By Caroline Clemmons
My husband, daughters, and I have long been fascinated by American Indians. We have tromped over Anasazi ruins in summer heat from Tennessee to New Mexico. Although we did make it as far north as Hovenweep and Mesa Verde, the rest of our stops have been in the southern United States.
Recently, I needed a tribe of American Indians to use for my book MELODY. That setting is Montana Territory, so I investigated that area. The Blackfeet/Blackfoot tribe was perfect for my story. I’ve always wondered why they were called Blackfeet. I found the reason is because they dyed their moccasins black.
The Blackfeet are an Algonquin people who were migratory hunter gatherers of the plains. Late in the eighteenth century, they acquired the horse. Having horses gave them the ability to become great buffalo hunters. They raised tobacco which they mixed with herbs and called kinnikinnik.
You can imagine that for a book, I needed descriptions of their lifestyle, dress, and customs. I found wonderful graphics and photos online as well as customary names. I imagined a chief named Grey Wolf.
Because my hero, Nick Walker, was a doctor, I thought he should meet the Blackfeet shaman. The graphic I found would be frightening to encounter. The medicine man dressed in a bearskin with the head attached and worn on top of his head. On the fur were attached reptile skins, bones, and feathers.
There are three major tribal divisions:
Blackfeet (Siksika) – North Blackfeet are those with black-dyed moccasins
Blood Kainai) – Middle
Piegan (Pikani) – Poorly dressed of the Southern area and the largest of the three Blackfeet-speaking groups that make up the Blackfoot Confederacy.
Piegan peoples in Canada and the United States were forced to divide their traditional homelands in the nineteenth century according to national borders. They were forced to sign treaties with one of those two countries, settle in reservations on one side or the other of the Canada/U.S. border. They were enrolled in one of two government-like bodies sanctioned by those two countries. Those in the U. S. are the Blackfoot Nation, a federally recognized tribe in Montana. The Pikani Nation is a recognized Indian band in Alberta, Canada.
Women wore traditional deerskin dresses. Men wore buckskin tunics and breechcloths with leggings. Both were often fringed and decorated with porcupine quills, beads, and elk teeth. In winter, they used buffalo hides as coats.
In spite of treaties, Blackfeet lands were decreased many, many times. In 1896, a 20-mile wide strip of Blackfeet Reservation was ceded. This strip is known today as Glacier National Park. The Blackfeet claim the land was only provided for a 99-year lease.
Twice the band was decreased by smallpox. Other conflicts affected the population. The Blackfoot Massacre, often called the Bear River Massacre, the Baker Massacre, or the Marias Massacre occurred on January 23, 1870. The Heavy Runner Band was camped on the Bear River during cold winter weather. A column of cavalry and infantry under the command of Major Eugene Baker attacked the sleeping camp early in the morning. The attack was purportedly to be in response to the killing of an influential rancher, Malcom Clark. Clark had been in several conflicts with Owl Child, a Piegan, who was not camped with Heavy Runner, but with Mountain Chief. By the end of the attack, 217 people had been killed. The largest numbers of victims were women and children. The army gave the death count at 173. While some political leaders were outraged, no disciplinary actions were taken against Clark or any of the soldiers.
The first land allotments were made on the Blackfeet Reservation in 1907-1908. Approximately 2,656 individual Blackfeet tribal members received allotments. In 1911, this was amended to include children born after the middle of the year, who were allotted 80 acres.
In 1934 of the 1,785 eligible voters, 994 voted in favor of tribal organization under the Wheeler Howard Act, commonly known as the Indian Reorganization Act. Under this legislation, the Blackfeet Tribal Constitution and By-Laws were ratified in 1935, creating a representative form of government through elected tribal council representatives. Originally numbering 13, tribal council representatives now number nine.
Did you find this tribe as fascinating as I did? I hope so. I also hope you’ll chose to read MELODY, Angel Creek Christmas Brides book 7. The universal Amazon link is http://mybook.to/Melody
Here’s the blurb:
Such a tiny lie…
Desperation drove her…
She couldn’t know the risk…
After the death of her grandmother, Melody Fraser must quickly leave what has been her home in South Carolina. There are those who think she murdered her Nana Fraser. She’s innocent but there’s talk about arrest and prosecution. To escape, this Southern belle agrees to become a mail-order bride in far away Montana.
Nicholas “Nick” Walker is a doctor from Gettysburg whose wife and children were killed when mortar fire destroyed their home. Eager to escape the memories and ravages of the Civil War, he buys a medical practice in Montana Territory. He wants a competent nurse who can assist him with operations and care for patients as his plans expand for a hospital. He wants a well-organized wife to keep him company and start a family. With his usual efficiency, he combines the two into one job description when he requests a mail-order bride.
What will it take to teach Nick that—although she isn’t what he expected—Melody is exactly what he needs?
Here are a couple of quotes from my beta readers:
“I REALLY like this story. It has a lot of substance with fleshed out characters. I loved reading it.”
“Melody is a charming, engaging story that will heal your heart.”