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Blackfoot - A confederacy of Indians of the northern Plains, belonging to Algonquian stock.  They were known as one of the largest and most warlike groups of that region, and were next to the Dakota in prominence.  Their name is from the native word, siksika, meaning "black foot," which formerly was thought to have been given them because of the discoloration of their moccasins by ashes of prairie fires.  However, it is now believed that they originally dyed their moccasins black.

The Blackfoot consisted of the Siksika, or Blackfoot, the Blood, and the Piegan.  Under their protection were two smaller tribes - the Atsina (Gros Ventre) and the Sarsi.  When the white man first knew them, they were distinguished by the beadwork on their moccasins - a design ending in three prongs, which designated the three tribes.

At one time the Blackfoot held most of the territory from the North Saskatchewan River in Canada to the southern head streams of the Missouri River in Montana, and from longitude 105º to the base of the Rocky Mountains.  They were roving buffalo hunters, living in tepees.  They early acquired the horse and the gun.  While warlike and aggressive and continually fighting with their neighbors, the Cree, Assiniboin, Sioux, Crow, and Flatheads, they were never regularly at war with the United States.  Nevertheless they were always hostile with the white man.

The Blackfoot observed the Sun Dance, as well as a spectacular ceremony known as the Horse Dance.  In this latter dance they appeared mounted in full war gear - bonnets, shields, guns, lances, with faces and bodies painted and ponies decorated - and circled, charged, yelled, and fired their rifles.  They had secret societies and many sacred bundles of tribal "medicine."  They also had military societies like other Plains Indians.

While most writers term them Blackfoot, their agency is called the Blackfeet Agency.  The Blackfoot have given their name to a town, creek, and mountains in Idaho, and to a river and village in Montana.


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[ Gros Ventre ]