Thursday, August 27, 2015

1921 - 1934

1921: Louis Hill (the railroad tycoon) gets a ten year lease for oil through Agent Wilson. A second competing application was denied. Hill did not drill successfully. Wild cat leases through the tribe granted. Hazlett acting as agent and go-between. Wilson dismissed and convicted of bigamy. (Elsie was right!) Blackft are still starving. Over the winter of 1920-21, two thirds of the people need rations. F.C. Campbell is the new superintendent. He says the reservation is bankrupt and he starts a series of “five year plans.” He goes house-to-house, visitng four-fifths of the people. Half of the full-bloods have no cash and not everyone is cutting wood for winter. He feels they will have to do some small farming to survive and organized them into groups who could share heavy equipment. All this was to be financed by the “Reimbursable Plan” which had lost the people much of their land. James Willard Schultz became critical and headed The Executive Committee for the National Association to Help the Indian. He felt his father-in-law Yellow Wolf was allowed to starve. The Red Cross is present, but their funds are lost in a bank closure. A little flour mill is established in Heart Butte. (Indians think of meat -- white men think of bread.)

1922: James Willard Schultz publishes a pamphlet entitled, “The Blackfeet are Starving.”

1923: Prospects for farming are poor and the white farmers are not renewing their leases. Robert Hamilton becomes chairman of the Tribal Council and Joseph Spanish becomes secretary of the Tribal Council. Richard Sandervile and Levi Bird are loyal to the agent. Campbell wants to remove Oliver Racine (a Hamilton supporter) from the Council on grounds of adultery. There are more problems with overgrazing, trespassing and rustling, to say nothing of the confusion over who leased what from whom for how long. Forrest Stone is the assistant to the superintendent.

1924: All Native Americans become citizens of the United States.

1925: The Browning City Council asks the government to provide relief for the aged and infirm. Oliver Sanderville complains about Campbell, but he is cleared by the inspector. Campbell was bypassing the Council and going by the community chapters’ directions. The Council, in turn, voted him out. (Campbell had organized “granges” who focused on agriculture. The Tribal Council wants to drill for oil and get rich that way.)

1926: Merriam Report delineates Indian poverty, unemployment, lack of health care and education for all Indians, not just Blackft. (For more material plus photos, see the website at: You might Google a bit -- there’s quite a lot of material on the Web.)

1928: Campbell charges horse owners for mange control and for roundup costs, then sells the horses to Chappel Brothers exclusively.

1929: Stone becomes the new superintendent. Major hearings in the summer as part of a general investigation of all reservations. (Senators Frazier, Wheeler and Pine). Senate Investigator Liggett write a long report, not released until 1932. It boils down to six clusters of complaints:

1. Indian are defauded by deliberate conspiracy.
2. Tribal possessions are dissipated.
3. No accounting of the tribal herd.
4. Indians’ interest seem secondary. (This is mostly about the Great Northern, including their practice of exploiting Indians as tourist attractions.)
5. Agency officials dominate the Tribal Council.
6. No accounting is made to the Indians about leasing. (This is the matter now -- 75 years later -- settled by Eloise Cobell's lawsuit against the Department of the Interior.)

(This report has been running in installments in the Glacier Reporter this year.)

1930: Holy Family Mission closes. Many accusations about how and why. The Depression is beginning and religious congregations are suffering. U.S. Census counts 3,000 Blackft on the rez. Stone asks for $300 from the tribe to pay the hospital bill of a sick old man: Robert Hamilton, leader of full-bloods. “Tip” O’Neill and Louis Hill hit the first big gusher of oil on Michael’s ranch near Cut Bank. Stone asks for a geological survey of the reservation but is denied.

1933: Santa Rita well comes in. Much drilling in the Cut Bank area. Many bids for leases, but no criteria are developed and not much regulation for how to go about it.

1934: Indian Reorganization Act (part of the New Deal). Creates the present form of tribal government. (See Rosier notes later.) Government supplies 5,500 head of drought relief cattle, but 300 are lost over a hard winter, partly because they were in rough shape to begin with. 138 Indian families are classified as self-supporting. 747 families are receiving federal welfare assistance.

These notes are beginning now to reach modern times. People born after 1934 were the grandchildren of the original traders and Indian leaders and the tensions remain alive today in ordinary life. This is the part that newcomers never really understand, even if they have the means of researching some of the competitions and double-crosses, the incomplete schemes, and sudden wealth of some. The granddaughter of T.E. Scriver was determined that her family not be subjected to the raking that the Sherburnes continue to receive, so she took all the records of the Browning Merc out to the burning barrel. (The actual Browning Merc burned down during the big Scriver Artifact Sale to Edmonton in 1990 -- the artifact collection itself has been partly dispersed. What remains of the Sherburne papers are in the Mike Mansfield Library in Missoula. The Sherburne Artifact Collection went to Gonzaga and is now at Cowles-Cheney Museum. It is also partly dispersed.)

1929 was evidently a watershed year. That was when the footprints of the last sign-talkers were recorded in bronze -- you can stand in them now in a circle in front of the Museum of the Plains Indian. A silent movie of the signing was also made. Adrien Voisin, a Paris-educated sculptor whose wife was a sign-talker, was on the reservation and her father was employed here. Voisin worked with John Clarke, the deaf-mute wood-carver grandson of Malcolm Clarke, creating John’s bust and busts of a dozen other old-time Blackft. They are in the Denver Art Museum.

One wonders what would have happened if the Depression had not struck. Bob Scriver was in high school through those years and had very little consciousness of it. “Everyone was already poor and living off the federal government,” he said.

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