I decided to read this unit this week because during the summer, I visited northwest Montana, which is where the Blackfeet people live. We were on their reservation for a brief time, and many areas of Glacier National Park are part of their history. I was especially inspired by the story of Running Eagle, a female warrior of the Blackfeet Nation from the 1800s. She’s similar to China’s Mulan or even Joan of Arc. We hiked to Running Eagle Falls and learned all about her importance to the nation.
Here is some more information about the Blackfeet Nation, as they are known in the United States: Wikipedia.
The Wolf Man:
Wolves are one of my favorite animals! The Blackfeet people characterize them as clever and strong and possessing of special powers. This legend is almost like a werewolf story, since the man is partially turned into a wolf.
I wonder why the man chooses to turn his back on his people by stealing their food after the wolves save him. Was his anger at his wives extended to his entire tribe?
The Dog and the Root Digger:
“This happened long ago.” This opening sentence sounds like it may be another version of saying “Once upon a time.” It immediately engages the imaginations of the audience and the mystery of the upcoming story.
“In those days the people were hungry. No buffalo could be found, no antelope were seen on the prairie. Grass grew in the trails where the elk and the deer used to travel. There was not even a rabbit in the brush.” I love the short sentences used here. It sounds like someone is reading aloud, telling a story to a group of listeners.
What is a root digger? —After Googling, there doesn’t seem to be an animal that is regularly called a “root digger,” but I think I can safely assume that it’s some type of small rodent, like the ground squirrels we saw in Montana this summer or even a gopher.
“Soon after this the woman and her son went off to pick berries…” I wonder if they’re out picking huckleberries, which grow in the wild in Montana, where the Blackfeet are from!
The Camp of the Ghosts:
It’s interesting that the idea of journeying to the underworld is such a key part of so many mythologies. There’s one in the Mesopotamian Epic of Gilgamesh, which I learned about in a Crash Course video. There are scads of them in Classical Greek mythology, from Orpheus to Cupid and Psyche, which I read for a unit. There was even one in Japanese mythology with their creator god and goddess! Humans seem to need to find ways to describe and explain death.
“If you should open them and look about you, you would die.” Serious Orpheus vibes.
“They will try to scare you; they will make fearful noises and you will see strange and terrible things, but do not be afraid.” I’m really looking for some material to help me write a scary Halloween story, so I hope these things really are frightening!
Ah, to the Blackfeet, the best way to overcome fear is by being “strong of heart” and resolute.
It’s interesting that the ghost village has a similar structure as a human village: there is a chief and citizens. The ghosts can smell, and they seem to have the ability to talk and reason. They’re not just floating, scary zombie types.
There are a lot of rules in this task! He must keep his eyes shut, obey the ghosts, clean himself in a sweat-house.
“Not long after this, once in the night, this man told his wife to do something, and when she did not begin at once he picked up a brand from the fire and raised it — not that he intended to strike her with it, but he made as if he would — when all at once she vanished and was never seen again.” What an interesting ending to the story. Did the entire Blackfoot Nation have a stigma against domestic violence? Or was it commonplace and this story so happened to warn against it? Was it told or adapted by women? There’s a whole sociological conundrum in this one paragraph!
How the Thunder Pipe Came:
“Are you brave enough to enter the lodge of that dreadful person?” asked the Raven. “He lives near here. His lodge is of stone like this one, and hanging in it are eyes–the eyes of those he has killed or taken away. He has taken out their eyes and hung them in his lodge. Now then! Dare you enter there?” This sounds a lot like a haunted house!
Cold Maker’s Medicine:
This is some spooky stuff, similar to Hansel and Gretel. The old women is definitely reminiscent of a witch. She tricks Lone Feather into thinking she’s friendly and murders him.
It’s terrifying to hear what she does to Lone Feather’s body: she cuts it up, cooks it, and eats it. Then she throws his bones out, and there’s a huge pile of bones! How many people has this old woman killed?
“‘My bow is broken. I cannot,’ said Broken Bow sadly.” HA!
“Medicine” seems to be somewhat equivalent to magic because Cold Maker’s medicine allows him to stop the smoke and start a snowstorm.
Blackfeet Indian Stories by George Bird Grinnell (1915). Web source.
Image 1: Two Medicine Lake in Glacier National Park. Source – Wikipedia.
Image 2: Running Eagle Falls, just east of Two Medicine Lake. Source – Personal photos
Image 3: A trailhead sign near Running Eagle Falls that tells about the Blackfoot warrior woman. Source – Personal photos
Image 4: A yawning wolf. Source – Wikipedia.
Image 5: A ground squirrel in Glacier National Park. Source – Wikipedia.