Mountain Chief of the Blackfeet Nation listens to a cylinder recording of a Blackfeet song made by ethnomusicologist Frances Densmore (left), 1906.
The Blackfeet, also called Siksika, or Blackfoot, because they used to darken their moccasins, are one of a group of four American Indian peoples who speak dialects of the same language and reside in Montana and in Alberta, Canada. Montana is the home of the southern-most cultural group, who speak the Southern Piegan dialect and call themselves the Blackfeet Nation. The first contact with Europeans came through trade. The Hudson Bay Company established an outpost near the Siksika people in Canada in 1780, providing the first rifles through trade. In 1781 thousands died from smallpox, probably as a result of this trade with European Americans. During the 1800s, their population was further reduced by conflict with the United States Army and by starvation due to harsh winters. The first treaty with the United States in 1855 gave the Blackfeet south of the Canadian border a large tract of land in eastern Montana, however this was greatly reduced during the 1870s as pioneers sought the land and prospectors sought gold in the region. The song "The Dreary Black Hills" is a prospector's song from this period. In 1893, the Northwestern Railway brought trains through Blackfeet territory, increasing settlement by European Americans and serving the cattle industry. In 1896 the Blackfeet were pressured to sell much of their land to the government, and this later became part of Glacier Park. Today the Blackfeet Reservation in the United States is located east of Glacier Park, Montana.
Victor recordings of two Blackfeet songs made in 1914 in Glacier Park, Montana are available in this presentation. "White Dog Song" and "Medicine Song" are the titles given on the label of the original recording.