Blackfeet Indian History
Siksika ('black feet', from siksinam
'black', ka the root of oqkatsh, 'foot'. The origin of the name is
disputed, but it is commonly believed to have reference to the discoloring of
their moccasins by the ashes of the prairie fires; it may possibly have
reference to black-painted moccasins such as were worn by the
and other tribes). An important
Algonquian confederacy of the northern plains,
consisting of three subtribes, the Siksika proper or Blackfeet, the Kainah or
Bloods, and the Piegan, the whole body being popularly known as Blackfeet. In
close alliance with these are the
Atsina and the
Within the recent historic period, until gathered upon
reservations, the Blackfeet held most of the immense territory stretching almost
from North Saskatchewan river, Canada, to the southern headstreams of the
Missouri in Montana, and from about lon.105░ to the base of the Rocky
mountains. A century earlier, or about 1790, they were found by Mackenzie
occupying the upper and middle South Saskatchewan, with the Atsina on the lower
course of the same stream, both tribes being apparently in slow migration toward
the north west (Mackenzie, Vol., lXX-lXXI, 1801). This would
make them the vanguard of tile Algonquian movement from the Red river country.
With the exception of a temporary occupancy by invading
extreme northern region has always, within the historic period, been
hold by Athapascan tribes. The tribe is now settled oil three
reservations in Alberta, Canada, and one in north west Montana, about half being on each side of the international boundary.
So far as history and tradition go, the Blackfeet have been roving buffalo
hunters, dwelling in tipis and shifting periodically from place to place,
without permanent habitations, without the pottery art or canoes,
and without agriculture excepting for the sowing and gathering of a
species of native tobacco. They also gathered the camas root in the
foothills. Their traditions go back to a time when they had no
horses and bunted their game on foot; but as
early as Mackenzie's time, before 1800, they all ready had many horses, taken
from tribes farther to the south, and later they became noted for their great horse
herds. It is entirely probable that their spread over the plains region was due
largely to the acquisition of the horse, and, about the same time, of the gun.
They were a restless, aggressive, and predatory people, and, excepting for the
Atsina and Sarsi, who lived under their protection, were constantly at war with
all their neighbors, the Cree, Assiniboin, Sioux, Crows, Flatheads, and Kutenai.
While never regularly at war with the United States, their general attitude
toward Americans in the early days was one of hostility, while maintaining a
doubtful friendship with the Hudson's Bay Co.
Their culture was that of the Plains tribes generally, although there is
evidence of an earlier culture, approximately that of the Eastern timber tribes.
The 3 main divisions seem to have been independent of each other, each having
its own Sun dance, council, and elective head chief, although the Blackfeet
proper appear to have been the original nucleus. Each of the 3 was subdivided
into a number of bands, of which Grinnell enumerates 45 in all. It has been said
that these bands were gentes, but if so, their gentile character is no longer
apparent. There is also a military and fraternal organization, similar to that
existing in other Plains tribes, known among the Blackfeet as the Ikunuuhkahtsi,
or All Comrades,' and consisting formerly, according to Grinnell, of at least
12 orders or societies, most of which are now extinct. They have a great number
of dances-religious, war, and social-besides secret societies for various
purposes, together with many "sacred bundles," around each of which centers a
Practically every adult has also his personal "medicine." Both sexes may
be members of some societies. Their principal deities are the Sun, and a
supernatural being known as Napi, 'Old Man,' who may be an incarnation of the
same idea. The dead are usually deposited in trees or sometimes laid away in tipis erected for the purpose on prominent hills.
As usual, many of the early estimates of Blackfoot population are plainly
unreliable. The best appears to be that of Mackenzie, who estimated them about
1790 at 2,250 to 2,500 warriors, or perhaps
9,000 souls. In 1780-81, in 1837-38, in 1845, in 1857-58, and in 1869 they
suffered great losses by smallpox. In 1864 they were reduced by measles, and in
1883-84 some 600 of those in Montana died of sheer starvation in consequence of
the sudden extinction of the buffalo coincident with a reduction of rations. The
official Indian report for 1858 gave them 7,300 souls, but another estimate,
quoted by Hayden as having been made "under the most favorable circumstances''
about the same time, gives them 2,400 warriors and 6,720 souls. In 1909 they
were officially reported to number in all 4,635, viz: Blackfoot agency, Alberta,
795; Blood agency, Alberta, 1,174; Piegan agency, Alberta, 471; Blackfoot agency
(Piegan), Montana, 2,195.
Additional Blackfeet Indian Resources
of American Indians, 1906