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Field Division of Education
The Blackfoot
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WARFARE


The advent of the white man created situations in which the Blackfoot believed that war was necessary for his own preservation. Prior to this, however, while war may occasionally have been necessary, it was looked upon as a game, a means of winning social distinction, rather than as a means of gaining territory, wealth or any other object. This predisposition to war for its own sake, of course carried over into Blackfoot affairs after tribal maladjustments and competition for food and territory followed the incursions of the white men. Moreover, the introduction of the horse served to intensify war activities, in that it provided both a means of carrying on with greater vigor and an objective-the stealing of horses.

The immediate northern neighbors of the Blackfoot, the Sarcee, were treated as relatives. They sometimes fought the Kootanai and Gros Ventre, but at other times were on friendly terms with then. The Flathead, Salish, Cour D'Arlene, Nez Perce, Northern Shoshoni, Snake, Crow, Hidatsa, Assiniboine and Cree bore the brunt of their military operations. Occasionally there were periods of intermittent truce. (Wissler, 1910:7; Teit, 1930:125-8, 361-5.)

War parties were led by individuals who possessed supernatural spirits secured visions, which promised them success. Thus some men were greater leaders than others. Unless the expedition was with the avowed purpose of revenge, the motive was to gain war honors, that is, to count coup, which to the Blackfoot, meant capture of the enemy's property and deeds of bravery.

Some things gave greater honor than others. Capture of horses, guns, shields, lances, bows, quivers, shot-pouches, powder horns, daggers, war-bonnets, and all medicine objects, conferred honor. The following order of rank of exploits was given Wissler (1911:40) by a Piegan who was recognized as an authority on heraldry: stealing a gun, lance, bow, taking an enemy's life, cutting a horse loose from a tipi, leading a war party, acting as a scout, capturing shields, war-bonnets, a medicine pipe, and driving off loose horses. There was, no doubt, some individuals variation in the counting of these, but it is seen that the motive was to expose one's self to danger, not to kill an enemy or take a scalp. (Wissler, 1911:36-44.) Scalps were taken, but were not of great importance and were thrown away after the woman's or scalp dance. (Wissler, 1910:155;1913:358-9).

Successful warriors were expected to boast, of their great deeds and this was done in several ways. Pictographs, incorporating at number or more or less conventional symbols for certain exploits were recorded on their tipis and buffalo robes according to a system of heraldry. Most of these symbols are figured in Wissler (1911:36-44) where they are explained. Again, a man was expected to recite his deeds in any important public or ceremonial function. Such tales might be related by the fireside. (See Wissler, 1911: 3-36, for several such narratives.) Consequently, the literature Blackfoot is full of such narratives, for these were of prime importance to social standing in the tribe. (See, for example, McClintock, 1910: Grinnell, 1912:3-92, 242-255: Schultz and Donaldson, pp. 166-249 and photographs).



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