The Blackfoot Indians
The wind blows across the lone prairie, causing the golden heads of grass to sway in a synchronized motion. On the horizon stands a herd of buffalo with bowed heads silhouetted by the slowly sinking sun. In the east stands an Indian war party mounted on horseback, each individual in different multicolored attire, all with either bows or spears in hand. As they move in for the attack, the mystical scene slowly fades from vision....
This dreamlike scene was once everyday life to the American Indian before they were robbed of all that made their life real. The Indians originally came over to North America via the Bering Strait at a time when the ice age caused the gap to freeze over. They came from Asia by following herds and in search of more. During their travels, some decided to stop and settle down, hence the many different tribes. The Blackfoot occupied the region of modern day Alberta in Canada, and Montana in the U.S. The Blackfoot consisted of three main tribes: the Northern Blackfoot(Siksika), the Piegan(Pikuni), and the Blood(Kainah). The tribes differed little in their speech, but were politically independent. Blackfoot population varied, but was less affected by the arrival of the white man than some tribes due to their location. "In 1855, there were approximately 2,400 Northern Blackfoot, 2,000 Blood, and 3,200 Piegan. The total population of Blackfoot varied as follows: 15,000(1780), 9,000(1801), 7,600(1855), and 4,600(1932)" ( ). The decline of population was most likely due to the white man's diseases and the annihilation of the buffalo. In 1781, the Blackfoot had their first serious attack of smallpox. An epidemic of smallpox again occurred in 1838, 1845 1857, and 1864. In the winter of 1864, the tribe was struck with measles and about 780 died. In the winter of 1883 to 1884, more than 1/4 the Piegan population died of starvation (600). This was mainly the result of official stupidity and the disappearance of the buffalo.
The Blackfoot were typically large-game hunters and were mainly dependant on the buffalo for their diet, clothing, and receptacles. They also hunted such animals as the elk, deer, and antelope. There were four main methods of hunting, one of which was the "surround". This method required the use of horses and was done by surrounding the herd, after which they were shot down. Another method was accomplished by driving the game down a cliff, in which the fall would injure the animal enough to hinder their escape. A third method used was impounding, which resembled modern day cow herding. The hunting party would build fences into which they would herd the animals. Yet another method was to encircle the herd with fire. The hunters would leave an opening at which they would wait since it was the animals' only escape. In times of need, the Blackfoot would catch fish by using crude basketry traps. They also made use of the wild plants, including berries, chokecherries, wild turnips, and many others. The wild turnip was dug up in large amounts in early summer and was peeled and dried for winter use. Maize, beans, squashes or pumpkins, and sunflowers were the principal crops grown. Most of the cultivation of agriculture was done by women.
The Blackfoot, as all Indians, grew and used tobacco mainly for ceremonies and other solemn occasions. The seeds were inserted in early spring in separate fenced gardens, about 21 X 18 ft. In mid-June, the blossoms were picked and dried indoors. The blossom was more prized than the stem or leaves, which were picked just before the frosts came. The stems provided the greater part of the smoking tobacco. Both crops were oiled with buffalo fat before being stored in a pouch for future use. Seeds were set out for the following year without selection. The cultivating of the tobacco plant was done by old men, and women assisted them. Men were the main smokers of tobacco, but some women...
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