A Research Help for Writers Working on White Writers about the Blackfeet Rez.

Yesterday I began a new category of “Blackfeet-related white people”, one that has developed randomly for more than a century and continues today, but has been unexamined or attacked — two extremes — without much reflection about who the authors are or the nature of their “attachment”. I use that word to empty the implications of the word “love” though many of these attached people would claim that they love Blackfeet. Love is considered to be blind and imposed in some supernatural way. That’s not what I want to work with.

I welcome prompts from others and when the information seems mostly complete, I’ll post it to someplace like Researchgate. If a person were to look up Wikipedia entries for all the mentioned people, they would know a great deal about this place that fascinates many who don’t even live here. For all that reading, one would know very little about the year-round rez dwellers.

I use the word “Blackfeet” to narrow the list of people — which is a long one — and to use the examples that I know rather than generalizing about a global situation. My whole writing strategy is to look closely at what we take for granted and try to understand what’s under it. I’m not alone. In the beginning I thought of drawing a graphic of concentric circles or at least Venn diagrams, but I gave those up. Now I’m using the “map” or “web” style we teach kids to help them structure stories with circles and connecting lines.

Partnerships between enrolled people and white people are common so as to combine the resources (money) of the whites with the access and land of the rez people, for instance, the Sitzman/Schildt pair or the oil people of Cut Bank with the land-allotted families of the rez.

Mostly I’ll stick to the Montana side of the rez, but people crossed over until the present restrictions. The first Euro people to show up were, of course, Euro explorers and adventurers who were only here briefly and had every reason to exaggerate, look only at surfaces, and so on. Because of the Mississippi/Missouri complex they could get to the heart of the high east slope via steamboats. Then came the fur/fort/factor people who made a lot of records to send back to Hudson’s Bay owners in Britain.


This link is to the repository for the accumulated records of the Hudson’s Bay company. These were only made available in relatively recent years. My father earned his bachelor’s degree in Winnipeg just as the university was forming and he took many photos of the raw land and new buildings. I never heard him say anything about the fur trade and very little about indigenous people.

The other source of the earliest written records is missionaries who sent reports back to the Vatican or the headquarters of their specific religious orders. Sometimes they sent back objects as well. Only a very few of this huge archive have been itemized, translated and published.

The following writers were easily accessible in magazine stories between the World Wars and are the source of much of the knowledge about Blackfeet even now. They are the main source of the local conviction that a person can make a lot of money by writing about “Indians,” though none of them ever got rich that way.

On the Montana side, writers about Indians after the anthros became popular so that people like George Bird Grinnell (1849–1938) or Frank B. Linderman (1849–1939) wrote pop books that were sometimes supposed to be meant for youngsters. Artists like Charlie Russell (1864–1926) or Winold Reiss (1886–1953) participated.

Wildly popular was James Willard Schultz (1859–1947) with his stirring and dramatic frontier tales, full of bravado and action, far from business-like academics. In fact, he was so popular that he became the basis of a second layer about Schultz as much as about Blackfeet! His son, Hart Merriam Schultz or “Lone Wolf” (1882–1970) also became an artist. Schultz had married a Blackfeet woman and was early enough to run trading forts. Paul Dyck (1917–2006) was a protector of Hart Schultz. Keith Seele (1898 -1971) was an Egyptologist who was a devoted fan of James Willard Schultz. These were contemporaries of Bob Scriver (1914–1999).

Scriver sometimes functioned as an intermediary for outsiders. Harold McCracken is an example (1894–1983). Another is Joy Buba (1904–1998), not a writer but a sculptor. John Clymer (1907–1989) and Robert Lougheed (1910–1982) were painters but more interested in animals. White artists who painted Indians included people like Ace Powell (1912–1978) or Ned Jacob (b. 1978). Though they had books written associated with them, they were not writers.

On the Canadian side was Hugh Dempsey (b, 1929), more of an historian than an anthropologist. He also married a Blackfoot woman. His son James Dempsey is also a writer. Dempsey was a close friend of John Ewers on the US side of the Blackfoot Confederacy and published in both Canada and the US.

Among the anthros, Clark Wissler (1870–1947) was the first to focus on the plains tribes and was helped on the Blackfeet rez by David Duvall, a mixed-blood man who died of suicide. Wissler began as a psychologist and took a special interest in the idea that IQ measured something unaffected by culture, an idea he discredited though he clung to some racisms. He was an early theorist about how cultures form and what they mean. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clark_Wissler In spite of his sophistication about culture, he failed to escape from genetic racism and the pernicious idea that Nordics were superior and Africans were inferior.

Several linguists like C.C. Uhlenbeck (1913–2003) have visited and transcribed the Blackfeet language to English, adding comments.

John Ewers (1909–1997) was for many years the dominant and near-only anthropologist expert on Blackfeet and founded the Museum of the Plains Indian in Browning, which was at the time justified as part of the “crafts” movement hoping that recreating artifacts would earn income for the People. It’s didn’t, but Ewers’ books were foundational for writers working on the historical information. The dark side of that was that it was so interesting that people failed to understand that it was early info of a people in a long process that continues today.

Tom Kehoe (1926–2008) and wife Alice Kehoe (b. 1934) were the next anthros in the succession and they did write, esp. Alice, a feminist brave enough to translate the prudish Latin that hid things like ritual coition.

In the Sixties Claude Schaffer (?) was the next anthropologist curator of the museum and then Ramon Gonyea (?) who was genetically Indian and working during the Vietnam War, which lent his thoughts a strong political slant. There were no more anthropologists at the museum after that. Neither of these men wrote books about the Blackfeet that I know of, but both wrote short pieces.

There were visiting anthropologists who did write books. One whose influence has increased over the decades was Malcolm Macfee,(1917–1992) (“Modern Blackfeet on a Reservation”) who saw mixed white and Blackfeet as overlapping rather than fractionated as “half-breed” might suggest. He proposed the term 150% man for people who melded both cultures together.

I’ve written about these people twice on blogs, notably:

November 01, 2016



April 26, 2008


It’s likely that I’m missing some people who were here briefly, and if I expand my list much more I begin to run into people who merely compile whatever is already written in libraries to make commodified books that are little more than encyclopedia entries and mostly historical.

I begin to have opinions and judgements now. Some books, like “Blackfeet Physics” by David Peat are marginal and not scientific, most kindly described as speculation. Some white writers would not tell you basic and realistic things about the tribe, just the expectations from outside the culture because that’s all they know. The nastiest interpretation would be that they know romance and mysticism sell, which is an opinion shared by some tribal members themselves, much perpetuated by movies and a naive public.

But I’m not one to shy away from supposedly negative opinions. They are mine, I claim them. Some writers are destructive and prey on many people. One trope pursued by some is the idea of a “hoax” which somehow has become attached to writers and even lives that presume to use indigenous values or assume personas based on that way of life.

Two examples from the Sixties are John Hellson (1932–2016), who first introduced Bob and I to the sacred objects and ceremonies of the Blackfeet, which I hadn’t known at all but Bob had experienced all his life without knowing how to think about them. The other was Adolf Hungry Wolf (b. 1944), an Austro-Hungarian by birth ethnicity and a Californian by education, who showed up in Browning about the same time.

Hellson wrote one book and Hungry Wolf wrote many, beginning with small homemade crafts information and ending with a major 4-volume accumulation of first hand research that has never gotten enough respect or enough distribution, partly because of their expense. Not even Ewers or Dempsey has organized this much information and photos. These two men were working in the same place, both with Canadian Blackfoot wives, but were very different and did not work together.

(To be continued and augmented in the future)

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Mary Strachan Scriver

Born in Portland when all was calm just before WWII. Educated formally at NU and U of Chicago Div School. Clergy for ten years. Always happy on high prairie.