As has been the fate of nearly all the Indian tribes west of the Missouri River, the smallpox made fearful inroads among the Blackfeet. It first appeared in 1845, and the tribe was decimated. In fact, it is said that the disease almost swept the plains of Indians. In 1757-1758, it again visited them, but was not so virulent as at its first appearance. The measles carried off thousands in 1864; and again, in 1869, the smallpox broke out in the Blackfeet villages. In 1883-1884, strange as it may appear, twenty-five per cent of the Piegan band actually died from hunger! The cause of this terrible disaster was that the buffalo had been driven from the Blackfoot country, or rather exterminated, and the tribe, which had ever wholly depended upon that animal for their subsistence, in a short time was reduced to a state of absolute starvation.
Like the buffalo, the once powerful Blackfeet are nearly all gone. The few left are living on a small reservation, and are somewhat self-sustaining. What a sad commentary! Fifty years ago the Blackfeet numbered over forty thousand warriors, and their name was a terror to the white man who had the temerity to travel through their country.
The Blackfoot account of creation is not a very definite one; portions of it are too vulgar for refined ears, but in it is to be found a story of a once great flood, which seems to be common to the cosmogony of all tribes.
The folk-lore of the Blackfeet is very voluminous and full of humour. Of course, as in other tribes, superstition and enchantment make up the basis of their stories; and it will be noticed by the student of their traditions, that there is that same marked similarity to those related in the lodges of widely separated tribes, indicating a common origin for them all. Two of the more interesting of these tales are “The Lost Children” and “The Wolf-Man.”
Once a camp of people stopped on the bank of a river. There were but a few lodges of them. One day the little children in the camp crossed the river to play on the other side. For some time they stayed near the bank, and then they went up over a little hill and found a bed of sand and gravel; and there they played for a long time.
There were eleven of these children. Two of them were daughters of the chief of the camp, and the smaller of these wanted the best of everything. If any child found a pretty stone she would try to take it for herself. The other children did not like this, and they began to tease the little girl, and to take her things away from her. Then she got angry and began to cry, and the more she cried the more the children teased her; so at last she and her sister left the others and went back to camp.
When they got there they told their father what the other children had done to