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The earliest known written record of the Cheyenne comes from the mid-17C, when a group of Cheyenne visited the French Fort Crevecoeur, near present-day Peoria, Illinois. The Cheyenne at this time lived between the Mississippi River & Mille Lacs Lake in present-day Minnesota. The Cheyenne economy was based on the collection of wild rice & hunting, especially of bison, which lived on the prairies 70–80 miles west of the Cheyenne villages.
According to tribal history, during the 17C, the Cheyenne had been driven by the Assiniboine (“rebels”) from the Great Lakes region to present-day Minnesota & North Dakota, where they established villages. The most prominent of the ancient Cheyenne villages is Biesterfeldt Village, in present-dat eastern North Dakota along the Sheyenne River. The tribal history also relates that they 1st reached the Missouri River in 1676. A more recent analysis of early records posits that at least some of the Cheyenne remained in the Mille Lac region of Minnesota until about 1765, when the Ojibwe defeated the Dakota with firearms - pushing the Cheyenne, in turn, to the Minnesota River, where they were reported in 1766.
On the Missouri River, the Cheyenne came into contact with the neighboring Mandan, Hidatsa ( "people who have soil houses"), & Arikara people (Ónoneo'o), and shared cultural characteristics. They were first of the later Plains tribes into the Black Hills & Powder River Country. About 1730, they introduced the horse to Lakota bands (Ho'óhomo'eo'o - “the invited ones (to Cheyenne lands i.e. the Black Hills)”). Conflict with migrating Lakota & Ojibwe peoples forced the Cheyenne further west; & they, in turn, pushed the Kiowa to the south.
By 1776, the Lakota had overwhelmed the Cheyenne & taken over much of their territory near the Black Hills. In 1804, Lewis & Clark visited a surviving Cheyenne village in North Dakota. Such European explorers learned many different names for the Cheyenne, not recognizing that the different segments were forming a unified tribe.
The Cheyenne Nation reportedly is descended from 2 related tribes, the Tsétsêhéstâhese/Tsitsistas (Cheyenne proper) and Só'taeo'o/Só'taétaneo'o (better known as Suhtai or Sutaio) who may have joined the Tsétsêhéstâhese in the early 18C. Their oral history relays that both tribal peoples are characterized & represented by two cultural heroes or prophets who received divine articles from their god Ma'heo'o.
After being pushed south & westward by the Lakota, the unified Cheyenne people began to create & expand a new territory of their own. Sometime around 1811 the Cheyenne made a formal alliance with the Arapaho people (Hetanevo'eo'o – "People of the Sky“, also known as Héstanėheo'o – “people, mankind, tribe of people”), which would remain strong throughout their history. The alliance helped the Cheyenne expand their territory which stretched from southern Montana, through most of Wyoming, the eastern half of Colorado, far western Nebraska, & far western Kansas. As early as 1820, traders & explorers reported contact with Cheyenne at present-day Denver, Colorado & on the Arkansas River. They were probably hunting & trading in that area earlier. They may have migrated to the south for winter. The Hairy Rope band is reputed to have been the first band to move south, capturing wild horses as far south as the Cimarron River Valley. In response to the construction of Bent’s Fort by Charles Bent, a friend of the Cheyenne who established a popular trading area for the Cheyenne, a large portion of the tribe moved further south & remained around the area. The other part of the tribe continued to live along the headwaters of the North Platte & Yellowstone rivers. The groups became the Southern Cheyenne, known as Sówoníă (Southerners) & the Northern Cheyenne, known as O'mǐ'sǐs (Eaters). The separation of the tribe was only a geographic & the two groups had regular & close contact.
In the southern portion of their territory, the Cheyenne & Arapaho warred with the allied Comanche, Kiowa, & Plains Apache. Numerous battles were fought including a notable fight along the Washita River in 1836, with the Kiowa resulting in the death of 48 Cheyenne warriors of the Bowstring society. In summer 1838, many Cheyenne & Arapaho attacked a camp of Kiowa & Comanche along Wolf Creek in Oklahoma bausing heavy losses on both sides. Conflict with the Comanche, Kiowa, & Plains Apache ended in 1840, when the tribes made an alliance with each other. The new alliance allowed the Cheyenne to enter the Llano Estacado in the Texas & Oklahoma panhandles & northeastern New Mexico to hunt bison & trade. Their expansion in the south & alliance with the Kiowa led to their first raid into Mexico in 1853. The raid ended in disaster with heavy resistance from Mexican lancers, causing all but 3 of the war party being killed. To the north the Cheyenne made a strong alliance with the Lakota Sioux, which allowed them to expand their territory into part of their former lands around the Black Hills. They managed to escape the smallpox epidemics, which swept across the plains from white settlements in 1837-39, by heading into the Rocky Mountains; but they were greatly affected by the Cholera epidemic in 1849. Contact with Euro-Americans was mostly light, with mountain men, traders, explorers, treaty makers, & painters.
Thursday, November 22, 2018
The Niitsitapi, also known as the Blackfoot or Blackfeet Indians, reside in the Great Plains of Montana & the Canadian provinces of Alberta & Saskatchewan. Only one of the Niitsitapi tribes are called Blackfoot or Siksika. The name is said to have come from the color of the peoples' moccasins, made of leather. They had typically dyed or painted the soles of their moccasins black. One legendary story claimed that the Siksika walked through ashes of prairie fires, which in turn colored the bottoms of their moccasins black.
Due to language & cultural patterns, anthropologists believe the Niitsitapi did not originate in the Great Plains of the Midwest North America, but migrated from the upper Northeastern part of the country. They coalesced as a group while living in the forests of what is now the Northeastern United States. They were mostly located around the modern-day border between Canada & the state of Maine. By 1200, the Niitsitapi were moving in search of more land. They moved west & settled for a while north of the Great Lakes in present-day Canada, but had to compete for resources with existing tribes. They left the Great Lakes area & kept moving west.
When they moved, they usually packed their belongings on an A-shaped sled called a travois. The travois was designed for transport over dry land. The Blackfoot had relied on dogs to pull the travois; they did not acquire horses until the 18th century. From the Great Lakes area, they continued to move west & eventually settled in the Great Plains.
The Plains had covered approximately 780,000 square miles with the Saskatchewan River to the north, the Rio Grande to the south, the Mississippi River to the east, & the Rocky Mountains to the west. Adopting the use of the horse, the Niitsitapi established themselves as one of the most powerful Indian tribes on the Plains in the late 18th century, earning themselves the name "The Lords of the Plains." Niitsitapi stories trace their residence & possession of their plains territory to "time immemorial."
The Niitsitapi main source of food on the plains was the American bison (buffalo), the largest mammal in North America, standing about 6 1⁄2 feet tall & weighing up to 2,000 pounds. Before the introduction of horses, the Niitsitapi needed other ways to get in range. The buffalo jump was one of the most common ways. The hunters would round up the buffalo into V-shaped pens, & drive them over a cliff (they hunted pronghorn antelopes in the same way). Afterwords the hunters would go to the bottom & take as much meat as they could carry back to camp. They also used camouflage for hunting. The hunters would take buffalo skins from previous hunting trips & drape them over their bodies to blend in & mask their scent. By subtle moves, the hunters could get close to the herd. When close enough, the hunters would attack with arrows or spears to kill wounded animals.
The people used virtually all parts of the body & skin. The women prepared the meat for food: by boiling, roasting or drying for jerky. This processed it to last a long time without spoiling, & they depended on bison meat to get through the winters. The winters were long, harsh, & cold due to the lack of trees in the Plains, so people stockpiled meat in summer. As a ritual, hunters often ate the bison heart minutes after the kill. The women tanned & prepared the skins to cover the tepees. These were made of log poles, with the skins draped over it. The tepee remained warm in the winter & cool in the summer, & was a great shield against the wind. The women also made clothing from the skins, such as robes & moccasins, & made soap from the fat. Both men & women made utensils, sewing needles & tools from the bones, using tendon for fastening & binding. The stomach & bladder were cleaned & prepared for use for storing liquids. Dried bison dung was fuel for the fires. The Niitsitapi considered the animal sacred & integral to their lives.
Up until around 1730, the Blackfoot traveled by foot & used dogs to carry & pull some of their goods. They had not seen horses in their previous lands, but were introduced to them on the Plains, as other tribes, such as the Shoshone, had already adopted their use. They saw the advantages of horses & wanted some. The Blackfoot called the horses ponokamita (elk dogs). The horses could carry much more weight than dogs & moved at a greater speed. They could be ridden for hunting & travel.
Horses revolutionised life on the Great Plains & soon came to be regarded as a measure of wealth. Warriors regularly raided other tribes for their best horses. Horses were generally used as universal standards of barter. Medicine men were paid for cures & healing with horses. Those who designed shields or war bonnets were also paid in horses. The men gave horses to those who were owed gifts as well as to the needy. An individual's wealth rose with the number of horses accumulated, but a man did not keep an abundance of them. The individual's prestige & status was judged by the number of horses that he could give away. For the Indians who lived on the Plains, the principal value of property was to share it with others.
After having driven the hostile Shoshone & Arapaho from the Northwestern Plains, the Niitsitapi began in 1800 a long phase of keen competition in the fur trade with their former Cree allies, which often escalated militarily. In addition both groups had adapted to using horses about 1730, so by mid-century an adequate supply of horses became a question of survival. Horse theft was at this stage not only a proof of courage, but often a desperate contribution to survival, for many ethnic groups competed for hunting in the grasslands.
The Cree & Assiniboine continued horse raiding against the Gros Ventre (in Cree: Pawistiko Iyiniwak – "Rapids People" – "People of the Rapids"), allies of the Niitsitapi. The Gros Ventres were also known as Niya Wati Inew, Naywattamee ("They Live in Holes People"), because their tribal lands were along the Saskatchewan River Forks (the confluence of North & South Saskatchewan River). They had to withstand attacks of enemies with guns. In retaliation for Hudson's Bay Company supplying their enemies with weapons, the Gros Ventre attacked & burned in 1793 South Branch House of the Hudson's Bay Company on the South Saskatchewan River near the present village of St. Louis, Saskatchewan. Then, the tribe moved southward to the Milk River in Montana & allied themselves with the Blackfoot. The area between the North Saskatchewan River & Battle River (the name derives from the war fought between these two tribal groups) was the limit of the now warring tribal alliances.
The Blackfoot tribe first met with Europeans & learned of their fur trade 1754. Anthony Henday of the Hudson's Bay Company met a large Blackfoot group in 1754 in what is now Alberta. The Blackfoot had established dealings with traders connected to the Canadian & English fur trade before meeting the Lewis & Clark expedition in 1806. Lewis & Clark & their men had embarked on mapping the Louisiana Territory & upper Missouri River for the United States government.
On their return trip from the Pacific Coast, Lewis & three of his men encountered a group of young Blackfoot warriors with a large herd of horses, & it was clear to Meriwether Lewis that they were not far from much larger groups of warriors. Lewis explained to them that the United States government wanted peace with all Indian nations, & that the US leaders had successfully formed alliances with other Indian nations. The group camped together that night, & at dawn there was a scuffle as it was discovered that the Blackfoot were trying to steal guns & run off with their horses while the Americans slept. In the ensuing struggle, one warrior was fatally stabbed & another shot by Lewis & presumed killed.
In subsequent years, American mountain men trapping in Blackfoot country generally encountered hostility. When John Colter, a member of the Lewis & Clark expedition, returned to Blackfoot country soon after, he barely escaped with his life. In 1809, Colter & his companion were trapping on the Jefferson River by canoe when they were surrounded by hundreds of Blackfoot warriors on horseback on both sides of the river bank. Colter's companion, John Potts, did not surrender & was killed. Colter was stripped of his clothes & forced to run for his life, after being given a head start (famously known in the annals of the West as "Colter's Run.") He eventually escaped by reaching a river five miles away & diving under either an island of driftwood or a beaver dam, where he remained concealed until after nightfall. He trekked another 300 miles to a fort.
In the context of shifting tribal politics due to the spread of horses & guns, the Niitsitapi initially tried to increase their trade with the Hudson's Bay Company traders in Rupert's Land whilst blocking access to the Hudson's Bay Company by neighboring peoples to the West. But the Hudson's Bay Company trade eventually reached into what is now inland British Columbia.
The Hudson's Bay Company encouraged Niitsitapiksi to trade by setting up posts on the North Saskatchewan River, on the northern boundary of their territory. In the 1830s the Rocky Mountain region & the wider Saskatchewan District were the Hudson's Bay Company 's most profitable, & Rocky Mountain House was the Hudson's Bay Company 's busiest post. It was primarily used by the Piikani. Other Niitsitapiksi nations traded more in pemmican & buffalo skins than beaver, & visited other posts such as Fort Edmonton.
In 1822 the American Fur Company entered the Upper Missouri region from the south for the first time, without Niitsitapiksi permission. This led to tensions & conflict until 1830, when peaceful trade was established. This was followed by the opening of Fort Piegan as the first American trading post in Niitsitapi territory in 1831, joined by Fort MacKenzie in 1833. The Americans offered better terms of trade & were more interested in buffalo skins than the Hudson's Bay Company , which brought them more trade from the Niitsitapi. The Hudson's Bay Company responded by building Bow Fort (Peigan Post) on the Bow River in 1832, but it was not a success.
In 1833, German explorer Prince Maximilian of Wied-Neuwied & Swiss painter Karl Bodmer spent months with the Niitsitapi to get a sense of their culture. Contact with the Europeans caused a spread of infectious diseases to the Niitsitapi, mostly cholera & smallpox. In one instance in 1837, an American Fur Company steamboat, the St. Peter's, was headed to Fort Union & several passengers contracted smallpox on the way. They continued to send a smaller vessel with supplies farther up the river to posts among the Niitsitapi. The Niitsitapi contracted the disease & eventually 6,000 died, marking an end to their dominance among tribes over the Plains. The Hudson's Bay Company did not require or help their employees get vaccinated; the English doctor Edward Jenner had developed a technique 41 years before but its use was not yet widespread.