THE RED MAN ROAMS THE MOUNTAINS
Old Man came from the south, making the mountains,
the prairies, and the forests as he passed along, making the birds and
the animals also. He traveled northward, making things as he went,
putting red paint in the ground here and therearranging the world
as we see it today.
He made the Milk River and crossed it; being
tired, he went up on a little hill and lay down to rest. As he lay on
his back, stretched out on the grass with his arms extended, he marked
his figure with stones. You can see those rocks today; they show the
shape of his body, legs, arms, and head.
... He went on farther north, and with some of the
rocks he carried with him he built the Sweet Grass Hills.
Old Man covered the plains with grass for the
animals to feed on. He marked off a piece of ground and in it made all
kinds of roots and berries to growcamas, carrots, turnips,
bitterroot, serviceberries, bullberries, cherries, plums, and rosebuds.
He planted trees, and he put all kinds of animals on the
When he created the bighorn sheep with its big
head and horns, he made it out on the prairie. But it did not travel
easily on the prairie; it was awkward and could not go fast. So Old Man
took it by its horns, led it up into the mountains, and turned it loose.
There the bighorn skipped about among the rocks and went up fearful
places with ease. So Old Man said to it, "This is the kind of place that
suits you; this is what you are fitted for, the rocks and the
While he was in the mountains, he made the
antelope out of dirt and turned it loose, to see how it would go. It ran
so fast that it fell over some rocks and hurt itself. Seeing that the
mountains were not the place for it, Old Man took the antelope down to
the prairie and turned it loose. When he saw it running away fast and
gracefully, he said, "This is what you are suited to, the broad
One day Old Man decided that he would make a woman
and a child. So he formed them both of clay, the woman and her child,
her son. After he had moulded the clay in human shape, he said to it,
"You must be people." And then he covered it up and went away. The next
morning he went to the place, took off the covering, and saw that the
shapes had changed a little. The second morning he saw more change, and
the third morning he saw still more. The fourth morning he went to the
place, took off the covering, looked at the images, and said, "Arise and
walk." They did so. They walked down to the river with their maker, and
then he told them that his name was Napi, Old Man.
That is how we came to be people. It is he who
From Indian Legends from the Northern Rockies,
by Ella E. Clark. Copyright 1966 by the
University of Oklahoma Press.
Native Americans (Courtesy of Glacier
National Park Historical Collections, Walter McClintock Album)
This Blackfoot (Blackfeet is also a correct usage)
legend concerning the creation of the world went on to explain about the
creation of more humans; the development of their food gathering; the
use of tools for killing and butchering animals (particularly the
buffalo); and how Napi designated certain territorial limits to the
Blackfeet and their allied neighbors. Napi directed that when unwelcomed
visitors crossed the territorial boundaries, the Blackfeet were to "take
your bows and arrows, your lances and battle axes and give them battle
and keep them out. If they gain footing, trouble will come to you."
What is outlined in legend may be relevant to what
actually occurred in history. But history does not record the activities
of Napi nor the travels of the first Native American visitor to the area
now designated as Glacier National Park. We can reconstruct general
tribal movements around or through the park area, but specific visits
and supernatural acts remain pure speculation. The few Blackfoot legends
which relate to mountainous territory could refer to any part of the
Rocky Mountain front range extending from central Alberta southward to
Yellowstone National Park. Even the Kutenai Indians of Glacier's west
side have few legends which relate specifically to Glacier's mountainous
region. Any discussion about Indian relationships to the park must
recall two things: first, that almost no written evidence outside legend
links the Indians to the park; second, twentieth-century writers, hoping
to win a readership with park visitors, wanted to make Glacier the
ancestral home of the Blackfeet. Tepees planted next to park hotels,
Indian place names, Indians dressed in war bonnets greeting eastern
visitors, all promoted an illusion of a primitive people still living in
a primitive or wild area. The reservation Indian used by the
twentieth-century promoter failed to represent his actual cultural
relationship to the mountains.
A number of Indian tribes lived within or near the
area of Glacier Park prior to the arrival of Europeans, Canadians, and
Americans. The Blackfoot Confederation became the most influential upon
the park because their reservation touches Glacier's entire eastern
boundary. The historical Blackfeet consisted of several subdivisions and
probably only one branch of their tribe entered the mountains of Glacier
with any frequency. Far to the north, between what is today Calgary and
Edmonton, Alberta, the Siksika or Northern Blackfeet dominated the area.
Another subdivision, known as the Kainah or Blood, ranged between
central Alberta and the Cypress Hills and Milk River just north of the
Canada-United States border. The Piegan or Pikuni became the
southernmost branch of the Confederation and extended from southern
Alberta to the Yellowstone River, and from the Rocky Mountains eastward
to what is today the Dakotas. Allied with these three groups were the
Atsina or Gros Ventre (Big Belly). The Gros Ventre remained closer to
the Piegan subdivision and proved to be their valuable ally until the
middle of the nineteenth century.
Various Indian groups lived near the
Glacier area, but only infrequently did they use its mountain passes as
routes for hunting or raiding. By the 1780s, the aggressive Blackfeet
managed to dominate the buffalo-rich plains east of Glacier.
But closer to the mountainous region, other tribes
lived in an environment found by today's park visitors. The Mountain
Stonies or Assiniboine lived near the northeastern section of the park.
The Kutenai (also spelled Kootenai or Kootenay) lived to the northwest
of Glacier's Continental Divide along the river drainage which today
bears their name and extends into British Columbia. The Kalispel or Pend
d'Oreille (or Pondera) ranged in the mountains from the Continental
Divide westward to the present State of Washington and were centered
near Montana's Flathead Lake. And finally, the Flathead, a more numerous
people, lived in the Flathead Valley and moved southward into the
Bitterroot Valley of Montana. But the Flathead, like other western
tribes, traveled both east and west of the Continental Divide.
Of all these groups, the Piegan subdivision of the
Blackfoot Confederation has been associated most closely with Glacier
Park for four reasons: (1) the Blackfeet Reservation directly to the
east of the park resulted in a significant influence of one area upon
the other; (2) the entire eastern half of Glacier Park was purchased by
the Federal Government in 1895 from the Blackfoot tribe; (3) the
publicity of writers like James Willard Schultz, whose Signposts of
Adventure published in 1926, provided Blackfoot names for almost
every mountain, lake, stream, and waterfall on Glacier's east side.
(Names like Almost-A-Dog, Heavy Runner, Little Chief, Otokomi, Napi, Old
Man, Red Eagle, and White Calf resulted more from Schultz's publicity
than from a traditional association); and (4) a distinct publicity
effort of the Great Northern Railway and the Glacier Park Hotel Company
emphasized the Blackfoot relationship to the mountains.
But the publicity of the twentieth century was
somewhat misleading. The Piegan of history were primarily plains
oriented. The Blackfeet (the name referring either to the black color of
the bottom of their moccasins or to an early group having walked through
a burned-over prairie prior to meeting a neighboring tribe) moved onto
the plains from the eastern woodlands of Canada along with the Arapaho
and Gros Ventre well before the European discovery of America. We do not
know why they were on the move. Possibly they moved due to pressure from
expanding eastern tribes. Hunting big game certainly proved an
attraction. Regardless, their migration led them to the upper reaches of
the Saskatchewan and Missouri Rivers. Since no horses were available,
they used dogs for transport. Ethnologist and author John Ewers referred
to this period as their "Dog Days." During these Dog Days, the Blackfeet
hunted for buffalo, and it became the most important item on their menu.
The buffalo provided them with a limitless supply of food, clothing, and
shelter. But it also produced a dependency and a nomadic way of life
which would have a tragic impact when the buffalo disappeared.
The horse became a major factor in
allowing the Blackfeet to become aggressive raiders, nomadic hunters,
and occupants of a vast area of the Great Plains north of the
Yellowstone River. The use of the travois, or horse litter made of
poles, allowed the Indians to transport supplies or family members.
(Courtesy of Glacier National Park Historical Collections, Walter