University of Wisconsin Digital Collections
Link to University of Wisconsin Digital Collections
Link to University of Wisconsin Digital Collections
The History Collection

Page View

United States. Office of Indian Affairs / Annual report of the Commissioner of Indian Affairs, for the year 1875
([1875])

Reports of agents in Montana,   pp. 299-311 PDF (6.6 MB)


Page 299

REPORTS OF AGENTS IN MONTANA.                             299 
BLACKFEET AGENCY, M. T., 
September 25, 1875. 
SIR: In compliance with instructions from your office, I have the honor to
submit the fol- 
lowing report of the Blackfeet, Blood, and Piegan Indians for the past year.
Having only relieved my predecessor on the 24th day of January last, my report
can only 
embrace such information as my experience has collected during the time since,
together 
with that received from sources deemed reliable. 
Believing a knowledge of the traditions, religion, laws, and former condition
of these peo- 
ple to be essential to a correct understanding of them, and a matter of interest
to the De- 
partment, I deemed it proper to collect such information and data as came
within my reach, 
and, though far from perfect, I beg to offer it, thinking such a statement
may be of some 
value in view of the vast wave of civilization and settlement now rapidly
spreading over 
the country and obliterating the past. 
The Sakitapix nation, or people of the plains, as they call themselves, are
divided into 
three tribes, viz: Piegans, Bloods or Kanaans, and Siksikas or Blackfeet.
Their tribal 
possessions of land formerly embraced all the country from the forty-seventh
degree to the 
fifty-first degree north latitude, taking in the upper valley of the Saskatchewan
and of the 
headwaters of the Missouri, south and west, at the base of the Rocky Mountains,
the lower 
Saskatchewan plains, or Cree and Assinaboine country, forming their extreme
boundary; 
the total area being about twenty thousand square miles, of which five thousand
square miles 
of their best lands are situated south of the forty-ninth degree parallel,
or United States bound- 
ary-line. The migrations of the buffalo lead them to hunt north of the line
during the greater 
portion of the summer, but they invariably take up winter-quarters on United
States land. 
Greatly reduced by almost constant war with other tribes, and the fearful
ravages of small- 
pox, their present number is about 7,000 souls. They all speak the same language,
with a 
slight difference in the pronunciation of certain words. Each tribe is divided
into a certain 
number-of bands, with a band-chief or war-chief, and a mina maska, or priest
of the sun, 
for each. 
The sun, incarnated under the name of Napea, has been their principal divinity.
In olden 
time human sacrifice was annually offered in the person of a virgin twelve
years old, but in 
latter years they contented themselves with bloody offerings of cut fingers
instead. 
The band-chief was responsible to other chiefs for the conduct of those under
him, and 
controlled the war-chief and nina maska, or medicine-man. There were formerly
thirty-three 
of these bands in the nation, each independent of the other, but answerable
for all offenses 
against each to the Exkinoya, or Great Council of the tribe. The same organization
and 
government prevailed in all the tribes, and each enjoyed its independence
in all local mat- 
ters. The Exkinoya of each tribe tormed a confederate supreme council for
the decision or 
sanction of all matters affecting the entire nation and the declaration of
war or peace with 
neighboring tribes. Early in the spring of each year the head chief named
a day for a general 
meeting of all the members of the tribe, which is then formed in a single
camp for the sum- 
mer season, under the direction of the soldiers or warriors, for the purpose
of celebrating 
mis-i-mam, or the feast of the sacred seed, which is held for four days preliminary
to the 
surrender of all authority by the band-chiefs over their kinsmen into the
hands of the 
supreme confederate council. 
There are seven degrees or classes in the soldiers' lodge, and every male
in the tribe is 
compelled to pass through each degree, or class, before he ranks as a perfect
warrior or is en- 
titled to become a member of the supreme council. The probation time is four
years in each 
class, but every year some new members take the places of those advanced
to a higher de- 
gree. The passage from one class to another is marked by an examination of
ability, the 
selling of insignia of rank to his successor, and the purchase of those belonging
to the de- 
gree to which he is admitted ; the usual price being from two to ten horses,
from the lowest 
to the highest a certain amount of bravery being an indispensable requisite.
The first four 
classes form the West Point education of the tuture warrior, while the last
three prepare him 
for a statesman among his people. The seventh class, called Exkinoya, is
at the head of 
the soldier lodge, and alone possesses and exercises all judiciary and legislative
powers, and 
whose decision is final. The Exkinoya chief is bead chief for the year, and
the rest form the 
senate, while the other chiefs form a body of representatives. The sixth
class included all 
the war-band chiefs; they are charged with the proclamation and enforcement
of all laws 
enacted by the supreme council, the protection of the camp, all police matters,
and also the 
punishmnt of public offenders. The fifth class busied themselves entirely
with the hunting 
and marching of the camp. 
The Exkinoya chief kept his council nearly every day settling differences
among the mem- 
bers of the various bands, examining candidates for the different degrees,
assigning the 
band -chiefs to their fall and winter quarters, the Blackfeet north, the
Bloods in the middle, 
and the Piegans south, in the tribal lands. Okan, the feast of the sun, which
is the national 
feast of the Blackfeet, is held tor four days as a closing ceremony; after
which the Exki- 
noya and soldiers' lodge dissolve themselves, and the members of the tribe
resume their 
band-camp organization under their respective chiefs and disperse to their
fall and winter 
quarters. About this time the several band war-chiefs, having selected their
men, started 
19 


Go up to Top of Page