Home Forum Resources Shop Journey Log Back to map


Lewis and Clark
SHOWING RECORD: 21 of 24   Blackfeet Indians
PreviousNextJournals and Maps
image: Blackfeet Indians
Painting of Blackfeet warrior by Karl Bodmer/Historical Picture Archive/Corbis
Blackfeet Indians

First Noted by Expedition
July 27, 1806

Named for their habit of dying their moccasins black, the powerful Blackfeet Confederacy controlled a huge expanse of the northeastern Great Plains, from the upper Missouri River in what is now Montana to the North Saskatchewan River in Alberta.

The confederacy was comprised of three tribes: the Siksika, the Piegan, and the Kainah, or Blood. The British guns the Blackfeet got in trade for wolf and beaver pelts allowed them to dominate their rivals, the Shoshone and Nez Perce.

Although they were aware that the Blackfeet were in the vicinity, the Corps hadn't encountered anyone from the tribe until their return journey in 1806, when Lewis took a small exploration party to scout the Marias River.

The Americans had seen signs that the Blackfeet were in the area, but it was almost by accident that they met up with eight warriors. Lewis spotted the Blackfeet watching Drouillard, who was scouting ahead. Lewis mistakenly identified the Indians as Atsina, but in fact they were Piegan Blackfeet. The men agreed to talk with Lewis.

Attempting to convert the warriors to his ideas of peace on the plains, Lewis told the men that he'd already received assurances of cooperation from the Nez Perce and the Shoshone. In exchange for guns and other supplies, Lewis told the Blackfeet, those tribes had agreed to pursue peace.

The Blackfeet's territorial dominance, however, relied on those tribes being unarmed. The Blackfeet warriors saw this action as direct hostility from the Americans.

Still angered, at dawn several of the Piegans attempted to steal the Corps' guns while they slept. A fight ensued, and two of the Piegan warriors were killed. This was the first blood shed in a battle between a western tribe and the U.S. government.

The surviving Blackfeet warriors returned to their tribe with tales of American aggression, a Blackfeet sentiment that would continue throughout the 19th century. In the years following this encounter, three members of the expedition were killed by Blackfeet.

Today the Blackfeet hold reservations in Montana and Alberta, Canada. As of 1990, there were 38,000 Blackfeet in the United States and 11,000 in Canada.

From the Expedition Journals

"from their known character I expected that we were to have some difficulty with them..."
image: Blackfeet Indians
Painting of Blackfeet Indian by Karl Bodmer/Hulton-Deutsch Collection/Corbis

Subscribe Online
Your subscriptions help National Geographic conservation efforts worldwide >>

Mountain Death Camas
Needle and Thread Grass
Scarlet Globe Mallow
Silvery Lupine
Tufted Evening-Primrose
Western Blue-Flag
Atsina Indians
Blackfeet Indians
Crow Indians