BEFORE THE RED COATS CAME
CHIEF BUFFALO CHILD LONG LANCE
This is the Second and Concluding Article.
MY NEXT powwow among the Crees was held
on the Piapot Reserve in the historic Qu’Appelle Valley of Saskatchewan. It was presided over by Chief Masqua, a fine old fellow of sixty-seven winters. Chief Masqua could trace the ancestry of his people through his “five fathers;” that is, through his father who died at 80, his grandfather who died at 120, his great-grandfather who died at 120, his great-great-grandfather who died at 124 and his great-great-great-grandfather who died at 140 years of age. And the chief is one of the few living Crees who can follow the dual advance of the Cree before the white man and the Blackfoot before the Cree, from the east to the Rocky Mountains. This westward movement stretched over a period of nearly 300 years; and in its cycles we find the first white man’s ship landing on eastern shores, the Saskatchewan Crees residing in the neighborhood of what is now Montreal and the Blackfeet living near the site where Winnipeg is now situated, some one thousand miles east of their present abode in Southern Alberta.
The chief states that his “fifth father,” his great-greatgreat-grandfather, saw his first white man in the vicinity of the present city of Montreal before the Crees started to move west. At that time the Crees were the same tribe as the Objibways, or Chippewas, as they are called to-day. It was 290 years ago, according to the history handed down by his “fifth father,” that the first white ship landed among the Indians of the east. (This would be in 1632, or thirty-six years previous to the landing of the first Hudson’s Bay ship). The men came ashore and gave the Indians presents of knives, guns and matches; and received presents of furs from the Indians —and returned whence they had come. They re-appeared about one year later, at about the time the Indians saw the first half-breeds being born.
Westward Trek Begins
BEFORE the landing of that first ship the Indians had not known the use of the gun; and when an Indian fired the first gun that had been given to the tribe he threw it down and ran for his life. He thought that the gun was as dangerous from behind as from the front, and it was some time before the Indians learned to hold on to the piece after it had been discharged, thinking that it was to be fired and thrown down as quickly as possible. For knives they had previously used the ribs of animals, which were ground as sharp as steel on both edges. They had made their fire by twirling a stick on the seat of a dried mushroom. The white men also gave the Indians
tea and tobacco on the second voyage; this indicates that the boat must have at.least touched along the southern coast of the United States.
On the second visit of the ship the white men told the Indians that they now had plenty of the articles which they had given to them on the first trip, and they asked the Indians to “trade something for these goods.” When the ship pulled out, on this second voyage, the Indians “had enough guns to kill any Indian fort,” said the chief.
After this the white people began to stay in the country. So the Crees began to move westward; and the birth of Chief Masqua’s “fourth father” finds them in Western Ontario. The birth of his “third father” took place in the neighborhood of the present city of Winnipeg, whence the Blackfeet had moved west to the Regina-Qu’Appelle district, in consequence of the conflicts which had ensued. I might explain that all of the Plains Tribes—excepting the Sarcees who came down from Athabasca, and the Sioux who came up from the United States—belong to the great Algonquin linguistic family, all of whom came originally from the east. The restless, aggressive Blackfeet formed the vanguard of this migration westward, but they have been out here so long that no one, not even an ethnologist, knows exactly when they came. According to Chief Masqua’s history, the Crees first sighted them just east of Winnipeg; and to continue their advance westward they had continually to fight the Blackfeet and push them farther west. With their overwhelming odds they were able to do this, but not without considerable losses to themselves.
The birth of Chief Masqua’s “second father” occurred west of Winnipeg; and the birth of his father took place in the neighborhood of Fort Qu’Appelle. That was about 110 years ago, and at that time the Blackfeet were living in the Cypress Hills of Southwestern Saskatchewan and Alberta.
Not one of the old Indians quoted in these articles can speak a word of English, yet they are able to give the exact dates, in “years back,” of the establishment of each of the western forts and other early happenings commonly known to the white man. All tribes, I find, record the years by the principal happening in each.
Chief Masqua was born between the Touchwood Hills and Fort Qu’Appelle in Saskatchewan. His father was a very old man and he was a young lad when they roamed
he was reaching young
manhood they traveled out towards the Cypress Hills and met the Blackfeet in his first battle. And it was just as they were reaching the Cypress Hills that the first white man overtook them, after a 290-year “chase” half across the continent. He was about eighteen then, which would give the year 1874 as the close of this remarkable retreat from the inevitable onrush of civilization. The Blackfeet stemmed them on the west, so they had to stay hereabouts and allow the white man to catch up with them and trickle through to Alberta. During the following Summer the white man came to make peace with al! tribes, and the chief’s tribe signed this pact, the Qu’Appelle Treaty, beyond the Cypress Hills.
For a time after the signing of this treaty,said the chief, the Indians were friendly and peaceful, but their privilege of traveling about at will and hunting without fear of attack, soon drove out the buffalo; and then, in the fourth winter after peace, the tribes began to steal each other’s cattle and horses. The Blackfeet had chased the disappearing buffalo eastward and were in close proximity to the Crees, which added convenience to the nightly raids they began to launch against each other. Thus, for a time, conditions wTere worse than before the treaty Each raid meant several murders, said the chief; instead of “dancing and having a lot of fun” celebrating these murders when they returned to camp, as they did in the old days, the Indians had to keep quiet, lest the Mounted Police should get wind of their depredations.
However, he concluded: “Those Blackfeet, Bloods. Piegans and Sarcees soon went up w’est again away from this foolishness—they had been stupid to start these raids on the Crees, and they came to their senses. Before the white man brought law% the Indians used to give it all to the enemy, and they had no heart for the weak.”
Chief Masqua gives a vivid account of one of the bloodiest massacres in the history of the western Canadian Indian. Having heard the Blackfeet talk of this battle, I am able to give both sides of this memorable event, which brings the powerful Cree Alliance—Crees, Saulteaux and Assiniboines—into direct conflict with the entire Blackfoot Confederation—Blackfeet, Bloods, Sarcees and Piegans.
In the early Spring of 1863, while the ground was still covered with snow, the Crees, Saulteaux and Assiniboines were camping together on the South Saskatchewan river at a point about “one camp” or forty miles north of Saskatoon. They wrere grouped in two big villages situated in two broad coulees adjacent to each other. The
Blackfeet. Bloods, Piegans and Sarcees of what is now Alberta, had set out early that Spring in search of this massed encampment of their most deadly foes, upon whom they intended to deliver a surprise attack. Knowing that they were camped somewhere along the South Saskatchewan, the Blackfeet and their allies followed this river hundreds of milt's up from Medicine Hat, sending ahead a large party of scouts and spies, numbering 300, to reconnoitre the territory in front of the main advance.
Running Rabbit’s Wisdom
THREE nights before the scouts reached the Cree allied encampment one of the Scouts, Running Rabbit, who is known by the writer ami who subsequently attained distinction as a fighter, Medicine Man and Chief, had a dream in which he saw disaster for the Blackfeet in the impending battle. He told this dream to his companions on the following morning and tried to persuade them to turn back; but the chief of the party declared that any man who chose to go back might as well “go home and put ou his wife’s dress. Running Rabbit ■aid, "I am not married, but 1 will go home—and I will put on a woman's dress.” However, he stayed with the party until the morning of the battle, when he did finally turn back, followed by eighty of his companions.
The snow having melted on the high ground surrounding the two coulees in which the Crees and their allies were camped, five of the camps had moved on top of the hill above the main villages, preferring the dryness there to the windbreak below. When the Blackfoot scouts got their first glimpse of these five lone camps they hurriedly sent back runners to tell the main body to come along quickly, there were only five camps of the enemy and it was going to be a delightful •laughter.
While the Blackfoot scouts were awaiting the approach of their main body, five Assiniboine women who had been out gathering wood with their dog-sleds, were espied as they were returning to their camp unaware of the presence of an enemy. The scouts chased these women and killed all but one. Mrs. Good Elk, whose photograph is shown in this article.
She was stabbed seven times and left for dead, but recovered, and she is living today on the Assiniboine Reserve near Sintaluta. Saskatchewan. She is the heroine of this terrible massacre, insofar as the Crees and their allies are concerned, for it was due to the strong fight which she put up. that the attention of her fellowtribesmen was drawn to the presence of the Blackfeet.
Mrs. Good Elk's struggles had brought several of the Blackfeet out from their hiding place into plain view of the five camps on the hill, to which she screamed a warning just before falling. Enable further to restrain their delight at the sight of these five apparently defenceless camps, the Blackfeet stopped where they were and started a war-dance within one hundred yards of the enemy. They danced on as the yelling Assiniboines streamed out of these camps and sped towards them, thinking that they would allow them to approach to fighting distance and then annihilate them.
Massacre of Blackfeet
HOWEVER, the two big -villages of Crees and Saulteaux in the coulees below had heard the yelling and they were at that moment climbing the hills leading up from the coulees to the scene of the impending battle, hundreds strong. When they began to pour over the edges of the coulees the Blackfeet were met with a sight which their eyes refused to believe. Crees, Saulteaux and Assiniboines were literally swarming from everywhere. The Blackfeet fired one volley of arrows and turned and ran panic-stricken to the edge of a big coulee, jumping down its steep slopes to the soft snow beneath. But this coulee formed one of the main wings of the two big villages below the plateau. Caught thus like rats in a trap, the Blackfeet and their allies were practically wiped out They tried to get out of the coulee by forming human chains up its perpendicular walls, but the Crees and their allies would allow them to get so far and then they would drive an arrrow through the bottom link and send them crashing back to the ground. Barely twenty escaped.
When nine Assiniboines who had been out hunting that day, returned to camp at night, they were so angered at the sight of the dead^Assiniboine women that they resolved to take up the chase of those who had escaped and wreak their vengeance upon them. They tracked them by the blood left along the trail, and whenever they caught
up with a wounded Blackfoot, Blood, Sarcee or Piegan, they slaughtered him on the spot. When they had killed one man apiece they were satisfied—they had seen as much blood as they wanted to see that day, and they returned to their camp considerably less bloodthirsty than they had been a few hours before.
Old Liar, ninety-seven years old, of the Assiniboine Reserve at Sintaluta, Saskatchewan, is the only member of this avenging party of nine still living. Judging from his demeanor when he met me, this old warrior, whose photograph is shown herein, is still angry with the Blackfeet. lie is one of the few old Indians I have met among the former enemies of the Blackfeet who has never forgotten. He was a brave warrior, however. He is known to have rescued thirteen comrades during dangerous encounters, and his scalps were many.
Mrs. Good Elk’s two mothers (mother and blood mother) and two of her sisters, who made up the other four members of the wood party slain by the Blackfeet, were killed at
her side, and her father was killed in the fighting which followed. Mrs. Good Elk, then seventeen, was known as a famous Assiniboine beauty whose charms had been spread among all tribes of the West by returning warriors who had seen her while fighting the Assiniboines. Her own story of her disagreeable experience^ this affair is interesting.
She, her two mothers and her two sisters were trudging along the coulee in which the Blackfeet were hiding, with their thoughts far removed from danger, when suddenly they were startled by a chorus of^ low grunts accompanied by the padded thud of runningTeet. They looked up just in time to see the Blackfeet swooping down upon them. Their dogs stampeded and ran wildly towards their camps on the hill less than two hundred yards away, overturning the sleds and spilling the wood along the trail. The women hastily recovered their axes from the wood and prepared to defend themselves against their enemies.
By this time they were surrounded by their attackers, who, emboldened by the sight of the five lone camps, cared little for the noise they made. Her two sisters and one of her mothers fell stabbed to death at the moment the Blackfeet reached them. But her blood-mother had killed two of them with her axe, which she was now swinging wildly at all who attempted to get near her As the Blackfeet dodged in and out, trying to strike her mother with their knives, Mrs. Good Elk ran around and around her, fighting off her assailants and trying to protect her. The scouts finally gained an opening on her mother and slew her, leaving Mrs. Good Elk as the only survivor.
She started to run up the side of the coulee, followed by her assailants. She could hear the one nearest to her panting heavily as he raced up the steep incline. As she was nearing the top of the coulee a strong hand grasped her by the wrist and jerked her back. She turned and fought madly, throwing snow into the face of her assailant and endeavoring to push him off his balance to the coulee bottom below. As she fought thus, he dragged her down the hill after him. When they approached the spot where her mother was lying dead in a pool of blood, she refused to go farther. Her captor jabbed his long knife to her face with a quick thrust that ended abruptly with the point resting against her cheek. He looked at her hesitatingly, with the point of the knife still pinned to her cheek, wondering, she thinks, whether he should finish the thrust and send the knife through her head. His companions, emboldened at the sight of the five lone camps and excited by the blood they had drawn, had started a war-dance a few yards away.
Just at this moment, the Assiniboines in the five camps on the hill, who had been attracted by her struggles near the top of the coulee, came rushing out of their camps towards the Blackfeet. She heard one of the Assiniboines shout, “Don’t kill that girl!” With that, the Blackfoot stabbed her in the back and commanded her to come with him. She refused, and he drove his knife into her back a second and a third time.
By this time the Assiniboines had almost reached the Blackfeet and a battle had already begun. Seeing that he would not be able to get away with her and that he was about to be attacked by her fellowtribesmen, the Blackfoot drove his knife into her up to the hilt four times under her right arm, and let her drop to the ground. Blood began to spurt from her mouth and her side in great streams; everything became dark, and that is all she remembers until two days later when she came to under the care of the tribal Medicine Man in her own camp. She had bled continuously for two days, and the Medicine Man had cut off four inches of her lungs which had been protruding from her chest. Added to her grief, her father had been killed; and she came out of this terrible experience with but one sister left out of her family of seven a few hours before.
When several of the twenty Blackfeet who escaped from this massacre visited the Assiniboines a few years ago, they recognized Mrs. Good Elk immediately as the famous Assiniboine beauty whom they had thought all along that they had killed in 1863. When they espied her in the crowd of Assiniboines thereto greet them, they left the others and went over to shake hands with her. They told her that their Medicine Man had seen her in a previous contact with the Assiniboines and that he had told the Blackfoot warriors before reaching the Assiniboine camp not to “kill the beautiful girl with the tattoo marks on her chin.” (These marks, running down from each corner of the mouth, may be seen in the accompanying photograph of Mrs. Good Elk.) The Blackfeet invited her to return with them to the Blackfoot Reserve in Alberta. She went out to the Blackfeet and was showered with presénts and kindness.
A Nonagenarian Romance?
MRS. GOOD ELK thinks that the man who stabbed her was a Blood Indian, and she told me that if he did not believe that she wTas still living, to tell him to “come over here, and they would talk it over.”
“What sort of a looking fellow was he?” I asked.
“He was about twenty-five, about as tall as you, and owahyagh waste (very handsome),” she said, sweeping her two hands across the features of her face.
“What would you do if he were to come to see you? ’ I enquired, not wishing to be the instigator of a tragedy.
“Throw my arms around his neck and kiss him! ’ she exclaimed without a moment’s hesitation.
Mrs. Good Elk, thrice a widow, is still handsome for her age. Who knows what may follow if, on returning to Alberta, I should be able to identify this Beau Brummel of sixty years ago who would have spared her life on account of her renowned beauty?
The reader has perhaps concluded that the Blackfeet were extremely brutal; that they performed a cowardly act in killing these Assiniboine women. Those women expected to be killed. That was the Indian method. 1 he Indians took counsel of their womenfolk in all times of
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Before the Red Coats Came
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with the Blackfeet, when he espied lying stress, and the women made war more often than they made peace. The Indian woman is far more vindictive than the Indian man. They were belligerents ever, members of the headquarters staff who had their field forces well in hand. The women earned this right by working hard every day.
The Indian had a certain reputation for mercilessness that must not be confused with brutality. The Indian code was give and take to the Nth degree, and he was always prepared to take as much punishment as he could give. Too much mercy was a sign of ill-breeding; an indication that the mother had failed to raise her Child to be a man. The harder one fought his adversary the more mercy one was likely to receive at the final reckoning.
Running Rabbitt’s wisdom in turning back on the morning of the above massacre, taking back with him eighty of his companions, won him a great name among the Blackfoot tribes, as well as among all the tribes of Saskatchewan. He subsequently became a great warrior; and in a later conflict with the Crees he received a bullet through his chest, another through his thigh and he had his skull split from between the eyes to the crown of his head; but he was still living, well and hardy, the last time I heard of him. The Blackfoot tribe, now living near Gleichen, Alberta, is divided into two big divisions, the Yellow Horse and the Running Rabbit bands, the latter being the half which came under the control of the hero of this battle, who later became a chief.
Chief Masqua asked me if Running Rabbit were still alive. I told him that he was the last time I heard of him. “He is a brave man,” he said; “he did not have to wear a woman’s dress in the last battle I saw him in.”
Playing-With-Arrows, a Saulteaux warrior now living in the Touchwood Agency of Saskatchewan, is said to be the man who so badly mutilated Running Rabbit. He told me that he met him on the train coming from the last Winnipeg Stampede; and he said to Running Rabbit: “I suppose we will have to be friends now; we can’t fight any more.” Running Rabbit said: “Yes, I suppose so.”
Kaiswatum, sitting at this pow-wow on the Piapot Reserve, gives a humanly interesting account of how his band of Crees kept on fighting in the Maple Creek district of Saskatchewan in the summer of 1874, without being aware of the fact that their tribe was signing the historic Treaty No. 4 back at Fort Qu’Appelle. In discussing this fighting I encountered the only instance in which the Crees banded with their deadly enemies, the Sioux, to battle with a common enemy.
The Piegans of Alberta had come into this district and killed a young Sioux warrior early in the summer of that year. Kaiswatum’s band of Crees had recently fought the Piegans and had got the worst of the affray; so they did not hesitate on this particular occasion to throw aside local enmities long enough to organize a war-party of 300 Crees, Sioux and halfbreeds, to go after the westerners and even up their scores.
The chase westward began in the neighborhood of what is now Regina and terminated at Maple Creek, where six of the Piegan rear-guard had entrenched themselves in two holes which they had dug on top of the big hill at that point. Here they sat and waited for their pursuers. The mixed Cree party surrounded them very cautiously and closed up to within a distance of fifty yards of the two holes. In the steady firing that followed two of the Piegans were “sniped” as they poked their heads up to fire. But the toll from the attackers was one Cree and six Sioux. At this stage, one of the Sioux shouted, “Let’s go get them or they will kill all of us!” With this, they rushed the strong-point and quickly despatched the four remaining Piegans without further loss to themselves.
The score was still uneven by one in favor of the Piegans; so the Crees and the Sioux remained in the neighborhood for a week, recuperating preparatory to launching a deadly night raid upon the main Piegan camp, a little to the west of Maple Creek. But the Piegans “beat them, to it,” surprising them with a big daylight attack, which accounted for one Cree and the entire lot of half-breeds, with the exception of one or two who turned tail and ran.
Peace is Signed
STILL undaunted, the Crees and Sioux remained in the neighborhood and fought four other battles with their enemy during the following weeks. They were determined, according to the Indian custom, to even up the score before they quit. It was Autumn now and the ground was freezing, but the Crees had launched a fifth battle, which was at its height when they were overtaken by the Mounted Police and told that a big treaty had been signed at Fort Qu’Appelle and that all tribes were then at peace with each other. The policemen said: “You will first make peace here, and then go back to Fort Qu’Appelle and get treaty.”
The Piegans said they would make peace right where they were camping; so the Crees and Sioux rode over to their camp and made the sign of peace. That night all of the Piegans came over to the Cree camp on horseback. They got off their horses one hundred yards away and held out their hands. The chiefs approached each other and shook hands, after which they smoked the peace-pipe together. The Crees invited two Piegans to come over and have supper with them that night. They came, two stalwart young -warriors; and they sat and ate their supper quietly.
Here, Kaiswatum began to laugh. He said:
“I noticed that one of the Piegans looked straight at my brother all the time he was eating. My brother had some buffalo teeth around his neck, and he was looking at that. My brother had
taken them off the neck of one of the Piegans we had killed in the two holes that summer. When the Piegan got through his supper he sat still for a long time, but he kept looking at my brother and at those buffalo teeth. Then after a while he asked my brother if he had made that buffalo necklace. My brother rubbed the teeth on his chest with both hands and laughed loud, loud, loud, and said, ‘No, I took them from a Piegan I killed last summer.’ The Piegan wanted to know if they killed any Crees. My brother said, ‘Yes, one Cree and six Sioux.’
“After supper,” continued Kaiswatum, “we Crees and Sioux went over to the Piegan camp; and that Piegan went up to the chief and said, (pointing to Kaiswatum’s brother): ‘There is the man who killed your son. He wears his necklace around his neck.’ The chief looked quickly at my brother and at the necklace and he threw his arms into the air and said that he was going to kill my brother right there. He was very angry and senseless, and everybody thought that we were going to fight again; but the chief was the only one who got mad, and we all agreed to let the country have peace and not to fight any more. We felt friendly right away, and we have been good friends ever since.”
This band of Crees, which had been caught out in that country at the signing of peace, made a tour of all of their enemy tribes in Southern Alberta and Northwestern Montana, declaring peace for their tribe as they went and partaking of peace festivities. At Standing Bull’s camp in Montana (American Sioux), the small party of Crees narrowly escaped annihilation. Chief Standing Bull became enraged upon hearing the cries of the Sioux children as they were being taken away to school, and he wanted to call everything off and celebrate a new period of warfare by starting on the Crees who happened to be at their mercy. However, he cooled down after a while, said Kaiswatum, and shook hands and smoked the pipe of peace with them. Since that event they have remained good friends of the Canadian Indians.
Crows and Crees
WHEN the Crees went down to the Crows, in Montana, to make peace with them, the Crow warriors wanted to kill them on the spot; and had it not been for the presence of a young Assiniboine in the Cree party, who could speak the Crow language, Kaiswatum’s valuable contribution to this article might have been absent. The Crow chief was anxious for peace, but he could not hold back the vengeance of his young braves. As the Crows were getting ready to hold a wardance preparatory to disposing of the Crees, the young Assiniboine stepped out and made a short speech, pointing out the need for friendly relations among the Indians; and when he had completed his talk, in the words of Kaiswatum, “The Crows did not want to kill the Crees.” The Crow chief was so pleased with the outcome, he threw his arm about the young Assiniboine and called him his son. Several of the Crees married Crow women before they left this camp.
At this stage of my pow-wow on the Piapot Reserve, a tall, lanky individual of sixty-seven summers, walked into the tepee and gazed intently at me for several minutes. His name was Old Gopher. He was dressed in an interminably long coat, a pair of moccasins and two braids of long hair—that was all one could see of his attire without the aid of a periscope. He had the face of a steeled warrior and the quizzical eyes of a comedian. He sized me up for a moment (I think, to find out whether or not I had a sense of humor) and then walked over to where I was sitting. Looking at me with narrowed eyes, he said:
“Anh-hanh-h,—I heard outside that there was another Blood Indian left. I thought I had killed all of them. So I came in to finish him up.”
I said: “Oh yes, we know you out in Alberta, Old Gopher. You are a brave man. We have never stopped laughing about the time when even a dead Piegan almost killed you with fright.”
This sent the assemblage of old Indians into a spell of laughter which lasted for several minutes. They knew all about the incident to which I referred; for they had all witnessed it. Old Gopher, then a young man, was in the height of a battle
on the ground a few feet away, a “dead” but unsealped Piegan. He bounded upon the chest of the still forra and was proceeding to slit off the coveted crown of its head, when suddenly the Piegan gave a yell and jumped to his feet, throwing Old Gopher to the ground with a bang. This was too much for his superstitious Indian nature, and it is said by those who witnessed it that Old Gopher was going through all the motions of running before he had regained his feet.
However, just as he had bounded to his feet and was starting to make off, the Piegan tanded the full force of his body against the calves of his legs Old Gopher
uttered a yell that could be heard distinctly above the noise of battle and fell sprawling to the ground again, holding the crown of his head with both hands in the expectation that, after all, it was he who was to yield up this cherished trophy. When a fateful second had passed and he had not yet experienced the sting of the Piegan’s knife, he looked around, to find the Piegan lying dead beside him. He had been shot by another Cree the moment that he ha 1 jumped to his feet and was as dead as the proverbial door-nail when he landed against Old Gopher’s legs. Old Gopher’s companions have never stopped chiding him about this happening.