Undead Warriors in Blackfoot Tradition
Before Canada’s first Mounties, the North-West Mounted Police, brought British law and order west across the prairies in 1874, the plains of what is now southern Alberta were a wild and dangerous place, dominated by huge herds of buffalo and the powerful Blackfoot Confederacy. The Blackfoot were a warlike people composed of three allied tribes: the northerly Siksika, and the southerly Blood and Piegan. United by blood and a common language, the nations of the Blackfoot Confederacy spent most of their existence defending their hunting grounds against the encroachments of northern and easterly enemies like the Cree and Assiniboine, and making incursions into the territories of southerly adversaries like the Crow, Gros Ventres, Shoshoni, and Sioux. Their lives revolved around family life, the buffalo hunt, religious ceremonies, and warfare, the latter three occupations being the media by which Blackfoot men cultivated virtue and established their social standing. Fiercely independent, they ruled the northwestern prairies with an iron fist, occasionally trading in their buffalo robes for guns and powder at northerly Fort Edmonton (the Hudson’s Bay Company post on the North Saskatchewan River) or southerly Fort Benton (the American Fur Company post on the Missouri River) before returning to the warpath or the buffalo trail.
According to the late Canadian historian Hugh Dempsey, the former curator of Calgary, Alberta’s Glenbow Museum, in the introduction to his 2003 book The Vengeful Wife and Other Blackfoot Stories, the Blackfoot “accepted the supernatural as part of their everyday lives and did not try to analyze or rationalize it. They believed that their entire universe was inhabited by good and evil spirits who could wield their powers at will. As an elder sat and told me his stories, the supernatural was just as real to him as buffalo hunts or war parties. Nothing in Blackfoot life happened by accident; their whole existence was governed by a litany of spirit protectors and supernatural forces.”
One recurring theme in Blackfoot tradition is the belief that, with preternatural assistance, it was possible for recently deceased human beings to come back from the dead. This extraordinary feat was usually accomplished through the agency of a spirit protector – a paranormal entity associated with a particular animal, celestial body, or natural element, of which the Blackfoot believed they could secure the personal protection through fasting and dreams.
The Ghost Medicine Pipe
The oldest and most sensational Blackfoot resurrection stories are set in the mythological past, before the Shoshoni first introduced Spanish horses to the northern plains; when the Blackfoot still used stone knives and arrowheads, hitched their travois to dogs, and herded buffalo off cliffs. One such tale was related by Blood Blackfoot Jim White Bull to Hugh Dempsey in an interview on June 5th, 1954, which Dempsey paraphrased in The Vengeful Wife.
Long ago, the story goes, a young Siksika mother died suddenly and unexpectedly, to the utter devastation of her husband and young children. According to Blackfoot tradition, most human spirits, after death, make the long journey to the Great Sand Hills, a desolate desert-like area in what is now southwestern Saskatchewan, at the eastern border of Blackfoot territory. Desperate to be reunited with his wife, the dead woman’s grieving husband left his children in the care of their grandparents and set out for that easterly land of spirits.
When he reached the outskirts of that forbidden territory, the man met the shade of a boy, who manifested as a shadow and a voice. When the man explained the reason for his presence in that haunted land, the ghost ushered him into a lonely teepee, which was empty save for a solitary medicine bundle which rested on a tripod frame at the back of the lodge.
As his eyes became accustomed to the gloom, the man became aware of a circle of shadowy figures seated around the lodge, one of whom beckoned for him to sit. No sooner had he done this than the figure closest to the medicine bundle unwrapped the package and withdrew a calumet, or medicine pipe, covered with owl skin and decorated with beaver claws and eagle feathers. The phantom filled the pipe with ghostly tobacco and began to smoke. Gradually, the figure’s hands and arms became visible. The ghost passed the pipe to his shadowy neighbour, who performed the same procedure. After four revolutions of the pipe around the lodge, the ghosts were all visible to the young widower.
“My son,” said the ghost chief, addressing the newcomer, “what are you looking for? What is the reason for you to journey into this land? It is unusual for us to see a living person in these Sand Hills.”
“I am looking for my wife,” the widower replied.
The ghost chief nodded his head and invited the young man to spend the night in his lodge. Tomorrow, he promised him, he would help him look for his wife.
The following day, the ghost chief sent messengers to the four ghost camps which lay throughout the Sand Hills and asked the souls of all recently deceased women to pass in single file before the widower. The man looked carefully at each woman in the ghostly procession, but recognized none of them.
Finally, when the phantom women from the fourth camp walked past him, the man spotted the shade of his wife, who came forward to embrace him. “Don’t touch this man!” the ghost chief warned. The chief then brought the disparate pair back to his lodge, where he presented them with his medicine pipe. That day and the next, he taught the man songs and ceremonies that went with the pipe, and purified the ghost woman with the smoke of alpine fir. That accomplished, the chief placed the medicine pipe bundle on the woman’s back and instructed the couple to return to the land of the living.
“On your way home,” the ghost chief said, “don’t look back. Don’t look at your wife. Don’t greet her or speak to her. Always face west, even when you’re sleeping. At nightfall, your wife will place the bundle on a tripod and sleep beside it.”
The couple followed the ghost chief’s instructions to the letter. When he arrived home, the man purified himself in four sweat lodges (small tents filled with steam), on the floors of which he left behind sand, worms, and maggots. When he was clean, the man picked up the pipe bundle and returned to his own lodge, where he was reunited with his living wife in her corporeal form.
The Blackfoot treasured the mysterious calumet, which they called the ghost medicine pipe, for generations, transferring it from owner to owner in elaborate rituals. When the pipe’s last owner, a Blood medicine man named Red Old Man, died in the 1860s, his brothers were too afraid to claim it. After some deliberation, the Blackfoot decided to place the pipe beside the dead man’s body so that his spirit could return it to the Great Sand Hills from whence it came.
The Adventures of Bull Turns Round
Another classic Blackfoot resurrection story appears in American anthropologist George Bird Grinnel’s 1892 book Blackfoot Lodge Tales: The Story of a Prairie People – a collection of traditional tales which Grinnell learned from Blackfoot storyteller Double Runner in the late 1880s, on the banks of northern Montana’s Two Medicine River. This story tells of a two Blackfoot brothers named Wolf Tail and Bull Turns Round, who once separated from their main band to camp on the shores of some nameless river. Wolf Tail, the elder of the two brothers, had several wives, while Bull Turns Round was a teenage bachelor. Before they separated from the main camp, the brothers’ father tasked Wolf Tail with watching out for Bull Turns Round and ensuring that nothing untoward befell him.
One day, while both brothers were out hunting in separate locations, one of Wolf Tail’s wives stroked her face with the feathers of a strange dead bird, giving herself an allergic reaction which caused her skin to swell. When Wolf Tail returned to his lodge, his wife lied that her condition was the result of a terrible beating that Bull Turns Round had given her, and demanded that her husband avenge her by killing his younger brother. After some weak protestations, Wolf Tail agreed to do his wife’s bidding.
Wolf Tail left his lodge and followed his brother’s trail along the riverbank. When he finally overtook Bull Turns Round, he convinced his younger brother to look for feathers in an eagle nest in a tall tree, which grew at the edge of a high cliff which overhung the river. When Bull Turns Round reached the nest, Wolf Tail asked him why he had beaten his wife. The younger brother pleaded his innocence, but Wolf Tail did not believe him. Despite Bull Turns Round’s cries for mercy, the elder brother pushed the tree over the cliff, sending the teenager plummeting to his death in the water below.
Bull Turns Round’s lifeless body floated downriver for some time before washing up on a sandbar. Near this shoal was the lodge of Suyetuppi, or Underwater People – powerful, dangerous, magical beings who lived in lakes and rivers, whom many Blackfoot considered evil. The lodge consisted of a wealthy old man, his wife, and their two daughters.
One evening, while swimming near the sandbar, the old man’s daughters came upon Bull Turns Round’s pitiful form. They rushed home and informed their father of their find, imploring him to bring the young man back to life so that he could be their husband. The old man agreed, and instructed his daughters to build four sweat lodges. While they went about their task, he swam out to the sandbank, picked up the teenager’s body, and returned to his lodge.
Similar to the widower in the story of the Ghost Medicine Pipe, Bull Turns Round’s body was purified in four separate sweat lodges, shedding huge quantities of sand onto the structures’ floors. After the fourth ablution, Bull Turns Round came back to life, and took the old man’s daughters to wife.
After recovering his strength in the lodge of the Underwater People, Bull Turns Round returned to his father’s camp, armed with a magic length of sinew that the old man had given him. There, he met his murderous brother and his deceitful sister-in-law, who had told the whole camp that Bull Turns Round had disappeared while out hunting, and had probably been killed by a bear. Following instructions that his father-in-law had given him, Bull Turns Round threw the magic sinew onto his father’s campfire. As the flames consumed the tendon, Wolf Tail and his wife twisted up and died.
The Death of Low Horn
Old oral traditions like the adventure of Bull Turns Round and the tale of the Ghost Medicine Pipe, far removed from the clarity of recent memory, are tinted by an aura of mythology which gives them a surreal, dream-like quality, hazy like the campfire smoke by which they were transmitted from generation to generation. More recent resurrection stories, by contrast, while less sensational than their time-honoured counterparts, have an element of realism as crisp and clear as the contemporary handwriting through which they were recorded; a simple unvarnished clarity which renders their subject matter all the more disturbing.
One relatively recent story illustrating the Blackfoot belief in the possibility of corporeal resurrection took place in the summer of 1846, the very year that the American Fur Company established Fort Benton on the banks of the Missouri River. This well-documented historic anecdote appears in the writings of both Hugh Dempsey and George Bird Grinnell, in a 1954 interview with a Blood Blackfoot elder, and in Henry John Moberly’s 1929 book When Fur was King.
That summer, a celebrated Blackfoot warrior called Low Horn set out with seven teenaged braves to raid horses from the Cree. After Low Horn had a succession of ominous dreams, and some of the warriors got their gunpowder wet while crossing the Red Deer River, the raiders decided to end their escapade prematurely and return to their main camp.
Near Serviceberry Creek, between what are now the towns of Strathmore and Drumheller, Alberta, Low Horn and his braves carelessly sauntered into what they thought was an allied Sarcee camp. Only when they reached the ring of teepees at the heart of the encampment did the warriors realize that they had stumbled upon a massive Cree and Assiniboine war party deep in Blackfoot territory. After clashing with a handful of enemy warriors in the open, Low Horn and his companions took cover in a copse of chokecherry bushes and prepared to make their last stand.
One by one, Low Horn’s teenage companions were picked off by Cree and Assiniboine warriors. Low Horn himself, however, apparently impervious to the enemy arrows and musket balls, continued fighting long into the night, ensconced in a shallow trench he had dug for himself. The lone warrior put a swift end to all who approached his hiding place, including a Cree champion named Kominakoos, whom he wounded severely by shooting through the eye; an Assiniboine champion named Horned Thunder, whom he shot dead; and a Cree chief named Bunch of Lodges, whom he stabbed in the heart. When Low Horn expended the last of his gunpowder, the Cree and Assinboine swarmed his location. Knife in hand, the lone Blackfoot slayed many warriors in the ensuing scuffle, but finally fell dead with a spear through his head. According to one account, when the Cree and Assiniboine looted the dead man’s body, they found beneath his buckskin shirt a conquistador’s chain mail hauberk- an ancient and exotic relic which would have been greatly treasured on the Canadian prairies.
Low Horn had fought so bravely, and with such impunity, that the Cree and Assiniboine were convinced that he had been under the protection of some strong medicine – perhaps the work of an especially powerful spirit protector. Fearing that whatever preternatural force had assisted him in battle might bring him back to life, they cut his body into tiny pieces, burning some of the fragments in a bonfire and scattering the rest throughout the country.
The Death of White Elk Horn
Another historical account demonstrating the Blackfoot belief in undead warriors appeared in an 1894 newspaper series entitled Indian Tales of the Canadian Prairies. The story’s author, James Francis Sanderson, was the Scots-Cree son of a Hudson’s Bay Company employee who lived through southern Alberta’s transformation from a wild and lawless frontier to a civilized province of farming and ranching. By the time the Canadian Pacific Railway was completed in 1885, opening the Canadian prairies for settlement, Sanderson had established himself as a prominent citizen of what would become the city of Medicine Hat, Alberta. In 1894, he wrote a series of articles for the Medicine Hat News entitled “Indian Tales of the Canadian Prairies,” in which he recounted some of the stories he heard from his Metis, Cree, and Blackfoot friends during his days as a trader and buffalo hunter on the Western Canadian frontier.
One of Sanderson’s stories, probably set in the 1850s or ‘60s, revolves around a character named White Elk Horn, whom Sanderson described as “the greatest chief and the bravest warrior among the Blackfoot.” A great medicine man was said to have predicted that this vaunted brave would die by the hand of a Saulteaux warrior, but would not be truly defeated until he had been slain five times.
“The Saulteaux Indians,” Sanderson explained, “were a branch of the Chippewa tribe that had wandered to the west from their native haunts on the shores of Lake Superior, and between them and the Blackfoot there existed the deadliest kind of feud.”
One day, White Elk Horn and seven Blackfoot warriors camped by a spring three miles downriver from the confluence of the Red Deer and South Saskatchewan Rivers, near what is now the hamlet of Estuary, Saskatchewan. Unbeknownst to the Blackfoot, a band of Saulteaux, led by a chief named Goosefoot, had also set up camp behind a nearby ridge.
That evening, a Saulteaux woman came to the spring to collect water. On her way, she met one of White Elk Horn’s braves, who addressed her in Blackfoot. Recognizing the tongue of her people’s hereditary enemy, the woman made no reply, and dipped her vessel into the stream without betraying the slightest hint of alarm. With remarkable composure, she returned to the Saulteaux camp by a circuitous route and informed her kin of the enemy presence.
“Goosefoot and his braves,” Sanderson wrote, “by careful reconnaissance, ascertained that White Elk Horn had only a handful of warriors with him. He speedily drew a cordon of his men around the little band of Blackfoot and, when morning dawned, the hitherto unvanquished chief found himself outnumbered and outgeneraled. He had no chance of escape and only the grim solace left of dying, as an Indian chief should, fighting to the last, and sending as many as possible of his foes before him to the happy hunting grounds, as heralds of his coming.”
In the skirmish that ensued, White Elk Horn justified his formidable reputation, sending many Saulteaux braves before him to the Great Sand Hills. When his ammunition was depleted, he threw his musket aside and seized his bow, sending arrow after arrow with withering accuracy at the Ojibwa besiegers. When his quiver was exhausted, he drew his knife and made for the enemy lines, but was cut down before he could strike a blow, slain, as the medicine man predicted, by a Saultaux brave.
White Elk Horn was the last of his companions to fall. Hopelessly outnumbered, only one Blackfoot had managed to escape the coulee alive, fleeing while the Saulteaux focused their attention on the great Blackfoot champion.
When it was clear that the Blackfoot could offer no more resistance, the Saulteaux moved in to scalp and mutilate their fallen enemies, as was Plains Indian custom, giving special consideration to the corpse of the Blackfoot chief. “Goosefoot and men gratified their hate by dismembering the body of their enemy,” Sanderson wrote, “and it is said that after they were severed from the bleeding trunk, the quivering limbs made spasmodic movements as if they would seek to be reunited with it. The victors then flayed him, and underneath the skin they found two live snakes, which they only killed after a prolonged struggle. They took out his brisket, and found his heart beating as regularly and as strongly as when he was alive and it continued to beat for a long time after they had hung it on the branch of a tree and stood watching it. Indeed, it was only when it had ceased beating that they became satisfied White Elk Horn was really dead and that there was not the slightest chance of his returning to life. They too had heard of the prediction that he would have to be killed five times before he would stay dead.”
The Amazing Death of Calf Shirt
Of all the resurrection tales to grace Blackfoot folklore, among the eeriest is the story of Calf Shirt, an immensely strong, recklessly brave 19th Century Blood war chief who had a reputation for invincibility in battle. “A man of powerful physique,” wrote a fur trader of this northern Goliath, “[he was] very brave and very brutal. He was greatly feared by all of the tribes with whom he was at war, as well as by his own people.” Not to be confused with his nephew of the same name, an equally ferocious warrior and famous snake charmer who features prominently in James Sanderson’s series, Calf Shirt was said to have owed his martial prowess to a particularly powerful spirit protector whose assistance he secured while still a young man.
Blackfoot braves, like other First Nations warriors across the continent, occasionally underwent grueling and dangerous rituals called ‘vision quests,’ by which they hoped to obtain the guardianship of a spirit protector. Participants in this ancient rite sought out secluded and dangerous locations, such as river islands, mountain peaks, or cliff ledges, where they fasted for four days, abstaining from both food and water. If the ritual was performed correctly, vision questers were supposed to be visited a spirit protector, who would teach them magic songs and grant them preternatural powers.
When he was a young man, Calf Shirt decided to go on a vision quest in the Sweetgrass Hills, near what is now the border separating Alberta from Montana. While fasting atop one of the hills, he was visited by the spirit of a grizzly bear, who agreed to bestow upon him special powers in return for the life of a woman. Determined to obtain the grizzly’s power, Calf Shirt returned to camp and told the youngest of his four wives to accompany him back to the hill’s summit. There, he stabbed his wife to death. As promised, the grizzly spirit visited him that night in his dreams and informed him that he was now impervious to bullets, arrows, and knives.
In 1869, the Canadian prairies changed forever when a handful of Montanan traders travelled north across what the natives called the Medicine Line, or the 49th parallel, and established a heavily-fortified trading post on the banks of what is now the Oldman River, at the site of present-day Lethbridge, Alberta. There, they sold rifles, tea, and other goods to the Blackfoot in exchange for buffalo robes. One of the chief commodities at this trading post, known colloquially as Fort Whoop-Up, was a rotgut whisky which many Blackfoot found impossible to resist. Armed with repeating rifles that the Americans had sold them, Blackfoot warriors began slaughtering buffalo expressly for their robes, which they spent with frantic abandon for a taste of firewater. Through this corrupt traffic, the traders at Fort Whoop-Up netted a profit of more than $50,000 during their first winter in Canadian territory – a small fortune in the 19th Century.
Hoping to replicate Whoop-Up’s success, other Montanan entrepreneurs trickled across the 49th parallel and established their own whisky forts across what is now southern Alberta and Saskatchewan. One of these whisky traders was a young half-Mandan frontiersman named Joe Kipp, the son of a famous Canadian-American fur trader named James Kipp, who had spent the few short years that comprised his adult life prospecting in Canada and serving as a scout in the U.S. Army. In the summer of 1871, Kipp and a few equally-colourful companions, including a notorious Indian fighter called John ‘Liver Eating’ Johnson, established Fort Standoff at the confluence of the Oldman and Waterton Rivers, about 22 miles southwest of Fort Whoop-Up, naming their post after a showdown they had with a Deputy U.S. Marshal on their way across the Canadian border. The following year, Kipp and his business partners built a new trading post, called Fort Kipp, at a more strategic location a few miles downriver, near what is now the town of Coalhurst, Alberta.
One of Fort Kipp’s most frequent customers was Calf Shirt, the great Blood war chief, who had developed an insatiable appetite for whisky. According to all accounts, Calf Shirt was a veritable menace while under the influence, and had murdered several of his fellow Blackfoot in a drunken rage while in his cups. As one fur trader put it, “when bad whisky could be bought, this chief never failed to keep himself well soaked with it, and he usually ended his sprees by killing one or more of his friends and relatives, if no enemy was near enough to become the victim.”
Sometime in the fall of 1873, 58-year-old Calf Shirt purchased a number of goods at Fort Kipp on credit, leaving his prized war shield as collateral. Later that December, he returned to the trading post, found Joe Kipp at the counter, and demanded that the 24-year-old halfbreed restore his shield to him, explaining that he planned to join a war party and would not leave without it. When Kipp asked the grizzled warrior to first pay him the furs he owed, Calf Shirt admitted that he was broke, and repeated his demand. He further ordered the trader to provide him with whisky, saying, “I have nothing, but I am going to have some liquor just the same, for I am the chief; yes, the chief of this country. I’ll just kill you, young man, and take what I want.”
Well aware of Calf Shirt’s famous proclivity for violence, Kipp reached for his revolver, which was hidden under a pile of blankets. The veteran warrior, having anticipated such an action, drew his own fully-cocked revolver from his robe and levelled it at the trader. Kipp froze, fully expecting the war chief to shoot him, and waited in an agony of suspense for the inevitable bullet.
Although he could have easily killed Kipp on the spot, Calf Shirt suddenly turned around and stalked out of the trade room, perhaps realizing that his murder of the chief trader would bring the full force of the whisky fort crashing down on his head. He retreated to his lodge and brooded there for some time, enraged by the humiliation he had suffered at the hands of the young trader.
God only knows the thoughts that passed through Calf Shirt’s mind during that interval in the teepee, but by the time he emerged into the sunlight, he was dressed for war, clad only in a pair of moccassins, a breechcloth, and a feathered war bonnet, his face and body painted with his personal war symbols. Revolver in hand, he danced his way towards Fort Kipp, singing his death song.
Montanan fur trader James Willard Schultz, who detailed several different and conflicting versions of the event in his various writings, described one account of what happened next in an article in the October 1900 issue of the magazine Forest and Stream:
“Just at this time there were several men in the cook room playing cards, among them ‘Diamond R.’ Brown and Dick Berry. Distracted from their game by the shrieks of the women and the war song, they rushed out and saw Calf Shirt advancing toward them. At the same time Kipp and George Scott came out of the trade room. Now what must have Calf Shirt have thought when he saw all those men come out, with pistols in their hands? He knew that his time had come, that he would never leave that place alive, but he did not hesitate; he kept on singing and dancing. ‘Boys,’ said one, ‘he means business. There is no help for it- we must kill him’; and he raised his revolver and fired. Then the others commenced. Crack, crack, crack, crack went the pistols; and every time a bullet struck the chief. He stopped, turned round, and walked slowly back, but a little to the right, and all the time the revolvers were going crack, crack, crack, crack, and bullet after bullet was lodged in the chief’s body, but he never flinched, he never even quivered when one struck him. He kept walking slowly on. Right in front of him was a pit where the earth had been dug with which to cover the roofs. Right into this he fell, prone on his face, but he slowly arose, turned round, emptied his revolver at the whites, and as he fired the sixth and last shot he fell once more, and died. There were sixteen bullet holes in his body, most of them mortal wounds.”
Drawing from interviews with Blackfoot elders, Hugh Dempsey described the chilling sequel to the war chief’s violent demise in both his 1994 book The Amazing Death of Calf Shirt and Other Blackfoot Stories and his 2003 book Firewater. When they were sure that Calf Shirt was dead, the whisky traders dragged his body from the pit and unceremoniously dumped it into the Oldman River, shoving it through a hole in the ice.
“Calf Shirt’s wives stood nearby,” Dempsey wrote, “watching the desecration of their man’s body but afraid to interfere. Calf Shirt had told them that he had the power to come back to life four days after his demise. He would return through the sacred power of the grizzly bear that he possessed.” James Willard Shultz elaborated on Calf Shirt’s promise to his wives in his book Blackfeet and Buffalo: Memories of Life Among the Indians, writing, “He had frequently told his wives that he had powerful medicine… If he should happen to be killed, he had intructed them, they must sing certain songs, offer certain prayers over his body for three days, and he would return to life, be as well as ever.”
The next day, the Fort Kipp traders discovered that Calf Shirt’s body had only floated a short distance under the ice before snagging on a pile of driftwood in an opening in the river downstream. “Several Indians helped to drag the body onto the shore,” Dempsey wrote, “and the two widows began to chant as their husband had taught them to do. Soon word spread through the camps near the fort and curious Indians gathered to see if the women would be successful in bringing him back to life… Hour after hour passed as the women performed their rituals, but the body of Calf Shirt remained unmoved, curled up in the fetal position, the knees bent and the legs drawn up against the body. He had been frozen stiff.”
Among the onlookers was a great medicine man who belonged to the band of Chief Crowfoot, a powerful Siksika leader who was visiting Fort Kipp at that time. Singing his medicine song, the native doctor approached the body with a cup of whisky and poured a dram of firewater onto the war chief’s frozen lips. “Then,” Dempsey wrote, “a horrified murmer passed through the crowd. Slowly but steadily, one of Calf Shirt’s legs unfolded like a man awakening from a long sleep.”
Terrified, many of the onlookers, including the great Chief Crowfoot, promptly fled the scene. Others, recalling the mayhem that Calf Shirt had wreaked in life, implored the medicine man to put an end to the grisly ritual, saying, “We don’t want him back with us. We’ll be happier if he stays dead.” Reluctantly, the shaman acceeded to their wishes.
“A little later,” Dempsey concluded, “only his sorrowing wives remained to prepare the body for its final resting place in the trees. Calf Shirt was truly dead.”
In 1874, one year after Calf Shirt’s death, the North-West Mounted Police marched west across the prairies and put an end to the whisky trade in Canada, shutting down the illicit traffic at Fort Whoop-Up, Fort Kipp, and other whisky posts throughout the region. Having established British sovereignty in what was then called the North-West Territory, the Mounties then tactfully encouraged the Blackfoot to make peace with their enemies and abandon the roving warlike lifestyle that had defined their confederacy since time immemorial, ushering in a new era of peace on the plains which allowed for the construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway and the settlement of the Canadian prairies.
As might be expected, Blackfoot tales of near-resurrection and undead warriors died out with the war parties of the 19th Century, lingering only in the memories of Blackfoot storytellers like Jim White Bull, the memoirs of bygone frontiersmen like James Sanderson, and the pages of history books like Hugh Dempsey’s. True or not, they serve as a reminder of southern Alberta and Saskatchewan’s fascinating forgotten past, and of what English novelist Rudyard Kipling called “the old Cree and Blackfoot tradition of red mystery and romance that once filled the prairie.”
- Indian Tales of the Canadian Prairies (1894), by James Francis Sanderson
- “Old Fort Benton,” by James Willard Schultz in the October 1900 issue of Forest and Stream
- The Amazing Death of Calf Shirt and Other Blackfoot Stories (1994), by Hugh Dempsey
- The Vengeful Wife and Other Blackfoot Stories (2003), by Hugh Dempsey
- Blackfoot Lodge Tales: The Story of a Prairie People (1892), by George Bird Grinnell
- Firewater (2002), by Hugh Dempsey
- Blackfeet and Buffalo: Memories of Life Among the Indians (posthumously published in 1962), by James Willard Schultz
- “Kipling Likes Name of ‘Medicine Hat’: Writes to Eastern City Hoping No Change Will be Made: Refers to Names Across the Line: Old Cree and Blackfoot Tradition of Red Mystery and Romance,” in the December 22nd, 1910 issue of the Morning Albertan (Calgary, Alberta)
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