Forensic Fashion
(c) 2006-present R. Macaraeg


>Costume Studies
>>1851 Blackfoot warrior

Subject: warrior
Culture: Blackfeet, Piegan, Blood
Setting: Blackfoot confederacy, northern Great Plains 19thc

Context (Event Photos, Primary Sources, Secondary Sources, Field Notes)

* Hofsinde 1965 p66-67
"In the early 1800's the Missouri Fur Company started to construct a post at the mouth of the Bighorn River in Crow country.  The Blackfeet thought that these white people had allied themselves with the Crow.  That alone was enough to set the Blackfeet on the war trail against them.  Then the trappers found that the Blackfeet country held fine beaver, and they moved in.  After that, no matter where they set their traps, the hostile Blackfeet ambushed them.  Time and time again the white men were killed, and their guns, their personal belongings, and their furs were taken.  The Indians traded the furs to the British posts.
​    "After a few of these raids, most of the trappers gave up and were ready to seek their furs in less dangerous parts of the country.  For years after, few white men dared enter the Blackfeet country."

*Bohannan ed. 1967 p2327 (John C Ewers, "Blackfoot raiding for horses and scalps" p327-344)
"The Blackfoot tribes were at the height of their power in the middle of the nineteenth century.  Their Indian enemies and the white fur traders knew them as the most formidable and warlike people on the northwestern plains.  Edwin T. Denig, able trader at Fort Union, who knew all of the tribes of the region, called the Blackfeet 'the most numerous and bloodthirsty nation on the upper Missouri.'  Certainly they were the most aggressive.
    "Their theater of warfare was a vast area which included the valley of the Saskatchewan and the upper tributaries of the Columbia, as well as the upper Missouri.  Of the surrounding tribes, only the Sarsis and Gros Ventres, their lesser allies, were safe from Blackfoot attacks.  They raided eastward down the Saskatchewan into Cree country and down the Missouri past the mouth of Milk River into Assiniboin country.  They raided southward into the land of the Crow Indians beyond the Yellowstone.  Blackfoot war parties crossed the Rockies to attack the FlatheadsPend d'OreillesKutenais, and Shoshonis in their own country."

* Ewers 1958 p125-126
"So relentless were the Blackfoot attacks that the American Fur Company abandoned Fort Sarpy the following spring [1855].  For two years prior to 1856 the Crow Indians preferred to go without the annuities to which they were entitled under the terms of the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1851, 'rather than run the risk of passing through a country beset by their deadliest enemies, the Blackfeet and Blood Indians of the north.'  Denig feared that the Crows, caught between the Blackfeet on the north and the powerful Sioux on the east, might be exterminated.
​    "It is doubtful that any other western tribes were so genuinely feared by so many other tribes as were the Blackfeet in the middle of the nineteenth century.  The Assiniboins, the western bands of Crees, the Crows, ShoshonisFlatheadsPend d'Oreilles, and Kutenais all looked upon them as their greatest enemies."

Costume (Headdress, Shirt, Leggings, Body Art, Robe)

* Bancroft-Hunt/Forman 1981 p40
"[T]he Blackfoot were responsible for some of the most aesthetically impressive costume on the Plains.  They frequently employed ermine where other tribes used feathers or locks of hair, and these white furs made a powerful and effective contrast with their darker deerskins.
​    "For everyday purposes, clothing of the same style and cut was worn but without such extensively applied decoration.  A breechcloth and moccasins sufficed for the men in warmer weather.  On cooler days they would wear a deerskin shirt, cut so that it retained the original shape of the skins and with rows of porcupine quill embroidery covering the seams along the outside of the arms; long skin leggings, again with quilled seams, that reached from ankles to hips and were tied to the belt; and a buffalo hide robe." 

* Paterek 1994 p96
"A Blackfoot man wore the usual Plains garb of breechclout, shirt, leggings, and moccasins.  Breechclouts were about knee-length, the same length back and front, and decorated, if at all, with a short fringe.  The knee-length shirts were of two deerskins, usually dyed dark brown or almost black, and were worn belted or unbelted.  The hemline retained the ragged edge of the skins.  Unusually long fringes hung under the arms and at the bottom.  On the chest and the back appeared a large circular (rosette) or rectangular quillworked design; strips of quillwork were attached over the shoulders and down the tops of the sleeves.  Other decorations were hair locks (quill-wrapped at the base) as fringes, rows of rolled ermine tails, and painted symbols.  A black tadpole shape was popular with the Blackfeet and indicated the wearer had been wounded in battle.  Dark horizontal lines were also symbolic of action in battle.  Blackfeet men occasionally wore the short Plateau shirt, which featured punctuated designs.  Dark-colored leggings were tapering tubes of tanned leather, tied at the sides with thongs; along the outer seams were bands of porcupine quillwork, rolled ermine tails, and fringes of scalplocks.  Rectangular ankle panels were characteristic of the Blackfeet leggings."

* Ewers 1985 p197-198
"The clothing carried by scalp raiders in the 19th century differed from that taken by horse raiders, although there was great disparity between the clothing of individual members.  All generally set out wearing their undecorated, everyday clothes, but carried bundles tied to their saddles or suspended over their shoulders containing their war medicines and any articles of war costume they possessed.  Men of wealth and distinction as warriors carried elaborately worked war shirts and leggings.  Some owned straight-up feather bonnets decorated with strips of winter weaselskin which they carried in cylindrical rawhide cases.
​    "When the enemy was sighted the war medicines and war costumes were donned before attacking, if time permitted.  Sometimes the enemy attacked before this could be done.  In that case the warriors carried their fine clothing into battle, for those articles also were thought to possess protective powers or powers to bring success in battle.  Weasel Tail said that since neighboring tribes with whom the Blackfoot fought had the same attitude toward war medicines, both sides often stopped to dress for the fight before going into action.
​    "The majority of Blackfoot warriors, however, did not possess sufficient wealth to afford fancy war costumes.  They went into battle wearing only their war medicine feathers, bandoliers or necklaces, face and body paint, breechcloth, and moccasins.  Maximilian, who witnessed the battle between the Piegan and a large Assiniboin-Cree force outside Fort McKenzie in the summer of 1833, 'saw the Blackfeet ride into battle half naked, but some, too in their fine dresses, with the beautifully ornamented shield obtained from the Crows, and their splendid crown of feathers, and on these occasions they all have their medicines or amulets open and hung about them.'  Maximilian did not comment on the wealth factor as a determinant of war costume, although his description portrays it very well." [reference omitted]

Knives (Beaver-tail, Bear Jaw)

* Ewers 1985 p183
"Members of horse-raiding parties carried no shields, lances, or war clubs.  Their weapons were bows and arrows, guns, lances, or war clubs [SIC].  The knives, carried at the waist in rawhide sheaths, were sharp and heavy enough to cut firewood and timber for temporary shelters.  They served as axes as well as knives, useful in skinning and cutting up animals for food, cutting loose picketed horses from the enemy camp, and as weapons for hand-to-hand fighting if necessity required."

* Hofsinde 1965 p64-65
"The knife, which the Blackfeet used for stabbing as well as for scalping, was a trade knife.  It was introduced to the Blackfeet sometime before 1760 by Canadian traders, and was actually a butcher's knife from Sheffield, England.  The Indian usually made a decorated cover in which to carry it.  In the early days the knife in its scabbard was worn by the brave like a necklace, and it is said that the decorated bib at the neck opening of later war shirts was a carryover from that custom."

* McNab 2010 p70
"In terms of weaponry, the Blackfoot raiding party would ... avoid weighing themselves down with an unwarranted armoury.  The raid, after all, was for acquiring horses rather than engaging in a long battle of attrition.  Most warriors would carry a large knife in a sheath at his waist -- the metal blades being one of the benefits of trade with the Europeans.  This blade was as much a utility tool as a weapon, being used for making camp or cutting rawhide bindings, for example."


* Bancroft-Hunt/Forman 1981 p59 caption (describing a Blackfoot coup stick)
"Counting coup, the act of deliberately touching an opponent in battle, was a formalized method of claiming war honour.  It was a highly dangerous act since it was often counted on an unwounded opponent who was fully capable of defending himself and whom the warrior made no attempt to disarm or harm.  Many men carried a coup stick, in addition to their weapons, with which the enemy was touched and the formal demonstration of bravery made."


* Taylor 2001 p10
"[A]ttempts by traders to introduce metal shields, and replace those of rawhide, were opposed by Blackfeet holy men who contended that the designs on the shields gave far more spiritual protective power than the simple mechanical protection afforded by a disc of heavy metal."

* Paterek 1994 p98
"They preferred the shields made by the Crow to those of any others; these were carried outside of the left arm."

* McNab 2010 p73
"[T]he European settlers attempted to sell metal shields to the Blackfoot, but the Blackfoot largely rejected these.  They felt that the metal shields were both an extravagance and were spiritually deficient. ... A medicine shield was not only a tool of physical protection, it also contained spiritual protection for the warrior who carried it. The motifs and decorations on the shield held religious significance for the tribe, and each shield was usually blessed by the village shaman before it was allowed to go into battle."


* Taylor 1975 p62
"There was no great wealth in guns prior to the 1870s although ... even by 1740 some Piegan Indians had them. These early guns were however of an inferior kind -- even as late as 1854 one observer described the common gun carried by Blackfoot Indians as 'an inferior type of shotgun'.  He was probably referring to the single shot smooth-bore flintlock first introduced by the Hudson's Bay Company and later commonly referred to as the 'North-West gun'."


* Taylor 1975 p55-56
"[A]s late as 1870, Blackfoot warriors continued to employ the war club both on foot and horseback.  The fur trader, Denig, observed that any attempt to ward off the blow of a stone war club 'must be met with a broken arm' and that if the stroke was not fended the strongest man must fall beneath it.'  [NOTE: Originally referring to the Assiniboine club.]  Weasel Tail, a Blackfoot informant, summarized its manner of use on foot when he advised 'if any enemy tries to stab you with a knife, hit him on the arm or wrist and make him drop it.  Then hit him over the head with your club.'" [references omitted]

* Bancroft-Hunt/Forman 1981 p59 caption (describing a Blackfoot tomahawk)
"The pipe tomahawk was described by Caitlin as 'the most valued of an Indian's weapons, inasmuch as they are a matter of luxury and useful for cutting his fire-wood, etc. in time of peace; and deadly weapons in time of war, which they use in the hand, or throw with unerring and deadly aim.'  It had a metal trade blade which incorporated a pipe bowl that connected with a hole pierced through the shaft.  Thus it could be used both as a weapon and for smoking." [reference omitted]

* Hofsinde 1965 p64
"War clubs varied.  Some were made of wood, some of elkhorn, and some had stone heads.  The Blackfeet covered their stone-headed club completely, by sewing wet rawhide over it.  Both mounted men and foot warriors used this weapon."


* Paterek 1994 p96
"Moccasins were dyed almost black, fitted, and commonly decorated only on the toe.  Early ones were the side-seamed type; later the typical hard-soled Plains moccasin was adopted.  Ankle flaps were added for protection against brush and snow.  Moccasins were often made from used, well-smoked lodge skins, and were stuffed with grass for warmth.  Characteristic designs on the moccasins, as given by Koch, were the stepped chevron, the feather, the mountain, the cross, parallel bars, and the 'Blackfoot-U' on the instep; these were usually made up of many small squares and rectangles.  Designs made up of diamonds and triangles were also popular."