1902:“Great Falls Tribune” headline: “Piegan Indians in Open Revolt.” Monteath threatens to arrest White Calf, whereupon the Indian police all quit and Little Dog comes to the agency office to say that if he dares to do such a thing, Monteath will be bound with ropes and thrown in front of the next train. Blackfeet population is estimated at 2,084 with 50 births and 33 deaths. (This is the first time for a long time that births have exceeded deaths.) Cattle are at 10,000 (with 4,000 calves) and horses at over 22,000. Mike Connelly is one of the Montana stockmen running cows on the rez. The entire focus is on farming and much attention is given to irrigation and water rights. This is a flood year, washing out 75% of the seeds. 64 kids attend the Jesuit school at Holy Family and 57 go to the deplorable Willow Creek School run by the agency. Monteath blames his troubles on half-breeds, especially Joe Kipp, Maggie Wetzel (who married Joe Kipp) and Horace Clarke. He wants them confined to a separate reservation or removed completely.
1903: Old White Calf dies. He is the last of the head chiefs. A formal tribal council is organized. Joe Kipp and Horace Clark are on it, plus seven older full-bloods. By now the ration roll is cut down from 2,100 to 550. Cattle have gone from 19,709 to 19,090. Monteath is complaining about Horace and Helen Clarke (siblings) and Horace is banned from the reservation, though he’s on the tribal council. There is an outbreak of mange among the cattle.
1904: Through a lease for cattle grazing, the Conrad Investment Company manages to divert water from Birch Creek. (Valier, where I live, grew up alongside the irrigation reservoir, now called “Lake Frances.”) Ration roll cut to less than 100. This is a drought year and gardens fail. Grass is dried up. The north and south boundary fences are finished. Rev. Matson, who had run the Willow Creek mission for ten years, dies. Grazing permit system begins. Daniel Floweree brings 7,000 cattle in. Hugh Denson gets thrown off, as an example. J. H. Sherburne, W.C. Broadwater, and Simon Pepin are in business around the town square, though the latter partnership is denied permits at first. T.E. Scriver has arrived as a clerk for Sherburne.
1905: A list of stock on the reservation shows 12,000 Blackfeet horses, 1,200 cattle owned by the Agency traders, 300 cows belong to the Jesuits at the Holy Family Mission, and enough others to total 42,464. Most of these are “lease” or “permit” cattle which the fence built to keep them out are now being kept in by it. Charles Conrad’s heirs claim he is due $30,000 for helping with negotiations in 1896.
1906: James Jensen comes as acting agent, then Captain J.Z. Dare. He discovers that the Indians are having to pay the same grazing fees on the rez as the white cattlemen are. Dare lets Horace Clarke come back. Floweree, Pepin, and Broadwater all expand their grazing permits. The drought continues and overgrazing begins to be evident. ‘06-’07 was a bad winter and much stock was lost. Floweree wanted a 40% rebate on his permit.
1907: The Blackfeet ask Dare, who asks Washington, whether there isn’t a “Big Claim.” This idea is traced back to Agent Baldwin, but the government denies any claims at all. The Blackfeet win the case over water with the Conrad Investment Company. 1907-08 turns out to be another rough winter. Montanans succeeded in getting “allotments” on the reservation, which they equated with it being opened for exploitation. (Dawes Act meant that instead of the tribe holding the land communally, it would be divided up and assigned to individuals -- with a good bit left over for sale to outsiders.) In the end allotment takes ten years and requires Congressional intervention to solve the scramble over oil and mineral lands. It turns out Dare had not been properly putting Tribal money in the Tribal fund. Rather he has been putting it into the United States account. There is no way to trace the lost money. Lebreche is encouraged to sell all his cattle and buy a much-needed sawmill, but once he has it, the government prohibits him from using it. Willits and Scriver begin what became the Browning Mercantile.
1908: James Sanders briefly acts as agent and then C.A. Churchill comes. Churchill gets into a fracas with Broadwater, who allowed several thousand sheep to graze on the rez through his job as Stockyard Manager for the Great Northern. Churchill is depositing stock permit money in his personal account. He divides the rez into districts and tries to control the removal of cattle, but Floweree defies him. Churchill points out that the money brought in by permits is at least balanced by amount of damage (overgrazing and diseases) and informal rustling that goes on, so there is little or no profit. Churchill’s daughter, Eula, marries J. L. Sherburne, the son of J. H. Sherburne. 1910: US Census counts 2,268 Blackft on the rez. Complaints that traders are overcharging or have a number of different prices, depending on who is asking. Hints that Churchill uses his position as agent to pressure those who don’t pay their trading bills. 150 Rocky Boy Chippewa are dumped on the rez. They have no place to go.
These events are recent enough that I’ve known some of these people and taught their descendants -- almost always with braided-together heritages of white and Indian, though carrying names familiar from these tales. T.E. Scriver, my father-in-law, didn’t talk about political matters or even economic matters from those times. What he remembered were high times and bright prospects, everyone feeling that they were poised on the edge of oil strikes, with an expanding town, and a new century of progress. People believed in progress, often industrial -- like the railroad.
They were young. The “media” were an eight page newspaper and the telegraph. Roads anywhere were nearly impassable unless conditions were just right, but most people still depended on horses anyway. The reservation was an intense microcosm where everyone knew everyone else.