Blackfoot Indian History

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Details of Blackfoot Indian History

Before the coming of white settlers to the US, large tracts of the Great Plains were home to the Blackfoot Indians who crossed from the Canadian province of Alberta into Idaho and Montana. Blackfoot Indian history dates back to several centuries, although they crossed into the United States from Canada sometime in 1600’s. They were a nomadic tribe that traversed the land with their belongings packed onto a travois, a sled which was pulled by dogs. They switched to the use of horses around 1730, when they noticed these animals either in the wild or being used by other Indian tribes.

Blackfoot Indian history records that horses were highly prized both for hunting and for travel. Horses were called ‘ponokamita’ which meant ‘elk dogs’. The Blackfoot warriors could hunt buffalo more easily with horses and the tribe could migrate more frequently with the introduction of horses. As a tribe that lived on the Great Plains, the Blackfoot judged a person’s prestige and status by the number of horses he could give away since owning property for its own sake was untenable in the tribe’s way of life: property was always shared.

In Blackfoot Indian history, the tribe first came into contact with Europeans in 1806 when Lewis and Clark made their expedition. This opened further interaction with white settlers and caused cholera and smallpox to spread among the tribe. Smallpox decimated the Plains Blackfoot Indians as the white traders had not thought of inoculating themselves with the cowpox vaccine which gave immunity to smallpox.

By the mid-1800’s Blackfoot Indians were starving from lack of their staple buffalo. The mammal had been hunted to near extinction by the white settlers and the tribe became dependant on government rations for survival. Blackfoot Indian history records that in the mid 1850’s, Chief Lame Bull signed a treaty with the US government for $20,000 worth of food and supplies, which arrived very late and was always spoiled. The Blackfoot Indians raided white settlements for food and were attacked in return by the US army. Hundreds died of starvation during winter when supplies stopped completely.

Blackfoot Indian history is a litany of disease, abuse and decimation that commenced from their first contact with European settlers. Their way of life was altered irrevocably by the harsh government edicts that impinged on their culture and way of life.

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