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of the visit, the patient feels that he has been benefited, he will
probably send for the doctor again, but if, on the other hand, he continues
to grow worse, he is likely to send for another. Not infrequently two or
more doctors may be present at the same time, taking turns with the
patient. In early days, if a man fell sick, and remained so for three weeks
or a month, he had to start anew in life when he recovered; for, unless
very wealthy, all his possessions had gone to pay doctor's fees. Often the
last horse, and even the lodge, weapons, and extra clothing were so parted
with. Of late years, however, since the disappearance of the buffalo, the
doctors' fees are much more moderate.

The doctor is named _I-so-kin-[)u]h-kin,_ a word difficult to
translate. The nearest English meaning of the word seems to be "heavy
singer for the sick." As a rule all doctors sing while endeavoring to work
their cures, and, as helpers, a number of women are always present. Disease
being caused by evil spirits, prayers, exhortations, and certain mysterious
methods must be observed to rid the patient of their influence. No two
doctors have the same methods or songs. Herbs are sometimes used, but not
always. One of their medicines is a great yellow fungus which grows on the
pine trees. This is dried and powdered, and administered either dry or in
an infusion. It is a purgative. As a rule, these doctors, while practising
their rites, will not allow any one in the lodge, except the immediate
members of the sick man's family. Mr. Schultz, who on more than one
occasion has been present at a doctoring, gives the following account of
one of the performances.

"The patient was a man in the last stages of consumption. When the doctor
entered the lodge, he handed the sick man a strip of buckskin, and told him
to tie it around his chest. The patient then reclined on a couch, stripped
to the waist, and the doctor kneeled on the floor beside him. Having
cleared a little space of the loose dirt and dust, the doctor took two
coals from the fire, laid them in this place, and put a pinch of dried
sweet grass on each of them. As the smoke arose from the burning grass, he
held his drum over it, turning it from side to side, and round and
round. This was supposed to purify it. Laying aside the drum, he held his
hands in the smoke, and rubbed his arms and body with it. Then, picking up
the drum, he began to tap it rapidly, and prayed, saying: 'Listen, my
dream. This you told me should be done. This you said should be the
way. You said it would cure the sick. Help me now. Do not lie to me. Help
me, Sun person. Help me to cure this sick man.'

"He then began to sing, and as soon as the women had caught the air, he
handed the drum to one of them to beat, and, still singing himself, took an
eagle's wing and dipped the tip of it in a cup of 'medicine.' It was a
clear liquid, and looked as if it might be simply water. Placing the tip of
the wing in his mouth, he seemed to bite off the end of it, and, chewing it
a little, spat it out on the patient's breast. Then, in time to the
singing, he brushed it gently off, beginning at the throat and ending at
the lower ribs. This was repeated three times. Next he took the bandage
from the patient, dipped it in the cup of medicine, and, wringing it out,
placed it on the sick man's chest, and rubbed it up and down, and back and
forth, after which he again brushed the breast with the eagle
wing. Finally, he lighted a pipe, and, placing the bowl in his mouth, blew
the smoke through the stem all over the patient's breast, shoulders, neck,
and arms, and finished the ceremony by again brushing with the wing. At
intervals of two or three hours, the whole ceremony was repeated. The
doctor arrived at the lodge of the sick man about noon, and left the next
morning, having received for his services a saddle and two blankets."

"Listen, my dream - " This is the key to most of the Blackfoot medicine
practices. These doctors for the most part effect their cures by
prayer. Each one has his dream, or secret helper, to whom he prays for aid,
and it is by this help that he expects to restore his patient to health. No
doubt the doctors have the fullest confidence that their practices are
beneficial, and in some cases they undoubtedly do good because of the
implicit confidence felt in them by the patient.

Often, when a person is sick, he will ask some medicine man to unroll his
pipe. If able to dance, he will take part in the ceremony, but if not, the
medicine man paints him with the sacred symbols. In any case a fervent
prayer is offered by the medicine man for the sick person's recovery. The
medicine man administers no remedies; the ceremony is purely
religious. Being a priest of the Sun, it is thought that god will be more
likely to listen to him than he would to an ordinary man.

Although the majority of Blackfoot doctors are men, there are also many
women in the guild, and some of them are quite noted for their
success. Such a woman, named Wood Chief Woman, is now alive on the
Blackfoot reservation. She has effected many wonderful cures. Two Bear
Woman is a good doctor, and there are many others.

In the case of gunshot wounds a man's "dream," or "medicine," often acts
directly and speedily. Many cases are cited in which this charm, often the
stuffed skin of some bird or animal, belonging to the wounded man, becomes
alive, and by its power effects a cure. Many examples of this might be
given but for lack of space. Entirely honest Indians and white men have
seen such cures and believe in them.


In the olden times the Blackfeet were very numerous, and it is said that
then they were a strong and hardy people, and few of them were ever
sick. Most of the men who died were killed in battle, or died of old
age. We may well enough believe that this was the case, because the
conditions of their life in those primitive times were such that the weakly
and those predisposed to any constitutional trouble would not survive early
childhood. Only the strongest of the children would grow up to become the
parents of the next generation. Thus a process of selection was constantly
going on, the effect of which was no doubt seen in the general health of
the people.

With the advent of the whites, came new conditions. Various special
diseases were introduced and swept off large numbers of the people. An
important agent in their destruction was alcohol.

In the year 1845, the Blackfeet were decimated by the small-pox. This
disease appears to have travelled up the Missouri River; and in the early
years, between 1840 and 1850, it swept away hosts of Mandans, Rees, Sioux,
Crows, and other tribes camped along the great river. I have been told, by
a man who was employed at Fort Union in 1842-43, that the Indians died
there in such numbers that the men of the fort were kept constantly at work
digging trenches in which to bury them, and when winter came, and the
ground froze so hard that it was no longer practicable to bury the dead,
their bodies were stacked up like cord wood in great piles to await the
coming of spring. The disease spread from tribe to tribe, and finally
reached the Blackfeet. It is said by whites who were in the country at the
time, that this small-pox almost swept the Plains bare of Indians.

In the winter of 1857-58, small-pox again carried off great numbers, but
the mortality was not to be compared with that of 1845. In 1864, measles
ran through all the Blackfoot camps, and was very fatal, and again in 1869
they had the small-pox.

Between the years 1860 and 1875, a great deal of whiskey was traded to the
Blackfeet. Having once experienced the delights of intoxication, the
Indians were eager for liquor, and the traders found that robes and furs
could be bought to better advantage for whiskey than for anything else. To
be sure, the personal risk to the trader was considerably increased by the
sale of whiskey, for when drunk the Indians fought like demons among
themselves or with the traders. But, on the other hand, whiskey for
trading to Indians cost but a trifle, and could be worked up, and then
diluted, so that a little would go a long way.

As a measure of partial self-protection, the traders used to deal out the
liquor from the keg or barrel in a tin scoop so constructed that it would
not stand on a flat surface, so that an Indian, who was drinking, had to
keep the vessel in his hand until the liquor was consumed, or else it would
be spilled and lost. This lessened the danger of any shooting or stabbing
while the Indian was drinking, and an effort was usually made to get him
out of the store as soon as he had finished. Nevertheless, drunken fights
in the trading-stores were of common occurrence, and the life of a
whiskey-trader was one of constant peril. I have talked with many men who
were engaged in this traffic, and some of the stories they tell are
thrilling. It was a common thing in winter for the man who unbarred and
opened the store in the morning to have a dead Indian fall into his arms as
the door swung open. To prop up against the door a companion who had been
killed or frozen to death during the night seems to have been regarded by
the Indians as rather a delicate bit of humor, in the nature of a joke on
the trader. Long histories of the doings of these whiskey trading days have
been related to me, but the details are too repulsive to be set down. The
traffic was very fatal to the Indians.

The United States has laws which prohibit, under severe penalties, the sale
of intoxicants to Indians, but these laws are seldom enforced. To the north
of the boundary line, however, in the Northwest Territories, the Canadian
Mounted Police have of late years made whiskey-trading perilous
business. Of Major Steell's good work in putting down the whiskey traffic
on the Blackfoot agency in Montana, I shall speak further on, and to-day
there is not very much whiskey sold to the Blackfeet. Constant vigilance is
needed, however, to keep traders from the borders of the reservation.

In the winter of 1883-84 more than a quarter of the Piegan tribe of the
Blackfeet, which then numbered about twenty-five or twenty-six hundred,
died from starvation. It had been reported to the Indian Bureau that the
Blackfeet were practically self-supporting and needed few supplies. As a
consequence of this report, appropriations for them were small. The
statement was entirely and fatally misleading. The Blackfeet had then
never done anything toward self-support, except to kill buffalo. But just
before this, in the year 1883, the buffalo had been exterminated from the
Blackfoot country. In a moment, and without warning, the people had been
deprived of the food supply on which they had depended. At once they had
turned their attention to the smaller game, and, hunting faithfully the
river bottoms, the brush along the small streams, and the sides of the
mountains, had killed off all the deer, elk, and antelope; and at the
beginning of the winter found themselves without their usual stores of
dried meat, and with nothing to depend on, except the scanty supplies in
the government storehouse. These were ridiculously inadequate to the wants
of twenty-five hundred people, and food could be issued to them only in
driblets quite insufficient to sustain life. The men devoted themselves
with the utmost faithfulness to hunting, killing birds, rabbits,
prairie-dogs, rats, anything that had life; but do the best they might, the
people began to starve. The very old and the very young were the first to
perish; after that, those who were weak and sickly, and at last some even
among the strong and hardy. News of this suffering was sent East, and
Congress ordered appropriations to relieve the distress; but the supplies
had to be freighted in wagons for one hundred and fifty or two hundred
miles before they were available. If the Blackfeet had been obliged to
depend on the supplies authorized by the Indian Bureau, the whole tribe
might have perished, for the red tape methods of the Government are not
adapted to prompt and efficient action in times of emergency. Happily, help
was nearer at hand. The noble people of Montana, and the army officers
stationed at Fort Shaw, did all they could to get supplies to the
sufferers. One or two Montana contractors sent on flour and bacon, on the
personal assurance of the newly appointed agent that he would try to have
them paid. But it took a long time to get even these supplies to the
agency, over roads sometimes hub deep in mud, or again rough with great
masses of frozen clay; and all the time the people were dying.

During the winter, Major Allen had been appointed agent for the Blackfeet,
and he reached the agency in the midst of the worst suffering, and before
any effort had been made to relieve it. He has told me a heart-rending
story of the frightful suffering which he found among these helpless

In his efforts to learn exactly what was their condition, Major Allen one
day went into twenty-three houses and lodges to see for himself just what
the Indians had to eat. In only two of these homes did he find anything in
the shape of food. In one house a rabbit was boiling in a pot. The man had
killed it that morning, and it was being cooked for a starving child. In
another lodge, the hoof of a steer was cooking, - only the hoof, - to make
soup for the family. Twenty-three lodges Major Allen visited that day, and
the little rabbit and the steer's hoof were all the food he found. "And
then," he told me, with tears in his eyes, "I broke down. I could go no
further. To see so much misery, and feel myself utterly powerless to
relieve it, was more than I could stand."

Major Allen had calculated with exactest care the supplies on hand, and at
this time was issuing one-seventh rations. The Indians crowded around the
agency buildings and begged for food. Mothers came to the windows and held
up their starving babies that the sight of their dull, pallid faces, their
shrunken limbs, and their little bones sticking through their skins might
move some heart to pity. Women brought their young daughters to the white
men in the neighborhood, and said, "Here, you may have her, if you will
feed her; I want nothing for myself; only let her have enough to eat, that
she may not die." One day, a deputation of the chiefs came to Major Allen,
and asked him to give them what he had in his storehouses. He explained to
them that it must be some time before the supplies could get there, and
that only by dealing out what he had with the greatest care could the
people be kept alive until provisions came. But they said: "Our women and
children are hungry, and we are hungry. Give us what you have, and let us
eat once and be filled. Then we will die content; we will not beg any
more." He took them into the storehouse, and showed them just what food he
had, - how much flour, how much bacon, how much rice, coffee, sugar, and so
on through the list - and then told them that if this was issued all at
once, there was no hope for them, they would surely die, but that he
expected supplies by a certain day. "And," said he, "if they do not come by
that time, you shall come in here and help yourselves. That I promise
you." They went away satisfied.

Meanwhile, the supplies were drawing near. The officer in command of Fort
Shaw had supplied fast teams to hurry on a few loads to the agency, but the
roads were so bad that the wagon trains moved with appalling slowness. At
length, however, they had advanced so far that it was possible to send out
light teams, to meet the heavily laden ones, and bring in a few sacks of
flour and bacon; and every little helped. Gradually the suffering was
relieved, but the memory of that awful season of famine will never pass
from the minds of those who witnessed it.

There is a record of between four and five hundred Indians who died of
hunger at this time, and this includes only those who were buried in the
immediate neighborhood of the agency and for whom coffins were made. It is
probable that nearly as many more died in the camps on other creeks, but
this is mere conjecture. It is no exaggeration to say, however, that from
one-quarter to one-third of the Piegan tribe starved to death during that
winter and the following spring.

The change from living in portable and more or less open lodges to
permanent dwellings has been followed by a great deal of illness, and at
present the people appear to be sickly, though not so much so as some other
tribes I have known, living under similar conditions further south.

Like other Indians, the Blackfeet have been several times a prey to bad
agents, - men careless of their welfare, who thought only about drawing
their own pay, or, worse, who used their positions simply for their own
enrichment, and stole from the government and Indians alike everything upon
which they could lay hands. It was with great satisfaction that I secured
the discharge of one such man a few years ago, and I only regret that it
was not in my power to have carried the matter so far that he might have
spent a few years in prison.

The present agent of the Blackfeet, Major George Steell, is an old-timer in
the country and understands Indians very thoroughly. In one respect, he has
done more for this people than any other man who has ever had charge of
them, for he has been an uncompromising enemy of the whiskey traffic, and
has relentlessly pursued the white men who always gather about an agency to
sell whiskey to the Indians, and thus not only rob them of their
possessions, but degrade them as well. The prison doors of Deer Lodge have
more than once opened to receive men sent there through the energy of Major
Steell. For the good work he has done in this respect, this gentleman
deserves the highest credit, and he is a shining example among Indian

As recently as 1887 it was rather unusual to see a Blackfoot Indian clad in
white men's clothing; the only men who wore coats and trousers were the
police and a few of the chiefs; to-day it is quite as unusual to see an
Indian wearing a blanket. Not less striking than this difference in their
way of life, is the change which has taken place in the spirit of the

I was passing through their reservation in 1888, when the chiefs asked me
to meet them in council and listen to what they had to say.

I learned that they wished to have a message taken to the Great Father in
the East, and, after satisfying myself that their complaint was well
grounded, I promised to do for them what I could. I accomplished what they
desired, and since that time I have taken much active interest in this
people, and my experience with them has shown me very clearly how much may
be accomplished by the unaided efforts of a single individual who
thoroughly understands the needs of a tribe of Indians. During my annual
visits to the Blackfeet reservation, which have extended over two, three,
or four months each season, I see a great many of the men and have long
conversations with them. They bring their troubles to me, asking what they
shall do, and how their condition may be improved. They tell me what things
they want, and why they think they ought to have them. I listen, and talk
to them just as if they were so many children. If their requests are
unreasonable, I try to explain to them, step by step, why it is not best
that what they desire should be done, or tell them that other things which
they ask for seem proper, and that I will do what I can to have them
granted. If one will only take the pains necessary to make things clear to
him, the adult Indian is a reasonable being, but it requires patience to
make him understand matters which to a white man would need no
explanation. As an example, let me give the substance of a conversation had
last autumn with a leading man of the Piegans who lives on Cut Bank River,
about twenty-five miles from the agency. He said to me: -

"We ought to have a storehouse over here on Cut Bank, so that we will not
be obliged each week to go over to the agency to get our food. It takes us
a day to go, and a day to come, and a day there; nearly three days out of
every week to get our food. When we are at work cutting hay, we cannot
afford to spend so much time travelling back and forth. We want to get our
crops in, and not to be travelling about all the time. It would be a good
thing, too, to have a blacksmith shop here, so that when our wagons break
down, we will not have to go to the agency to get them mended."

This is merely the substance of a much longer speech, to which I replied by
a series of questions, something like the following: -

"Do you remember talking to me last year, and telling me on this same spot
that you ought to have beef issued to you here, and ought not to have to
make the long journey to the agency for your meat?" "Yes."

"And that I told you I agreed with you, and believed that some of the
steers could just as well be killed here by the agency herder and issued to
those Indians living near here?" "Yes."

"That change has been made, has it not? You now get your beef here, don't
you?" "Yes."

"You know that the Piegans have a certain amount of money coming to them
every year, don't you?" "Yes."

"And that some of that money goes to pay the expenses of the agency, some
for food, some to pay clerks and blacksmiths, some to buy mowing-machines,
wagons, harness, and rakes, and some to buy the cattle which have been
issued to you?" "Yes."

"Now, if a government storehouse were to be built over here, clerks hired
to manage it, a blacksmith shop built and another blacksmith hired, that
would all cost money, wouldn't it?" "Yes."

"And that money would be taken out of the money coming next year to the
Piegans, wouldn't it?" "Yes."

"And if that money were spent for those things, the people would have just
so many fewer wagons, mowing-machines, rakes, and cattle issued to them
next year, wouldn't they?" "Yes."

"Well, which would be best for the tribe, which would you rather have, a
store and a blacksmith shop here on Cut Bank, or the money which those
things would cost in cows and farming implements?"

"I would prefer that we should have the cattle and the tools."

"I think you are right. It would save trouble to each man, if the
government would build a storehouse for him right next his house, but it
would be a waste of money. Many white men have to drive ten, twenty, or
thirty miles to the store, and you ought not to complain if you have to do

After this conversation the man saw clearly that his request was an
unreasonable one, but if I had merely told him that he was a fool to want a
store on Cut Bank, he would never have been satisfied, for his experiences
were so limited that he could not have reasoned the thing out for himself.

In my talks with these people, I praise those who have worked hard and
lived well during the past year, while to those who have been idle or
drunken or have committed crimes, I explain how foolish their course has
been and try to show them how impossible it is for a man to be successful
if he acts like a child, and shows that he is a person of no sense. A
little quiet talk will usually demonstrate to them that they have been
unwise, and they make fresh resolutions and promise amendment. Of course
the only argument I use is to tell them that one course will be for their
material advancement, and is the way a white man would act, while the other
will tend to keep them always poor.

Some years ago, the Blackfeet made a new treaty, by which they sold to the
government a large portion of their lands. By this treaty, which was
ratified by Congress in May, 1887, they are to receive $150,000 annually
for a period of ten years, when government support is to be withdrawn. This
sum is a good deal more than is required for their subsistence, and, by the
terms of the treaty, the surplus over what is required for their food and
clothing is to be used in furnishing to the Indians farming implements,
seed, live stock, and such other things as will help them to become

The country which the Blackfeet inhabit lies just south of the parallel of
49°, close to the foot of the Rocky Mountains, and is very cold and
dry. Crops can be grown there successfully not more than once in four or
five years, and the sole products to be depended on are oats and potatoes,
which are raised only by means of irrigation. It is evident, therefore,
that the Piegan tribe of the Blackfeet can never become an agricultural
people. Their reservation, however, is well adapted to stock-raising, and

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