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Field Division of Education
The Blackfoot
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"The Blackfoot country probably contained more game and in greater variety than any other part of the continent. Their was a land whose physical characteristics presented sharp contrasts. There were far-stretching grassy prairies, affording rich pasturage for the buffalo and the antelope; rough breaks and bad lands for the climbing mountain sheep; wooded buttes, loved by the mule deer; timbered river bottoms, where the white-tailed deer and the elk could browse and hide; narrow swampy valleys for the moose, and snow-patched, glittering pinnacles of rock, over which the sure-footed white goat took his deliberate way. The climate varied from arid to humid; the game of the prairie, the timber, and the rocks, found places suited to their habits. Fur-bearing animals abounded. Noisy hordes of wild fowl passed north and south in their migrations and many stopped here to breed." (Grinnell, 1912:226.)

It would be desirable that the Museum interpret the Blackfoot's relation to their environment, especially to Glacier National Park, ecologically. In order to do this, one should have information on the exact habitat of particular bands, the territory normally covered by them in the course of a year, the location of food areas, such as the sites of buffalo drives, camas plots, etc., the location of trails and many other features. This information is not available at present. Weeks of study of the literature would be necessary to assemble the few data available which would still be sufficient. It is doubtful, in fact, whether such information could be had even from the Indians. The manner, therefore, in which the environment contributed to the shaping of Blackfoot culture must be shown in a more general way in other connections.


The real economic and social unit of the Blackfoot is the band. These are groups centering around men and their male dependants and others who desire especially to join them. The band winters together, hunts together, and is entirely autonomous except for such special occasions as the Sun Dance or communal hunts where higher authority was instituted.

To a slight degree, the band regulated marriage in that it was preferable though not necessarily exogamous and patrilocal. This feature has been taken by most writers to indicate the presence of gentes (sibs) among the Blackfoot. These writers, however, fail to understand the essential features of a gents system. The idea of descent from a common ancestor, kinship-are uptemism are lacking among the Blackfoot, making it entirely incorrect to speak of their group as gents. Band names were, like the names of major groups, descriptive terms. A partial list as compiled by Grinnell and presented by Wissler, follows:

Piegan Bands.
1. Solid-Topknows
2. They-???????augn
3. Worm-people
4. Blood-people
5. Black-patched moccasins
6. Black-doors
7. Fat-roasters
8. Skunks
9. Sharp-whiskers
10. Lone-eaters
11. White Breasts
13. Many-medicines
14. Small-robes
15. ????round-robes
16. Buffalo-dung
17. Small-brittle-fat
18. Undried-meat-in-parflech
19. Lone-fighters
20. No-parfleche
21. Seldom-lonesome
22. Early-finished-eating
23. Short-necks
Blood bands
1. Fish-eaters
2. Black-elks
3. Lone-fighters
4. Hair-shirts
5. Many-children
6. Many-lodge-poles
7. Short-bows
North Blackfoot Bands
1. Many-medicines
2. Black-elks
3. Liars
4. Biters
5. Skunks
6. Bad-guns

This band organization was not entirely fixed, but tended to be so. The bands kept pretty well separate in winter, but in summer generally assembled under popular leaders for the Sun Dance, fur trading, and hunting. (Wissler, 1911:18-22.)

When bands assembled, they formed a camp circle with the opening always east. It is doubtful, however, whether they were assigned any special place, except by order of the Leader. The camp circle seems to have been used only for the Sun Dance and beaver ceremony, (Wissler, 1911-22), and is somewhat less well developed than in other parts of the Plains.

The political organization of most American Indian tribes has been hopelessly misunderstood by white men, virtually every individual Indian being dubbed a chief. The Blackfoot system was as follows: Each band had one or more head men, whose position came from personal qualifications. Giving of social functions and helping the poor were most important; war fame also counted. One man was recognized as natural leader. Important men, on conference, controlled affairs of the band, kept peace within the band and endeavored to settle disputes between bands. The term chief is thus rather meaningless, for leadership was a variable and generally transient thing. (Wissler, 1911:22-24).

Each of the three main divisions of the Blackfoot had a fairly definite head chief, however, who attained his position simply by a growing unanimity on the part of the head men of the bands as to who should hold the position. Among the Piegan it was said that the Fat-roasters band had managed to hold onto this office. The head chief governed always by calling the head men of the bands into an informal council. The real duties of the head chief came when the bands had assembled in summer for hunting, and especially for the Sun Dance. He gave orders for making and breaking camp, and through the men's organized societies which acted as police, prevented individuals from hunting and otherwise endangering the success of a tribal hunt. (Wissler, 1911:25-26). In short, the chief served only upon those very few occasions when leadership was necessary.


The general features of most Blackfoot specimens correspond with those of neighboring tribes in the Saskatchewan-Missouri area, occasionally showing certain affiliations in some types of artifacts with tribes of adjoining areas. Any specimen, therefore, that may occur in a collection of Blackfoot material which is available for exhibition may be of Blackfoot manufacture which is available for exhibition may be of Blackfoot manufacture or might have been collected among the Blackfoot but originated in some other tribe and thus actually be more characteristic of that tribe's industry. Consequently, if label should call attention to an artifact thought to be peculiar to the Blackfoot, it should first be ascertained that this is actually the case by reference to tribal differences enumerated by Wissler, 1910. It manifestly would require too much detail to particularize such differences here, although certain general characteristics of Blackfoot objects are noted.

Should artifacts be reproduced in minature groups, most of the important measurements and other features not listed below may be found in Wissler, 19190, and other references given.

The Horse

A conspicuous and indispensable feature of Blackfoot life in recent times is the horse. It is Wissler's contention, however, that the main outlines of the Blackfoot culture pattern are already established before the introduction of the horse which he believes to have occurred at least by 1745 (1915:36-7). He regards the horse as merely serving to intensify the existing modes of life, making buffalo hunting simpler, nomadism easier, ware a more sporting affair.

A museum should make clear, however, that the horse is not a native Indian animal, for it is generally believed by the public that Indians have always had it. Also, if any considerable part of a museum exhibit should chance to be devoted to the horse, it should be made clear that the general horse-complex--saddles, bridles, etc.--were taken over directly from the white man and used to this day with few modifications.

Food and Subsistence

Animal foods. Although the Rocky Mountains afforded deer, elk, moose and mountain sheep, while the plains supported herds of antelope, it must always be kept in mind that the Blackfoot was essentially a plainsman, utilizing the bison more than anything else. This is not to say that he did not supplement his diet with vegetable foods. He was, however, somewhat scornful of them. A map of North America showing the major food areas of the Indians would be useful in this connection. The type is suggested by the accompanying map. (Fig. 9)

In precuring bison, four methods were employed, at least one of which should be illustrated by a picture of life set in the museum.

(1) Driving over cliffs. This was undoubtedly of greatest importance before the horse was introduced and facilitated the (surround (3, below). In this method, two wings, usually of small heaps of stone supplemented by men, extended out for as much as two miles from the edge of a cliff. (There are remains of such wings two miles below Medicine River, Wissler, 1910-33-38). The bison were enticed into, then stampeded through the wings and plunged over the cliff. If the fall did not kill them, they were impounded in a small corral, preventing escape and dispatched with clubs or arrows.

(2) Impounding. This was also used before the horse. A corral enclosed by a fence of sticks, stones and brush, 6' high, had wings like the last. Men enticed or drove them in by firing the grass and dispatched them with arrows.

(3) Surround. After the advent of the horse, the most expedient method was to ride round and round the herd, shooting them down with the bow. Even after the introduction of fire arms, the bow was most useful. (Good illustrations of this will be found in Catlin, I, pls. 107-108.)

(4) Individual stalking of fame was occasionally practised, but on the whole, this method was prohibited in favor of communal hunting.

The hunting of bulls was carried on mainly in the spring; of cows in the fall. (Wissler, 1910-33-41, 50-52, describes methods of hunting. Fig. 8, p.35, gives the diagram of a pound with the wings extending out V-shaped from a cliff. Schultz and Donaldson, pp.29-42, and Grinnell 1912:228-235, also give good descriptions of bison hunting.

Bison hunting involved a good deal of ceremony, such as the bison-calling ceremony performed by the Beaver Bundle owners. (Wissler, 1912-a: 204-209.)

Antelope were secured by a pound, somewhat like that used for buffalo, being driven between the arms of a V and around a corner, where they jumped over a fence into a pit. (Wissler, 1910-38, 51-2; Grinnell, 1912-236.)

Other methods of procurring game were of less importance. Deer were not only shot with the bow but were ensnared in nooses hung on their trails. Birds and weasels were not used for food, but were of importance in making ceremonial regalia. These were caught with small nooses. (Wissler, 1910-31-39.) Eagles were caught by enticing them with bait laid on the cover of a pit, a man concealed below caught them by the legs. (Grinnell, 1912: 236-40.)

The dog was never eaten as food and was virtually never eaten ceremonially. Fish were of relatively small importance, though there was no taboo on them. They were taken by means of simply weirs and traps. A sort of basketry trap used is, incidentally, the Blackfoot's only attempt at basketry. (Wissler, 1910-39-40, describes this and figure 10, shows a basket).

Vegetable Foods. The Blackfoot had no cultivated food plants. It is suggested that labels in botanical exhibits indicate the wild foods used. These are:

Service Berries (Amelanchier alnifolia or A. oblongifolia)
Wild Cherries (Prunis artentea)
Bull Berries (Shepherdia argentea or Elaeanus argentea)
Camas Root (Camaasia esculenta))
Prairie turnip (Psoralea esculenta)
Wild Rose buds (Rosa cinnamomea)
Disporam trachycareum berries
Cow parsnip (Heracleum lanatum)
Wild Potato (Claytonia lanceolata)
Smart weed (Polygonum bistortoides) root
Wild onion (Albium recurvatum)
Carolina milk vetch (Astragalus carolinianum) root
Bitter Root (Lewisia-rediviva)
Wild mint (Mentha canadensis) in pemmican and for drinks
Wild turnip (Lithospermum linearifolium)
Evening primrose (Mesenium divericatum) root

Most of these are tubers, excepting the berries and mint. The tubers were dug with the universal digging stick. The most important, however, was the service berry. (See McClintock, 1910:529-30 and Wissler, 1910:20-22)

Methods of gathering vegetable foods varied with the species. Berries were gathered in rawhide bags or skins or beaten onto blankets or robes (such bags will undoubtly be found in any Blackfoot collection), then emptied into storage bags, after which they were sun-dried, then stored in parfleches. Roots, such as the prairie turnip, were peeled and hung to dry or eaten raw. Most vegetables, however, were dried and stored. (Wissler, 1910-21-22, describes this.)

The most important vegetable foods were the camas, prairie turnips, cherries and wild plums. Unlike the peoples to the west, the Blackfoot and other Plains tribes, made little use of seeds, showing a preference for berries. (Wissler, 1910:42-3).

Food Preparation. Two methods of cooking were common. Roasting was accomplished directly over the fire or in a pit filled with hot stones, then lined with stones and brush and finally a fire built over it. (Wissler, 1910:25-26).

Boiling has been done in metal containers in recent times. Evidence that pottery was formerly known is conflicting. Occasional reference to stone bowls for cooking (e.g. Grinnell, 1912:202) may be merely to a semi-mythological tale of stone mortars which were common among tribes to the west and possibly used to a slight extent by the Blackfoot. There is, however, a possibility that unfired clay vessels were used which became fired during cooking (cooking, quoted by Schultz and Donaldson, p. 9). The occurence of comparable vessels among adjoining tribes to the east supports this possibility. Such vessels, however, must have been rare and would, in all probability, not occur in any Blackfoot collection, so that pottery need not be considered in a Blackfoot exhibit.

The museum should, however, bring out the fact that buffalo skin was used in boiling, as this is of considerable interest and demonstrates the great dependence of these people upon the buffalo. It is not definitely established, though very likely, that this was at one time the general method. Since metal containers have been introduced, the method has been used mainly by war parties who happened to lack pots and pans. A skin was suspended from four (or more) stakes, and hot rocks lifted from the fire with sticks and placed in it. (For details of this method, see Wissler, 1910:26-7, and Uhlenbeck, 1912-a: 25-6. For illustration, see photos, Wissler, 1910-Plat 1.)

Pemmican - This is a famous food and was very characteristic of the Blackfoot. Choice cuts, preferably of buffalo but also of deer or elk, were dried, heated until oily and pounded with a stone hammer. Eat skimmed with a horn dipper from boiling marrow and a paste made by grinding cherries, seeds and all, were added and mixed in a trough of buffalo hide and stirred with a wooden spade. This was stored in a parfleche or special bags and eaten without further cooking. A pound of pemmican is said to be the equivalent of five pounds of meat. (Wissler, 1910-21-4; Grinnell, 1912:205-207). While pulverized meat is common in the north and west, the addition of berries is characteristic of the Plains. (Wissler, 1910:44).

Meat was also dried in flakes and later roasted. A choice morsel was back fat of the bison, depuyer-depouille (fr.) Wissler, 1910:23-4, pl.2; fig.2, for meat drying racks, see McClintock, 1910, photo on p. 237).


The following further utilization of plants is from McClintock, (1910, pp. 524, 531) where additional detail as to the manner of using these plants can be found.


Balsam Fir, Abies lasiocarpa - Poultices for fevers and colds also
Sweet Grass, Savastana odorata - hair tonic and incense (perfumes)
Bear grass, Yucca glauca - hair tonic, breaks and sprains
Squaw root, Carum Gairdneri - sore throat and inflamations
Tufted primrose, Pachylobus caespitosus - sores and inflamations
Alum root, Heuchera parviflora - sores and swellings
Willow leaved dock, Rumed salicifolius - swellings
Crow Root, Lacinaria puncatata - swellings, stomach ache
Parsnip, Leptotaenia multifida - tonic for weakness
Double bladder pod, Physaria didymocarpa - sore throat and cramps
Rattle weed, Aragallus lagopus - sore throat
Windflower, Anemone globosa - headache
American White Hellebore, Veratrum speciosum - headache
Red bane berry, Actaea arguta - coughs and colds
White bane berry, Actaea oburnea - coughs and colds
Indian horehound, babies' colds
Sweet sage, Artemisia frigida-fever - heartburn
Oregon grape, Berberis aquifolium - stomach trouble and hemmorrhages
Northern valerian, Valeriana septentrionalis - stomach ache
Paper Leaf alder, Alnus tenuifolia - scrofula
Horse mint, Monarae scabra - eyewash
Says rose, Rosa Sayi - Children's diarrhoea
Long plumed avens, Steversia ciliata - eye wash
Wild potato, Solanum trifolorum - diarrhoea
Silver weed, Argentina anserina - diarrhoea
Dog bane, Apocynum cannabinum - laxitive and hair tonic
Pore fungus, Polyporus - purgative
Sharp leaved beard tongue, Pentstemon acuminatus - cramps and stomach ache
Juniper, Juniper scopulorum - stop vomiting
Gum plant, Grindelia scuarrosa - liver trouble
Gutierresia diversifolia - inhale steam while medicine man doctor's
Evernia vulpina, lichen - headache
Yellow cancer root, Thalesia fasciculata - medicine men chew and blow
Scouring rush, Equisetum hiemale - horse medicine
Western sweet cicely, Washingtonia divaricata - for colds: also mare foaling medicine


Meadow rue, Thalcitrum occidentale - berries
Balsam fir, Abies lasiocarpa - leaves in bag and hair oil
Dog fennel, Matricaria matricarioides - blossoms
Sweet grass, Sevastana odorata - in clothing bags, hair wash and incense

Also, cottonwood punk, balsam poplar leaves, and ringbone from horse's leg.


The counter of interest in any Blackfoot minature group would be the tipi. In some way, it should be made clear that the tipi is simply a variety of a conical house built of poles which occurs from the Plains to the Arctic. Variations of such houses could be shown on a small distribution map. The Plains tribes so designed it as to make it suitable for migratory life and covered it with the most available material, buffalo hide. Today it is covered with canvas.

In a village group the tipis could be arranged in the form of a circle with the opening to the east. The Blackfoot, however, did not have a fixed position for the various social groupings as did many other Plains tribes, (Wissler, 1911:22-5) and there is some doubt that the camp circle was always used.

The details of the construction of tipis are too humerous to give here but are described by Wissler, (1910-99-108) where such data are given as could be used to reconstruct one. If a camp circle were represented in miniature, it would be highly instructive to have one or two tipis in process of construction. In this way, the four pole foundation, the arrangement of the other poles, the pattern of the cover and interior features could be exhibited. (Wissler, 1910, pls. 6 and 8, shows stages in erecting a tipi, and fig. 64 and plate 7, interior features. Also, McClintock, p. 202).

In addition to the tipi, there were summer shelters of a few poles and cloth and wind breaks. (Wissler, 1910:108.)

U>Tipi decoration. A certain part of the tipi decoration was more or less standardized and may be seen on almost any Blackfoot tipi, which it serves to identify. There is a blackened area at the top with white discs representing the Pleiades (Lost children) and Ursa major (Seven Brothers). The bottom has a similar border with one or two rows of star signs (Fallen stars, star dust, or "Puff Balls" of the prairie), and a row of upward projecting triangles which represent hills or mountains. On the rear of the top of the tipi is a maltese cross. (For a discussion of this maltese cross design see Grinnell, 1890). These designs have no ritualistic significance.

In addition to the standard designs, a variety of special designs and symbols may be found in the decorative field between the upper and lower borders. These are ritualistic rather than purely ornamental. They are generally an integral part of the ceremonialism connected with particular medicine bundles. (See reference to medicine bundles under "Religion") The bundles and privilege of decorating the tipi were generally acquired by purchase. There are three kinds of such decorated tipis, known as (1) the painted tipis, (2) the flag-pointed tipis, so called because they usually have some paraphenalia suspended from a tipi pole, (3) the buffalo painted tipi. In addition, there are a few special forms. Some tipis also bear pictographic representations of their owners war exploits, thus incorporating a certain amount of tribal pictographic symbolism and the owner's medicine bundle symbolism. Such cannot be interpreted, however, without reference to the owner's explanation.

In any museum interpretation of tipi decoration it is therefore important that the full explanation of the symbols be known. This could not, of course, all be presented in labels, but a brief statement of the significance of any such decoration would serve to give the museum visitor a glimpse of the exceedingly misunderstood Blackfoot religion.

(Should any tipis be reproduced, designs, and explanations of the same will be found in: Wissler, 1912-b: 220-241, text and figures 29-31; McClintock, 1910:217-220, text and illustrations of an otter tipi, Grinnell, 1901, text and illustrations: Grinnell, 1899; McClintock, 1923:200, text and illustration for Thunder tipi. Of these, Wissler is best.)

For the colors used in tipi decoration and for a number of excellent illustrations of tipis, see McClintock (1910: 207-224). He gives the colors as: red, a burned yellow clay from the Marias River; black, charcoal; green, dried scum from a large lake; yellow, from Yellowstone River, also buffalo gall. (Grinnell 1901 and 1899) also describes the colors of designs.

If a camp circle should be represented, only a portion of the tipis should bear medicine bundle decorations or war pictographs. McClintock reports that of 350 tipis at a Sun Dance encampment, only 10% had special decorations. (1910: 217-220.)


Exhibits should in some manner forcibly illustrate the fact that since hide, especially from the bison, was relatively easy to get, the Blackfoot, like their neighbors in the Plains, used hide where other tribes used pottery or basketry.

Preparation of Hides. The great importance of hide could be illustrated first of all with miniature figures in a camp group preparing a bison skin. A newly flayed hide would be seen staked out on the ground. A woman would be working on the underside, which is turned up, fleshing it with a fleshing tool, made of a handle of bone with a serrate, chisel-like end. (Wissler, 1910-66, fig. 34, pl. 1; McClintock, 1910, illus. on p. 230). Or a woman would be seen scraping the dried hide to even thickness with an adze, made of a handle with a curved end to which is affixed an iron (Formerly probably stone) blade. (Wissler, 1910, pl III shows this stage). The adze is very characteristic of the bison hunting tribes. (Wissler, 1910:65-66, 67-68, fig. 33.)

The hair is removed with a stone scraper or by beating with a stone. The hide is now ready to be made into articles of rawhide.

Bags of rawhide of various shapes and sizes are also very characteristic of the Blackfoot and their bison-hunting neighbors, the most famous is the parfleche, the plains Indian suit-case. This is made of one piece, folded so as to enclose food, usually pemican, and is well adapted to nomadic life, the pecularities of cut and painted design serve somewhat to distinguish the tribes. (For this, see Wissler, 1910:79-82, figs 46-47, which give good illustrations of the cuts.)

Other articles of rawhide are bags made of one piece, folded and bound along the edge, usually with blue cloth, having a flap over the opening and provided with long thongs. Some open on the long side, some on the short. Most are painted; when painted, the design is geometric. These are generally used by women to carry dressings tools, sewing implements, etc., and would normally accompany any group showing women engaged in industrial pursuits. They were sometimes used also in gathering berries, and occasionally used for ceremonial objects. (Wissler, 1910:76-77. Wissler, 1910:40-41 illustrates variations in this type.)

The long, cylindrical bag of rawhide was used largely by men to preserve ceremonial objects, and would be seen in the back of the tipi where such objects are kept. These are 50 to 58 cm. long of one piece except for top and bottom, are provided with a very long fringe, and are painted. (Wissler, 1910:78. This is illustrated in Wissler 1910: fig. 43.)

Articles of tanned hide were prepared by rubbing into the skin a compound of brains, fat, and sometimes liver, with a stone, then saturating with warm water and rolling up for several days. (See Wissler, 1910: pl. 3, and McClintock, 1910, illus. on p. 231 for this stage.) This method is nearly universal among American Indians. The subsequent graining by rubbing with a sharp-edged stone is also common. (See Wissler, pl. 5.) The softening of the hide by drawing it through a loop of twisted cord, is however, more characteristic of the bison hunters and should be illustrated in preference to the other method. (Wissler, 1910: 63-65, 70 pl. 5 shows this.) THIS treatment was accorded skins whether the fur was or was not to be left on. Deer skins received the same treatment except that the hair was removed with a beaming tool made of sharp rib. Buckskins were also stretched on a frame and smoked over a fire of rotten wood or sage, imparting a tannish color, a treatment common among the tribes of the north. (Wissler, 1910:63-5)

Tanned hide and fur was used for a great variety of containers which one would normally see about a Blackfoot camp.

The more characteristic of these are:

Pipe bags, 70 to 100cm. long, with fringed bottoms, and the tops usually possessing four ear-like flaps, and a band of quill decoration around the bottom. (Wissler, 1910:71-72. One of these is illustrated in Wissler, fig. 35.) The contents of a a pipe bag are: tobacco, pipe bowl, pipe stem, stokers and lighting implements.

Tobacco pouch: a seamless whole skin of a young mammal or bird. (Wissler, 1910:72)

Paint bags: resemble pipe bags are smaller. (Wissler, 1910:73)

Small toilet Bags: carried by young men. (Wissler, 1910:75)

Strike-a-light bag: (Wissler, 1910:75)

Knife cases. (Wissler, 1910:76)

One might also find a collection a bag made of the foot of an antelope with the dew claws still attached and a double-bag made of undecorated buffalo hide, used by women for carrying. The latter is unique among the Blackfeet. (Wissler, 1910:74)


The Blackfoot entirely lacked what could properly be called basketry. It is extremely probable that they also lacked pottery.

By the fire or inside the tipi one would see bowls made of aspen or poplar knots, or possibly made of two pieces of buffalo horn sewed together, each provided with a thong. These are rare not but might occur in old collections. (Wissler, 1910:28). Spoons with long handles and large ladles, usually lacking handles among the Blackfoot, would be made of wood, or buffalo or ram horn, or possibly of bone. (Wissler, 1910:28-29. These are illustrated by Wissler, 1910: figs. 3 and 4.) These, as well as bowls, are fairly common throughout North America. Drinking cups were sometimes made of ornamented bison horn. (Wissler: 1910:30). Water bags were made of paunch or bladder and water buckets of a paunch sewed with wooden hoops. The construction of these is explained by Wissler, (1910:30). These are common on the plains.

Iron knives, of course are post-Caucasian. The native knife was chipped flint, but the shape is uncertain. For some purposes however, a sharpened rib with a hide-wrapped handle seems to have been used. (Wissler, 1910:31). Wissler has illustrated one of these. (1910:fig. 6.)

One of the most characteristic implements in any domestic group would be the stone hammer. This was a round stone, encircled by a groove, around which was wrapped the wooden handle. The whole, excepting the pounding face, including the handle, was covered with rawhide and a thong attached to the end of the handle. These are described in detail by Wissler and illustrated. (Wissler, 1910:21-22, 31; fig. 1.) They were used for pounding pemmican, driving stakes, breaking bones for the marrow, etc.

There were but few other distinctive or characteristic types of implements. Drilling, as for pipes, was probably accomplished in aboriginal days by rotating an arrow between the hands, of wood by burning the hole out. (Wissler, 1910:84).

Fire was probably made by the simple drill friction method in aboriginal times, the bow and pump drills being unknown. (Grinnell, 1912:141, gives a myth reference to this.) With the advent of the white man, the strike-a-light or flint-and-steel came into use. Cocking, however, as quoted by Schultz and Donaldson, p. 10, says they used flint and ore for steel. Fungus was used as tinder. Formerly fire was carried in a bison horn when traveling. (Wissler, 1910:32, Grinnell, 1912:200-201.) Getting firewood, probably something of a problem before the introduction of the steel axe, was done by women who threw rope or hooked a rope between the ends of two long poles over dead limbs of trees. (Wissler, 1910:32-33). Buffalo chips were also used as fuel.


Any portrayal of Blackfoot men in a complete state of undress would probably not be entirely wrong. The usual men's dress, however, was as follows. The shirt was made of two deer or antelope skins, cut and sewed together, and ornamented with quills, weasel fur, (see under "fetishes"), tassels and paint in a manner characteristic of the Blackfoot. A detailed description of several shirts that could be used for models or reproductions is given by Wissler (1910:118-122; also fig. 71-2). It might be pointed out that the more or less tailored shirt is not a general characteristic of the American Indian, but a trait of northern origin, not being found in aboriginal American south of the Plains.

Men's leggings were the equivalent of separate pant legs, each hung from the belt. (See Wissler, 1910:122-3, for description of this, also fig. 73.)

Buffalo robes, decorated inside with pictographs of war exploits and having a transverse band of quills, were worn summer and winter. (Wissler, 1910:123-4.)

Sewing was accomplished in native times by means of a bone awl, which was kept in a decorated leather case. (Wissler, 1910:53, 74-75, fig. 38 shows such a case.) Four types of stitch were employed according to what was to be sewed. These are given diagrammatically and explained by Wissler, (1910:53-4, fig. 11).

There is some doubt as to whether the breech clout, of some soft skin, was aboriginal among the Blackfoot. It is certain, however, that it was worn in more recent times. (Wissler, 1910:118-23.)

Moccasins were of two types. The older seems to have been made of one piece and consequently was soft soled. This type is related to northern and eastern forms. The other, more typically Plains, is hard soled, having a separate sole of rawhide (parfleches and bags were frequently cut up for this purpose.) Wissler has described these in detail (1910:128-30) and given illustrations and diagrams that are sufficient for models or diagnoses (figs. 78-80.) The soft-soled, one piece type has been used for winter wear; the hard soled for summer. The material is buffalo hide (with hair inside for winter) or elkskin. (Ibid.) There is no distinguishable difference between men's and women's moccasins. The designs do not server well to distinguish the Blackfoot from other Plains Tribes. (Wissler, 1927.)

Head dress was variable. It included: caps made of animal or bird skins; a hood of cowhide with horns affixed and covered with weasel skin and human hair joined with gum and hanging behind. Feather head-dresses were of less importance to the Blackfoot than other Plains Tribes, the eagle feather being secondary to the weasel skin. Most head-dresses were fetishes and therefore could not be worn by everyone. (See under "Religion." Wissler, 1910:124, Grinnell, 1912:196.) Various methods of brushing, braiding and lengthening the hair are described by Wissler, (1910:131.) The man's forehead lock hanging to the nose seems to have been characteristic, (Catlin I, pl. 11, gives a good illustration of this.) and artificially lengthened hair was cherished. Good illustrations of hair dressing may be seen in Schultz and Donaldson, (1930: plates opposite pp. 40, 124, 166, 250.) Combs were not used but brushes of porcupine tails and horse hair are figured by Wissler, 1910:131-32.) A variety of hair and neck ornaments, ranging from mere decorations to amulets were used. (Wissler, 1910:132.)

Bodily scarification and mutilation was seldom, if ever, practised. Tattooing was rare and only occasionally were earrings used. (Wissler, 1910:132-33.) Body paints included a great variety, of which red was the most important. These, as listed by Wissler, 1910;133) are:

Yellow earth
Buffalo yellow (buffalo gall stones)
Red earth (burned yellow earth)
Red earth (as found)
Rock paint (a yellowish red)
Many-times-baked-paint (yellow earth made red by exposure to the sun)
Red many-times-baked (a similar red, as found)
A peculiar, ghastly red-purple
Blue (a dark blue mud)
White earth (as found)
Black (charcoal)

These were kept in paint pouches with tallow, clam shells for mixing, and pointed sticks made of wedge shape buffalo leg or toe bones for applying. Knife shaped bones with rounded points were used for tracing designs on articles. These bones were heated in a fire before tracing. (Wissler, 1910:134-35.)

A fully dressed man, then, would have shirt, leggings, moccasins, his hair dressed in various ways and a cap of various sorts. His face might or might not be tattooed, but would certainly have some point. He would also wear a buffalo skin robe, with his right shoulder and arm exposed. If it were a ceremonial occasion, he would be decked with further paint, possibly feathers, more weasel skin ornaments, and various charms and insignia. It is incorrect to suppose that weasel skin ornaments were limited to chiefs.

Women wore long dresses of elk, deer or antelope skin which fell to between ankles and knees. The cut and manner of sewing and ornamenting these is also described by Wissler with diagrams and illustrations (1910:125-27, figs. 75-76. Also Catlin, I, pl. 17). The dress would probably be gathered at the waist with a broad leather belt, decorated formerly with brass buttons (Wissler, 1910:127-28.) Men also wore belts, though less often than women. Women's moccasins were like men's but their leggins reached from the top of the moccasin only to the knee. (Wissler, 1910:127, fig. 77.) Women were far less careful about their hair than men. (See illustration in Catlin pl. 13.) Girls and matrons were it in two braids. Old women let it hand loose, sometimes confined by a band about the forehead. (Wissler 1910:130.) Paint was frequently daubed on the hair, and when parted, the part painted vermillion. Like the men, they also added trinkets to it.


A number of cradles would be seen around any Blackfoot village. They would also be seen upon women's backs when traveling. These were made of large, more or less oval, pieces of board, covered with tanned hide.

The infant lay in a fur-lined pocket braced with stiff rawhide. For one of these, see Wissler (1910:87-88, fig. 55) who gives a somewhat inadequate description of cradles. Lonelance, (p.186) has an excellent photo of a Blood cradle.


Drums were of two kinds. Those used for the Sun Dance are made in recent years of a wash tub (formerly, probably of a section of a tree trunk) with a skin stretched across each end. This is widely distributed in America. The other is a tambourine, made by stretching skin over one side of a broad hoop of wood and fastening it with crossed cords on the opposite side. Wissler (1910:84-85) describes this, and (fig. 52) illustrates a tambourine and stick.

Rattles varied according to the social-ceremonial group which used them, being in large measure a part of ceremonial regalia. One kind was formed by filling wet rawhide with sand, then drying, removing the sand and affixing a wooden handle, making a bulbous form. The ring-shaped rawhide rattle was used by some men's societies (Wissler, 1910:85-86, and fig. 53.) Other societies tied buffalo or deer hoofs to a stock (Wissler, 1912:b:186.)

The flageolet was less common than among other plains tribes. One specimen described by Wissler has four holes (1910:86). This was not used for courting as elsewhere in the Plains. (Wissler, 1911:9). The single-holed whistle was also used, as in the Sun Dance. (Wissler, 1910:fig. 54.).


This is an important subject in any Blackfoot exhibit, because the Blackfoot were an essentially migratory people.

The characteristic mode of transportation of the Northern Plains tribes including the Blackfoot was by means of the travois. There is little doubt, though definite evidence is lacking, that before they came into possession of the horse, this was done by means of dogs as it was later among some other tribes.

The basic idea is two poles, lashed together at one end and placed over the back of the animal. The opposite ends, diverging like a V, drag on the ground, while midway are crossed pieces or a frame for carrying the load. Detailed differences between the dog and horse travois are illustrated by Wissler, so that reconstructions could be made (1910:88-92, fig. 55). It is probable that before the horse, even children could be transported on the dog travois. The horse facilitated this type of transportation in that the travois could be larger. Since fifteen feet was the maximum pole length for dogs, the horse permitted transportation of longer poles, hence use of larger tipis. (See photo of horse travois, Wissler, 1910:pl. 8: also, McClintock, 1912:192-6, 229; also, Schultz, 1916:p. 42).

Riding gear included two kinds of saddles. One was simply a pad of buffalo hide with the hair left on. The other was a frame covered with rawhide. These differed slightly for men and for women. Wissler (1910:92-4) gives rather unsatisfactory descriptions of these and one illustration (fig. 57). Wissler (1915-b) contains a better description and an illustration (fig. 6). Cruppers were also used, one being illustrated by Wissler (1910:fig. 58).

Saddle blankets were simply pieces of buffalo robe. The bridles were formerly of buffalo hide rope, used as a thong or braided, or were of hair, human hair sometimes being used. (Wissler, 1910:95). These were looped around the Horse's jaw in a variety of ways. (Wissler (1910:96-97) describes details of this. Quirts with handles of wood or elk horn were also used. Wissler, 1910:96. For a typical quirt, see Wissler, 1915-b. fig. 231. Wissler, 1915, Fig. 15, gives a good illustration of a crupper.)

Snowshoes were not in general use except among the northernmost bands, while sleds were unknown. The only approach to sleds were stiff hides or buffalo "boss ribs", which children used in coasting or which were used to drap cripples about camps. (Wissler, 1910:97).

For water transportation, the Blackfoot had no canoes, nor did they use the bull boat so common among other tribes. (Wissler, 1910-87; Grinnell, 1912:203, Hendry, as quoted by Schultz, 1930). Instead, when crossing deep water, they dished their tipi covers into large rafts, supported by sticks, placed children, aged people and goods upon them, and the younger people swam, towing them by tethers. War parties made crude rafts of brush or logs which they towed while swimming. (Wissler, 1910:87.)

Back packing has gone out of use since the horse has replaced travel on foot. Women bringing in fire wood carried it on the back with a line, the tumpline being uncommon. (Wissler, 1910:87).

Caches were of considerable importance to so nomadic a people. These were rock-lined holes for objects and bags and parfleches, with food tied to trees, or stored in safe places near trails. (Wissler, 1910-97-98.)


While a case devoted especially to implements of hunting and war would not particularly contribute the central theme of a well laid Black(foot) exhibit, there might be circumstances under which it would be expedient to have such a case. Some sort of miniature group or model would, of course, be preferable. In any event, the following paraphenalia would be included:

Bow,s arrows and quiver. The bow, if of Blackfoot manufacture, would probably be of ash, sinew-backed, painted, about 105cm. long, equipped with a string of sinew, wrapped with rawhide at the grip, and having something of a double-curve. Modern bows are generally self bows of willow, choke-cherry or hazel. A compound bow, probably of western (Plateau) origin, might occur in a Blackfoot collection. Further details and illustrations may be found in Wissler (1910:155-162, fig.101) and Catlin (1, plate 18). The arrow would be a single shaft, without a foreshaft, of service berry or willow, 55 to 58 cm. long, equipped with three hawk feathers, a band of paint under the notch and a point of bone, stone or iron. (Wissler, 157-8 and Catlin, I, plate 18.) The quiver would be combined with a long bow-case, and would be of otter or cougar hide, ornamented with bead work and provided with straps and pendants of fur. (For details, see Wissler, 1910:157-8, fig. 101: also Catlin 1,32).

Implements in the manufacture of bows and arrows would include grooved arrow polishers; a hole in a piece of "boss" rib for straightening and perhaps a spoke shave constructed of a piece of stone set in the middle of a stock of wood: an unhafted flake of stone for scraping; and a hole in a bone with projecting spurs for longitudinally grooving the shaft. (Wissler, 1910: 83-84).

A man shown shooting the bow would use the tertiary release.

Other weapons are: the lance, which however, has been used only ceremonially in recent times, so that any specimens in collections are likely to be ceremonial, i.e., carried by members of war societies. The combined bow-lance, i.e., a bow with a lance head on one end was not used by the Blackfoot. (Wissler, 1910:162.)

Shields were of buffalo hide, (Grinnell, 1912:27 says neck skin) about 49 cm. in diameter, dished about 8 cm., painted and decorated with feathers on the dished side, and provided with buckskin covers. (Wissler, 1910:162-63.) The symbolism in these decorations cannot be given; each specimen has its own interpretation and it is important not to attempt to interpret such designs according to preconceived notions. The protective value of shields lay in their symbolism, representing supernatural guardian spirits. (See Wissler, 1912-b:117-125 and figs. 13 to 18, for a series of shields with the explanation of the symbolism.)

Armor was not used, but buckskin shirts of two or more thicknesses may have been used against stone and bone points. (Wissler, 1910:163.)

Clubs were; simple cudgels, the pointed club, ax-shaped clubs (like that figured by Maximilian, 179), and the ball club, which consisted of a stone sewed up in skin, the skin passing up over the handle. (See illus. Wissler, 1910:164) The Blackfoot used no double-pointed stone clubs. (Wissler, 1910:163-64.)

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