Thursday, August 27, 2015


TIME-LINE 1806 - 1837

1806: Captain Lewis and companions skirmish on the Marias after leaving Camp Disappointment at the junction of the Two Medicine and Badger Creek. He-That-Looks-at-the-Calf and another are shot.

1806: John Colter makes his famous stripped “race for life.”

1808: Finan McDonald builds a post at Kutenai Falls.

1809: David Thompson founds a post at Thompson Falls, visits Flathead Lake. Henry submits a population count: Piegan, 350 lodges and 700 warriors; Blackfoot, 200 lodges and 520 warriors; Blood, 100 lodges and 200 warriors. Whites in trading posts: 200.

1810: Thompson sends McDonald, Michel Bourdeaux and Batiste Boucher with many Indians over Marias Pass. They battle the Blackfeet near Skyland Siding on Bear Creek. Andrew Henry and Pierre Menard are driven out of Three Forks by Blackft. Joseph Howse may have post near present Kalispell. Blackft have first contact with US Soldiers. Robert Stewart skirts Blackft territory and charts the Oregon Trail.

1811: Empty Kutenai lodges still standing near Rocky Mountain House.

1818: 49th parallel becomes US/Canada border.

1820: Hugh Monroe is living with the Blackfeet.

1823: Blackfeet attack Henry near Great Falls.

1828: Kenneth McKenzie and James Kipp found Fort Union.

1830: McKenzie sends Jacob Berger to win over Blackft for trade. Berger meets Blackft on Badger Creek. Blackft agree to traders but NOT trappers. Worcester vs. Georgia: U.S. Supreme Court rules Indian tribes must be recognized as foreign nations with the right to govern their own internal affairs. Severe winter. Many Blackft perish and the warriors go on the warpath the next summer to capture women and children to recoup losses.

1831: McKenzie arranges a peace between Blackft and Assiniboine.

1832: First steamboat reaches Fort Union, bringing George Catlin, who says the Blackft are “perhaps the most powerful tribe on the continent: 16,500 people.”

1833: Prince Maximilian and Alexander Culbertson arrive upriver. Maximilian estimates 18,000 to 20,000 Blackfeet. A MAJOR meteor shower, taken as bad luck. On August 28, 600 Sioux and Assiniboine attack 20 Blackft lodges outside Fort MacKenzie. Bodmer witnesses and depicts it. Blackft push Sioux and Assiniboine back to the Marias River and east past the Bear’s Paw. There is a total eclipse of the sun.

1834: Bureau of Indian Affairs is formed in the War Department. First government official designated to meet with the Blackft. Fort McKenzie lists their intake thus: 9,000 buffalo hides; 1,020 beaver; 180 wolf; 19 bear; 390 buffalo tongues; 40 otter; 2,800 muskrat; 200 red fox; 1,500 prairie dogs.

1836: Hugh Monroe sees the St. Mary Lakes. Smallpox pandemic along the Missouri. Mandan exterminated. Pikuni Blkft suffer grave losses. 6,000 Blood and North Blackfeet perish. Estimated 7 - 12 thousand Blackft perish in the U.S. No life from Fort Benton to Three Forks. Horses and dogs dead. Some evidence of deliberate infection.

1837: Smallpox in Blackft and all tribes north of the Sioux. Caused by clothes infected with smallpox. Alfred Jacob Miller estimated forty to fifty trappers killed by the Blackft. Americans blame the British for inciting killings.

By now trappers, traders, adventurers and artists are milling around in Blackft country, infecting the locals with deadly disease. The modern parallel might be Africa or South American frontiers where humans act as vectors, both carrying disease in and carrying them out. HIV/AIDS is the long slow modern pandemic and Ebola Fever is the disease so violent that it usually kills the vectors before they can pass it on. Smallpox was in between.

It’s clear that though at first whites didn’t think of infecting Indians deliberately, they soon realized the potential, and though Lewis & Clark carried smallpox vaccine with them, they didn’t vaccinate enough people to do much good. Of course, it is widely speculated that syphillis caught in the NW killed Lewis and the others except Clark.  They had thought it was safe to seek a little comfort since they were so far from whites -- but it hadn’t occurred to them that sailors had been accessing the Pacific Coast for a long time and he wasn’t so far from that coast. (A fictionalized history of Lewis’ fate is “Eclipse: A Novel of Lewis and Clark” by Richard Wheeler, Forge, 0-312-87846-X.) When explorers start out nowadays, they take a lot of condoms.

Long, long ago I took a history class in which the professor gave us some pointers on how to read journals and other sequential document records of chronological events. What he pointed out was that even the gaps will tell you something. There is one conscientious accounting of births and deaths in Europe that comes to a thirty year blank. Puzzling until you realize that the gap covers the Black Plague pandemic that decimated Europe. It was brought back from Mongolia by the silk trader caravans -- Marco Polo and all that. What’s amazing that the recording book starts back up again.

Lately I’ve been seeing reinterpretations of the European plague as a kind of social harrowing that broke up rigid controls by small kingdoms and religious orders. New religious orders appeared. (The Cistercians formed at this time to put land back into crops and always built their monasteries right on top of mountain streams so that they could channel clean water in and filth out. A rigorous bunch.) There is even the suggestion that the plague indirectly caused the Renaissance by making people anxious to find new ways, to learn new things. It took a century or so to flower.

A Blackft renaissance may be on the way now. It doesn’t happen overnight. One of the most interesting phenomena is that so many youngsters see the value of college and their goal, when they finish school, is to return to the reservation to help their people. It’s not lip service. They’re doing it. Some did it twenty years ago. They don’t make a big fuss -- they just get to work.

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