Recent archaeological surveys have found evidence of human use dating back over 10,000 years. These people were probably the ancestors of tribes that live in the area today. By the time the first European explorers came to this region, several different tribes inhabited the area. The Blackfeet Indians controlled the vast prairies east of the mountains. The Salish and Kootenai Indians lived and hunted in the western valleys. They also traveled east of the mountains to hunt buffalo.
A highly nomadic people, the Blackfeet were deeply connected to the hunting of bison on the plains and based much of their livelihood on the resources of the mountains and eastern foothills.
The yearly cycle of the Blackfeet began in early spring as individual bands left their winter camps to begin an intensive season of hunting and root collecting. Women and children went to the mountains to dig for roots, while small bands of hunters moved east, seeking bison. Food gathering continued through the summer until the annual Sun Dance celebration, when the various bands would convene for several weeks on the plains. At the conclusion of the Sun Dance ceremony, the various bands would disperse again; some returned to bison grounds, while others headed to the mountains to hunt elk, deer, bighorn sheep, and mountain goats, to cut lodge poles and gather berries. As fall arrived, the bison moved west and north to their wintering grounds, and some Blackfeet bands would reassemble into larger groups for communal hunts. The annual cycle of hunt and harvest would end with the establishment of winter camps in heavily wooded river valleys near the mountains, sheltered from the severe northerly winds that swept the open plains.
Other Native Americans
Did You Know?
Lake McDonald is the largest lake in the park with a length of 10 miles and a depth of 472 feet. The glacier that carved the Lake McDonald valley is estimated to have been around 2,200 feet thick.