Thursday, October 13, 2011

About the Blackfoot Indian Tribe

About the Blackfoot Indian Tribe

Algonquin tribes occupied the Atlantic seacoast from Nova Scotia and New Brunswick south to Virginia, and stretched west as far, at places, as the Rocky Mountains. They also occupied a large area in the interior of British America north of the Great Lakes. Brinton names more than thirty tribes of this great group. Among the best known of these were the Lenape (Delawares), Blackfeet, Ojibwas, and Crees.
It was chiefly Algonkin tribes with whom the first white settlers met. The Indians who supplied the Pilgrims with corn in that first dreadful winter were Algonquins; so were Powhatan and Pocahontas, King Philip and Massasoit. Of course whites came into contact with the Iroquois in New York, and with the Cherokees, the Creeks, and their kin in the south, but much the larger part of their early Indian acquaintance was Algonquin.
There are a number of borrowed Indian words in our English language of todayWigwamwampumsquawpapoosemoccasin, are examples. These have been taken from the Indian languages into our own, and most of them—all of those mentioned—are Algonkin. They soon became common to English speakers, and
 were carried by them everywhere they went. All the western tribes had their own names for all these objects, but we have forced these upon them, and to-day we may hear Utes speak of wigwams and Navajo talk about squaws or moccasins.

We shall speak of two Algonquin tribes. One—the Lenape—is eastern; the other—the Blackfeet—is western. The former are woodland, the latter Plains Indians. The Lenape lived in settled villages, and had a good deal of agriculture; they were also hunters, fishermen, and warriors. Their houses were like those of their Iroquois neighbors, but each family had its own. They were huts of poles and interwoven branches with a thatching of corn leaves, the stalk of sweet-flag, or the bark of trees. Sometimes at the center of the village, surrounded by the houses, was a sort of hillock or mound from which the country around might be overlooked. The women made good garments of deerskin with skillful beadwork. In cooking they used soapstone vessels. For pounding corn they had mortars of wood, dug out of a section of a tree trunk, and long stone pestles.
In districts where the wild rice or zizania grew abundantly great quantities of it were gathered. The women in canoes paddled out among the plants, bent the heads over the edge of the canoe and beat out the grain. This was a food supply of no importance to the Lenape, but the Ojibwas and their neighbors used much of it.  There were three totems of the Lenape. Every man was either a wolf, turkey, or turtle. He had one of these three animals for his emblem, and was as fond of drawing or carving it as a boy among us is of writing his name. This emblem was signed to treaties, it was painted on the houses, it was carved on stones. But only those who were turtles drew their totem entire; usually the wolf or the turkey were represented only by one foot. Between a person and his totem there was a curious friendship, and it was believed that the animal was a sort of protector and friend of those who bore his name. All who had the same totem were blood-relations.
All Algonquins were accustomed to draw pictures to record events. The blankets of chiefs were decorated with such pictures. The Ojibwas were fond of writing birch-bark letters. One of the most interesting Indian records known is the Walam olum; this means the red score or red record. Probably it at first consisted of a lot of little sticks or boards with some quaint red pictures upon them. These were probably kept tied together into a little bundle. The original sticks have long been lost, but the one hundred and eighty-four pictures were copied and are still
preserved. They were intended to assist in remembering a long poetic legend in which the Algonquin ideas regarding the creation of the world and their tribal history were told.
At first everything was good. Animals and men lived in peace. Then a wicked serpent tried to drown the world. Only a few persons escaped to the back of a great turtle. Their great hero Nanabush helped them. The waters subsided. As the land where they now found themselves was cold, the people determined to move southward. The story of their quarrels and divisions on the journey is told, and also the way in which they seized their new home, destroying or driving out the original owners.
The song in which this story is told is long and full of old words difficult to understand. The Indians themselves must have had difficulty in remembering it. It was a great help to have these little sticks with the red pictures to remind them of its different parts.

Far to the west, close against the base of the Rocky Mountains, lived a famous Algonquin tribe—the Blackfeet. They were great buffalo hunters and warriors. We often think of Indians as being stern and morose, never smiling, never amused. Yet most tribes had sunny tempers like children. Mr. Grinnell, to show this side of Indian nature, describes a day in camp in the olden, happy time. Two parts of his description describe feasts and gambling. Feasts were in constant progress: sometimes one man would give three in a day; men who were favorites might go from feast to feast all day long. If a man wished to give a feast, he ordered the best food he had to be cooked. Then, going outside, he called out the list of invited guests: the name of each one was cried three times. At the close of his invitation he announced how many pipes would be smoked: usually three. When the guests came, each was given a dish, with his share of the food; no one might have a second help, but it was quite polite to carry away what was not eaten.
While the guests were feasting, the man of the house prepared a pipe and tobacco. After the eating was over, the pipe was lighted and passed from hand to hand, each person giving it to the one on his left. Meantime stories of hunting and war were narrated and jokes cracked. Only one man spoke at one time, the rest listening until he was through. Thus they whiled away the time until the last pipe was smoked out, when the host, knocking the ashes from the pipe, told them they might go.
All Indians are gamblers, and they have many gambling games. The Blackfeet played one which was something like the famous game of Chunkey, played among the Creeks. (S) A wheel about four inches in diameter with five spokes on which were beads of different colors, made of horn or bone, was used. It was rolled
 along upon a smooth piece of ground at the ends of which logs were laid to stop it. One player stood at each end of the course. After a player set the wheel to rolling, he hurled a dart after it. This was done just before the wheel reached the end of its journey. Points were counted according to the way in which the wheel and dart fell with reference to each other. Ten counts made the game. This game always attracted great crowds of spectators, who became greatly excited and bet heavily on the result.
At night about their camp-fires the Blackfeet delighted to tell their sacred stories, which they did not dare repeat in daylight. In telling a story of personal adventure, Indians, like white people, were often tempted to make it larger than it really was.

The Blackfeet and some other Indians had the following mode of getting at the truth. When a man told an improbable story some one handed a pipe to the medicine man, who painted the stem red and prayed over it, asking that the man's life might be long if his story were true, but cut short if the story were false. The pipe was then filled and lighted and given to the man. The medicine man said, as he handed it to him: “Accept this pipe, but remember that if you smoke, your story must be as sure as that there is a hole through this pipe and as straight as the hole through this stem. So your life shall be long and you shall survive; but if you have spoken falsely, your days are counted.” If he refused to smoke, as he surely would if he had not spoken true things, every one knew that he was a braggart and a liar.
Daniel Garrison Brinton.—Physician, anthropologist. Has written many books, mostly about American Indians. The Lenape and their Legends, in which the Walam olum is given in full, is a volume in his Library of Aboriginal American Literature.