12 June 2010

Blackfeet Horses-American Drinkers of the Wind

Although, I set out for Glacier National Park I found myself more intrigued with the Blackfeet Reservation. On the east side of the park you are on reservation land whether you want to be or not. For some reason I was constantly drawn to the mystique of the reservation.

It's hard to, at least for me,  imagine American Indians without horses and yet prior to circa the 1730's the Blackfeet had never seen one. The Blackfeet who roamed the great plains of northern Montana and southern Alberta were among the last Native Americans to know the wonders of the horse. The time before horses was known as "Dog Days" and all portage was accomplished using dogs. All hunting was done afoot. Acquiring horses was a tremendous boon.

Horses were in fact native to North America in prehistoric times but they died out between 13,000 and 11,000 years ago. Horses were reintroduced to the continent by European explorers. Because of their geographic location the Blackfeet were amongst the last Indian tribes to come into contact with the Europeans. The Blackfeet first became aware of the horse whilst battling the Shoshone from the south around 1730.

The photo below is a photo of a photo which can be found just inside Glacier National Park at St. Mary. It was taken in 1914 and I think it's simply romantic and stunning.

On my recent visit to the Blackfeet Reservation and Glacier Park I decided to look around the reservation for some descendants of the ponies that once chased buffalo across the plains. June is prime foaling time so I was not disappointed.

North of St Mary I took a dirt road to, I knew not where, and discovered a small herd of horses with several foals.

Horses, as well as cattle, are pretty much free range and can be found grazing just about anywhere. In the small band that I found was a very new paint foal. Two things I found very interesting about this encounter. First, these horses wanted no part of me and started nervously milling around and moving away as soon as I stopped the car. In the photo below you can see three generations of Blackfeet horses; the sorrel mare, the new foal and the foal's older sibling.

The other thing that was interesting was how quickly the band joined ranks to shield the little paint colt from view. What made this so interesting to me is that there were other foals in the band but it was as though this little pinto foal was a crown prince and to be guarded and protected from the likes of me. It reminded me of the way elephants move to surround their young. Clearly a herd instinct but the little pinto was the obvious object of their concern.

When they got far enough away they stopped and seemed to relax going back to their grazing. The little paint was a fine looking foal with lovely long legs and wild blue eyes. You can't see them in this photo but trust me they were very blue and very wild. He was a prince!

This next fellow, whilst not a paint, I thought was a particularly regal the way he carried himself. It was easy to envision him prancing into battle with a Blackfoot warrior astride his back.

In addition to it being foaling time it was also wildflower time and this fellow was looking quite beautiful trotting off in a field of flowers. But, that was the thing, they were always trotting or galloping off! I'm thinking these horses are not getting a lot of use these days because they seemed wild as March hares to me. You'd have a dickens of a time catching one.

I didn't really put any serious time into photographing these marvelous beasts but now I wish that I had done. I'm thinking I may have to come back next June and try again in earnest. My imagination saw the wind drinkers of the the Great Plains and the Blackfeet who rode them.  My heart yearns to honor them! All you have to do is look into their eyes and see the what was and what might have been.

©Kinsey Barnard Photography


Heather said...

That had to have been so thrilling to be around them wild horses. They are all so beautiful!

I really had never thought about what indians did before horses, I found this post to be very interesting. I am always intruiged with the wonders of history.

Kinsey Barnard said...


Apparently, the dogs the Indians used were a lot like Koty, not very obedient. ;)

The Blackfeet were only able to travel five to six miles per day using dogs as their beasts of burden.