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CROWFOOT (Isapo-Muxika)

(Reference: Portraits From the Plains,
Who Was Who In Native American History
By Carl Waldman)

Crowfoot was about 69 years old when he died in 1890 and he knew that he was born somewhere south of the Red Deer River. He was born a Blood Indian, but after his father's death he moved north to the Blackfoot lodge of his mother's new husband.

His elder brother Crow Big Foot was murdered and Crowfoot the younger brother led a war party to avenge his brother's death. The followers gave the name Crow Big Foot to the younger brother in victory. Police scout, Jerry Potts, supposedly shortened the name to Crowfoot.

Crowfoot gained a reputation of being courageous and successful in battle. He always rode a good white or spotted horse. Crowfoot liked bright colored clothes and always carried and used an umbrella as protection against the elements. He was a striking looking man with penetrating eyes, chiselled features and long unbraided hair and had a dignified bearing.

When the Mounted Police force arrived at Oldman River October 13, 1874 the Indians showed scepticism but were neither friendly or hostile until they found out the police intentions. Jerry Potts interpreted for Colonel Macleod while he explained to Chief Crowfoot that the government was determined to end whiskey trading and would punish anyone, either white man or Indian who refused to obey good laws. Crowfoot reacted favorably with the following speech.

"My brother, your words make me glad. I listened to them not only with my ears but with my heart also. In the coming of the Long Knives, with their firewater and quick-shooting guns, we are weak and our people have been woefully slain and impoverished. You say this will be stopped. We are glad to have it stopped. We want peace. What you tell us about this strong power which will govern good law and treat the Indian the same as the white man, makes us glad to hear. My brother, I believe you, and am thankful." (Portraits from the Plains page 81 and 82)

Crowfoot's acceptance of the Mounted Police made their work easier and more likely to succeed.

Crowfoot was a respected leader of his tribesmen and their neighbors and it showed to the fullest when they congregated at Blackfoot Crossing on the Bow River to negotiate Treaty #7 with government authorities.

On September 19, 1877 missionaries, some legitimate traders, Northwest Mounted Police from Fort Calgary, 4000-5000 Indians (Bloods, Piegans, Stonies, and Sarcee) and the two Government negotiators, Lieutenant Governor David Laird (who travelled 24 days to be present) and Colonel James Macleod all gathered together.

There was a wild demonstration when a few hundred youthful Blackfoot painted warriors charged on horseback to the meeting ground with war whoops and firing guns into the air as a protest, but there weren't any resultant injuries.

As discussions took place some individuals spoke but Crowfoot had the confidence of all. On September 22 the Great Chief spoke.

"While I speak, be kind and patient. I have to speak for my people who are numerous and who rely upon me to follow the course which in the future will tend to their good. The plains are large and wide. We are the children of the plains. It is our home and the buffalo has been our food, always. I hope you will look upon the Blackfoot, Bloods, Piegans and Sarcees as your children now and that you will be considerate and charitable to them. They all expect me to speak for them, and I trust the Great Spirit will put into their breasts to be good people, also into the minds of all men, women and children of future generations. The advice given to me and my people has proven good. If the police had not come to this country where would we all be now? Bad men and whiskey were killing us so fast that very few of us would have been alive today. The Mounted Police have protected us as the feathers of the bird protect it from the frosts of winter. I wish all my people good and trust that all our hearts will increase in goodness from this time forward. I am satisfied. I will sign the Treaty." (Portraits From the Plains page 86)

The Northwest Mounted Police cannon was fired to end the negotiations and Treaty money was paid to the Indians: $12 for each man, woman and child; $25 for each chief and $15 for each Councillor. In addition each chief got a suit of clothes, a flag and a medal. This was a great decision in the event of western Canadian history.

Louis Riel, led the disgruntled Metis in the Red River insurrection in 1869-1870 and again the Riel Rebellion in 1885. In order to help his half breed friends to gain their supposed just dues Riel needed the Crees, Blackfoot and Assiniboines and other tribesmen as allies. Although the Blackfoot were on the verge of starvation Crowfoot remained loyal to the Queen and #7 Treaty and made it clear to the Prime Minister, Sir John A. MacDonald by sending him a telegram indicating his loyalty and principal intentions. He also sent messages to the Bloods and Piegans of the Blackfoot's intentions.

Despite his neutrality Crowfoot encouraged his people to help any refugee Crees passing through Blackfoot land. After the Rebellion the Government of Canada gave Crowfoot $50 plus a lifetime pass on the Canadian Pacific Rail lines. The government also gave Crowfoot, Red Crow, One Spot, North Axe and Three Bulls, escorted by Father Lacombe, a trip to Ottawa. The Indians were amazed at the number of whites there which further indicated to them that a revolt attempt wasn't feasible.

Crowfoot lost most of his children to smallpox and tuberculosis. In his final years he travelled among Bloods, Piegans, Sarcees, Gros Ventres and Assiniboines in Canada and Montana as a peacemaker in tribal disputes.

He became sick in 1890 and as his condition deteriorated the tribe grieved for him. Slow muffled Indian tom-toms beat constantly while the Chief's own composition was continuously chanted. There was sobbing, wailing and armed painted braves guarding the chief and Medicine Men attending him.

Dr. Henry George was sent from Calgary to attend Crowfoot diagnosing him as having advancing pneumonia. He prescribed mustard poultice and some brandy. Crowfoot accepted the poultice but absolutely refused brandy as he had always been opposed to liquor because of its bad effect on his people.

Crowfoot's death bed speech was: "A little while and I will be gone from among you," he said. "Whither, I cannot tell. From nowhere we came; into nowhere we go. What is life? It is the flash of a firefly in the night. It is the breath of a buffalo in the winter time. It is as the little shadow that runs across the grass and loses itself in the sunset."

Crowfoot's last request of his people was to be good and remain friendly to the whites.

At his death his best horse was shot so that he would have a horse to ride when he reached the "sand hills". (Portraits of the Plains page 90) Each of his three wives cut off one finger.

Crowfoot died April 25, 1890. He was dressed in a buckskin suit with a feather head piece adorned with a stuffed crow and was solemnly taken along with his saddle and rifle to a burial site at his favorite site of Blackfoot Crossing where Treaty #7 was signed. A bronze marker was placed on the grave indicating that he was a "Father of His People". In 1948 a stone Cairn was erected to his memory at this same site paying tribute to this man of wisdom, courage, who made statesman-like decisions and had great skills as an orator and diplomat.

Crowfoot requested that his brother Three Bulls succeed him as Chief.

According to Chief Walking Buffalo of the Stonies "Crowfoot of the Blackfoot Tribe was" the greatest of them all." (Portraits of the Plains page 79)

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Mary Tollestrup