By the 18th century the Blackfeet tribe were living in valley of the Northern Saskatchewan River. They hunted buffalo on foot until they obtained their first horses in about 1740. At this time they also obtained their first guns from the Hudson's Bay Company. The population was drastically by a smallpox epidemics in 1781.

The traditional enemy of the Blackfeet were the Shoshoni. Between 1785 and 1805 large numbers of both tribes were killed in battles over hunting territory

1806 members of the Meriwether Lewis and William Clark exhibition encountered Blackfeet at the junction of Two Medicine River and Badger Creek. Soon afterwards Alexander Henry estimated that there were only 5,200 people left in the tribe.

Maximilian, Prince of Wiedneuwied and Karl Bodmer explored the lands of the Blackfeet in 1833. Bodmer, a talented artist painted the portraits of Blackfeet leaders. A couple of years later they were also painted by George Catlin.

In 1837 another smallpox epidemic killed nearly 6,000 Blackfeet. This was an estimated two-thirds of the total population. There were incidents of Europeans being killed by Blackfeet. However, they accepted a visit by Pierre-Jean De Smet. In 1845 he secured a peace between them with the Flathead tribe. The following year he conducted the first Catholic Mass among the Blackfeet.

Blackfeet leaders agreed a treaty with the United States government in 1855. This attempt to designate Blackfeet hunting territory failed when white settlers began taking the land. This resulted in Blackfeet attacks on stagecoaches, ranches and forts.

In 1870 American soldiers attacked he camp of Heavy Runner. Over 200 Blackfeet were killed during what became known as the Massacre on the Marias River. The Blackfeet did not retaliate and in 1888 those left alive were placed on a 3,000 square-mile Indian Reservation in north-west Montana (Sweetgrass Hills Treaty). Today the reservation has a population around 8,500.

Blackfeet warrior by Karl Bodmer (1833)
Blackfeet warrior by Karl Bodmer (1833)

Primary Sources

(1) Lewis Morgan, Kansas and Nebraska Journal (June, 1859)

The Blackfeet live in camps, and each camp has its chief, who controls its movements. They have no villages, and raise no grain of any kind. They are strict nomads moving from place to place, and staying in one place but a short time. They have horses and they follow the game. The Blackfeet have no clans in the sense of the other nations, as each camp is made up of many lodges, and of persons who are not related by blood. It would seem that the prairie Indians have been demoralized by their hard mode of life, and by being forced back as they have been by our advancing race into the prairie which the Indian never liked, and until he obtained the horse, could not occupy. The Blackfeet as Algonquins must have originally had tribes.

Among the Blackfeet polygamy prevails, and also the same custom of assigning all the sisters to the one who marries the oldest if he elects to take them. This polygamy they say is a necessity of the case growing out of the disproportion between the sexes. Life is long in this most healthy part of the world, and as the men fall in war constantly and in fights and casualties of all kinds, the women soon come to be the most numerous as this means becomes a sort of necessity to replenish their numbers.