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 pūk'ūs 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 occasion demanded.
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 I-kun-uh'-kah-tsi.
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. 11. Skunks. 12. Seldom Lonesome. 13. Obstinate. 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. b. Dogs. c. Tails. d. Kit-foxes. e. Raven Bearers. f. Braves. g. Mosquitoes. h. Soldiers. i. Doves.
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 prairie.
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 Indians.
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-kŭn'-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 coyotes.
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 Kūtenais, 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 point.
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 them.
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 touched him.
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 enemy.
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 rapier.
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 Creator."
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 Nātōs' 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, Kō-kō-mik'-ē-ĭs, 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, A-pi-su-ahts—early riser.
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'-ŏ-tsĭ-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 in white apparel, who rides on a white horse. He brings the storm with him. They pray to him to bring, or not to bring, the storm.
Many of the animals are regarded as typifying some form of wisdom or craft. They are not gods, yet they have power, which, perhaps, is given them by the Sun or by Old Man. Examples of this are shown in some of the stories.
Among the animals especially respected and supposed to have great power, are the buffalo, the bear, the raven, the wolf, the beaver, and the kit-fox. Geese too, are credited with great wisdom and with foreknowledge of the weather. They are led by chiefs. As is quite natural among a people like the Blackfeet, the buffalo stood very high among the animals which they reverenced. It symbolized food and shelter, and was Nato'yĕ (of the Sun), sacred. Not a few considered it a medicine animal, and had it for their dream, or secret helper. It was the most powerful of all the animal helpers. Its importance is indicated by the fact that buffalo skulls were placed on the sweat houses built in connection with the Medicine Lodge. A similar respect for the buffalo exists among many Plains tribes, which were formerly dependent on it for food and raiment. A reverence for the bear appears to be common to all North American tribes, and is based not upon anything that the animal's body yields, but perhaps on the fact that it is the largest carnivorous mammal of the continent, the most difficult to kill and extremely keen in all its senses. The Blackfeet believe it to be part brute and part human, portions of its body, particularly the ribs and feet, being like those of a man. The raven is cunning. The wolf has great endurance and much craft. He can steal close to one without being seen. In the stories given in the earlier pages of this book, many of the attributes of the different animals are clearly set forth.
There were various powers and signs connected with these animals so held in high esteem by the Blackfeet, to which the people gave strict heed. Thus the raven has the power of giving people far sight. It was also useful in another way. Often, in going to war, a man would get a raven's skin and stuff the head and neck, and tie it to the hair of the head behind. If a man wearing such a skin got near the enemy without knowing it, the skin would give him warning by tapping him on the back of the head with its bill. Then he would know that the enemy was near, and would hide. If a raven flew over a lodge, or a number of lodges, and cried, and then was joined by other ravens, all flying over the camp and crying, it was a sure sign that during the day some one would come and tell the news from far off. The ravens often told the people that game was near, calling to the hunter and then flying a little way, and then coming back, and again calling and flying toward the game.
The wolves are the people's great friends; they travel with the wolves. If, as they are travelling along, they pass close to some wolves, these will bark at the people, talking to them. Some man will call to them, "No, I will not give you my body to eat, but I will give you the body of some one else, if you will go along with us." This applies both to wolves and coyotes. If a man goes away from the camp at night, and meets a coyote, and it barks at him, he goes back to the camp, and says to the people: "Look out now; be smart. A coyote barked at me to-night." Then the people look out, and are careful, for it is a sure sign that something bad is going to happen. Perhaps some one will be shot; perhaps the enemy will charge the camp.
If a person is hungry and sings a wolf song, he is likely to find food. Men going on a hunting trip sing these songs, which bring them good luck. The bear has very powerful medicine. Sometimes he takes pity on people and helps them, as in the story of Mik'-api.
Some Piegans, if they wish to travel on a certain day, have the power of insuring good weather on that day. It is supposed that they do this by singing a powerful song. Some of the enemy can cause bad weather, when they want to steal into the camp.
People who belonged to the Sin'-o-pah band of the I-kun-uh'-kah-tsi, if they were at war in summer and wanted a storm to come up, would take some dirt and water and rub it on the kit-fox skin, and this would cause a rain-storm to come up. In winter, snow and dirt would be rubbed on the skin and this would bring up a snow-storm.
Certain places and inanimate objects are also greatly reverenced by the Blackfeet, and presents are made to them.
The smallest of the three buttes of the Sweet Grass Hills is regarded as sacred. "All the Indians are afraid to go there," Four Bears once told me. Presents are sometimes thrown into the Missouri River, though these are not offerings made directly to the stream, but are given to the Under Water People, who live in it.
Mention has already been made of the buffalo rock, which gives its owner the power to call the buffalo.
Another sacred object is the medicine rock of the Marias. It is a huge boulder of reddish sandstone, two-thirds the way up a steep hill on the north bank of the Marias River, about five miles from Fort Conrad. Formerly, this rock rested on the top of the bluff, but, as the soil about it is worn away by the wind and the rain, it is slowly moving down the hill. The Indians believe it to be alive, and make presents to it. When I first visited it, the ground about it was strewn with decaying remnants of offerings that had been made to it in the past. Among these I noticed, besides fragments of clothing, eagle feathers, a steel finger ring, brass ear-rings, and a little bottle made of two copper cartridge cases.
Down on Milk River, east of the Sweet Grass Hills, is another medicine rock. It is shaped something like a man's body, and looks like a person sitting on top of the bluff. Whenever the Blackfeet pass this rock, they make presents to it. Sometimes, when they give it an article of clothing, they put it on the rock, "and then," as one of them once said to me, "when you look at it, it seems more than ever like a person." Down in the big bend of the Milk River, opposite the eastern end of the Little Rocky Mountains, lying on the prairie, is a great gray boulder, which is shaped like a buffalo bull lying down. This is greatly reverenced by all Plains Indians, Blackfeet included, and they make presents to it. Many other examples of similar character might be given.
The Blackfeet make daily prayers to the Sun and to Old Man, and nothing of importance is undertaken without asking for divine assistance. They are firm believers in dreams. These, they say, are sent by the Sun to enable us to look ahead, to tell what is going to happen. A dream, especially if it is a strong one,—that is, if the dream is very clear and vivid,—is almost always obeyed. As dreams start them on the war path, so, if a dream threatening bad luck comes to a member of a war party, even if in the enemy's country and just about to make an attack on a camp, the party is likely to turn about and go home without making any hostile demonstrations. The animal or object which appears to the boy, or man, who is trying to dream for power, is, as has been said, regarded thereafter as his secret helper, his medicine, and is usually called his dream (Nits-o'-kan).
The most important religious occasion of the year is the ceremony of the Medicine Lodge. This is a sacrifice, which, among the Blackfeet, is offered invariably by women. If a woman has a son or husband away at war, and is anxious about him, or if she has a dangerously sick child, she may make to the Sun a vow in the following words:—
"Listen, Sun. Pity me. You have seen my life. You know that I am pure. I have never committed adultery with any man. Now, therefore, I ask you to pity me. I will build you a lodge. Let my son survive. Bring him back to health, so that I may build this lodge for you."
The vow to build the Medicine Lodge is repeated in a loud voice, outside her lodge, so that all the people may hear it, and if any man can impeach the woman, he is obliged to speak out, in which case she could be punished according to the law. The Medicine Lodge is always built in summer, at the season of the ripening of the sarvis berries, and if, before this time, the person for whom the vow is made dies, the woman is not obliged to fulfil her vow. She is regarded with suspicion, and it is generally believed that she has been guilty of the crime she disavowed. As this cannot be proved, however, she is not punished.
When the time approaches for the building of the lodge, a suitable locality is selected, and all the people move to it, putting up their lodges in a circle about it. In the meantime, at least a hundred buffalo tongues have been collected, cut, and dried by the woman who may be called the Medicine Lodge woman. No one but she is allowed to take part in this work.
Before the tongues are cut and dried, they are laid in a pile in the medicine woman's lodge. She then gives a feast to the old men, and one of them, noted for his honesty, and well liked by all, repeats a very long prayer, asking in substance that the coming Medicine Lodge may be acceptable to the Sun, and that he will look with favor on the people, and will give them good health, plenty of food, and success in war. A hundred songs are then sung, each one different from the others. The feast and singing of these songs lasts a day and a half.
Before the Medicine Lodge is erected, four large sweat lodges are built, all in a line, fronting to the east or toward the rising sun. Two stand in front of the Medicine Lodge, and two behind it. The two nearest the Medicine Lodge are built one day, and the others on the day following. The sticks for the framework of these lodges are cut only by renowned warriors, each warrior cutting one, and, as he brings it in and lays it down, he counts a coup, which must be of some especially brave deed. The old men then take the sticks and erect the lodges, placing on top of each a buffalo skull, one half of which is painted red, the other black, to represent day and night, or rather the sun and the moon. When the lodges are finished and the stones heated, the warriors go in to sweat, and with them the medicine pipe men, who offer up prayers.
While this is going on, the young men cut the centre post for the Medicine Lodge, and all the other material for its construction. The women then pack out the post and the poles on horses, followed by the men shouting, singing, and shooting.
In the morning of this day the medicine woman begins a fast, which must last four days and four nights, with only one intermission, as will shortly appear. During that time she may not go out of doors, except between sunset and sunrise. During the whole ceremony her face, hands, and clothing are covered with the sacred red paint.
When all the material has been brought to the spot where the lodge is to be erected, that warrior who, during the previous year, has done the most cutting and stabbing in battle is selected to cut the rawhide to bind it, and while he cuts the strings he counts three coups.
The centre post is now placed on the ground, surrounded by the poles and other smaller posts; and two bands of the I-kun-uh'-kah-tsi, the Braves, and the All Crazy Dogs approach. Each band sings four songs, and then they raise the lodge amid the shouting of the people. It is said that, in old times, all the bands of the I-kun-uh'-kah-tsi took part in this ceremony. For raising the centre post, which is very heavy, lodge poles are tied in pairs, with rawhide, so as to form "shears," each pair being handled by two men. If one of the ropes binding the shears breaks, the men who hold the pair are said to be unlucky; it is thought that they are soon to die. As soon as the centre post is up, the wall posts are erected, and the roof of poles put on, the whole structure being covered with brush. The door-way faces east or southeast, and the lodge is circular in shape, about forty feet in diameter, with walls about seven feet high.
Inside the Medicine Lodge, at the back, or west side, in the principal place in the lodge, is now built a little box-shaped house, about seven feet high, six feet long, and four wide. It is made of brush, so tightly woven that one cannot see inside of it. This is built by a medicine man, the high priest of this ceremony, who, for four days, the duration of the ceremony, neither eats nor goes out of it in the daytime. The people come to him, two at a time, and he paints them with black, and makes for them an earnest prayer to the Sun, that they may have good health, long lives, and good food and shelter. This man is supposed to have power over the rain. As rain would interfere with the ceremonies, he must stop it, if it threatens.
In the meantime, the sacred dried tongues have been placed in the Medicine Lodge. The next morning, the Medicine Lodge woman leaves her own lodge, and, walking very slowly with bowed head, and praying at every step, she enters the Medicine Lodge, and, standing by the pile of tongues, she cuts up one of them and holds it toward heaven, offering it to the Sun; then she eats a part of it and buries the rest in the dirt, praying to the Ground Man, and calling him to bear witness that she has not defiled his body by committing adultery. She then proceeds to cut up the tongues, giving a very small piece to every person, man, woman, or child. Each one first holds it up to the Sun, and then prays to the Sun, Na'-pi, and the Ground Man for long life, concluding by depositing a part of the morsel of tongue on the ground, saying, "I give you this sacred tongue to eat." And now, during the four days, outside the lodge, goes on the counting of the coups. Each warrior in turn recounts his success in war,—his battles or his horse-takings. With a number of friends to help him, he goes through a pantomime of all these encounters, showing how he killed this enemy, took a gun from that one, or cut horses loose from the lodge of another. When he has concluded, an old man offers a prayer, and ends by giving him a new name, saying that he hopes he will live well and long under it.
Inside the lodge, rawhide ropes are suspended from the centre post, and here the men fulfil the vows that they have made during the previous year. Some have been sick, or in great danger at war, and they then vowed that if they were permitted to live, or escape, they would swing at the Medicine Lodge. Slits are cut in the skin of their breast, ropes passed through and secured by wooden skewers, and then the men swing and surge until the skin gives way and tears out. This is very painful, and some fairly shriek with agony as they do it, but they never give up, for they believe that if they should fail to fulfil their vow, they would soon die.
On the fourth day every one has been prayed for, every one has made to the Sun his or her present, which is tied to the centre post, the sacred tongues have all been consumed, and the ceremony ends, every one feeling better, assured of long life and plenty.
Most persons have an entirely erroneous idea of the purpose of this annual ceremony. It has been supposed that it was for the purpose of making warriors. This is not true. It was essentially a religious festival, undertaken for the bodily and spiritual welfare of the people according to their beliefs. Incidentally, it furnished an opportunity for the rehearsal of daring deeds. But among no tribes who practised it were warriors made by it. The swinging by the breast and other self-torturings were but the fulfilment of vows, sacred promises made in time of danger, penances performed, and not, as many believe, an occasion for young men to test their courage.
From the Indians of the tribe, the Medicine Lodge woman receives a very high measure of respect and consideration. Blackfoot men have said to me, "We look on the Medicine Lodge woman as you white people do on the Roman Catholic sisters." Not only is she virtuous in deed, but she must be serious and clean-minded. Her conversation must be sober.
Before the coming of the whites, the Blackfeet used to smoke the leaves of a plant which they call na-wuh'-to-ski, and which is said to have been received long, long ago from a medicine beaver. It was used unmixed with any other plant. The story of how this came to the tribe is told elsewhere. This tobacco is no longer planted by the Piegans, nor by the Bloods, though it is said that an old Blackfoot each year still goes through the ceremony, and raises a little. The plant grows about ten inches high and has a long seed stalk growing from the centre. White Calf, the chief of the Piegans, has the secrets of the tobacco and is perhaps the only person in the tribe who knows them. From him I have received the following account of the ceremonies connected with it:—
[Footnote 1: The Beaver Medicine, p. 117.]
Early in the spring, after the last snow-storm, when the flowers begin to bud (early in the month of May), the women and children go into the timber and prepare a large bed, clearing away the underbrush, weeds and grass and leaves and sticks, raking the ground till the earth is thoroughly pulverized. Elk, deer, and mountain sheep droppings are collected, pounded fine, and mixed with the seed which is to be sown.
On the appointed day all the men gather at the bed. Each one holds in his hand a short, sharp-pointed stick, with which to make a hole in the ground. The men stand in a row extending across the bed. At a signal they make the holes in the ground, and drop in some seed, with some sacred sarvis berries. The tobacco song is sung by the medicine men, all take a short step forward, make another hole, a foot in front of the last, and then drop in it some more seed. Another song is sung, another step taken, and seed is again planted; and this continues until the line of men has moved all the way across the bed, and the planting is completed. The tobacco dance follows the planting.
After the seed has been planted, they leave it and go off after the buffalo. While away during the summer, some important man—one of the medicine men who had taken part in the planting—announces to the people his purpose to go back to look after the crop. He starts, and after he has reached the place, he builds a little fire in the bed, and offers a prayer for the crop, asking that it may survive and do well. Then he pulls up one of the plants, which he takes back with him and shows to the people, so that all may see how the crop is growing. He may thus visit the place three or four times in the course of the summer.
From time to time, while they are absent from the tobacco patch in summer, moving about after the buffalo, the men gather in some lodge to perform a special ceremony for the protection of the crop. Each man holds in his hand a little stick. They sing and pray to the Sun and Old Man, asking that the grasshoppers and other insects may not eat their plants. At the end of each song they strike the ground with their sticks, as if killing grasshoppers and worms. It has sometimes happened that a young man has said that he does not believe that these prayers and songs protect the plants, that the Sun does not send messengers to destroy the worms. To such a one a medicine man will say, "Well, you can go to the place and see for yourself." The young man gets on his horse and travels to the place. When he comes to the edge of the patch and looks out on it, he sees many small children at work there, killing worms. He has not believed in this before, but now he goes back convinced. Such a young man does not live very long.
At length the season comes for gathering the crop, and, at a time appointed, all the camps begin to move back toward the tobacco patch, timing their marches so that all may reach it on the same day. When they get there, they camp near it, but no one visits it except the head man of the medicine men who took charge of the planting. This man goes to the bed, gathers a little of the plant, and returns to the camp.
A small boy, six or eight years old, is selected to carry this plant to the centre of the circle. The man who gathered the tobacco ties it to a little stick, and, under the tobacco, to the stick he ties a baby's moccasin. The little boy carries this stick to the centre of the camp, and stands it in the ground in the middle of the circle, the old man accompanying him and showing him where to put it. It is left there all night. The next day there is a great feast, and the kettles of food are all brought to the centre of the camp. The people all gather there, and a prayer is made. Then they sing the four songs which belong especially to this festival. The first and fourth are merely airs without words; the second has words, the purport of which is, "The sun goes with us." The third song says, "Hear your children's prayer." After the ceremony is over, every one is at liberty to go and gather the tobacco. It is dried and put in sacks for use during the year. The seed is collected for the next planting. When they reach the patch, if the crop is good, every one is glad. After the gathering, they all move away again after the buffalo.
Sometimes a man who was lazy, and had planted no tobacco, would go secretly to the patch, and pull a number of plants belonging to some one else, and hide them for his own use. Now, in these prayers that they offer, they do not ask for mercy for thieves. A man who had thus taken what did not belong to him would have a lizard appear to him in a dream, and then he would fall sick and die. The medicine men would know of all this, but they would not do anything. They would just let him die.
This tobacco was given us by the one who made us.
The Blackfoot cosmology is imperfect and vague, and I have been able to obtain nothing like a complete account of it, for I have found no one who appeared to know the story of the beginning of all things.
Some of the Blackfeet now say that originally there was a great womb, in which were conceived the progenitors of all animals now on earth. Among these was Old Man. As the time for their birth drew near, the animals used to quarrel as to which should be the first to be born, and one day, in a fierce struggle about this, the womb burst, and Old Man jumped first to the ground. For this reason, he named all the animals Nis-kum'-iks, Young Brothers; and they, because he was the first-born, called him Old Man.
There are several different accounts of the creation of the people by Old Man. One is that he married a female dog, and that their progeny were the first people. Others, and the ones most often told, have been given in the Old Man stories already related.
There is an account of the creation which is essentially an Algonquin myth, and is told by most of the tribes of this stock from the Atlantic to the Rocky Mountains, though the hero is variously named. Here is the Blackfoot version of it:—
In the beginning, all the land was covered with water, and Old Man and all the animals were floating around on a large raft. One day Old Man told the beaver to dive and try to bring up a little mud. The beaver went down, and was gone a long time, but could not reach the bottom. Then the loon tried, and the otter, but the water was too deep for them. At last the muskrat dived, and he was gone so long that they thought he had drowned, but he finally came up, almost dead, and when they pulled him on to the raft, they found, in one of his paws, a little mud. With this, Old Man formed the world, and afterwards he made the people.
This myth, while often related by the Blackfoot tribe, is seldom heard among the Bloods or Piegans. It is uncertain whether all three tribes used to know it, but have forgotten it, or whether it has been learned in comparatively modern times by the Blackfeet from the Crees, with whom they have always had more frequent intercourse and a closer connection than the other two tribes.
There is also another version of the origin of death. When Old Man made the first people, he gave them very strong bodies, and for a long time no one was sick. At last, a little child fell ill. Each day it grew weaker and weaker, and at last it fainted. Then the mother went to Old Man, and prayed him to do something for it.
"This," said Old Man, "will be the first time it has happened to the people. You have seen the buffalo fall to the ground when struck with an arrow. Their hearts stop beating, they do not breathe, and soon their bodies become cold. They are then dead. Now, woman, it shall be for you to decide whether death shall come to the people as well as to the other animals, or whether they shall live forever. Come now with me to the river."
When they reached the water's edge, Old Man picked up from the ground a dry buffalo chip and a stone. "Now, woman," he said, "you will tell me which one of these to throw into the water. If what I throw floats, your child shall live; the people shall live forever. If it sinks, then your child shall die, and all the people shall die, each one when his time comes."
The woman stood still a long time, looking from the stone to the buffalo chip, and from the chip to the stone. At last she said, "Throw the stone." Then Old Man tossed it into the river, and it sank to the bottom. "Woman," he cried, "go home; your child is dead." Thus, on account of a foolish woman, we all must die.
The shadow of a person, the Blackfeet say, is his soul. Northeast of the Sweet Grass Hills, near the international boundary line, is a bleak, sandy country called the Sand Hills, and there all the shadows of the deceased good Blackfeet are congregated. The shadows of those who in this world led wicked lives are not allowed to go there. After death, these wicked persons take the shape of ghosts (Sta-au'), and are compelled ever after to remain near the place where they died. Unhappy themselves, they envy those who are happy, and continually prowl about the lodges of the living, seeking to do them some injury. Sometimes they tap on the lodge skins and whistle down the smoke hole, but if the fire is burning within they will not enter.
[Footnote 1: The human skeleton is also called Sta-au', i.e. ghost. Compare Cheyenne Mis-tai', ghost.]
Outside in the dark they do much harm, especially the ghosts of enemies who have been killed in battle. These sometimes shoot invisible arrows into persons, causing sickness and death. They have hit people on the head, causing them to become crazy. They have paralyzed people's limbs, and drawn their faces out of shape, and done much other harm. Ghosts walk above the ground, not on it. An example of this peculiarity is seen in the case of the young man who visited the lodge of the starving family, in the story entitled Origin of the I-kun-uh'-kah-tsi.
Ghosts sometimes speak to people. An instance of this is the following, which occurred to my friend Young Bear Chief, and which he related to me. He said: "I once went to war, and took my wife with me. I went to Buffalo Lip Butte, east of the Cypress Mountains; a little creek runs by it. I took eighteen horses from an Assinaboine camp one night, when it was very foggy. I found sixteen horses feeding on the hills, and went into the camp and cut loose two more. Then we went off with the horses. When we started, it was so foggy that I could not see the stars, and I did not know which way to run. I kept travelling in what I supposed was the direction toward home, but I did not know where I was going. After we had gone a long way, I stopped and got off my horse to fix my belt. My wife did not dismount, but sat there waiting for me to mount and ride on.
"I spoke to my wife, and said to her, 'We don't know which way to go.' A voice spoke up right behind me and said: 'It is well; you go ahead. You are going right.' When I heard the voice, the top of my head seemed to lift up and felt as if a lot of needles were sticking into it. My wife, who was right in front of me, was so frightened that she fainted and fell off her horse, and it was a long time before she came to. When she got so she could ride, we went on, and when morning came I found that we were going straight, and were on the west side of the West Butte of the Sweet Grass Hills. We got home all right. This must have been a ghost."
Now and then among the Blackfeet, we find evidences of a belief that the soul of a dead person may take up its abode in the body of an animal. An example of this is seen in the story of E-kūs'-kini, p. 90. Owls are thought to be the ghosts of medicine men.