Man in Glacier
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Chapter One:

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 there—arranging 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 grow—camas, carrots, turnips, bitterroot, serviceberries, bullberries, cherries, plums, and rosebuds. He planted trees, and he put all kinds of animals on the ground.

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 mountains."

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 prairie."

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 made us.

From Indian Legends from the Northern Rockies,
by Ella E. Clark. Copyright 1966 by the
University of Oklahoma Press.

Native Americans on horseback
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.

Native Americans on horseback
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 McClintock Album)


Man in Glacier
©1976, Glacier Natural History Association
buchholtz/chap1.htm — 28-Feb-2006

Copyright © 1976 Glacier Natural History Association. All rights reserved. Material from this edition may not be reproduced in any manner without the written consent of the author and publisher.