As the largest and most dominant Indian tribe in Montana, the Blackfeet have played a significant role in the state's history. Like so many of the Great Plains tribes, the Blackfeet originally lived far to the east in the area north of the Great Lakes. It is thought they they even ranged as far east as Labrador. Therefore, anthropologists sometimes classify them in prehistory as oneof the eastern woodlands tribes. Like the Cheyenne, Gros Ventre and many others, the Blackfeet are members of the Algonquin linguistic group.
After arrival of the Europeans along the Eastern seashore int he 1600's it is believed that the Blackfeet were probably one of the first tribes to begin moving west. Pushed westward, initially by their traditional enemies, the Cree, the Blackfeetsoon were roaming over the huge portion of the northern plains from northern Saskachenewan and central Alberta to the Rocies, the head waters of the Missouri and as far south as today's prairie fires.
There is some controversy about the origins of the name Blackfeet or Siksika, which probably was drived from the blackened moccasins Blackfeet traditionally wore. The dark hue may have beenpainted purposely or the footwear may have been darkened by prairie fires.
It is thought that the Blackfeet Nation has always been loose confederacy of three semi-independent tribes. The southern tribe was Piegan, the central groups the Bloods and the northern division the North Blackfeet. Today, the descendents of the Piegans live on the Blackfeet reservation in Montana, and the Bloods and NorthBlackfeet live on the Canadian reservations (reserves) in Alberta. Although there were some differences among the Blackfeet groups, all spoke a common language, had a common culture and more or less viewed the entire Blackfeet territory as their own.
When three groups originally emerged onto the Great Plains, they quickly shed the life of woodland hunters and food gathers and adopted the nomadiclifestyle for the Plains Indian. Originally, the dog was their beast of burden, pulling travois in the Blackfeet's search for buffalo.
At the end of the 17th century, most Blackfeet were in what is now the Province Saskatchewan. In those days, before they had the horse, driving buffalo over the "piskun" or buffalo jump, it was the common way of harvesting buffalo. Long bows, lances and stoneclubs were used to make the final kill.
Blackfeet typically traveled across the Northern Plains in bands 20-30 people, which seemed to be most effective number for hunting buffalo. However, the tribes would come together for various ceremonies and rituals like the sun dance or medicine lodge ceremony and to trade, separating again for the winter. Each band was led by a Blackfeet Chief. It isdebated though, who introduced horses to the Blackfeet. Some believe that the Blackfeet first got them from Shoshones to the South. But most historians believe their first horses came from the Shoshoni to the south. But most historians believe their first horses came from the west through encounters with Kootenai, Flathead and Nez Perce. Soon after the Blackfeet acquired horses, they alsoobtained guns by trading beaver pelts and buffalo hides with French fur traders.
| HISTORICAL TIME LINE |
1700's | Blackfeet probably living in valley of the Northern Saskatchewan River near the Eagle Hills in Canada. Hunt buffalo on foot with bows and arrows. |
1730 | Blackfeet attacked by Shoshoni who are on horseback. First time the Blackfeet have seen horses which they call "elk dogs." |1730-50 | Blackfeet probably acquired their first horses in peaceful trade with their neighbors, the Flathead, Kootenai, and Nez Perce. |
1780 | Hudson Bay Company builds Buckingham House on the Saskatchewan River in Canada, reaching Blackfeet country. Blackfeet obtain guns through trade. |
1781 | Small pox epidemic sweeps through Blackfeet country, killing hundreds. |