A Similar Beginning
The Blackfeet decided to up and move to the Great Lakes region after the first Europeans began arriving in the region beginning in the early 1600s, and settled between the North Saskatchewan and Bow Rivers. The moves weren’t difficult, even though the Blackfeet were still heavily agrarian, and the travois’ that their dogs pulled certainly helped.
And the Blackfeet also began to acquire guns from the Europeans in trade for items like furs and pelts. This made their conquest of the plains easier, and life for other tribes so much more difficult. Together with their horses, the guns the Blackfeet employed allowed them to drive the Shoshone from Montana, and the Kootenai and Flathead across the Continental Divide into the more mountainous regions of western Montana. This allowed them to grow and prosper, and by 1780 the Blackfeet numbered around 15,000. By the time Lewis and Clark arrived on the scene in 1806, the Blackfeet’s control of north-central Montana was complete.
Horses were considered a sign of stature, and a show of wealth. However, it didn’t really matter how many horses you owned, but how many you could afford to give away. After all, in a nomadic society, possessions just slow you down. Sharing with others was the greatest sign that you were wealthy, in both goods and spirit.
In fact, the Blackfeet angered more tribes than just about any other in Montana, and through the years they’ve been enemies with the Crow, Sioux, Shoshone, Flathead, Kalispell, Kootenai, Nez Pearce, Cree, Assiniboine, Salteaux, and Métis. Still, their many enemies didn’t stop them from becoming one of the most powerful Indian tribes to call the Great Plains home. The Blackfeet knew how to fight, and few were as fearsome on horseback as their young braves.
Pritzker, Barry. Native Americans [2 Volumes]: An Encyclopedia of History, Culture, and Peoples. ABC-CLIO: Santa Barbara, 1998. p. 430-5.
Bryan, William L. Montana's Indians: Yesterday and Today. American World & Geographic Publishing: Helena, 1996. p. 54-5.
Learn More About the Blackfeet
The Marias Massacre – A Montana Disgrace
Useful Blackfoot Nation Site