Sacred Texts  Native American  Plains  Index  Previous  Next 
Buy this Book at

The Old North Trail, by Walter McClintock, [1910], at

p. 516


Page 15.—"This region should be reserved as a National Park and Game Preserve."

There is a Bill before Congress which proposes to create this tract of mountain country into a National Park. The Public Lands Committee of the Senate in reporting the Bill to the Sixtieth Congress said:

"This Bill proposes to create a National Park which will be fittingly called 'Glacier National Park.' The territory embraced contains about 1,400 square miles with approximately equal areas on the east and west of the summit of the main range of the Rocky Mountains and immediately south of the International Boundary line.

"The park will embrace more than 60 glaciers, 250 lakes and many streams. From this area waters flow to the Hudson Bay, Gulf of Mexico, and the Pacific Ocean. The mountain scenery is of unparalleled grandeur and beauty. Mt. Cleveland, the highest peak, has an elevation of 10,434 feet and there are numerous other rugged peaks and mountains varying in heights from 6,000 to 10,000 feet above the sea level. Mountain goats, mountain sheep (Bighorn), grizzly and black bears, deer, wapiti, and moose are still to be found, as well as a great variety of birds, and it is believed these game animals and birds will increase in numbers, if protected by law, to such an extent as to furnish in the overflow from the park a tempting supply to sportsmen for all time to come."

The following Editorial concerning the proposed National Park is from the Outlook, New York, April 16, 1910.

"In North-western Montana, fronting on the Canadian boundary line, lies a tract of mountainous country which it is proposed in a Bill now before Congress to turn into a National Park. It is not a large tract—from south to north it covers approximately sixty miles. Yet within its limits is comprised the most beautiful portion of the range of the Rocky Mountains lying within the limits of the United States. The range there is narrow. The great grass-covered

p. 517

northern prairies sweep up to within twenty miles of the Continental Divide. There is no intervening mass of foothills to break in upon and tone down the abruptness of the approach. From out on the prairies can be seen, within easy distance, the precipitous crags and the hanging glaciers of a typical Alpine region; and, on the other hand, from the summit of Chief Mountain on a clear morning one may look out on an ocean of prairie in which the Sweet Grass Hills, over a hundred miles away, appear to twinkle in the very foreground. The tract contains also an apex of the continent. In its centre rises the Blackfoot Mountain, with the great Blackfoot Glacier, containing almost as much ice as the Gorner Glacier at Zermatt, descending from its eastern slope. The water from this glacier forms the St. Mary's River, which, running north-westward, joins the Saskatchewan and ultimately finds its way into Hudson Bay. Near another slope of the mountain rises Cutbank Creek, flowing southwesterly into the Marias, the Missouri, the Mississippi, and ultimately the Gulf of Mexico; while on the western slope of the mountain is found one of the sources of the Flathead, a tributary of the Columbia, flowing westward into the Pacific.

.      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .

"The proposed park would make a wonderful recreation ground for the American people. The summer and autumn climate is cold and bracing. The mountains and glaciers offer the only chance for mountaineering of real Alpine character (except that afforded by the Coast Range and Alaska) to be found within the limits of the United States. The trout of the cold St. Mary waters fight with a vigour that is seldom seen even in the famous streams of eastern Canada. And the mountains still shelter a sufficient number of our game animals (including our three most splendid species, the mountain sheep and goat and the grizzly bear) to enable the tract to become in time an important animal refuge. If by the action of Congress the pending Bill becomes a law and the Glacier National Park is established we shall have added to our system of National parks one which in many features is unlike, and which in its beauty and opportunities for wholesome pleasure will fitly supplement those which we already have."

Page 29, 30, 35.—"Sacred bundle of the Beaver Medicine"—"Medicine Pipe" and "Medicine Bonnet."

The word "medicine," when used as a noun by itself, means something endowed with supernatural power; but, when used as an adjective-prefix, it also means sacred, or set apart for use in religious ceremonials. "The sacred bundle of the Beaver Medicine" is a bundle containing many skins of birds and animals thus set apart. It was believed to have been given originally to the Blackfeet by the Beavers, and to have been handed down from generation

p. 518

to generation. (See legend of its origin in Chapter 6.) It was only opened upon an important religious occasion, accompanied by a ceremonial. For more extended comments on the significance and use of the word "Medicine" see Chapter XI.

Page 50.—"Parfleches." A raw-hide case used for packing in horse transportation and also as a trunk or receptacle for use inside the tipi. The "parfleches" and "pemmican bags" were a necessity for a nomadic people. Both were favourite objects for decoration to gratify their sense of the beautiful. They ordinarily used conventional designs of triangles combined in quadrangular forms and painted in red, blue and yellow.

Page 53.—"Their lodge poles were worn too short." When changing camp, the small ends of the lodge poles were fastened to the horses’ sides, the large ends dragging behind upon the ground. The Blackfeet changed camp so frequently that their poles were soon worn too short for the lodges, requiring a new set of lodge poles every year.

Page 152, 504.—"When Wakes-up-last murdered all of his children." The murder of Brings-down-the-Sun's daughter (Pretty Blanket) and her three children, and Wakes-up-last's suicide, was the result of the sale of bad whiskey, consisting largely of wood alcohol, to Blackfeet Indians by white saloon-keepers in the town of Cutbank, Montana. Their bodies lay for some time uncared for, because of the superstitious dread of touching the dead, until Menake prepared them for burial. Although the sale of whiskey to Indians is prohibited by United States Law the saloon-keepers escaped punishment.

Page 157.—Father De Smet was a Jesuit priest noted in his day for his influence with the Indian tribes in the North-West. His diary records that in 1841 he secured 30 brave Pend d’Oreilles to accompany him through the country of the Blackfeet, because the latter were so hostile to the whites that they never gave them any quarter. Later, in 1846, while living among the Blackfeet, he reported them equal in hospitality with other Indian tribes.

Page 137, 193.—"Travois." A horse litter made of poles. Two poles were fastened like shafts to the sides of a horse, the small ends crossing above and in front of the horse's head, while the large ends dragged behind on the ground. A cross-framing supported a network of raw-hide strips. Upon this simple but ingenious device young children, the aged and sick were transported, also provisions and camp equipage. Sometimes a canopy, constructed of bent branches and a skin covering, was used for protection from sun and rain.

Page 283.—"Indian music should be preserved."

Deeply impressed with the great possibilities of Indian music, I persuaded Arthur Nevin, an American composer, to go with me to

p. 519

the camps of the Blackfeet. During his stay in my Indian tipi, I proposed his composing an opera founded on the story of Poïa. (page 491), the most ancient tradition of the Blackfeet, using an Indian environment and Indian musical themes. The opera, which was named "Poïa," was completed by Mr. Nevin in the spring of 1906. Mr. Randolph Hartley of New York wrote the libretto. The music was played for the first time in concert form by the Pittsburg Orchestra, January 16th, 1907. Poïa was accepted for production by the Berlin Royal Opera House in June, 1909. The premier performance took place April 23, 1910, and was followed by three other performances. The opera was superbly staged, both as to scenery and costumes, and was sung by a strong cast of the Berlin Royal Opera. The second performance was attended by the Crown Prince and Crown Princess and other members of the Royal Family.

Page 307.—"Counting Coups."

To "count coups" is to narrate deeds of valour. The bravest coup was to strike, or even touch an enemy before killing him. It was also counted as a coup to capture a weapon or article of clothing such as a shield, war shirt, or war bonnet.

Page 312.—"Bull Child wore a robe famous among the Blackfeet." This robe was purchased by Dr. Clark Wissler for the American Museum of Natural History, New York City, and is exhibited in their collection from the Blackfeet. Its design and the instructions as to how it should be made, were given to Brings-Down-the Sun in a dream (page 430).

Page 425.—"We call the thunder Isis-a-kummi (Thunder-bird)." Nearly all of the widely spread tribes of the Algonquian stock, as well as other ethnical divisions of the Red Indians, had a myth concerning the awe-inspiring mystery of nature we call thunder and lightning. They personified this mysterious and supernatural power in the Thunder-bird, which they worshipped and to which they made propitiatory sacrifices. We find it among the Micmacs of Nova Scotia, the Passamaquoddies of Maine; the Hurons, Ottawas, and Mississiquas of Lake Ontario; the Ojibways of Lake Superior, the Crees of Hudson Bay; the Athabascan tribes of Northern Canada, the Illinois of the middle west, the Comanches of the southwest, the Moquis of Arizona, all the plains-tribes and those of the north-western Pacific Coast.

The Blackfeet have a tradition that the Thunder-bird was once overcome by a snowstorm and descended into their camp. It was taken to the lodge of the head chief, where many of the tribe assembled. Its feathers had many colours like the rainbow and its claws were long and green. When it suddenly flew from the lodge, the Indians rushed out and saw it disappearing among the storm clouds.

p. 520

The Indian belief made the storm cloud the Thunder-bird's vehicle, behind which he moved through the air, making peals of thunder by flapping his wings, and shooting forth lightning flashes by the blinking of his all-penetrating eyes.

The legendary habitation of the Thunder-bird was usually in a high mountain, or inaccessible crag in the tribe's vicinity. The Blackfeet believed its home to be in a great cavern near the summit of Chief Mountain, one of the most precipitous peaks of the Rocky Mountains. The family of Thunderers of the Passamaquoddies of Maine were said to dwell in the great cavern of Mount Katahdin. The Pottawotomies located the Thunder-bird in one of the high mountain peaks of Thunder Bay on Lake Superior. The Ojibways assigned their Thunder-bird to a high mountain west of them. The Illinois, now almost extinct, had a legend about the "Paieusen" or "Man-Devouring-Bird," which dwelt among the high cliffs on the Mississippi River, near the present town of Alton. Its effigy was carved and painted in large dimensions on the face of a perpendicular cliff overlooking the Mississippi River. Father Marquette gives a vivid description of it in the narrative of his voyage down that river in 1673. The Makah Indians of Cape Flattery named the mountain back of Clyoquot on Vancouver Island as his dwelling place, where, "on the shores of a small lake are quantities of whales’ bones, which the Thunder-bird had killed." The Thlinkeets (Esquimaux) of Alaska have a tradition of a mythical person named Chethl, "who, in the form of a great bird, frequented the crater of Mount Edgecumbe, near Sitka, feeding upon whales, which he carried there in his talons."

The Thunder-bird was frequently represented in Blackfeet religious ceremonials. Its symbol was also painted on shields, weapons and war clothes for inspiring courage, and on tipis for invoking protection in behalf of the family.

Page 437.—"Piskun:" A natural trap, usually a perpendicular cliff or cut-bank, used for capturing game on a large scale and requiring the co-operation of many Indians. This method of killing buffalo by frightening and rushing them over a cliff to their death, was used by the Blackfeet in ancient times, when the buffalo were plentiful and their weapons primitive, but was abandoned after the introduction of horses and fire-arms. The approaches to the piskun were fenced to guide the frightened animals to the verge of the cliff. This hunting device for securing by wholesale their winter supplies of meat resembles the "deer-fences," which formerly the Chippewa Indians constructed with much ingenuity and labour, extending for miles through the unbroken forests of Michigan, and across the general direction of the deer-migration, bringing them within the range of the Indians’ weapons in ambush. The

p. 521

[paragraph continues] Blackfeet also built a corral about the foot of the cliff, to prevent the escape of any buffalo, which were not killed outright by the fall. The locations of piskuns are still easily recognised by the darker green of the grass, showing the soil-enrichment from animal slaughter. Numerous flint arrowheads and other relics of the chase are also found there.

Page 465.—Tribal regulations for hunting buffalo were not characteristic of the Blackfeet alone, but were used by the other plains-tribes as a necessary protection for their common interests. According to the journal of Alexander Henry (a partner in the North-Western Company of Montreal, 1806), the tribal policy of the Mandans, in the matter of hunting buffalo, was one of comity towards neighbouring tribes at peace with them, of provident conservation in hunting them, and of humane consideration of the poorest and helpless in the distribution of the meat. The exercise of police power to prevent private exploitation of the natural resources owned in common, fell into disuse with the advent of the whites. The Blackfeet, together with the other plains-tribes, finally joined with the white hunter in a blind and reckless slaughter of the vast herds of buffalo, until they became practically extinct in 1883.

Page 478.—"I see the Last Brother is pointing downwards towards the prairie." The pointing of the "Last Brother" furnished the Blackfeet with their night-sky clock. This method of telling time in the night is well known to shepherds and cattle herders, whose night occupation keeps them continually in the open. Observation soon teaches them that the "Last Brother" or end star of the handle of the Great Dipper, describes a great circle around the North Star once in twenty-four hours and therefore, that its pointing or relative position with the horizon would mark the time, as on a great dial-face.

It should be noted, however, that "star time gains three minutes and fifty nine seconds on solar time every twenty-four hours. If, therefore the 'Last Brother' occupied a certain position in the sky at midnight of June 1st, on September 1st it would have the same position at 6 p.m. This variation would not affect the Indians’ use of this method, for they never had need for other than an approximate record of time, that being the one thing they had more of than they knew what to do with." (Dr. J. A. Brashear.)

Page 487.—"When the Akatsis (Lariat, or Rainbow) appears in the sky." The rainbow symbol is sometimes used in Indian decoration to represent the Thunder-bird. Other tribes call it "The Rain's Hat," "The Great Spirit's Fish Line," and "Strong-medicine-to-drive-away-rain."

Page 487.—"When the fires of the Northmen (Aurora Borealis) flash in the winter sky."

p. 522

The Aurora Borealis is also called by the plains Indians, "The Light of the Northern Dancers," "Sacred Cloud," "The White Man's Fire," and "The Mysterious Fire of the North." The Indians of Vancouver Island believe that the light is caused by the fires of a tribe of Indian manikin, who live near the North Pole and boil out their blubber on the ice.

Page 487.—"When the sun paints both his cheeks, that is, when the Sun-dogs (Ick ski) appear." The concept, used in Indian sign-language to represent Sun-dogs, is "Fires to warm the Sun." The Shoshones' name for the phenomenon is "The Sun's Winter Ear-rings."

"When the parhelia, or Sun-dogs appear in very cold weather, the Sioux say that 'the Sun has kindled a fire.' When the Sun is eclipsed, they say it 'faints or dies.' The Sun 'travels' while the ground is motionless." (Rev. J. O. Dorsey.)

Page 487.—"When I see a star feeding (Blackfeet name for comet)." "Comets have been regarded among all nations from the earliest ages as portents of evil. It is therefore not surprising that this superstition should be found among the Blackfeet. The appearance of several very bright comets during the 16th and 17th centuries caused universal alarm. Andrew Pare writes of the comet of 1528: 'This comet was so horrible and so dreadful and inspired such terror in men's minds, that some died from fear alone, others by illness caused by fear.' Famine was generally supposed to follow the appearance of a comet. The recent return of Halley's Comet stirred up dormant superstition in the minds of multitudes of people, even those of intelligence, and from every part of Christendom, we have learned of the fear and dread associated with the comet's near approach to the sun and to the earth. It is true that the tail of the comet came in contact with the earth, as has occurred with other comets in the past, but it is known that it is built up of such tenuous matters, that it could have no effect upon the earth that could be detected with the most refined instruments. Sir Robert Ball has well said, The effect could not be greater than the contact of a rhinoceros with a cobweb.'" (Dr. J. A. Brashear.)

Page 487.—"When the sun hides his face."

"A total eclipse of the sun is commonly regarded as the forerunner of war, disease and death among the nations of the earth. The writer of this note observed a total eclipse of the sun among a tribe of Winemucca Indians in Nevada, January 1st, 1900. They looked upon the phenomena in dread silence and yet with stolid bravery while, at the same time, a Chinese settlement near by made a dreadful noise by beating upon tin and other vessels to drive off the supposed dragon from the face of the sun."

(Dr. J. A. Brashear.)

Page 487.—"Day Star." In general the plains-tribes had more

p. 523

special names for stars and constellations than the mountains tribes. The Blackfeet called Mars the "Big-Fire-Star," and Venus "The Day Star" because visible in the daytime.

"When at its greatest brilliancy, the planet Venus can easily be seen overhead in a clear sky, even at midday. The period of visibility covers several weeks, but varies slightly from year to year."

(Dr. J. A. Brashear.)

Page 488.—"'The Seven Brothers' (Great Bear), also known in England as the 'Plough' and 'Wain.'" According to a Sioux legend, "the four stars of the bowl of the dipper are called the 'bier.' It is borne by four men, behind whom comes the train of mourners. The second star in the handle has a very small one (the Little Sister) beside it. The Sioux say, 'it is she, who goes with her young one weeping'" (following the bier).

(Rev. J. O. Dorsey.)

Page 489.—"The Little Sister" star is the smaller one of the two stars, at the bend in the handle of the dipper. In the older astronomy the brighter star is called "Mizar," and its companion "Alcor." Mizar itself is a double star, one of the most beautiful visible to the naked eye.

Page 490.—"There is also a family of six small stars we call the 'Lost Children' (Pleiades)." "This beautiful and brilliant group of seven stars, bringing its name Pleiades down from the ancients, has always been the central object in the astronomy of the world. It has been mentioned by many writers during the past ages. Job refers to them twice and the prophet Amos once. Only six stars are visible to the ordinary vision, but the seventh can readily be seen with a favouring atmosphere, and when the observer knows just where to look for it. Professor Langley has seen thirteen stars in the Pleiades in the clear sky of Mount Etna. The telescope shows many stars in the environs of this beautiful constellation. The photographic camera reveals to us the fact that the brighter stars are surrounded with vast fields of nebulous matter."

(Dr. J. A. Brashear.)

Page 491.—"Morning Star and Young Morning Star or Legend of Star Boy (Later Scarface, or Poïa)." "The conjunction of two planets, that is their near approach to each other, has always been of deep significance to the untutored nations of the earth; indeed to many of the learned it was considered a portent fraught with great good or evil. Even Bacon in his 'Astrologia Sana' tells us that these phenomena are not to be rejected lightly.

"There can be conjunctions of any of the planets, but their importance seem to have been derived both from their near approach to each other, and from the increased brilliancy of their light. The degree of brilliance depends upon their distance from the earth at the time of conjunction.

p. 524

"In July, 1905, the date when the Star Boy legend was narrated by Brings-down-the-Sun, Venus and Jupiter were in conjunction as Morning Stars. The Indians were doubtless attracted by the brilliant spectacle of the two planets 'travelling together,' but very probably recognised them by their characteristic colours.

"Because of the remarkably close approach of these two planets to each other, it was a rare and brilliant conjunction attracting the attention of astronomers all over the world. Between the 3rd and 4th of July they seemed to the naked eye to be almost in contact. They were both included in the field of the telescope at the same time, being separated by only a minute in right ascension, or about one-thirtieth of the diameter of the moon, and, north and south, by a little more than one-half of the diameter of the moon, i.e., fifteen minutes. Jupiter (Star Boy) came up first, followed by Morning Star (Venus).

"Venus and Jupiter were in conjunction just before sunrise, October 14th, 1908. They were in conjunction again August 11th, 1909. The conjunction of Venus and Saturn on June 5th, 1910, will be very beautiful on account of their near approach to each other, which will be closest just before sunrise."

(Dr. J. A. Brashear.)

Page 499.—"The Star that stands still." "The North Star has a motion around the true pole at this epoch of one and one-third degrees, or in other words, it is nearly three times the diameter of the Moon away from the true pole of the heavens. This motion is so slow and so limited in extent that the unaided eye would not likely detect it. In fact, the Pole Star has been near enough to the true pole of the heavens for many generations to satisfy all demands of the tutored as well as the untutored observers." (Dr. J. A. Brashear.)

Next: Appendix II (continued): Catalog of Botanical Collection