English Literature

Blackfeet Tales of Glacier National Park by James Willard Schultz

Blackfeet Tales of Glacier National Park by James Willard Schultz

Two Medicine

July 12, 1915.


AFTER an absence of many years, I have returned to visit for a time my Blackfeet relatives and friends, and we are camping along the mountain trails where, in the long ago, we hunted buffalo, and elk, and moose, and all the other game peculiar to this region.

To-day we pitched our lodges under Rising Wolf Mountain, that massive, sky-piercing, snow-crested height of red-and-gray rock which slopes up so steeply from the north shore of Upper Two Medicine Lake. This afternoon we saw upon it, some two or three thousand feet up toward its rugged crest, a few bighorn and a [2]Rocky Mountain goat. But we may not kill them! Said Tail-Feathers-Coming-over-the-Hill: “There they are! Our meat, but the whites have taken them from us, even as they have taken everything else that is ours!” And so we are eating beef where once we feasted upon the rich ribs and loins of game, which tasted all the better because we trailed and killed it, and with no little labor brought it to the womenfolk in camp.

Rising Wolf Mountain! What a fitting and splendid monument it is to the first white man to traverse the foothills of the Rockies between the Saskatchewan and the Missouri! Hugh Monroe was his English name. His father was Captain Hugh Monroe, of the English army; his mother was Amélie de la Roche, a daughter of a noble family of French émigrés. Hugh Monroe, Junior, was born in Montreal in 1798. In 1814 he received permission to enter the employ of the Hudson’s Bay Company, and one year later—in the summer of 1815—he arrived at its new post, Mountain Fort, on the North [3]Fork of the Saskatchewan and close to the foothills of the Rockies.

At that time the Company had but recently entered Blackfeet territory, and none of its engagés understood their language; an interpreter was needed, and the Factor appointed Monroe to fit himself for the position. The Blackfeet were leaving the Fort to hunt and trap along the tributaries of the Missouri during the winter, and he went with them, under the protection of the head chief, who had nineteen wives and two lodges and an immense band of horses. By easy stages they traveled along the foot of the Rockies to Sun River, where they wintered, and then in the spring, instead of returning to the Saskatchewan, they crossed the Missouri, hunted in the Yellowstone country that summer, wintered on the Missouri at the mouth of the Marias River, and returned to Mountain Fort the following spring with all the furs their horses could carry.

Instead of one winter, Monroe had passed two years with the tribe, and in that time had acquired a wife, a daughter of the great chief, a [4]good knowledge of the language, and an honorable name, Ma-kwi′-i-po-wak-sĭn (Rising Wolf), which was given him because of his bravery in a battle with the Crows in the Yellowstone country.

During Monroe’s two years’ absence from the Fort, another engagé had learned the Blackfeet language from a Cree Indian, who spoke it well, so that this man became the interpreter, and Monroe was ordered to remain with the Piegan tribe of the Blackfeet, to travel with them, and see that they came annually to the Fort to trade in the winter catch of furs. And this exactly suited him; he much preferred roaming the plains with his chosen people; the stuffy rooms of the Fort had no attractions for a man of his nature.

How I envy Hugh Monroe, the first white man to traverse the plains lying between the Upper Saskatchewan and the Upper Missouri, and the first to see many portions of the great stretch of the mountain region between the Missouri and the Yellowstone. He has himself often told me that “every day of that life was a day of great joy!”

[5]Monroe was a famous hunter and trapper, and a warrior as well. He was a member of the Ai′-in-i-kiks, or Seizer band of the All Friends Society, and the duty of the Seizers was to keep order in the great camp, and see that the people obeyed the hunting laws—a most difficult task at times. On several occasions he went with his and other bands to war against other tribes, and once, near Great Salt Lake, when with a party of nearly two hundred warriors, he saved the lives of the noted Jim Bridger and his party of trappers. Bridger had with him a dozen white men and as many Snake Indians, the latter bitter enemies of the Blackfeet. The Snakes were discovered, and the Blackfeet party was preparing to charge them, when Monroe saw that there were white men behind them. “Stop! White men are with them! We must let them go their way in peace!” Monroe shouted to his party.

“But they are Snake white men, and therefore our enemy: we shall kill them all!” the Blackfeet chief answered. However, such was Monroe’s power over his comrades that he finally [6]persuaded them to remain where they were, and he went forward with a flag of truce, and found that his friend Jim Bridger was the leader of the other party. That evening white men and Snakes and Blackfeet ate and smoked together! It was a narrow escape for Bridger and his handful of men.

Monroe had three sons and three daughters by his Indian wife, all of whom grew into fine, stalwart men and women. Up and down the country he roamed with them, trapping and hunting, and often fighting hostile war parties. They finally all married, and in his old age he lived with one and another of them until his death, in 1896, in his ninety-eighth year. We buried him near the buffalo cliffs, down on the Two Medicine River, where he had seen many a herd of the huge animals decoyed to their death. And then we named this mountain for him. A fitting tribute, I think, to one of the bravest yet most kindly men of the old, old West!

At the upper east side and head of this beautiful [7]lake rises a pyramidal mountain of great height and grandeur. A frowse of pine timber on its lower front slope, and its ever-narrowing side slopes above, give it a certain resemblance to a buffalo bull. Upon looking at a recent map of the country I found that it had been named “Mount Rockwell.” So, turning to Yellow Wolf, I said: “The whites have given that mountain yonder the name of a white man. It is so marked upon this paper.”

The old man, half blind and quite feeble, roused up when he heard that, and cried out: “Is it so? Not satisfied with taking our mountains, the whites even take away the ancient names we have given them! They shall not do it! You tell them so! That mountain yonder is Rising Bull Mountain, and by that name it must ever be called! Rising Bull was one of our great chiefs: what more fitting than that the mountain should always bear his name?”

“Rising Bull was a chief in two tribes,” Yellow Wolf went on. “In his youth he married a Flathead girl, at a time when we were at peace [8]with that people, and after a winter or two she persuaded him to take her across the mountains for a visit with her relatives. Rising Bull came to like them and all the Flathead people so well that he remained with them a number of winters, and because of his bravery, and his kind and generous nature, the Flatheads soon appointed him one of their chiefs. When he was about forty winters of age, some young men of both tribes quarreled over a gambling game and several were killed on each side. That, of course, ended the peace pact; war was declared, and as Rising Bull could not fight his own people, he came back to us with his Flathead wife, and was a leader in the war, which lasted for several years. When that was ended, he continued to lead war parties against the Crows, the Sioux, the Assiniboines, and the far-off Snakes, and was always successful. Came the dreadful Measles Winter,[1] and with hundreds of our people, he died. He left a son, White Quiver, a very brave young warrior, and two years after his father’s [9]death, he was killed in a raid against the Crows.”

[1] The winter of 1859-60.

“Ai! Rising Bull was a brave man. And oh, so gentle-hearted! So good to the widows and orphans; to all in any kind of distress! We must in some way see that this mountain continues to bear his name,” said Tail-Feathers-Coming-over-the-Hill.

And to that I most heartily agree.

July 15.

We are a considerable camp of people: Yellow Wolf, my old uncle-in-law; Tail-Feathers-Coming-over-the-Hill, another uncle-in-law; Big Spring; Two Guns; Black Bull; Stabs-by-Mistake; Eagle Child; Eli Guardipe, or Takes-Gun-Ahead. And with them they have their eleven women and fourteen children. All are my especial friends, and all the men have been to war—some of them many times—and have counted coup upon the enemy. Tail-Feathers-Coming-over-the-Hill has many battle scars on different parts of his body. I was with him when he got [10]the last one, in a fight with the Crees. The bullet struck him in the forehead, ripped open the scalp clear to the back of his head, but did not penetrate the skull. He dropped instantly when struck, and we at first thought that he was dead. It was some hours before he regained consciousness.

With all these men, and especially Tail-Feathers-Coming-over-the-Hill and Guardipe, I hunted and traveled much in the old days. Naturally, we spend much of our time telling over this-and-that of our adventures. Meantime the children play around, as happy as Indian children ever are, and their mothers do the lodge work, which is light, and gather in groups to chat and joke. The boys have just been skipping stones on the smooth surface of the lake. The number of skips a stone makes before it finally sinks, denotes the number of wives the caster will have when he reaches manhood.

Tail-Feathers-Coming-over-the-Hill and Two Guns are medicine men. The former has the [11]Elk medicine pipe, the latter the Water medicine pipe, both ancient medicines in the tribe. They are spiritual, not material, medicines. In fact, they are the implements used in prayers to the sun and other gods, and each carries with it a ritual of its own. Tail-Feathers-Coming-over-the-Hill has just told me that we will have some prayers with his pipe a few days from now. I shall be glad to take part in it all once more.

July 16.

Again my people are filled with resentment against the whites. I told them this afternoon that the falls in the river between this and the lower lake had been given a foolish white men’s name. I could not tell them what it was, for there is no Blackfeet equivalent for the word “Trick.” But what a miserable, circus-suggesting name that is to give to one of the most beautiful of waterfalls, and the only one of its kind in America, and in all the world, for all I know! A short distance below the outlet of the upper lake the river sinks, and a half-mile farther on gushes [12]into sight from a jagged hole halfway up the side of a high and almost perpendicular cliff.

“In the long ago we named that Pi′tamakan Falls,” said Tail-Feathers-Coming-over-the-Hill.

“Yes? And who was he?” I asked, although I had a fair recollection of the story of that personage. But I had forgotten the details of it, and wanted them all.

“Not he, but she!” he corrected me.

“But Pi′tamakan (Running Eagle) is a man’s name,” I objected.

“True. But this woman earned the right to bear a man’s name, and so it was given her. She was the only woman of our people to receive that honor, so far as I know. Listen! You shall hear all about it.”


“As a girl, her name was Weasel Woman. She was the eldest of two brothers and two sisters, and when she had seen fifteen winters both their father and mother died. But unlike children in such circumstances, they did not give up their [13]lodge and scatter out to live with relatives and friends. Said Weasel Woman: ‘Somehow, some way, we can manage to live. You boys are old enough to hunt and bring in meat and skins. We three sisters will keep the lodge in good order, and tan the skins for our clothing and bedding, and other uses.’ And as she said, so it was done, and the orphan family prospered.

“But Weasel Woman was not satisfied. Many young men and many old and rich men wanted to marry her, and to all she said ‘No!’ so loudly, and so quickly, that after a time all knew that she would not marry. Wherever a party of warriors gathered for a dance or a feast, there she was looking on, listening to their talk, and giving what help she could. And when a party returned from war, she was loudest in praising them. All she talked of, all she thought about, was war.

“On an evening in her twentieth summer a large party of warriors started out to cross the mountains and raid the Flatheads. They traveled all night, and when daylight came found that Weasel Woman was with them.

[14]“‘Go back! Go home!’ the war chief told her. But she would not listen.

“‘If you will not let me go with you, I shall follow you,’ she said.

“And then spoke up the medicine man of the party: ‘Chief,’ said he, ‘I advise you to allow her to go with us; something tells me that she will bring us good luck.’

“‘Ah! As you advise me, so shall it be,’ said the war chief; and the woman went on with them. No man of that party teased her, nor bothered her in any way: every one of them treated her as they would a sister. It was the strangest war party that ever set forth from any tribe of the plains!

“It was at the edge of Flathead Lake that they discovered the enemy, a large camp of the Flatheads and their friends, the Pend d’Oreilles. When night came they went close up to it, and the woman said to the war chief: ‘Let me go in first. Let me see what I can do. I feel that I shall be successful in there.’

“‘Go!’ the chief told her, ‘and we will wait [15]for you here, and be ready to help you if you get into trouble.’

“The woman went into the camp, where all the best horses of the people—their fast buffalo runners, their racers, and their stallions—were picketed close to the lodges of the different owners of them. If she was afraid of being discovered and killed, she never admitted it. The dying moon gave light enough for her to see the size and color of the horses. She took her time and went around among them, and, making her choice, cut the ropes of three fine pinto horses, and led them out to where the party awaited her. There she tied them, and went back into camp with the chief and his men and again came out with three horses. Said she then: ‘I have taken enough for this time. I will await you here and take care of what we have.’

“The men went back several times, and then, having all the horses that they could drive rapidly, the party struck for the mountains, and in several days’ time arrived home without the loss of a man or a horse.

[16]“A few days after the party came into camp the medicine lodge was put up, and on the day that the warriors counted their coups, and new names were given them, an old warrior and medicine man called Weasel Woman before the people, and had her count her coup—of going twice into the enemy’s camp and taking six horses. All shouted approval of that, and then the medicine man gave her the name, Pi′-ta-mak-an, a very great one, that of a chief whose shadow had some time before gone on to the Sand Hills.

“After that Pi′tamakan, as we now may call her, did not have to sneak after a party in order to go to war with them: she was asked to go. And after two or three more successful raids against different enemies, the Crows, the Sioux, and the Flatheads, she herself became a war chief, and warriors begged to be allowed to join her parties, because they believed that where she led nothing but good luck would come to them. She now wore men’s clothing when on a raid. At home she wore her woman clothing. But even in that dress she, like any man, gave feasts and [17]dances, and the greatest chiefs and warriors came to them, and were glad to be there.

“On her sixth raid, Pi′tamakan led a large war party against the Flatheads, and somewhere on the other side of the mountains fell in with a war party of Bloods, one of our brother tribes of the North. For several days the two parties traveled along together, and then one evening the Blood chief, Falling Bear, said to Pi′tamakan’s servant: ‘Go tell your chief woman that I would like to marry her.’

“‘Chief, you do not understand,’ the boy told him. ‘She is not that kind. Men are her brothers, and nothing more. She will never marry. I cannot give her your message, for I am afraid that she would be angry with me for carrying it to her.’

“On the next day, as they were traveling along, the Blood chief said to Pi′tamakan: ‘I have never loved, but I love now. I love you; my heart is all yours; let us marry.’

“‘I will not say “yes” to that, nor will I say “no,”’ the woman chief answered him. ‘I will [18]consider what you ask, and give you an answer after we make this raid.’

“And with that the Blood chief said no more, but felt encouraged: he thought that in time she would agree to become his woman.

“That very evening the scouts ahead discovered a large camp of Flathead and Kootenai Indians, more than a hundred lodges of them, and when night came both parties drew close in to it. Pi′tamakan then ordered her followers to remain where they were and told the Blood chief to say the same thing to his men. She then told the Blood chief to go into the camp and take horses, and he went in and returned with one horse.

“‘It is now my turn,’ said Pi′tamakan, and she went in and brought out two horses.

“The Blood chief went in and brought out two horses.

“Pi′tamakan went in and brought out four horses.

“The Blood chief went in and brought out two horses.

[19]“Pi′tamakan went in and brought out one horse. And then she said to the Blood chief: ‘Our men are becoming impatient to go in there and take horses. We will each of us go in once more, and then let them do what they can.’

“So the Blood chief went in for the fourth and last time, and came back leading four horses, making nine in all. And then Pi′tamakan went in and cut the ropes of eight horses, and safely led them out, making in all fifteen that she had taken. The warriors then went in, making several trips, and then, with all the horses that could be easily driven, the big double party headed for home.

“On the next day, as Pi′tamakan and the Blood chief were riding together, he said to her: ‘I love you so much that I can wait no longer for my answer. Give it to me now. I believe that you are going to say, “Yes, I will be your woman.”’

“Said Pi′tamakan: ‘I gave you your chance. It would have been yes had you taken more [20]horses than I did from the camp of the enemy. But I took the most; therefore I cannot marry you.’

“That was her way of getting around saying ‘no’ to the chief. She had beaten him, an old, experienced warrior, in the taking of the enemy’s horses, and he could not ask her again to become his woman. It is said that he felt very badly about it all.

“Pi′tamakan now carried a gun when she went to war, and used it well in several fights with the enemy, counting in all three coups, each one of them the taking of a gun from the man she herself killed. And then, haiya! On her ninth raid she led a party against the Flatheads, and while she and all her men were in the camp, choosing horses and cutting their ropes, the Flatheads discovered them and began firing, and she and five of her men were killed. And so passed Pi′tamakan, virgin, and brave woman chief of our people. She died young, about seventy winters ago.”

[21]Okan, his vision, is the name the Blackfeet have for the great lodge which they annually give to the sun, and for the four days of ceremonies attending its erection and consecration. In our vernacular it is the medicine lodge. I asked Yellow Wolf this afternoon why this river was named Nat′-ok-i-o-kan, or, as we say, Two Medicine Lodge River, and he replied that when the Blackfeet first took this great country from the Crows, they built a medicine lodge on the river, just below the buffalo cliffs. The next summer they built another one in the same place, and owing to that the river got its name.

Yes, this was once the country of the Crows. But the Blackfeet saw and coveted it. It was about two hundred years ago, as near as I can learn, that they came into it from their original home, the region of Peace River and the Slave Lakes, and little by little forced the Crows southward until they had driven them to the south side of the Yellowstone, or Elk River, as it is known to the various Indian tribes of the plains.

[22]Perhaps, in the first place, the Blackfeet coveted more than anything else the cliffs on the Two Medicine,—just above Holy Family Mission,—where the buffalo were decoyed in great numbers and stampeded in a huge waterfall of whirling brown bodies to death on the rocks below.

The Blackfeet call such a place—there were several of them—a pi′skan, a trap. Extending back from the cliff, for a mile or more out on the plain, were two ever-diverging lines of rock piles, like a huge letter V. Behind these the people concealed themselves, and the buffalo caller, going out beyond the mouth of the V, by certain antics and motions aroused the curiosity of the herd until it finally followed him into the V. Then the people began to rise up behind it, and the result was that, unable to turn either to the right or left, from fear of the two lines of shouting, robe-waving stampeders, it was driven straight to the cliff and over it.

When I first saw the place, there were at the foot of the cliffs tons and tons of buffalo horn tips,[23] the most time-resisting of any portion of a buffalo’s anatomy.

Last night, while the pipe was going the rounds, I asked what had become of old Red Eagle’s Thunder Medicine Pipe, and was told that it was still in the tribe, Old Person at present being the owner of it. Said Two Guns: “That is one of the most ancient and most powerful medicines we have. Do you know how it came into our possession?”


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