, except the scanty supplies in
the government storehouse. These were ridiculously inadequate to the wants
of twenty-five hundred people, and food could be issued to them only in
driblets quite insufficient to sustain life. The men devoted themselves
with the utmost faithfulness to hunting, killing birds, rabbits,
prairie-dogs, rats, anything that had life; but do the best they might, the
people began to starve. The very old and the very young were the first to
perish; after that, those who were weak and sickly, and at last some even
among the strong and hardy. News of this suffering was sent East, and
Congress ordered appropriations to relieve the distress; but the supplies
had to be freighted in wagons for one hundred and fifty or two hundred
miles before they were available. If the Blackfeet had been obliged to
depend on the supplies authorized by the Indian Bureau, the whole tribe
might have perished, for the red tape methods of the Government are not
adapted to prompt and efficient action in times of emergency. Happily, help
was nearer at hand. The noble people of Montana, and the army officers
stationed at Fort Shaw, did all they could to get supplies to the
sufferers. One or two Montana contractors sent on flour and bacon, on the
personal assurance of the newly appointed agent that he would try to have
them paid. But it took a long time to get even these supplies to the
agency, over roads sometimes hub deep in mud, or again rough with great
masses of frozen clay; and all the time the people were dying.

During the winter, Major Allen had been appointed agent for the Blackfeet,
and he reached the agency in the midst of the worst suffering, and before
any effort had been made to relieve it. He has told me a heart-rending
story of the frightful suffering which he found among these helpless

In his efforts to learn exactly what was their condition, Major Allen one
day went into twenty-three houses and lodges to see for himself just what
the Indians had to eat. In only two of these homes did he find anything in
the shape of food. In one house a rabbit was boiling in a pot. The man had
killed it that morning, and it was being cooked for a starving child. In
another lodge, the hoof of a steer was cooking,--only the hoof,--to make
soup for the family. Twenty-three lodges Major Allen visited that day, and
the little rabbit and the steer's hoof were all the food he found. "And
then," he told me, with tears in his eyes, "I broke down. I could go no
further. To see so much misery, and feel myself utterly powerless to
relieve it, was more than I could stand."

Major Allen had calculated with exactest care the supplies on hand, and at
this time was issuing one-seventh rations. The Indians crowded around the
agency buildings and begged for food. Mothers came to the windows and held
up their starving babies that the sight of their dull, pallid faces, their
shrunken limbs, and their little bones sticking through their skins might
move some heart to pity. Women brought their young daughters to the white
men in the neighborhood, and said, "Here, you may have her, if you will
feed her; I want nothing for myself; only let her have enough to eat, that
she may not die." One day, a deputation of the chiefs came to Major Allen,
and asked him to give them what he had in his storehouses. He explained to
them that it must be some time before the supplies could get there, and
that only by dealing out what he had with the greatest care could the
people be kept alive until provisions came. But they said: "Our women and
children are hungry, and we are hungry. Give us what you have, and let us
eat once and be filled. Then we will die content; we will not beg any
more." He took them into the storehouse, and showed them just what food he
had,--how much flour, how much bacon, how much rice, coffee, sugar, and so
on through the list--and then told them that if this was issued all at
once, there was no hope for them, they would surely die, but that he
expected supplies by a certain day. "And," said he, "if they do not come by
that time, you shall come in here and help yourselves. That I promise
you." They went away satisfied.

Meanwhile, the supplies were drawing near. The officer in command of Fort
Shaw had supplied fast teams to hurry on a few loads to the agency, but the
roads were so bad that the wagon trains moved with appalling slowness. At
length, however, they had advanced so far that it was possible to send out
light teams, to meet the heavily laden ones, and bring in a few sacks of
flour and bacon; and every little helped. Gradually the suffering was
relieved, but the memory of that awful season of famine will never pass
from the minds of those who witnessed it.

There is a record of between four and five hundred Indians who died of
hunger at this time, and this includes only those who were buried in the
immediate neighborhood of the agency and for whom coffins were made. It is
probable that nearly as many more died in the camps on other creeks, but
this is mere conjecture. It is no exaggeration to say, however, that from
one-quarter to one-third of the Piegan tribe starved to death during that
winter and the following spring.

The change from living in portable and more or less open lodges to
permanent dwellings has been followed by a great deal of illness, and at
present the people appear to be sickly, though not so much so as some other
tribes I have known, living under similar conditions further south.

Like other Indians, the Blackfeet have been several times a prey to bad
agents,--men careless of their welfare, who thought only about drawing
their own pay, or, worse, who used their positions simply for their own
enrichment, and stole from the government and Indians alike everything upon
which they could lay hands. It was with great satisfaction that I secured
the discharge of one such man a few years ago, and I only regret that it
was not in my power to have carried the matter so far that he might have
spent a few years in prison.

The present agent of the Blackfeet, Major George Steell, is an old-timer in
the country and understands Indians very thoroughly. In one respect, he has
done more for this people than any other man who has ever had charge of
them, for he has been an uncompromising enemy of the whiskey traffic, and
has relentlessly pursued the white men who always gather about an agency to
sell whiskey to the Indians, and thus not only rob them of their
possessions, but degrade them as well. The prison doors of Deer Lodge have
more than once opened to receive men sent there through the energy of Major
Steell. For the good work he has done in this respect, this gentleman
deserves the highest credit, and he is a shining example among Indian

As recently as 1887 it was rather unusual to see a Blackfoot Indian clad in
white men's clothing; the only men who wore coats and trousers were the
police and a few of the chiefs; to-day it is quite as unusual to see an
Indian wearing a blanket. Not less striking than this difference in their
way of life, is the change which has taken place in the spirit of the

I was passing through their reservation in 1888, when the chiefs asked me
to meet them in council and listen to what they had to say.

I learned that they wished to have a message taken to the Great Father in
the East, and, after satisfying myself that their complaint was well
grounded, I promised to do for them what I could. I accomplished what they
desired, and since that time I have taken much active interest in this
people, and my experience with them has shown me very clearly how much may
be accomplished by the unaided efforts of a single individual who
thoroughly understands the needs of a tribe of Indians. During my annual
visits to the Blackfeet reservation, which have extended over two, three,
or four months each season, I see a great many of the men and have long
conversations with them. They bring their troubles to me, asking what they
shall do, and how their condition may be improved. They tell me what things
they want, and why they think they ought to have them. I listen, and talk
to them just as if they were so many children. If their requests are
unreasonable, I try to explain to them, step by step, why it is not best
that what they desire should be done, or tell them that other things which
they ask for seem proper, and that I will do what I can to have them
granted. If one will only take the pains necessary to make things clear to
him, the adult Indian is a reasonable being, but it requires patience to
make him understand matters which to a white man would need no
explanation. As an example, let me give the substance of a conversation had
last autumn with a leading man of the Piegans who lives on Cut Bank River,
about twenty-five miles from the agency. He said to me:--

"We ought to have a storehouse over here on Cut Bank, so that we will not
be obliged each week to go over to the agency to get our food. It takes us
a day to go, and a day to come, and a day there; nearly three days out of
every week to get our food. When we are at work cutting hay, we cannot
afford to spend so much time travelling back and forth. We want to get our
crops in, and not to be travelling about all the time. It would be a good
thing, too, to have a blacksmith shop here, so that when our wagons break
down, we will not have to go to the agency to get them mended."

This is merely the substance of a much longer speech, to which I replied by
a series of questions, something like the following:--

"Do you remember talking to me last year, and telling me on this same spot
that you ought to have beef issued to you here, and ought not to have to
make the long journey to the agency for your meat?" "Yes."

"And that I told you I agreed with you, and believed that some of the
steers could just as well be killed here by the agency herder and issued to
those Indians living near here?" "Yes."

"That change has been made, has it not? You now get your beef here, don't
you?" "Yes."

"You know that the Piegans have a certain amount of money coming to them
every year, don't you?" "Yes."

"And that some of that money goes to pay the expenses of the agency, some
for food, some to pay clerks and blacksmiths, some to buy mowing-machines,
wagons, harness, and rakes, and some to buy the cattle which have been
issued to you?" "Yes."

"Now, if a government storehouse were to be built over here, clerks hired
to manage it, a blacksmith shop built and another blacksmith hired, that
would all cost money, wouldn't it?" "Yes."

"And that money would be taken out of the money coming next year to the
Piegans, wouldn't it?" "Yes."

"And if that money were spent for those things, the people would have just
so many fewer wagons, mowing-machines, rakes, and cattle issued to them
next year, wouldn't they?" "Yes."

"Well, which would be best for the tribe, which would you rather have, a
store and a blacksmith shop here on Cut Bank, or the money which those
things would cost in cows and farming implements?"

"I would prefer that we should have the cattle and the tools."

"I think you are right. It would save trouble to each man, if the
government would build a storehouse for him right next his house, but it
would be a waste of money. Many white men have to drive ten, twenty, or
thirty miles to the store, and you ought not to complain if you have to do

After this conversation the man saw clearly that his request was an
unreasonable one, but if I had merely told him that he was a fool to want a
store on Cut Bank, he would never have been satisfied, for his experiences
were so limited that he could not have reasoned the thing out for himself.

In my talks with these people, I praise those who have worked hard and
lived well during the past year, while to those who have been idle or
drunken or have committed crimes, I explain how foolish their course has
been and try to show them how impossible it is for a man to be successful
if he acts like a child, and shows that he is a person of no sense. A
little quiet talk will usually demonstrate to them that they have been
unwise, and they make fresh resolutions and promise amendment. Of course
the only argument I use is to tell them that one course will be for their
material advancement, and is the way a white man would act, while the other
will tend to keep them always poor.

Some years ago, the Blackfeet made a new treaty, by which they sold to the
government a large portion of their lands. By this treaty, which was
ratified by Congress in May, 1887, they are to receive $150,000 annually
for a period of ten years, when government support is to be withdrawn. This
sum is a good deal more than is required for their subsistence, and, by the
terms of the treaty, the surplus over what is required for their food and
clothing is to be used in furnishing to the Indians farming implements,
seed, live stock, and such other things as will help them to become

The country which the Blackfeet inhabit lies just south of the parallel of
49 deg., close to the foot of the Rocky Mountains, and is very cold and
dry. Crops can be grown there successfully not more than once in four or
five years, and the sole products to be depended on are oats and potatoes,
which are raised only by means of irrigation. It is evident, therefore,
that the Piegan tribe of the Blackfeet can never become an agricultural
people. Their reservation, however, is well adapted to stock-raising, and
in past years the cattlemen from far and from near have driven their herds
on to the reservation to eat the Blackfoot grass; and the remonstrances of
the Indians have been entirely disregarded. Some years ago, I came to the
conclusion that the proper occupation for these Indians was
stock-raising. Horses they already had in some numbers, but horses are not
so good for them as cattle, because horses are more readily sold than
cattle, and an Indian is likely to trade his horse for whiskey and other
useless things. Cattle they are much less likely to part with, and besides
this, require more attention than horses, and so are likely to keep the
Indians busy and to encourage them to work.

Within the past three or four years, I have succeeded in inducing the
Indian Bureau to employ a part of the treaty money coming to the Blackfeet
in purchasing for them cattle.

It was impressed upon them that they must care for the cattle, not kill and
eat any of them, but keep them for breeding purposes. It was represented to
them that, if properly cared for, the cattle would increase each year,
until a time might come when each Indian would be the possessor of a herd,
and would then be rich like the white cattlemen.

The severe lesson of starvation some years before had not failed to make an
impression, and it was perhaps owing to this terrible experience that the
Piegans did not eat the cows as soon as they got them, as other Indian
tribes have so often done. Instead of this, each man took the utmost care
of the two or three heifers he received. Little shelters and barns were
built to protect them during the winter. Indians who had never worked
before, now tried to borrow a mowing-machine, so as to put up some hay for
their animals. The tribe seemed at once to have imbibed the idea of
property, and each man was as fearful lest some accident should happen to
his cows as any white man might have been. Another issue of cattle was
made, and the result is that now there is hardly an individual in the tribe
who is not the possessor of one or more cows. Scarcely any of the issued
cattle have been eaten; there has been almost no loss from lack of care;
the original stock has increased and multiplied, and now the Piegans have a
pretty fair start in cattle.

This material advancement is important and encouraging. But richer still
is the promise for the future. A few years ago, the Blackfeet were all
paupers, dependent on the bounty of the government and the caprice of the
agent. Now, they feel themselves men, are learning self-help and
self-reliance, and are looking forward to a time when they shall be
self-supporting. If their improvement should be as rapid for the next five
years as it has been for the five preceding 1892, a considerable portion of
the tribe will be self-supporting at the date of expiration of the treaty.

It is commonly believed that the Indian is hopelessly lazy, and that he
will do no work whatever. This misleading notion has been fostered by the
writings of many ignorant people, extending over a long period of time. The
error had its origin in the fact that the work which the savage Indian does
is quite different from that performed by the white laborer. But it is
certain that no men ever worked harder than Indians on a journey to war,
during which they would march on foot hundreds of miles, carrying heavy
loads on their backs, then have their fight, or take their horses, and
perhaps ride for several days at a stretch, scarcely stopping to eat or
rest. That they did not labor regularly is of course true, but when they
did work, their toil was very much harder than that ever performed by the
white man.

The Blackfeet now are willing to work in the same way that the white man
works. They appreciate, as well as any one, the fact that old things have
passed away, and that they must now adapt themselves to new surroundings.
Therefore, they work in the hay fields, tend stock, chop logs in the
mountains, haul firewood, drive freighting teams, build houses and fences,
and, in short, do pretty much all the work that would be done by an
ordinary ranchman. They do not perform it so well as white men would; they
are much more careless in their handling of tools, wagons, mowing-machines,
or other implements, but they are learning all the time, even if their
progress is slow.

The advance toward civilization within the past five years is very
remarkable and shows, as well as anything could show, the adaptability of
the Indian. At the same time, I believe that if it had not been for that
fateful experience known as "the starvation winter," the progress made by
the Blackfeet would have been very much less than it has been. The Indian
requires a bitter lesson to make him remember.

But besides this lesson, which at so terrible a cost demonstrated to him
the necessity of working, there has been another factor in the progress of
the Blackfoot. If he has learned the lesson of privation and suffering, the
record given in these pages has shown that he is not less ready to respond
to encouragement, not less quickened and sustained by friendly
sympathy. Without such encouragement he will not persevere. If his crops
fail him this year, he has no heart to plant the next. A single failure
brings despair. Yet if he is cheered and helped, he will make other
efforts. The Blackfeet have been thus sustained; they have felt that there
was an inducement for them to do well, for some one whom they trusted was
interested in their welfare, was watching their progress, and was trying to
help them. They knew that this person had no private interest to serve, but
wished to do the best that he could for his people. Having an exaggerated
idea of his power to aid them, they have tried to follow his advice, so as
to obtain his good-will and secure his aid with the government. Thus they
have had always before them a definite object to strive for.

The Blackfoot of to-day is a working man. He has a little property which he
is trying to care for and wishes to add to. With a little help, with
instruction, and with encouragement to persevere, he will become in the
next few years self-supporting, and a good citizen.


Above Persons,
Adoption of captives,
Adultery, penalty for,
Adventure, Stories of,
Adventures of Bull Turns Round,
Affirmation, solemn form of,
Alcohol, agent of destruction,
Algonquin myth,
Algonquin tribes,
All Comrades,
All Crazy Dogs,
Allen, Major,
All-face man,
_Amelanchier alnifolia_,
_American Anthropologist_,
American Hero Myths,
Ancient customs dying out,
Ancient Times, Stories of,
Animals, birth of,
creation of,
Animal powers,
Animal powers and signs,
Animals to be food,
Antelope, method of taking,
where created,
_Anthropologist, American_
Armells Creek,
Assinaboines (tribe),
Authority of "sits beside him" woman,

Back fat (of buffalo),
Bad Weapons, The,
Bad Wife, The,
Badger Creek,
Battle near Cypress Mountains,
Bears, The
Beaver, how taken,
Medicine, The,
Belly River,
Berries created,
Berry of the red willow,
Big Eagle,
Big Nose,
Big Topknots,
Bighorn, where created
Birch tree
Bird, Thomas
Birds created
Birth of the animals
Black Elks (Blackfoot gens)
(Blood gens)
Blackfat Roasters
as known to the whites
country, boundaries of
Genesis, The
in War, The
Black Doors
Black Patched Moccasins
Blood (tribe)
Blood People
Boiling meat
Bow River
Bowls of stone
Box Elder Creek
Boys, advice to
Brave (band of the _I-kun-uh'-kah-tsi),_
Bravery held in high esteem
proofs of required
Braves, duties of
Braves' society
Brinton, Dr.
Brush created
bringing to camp
corral of Cheyennes
driven over cliffs
Dung (gens)
eating the people
hunting disguised
slaughter, modern
value of to the people
Buffalo Lip Butte
Buffalo Rock, The
what it is
Buffalo song
Bull bats
Bull berries
Bulls' society
Bunch of lodges
Buttes created

root, how prepared
Camp arranged in circle
Camp, order of moving
Canadian mounted police
Casey, Lieutenant
Cattle issued
Cause of disease.
Centre post of Medicine Lodge
Ceremony of Medicine Lodge
of unwrapping pipe-stem
buffalo corral of
Children in lodge
sports of
training of
Children, The Lost
Chinook winds
Choke-cherries, how prepared
Clark (W.P.)
Clay images, of buffalo
in human shape
Clot of blood
made of buffalo hide
Cold Maker
Confederation of three tribes
Corral of Cheyennes, buffalo
Cosmology, Blackfoot
Counting _coup_
_coup_ at Medicine Lodge
Country of the Blackfoot
_Coup_, _et seq_.
among Blackfeet.
different tribes.
counting, in early times.
"Covering" the slain.
Cowardice, penalty for.
Coyotes, how taken.
Creation, _et seq_.
Cree (tribe), _et seq_.
Crimes to be punished.
Crops in Blackfoot country.
Crow (tribe).
Cups, how made.
Custer, General, xiv.
Customs, ancient, dying out.
Customs, Daily Life and.
Cut Bank River.
Cutting rawhide for Medicine Lodge.
Cypress Mountains.
Daily Life and Customs.
Dance, medicine pipe.
young women's.
Dawson, Mrs. Thomas, xiv.
Dead return to life.
Death, origin of.
Deer, how taken.
Deer Lodge.
Diseases introduced by whites.
Dog and the Stick, The.
Dogs beasts of burden, _et seq_.
killed at grave.
not eaten.
Dogs Naked.
Don't Laugh band.
Double Runner, vii, xv.
Dream helper, _et seq_.
originates war party.
person, _et seq_.
Dreaming for power, _et seq_.
Dreams, 3 _et seq_..
belief in.
Dried meat.
Dried Meat (gens).
Duties of first wife.
Eagle catching.
Early Finished Eating.
wars bloodless.
Eggs of waterfowl, how cooked.
E-kus'-kini, _et seq_.
Elbow river.
Elk, how taken.
Elkhorn arrow.
Elk River.
Everyday life, _et seq_.
Family names.
Fast of Medicine Lodge woman.
Fast Runners, The.
Fat Roasters.
Feast, invitations to.
Feasting in the camps.
Fighting between Bloods and Piegans.
Fire, how obtained.
First killing in war.
medicine pipe.
shelter to sleep under.
stone knives.
Fish spears,
Flat Bows,
Flesh of animals eaten,
Fleshers, how made,
Flint and steel,
Food of war party,
_Forest and Stream_,
Fort Conrad,
Four Bears,
Fox, The,
Fungus for punk,
Fur animals, how caught,
Future life,

Game, hidden,
in Blackfoot country,
Game played by prairie dogs,
Genesis, The Blackfoot,
Gentes of the Blackfeet,
now extinct,
Woman, Heavy Collar and The,
Ghosts' Buffalo, The,
Ghosts, camp of the,
Girls, carefully guarded,
outfit for marriage,
Girl stolen,
Gown of women,
Grease on red willow bark,
Great Bear (constellation),
Grizzly Bear,
Grooved arrow shafts,
Gros Ventres,
Ground Man,
Ground Man (of Cheyennes),
Ground Persons,

Hair, care of,
mode of wearing,
Handles of knives,
Hats of antelope skin,
Head chief, how chosen,
Heavy Collar,
and the Ghost Woman,
Help from animals,
Hill where Old Man sleeps,
Horned toad,
Horses cause of war,
killed at grave,
when obtained,
How the Blackfoot lived,
alone punished,
Husband's personal rights in wife,
power over wife,
property rights in wife,

origin of,
Implements of the dead,
made of buffalo hide,
Indian a man,
sign language,
Indians and their Stories,
general ignorance about,
Infants lost,
Invitation to feasts,
"It fell on them" creek,

Jackson, William,

Kettles of stone,
Kill Close By,
Kipp, Joseph,
Kit-fox (society),
Knives of stone,

Ladles of horn,
of wood,
_Lari p[=u]k'[=u]s_
Lesser Slave Lake,
Life among the Blackfeet,
Little Birds,
Little Blackfoot,
"Little Slaves,"
Lodge for dreaming,
of stone,
Lodges, ancient,
how made,
decoration of,
of chiefs of the _I-kun-uk'-kak-tsi,_
Lone Eaters,
Medicine Person,
Long Tail Lodge Poles,
Lost Children, The,
Lost Woman, The,
Low Horn,

Mad Wolf,
Maker, the,
Many Children,
Lodge Poles,
March of the camp,
of war party,
Marriage, girl's outfit for,
how arranged,
of important people,
poorer people,
prerequisites for,
prohibited within gens,
Material advancement,
how made,
Medicine leggings,
Medicine Lodge, the,
Pipes and Healing,
rock of the Marias,
Miles, General,
Milk River,
Missouri River,
Monroe, Hugh,
Morning Star,
Mother-in-law, meeting,
not to be spoken to,
Mountains created,
for the dead,
Muddy River,
Murder, penalty for
Musselshell River,

Name, changing,
unwillingness to speak,
New Mexico,
Night red light,
No parfleche,
North Bloods,
North, Major,
North Saskatchewan River,
Northwest Territories,
Number of wives,

Oath, Indian,
Obstinate (gens),
Office not hereditary,
Old Man,
and the Lynx,
character of,
disappearance of,
known to other tribes,
makes first weapons,
makes fire sticks,
sleeps, hill where,
Stories of,
Old Man's predictions,
Sliding Ground,
Origin of the _I-kun-uh'-kah-tsi_,
medicine pipe,
worm pipe,
Orpheus and Eurydice,
Other game,
Owl Bear,
Owls ghosts of medicine men,
Owner's seat in lodge,

Parfleche soles of moccasins,
Past and the Present, The,
Pawnee _coups_,
Hero Stories and Folk Tales,
Peace with Gros Ventres broken,
the Snakes, The,
Penalty for adultery,
for cowardice,
for murder,
for theft,
for treachery,
Pend d'Oreille,
People created,
Physical characteristics,
Pictographs of _coups_,
_Pi-n[)u]t-u'-ye is-tsim'-o-kan_,
Pipe dance, medicine,
of the Soldier Society,
Pipes, material of,
etymology of,
bringing buffalo to,
how constructed,
of the Blackfeet,
of the Crees,
of the Sik'-si-kau,
Places chosen for dreaming,
Plants, medical properties of,
Plunder from the south,
_Pomme blanche_,
Power, dreaming for,
of herbs,
to bring on storms,
Powers, animal,
in sweat house,
to the Thunder,
Preparations for burial,
for dreaming,
for the attack,
for war parties,
Presents to husband from father-in-law,
to the sun,
Product of the buffalo,
Property buried with dead,
of Brave Society,
of deceased, disposition of,
_Psoralea esculenta_,
Punishment for hunting alone,
for infidelity,
for stealing tobacco,
Purification by smoke,

Quarrels between the three tribes,

Rabid Wolf,
Rabies, cure for,
Race, the,
Raven Band of the _I-k[)u]n-uh'-kah-tsi_,
Red Deer's River,
Old Man,
River half-breeds,
Round Robes,
River, Badger,
North Saskatchewan,
Old Man's,
Red Deer's,
St. Mary's,
Roasting meat,
Rock, The,
Ross, Miss Cora M.,
Running Rabbit,
Russell, William,

Sacred bundles, where kept,
Sacred objects,
things connected with eagle catching,
Sacrifices to sun,
of war party,
Sand Hills,
Sarvis berries,
Berry Creek,
Saskatchewan River,
Saskatoon Creek,
Schultz, J.W.,
Scout of war party,
Screech Owl,
Seats in lodge,
Secret helper,
Seeking the Sun's Lodge,
Thunder's Lodge,
Seldom Lonesome,
Self-torturings in Medicine Lodge,
Seven Persons,
Seven Persons Creek,
Shelter for war party,
to sleep under,
_Shepherdia argentea_,
Short Bows,
Sign language,
Signs and powers of animals,
_Siks-in'-o-kaks_ (Blackfoot),
"Sits beside him" woman,
Skidi tribe,
Skull taken into eagle pit,
Sleeping for power,
Small Brittle Fat,
Small Leggings,
Smell of a person,
Smoking, rules in,
Snakes (tribe),
Peace with, The,
Social organization,
Societies of the All Comrades,
Song, antelope,
war party,
_Spai'-yu ksah'-ku_,
Spanish lands,
Spear heads,
Sports of children,
of adults,
Spotted Tail's camp,
St. Mary's River,
Starvation winter,
Steell, Major,
Stolen by the Thunder,
Stone bowls,
pointed arrows,
Stories of Adventure,
of Ancient Times,
of Old Man,
Story of the Three Tribes, The,
Struck by the Thunder,
Suicide among girls,
Sun dogs,
Sun River,

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