Twelve Blackfeet Stories: A Summary

Wednesday, December 28, 2005, a re-blog from prairiemary.blogspot.com

The twelve Blackfeet stories that I’ve just posted are by myself — some people didn’t realize that — and represent my own quick shorthand of what I think has happened since the first “Euro” horse got to the Blackfeet. Each story is about twenty years later than the one just before it. Some of the people are in more than one story and others only appear once. They are meant to be atypical, in unique situations that we don’t normally think about much.

1. The first story, Dogwoman, is about the days when the first horses show up and make change. She is so put out by this change that she ends up leaving the band. The US is just forming at this point. Spain and France think they “own” the prairie except that the Hudson’s Bay Company is already coming into the north which is called “Assinnaboia.”

2. Eats Alone. The cultural infrastructure of the Blackfeet when they were dependent on dogs was very strong and tightly knit. Horses were enough the same as dogs that the transition was actually pretty effective. The biggest difference was that now the men could cover long distances for hunting and fighting — or just exploring. Two men, buddies which is an old human motif, go far to the SW and even begin new lives there, but return after a tragedy. One of them dies back in Montana, so his buddy takes his wife and has a daughter with her. He becomes a very rich and important man, but hesitates to be responsible for his band through ceremonial obligation. These years are the ones that represent a “peak civilization” so colorful that people who weren’t even on this continent have yearned for it ever since. The Eats Alone band was real.

3. “Horse Healer.” By 1800 Lewis & Clark were almost on their way and trading forts were in place in Canada where most of the Blackfeet were. A woman of importance among her own people gets kidnapped and thrust into this new context. She manages.

4. “Two Medicine.” Next came the missionaries, trying to learn the language and figure out what was going on. Though they didn’t approve of the native ways, they did think Indians had souls and should be treated properly. A “two-spirited” young man sees a priest in a dress and assumes that he has also chosen women’s roles. Not.

5. “Horizon.” The mid-1850’s was the period of Indian removal to west of the Mississippi as settlers poured into the mid-West. This story is based on a true happening, which actually came a little later: Helen Clarke, daughter of Malcolm Clarke (He is a whole other story leading to massacre which I’ve chosen not to tell since it’s well-told other places, including in Jim Welch’s “Fools Crow.”), was visiting an insane asylum back east when she thought one of the men seemed Blackfeet. She was told that he didn’t respond to English, seemed catatonic. She sang a little Blackfeet nursery song to him and he wept. He WAS Blackfeet! Not crazy at all. The railroads were being built and Indians took to them at once!

6. “Eclipse” By the Civil War period things were worse, but institutions like the army, the church and the school tried to take hold. Rationality was very important — progress! But things were not what they seemed. An old lady turns out to be a surprise.

7. “Whiteout.” After the war brutalized men and abandoned women clawed desperately at ways to survive, whether they were Indian or not. This story is an attempt to show just how bad it can get. An old woman, a little girl and a wolfer are trapped in a blizzard.

8. “Cut Nose Woman.” In the Edwardian period, just before WWI and maybe a little after, there was a kind of idyllic time — a pause — even though many men served in Europe. Old wounds began to be bound up and the dream of an agricultural Indian settled on ranches and farms began to seem possible.

9. “Gay Paree” World War II marked a turnaround on the reservation. Wool from the sheep and beef from the cattle meant real income. More important, many Blackfeet served as soldiers and were appreciated for it. But there were dark doubts. Three Blackfeet men come to very different conclusions.

10. “Basketball Hero.” By the time the Korean and Vietnam veterans began to see that they were being shoved into urban ghettoes caused by relocation and Eisenhower began to close down the reservations, they felt the Pan-Indian network of organizations wasn’t vigorous enough. AIM led the way to trickster acts and near-insurgency. Sometimes it was luckier NOT to be there.

11. “Sweetgrass Hills” After AIM there was an American renaissance of Native American writing which lifted up spiritual values. In this story a young Blackfeet man goes on vision quest and by accident acquires an odd companion — a young white woman — but doesn’t even know it.

12. “The Sun Comes Up.” Recently there have been real strides of progress. The Governor of Montana, Schwietzer, recognizes and empowers Indians. The Blackfeet are finding new ways to act vigorously and prosper. 8,000 tribal members live on the reservation, and 8,000 live off in a diasphora that keeps track of “home.” This story is about two returns to the reservation: an Indian man who has never been here and the bones of the earliest people in these stories.

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.