Preparations For Battle
The Piegans quickly erected twenty-three fortifications of piled stone in a relatively tight cluster. Most of these positions are U-shaped, but several on the crest of the knoll which were exposed to fire from all sides are circular. Most were large enough to accommodate only one man, yet some were large enough for two or three men.
Crow narratives indicate that they did not immediately attack the intruders. Spiritual beliefs of most plains Indians required individuals to prepare themselves for battle by performing medicine rituals and dress themselves in keeping with instructions received from spiritual helpers or obtained in dreams. Failure to do so could result in disaster for the individual or his entire group.
While the Piegans were building their breastworks the Crow were sending runners back to the main camp alerting them that their old enemies, the Blackfoot (Itshipite), were in the area. Crow warriors performed their medicine rituals and prepared for battle. According to Crow tribal historians, many Crow gathered on a rise a few hundred yards from the Piegans fortified knoll.
Stump Horn's Arrival
The Crow made several attempts to overrun their enemy, but were repulsed each time. It is not clear from accounts if gunfire was included in this battle or strictly the throwing of lances and the shooting of arrows. Archeological surveys using medal detectors did not reveal any bullet lead or even lead splatter from bullets hitting rocks. If there were guns involved in the battle they were few and slow to reload.
The battle had reached a stalemate, until a Crow medicine man named Stump Horn arrived. It is not clear why Stump Horn was late arriving at the battle, he may have had an extensive medicine ritual to perform. Stump Horns’ spiritual medicine helper was a young bull elk. While on a vision quest fasting for several days alone in some remote spot, he was approached by a spike horned bull elk, which gave him spiritual power and strength in times of need. When he returned to his village he told his elders of a visit by the young bull elk.
It was then that he was likely given the name Stump Horn, meaning he had the heart of a bull, but was not an old mature bull yet. Usually when one receives a spirit helper like a bull elk or eagle or coyote or some other thing in nature, there are rituals that one is taught from the animal or nature, like thunder, such as prayers, songs and ways of every day life; being generous to others, etc. Whatever Stump Horn’s medicine was, it was strong on the day of the Grapevine Creek Battle.
“ Old Fashioned Homeland Security”
When Stump Horn finally arrived at the battle he wore a robe with paintings of a bull elk on it and his weapon was tipped with elk horns. Stump Horn told the rest of the Crow warriors that he would attack the Blackfoot alone and draw their fire, once he was inside their fortifications, the rest of the Crow were to charge in.
Stump Horn approached the hill the same way the previous attackers had, from the south, trotting up the hill zig-zagging, acting like an elk and singing his war song. In the words of Crow historian, “He charged it and they shot at him; they couldn’t hit him and he finally made it to the barricade.” Stump Horn entered the Blackfeet position and started stabbing them. Demoralized by a combination of Stump Horn’s apparent invulnerability, his fearsome fighting and an overwhelming number of Crow warriors charging in on them, the Blackfeet broke.
The Crow killed all but one of the Blackfoot, the lone survivor was severely beaten and allowed to travel back to his people to tell the story of their defeat. The Peigan Blackfeet have no record of this defeat by the Crow. Recently, the writer of this article asked a prominent Crow Tribal member if he had any thoughts or comments on this battle, his reply was, “Old Fashioned Homeland Security”