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American riuseum of Natural

Vol. VH.




Published by Order of the Trustees.




Part I. The Social Life of the Blackfoot Indians. By Clark Wissler. 1911 1

Part II. Ceremonial Bundles of the Blackfoot Indians. By Clark Wissler.

1912 65

Index. By Miss Bella Weitzner 291

Illustrations. By Miss Ruth B. Howe.

Hn ^emoriam.

David C. Duvall died at his home in Browning, Montana, July 10, 1911.
He was thirty-three years old. His mother was a Piegan; his father a
Canadian-French fur trade employe at Ft. Benton. He was educated at
Fort Hall Indian School and returned to the Reservation at Browning,
where he maintained a blacksmith shop.

The writer first met him in 190.3 while collecting among his people.
Later, he engaged him as interpreter. Almost from the start he took an
unusual interest in the work. He was of an investigating turn of mind and
possessed of considerable linguistic ability. On his own initiative he set
out Xoja0^v the more obscure and less used parts of his mother tongue,
lirtl^ng, as he often said, formed an ambition to become its most accurate
translator into English. As time went on, he began to assist in collecting
narratives and statements from the older people. Here his interest and
skill grew so that during the last year of his life he contributed several
hundred pages of manuscript. These papers have furnished a considerable
I)art of the data on the Blackfoot so far published by this Museum and offer
material for several additional studies. As they by no means exhaust the
field his untimely death is a distinct loss.

To this work Mr. Duvall brought no ethnological theories, his whole
concern being to render faithfully into English as complete information on
the subjects assigned as could be found among the best informed Indians.
Not being in any sense an adherent of Blackfoot religion, he looked upon
all beliefs and ceremonies as curious and interesting phenomena worthy of
sympathetic investigation.




American riuseum

of Natural


Vol. Vll, Part






Published by Order of the



American Museum of Natural History.


The results of researcli conducted by the Anthropological staff of the Museum,
unless otherwise provided for, are published in a series of octavo volumes of about
350 pages each, issued in parts at irregular intervals, entitled Anthropological Papers
of the American Museum of Natural History. This series of publication aims to
give the results of field-work conducted by the above department, supplemented
by the study of collections in the Museum.

The following are on sale at the Museum at the prices stated:

Vol. I, Part I. Technique of some South American Feather-work. By

Charles W. Mead. Pp. 1-18, Plates I-IV, and 14 text

figures. January, 1907. Price, $0.25.

Part II. Some Protective Designs of the Dakota. By Clark Wissler.

Pp. 19-54, Plates V-VII, and 26 text figures, February,

1907. Price, $0.50.

Part III. Gros Ventre Myths and Tales. By A. L. Kroeber. Pp.

5.5-139. May, 1907. Price, $0.25.
Part IV. Ethnology of the Gros Ventre. ,By A. L. Kroeber. Pp.

141-282, Plates VIII-XIII, and 44 text figures. April,

1908. Price, $1.50.

Part V. The Hard Palate in Normal and Feeble-minded Individ-
uals. By Walter Channing and Clark Wissler. Pp. 283-

350, Plates XIV-XXII, 8 text figures, and 19 tables.

August, 1908. Price, $0.50.
Part VI. Iroquois Silverwork. By M. R. Harrington. Pp. 351-

370, Plates XXIII-XXIX, and 2 text figures. August,

1908. Price, $0.50.
Vol. II, Part I. Mythology of the Blackfoot Indians. By Clark Wissler

and D. C. Duvall. Pp. l-lt)4. September, 1908. Price,

Part II. The Northern Shoshone. By Robert H. Lowie. Pp. 165-

306, Plate I, and 20 text figures. January, 1909. Price,

Part III. Notes Concerning New Collections. Edited by Clark

Wissler. Pp. 307-364, Plates II-XXIII, 23 text figures.

April, 1909. Price, $1.00.
Vol. III. The Indians of Greater New York and the Lower Hudson.

By Alanson Skinner, J. K. Finch, R. P. Bolton, M. R.

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Plates I-XXIV, and 39 text figures. September, 1909.

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Plates I-III, and 17 text figures. November, 1909. Price,

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1910. Price. $0.75.

(Continued on Sd p. of cover.)



American riuseum of Natural

Vol. VII, Part I.





Published by Order of the Trustees.






American Museum of Natural History

Vol. mi, Part I.

By Clark ^YISSLER.



Introduction 3

Tribal Divisions 7

Courtship ............. 8

Marriage and Its Obligations 9

Plurality of Wives 11

Potential Wives .12

The Mother-in-Law Taboo 12

Divorce 13

Relationship 14

Names 16

Bands 18

The Camp Circle 22

Tribal Organization and Control 22

Property Rights 26

Division of Labor 27

Birth Customs ....".' 28

Menstrual Customs 29

Care and Training of Children ........ 29

Death and Mourning 30

''Tales of Adventure 32

'Heraldry and Picture Writing 36

Reckoning Time ............ 44

Oaths .51

Etiquette ............. 51

Amusements and Games 53


Anthropological Papers American Museum of Nalural Ilislory. [Vol. VII,

Gambling 59

The Hand-Game 59

The Wheel Gambling Game GO

The Four-stick Game . .60

Bibliography 63


Text Figurks.

1. Section of a decorated Tipi ....

2. Selected Figures from a decorated Tipi .

3. Symbols used in War Records

4. Methods of recording the Capture of Horses

5. Highly conventionalized Symbols

6. A sand Map showing the Course of a War Party

7. Map recording a Battle

8. Wooden Tops

9. A Stone Top .

10. Top Whip with Lashes of Bark

11. Gaming Bows and Arrows

12. A Wooden Dart

13. The Wheel Game .

14. A Shinny Stick
lo. The Four-stick Game


In this third paper on the ethnology of the Blackfoot Indians full recog-
nition should again be given Mr. D. C. Duvall, with whose assistance the
data were collected by the writer on a Museum expedition in 1906. Later,
Mr. Duvall read the descriptive parts of the manuscript to well-informed
Indians, recording their corrections and comments, the substance of which
was incorporated in the final revision. Most of the data come from the
Piegan division in Montana. For supplementary accounts of social customs
the works of Henry, Maximilian, Grinnell, Maclean, and McClintock are
especially worthy of consideration.

Since this paper is an integral part of an ethnographic survey in the
Missouri-Saskatchewan area some general statements seem permissible
for there is even yet a deep interest in the order of social grouping in different
parts of the world and its assumed relation with exogamy, to the current
discussion of which our presentation of the Blackfoot band system may
perhaps contribute. We believe the facts indicate these bands to be social
groups, or units, frequently formed and even now taking shape by di\ision,
segregation and union, in the main a physical grouping of individuals in
adjustment to sociological and economic conditions. The readiness with
which a Blackfoot changes his band and the unstable character of the band
name and above all the band's obvious function as a social and political
unit, make it appear that its somewhat uncertain exogamous character
is a mere coincidence. A satisfactory comparative view of social organiza-
tion in this area must await the accumulation of more detailed information
than is now available. A brief resume may, however, serve to define
some of the problems. Dr. Lowie's investigation of the Assiniboine reveals
band characteristics similar to those of the Blackfoot in so far as his inform-
ants gave evidence of no precise conscious relation between band affilia-
tion and restrictions to marriage.^ The Gros Ventre, according to Kroeber,
are composed of bands in which descent is paternal and marriage forbidden
within the bands of one's father and mother, which has the appearance of a
mere blood restriction.^ The Arapaho bands, on tlie other hand, were

Lowie, (a), 34.
Kroeber, (a), 147.

4 Anl/irnpolodical Papers American Museum of Xnlural Ilistor!/. [Xo]. VII,

iiRTcly divisions in which iiu-iiihcrship \v;is iiilicrittd hut Aid not affect
marriage in any way.^ The Crow, however, have not only exogainous
hands hut phratries. The Teton-Dakota so far as our own information
goes, are like the Assiniboine. For the Western Cree we lack definite
information hut such as we have indicates a simple family group and blood
restrictions to marriage. The following statement by Henry may be noted :
" A Cree often finds difficulty in tracing out his grandfather, as they do not
possess totems — that ready expedient among the Saulteurs. Tiicy have a
certain way of distinguishing their families and tribes, but it is not nearly
so accurate as that of the Saulteurs, and the second or third generation
back seems often lost in oblivion." - On the west, the Xez Perce seem
innocent of anything like clans or gentes.' The Northern Shoshone seem
not to have the formal bands of the Blackfoot and other tribes but to have
recognized simple family groups.* The clan-like organizations of the
Ojii)way, Winnebago and some other Siouan groups and also the Caddoan
groups on the eastern and southern borders of our area serve to sharpen the

The names of Blackfoot bands are not animal terms but characterizations
ill no wise different from tribal names. Those of the Assiniboine, Gros
\'entre, Arapaho, Cheyenne, and Teton-Dakota are, so far as reported,
essentially of the same class. It seems then that the name system for these
bands is the same among these neighboring tril)es of the area and that it is
an integral part of the whole system of nomenclature for groups of individ-
uals. This may be of no particular significance, yet it is difficult to see in it
the ear marks of a broken-down clan organization; it looks for. all the world
like an economic or physical grouping of a growing population.

We have seen in the Blackfoot system the suggestion thai tlie band
circle or camp circle organization is in function a political and ceremonial
adjunct and that the exogamous aspects of these bands were accidental.
So far as we know this holds to a degree for other tribes using tlie l)and

It seems probable that many discussions of social phenomena could be
expedited if clear distinctions were established between what is conven-
tional and what is the result of specific functions and adaptations. T'n-
fortunately, our ignorance of the processes involved and their seeming
ilhisiveness of apprehension make such a result wcll-iiigli hopeless. By the

' Kroi-ber. (b), 8.

- Ik'iiry. 511.

» Spinden, 241.

* Lowie. (b). 206.

s .See Mooney. 402; Swanton. 06.3: and Cokionweiser, 53.

1911.] Wisfihr, Blarkfoot Socuil Life. 5

large, coinxMitional things, or customs, appear to he ])ro(hicts of ideation or
thinking. Now a t)an(l circle is ckarly a scheme, a conception, that may
well have originated within the mental activities of a single individual, a
true psychic accident. Indeed this is precisely what conventions seem to he
— customs, procedures or orders that happen to become fixed. A band, on
the other hand, is not so easily disposed of. The name itself implies some-
thing instinctive or physical, as a flock, a grove, etc. Something like this
is seen in the ethnic grouping of the Dakota since we have the main group
composed of two large divisions in one of which is the Teton, this again
sub-divided among which we find the Ogalalla, and this in turn divided into
camps, etc. Though detected by conventionalities of language this divid-
ing and diffusing is largely physical, or at least an organic adjustment to
environment. Then among the Ojibway we have a population widely
scattered in physical groups but over and above all, seemingly independent,
a clan system; the latter is certainly conventional, but the former, not.
Now the Blackfoot band seems in genesis very much of a combined instinc-
tive and physical grouping, in so far as it is largely a sexual group and
adapted to economic conditions. In its relation to the band system of
government and its exogamous tendency it is clearly conventional. What
may be termed the conventional band system consists in a scheme for the
tribal group designated as a band circle. This scheme once in force would
perpetuate the band names and distinctions in the face of re-groupings for
physical and economic reasons. Something like this has been reported for
the Cheyenne who have practically the same band scheme but live in camps
or physical groups not coincident with the band grouping, hence, their
band was predominatingly conventional. The following statement of
the Arapaho, if we read correctly, is in line with this: "When the bands
were separate, the people in each camped promiscuously and without order.
When the whole tribe was together, it camped in a circle that had an open-
ing to the east. The members of each band then camped in one place in a
circle." ' All this in turn seems to support the interpretation that the band
circle system is merely a conventionalized scheme of tribal government.
We have noted that among the Blackfoot the tribal governments are so
associated with the band circles that they exist only potentially until the
camps are formed ; at other times each band is a law unto itself. So far as
our data go something like this holds in part at least, for the neighboring
tribes. As a hypothesis, then, for further consideration we may state that
the band circles and the bands are the objective forms of a type of tribal
government almost peculiar to this area, an organization of units not to be

1 Kroeber, (b). 8.

Anthropological Papers American Museum of Natural History. [Vol. VII,

confused with the more social cUms and gentes of other tribes to which they
bear a superficial resemblance. In closing, we may remark that exogamy
is often but a rule for marriage respecting some conventional groupings.
The Blackfoot appear to have paused at the very threshold of such a ruling
for their bands.

December, 1910.

Wissler, Blackfoot Social Life.

Tribal Divisions.

As previously stated, there are three pohtical divisions of the Blackfoot
Indians. These were definite when the tribes first came to our knowledge
and their origins have long had a place in mythology. The genesis of these
divisions must forever remain obscure, though there are a few suggestions
as to what may have been the order of differentiation. While the term
Blackfoot has been used by explorers from the very first, it seems also to
have some general significance among the Indians themselves. Thus, a
Piegan will tell you that he is a Piegan, but if asked who are the Piegan,
will usually reply that they are Blackfoot Indians. Naturally, this may be
due to foreign influence, the idea of subordination to the Blackfoot division
having grown out of knowledge that such a classification was accepted by
the dominant race.^ In the sign language, there appears no distinct desig-
nation for the group as a whole. According to our information the signs
are : —

Blackfoot. Pass the thumb and extended fingers down the side of the
leg and supplement by pointing to black.

Blood. Crook the closed fingers and draw across the mouth, the teeth
showing. The idea is that of picking clotted blood from the mouth.

Piegan. The closed fist, fingers down, rubbed on the cheek. The
idea is "poorly dressed robes," the sign signifying the rubbing of a skin.^
One informant claims the name to have been given by the Crow because the
first Piegan they killed wore a scabby robe.

To the many published stories accounting for the origin of the term
Kainaw '^ (Blood) we add the following from the Piegan which is entirely
consistent with the sign. A party of Piegan were found in the mountains
frozen. They lay in a heap. Afterwards, the Blood taunted them by
singing, "All in a pile." Some time after this, some Blood were found in
the same condition but with dried l)lood and froth smeared on their faces.
Then the Piegan retorted by singing and making the sign. In daily speech,
the significance of kai seems to be some dried effluvium from the body,
hence, the name.

Henry gives a gr(>at deal of information as to the Blackfoot but is not
quite consistent in his classification, for though he recognized the three

1 "All these Indians (Piegan, Blood, Blackfoot] are comprehended, by the Whites, under
the general name of Blackfeet, which they themselves do not, however, extend so far. but
know each of the three tribes only by its own proper name." Maximilian, Vol. 23, 96.

2 See also Maclean, (a), 44; Clark, 73, 74.

o Anthropolocjical Ptipera American Mtt-seuin of Xulurdi History. [\'ol. \'II,

liistorical divisions in his (Minincration, hf .substituted two "l)iinds" for
the Hlackfoot; ' thr (old ImikI and. Painted Feather's hand, inii)lyinK that
these were (Hstinet and strong (Hvisions into which the Blaekfoot were
divided. This may have been a temporary segregation under two dominant
leaders. Henry estimated the strength of the Piegan as equal to all the
other divisions combined, an estimate consistent with all our information
and with tradition.

There are some linguistic dilfcrciiccs between the three tril)cs but these
are chiefly in the choice of words and in current idioms. The Northern
Blaekfoot .seem to diflFer more from the Piegan than the latter from the Blood.


It seems proper to begin the discussion of our subject with those conven-
tions directly associated with sexual activities. Among the Blaekfoot,
as everywhere, the male is usually the aggressor. He lies in wait outside
the tipi at night or along the paths to the water and wood-gathering places
to force his attentions. This phase of sexual life is often expressed in myths
and tales, intercepting the girl with her bundles of wood being the favorite.-
Another maimer of approach is by creeping under the tipi cover into the
sleeping place of the girls. When countenanced by the girl's family, atten-
tions may be received by day in full view of all, the couple sitting together
muffled in the .same blanket, a familiar Dakota practice. Naturally, the
girl may offer the first invitation. The most conventional way is for her
to make moccasins secretly for the youth of her choice, this being regarded
as the first proper step. Curiously enough, when married the young bride
is expected to make a pair of moccasins for each of her husband's male
relatives. Then they will say, "\V(>11, my feniaU relative (nimps) is all
right, she makes moccasins for us." As the wife usually goes to live with
her husband's people, this is something of a formal demonstration of her
worth to his family.

To all appearances, at least, \ irginity is held in very great esteem and
extreme precaution is taken to guard the girls of the family. They are
closely watched by their mothers and married ofT as soon as possible after
puberty'. For a girl to become pregnant is regarded as an extreme family
disgrace. She will be scolded privately; but none of the family will speak

Henry and Thompson. 530.
Vol. 2, .58, 109.

1911.1 Wissler, Black-fool Social Life. 9

ot" the matter in pul)lic if it can be avoided, they l)earin,ti- their slianie sih'iitly.
No special demands are made of the co-partner in lier shaiiic, tlie girl alone
being the one held responsible. Marriage may result, but the initiative is
usually left to the man, since he is not regarded as having erred or fallen
into disfavor. The formal virginity tests and puberty ceremonies practised
among the Siouan tril)es seem to have no place in Blackfoot society. The
male lover enjoys unusual liberties. His efforts at debauchery are not only
tolerated but encouraged by his family and should he lead a married woman
astray is heralded as a person of promise. Thus, while great pains are taken
to safeguard young girls, boys are, if anything, encouraged to break through
the liarriers.

While the flageolet is a favorite adjunct of courtshij) among many
tribes of the area, its use in this connection seems to have been ignored by
the Blackfoot. They did, however, resort to charms and formula known
collectively as Cree medicine, a subject to be discussed in another paper.
From what information we have, the pursuit of the female was much less
in evidence than among the Dakota and other Siouan tribes.^ We found
no traces of conventional modes of registering concjuests as among the
young men of the Dakota and Village Indians.-

Marriage and Its Obligations.

Before proceeding, it should be noted that the courtship discussed in the
preceding has no necessary relation to marriage, and may continue secretly
after one or both are married. Proposals frequently come from the parents
of either the girl or the man and often without the knowledge of one or
both of the contracting parties. Mr. Grinnell has described in some detail
what may be regarded as the most ostentatious form of proposal,^ making
it unnecessary to discuss the matter here. In general, it appears that the
negotiations are carried on between the fathers of the couple or between the
father and his prospective son-in-law. If successful, the next step is the
exchange of presents. Grinnell denies that there is an idea of wife purchase
in these transactions,** but when discussing divorce on the following page
says the husband coidd "demand the price paid for her." According to our
information, the idea of purchase is still alive, though the woman herself
may, as Grinnell claims, be regarded as more than a chattel. Even to-day,

1 Wissler, (b).

= Maximilian. Vol. 23. 282-283.

3 Grinnell, 211-216; see also McClintock, 185.

* Grinnell, 217.

10 Anthropoloqical Papers American Museum of Natural History. [Vol. VII,

the l)ri(legn)()m is expected to give a few liorses and other property to the
bride's parents, and though presents are often sent with the bride, the
bridegroom must return at U'ast two-fohl.' In former times, it is said, well-
to-do families prepared the bride with an outfit of horses, clothing, etc.,
and paraded over toward the band of the bridegroom to be met in turn by a
similar procession and outfit. The chief object here was a parade of wealth,
that all the people might see the social excellence of the two families; for,
as just stated, the bridegroom must in the end pay a price over and above
the mere exchange of presents.

A Piegan to whom the text was read conunented as follows: — They do
pay for their women. When a man punishes his woman, he generally
remarks that he paid enough for her, and, hence, can do with her as he will.
On the other hand, if a man who gives few presents or pays nothing, becomes
exacting, the woman's relatives will remark that as he paid little or nothing
he should desist; they may even take her away and find another husband
for her.

There is a l)elief that the father-in-law was for a time entitled to part of
the spoils of the chase and war, especially the latter. During the period
between the proposal and the marriage, the hunt was delivered to the tipi
of the prospective father-in-law and when cooked a portion was carried to
the young man's tipi by the girl.

The formal marriage ceremony was simple, the couple taking their
proper places in the tipi and assuming at once their domestic responsibili-
ties. The husband was expected to hunt and accumulate horses; the wife
to prepare the food, make the clothing, etc. He had no great obligations
to her in his associations with other women; but she, on the other hand,
must strictly respect her compact. As the hour of marriage approached,
the girl's relatives gave her a forceful talk on her obligations and the shame
of adultery. Her attention was called to the important part a virtuous

Online LibraryClark WisslerThe social life of the Blackfoot Indians → online text (page 1 of 31)