Blackfoot Lodge Tales
George Bird Grinnell
Part 4 out of 6
about sixteen feet in diameter. The lower edge of the lodge proper was
fastened, by wooden pegs, to within an inch or two of the ground. Inside, a
lining, made of brightly painted cowskin, reached from the ground to a
height of five or six feet. An air space of the thickness of the lodge
poles--two or three inches--was thus left between the lining and the lodge
covering, and the cold air, rushing up through it from the outside, made a
draft, which aided the ears in freeing the lodge of smoke. The door was
three or four feet high and was covered by a flap of skin, which hung down
on the outside. Thus made, with plenty of buffalo robes for seats and
bedding, and a good stock of firewood, a lodge was very comfortable, even
in the coldest weather.
It was not uncommon to decorate the outside of the lodge with buffalo tails
and brightly painted pictures of animals. Inside, the space around was
partitioned off into couches, or seats, each about six feet in length. At
the foot and head of every couch, a mat, made of straight, peeled willow
twigs, fastened side by side, was suspended on a tripod at an angle of
forty-five degrees, so that between the couches spaces were left like an
inverted V, making convenient places to store articles which were not in
use. The owner of the lodge always occupied the seat or couch at the back
of the lodge, directly opposite the door-way, the places on his right being
occupied by his wives and daughters; though sometimes a Blackfoot had so
many wives that they occupied the whole lodge. The places on his left were
reserved for his sons and visitors. When a visitor entered a lodge, he was
assigned a seat according to his rank,--the nearer to the host, the greater
Bows were generally made of ash wood, which grows east of the mountains
toward the Sand Hills. When for any reason they could not obtain ash, they
used the wood of the choke-cherry tree, but this had not strength nor
spring enough to be of much service. I have been told also that sometimes
they used hazle wood for bows.
Arrows were made of shoots of the sarvis berry wood, which was straight,
very heavy, and not brittle. They were smoothed and straightened by a stone
implement. The grooves were made by pushing the shafts through a rib or
other flat bone in which had been made a hole, circular except for one or
two projections on the inside. These projections worked out the groove. The
object of these grooves is said to have been to allow the blood to flow
freely. Each man marked his arrows by painting them, or by some special
combination of colored feathers. The arrow heads were of two kinds,--barbed
slender points for war, and barbless for hunting. Knives were originally
made of stone, as were also war clubs, mauls, and some of the scrapers for
fleshing and graining hides. Some of the flint knives were long, others
short. A stick was fitted to them, forming a wooden handle. The handles of
mauls and war clubs were usually made of green sticks fitted as closely as
possible into a groove made in the stone, the whole being bound together by
a covering of hide put on green, tightly fitted and strongly sewed. This,
as it shrunk in drying, bound the different parts of the implement together
in the strongest possible manner. Short, heavy spears were used, the points
being of stone or bone, barbed.
I have heard no explanation among the Blackfeet of the origin of fire. In
ancient times, it was obtained by means of fire sticks, as described
elsewhere. The starting of the spark with these sticks is said to have been
hard work. At almost their first meeting with the whites, they obtained
flints and steels, and learned how to use them.
In ancient times,--in the days of fire sticks and even later, within the
memory of men now living,--fire used to be carried from place to place in a
"fire horn." This was a buffalo horn slung by a string over the shoulder
like a powderhorn. The horn was lined with moist, rotten wood, and the open
end had a wooden stopper or plug fitted to it. On leaving camp in the
morning, the man who carried the horn took from the fire a small live coal
and put it in the horn, and on this coal placed a piece of punk, and then
plugged up the horn with the stopper. The punk smouldered in this almost
air-tight chamber, and, in the course of two or three hours, the man looked
at it, and if it was nearly consumed, put another piece of punk in the
horn. The first young men who reached the appointed camping ground would
gather two or three large piles of wood in different places, and as soon as
some one who carried a fire horn reached camp, he turned out his spark at
one of these piles of wood, and a little blowing and nursing gave a blaze
which started the fire. The other fires were kindled from this first one,
and when the women reached camp and had put the lodges up, they went to
these fires, and got coals with which to start those in their lodges. This
custom of borrowing coals persisted up to the last days of the buffalo, and
indeed may even be noticed still.
The punk here mentioned is a fungus, which grows on the birch tree. The
Indians used to gather this in large quantities and dry it. It was very
abundant at the Touchwood Hills (whence the name) on Beaver Creek, a
tributary of the Saskatchewan from the south.
The Blackfeet made buckets, cups, basins, and dishes from the lining of the
buffalo's paunch. This was torn off in large pieces, and was stretched over
a flattened willow or cherry hoop at the bottom and top. These hoops were
sometimes inside and sometimes outside the bucket or dish. In the latter
case, the hoop at the bottom was often sewed to the paunch, which came down
over it, double on the outside, the needle holes being pitched with gum or
tallow. The hoop at the upper edge was also sewed to the paunch, and a
rawhide bail passed under it, to carry it by. These buckets were shaped
somewhat like our wooden ones, and were of different sizes, some of them
holding four or five gallons. They were more or less flexible, and when
carried in a pack, they could be flattened down like a crush hat, and so
took up but little room. If set on the ground when full, they would stand
up for a while, but as they soon softened and fell down, they were usually
hung up by the bail on a little tripod. Cups were made in the same way as
buckets, but on a smaller scale and without the bail. Of course, nothing
hot could be placed in these vessels.
It is doubtful if the Blackfeet ever made any pottery or basket ware. They,
however, made bowls and kettles of stone. There is an ancient children's
song which consists of a series of questions asked an elk, and its replies
to the same. In one place, the questioner sings, "Elk, what is your bowl
(or dish)?" and the elk answers, "_Ok-wi-tok-so-ka_," stone bowl. On this
point, Wolf Calf, a very old man, states that in early days the Blackfeet
sometimes boiled their meat in a stone bowl made out of a hard clayey
rock. Choosing a fragment of the right size and shape, they would pound
it with another heavier rock, dealing light blows until a hollow had been
made in the top. This hollow was made deeper by pounding and grinding; and
when it was deep enough, they put water in it, and set it on the fire, and
the water would boil. These pots were strong and would last a long time. I
do not remember that any other tribe of Plains Indians made such stone
bowls or mortars, though, of course, they were commonly made, and in
singular perfection, by the Pacific Coast tribes; and I have known of rare
cases in which basalt mortars and small soapstone ollas have been found on
the central plateau of the continent in southern Wyoming. These articles,
however, had no doubt been obtained by trade from Western tribes.
[Footnote 1: See The Blackfoot Genesis, p. 141.]
Serviceable ladles and spoons were made of wood and of buffalo and mountain
sheep horn. Basins or flat dishes were sometimes made of mountain sheep
horn, boiled, split, and flattened, and also of split buffalo horn, fitted
and sewn together with sinew, making a flaring, saucer-shaped dish. These
were used as plates or eating dishes. Of course, they leaked a little, for
the joints were not tight. Wooden bowls and dishes were made from knots and
protuberances of trees, dug out and smoothed by fire and the knife or by
the latter alone.
It is not known that these people ever made spears, hooks, or other
implements for capturing fish. They appear never to have used boats of any
kind, not even "bull boats." Their highest idea of navigation was to lash
together a few sticks or logs, on which to transport their possessions
across a river.
Red, brown, yellow, and white paints were made by burning clays of these
colors, which were then pulverized and mixed with a little grease. Black
paint was made of charred wood.
Bags and sacks were made of parfleche, usually ornamented with buckskin
fringe, and painted with various designs in bright colors. Figures having
sharp angles are most common.
The diet of the Blackfeet was more varied than one would think. Large
quantities of sarvis berries (_Amelanchier alnifolia_) were gathered
whenever there was a crop (which occurs every other year), dried, and
stored for future use. These were gathered by women, who collected the
branches laden with ripe fruit, and beat them over a robe spread upon the
ground. Choke-cherries were also gathered when ripe, and pounded up, stones
and all. A bushel of the fruit, after being pounded up and dried, was
reduced to a very small quantity. This food was sometimes eaten by itself,
but more often was used to flavor soups and to mix with pemmican. Bull
berries (_Shepherdia argentea_) were a favorite fruit, and were gathered in
large quantities, as was also the white berry of the red willow. This last
is an exceedingly bitter, acrid fruit, and to the taste of most white men
wholly unpleasant and repugnant. The Blackfeet, however, are very fond of
it; perhaps because it contains some property necessary to the nourishment
of the body, which is lacking in their every-day food.
The camas root, which grows abundantly in certain localities on the east
slope of the Rockies, was also dug, cooked, and dried. The bulbs were
roasted in pits, as by the Indians on the west side of the Rocky Mountains,
the Kalispels, and others. It is gathered while in the bloom--June 15 to
July 15. A large pit is dug in which a hot fire is built, the bottom being
first lined with flat stones. After keeping up this fire for several hours,
until the stones and earth are thoroughly heated, the coals and ashes are
removed. The pit is then lined with grass, and is filled almost to the top
with camas bulbs. Over these, grass is laid, then twigs, and then earth to
a depth of four inches. On this a fire is built, which is kept up for from
one to three days, according to the quantity of the bulbs in the pit.
When the pit is opened, the small children gather about it to suck the
syrup, which has collected on the twigs and grass, and which is very
sweet. The fresh-roasted camas tastes something like a roasted chestnut,
with a little of the flavor of the sweet potato. After being cooked, the
roots are spread out in the sun to dry, and are then put in sacks to be
stored away. Sometimes a few are pounded up with sarvis berries, and dried.
Bitter-root is gathered, dried, and boiled with a little sugar. It is a
slender root, an inch or two long and as thick as a goose quill, white in
color, and looking like short lengths of spaghetti. It is very starchy.
In the spring, a certain root called _mats_ was eaten in great
quantities. This plant was known to the early French employees of the
Hudson's Bay and American Fur Companies as _pomme blanche (Psoralea
All parts of such animals as the buffalo, elk, deer, etc., were eaten, save
only the lungs, gall, and one or two other organs. A favorite way of eating
the paunch or stomach was in the raw state. Liver, too, was sometimes eaten
raw. The unborn calf of a fresh-killed animal, especially buffalo, was
considered a great delicacy. The meat of this, when boiled, is white,
tasteless, and insipid. The small intestines of the buffalo were sometimes
dried, but more often were stuffed with long, thin strips of meat. During
the stuffing process, the entrail was turned inside out, thus confining
with the meat the sweet white fat that covers the intestine. The next step
was to roast it a little, after which the ends were tied to prevent the
escape of the juices, and it was thoroughly boiled in water. This is a very
great delicacy, and when properly prepared is equally appreciated by whites
As a rule, there were but two ways of cooking meat,--boiling and
roasting. If roasted, it was thoroughly cooked; but if boiled, it was only
left in the water long enough to lose the red color, say five or ten
minutes. Before they got kettles from the whites, the Blackfeet often
boiled meat in a green hide. A hole was dug in the ground, and the skin,
flesh side up, was laid in it, being supported about the edges of the hole
by pegs. The meat and water having been placed in this hollow, red-hot
stones were dropped in the water until it became hot and the meat was
In time of plenty, great quantities of dried meat were prepared for use
when fresh meat could not be obtained. In making dried meat, the thicker
parts of an animal were cut in large, thin sheets and hung in the sun to
dry. If the weather was not fine, the meat was often hung up on lines or
scaffolds in the upper part of the lodge. When properly cured and if of
good quality, the sheets were about one-fourth of an inch thick and very
brittle. The back fat of the buffalo was also dried, and eaten with the
meat as we eat butter with bread. Pemmican was made of the flesh of the
buffalo. The meat was dried in the usual way; and, for this use, only lean
meat, such as the hams, loin, and shoulders, was chosen. When the time came
for making the pemmican, two large fires were built of dry quaking aspen
wood, and these were allowed to burn down to red coals. The old women
brought the dried meat to these fires, and the sheets of meat were thrown
on the coals of one of them, allowed to heat through, turned to keep them
from burning, and then thrown on the flesh side of a dry hide, that lay on
the ground near by. After a time, the roasting of this dried meat caused a
smoke to rise from the fire in use, which gave the meat a bitter taste, if
cooked in it. They then turned to the other fire, and used that until the
first one had burned clear again. After enough of the roasted meat had been
thrown on the hide, it was flailed out with sticks, and being very brittle
was easily broken up, and made small. It was constantly stirred and pounded
until it was all fine. Meantime, the tallow of the buffalo had been melted
in a large kettle, and the pemmican bags prepared. These were made of
bull's hide, and were in two pieces, cut oblong, and with the corners
rounded off. Two such pieces sewed together made a bag which would hold one
hundred pounds. The pounded meat and tallow--the latter just beginning to
cool--were put in a trough made of bull's hide, a wooden spade being used
to stir the mixture. After it was thoroughly mixed, it was shovelled into
one of the sacks, held open, and rammed down and packed tight with a big
stick, every effort being made to expel all the air. When the bag was full
and packed as tight as possible, it was sewn up. It was then put on the
ground, and the women jumped on it to make it still more tight and
solid. It was then laid away in the sun to cool and dry. It usually took
the meat of two cows to make a bag of one hundred pounds; a very large bull
might make a sack of from eighty to one hundred pounds.
A much finer grade of pemmican was made from the choicest parts of the
buffalo with marrow fat. To this dried berries and pounded choke-cherries
were added, making a delicious food, which was extremely
nutritious. Pemmican was eaten either dry as it came from the sack, or
stewed with water.
In the spring, the people had great feasts of the eggs of ducks and other
water-fowl. A large quantity having been gathered, a hole was dug in the
ground, and a little water put in it. At short intervals above the water,
platforms of sticks were built, on which the eggs were laid. A smaller hole
was dug at one side of the large hole, slanting into the bottom of it. When
all was ready, the top of the larger hole was covered with mud, laid upon
cross sticks, and red-hot stones were dropped into the slant, when they
rolled down into the water, heating it, and so cooking the eggs by steam.
Fish were seldom eaten by these people in early days, but now they seem
very fond of them. Turtles, frogs, and lizards are considered creatures of
evil, and are never eaten. Dogs, considered a great delicacy by the Crees,
Gros Ventres, Sioux, Assinaboines, and other surrounding tribes, were never
eaten by the Blackfeet. No religious motive is assigned for this
abstinence. I once heard a Piegan say that it was wrong to eat dogs. "They
are our true friends," he said. "Men say they are our friends and then turn
against us, but our dogs are always true. They mourn when we are absent,
and are always glad when we return. They keep watch for us in the night
when we sleep. So pity the poor dogs."
Snakes, grasshoppers, worms, and other insects were never eaten. Salt was
an unknown condiment. Many are now very fond of it, but I know a number,
especially old people, who never eat it.
The social organization of the Blackfeet is very simple. The three tribes
acknowledged a blood relationship with each other, and, while distinct,
still considered themselves a nation. In this confederation, it was
understood that there should be no war against each other. However, between
1860 and 1870, when the whiskey trade was in its height, the three tribes
were several times at swords' points on account of drunken brawls. Once,
about sixty or seventy years ago, the Bloods and Piegans had a quarrel so
serious that men were killed on both sides and horses stolen; yet this was
hardly a real war, for only a part of each tribe was involved, and the
trouble was not of long duration.
Each one of the Blackfoot tribes is subdivided into gentes, a gens being a
body of consanguineal kindred in the male line. It is noteworthy that the
Blackfeet, although Algonquins, have this system of subdivision, and it may
be that among them the gentes are of comparatively recent date. No special
duties are assigned to any one gens, nor has any gens, so far as I know,
any special "medicine" or "totem."
Below is a list of the gentes of each tribe.
_Puh-ksi-nah'-mah-yiks_ Flat Bows.
_Mo-tah'-tos-iks_ Many Medicines.
_Siks-in'-o-kaks_ Black Elks.
_E'-mi-tah-pahk-sai-yiks_ Dogs Naked.
_Tsin-ik-tsis'-tso-yiks_ Early Finished Eating.
_Siksin'-o-kaks_ Black Elks.
_Ah-kwo'-nis-tsists_ Many Lodge Poles.
_Ap-ut'-o-si'kai-nah_ North Bloods.
_Is-ts'-kai-nah_ Woods Bloods.
_In-uhk!-so-yi-stam-iks_ Long Tail Lodge Poles.
_Nit'-ik-skiks_ Lone Fighters.
_I-sis'-o-kas-im-iks_ Hair Shirts.
_Ak-kai'-po-kaks_ Many Children.
_Sak-si-nah'-mah-yiks_ Short Bows.
_Ahk-o'-tash-iks_ Many Horses.
_Ah'-pai-tup-iks_ Blood People.
_Ah-kai-yi-ko-ka'-kin-iks_ White Breasts.
_Ki'yis_ Dried Meat.
_Sik-ut'-si-pum-aiks_ Black Patched Moccasins.
_Sik-o-pok'-si-maiks_ Blackfat Roasters.
_Tsin-ik-sis'-tso-yiks_ Early Finished Eating.
_Kut'-ai-im-iks_ They Don't Laugh.
_I'-pok-si-maiks_ Fat Roasters.
_Sik'-o-kit-sim-iks_ Black Doors.
_Ni-taw'-yiks_ Lone Eaters.
_Mi-ah-wah'-pit-siks_ Seldom Lonesome.
_Nit'-ik-skiks_ Lone Fighters.
_I-nuks'-iks_ Small Robes.
_Mi-aw'-kin-ai-yiks_ Big Topknots.
_Esk'-sin-ai-tup-iks_ Worm People.
_I-nuk-si'-kah-ko-pwa-iks_ Small Brittle Fat.
_Kah'-mi-taiks_ Buffalo Dung.
_Kut-ai-sot'-si-man_ No Parfleche.
_Ni-tot'-si-ksis-stan-iks_ Kill Close By.
_Mo-twai'-naiks_ All Chiefs.
_Mo-kum'-iks_ Red Round Robes.
_Mo-tah'-tos-iks_ Many Medicines.
It will be readily seen from the translations of the above that each gens
takes its name from some peculiarity or habit it is supposed to possess. It
will also be noticed that each tribe has a few gentes common to one or both
of the other tribes. This is caused by persons leaving their own tribe to
live with another one, but, instead of uniting with some gens of the
adopted tribe, they have preserved the name of their ancestral gens for
themselves and their descendants.
The Blackfoot terms of relationship will be found interesting. The
principal family names are as follows:--
My father _Ni'-nah._
My mother _Ni-kis'-ta._
My elder brother _Nis'-ah_
My younger brother _Nis-kun'._
My older sister _Nin'-sta._
My younger sister _Ni-sis'-ah._
My uncle _Nis'-ah._
My aunt _Ni-kis'-ta._
My cousin, male Same as brother.
My cousin, female Same as sister.
My grandfather _Na-ahks'._
My grandmother _Na-ahks'._
My father-in-law _Na-ahks'._
My mother-in-law _Na-ahks'._
My son _No-ko'-i._
My daughter _Ni-tun'._
My son-in-law _Nis'-ah._
My daughter-in-law _Ni-tot'-o-ke-man._
My brother-in-law older than self _Nis-tum-o'._
My brother-in-law younger than self _Nis-tum-o'-kun._
My sister-in-law _Ni-tot'-o-ke-man._
My second cousin _Nimp'-sa._
My wife _Nit-o-ke'-man._
My husband _No'-ma._
As the members of a gens were all considered as relatives, however remote,
there was a law prohibiting a man from marrying within his gens. Originally
this law was strictly enforced, but like many of the ancient customs it is
no longer observed. Lately, within the last forty or fifty years, it has
become not uncommon for a man and his family, or even two or three
families, on account of some quarrel or some personal dislike of the chief
of their own gens, to leave it and join another band. Thus the gentes often
received outsiders, who were not related by blood to the gens; and such
people or their descendants could marry within the gens. Ancestry became no
longer necessary to membership.
As a rule, before a young man could marry, he was required to have made
some successful expeditions to war against the enemy, thereby proving
himself a brave man, and at the same time acquiring a number of horses and
other property, which would enable him to buy the woman of his choice, and
afterwards to support her.
Marriages usually took place at the instance of the parents, though often
those of the young man were prompted by him. Sometimes the father of the
girl, if he desired to have a particular man for a son-in-law, would
propose to the father of the latter for the young man as a husband for his
The marriage in the old days was arranged after this wise: The chief of one
of the bands may have a marriageable daughter, and he may know of a young
man, the son of a chief of another band, who is a brave warrior, of good
character, sober-minded, steadfast, and trustworthy, who he thinks will
make a good husband for his daughter and a good son-in-law. After he has
made up his mind about this, he is very likely to call in a few of his
close relations, the principal men among them, and state to them his
conclusions, so as to get their opinions about it. If nothing is said to
change his mind, he sends to the father of the boy a messenger to state his
own views, and ask how the father feels about the matter.
On receiving this word, the boy's father probably calls together his close
relations, discusses the matter with them, and, if the match is
satisfactory to him, sends back word to that effect. When this message is
received, the relations of the girl proceed to fit her out with the very
best that they can provide. If she is the daughter of well-to-do or wealthy
people, she already has many of the things that are needed, but what she
may lack is soon supplied. Her mother makes her a new cowskin lodge,
complete, with new lodge poles, lining, and back rests. A chiefs daughter
would already have plenty of good clothing, but if the girl lacks anything,
it is furnished. Her dress is made of antelope skin, white as snow, and
perhaps ornamented with two or three hundred elk tushes. Her leggings are
of deer skin, heavily beaded and nicely fringed, and often adorned with
bells and brass buttons. Her summer blanket or sheet is an elk skin, well
tanned, without the hair and with the dew-claws left on. Her moccasins are
of deer skin, with parfleche soles and worked with porcupine quills. The
marriage takes place as soon as these things can be provided.
During the days which intervene between the proposal and the marriage, the
young woman each day selects the choicest parts of the meat brought to the
lodge,--the tongue, "boss ribs," some choice berry pemmican or what
not,--cooks these things in the best style, and, either alone, or in
company with a young sister, or a young friend, goes over to the lodge
where the young man lives, and places the food before him. He eats some of
it, little or much, and if he leaves anything, the girl offers it to his
mother, who may eat of it. Then the girl takes the dishes and returns to
her father's lodge. In this way she provides him with three meals a day,
morning, noon, and night, until the marriage takes place. Every one in camp
who sees the girl carrying the food in a covered dish to the young man's
lodge, knows that a marriage is to take place; and the girl is watched by
idle persons as she passes to and fro, so that the task is quite a trying
one for people as shy and bashful as Indians are. When the time for the
marriage has come,--in other words, when the girl's parents are ready,--the
girl, her mother assisting her, packs the new lodge and her own things on
the horses, and moves out into the middle of the circle--about which all
the lodges of the tribe are arranged--and there the new lodge is unpacked
and set up. In front of the lodge are tied, let us say, fifteen horses, the
girl's dowry given by her father. Very likely, too, the father has sent
over to the young man his own war clothing and arms, a lance, a fine
shield, a bow and arrows in otter-skin case, his war bonnet, war shirt, and
war leggings ornamented with scalps,--his complete equipment. This is set
up on a tripod in front of the lodge. The gift of these things is an
evidence of the great respect felt by the girl's father for his
son-in-law. As soon as the young man has seen the preparations being made
for setting up the girl's lodge in the centre of the circle, he sends over
to his father-in-law's lodge just twice the number of horses that the girl
brought with her,--in this supposed case, thirty.
As soon as this lodge is set up, and the girl's mother has taken her
departure and gone back to her own lodge, the young man, who, until he saw
these preparations, had no knowledge of when the marriage was to take
place, leaves his father's lodge, and, going over to the newly erected one,
enters and takes his place at the back of it. Probably during the day he
will order his wife to take down the lodge, and either move away from the
camp, or at least move into the circle of lodges; for he will not want to
remain with his young wife in the most conspicuous place in the camp.
Often, on the same day, he will send for six or eight of his friends, and,
after feasting them, will announce his intention of going to war, and will
start off the same night. If he does so, and is successful, returning with
horses or scalps, or both, he at once, on arrival at the camp, proceeds to
his father-in-law's lodge and leaves there everything he has brought back,
returning to his own lodge on foot, as poor as he left it.
We have supposed the proposal in this case to come from the father of the
girl, but if a boy desires a particular girl for his wife, the proposal
will come from his father; otherwise matters are managed in the same way.
This ceremony of moving into the middle of the circle was only performed in
the case of important people. The custom was observed in what might be
called a fashionable wedding among the Blackfeet. Poorer, less important
people married more quietly. If the girl had reached marriageable age
without having been asked for as a wife, she might tell her mother that she
would like to marry a certain young man, that he was a man she could love
and respect. The mother communicates this to the father of the girl, who
invites the young man to the lodge to a feast, and proposes the match. The
young man returns no answer at the time, but, going back to his father's
lodge, tells him of the offer, and expresses his feelings about it. If he
is inclined to accept, the relations are summoned, and the matter talked
over. A favorable answer being returned, a certain number of horses--what
the young man or his father, or both together, can spare--are sent over to
the girl's father. They send as many as they can, for the more they send,
the more they are thought of and looked up to. The girl, unless her parents
are very poor, has her outfit, a saddle horse and pack horse with saddle
and pack saddle, parfleches, etc. If the people are very poor, she may
have only a riding horse. Her relations get together, and do all in their
power to give her a good fitting out, and the father, if he can possibly do
so, is sure to pay them back what they have given. If he cannot do so, the
things are still presented; for, in the case of a marriage, the relations
on both sides are anxious to do all that they can to give the young people
a good start in life. When all is ready, the girl goes to the lodge where
her husband lives, and goes in. If this lodge is too crowded to receive the
couple, the young man will make arrangements for space in the lodge of a
brother, cousin, or uncle, where there is more room. These are all his
close relations, and he is welcome in any of their lodges, and has rights
Sometimes, if two young people are fond of each other, and there is no
prospect of their being married, they may take riding horses and a pack
horse, and elope at night, going to some other camp for a while. This makes
the girl's father angry, for he feels that he has been defrauded of his
payments. The young man knows that his father-in-law bears him a grudge,
and if he afterwards goes to war and is successful, returning with six or
seven horses, he will send them all to the camp where his father-in-law
lives, to be tied in front of his lodge. This at once heals the breach, and
the couple may return. Even if he has not been successful in war and
brought horses, which of course he does not always accomplish, he from time
to time sends the old man a present, the best he can. Notwithstanding these
efforts at conciliation, the parents feel very bitterly against him. The
girl has been stolen. The union is no marriage at all. The old people are
ashamed and disgraced for their daughter. Until the father has been
pacified by satisfactory payments, there is no marriage. Moreover, unless
the young man had made a payment, or at least had endeavored to do so, he
would be little thought of among his fellows, and looked down on as a poor
creature without any sense of honor.
The Blackfeet take as many wives as they wish; but these ceremonies are
only carried out in the case of the first wife, the "sits-beside-him"
woman. In the case of subsequent marriages, if the man had proved a good,
kind husband to his first wife, other men, who thought a good deal of their
daughters, might propose to give them to him, so that they would be well
treated. The man sent over the horses to the new father-in-law's lodge, and
the girl returned to his, bringing her things with her. Or if the man saw a
girl he liked, he would propose for her to her father.
Among the Blackfeet, there was apparently no form of courtship, such as
prevails among our southern Indians. Young men seldom spoke to young girls
who were not relations, and the girls were carefully guarded. They never
went out of the lodge after dark, and never went out during the day, except
with the mother or some other old woman. The girl, therefore, had very
little choice in the selection of a husband. If a girl was told she must
marry a certain man, she had to obey. She might cry, but her father's will
was law, and she might be beaten or even killed by him, if she did not do
as she was ordered. As a consequence of this severity, suicide was quite
common among the Blackfoot girls. A girl ordered to marry a man whom she
did not like would often watch her chance, and go out in the brush and hang
herself. The girl who could not marry the man she wanted to was likely to
do the same thing.
The man had absolute power over his wife. Her life was in his hands, and if
he had made a payment for her, he could do with her about as he pleased. On
the whole, however, women who behaved themselves were well treated and
received a good deal of consideration. Those who were light-headed, or
foolish, or obstinate and stubborn were sometimes badly beaten. Those who
were unfaithful to their husbands usually had their noses or ears, or both,
cut off for the first offence, and were killed either by the husband or
some relation, or by the _I-kun-uh'-kah-tsi_ for the second. Many of the
doctors of the highest reputation in the tribe were women. It is a common
belief among some of those who have investigated the subject that the wife
in Indian marriage was actually purchased, and became the absolute property
of her husband. Though I have a great respect for some of the opinions
which have been expressed on this subject, I am obliged to take an entirely
different view of the matter. I have talked this subject over many times
with young men and old men of a number of tribes, and I cannot learn from
them, or in any other way, that in primitive times the woman was purchased
from her father. The husband did not have property rights in his wife. She
was not a chattel that he could trade away. He had all personal rights,
could beat his wife, or, for cause, kill her, but he could not sell her to
All the younger sisters of a man's wife were regarded as his potential
wives. If he was not disposed to marry them, they could not be disposed of
to any other man without his consent.
Not infrequently, a man having a marriageable daughter formally gave her to
some young man who had proved himself brave in war, successful in taking
horses, and, above all, of a generous disposition. This was most often done
by men who had no sons to support them in their old age.
It is said that in the old days, before they had horses, young men did not
expect to marry until they had almost reached middle life,--from
thirty-five to forty years of age. This statement is made by Wolf Calf,
who is now very old, almost one hundred years, he believes, and can
remember back nearly or quite to the time when the Blackfeet obtained their
first horses. In those days, young women did not marry until they were
grown up, while of late years fathers not infrequently sell their daughters
as wives when they are only children.
The first woman a man marries is called his sits-beside-him wife. She is
invested with authority over all the other wives, and does little except to
direct the others in their work, and look after the comfort of her
husband. Her place in the lodge is on his right-hand side, while the others
have their places or seats near the door-way. This wife is even allowed at
informal gatherings to take a whiff at the pipe, as it is passed around the
circle, and to participate in the conversation.
In the old days, it was a very poor man who did not have three wives. Many
had six, eight, and some more than a dozen. I have heard of one who had
sixteen. In those times, provided a man had a good-sized band of horses,
the more wives he had, the richer he was. He could always find young men to
hunt for him, if he furnished the mounts, and, of course, the more wives he
had, the more robes and furs they would tan for him.
If, for any cause, a man wished to divorce himself from a woman, he had but
to send her back to her parents and demand the price paid for her, and the
matter was accomplished. The woman was then free to marry again, provided
her parents were willing.
When a man dies, his wives become the potential wives of his oldest
brother. Unless, during his life, he has given them outright horses and
other property, at his death they are entitled to none of his
possessions. If he has sons, the property is divided among them, except a
few horses, which are given to his brothers. If he has no sons, all the
property goes to his brothers, and if there are no brothers, it goes to the
nearest male relatives on the father's side.
The Blackfeet cannot be said to have been slave-holders. It is true that
the Crees call the Blackfeet women "Little Slaves." But this, as elsewhere
suggested, may refer to the region whence they originally came, though it
is often explained that it is on account of the manner in which the
Blackfeet treat their women, killing them or mutilating their features for
adultery and other serious offences. Although a woman, all her life, was
subject to some one's orders, either parent, relative, or husband, a man
from his earliest childhood was free and independent. His father would not
punish him for any misconduct, his mother dared not. At an early age he was
taught to ride and shoot, and horses were given to him. By the time he was
twelve, he had probably been on a war expedition or two. As a rule in
later times, young men married when they were seventeen or eighteen years
of age; and often they resided for several years with their fathers, until
the family became so large that there was not room for them all in the
There were always in the camp a number of boys, orphans, who became the
servants of wealthy men for a consideration; that is, they looked after
their patron's horses and hunted, and in return they were provided with
suitable food and clothing.
Among the Blackfeet, all men were free and equal, and office was not
hereditary. Formerly each gens was governed by a chief, who was entitled to
his office by virtue of his bravery and generosity. The head chief was
chosen by the chiefs of the gentes from their own number, and was usually
the one who could show the best record in war, as proved at the Medicine
Lodge, at which time he was elected; and for the ensuing year he was
invested with the supreme power. But no matter how brave a man might have
been, or how successful in war, he could not hope to be the chief either of
a gens or of the tribe, unless he was kind-hearted, and willing to share
his prosperity with the poor. For this reason, a chief was never a wealthy
man, for what he acquired with one hand he gave away with the other. It was
he who decided when the people should move camp, and where they should
go. But in this, as in all other important affairs, he generally asked the
advice of the minor chiefs.
[Footnote 1: See chapter on Religion.]
The _I-kun-uh'-kah-tsi_ (All Comrades) were directly under the authority of
the head chief, and when any one was to be punished, or anything else was
to be done which came within their province as the tribal police, it was he
who issued the orders. The following were the crimes which the Blackfeet
considered sufficiently serious to merit punishment, and the penalties
which attached to them.
Murder: A life for a life, or a heavy payment by the murderer or his
relatives at the option of the murdered man's relatives. This payment was
often so heavy as absolutely to strip the murderer of all property.
Theft: Simply the restoration of the property.
Adultery: For the first offence the husband generally cut off the offending
wife's nose or ears; for the second offence she was killed by the All
Comrades. Often the woman, if her husband complained of her, would be
killed by her brothers or first cousins, and this was more usual than death
at the hands of the All Comrades. However, the husband could have her put
to death for the first offence, if he chose.
Treachery (that is, when a member of the tribe went over to the enemy or
gave them any aid whatever): Death at sight.
Cowardice: A man who would not fight was obliged to wear woman's dress, and
was not allowed to marry.
If a man left camp to hunt buffalo by himself, thereby driving away the
game, the All Comrades were sent after him, and not only brought him back
by main force, but often whipped him, tore his lodge to shreds, broke his
travois, and often took away his store of dried meat, pemmican, and other
The tradition of the origin of the _I-kun-uh'-kah-tsi_ has elsewhere been
given. This association of the All Comrades consisted of a dozen or more
secret societies, graded according to age, the whole constituting an
association which was in part benevolent and helpful, and in part military,
but whose main function was to punish offences against society at large. All
these societies were really law and order associations. The
M[)u]t'-s[)i]ks, or Braves, was the chief society, but the others helped
A number of the societies which made up the _I-kun-uh'-kah-tsi_ have been
abandoned in recent years, but several of them still exist. Among the
Pi-kun'-i, the list--so far as I have it--is as follows, the societies
being named in order from those of boyhood to old age:--
SOCIETIES OF THE ALL COMRADES
_Ts[)i]-st[=i]ks'_, Little Birds, includes boys from
15 to 20 years old.
_K[)u]k-k[=u][=i]cks'_, Pigeons, men who have been to war
_T[)u]is-k[)i]s-t[=i]ks_, Mosquitoes, men who are constantly
going to war
_M[)u]t'-s[)i]ks_, Braves, tried warriors.
_Kn[)a]ts-o-mi'-ta_, All Crazy Dogs, about forty years old.
_Ma-stoh'-pa-ta-k[=i]ks_ Raven Bearers.
_E'-mi-taks_, Dogs, old men.
Dogs and Tails are
_Is'-sui_, Tails, but they dress alike
and dance together
_[)E]ts-[=a]i'-nah_, Horns, Bloods, obsolete among the
_Sin'-o-pah_, Kit-foxes, Piegans, but still exists
_[)E]-[)i]n'-a-ke_, Catchers or Soldiers, obsolete for 25-30 years,
_St[)u]'m[=i]ks_, Bulls, obsolete for 50 years.
There may be other societies of the All Comrades, but these are the only
ones that I know of at present. The M[=u]t'-s[)i]ks, Braves, and the
Knats-o-mi'-ta, All Crazy Dogs, still exist, but many of the others are
being forgotten. Since the necessity for their existence has passed, they
are no longer kept up. They were a part of the old wild life, and when the
buffalo disappeared, and the Blackfeet came to live about an agency, and to
try to work for a subsistence, the societies soon lost their importance.
The societies known as Little Birds, Mosquitoes, and Doves are not really
bands of the All Comrades, but are societies among the boys and young men
in imitation of the _I-kun-uh'-kah-tsi_, but of comparatively recent
origin. Men not more than fifty years old can remember when these societies
came into existence. Of all the societies of the _I-kun-uh'-kah-tsi,_ the
Sin'-o-pah, or Kit-fox band, has the strongest medicine. This corresponds
to the Horns society among the Bloods. They are the same band with
different names. They have certain peculiar secret and sacred ceremonies,
not to be described here.
The society of the Stum'-[=i]ks, or Bulls, became obsolete more than fifty
years ago. Their dress was very fine,--bulls' heads and robes.
The members of the younger society purchased individually, from the next
older one, its rights and privileges, paying horses for them. For example,
each member of the Mosquitoes would purchase from some member of the Braves
his right of membership in the latter society. The man who has sold his
rights is then a member of no society, and if he wishes to belong to one,
must buy into the one next higher. Each of these societies kept some old
men as members, and these old men acted as messengers, orators, and so on.
The change of membership from one society to another was made in the
spring, after the grass had started. Two, three, or more lodge coverings
were stretched over poles, making one very large lodge, and in this the
ceremonies accompanying the changes took place.
In later times, the Braves were the most important and best known of any of
the All Comrades societies. The members of this band were soldiers or
police. They were the constables of the camp, and it was their duty to
preserve order, and to punish offenders. Sometimes young men would skylark
in camp at night, making a great noise when people wanted to sleep, and
would play rough practical jokes, that were not at all relished by those
who suffered from them. One of the forms which their high spirits took was
to lead and push a young colt up to the door of a lodge, after people were
asleep, and then, lifting the door, to shove the animal inside and close
the door again. Of course the colt, in its efforts to get out to its
mother, would run round and round the lodge, trampling over the sleepers
and roughly awakening them, knocking things down and creating the utmost
confusion, while the mare would be whinnying outside the lodge, and the
people within, bewildered and confused, did not know what the disturbance
was all about.
The Braves would punish the young men who did such things,--if they could
catch them,--tearing up their blankets, taking away their property, and
sometimes whipping them severely. They were the peace officers of the camp,
like the _lari p[=u]k'[=u]s_ among the Pawnees.
Among the property of the Brave society were two stone-pointed arrows, one
"shield you don't sit down with," and one rattle. The man who carried this
rattle was known as Brave Dog, and if it passed from one member of the
society to another, the new owner became known as Brave Dog. The man who
received the shield could not sit down for the next four days and four
nights, but for all that time was obliged to run about the camp, or over
the prairie, whistling like a rabbit.
The societies known as Soldiers and Bulls had passed out of existence
before the time of men now of middle age. The pipe of the Soldier society
is still in existence, in the hands of Double Runner. The bull's head war
bonnet, which was the insignia of the Bulls society, was formerly in the
possession of Young Bear Chief, at present chief of the Don't Laugh band of
the Piegans. He gave it to White Calf, who presented it to a recent agent.
In the old days, and, indeed, down to the time of the disappearance of the
buffalo, the camp was always arranged in the form of a circle, the lodges
standing at intervals around the circumference, and in the wide inner space
there was another circle of lodges occupied by the chief of certain bands
of the _I-kun-uh'-kah-tsi_. When all the gentes of the tribe were present,
each had its special position in the circle, and always occupied it. The
lodge of the chief of the gens stood just within the circle, and about it
his people camped. The order indicated in the accompanying diagram
represents the Piegan camp as it used to stand thirty-five or forty years
ago. A number of the gentes are now extinct, and it is not altogether
certain just what the position of those should be; for while all the older
men agree on the position to be assigned to certain of the gentes, there
are others about which there are differences of opinion or much
uncertainty. It is stated that the gentes known as Seldom Lonesome, Dried
Meat, and No Parfleche belong to that section of the tribe known as North
Piegans, which, at the time of the first treaty, separated from the
Pi-kun'-i, and elected to live under British rule.
The lodges of the chiefs of the _I-kun-uh'-kah-tsi_ which were within the
circle served as lounging and eating places for such members of the bands
as were on duty, and were council lodges or places for idling, as the
When the camp moved, the Blood gens moved first and was followed by the
White Breast gens, and so on around the circle to number 24. On camping,
the Bloods camped first, and the others after them in the order indicated,
number 24 camping last and closing up the circle. DIAGRAM OF OLD-TIME
PIEGAN CAMP, SAY 1850 TO 1855. TWENTY-FOUR LODGES OF CHIEFS OF THE GENTES
ABOUT THE OUTER CIRCLE.
The inner circle shows lodges of chiefs of certain bands of the
GENTES OF THE PI-KUN'-I
1. Blood People.
2. White Breasts.
3. Dried Meat.
4. Black Patched Moccasins.
5. Black Fat Roasters.
6. Early Finished Eating.
7. Don't Laugh.
8. Fat Roasters.
9. Black Doors.
10. Lone Eaters.
12. Seldom Lonesome.
14. Lone Fighters.
15. Small Robes.
16. Big Topknots.
17. Worm People.
18. Small Brittle Fat.
19. Buffalo Dung.
20. No Parfleche.
21. Kill Close Bye
22. All Chiefs.
23. Red Round Robes.
24. Many Medicines.
BANDS OF THE I-KUN-UH'-KAH-TSI
a. All Crazy Dogs.
e. Raven Bearers.
The Blackfoot country probably contained more game and in greater variety
than any other part of the continent. Theirs was a land whose physical
characteristics presented sharp contrasts. There were far-stretching grassy
prairies, affording rich pasturage for the buffalo and the antelope; rough
breaks and bad lands for the climbing mountain sheep; wooded buttes, loved
by the mule deer; timbered river bottoms, where the white-tailed deer and
the elk could browse and hide; narrow, swampy valleys for the moose; and
snow-patched, glittering pinnacles of rock, over which the sure-footed
white goat took his deliberate way. The climate varied from arid to humid;
the game of the prairie, the timber, and the rocks, found places suited to
their habits. Fur-bearing animals abounded. Noisy hordes of wild fowl
passed north and south in their migrations, and many stopped here to breed.
The Blackfoot country is especially favored by the warm chinook winds,
which insure mild winters with but little snow; and although on the plains
there is usually little rain in summer, the short prairie grasses are sweet
and rich. All over this vast domain, the buffalo were found in countless
herds. Elk, deer, antelope, mountain sheep, and bear without number were
there. In those days, sheep were to be found on every ridge, and along the
rough bad lands far from the mountains. Now, except a few in the "breaks"
of the Missouri, they occur only on the highest and most inaccessible
mountains, along with the white goats, which, although pre-eminently
mountain animals, were in early days sometimes found far out on the
The Blackfeet were a race of meat-eaters, and, while they killed large
quantities of other game, they still depended for subsistence on the
buffalo. This animal provided them with almost all that they needed in the
way of food, clothing, and shelter, and when they had an abundance of the
buffalo they lived in comfort.
Almost every part of the beast was utilized. The skin, dressed with the
hair on, protected them from the winter's cold; freed from the hair, it was
used for a summer sheet or blanket, for moccasins, leggings, shirts, and
women's dresses. The tanned cowskins made their lodges, the warmest and
most comfortable portable shelters ever devised. From the rawhide, the hair
having been shaved off, were made parfleches, or trunks, in which to pack
small articles. The tough, thick hide of the bull's neck, spread out and
allowed to shrink smooth, made a shield for war which would stop an arrow,
and turn a lance thrust or the ball from an old-fashioned, smooth-bore
gun. The green hide served as a kettle, in which to boil meat. The skin of
the hind leg, cut off above the pastern and again some distance above the
hock, was sometimes used as a moccasin or boot, the lower opening being
sewed up for the toe. A variety of small articles, such as cradles, gun
covers, whips, mittens, quivers, bow cases, knife-sheaths, etc., were made
from the hide. Braided strands of hide furnished them with ropes and
lines. The hair was used to stuff cushions and, later, saddles, and parts
of the long black flowing beard to ornament wearing apparel and implements
of war, such as shields and quivers. The horns gave them spoons and
ladles--sometimes used as small dishes--and ornamented their war
bonnets. From the hoofs they made a glue, which they used in fastening the
heads and feathers on their arrows, and the sinew backs on their bows. The
sinews which lie along the back and on the belly were used as thread and
string, and as backing for bows to give them elasticity and strength. From
the ribs were made scrapers used in dressing hides, and runners for small
sledges drawn by dogs; and they were employed by the children in coasting
down hill on snow or ice. The shoulder-blades, lashed to a wooden handle,
formed axes, hoes, and fleshers. From the cannon bones (metatarsals and
metacarpals) were made scrapers for dressing hides. The skin of the tail,
fitted on a stick, was used as a fly brush. These are but a few of the uses
to which the product of the buffalo was put. As has been said, almost every
part of the flesh was eaten.
Now it must be remembered that in early days the hunting weapons of this
people consisted only of stone-pointed arrows, and with such armament the
capture of game of the larger sorts must have been a matter of some
uncertainty. To drive a rude stone-headed arrow through the tough hide and
into the vitals of the buffalo, could not have been--even under the most
favorable circumstances--other than a difficult matter; and although we may
assume that, in those days, it was easy to steal up to within a few yards
of the unsuspicious animals, we can readily conceive that many arrows must
have been shot without effect, for one that brought down the game.
Certain ingenious methods were therefore devised to insure the taking of
game in large numbers at one time. This was especially the case with the
buffalo, which were the food and raiment of the people. One of these
contrivances was called pis'kun, deep-kettle; or, since the termination of
the word seems to indicate the last syllable of the word _ah'-pun,_ blood,
it is more likely deep-blood-kettle. This was a large corral, or enclosure,
built out from the foot of a perpendicular cliff or bluff, and formed of
natural banks, rocks, and logs or brush,--anything in fact to make a close,
high barrier. In some places the enclosure might be only a fence of brush,
but even here the buffalo did not break it down, for they did not push
against it, but ran round and round within, looking for a clear space
through which they might pass. From the top of the bluff, directly over
the pis'kun, two long lines of rock piles and brush extended far out on the
prairie, ever diverging from each other like the arms of the letter V, the
opening over the pis'kun being at the angle.
In the evening of the day preceding a drive of buffalo into the pis'kun a
medicine man, usually one who was the possessor of a buffalo rock,
In-is'-kim, unrolled his pipe, and prayed to the Sun for success. Next
morning the man who was to call the buffalo arose very early, and told his
wives that they must not leave the lodge, nor even look out, until he
returned; that they should keep burning sweet grass, and should pray to the
Sun for his success and safety. Without eating or drinking, he then went up
on the prairie, and the people followed him, and concealed themselves
behind the rocks and bushes which formed the V, or chute. The medicine man
put on a head-dress made of the head of a buffalo, and a robe, and then
started out to approach the animals. When he had come near to the herd, he
moved about until he had attracted the attention of some of the buffalo,
and when they began to look at him, he walked slowly away toward the
entrance of the chute. Usually the buffalo followed, and, as they did so,
he gradually increased his pace. The buffalo followed more rapidly, and the
man continually went a little faster. Finally, when the buffalo were fairly
within the chute, the people began to rise up from behind the rock piles
which the herd had passed, and to shout and wave their robes. This
frightened the hinder-most buffalo, which pushed forward on the others, and
before long the whole herd was running at headlong speed toward the
precipice, the rock piles directing them to the point over the
enclosure. When they reached it, most of the animals were pushed over, and
usually even the last of the band plunged blindly down into the
pis'kun. Many were killed outright by the fall; others had broken legs or
broken backs, while some perhaps were uninjured. The barricade, however,
prevented them from escaping, and all were soon killed by the arrows of the
It is said that there was another way to get the buffalo into this chute. A
man who was very skilful in arousing the buffalo's curiosity, might go out
without disguise, and by wheeling round and round in front of the herd,
appearing and disappearing, would induce them to move toward him, when it
was easy to entice them into the chute. Once there, the people began to
rise up behind them, shouting and waving their robes, and the now
terror-stricken animals rushed ahead, and were driven over the cliff into
the pis'kun, where all were quickly killed and divided among the people,
the chiefs and the leading warrior getting the best and fattest animals.
The pis'kun was in use up to within thirty-five or forty years, and many
men are still living who have seen the buffalo driven over the cliff. Such
men even now speak with enthusiasm of the plenty that successful drives
brought to the camp.
The pis'kuns of the Sik'-si-kau, or Blackfoot tribe, differed in some
particulars from those constructed by the Bloods and the Piegans, who live
further to the south, nearer to the mountains, and so in a country which is
rougher and more broken. The Sik'-si-kau built their pis'kuns like the
Crees, on level ground and usually near timber. A large pen or corral was
made of heavy logs about eight feet high. On the side where the wings of
the chute come together, a bridge, or causeway, was built, sloping gently
up from the prairie to the walls of the corral, which at this point were
cut away to the height of the bridge above the ground,--here about
four feet,--so that the animals running up the causeway could jump down into
the corral. The causeway was fenced in on either side by logs, so that the
buffalo could not run off it. After they had been lured within the wings of
the chute, they were driven toward the corral as already described. When
they reached the end of the >, they ran up the bridge, and jumped down into
the pen. When it was full, or all had entered, Indians, who had lain hidden
near by, ran upon the bridge, and placed poles, prepared beforehand, across
the opening through which the animals had entered, and over these poles
hung robes, so as entirely to close the opening. The buffalo will not dash
themselves against a barrier which is entirely closed, even though it be
very frail; but if they can see through it to the outside, they will rush
against it, and their great weight and strength make it easy for them to
break down any but a heavy wall. Mr. Hugh Monroe tells me that he has seen
a pis'kun built of willow brush; and the Cheyennes have stated to me that
their buffalo corrals were often built of brush. Sometimes, if the walls of
the pis'kun were not high, the buffalo tried to jump or climb over them,
and, in doing this, might break them down, and some or all escape. As soon,
however, as the animals were in the corral, the people--women and children
included--ran up and showed themselves all about the walls, and by their
cries kept the buffalo from pressing against the walls. The animals ran
round and round within, and the men standing on the walls shot them down as
they passed. The butchering was done in the pis'kun, and after this was
over, the place was cleaned out, the heads, feet, and least perishable
offal being removed. Wolves, foxes, badgers, and other small carnivorous
animals visited the pis'kun, and soon made away with the entrails.
In winter, when the snow was on the ground, and the buffalo were to be led
to the pis'kun, the following method was adopted to keep the herd
travelling in the desired direction after they had got between the wings of
the chute. A line of buffalo chips, each one supported on three small
sticks, so that it stood a few inches above the snow, was carried from the
mouth of the pis'kun straight out toward the prairie. The chips were about
thirty feet apart, and ran midway between the wings of the chute. This line
was, of course, conspicuous against the white snow, and when the buffalo
were running down the chute, they always followed it, never turning to the
right nor to the left. In the latter days of the pis'kun, the man who led
the buffalo was often mounted on a white horse.
Often, when they drove the buffalo over a high vertical cliff, no corral
was built beneath. Most of those driven over were killed or disabled by the
fall, and only a few got away. The pis'kuns, as a rule, were built under
low-cut bluffs, and sometimes the buffalo were driven in by moonlight.
In connection with the subject of leading or decoying the buffalo, another
matter not generally known may be mentioned. Sometimes, as a matter of
convenience, a herd was brought from a long distance close up to the
camp. This was usually done in the spring of the year, when the horses were
thin in flesh and not in condition to stand a long chase. I myself have
never seen this; but my friend, William Jackson, was once present at such a
drive by the Red River half-breeds, and has described to me the way in
which it was done.
The camp was on Box Elder Creek near the Musselshell River. It was in the
spring of 1881, and the horses were all pretty well run down and thin, so
that their owners wished to spare them as much as possible. The buffalo
were seven or eight miles distant, and two men were sent out to bring them
to the camp. Other men, leading fresh horses, went with them, and hid
themselves among the hills at different points along the course that the
buffalo were expected to take, at intervals of a mile and a half. They
watched the herd, and were on hand to supply the fresh horses to the men
who were bringing it.
The buffalo were on a wide flat, and the men rode over the hill and
advanced toward the herd at a walk. At length the buffalo noticed them, and
began to huddle up together and to walk about, and at length to walk
away. Then the men turned, and rode along parallel to the buffalo's course,
and at the same gait that these were taking. When the buffalo began to
trot, the men trotted, and when the herd began to lope, the men loped, and
at length they were all running pretty fast. The men kept about half a mile
from the herd, and up even with the leaders. As they ran, the herd kept
constantly edging a little toward the riders, as if trying to cross in
front of them. This inclination toward the men was least when they were far
off, and greatest when they drew nearer to them. At no time were the men
nearer to the herd than four hundred yards. If the buffalo edged too much
toward the riders, so that the course they were taking would lead them away
from camp, the men would drop back and cross over behind the herd to the
other side, and then, pushing their horses hard, would come up with the
leaders,--but still at a distance from them,--and then the buffalo would
begin to edge toward them, and the herd would be brought back again to the
desired course. If necessary, this was repeated, and so the buffalo were
kept travelling in a course approximately straight.
By the time the buffalo had got pretty near to the camp, they were pretty
well winded, and the tongues of many of them were hanging out. This herd
was led up among the rolling hills about a mile from the camp, and there
the people were waiting for them, and charged them, when the herd broke up,
the animals running in every direction.
Occasionally it would happen that for a long time the buffalo would not be
found in a place favorable for driving over the cliff or into a pen. In
such cases, the Indians would steal out on foot, and, on a day when there
was no wind, would stealthily surround the herd. Then they would startle
the buffalo, and yet would keep them from breaking through the circle. The
buffalo would "mill" around until exhausted, and at length, when worn out,
would be shot down by the Indians. This corresponds almost exactly with one
of the methods employed in killing buffalo by the Pawnees in early days
before they had horses. In those days the Pi-k[)u]n'-i were very
numerous, and sometimes when a lot of buffalo were found in a favorable
position, and there was no wind, the people would surround them, and set up
their lodges about them, thus practically building a corral of
lodges. After all preparations had been made, they would frighten the
buffalo, which, being afraid to pass through between the lodges, would run
round and round in a great circle, and when they were exhausted the people
would kill them.
[Footnote 1: Pawnee Hero Stories and Folk-Tales, p. 250.]
Then they always had plenty of buffalo--if not fresh meat, that which they
had dried. For in winter they would kill large numbers of buffalo, and
would prepare great stores of dried meat. As spring opened, the buffalo
would move down to the more flat prairie country away from the
pis'kuns. Then the Blackfeet would also move away. As winter drew near, the
buffalo would again move up close to the mountains, and the Indians, as
food began to become scarce, would follow them toward the pis'kuns. In the
last of the summer and early autumn, they always had runners out, looking
for the buffalo, to find where they were, and which way they were
moving. In the early autumn, all the pis'kuns were repaired and
strengthened, so as to be in good order for winter.
In the days before they had horses, and even in later times when the ground
was of such a character as to prevent running the buffalo, an ingenious
method of still-hunting them was practised. A story told by Hugh Monroe
illustrates it. He said: "I was often detailed by the Hudson's Bay Company
to go out in charge of a number of men, to kill meat for the fort. When the
ground was full of holes and wash-outs, so that running was dangerous, I
used to put on a big timber wolf's skin, which I carried for the purpose,
tying it at my neck and waist, and then to sneak up to the buffalo. I used
a bow and arrows, and generally shot a number without alarming them. If one
looked suspiciously at me, I would howl like a wolf. Sometimes the smell of
the blood from the wounded and dying would set the bulls crazy. They would
run up and lick the blood, and sometimes toss the dead ones clear from the
ground. Then they would bellow and fight each other, sometimes goring one
another so badly that they died. The great bulls, their tongues covered
with blood, their eyes flashing, and tails sticking out straight, roaring
and fighting, were terrible to see; and it was a little dangerous for me,
because the commotion would attract buffalo from all directions to see what
was going on. At such times, I would signal to my men, and they would ride
up and scare the buffalo away."
In more modern times, the height of pleasure to a Blackfoot was to ride a
good horse and run buffalo. When bows and arrows, and, later,
muzzle-loading "fukes" were the only weapons, no more buffalo were killed
than could actually be utilized. But after the Winchester repeater came in
use, it seemed as if the different tribes vied with each other in wanton
slaughter. Provided with one of these weapons and a couple of belts of
cartridges, the hunters would run as long as their horses could keep up
with the band, and literally cover the prairie with carcasses, many of
which were never even skinned.
It is said that once in early times the men determined that they would use
antelope skins for their women's dresses, instead of cowskins. So they
found a place where antelope were plenty, and set up on the prairie long
lines of rock piles, or of bushes, so as to form a chute like a >. Near the
point where the lines joined, they dug deep pits, which they roofed with
slender poles, and covered these with grass and a little dirt. Then the
people scattered out, and while most of them hid behind the rock piles and
bushes, a few started the antelope toward the mouth of the chute. As they
ran by them, the people showed themselves and yelled, and the antelope ran
down the chute and finally reached the pits, and falling into them were
taken, when they were killed and divided among the hunters. Afterward, this
was the common method of securing antelopes up to the coming of the whites.
Before the whites came to the Blackfoot country, the Indian standard of
value was eagle tail-feathers. They were used to make war head-dresses, to
tie on the head, and to ornament shields, lances, and other
weapons. Besides this, the wings were used for fans, and the body feathers
for arrow-making. Always a wary bird, the eagle could seldom be approached
near enough for killing with the bow and arrow; and, in fact, it seems as
if it was considered improper to kill it in that way. The capture of these
birds appears to have had about it something of a sacred nature, and, as
was always the case among wild Indians when anything important was to be
undertaken, it was invariably preceded by earnest prayers to the Deity for
help and for success.
There are still living many men who have caught eagles in the ancient
method, and, from several of these, accounts have been received, which,
while essentially similar, yet differ in certain particulars, especially in
the explanations of certain features of the ceremony.
Wolf Calf's account of this ceremony is as follows:--
"A man who started out to catch eagles moved his lodge and his family away
from the main camp, to some place where the birds were abundant. A spot was
chosen on top of a mound or butte within a few miles of his lodge, and here
he dug a pit in the ground as long as his body and somewhat deeper. The
earth removed was carried away to a distance, and scattered about so as to
make no show. When the pit had been made large enough, it was roofed over
with small willow sticks, on which grass was scattered, and over the grass
a little earth and stones were laid, so as to give the place a natural
look, like the prairie all about it.
"The bait was a piece of bloody neck of a buffalo. This, of course, could
be seen a long way off, and by the meat a stuffed wolf skin was often
placed, standing up, as if the animal were eating. To the piece of neck was
tied a rope, which passed down through the roof of the pit and was held in
the watcher's hand.
"After all had been made ready, the next day the man rose very early,
before it was light, and, after smoking and praying, left his camp, telling
his wives and children not to use an awl while he was gone. He endeavored
to reach the pit early in the morning, before it became light, and lay down
in it, taking with him a slender stick about six feet long, a human skull,
and a little pemmican. Then he waited.
"When the morning came, and the eagles were flying, one of them would see
the meat and descend to take it away from the wolf. Finding it held fast by
the rope, the bird began to feed on it; and while it was pecking at the
bait, the watcher seized it by the legs, and drew it into the pit, where he
killed it, either by twisting its neck, or by crushing it with his
knees. Then he laid it to one side, first opening the bill and putting a
little piece of pemmican in its mouth. This was done to make the other
eagles hungry. While he was in the pit, the man neither ate, drank, nor
slept. He had a sleeping-place not far off, to which he repaired each night
after dark, and there he ate and drank.
"The reason for taking the skull into the hole with the catcher was, in
part, for his protection. It was believed that the ghost of the person to
whom the skull had belonged would protect the watcher against harm from the
eagle, and besides that, the skull, or ghost, would make the watcher
invisible, like a ghost. The eagle would not see him.
"The stick was used to poke or drive away smaller birds, such as magpies,
crows, and ravens, which might alight on the roof of the pit, and try to
feed on the bait. It was used, also, to drive away the white-headed eagle,
which they did not care to catch. These are powerful birds; they could
almost kill a person.
"There are two sacred things connected with the catching of eagles,--two
things which must be observed if the eagle-catcher is to have good
luck. The man who is watching must not eat rosebuds. If he does, the eagle,
when he comes down and alights by the bait, will begin to scratch himself
and will not attack the bait. The rosebuds will make him itch. Neither the
man nor his wife must use an awl while he is absent from his lodge, and is
trying to catch the birds. If this is done, the eagles will scratch the
catcher. Sometimes one man would catch a great many eagles."
In his day, John Monroe was a famous eagle-catcher, and he has given me the
following account of the method as he has practised it. The pit is dug, six
feet long, three wide, and four deep, on top of the highest knoll that can
be found near a stream. The earth taken out is carried a long way off. Over
the pit they put two long poles, one on each side, running lengthwise of
the pit, and other smaller sticks are laid across, resting on the
poles. The smaller sticks are covered with juniper twigs and long grass. The
skin of a wolf, coyote, or fox, is stuffed with grass, and made to look as
natural as possible. A hole is cut in the wolf skin and a rope is passed
through it, one end being tied to a large piece of meat which lies by the
skin, and the other passing through the roof down into the pit. The bait is
now covered with grass, and the man returns to his lodge for the night.
During the night, he sings his eagle songs and burns sweet grass for the
eagles, rubbing the smoke over his own body to purify himself, so that on
the morrow he will give out no scent. Before day he leaves his lodge
without eating or drinking, goes to the pit and lies down in it. He
uncovers the bait, arranges the roof, and sits there all day holding the
rope. Crows and other birds alight by the bait and peck at it, but he pays
no attention to them.
The eagle, sailing about high in air, sees the bait, and settles down
slowly. It takes it a long time to make up its mind to come to the bait. In
the pit, the man can hear the sound of the eagle coming. When the bird
settles on the ground, it does not alight on the bait, but at one side of
it, striking the ground with a thud--heavily. The man never mistakes
anything else for that sound. The eagle walks toward the bait, and all the
other birds fly away. It walks on to the roof; and, through the crevices
that have been left between the sticks, the man can see in which direction
the bird's head is. He carefully pushes the stick aside and, reaching out,
grasps the eagle by the two feet. The bird does not struggle much. It is
drawn down into the pit, and the man wrings its neck. Then the opening is
closed, and the roof arranged as before. So the man waits and catches the
eagles that come through the day. Sometimes he sits all day and gets
nothing; again he may get eight or ten in a day.
When darkness comes, the man leaves his hiding-place, takes his eagles, and
goes home. He carries the birds to a special lodge, prepared outside of the
camp, which is called the eagles' lodge. He places them on the ground in a
row, and raises their heads, resting them on a stick laid in front of the
row. In the mouth of each one is put a piece of pemmican, so that they may
not be afraid of the people. The object of feeding the eagles is that
their spirits may tell other eagles how they are being treated--that they
are being fed by the people. In the lodge is a human skull, and they pray
to it, asking the ghost to help them get the eagles.
It is said that in one pit, once, forty eagles were killed in a day. The
larger hawks were caught, as well as eagles, though the latter were the
most highly valued. Five eagles used to be worth a good horse, a valuation
which shows that, in the Blackfoot country, eagles were more plenty, or
horses more valuable, than farther south, where, in old times, two eagles
would purchase a horse.
They had no special means of capturing deer in any numbers. These were
usually killed singly. The hunters used to creep up on elk and deer in the
brush, and when they had come close to them, they could drive even their
stone-pointed arrows deep in the flesh. Often their game was killed dead on
the spot, but if not, they left it alone until the next day, when, on going
back to the place, it was usually found near by, either dead or so
desperately wounded that they could secure it.
Deadfalls were used to catch wolves, foxes, and other fur animals, and
small apertures in the pis'kun walls were provided with nooses and snares
for the same purpose.
Another way to catch wolves and coyotes was to set heavy stakes in the
ground in a circle, about the carcasses of one or two dead buffalo. The
stakes were placed at an angle of about forty-five degrees, a few inches
apart, and all pointing toward the centre of the circle. At one place, dirt
was piled up against the stakes from the outside, and the wolves, climbing
up on this, jumped down into the enclosure, but were unable to jump
out. Hugh Monroe tells me that, about thirty years ago, he and his sons
made a trap like this, and in one night caught eighty-three wolves and
In early times, beaver were very abundant and very tame, and were shot with
bows and arrows.
The Blackfeet were splendid prairie hunters. They had no superiors in the
art of stalking and killing such wary animals as the antelope. Sometimes
they wore hats made of the skin and horns of an antelope head, which were
very useful when approaching the game. Although the prairie was
pre-eminently their hunting-ground, they were also skilful in climbing
mountains and killing sheep and goats. On the other hand, the northern
Crees, who also are a prairie people, are poor mountain hunters.
THE BLACKFOOT IN WAR
The Blackfeet were a warlike people. How it may have been in the old days,
before the coming of the white men, we do not know. Very likely, in early
times, they were usually at peace with neighboring tribes, or, if quarrels
took place, battles were fought, and men killed, this was only in angry
dispute over what each party considered its rights. Their wars were
probably not general, nor could they have been very bloody. When, however,
horses came into the possession of the Indians, all this must have soon
become changed. Hitherto there had really been no incentive to war. From
time to time expeditions may have gone out to kill enemies,--for glory, or
to take revenge for some injury,--but war had not yet been made desirable
by the hope of plunder, for none of their neighbors--any more than
themselves--had property which was worth capturing and taking
away. Primitive arms, dogs, clothing, and dried meat were common to all the
tribes, and were their only possessions, and usually each tribe had an
abundance of all these. It was not worth any man's while to make long
journeys and to run into danger merely to increase his store of such
property, when his present possessions were more than sufficient to meet
all his wants. Even if such things had seemed desirable plunder, the amount
of it which could be carried away was limited, since--for a war party--the
only means of transporting captured articles from place to place was on
men's backs, nor could men burdened with loads either run or fight. But
when horses became known, and the Indians began to realize what a change
the possession of these animals was working in their mode of life, when
they saw that, by enormously increasing the transporting power of each
family, horses made far greater possessions practicable, that they insured
the food supply, rendered the moving of the camp easier and more rapid,
made possible long journeys with a minimum of effort, and that they had a
value for trading, the Blackfoot mind received a new idea, the idea that
it was desirable to accumulate property. The Blackfoot saw that, since
horses could be exchanged for everything that was worth having, no one
had as many horses as he needed. A pretty wife, a handsome war bonnet,
a strong bow, a finely ornamented woman's dress,--any or all of these
things a man might obtain, if he had horses to trade for them. The
gambler at "hands," or at the ring game, could bet horses. The man who
was devoted to his last married wife could give her a horse as an evidence
of his affection.
We can readily understand what a change the advent of the horse must have
worked in the minds of a people like the Blackfeet, and how this changed
mental attitude would react on the Blackfoot way of living. At first, there
were but few horses among them, but they knew that their neighbors to the
west and south--across the mountains and on the great plains beyond the
Missouri and the Yellowstone--had plenty of them; that the K[=u]tenais, the
Kalispels, the Snakes, the Crows, and the Sioux were well provided. They
soon learned that horses were easily driven off, and that, even if followed
by those whose property they had taken, the pursued had a great advantage
over the pursuers; and we may feel sure that it was not long before the
idea of capturing horses from the enemy entered some Blackfoot head and was
put into practice.
Now began a systematic sending forth of war parties against neighboring
tribes for the purpose of capturing horses, which continued for about
seventy-five or eighty years, and has only been abandoned within the last
six or seven, and since the settlement of the country by the whites made it
impossible for the Blackfeet longer to pass backward and forward through it
on their raiding expeditions. Horse-taking at once became what might be
called an established industry among the Blackfeet. Success brought wealth
and fame, and there was a pleasing excitement about the war journey.
Except during the bitterest weather of the winter, war parties of Blackfeet
were constantly out, searching for camps of their enemies, from whom they
might capture horses. Usually the only object of such an expedition was to
secure plunder, but often enemies were killed, and sometimes the party set
out with the distinct intention of taking both scalps and horses.
Until some time after they had obtained guns, the Blackfeet were on
excellent terms with the northern Crees, but later the Chippeways from the
east made war on the Blackfeet, and this brought about general hostilities
against all Crees, which have continued up to within a few years. If I
recollect aright, the last fight which occurred between the Pi-kun'-i and
the Crees took place in 1886. In this skirmish, which followed an attempt
by the Crees to capture some Piegan horses, my friend,
Tail-feathers-coming-in-sight-over-the-Hill, killed and counted _coup_ on a
Cree whose scalp he afterward sent me, as an evidence of his prowess.
The Gros Ventres of the prairie, of Arapaho stock, known to the Blackfeet
as _At-sena,_ or Gut People, had been friends and allies of the Blackfeet
from the time they first came into the country, early in this century, up
to about the year 1862, when, according to Clark, peace was broken through
a mistake. A war party of Snakes had gone to a Gros Ventres camp near
the Bear Paw Mountains and there killed two Gros Ventres and taken a white
pony, which they subsequently gave to a party of Piegans whom they met, and
with whom they made peace. The Gros Ventres afterward saw this horse in the
Piegan camp and supposed that the latter had killed their tribesman, and
this led to a long war. In the year 1867, the Piegans defeated the allied
Crows and Gros Ventres in a great battle near the Cypress Mountains, in
which about 450 of the enemy are said to have been killed.
[Footnote 1: Indian Sign Language, p. 70.]
An expression often used in these pages, and which is so familiar to one
who has lived much with Indians as to need no explanation, is the phrase to
count _coup_. Like many of the terms common in the Northwest, this one
comes down to us from the old French trappers and traders, and a _coup_ is,
of course, a blow. As commonly used, the expression is almost a direct
translation of the Indian phrase to strike the enemy, which is in ordinary
use among all tribes. This striking is the literal inflicting a blow on an
individual, and does not mean merely the attack on a body of enemies.
The most creditable act that an Indian can perform is to show that he is
brave, to prove, by some daring deed, his physical courage, his lack of
fear. In practice, this courage is shown by approaching near enough to an
enemy to strike or touch him with something that is held in the hand--to
come up within arm's length of him. To kill an enemy is praiseworthy, and
the act of scalping him may be so under certain circumstances, but neither
of these approaches in bravery the hitting or touching him with something
held in the hand. This is counting _coup_.
The man who does this shows himself without fear and is respected
accordingly. With certain tribes, as the Pawnees, Cheyennes, and others, it
was not very uncommon for a warrior to dash up to an enemy and strike him
before making any attempt to injure him, the effort to kill being secondary
to the _coup_. The blow might be struck with anything held in the hand,--a
whip, coupstick, club, lance, the muzzle of a gun, a bow, or what not. It
did not necessarily follow that the person on whom the _coup_ had been
counted would be injured. The act was performed in the case of a woman, who
might be captured, or even on a child, who was being made prisoner.
Often the dealing the _coup_ showed a very high degree of courage. As
already implied, it might be counted on a man who was defending himself
most desperately, and was trying his best to kill the approaching enemy,
or, even if the attempt was being made on a foe who had fallen, it was
never certain that he was beyond the power of inflicting injury. He might
be only wounded, and, just when the enemy had come close to him, and was
about to strike, he might have strength enough left to raise himself up and
shoot him dead. In their old wars, the Indians rarely took men
captive. The warrior never expected quarter nor gave it, and usually men
fought to the death, and died mute, defending themselves to the last--to
the last, striving to inflict some injury on the enemy.
The striking the blow was an important event in a man's life, and he who
performed this feat remembered it. He counted it. It was a proud day for
the young warrior when he counted his first _coup_, and each subsequent one
was remembered and numbered in the warrior's mind, just as an American of
to-day remembers the number of times he has been elected to Congress. At
certain dances and religious ceremonies, like that of the Medicine Lodge,
the warriors counted--or rather re-counted--their _coups_.
While the _coup_ was primarily, and usually, a blow with something held in
the hand, other acts in warfare which involved great danger to him who
performed them were also reckoned _coups_ by some tribes. Thus, for a
horseman to ride over and knock down an enemy, who was on foot, was
regarded among the Blackfeet as a _coup_, for the horseman might be shot at
close quarters, or might receive a lance thrust. It was the same to ride
one's horse violently against a mounted foe. An old Pawnee told me of a
_coup_ that he had counted by running up to a fallen enemy and jumping on
him with both feet. Sometimes the taking of horses counted a _coup_, but
this was not always the case.
As suggested by what has been already stated, each tribe of the Plains
Indians held its own view as to what constituted a _coup_. The Pawnees were
very strict in their interpretation of the term, and with them an act of
daring was not in itself deemed a _coup_. This was counted only when the
person of an enemy was actually touched. One or two incidents which have
occurred among the Pawnees will serve to illustrate their notions on this
In the year 1867, the Pawnee scouts had been sent up to Ogallalla,
Nebraska, to guard the graders who were working on the Union Pacific
railroad. While they were there, some Sioux came down from the hills and
ran off a few mules, taking them across the North Platte. Major North took
twenty men and started after them. Crossing the river, and following it up
on the north bank, he headed them off, and before long came in sight of
The six Sioux, when they found that they were pursued, left the mules that
they had taken, and ran; and the Pawnees, after chasing them eight or ten
miles, caught up with one of them, a brother of the well-known chief
Spotted Tail. Baptiste Bahele, a half-breed Skidi, had a very fast horse,
and was riding ahead of the other Pawnees, and shooting arrows at the
Sioux, who was shooting back at him. At length Baptiste shot the enemy's
horse in the hip, and the Indian dismounted and ran on foot toward a
ravine. Baptiste shot at him again, and this time sent an arrow nearly
through his body, so that the point projected in front. The Sioux caught
the arrow by the point, pulled it through his body, and shot it back at his
pursuer, and came very near hitting him. About that time, a ball from a
carbine hit the Sioux and knocked him down.
Then there was a race between Baptiste and the Pawnee next behind him, to
see which should count _coup_ on the fallen man. Baptiste was nearest to
him and reached him first, but just as he got to him, and was leaning over
from his horse, to strike the dead man, the animal shied at the body,
swerving to one side, and he failed to touch it. The horse ridden by the
other Pawnee ran right over the Sioux, and his rider leaned down and
Baptiste claimed the _coup_--although acknowledging that he had not
actually touched the man--on the ground that he had exposed himself to all
the danger, and would have hit the man if his horse had not swerved as it
did from the body; but the Pawnees would not allow it, and all gave the
credit of the _coup_ to the other boy, because he had actually touched the
On another occasion three or four young men started on the warpath from the
Pawnee village. When they came near to Spotted Tail's camp on the Platte
River, they crossed the stream, took some horses, and got them safely
across the river. Then one of the boys recrossed, went back to the camp,
and cut loose another horse. He had almost got this one out of the camp,
when an Indian came out of a lodge near by, and sat down. The Pawnee shot
the Sioux, counted _coup_ on him, scalped him, and then hurried across the
river with the whole Sioux camp in pursuit. When the party returned to the
Pawnee village, this boy was the only one who received credit for a _coup_.
Among the Blackfeet the capture of a shield, bow, gun, war bonnet, war
shirt, or medicine pipe was deemed a _coup_.
Nothing gave a man a higher place in the estimation of the people than the
counting of _coups_, for, I repeat, personal bravery is of all qualities
the most highly respected by Indians. On special occasions, as has been
said, men counted over again in public their _coups_. This served to
gratify personal vanity, and also to incite the young men to the
performance of similar brave deeds. Besides this, they often made a more
enduring record of these acts, by reproducing them pictographically on
robes, cowskins, and other hides. There is now in my possession an
illuminated cowskin, presented to me by Mr. J. Kipp, which contains the
record of the _coups_ and the most striking events in the life of Red
Crane, a Blackfoot warrior, painted by himself. These pictographs are very
rude and are drawn after the style common among Plains Indians, but no
doubt they were sufficiently lifelike to call up to the mind of the artist
each detail of the stirring events which they record.
The Indian warrior who stood up to relate some brave deed which he had
performed was almost always in a position to prove the truth of his
statements. Either he had the enemy's scalp, or some trophy captured from
him, to produce as evidence, or else he had a witness of his feat in some
companion. A man seldom boasted of any deed unless he was able to prove his
story, and false statements about exploits against the enemy were most
unusual. Temporary peace was often made between tribes usually at war, and,
at the friendly meetings which took place during such times of peace,
former battles were talked over, the performances of various individuals
discussed, and the acts of particular men in the different rights commented
on. In this way, if any man had falsely claimed to have done brave deeds,
he would be detected.
An example of this occurred many years ago among the Cheyennes. At that
time, there was a celebrated chief of the Skidi tribe of the Pawnee Nation
whose name was Big Eagle. He was very brave, and the Cheyennes greatly
feared him, and it was agreed among them that the man who could count
_coup_ on Big Eagle should be made warchief of the Cheyennes. After a fight
on the Loup River, a Cheyenne warrior claimed to have counted _coup_ on Big
Eagle by thrusting a lance through his buttocks. On the strength of the
claim, this man was made war chief of the Cheyennes. Some years later,
during a friendly visit made by the Pawnees to the Cheyennes, this incident
was mentioned. Big Eagle was present at the time, and, after inquiring
into the matter, he rose in council, denied that he had ever been struck as
claimed, and, throwing aside his robe, called on the Cheyennes present to
examine his body and to point out the scars left by the lance. None were
found. It was seen that Big Eagle spoke the truth; and the lying Cheyenne,
from the proud position of war chief, sank to a point where he was an
object of contempt to the meanest Indian in his tribe.
Among the Blackfeet a war party usually, or often, had its origin in a
dream. Some man who has a dream, after he awakes tells of it. Perhaps he
may say: "I dreamed that on a certain stream is a herd of horses that have
been given to me, and that I am going away to get. I am going to war. I
shall go to that place and get my band of horses." Then the men who know
him, who believe that his medicine is strong and that he will have good
luck, make up their minds to follow him. As soon as he has stated what he
intends to do, his women and his female relations begin to make moccasins
for him, and the old men among his relations begin to give him arrows and
powder and ball to fit him out for war. The relations of those who are
going with him do the same for them.
The leader notifies the young men who are going with him on what day and at
what hour he intends to start. He determines the time for himself, but
does not let the whole camp know it in advance. Of late years, large war
parties have not been desirable. They have preferred to go out in small
bodies. Just before a war party sets out, its members get together and sing
the "peeling a stick song," which is a wolf song. Then they build a sweat
lodge and go into it, and with them goes in an old man, a medicine-pipe
man, who has been a good warrior. They fill the pipe and ask him to pray
for them, that they may have good luck, and may accomplish what they
desire. The medicine-pipe man prays and sings and pours water on the hot
stones, and the warriors with their knives slice bits of skin and flesh
from their bodies,--their arms and breasts and sometimes from the tip of
the tongue,--which they offer to the Sun. Then, after the ceremony is over,
all dripping with perspiration from their vapor bath, the men go down to
the river and plunge in.
In starting out, a war party often marches in the daytime, but sometimes
they travel at night from the beginning. Often they may make an all night
march across a wide prairie, in passing over which they might be seen if
they travelled in the day. They journey on foot, always. The older men
carry their arms, while the boys bear the moccasins, the ropes, and the
food, which usually consists of dried meat or pemmican. They carry also
coats and blankets and their war bonnets and otter skin medicine. The
leader has but little physical labor to perform. His mind is occupied in
planning the movements of his party. He is treated with the greatest
respect. The others mend his moccasins, and give him the best of the food
which they carry.
After they get away from the main camp, the leader selects the strongest of
the young men, and sends him ahead to some designated butte, saying, "Go to
that place, and look carefully over the country, and if you see nothing,
make signals to us to come on." This scout goes on ahead, travelling in the
ravines and coulees, and keeps himself well hidden. After he has
reconnoitred and made signs that he sees nothing, the party proceeds
straight toward him.
The party usually starts early in the morning and travels all day, making
camp at sundown. During the day, if they happen to come upon an antelope or
a buffalo, they kill it, if possible, and take some of the meat with
them. They try in every way to economize their pemmican. They always
endeavor to make camp in the thick timber, where they cannot be seen; and
here, when it is necessary, on account of bad weather or for other reasons,
they build a war lodge. Taking four young cotton-woods or aspens, on which
the leaves are left, and lashing them together like lodge poles, but with
the butts up, about these they place other similar trees, also butts up and
untrimmed. The leaves keep the rain off, and prevent the light of the fire
which is built in the lodge from showing through. Sometimes, when on the
prairie, where there is no wood, in stormy weather they will build a
shelter of rocks. When the party has come close to the enemy, or into a
country where the enemy are likely to be found, they build no more fires,
but eat their food uncooked.
When they see fresh tracks of people, or signs that enemies are in the
country, they stop travelling in the daytime and move altogether by night,
until they come to some good place for hiding, and here they stop and
sleep. When day comes, the leader sends out young men to the different
buttes, to look over the country and see if they can discover the enemy. If
some one of the scouts reports that he has seen a camp, and that the enemy
have been found, the leader directs his men to paint themselves and put on
their war bonnets. This last is a figure of speech, since the war bonnets,
having of late years been usually ornamented with brass bells, could not be
worn in a secret attack, on account of the noise they would make. Before
painting themselves, therefore, they untie their war bonnets, and spread
them out on the ground, as if they were about to be worn, and then when
they have finished painting themselves, tie them up again. When it begins
to get dark, they start on the run for the enemy's camp. They leave their
food in camp, but carry their ropes slung over the shoulder and under the
arm, whips stuck in belts, guns and blankets.
After they have crept up close to the lodges, the leader chooses certain
men that have strong hearts, and takes them with him into the camp to cut
loose the horses. The rest of the party remain outside the camp, and look
about its outskirts, driving in any horses that may be feeding about, not
tied up. Of those who have gone into the camp, some cut loose one horse,
while others cut all that may be tied about a lodge. Some go only once into
the camp, and some go twice to get the horses. When they have secured the
horses, they drive them off a little way from the camp, at first going
slowly, and then mount and ride off fast. Generally, they travel two
nights and one day before sleeping.
This is the usual method of procedure of an ordinary expedition to capture
horses, and I have given it very nearly in the language of the men who
explained it to me.
In their hostile encounters, the Blackfeet have much that is common to many
Plains tribes, and also some customs that are peculiar to themselves. Like
most Indians, they are subject to sudden, apparently causeless, panics,
while at other times they display a courage that is heroic. They are firm
believers in luck, and will follow a leader who is fortunate in his
expeditions into almost any danger. On the other hand, if the leader of a
war party loses his young men, or any of them, the people in the camp think
that he is unlucky, and does not know how to lead a war party. Young men
will not follow him as a leader, and he is obliged to go as a servant or
scout under another leader. He is likely never again to lead a war party,
having learned to distrust his luck.
If a war party meets the enemy, and kills several of them, losing in the
battle one of its own number, it is likely, as the phrase is, to "cover"
the slain Blackfoot with all the dead enemies save one, and to have a scalp
dance over that remaining one. If a party had killed six of the enemy and
lost a man, it might "cover" the slain Blackfoot with five of the enemy. In
other words, the five dead enemies would pay for the one which the war
party had lost. So far, matters would be even, and they would feel at
liberty to rejoice over the victory gained over the one that is left.
The Blackfeet sometimes cut to pieces an enemy killed in battle. If a
Blackfoot had a relation killed by a member of another tribe, and afterward
killed one of this tribe, he was likely to cut him all to pieces "to get
even," that is, to gratify his spite--to obtain revenge. Sometimes, after
they had killed an enemy, they dragged his body into camp, so as to give
the children an opportunity to count _coup_ on it. Often they cut the feet
and hands off the dead, and took them away and danced over them for a long
time. Sometimes they cut off an arm or a leg, and often the head, and
danced and rejoiced over this trophy.
Women and children of hostile tribes were often captured, and adopted into
the Blackfoot tribes with all the rights and privileges of indigenous
members. Men were rarely captured. When they were taken, they were
sometimes killed in cold blood, especially if they had made a desperate
resistance before being captured. At other times, the captive would be kept
for a time, and then the chief would take him off away from the camp, and
give him provisions, clothing, arms, and a horse, and let him go. The
captive man always had a hard time at first. When he was brought into the
camp, the women and children threw dirt on him and counted _coups_ on him,
pounding him with sticks and clubs. He was rarely tied, but was always
watched. Often the man who had taken him prisoner had great trouble to
keep his tribesmen from killing him.
In the very early days of this century, war parties used commonly to start
out in the spring, going south to the land where horses were abundant,
being absent all summer and the next winter, and returning the following
summer or autumn, with great bands of horses. Sometimes they were gone two
years. They say that on such journeys they used to go to _Spai'yu ksah'ku_,
which means the Spanish lands--_Spai'yu_ being a recently made word, no
doubt from the French _espagnol._ That they did get as far as Mexico, or at
least New Mexico, is indicated by the fact that they brought back branded
horses and a few branded mules; for in these early days there was no stock
upon the Plains, and animals bearing brands were found only in the Spanish
American settlements. The Blackfeet did not know what these marks
meant. From their raids into these distant lands, they sometimes brought
back arms of strange make, lances, axes, and swords, of a form unlike any
that they had seen. The lances had broad heads; some of the axes, as
described, were evidently the old "T. Gray" trade axes of the southwest. A
sword, described as having a long, slender, straight blade, inlaid with a
flower pattern of yellow metal along the back, was probably an old Spanish
In telling of these journeys to Spanish lands, they say of the very long
reeds which grow there, that they are very large at the butt, are jointed,
very hard, and very tall; they grow in marshy places; and the water there
has a strange, mouldy smell.
It is said, too, that there have been war parties who have crossed the
mountains and gone so far to the west that they have seen the big salt
water which lies beyond, or west of, the Great Salt Lake. Journeys as far
south as Salt Lake were not uncommon, and Hugh Monroe has told me of a war
party he accompanied which went as far as this.
In ancient times the chief god of the Blackfeet--their Creator--was _Na'pi_
(Old Man). This is the word used to indicate any old man, though its
meaning is often loosely given as white. An analysis of the word _Na'pi_,
however, shows it to be compounded of the word _Ni'nah_, man, and the
particle _a'pi_, which expresses a color, and which is never used by
itself, but always in combination with some other word. The Blackfoot word
for white is _Ksik-si-num'_ while _a'pi_, though also conveying the idea of
whiteness, really describes the tint seen in the early morning light when
it first appears in the east--the dawn--not a pure white, but that color
combined with a faint cast of yellow. _Na'pi_, therefore, would seem to
mean dawn-light-color-man, or man-yellowish-white. It is easy to see why
old men should be called by this latter name, for it describes precisely
the color of their hair.
Dr. Brinton, in his valuable work, American Hero Myths, has suggested a
more profound reason why such a name should be given to the Creator. He
says: "The most important of all things to life is light. This the
primitive savage felt, and personifying it, he made light his chief god.
The beginning of day served, by analogy, for the beginning of the
world. Light comes before the Sun, brings it forth, creates it, as it
were. Hence the Light god is not the Sun god but his antecedent and
It would be absurd to attribute to the Blackfoot of to-day any such
abstract conception of the name of the Creator as that expressed in the
foregoing quotation. The statement that Old Man was merely light
personified would be beyond his comprehension, and if he did understand
what was meant, he would laugh at it, and aver that _Na'pi_ was a real man,
a flesh and blood person like himself.
The character of Old Man, as depicted in the stories told of him by the
Blackfeet, is a curious mixture of opposite attributes. In the serious
tales, such as those of the creation, he is spoken of respectfully, and
there is no hint of the impish qualities which characterize him in other
stories, in which he is powerful, but also at times impotent; full of all
wisdom, yet at times so helpless that he has to ask aid from the
animals. Sometimes he sympathizes with the people, and at others, out of
pure spitefulness, he plays them malicious tricks that are worthy of a
demon. He is a combination of strength, weakness, wisdom, folly,
childishness, and malice.
Under various names Old Man is known to the Crees, Chippeways, and other
Algonquins, and many of the stories that are current among the Blackfeet
are told of him among those tribes. The more southern of these tribes do
not venerate him as of old, but the Plains and Timber Crees of the north,
and the north Chippeways, are said still to be firm believers in Old
Man. He was their Creator, and is still their chief god. He is believed in
less by the younger generation than the older. The Crees are regarded by
the Indians of the Northwest as having very powerful medicine, and this all
comes from Old Man.
Old Man can never die. Long ago he left the Blackfeet and went away to the
West, disappearing in the mountains. Before his departure he told them
that he would always take care of them, and some day would return. Even
now, many of the old people believe that he spoke the truth, and that some
day he will come back, and will bring with him the buffalo, which they
believe the white men have hidden. It is sometimes said, however, that when
he left them he told them also that, when he returned, he would find them
changed--a different people and living in a different way from that which
they practised when he went away. Sometimes, also, it is said that when he
disappeared he went to the East.
It is generally believed that Old Man is no longer the principal god of the
Blackfeet, that the Sun has taken his place. There is some reason to
suspect, however, that the Sun and Old Man are one, that _N[=a]t[=o]s_' is
only another name for _Na'pi_, for I have been told by two or three old men
that "the Sun is the person whom we call Old Man." However this may be, it
is certain that _Na'pi_--even if he no longer occupies the chief place in
the Blackfoot religious system--is still reverenced, and is still addressed
in prayer. Now, however, every good thing, success in war, in the chase,
health, long life, all happiness, come by the special favor of the Sun.
The Sun is a man, the supreme chief of the world. The flat, circular earth
in fact is his home, the floor of his lodge, and the over-arching sky is
its covering. The moon, _K[=o]-k[=o]-mik'-[=e]-[)i]s,_ night light, is the
Sun's wife. The pair have had a number of children, all but one of whom
were killed by pelicans. The survivor is the morning star,
In attributes the Sun is very unlike Old Man. He is a beneficent person, of
great wisdom and kindness, good to those who do right. As a special means
of obtaining his favor, sacrifices must be made. These are often presents
of clothing, fine robes, or furs, and in extreme cases, when the prayer is
for life itself, the offering of a finger, or--still dearer--a lock of
hair. If a white buffalo was killed, the robe was always given to the
Sun. It belonged to him. Of the buffalo, the tongue--regarded as the
greatest delicacy of the whole animal--was especially sacred to the
Sun. The sufferings undergone by men in the Medicine Lodge each year were
sacrifices to the Sun. This torture was an actual penance, like the sitting
for years on top of a pillar, the wearing of a hair shirt, or fasting in
Lent. It was undergone for no other purpose than that of pleasing God--as a
propitiation or in fulfilment of vows made to him. Just as the priests of
Baal slashed themselves with knives to induce their god to help them, so,
and for the same reason, the Blackfoot men surged on and tore out the ropes
tied to their skins. It is merely the carrying out of a religious idea that
is as old as history and as widespread as the globe, and is closely akin to
the motive which to-day, in our own centres of enlightened civilization,
prompts acts of self-denial and penance by many thousands of intelligent
cultivated people. And yet we are horrified at hearing described the
tortures of the Medicine Lodge.
Besides the Sun and Old Man, the Blackfoot religious system includes a
number of minor deities or rather natural qualities and forces, which are
personified and given shape. These are included in the general terms Above
Persons, Ground Persons, and Under Water Persons. Of the former class,
Thunder is one of the most important, and is worshipped as is elsewhere
shown. He brings the rain. He is represented sometimes as a bird, or, more
vaguely, as in one of the stories, merely as a fearful person. Wind Maker
is an example of an Under Water Person, and it is related that he has been
seen, and his form is described. It is believed by some that he lives under
the water at the head of the Upper St. Mary's Lake. Those who believe this
say that when he wants the wind to blow, he makes the waves roll, and that
these cause the wind to blow,--another example of mistaking effect for
cause, so common among the Indians. The Ground Man is another below
person. He lives under the ground, and perhaps typifies the power of the
earth, which is highly respected by all Indians of the west. The Cheyennes
also have a Ground Man whom they call The Lower One, or Below Person
_(Pun'-[)o]-ts[)i]-hyo)_. The cold and snow are brought by Cold Maker
_(Ai'-so-yim-stan_). He is a man, white in color, with white hair, and clad
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