Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Chief Crowfoot's Military Youth

Title: Earliest known
 illustration of Crowfoot.
Date: 1875
Photographer/Illustrator:
Nevitt, Richard Barrington 
Glenbow Image No: NA-51-1
Chief Crowfoot of the Blackfoot, is generally not known as a generalissimo.  After his abstention from the 1885 North-west Rebellion, he rose to notoriety as an emblem of loyalty, or in the parlance of the late nineteenth-century, a "good Indian."  Yet like any resident of the West in the nineteenth-century, Crowfoot did not live a life devoid of violence.  Hugh Dempsey's biography, Crowfoot: Chief of the Blackfoot (1972, 1982) recorded the problems discerning the details of the future chief's youth as an occasional warrior.  Dempsey wrote in the early 1970s, "Blackfoot tales of war often were embellished with supernatural acts, while the date and place were not considered worthy of recall. For this reason, the telling of [Crowfoot's] first and subsequent war exploits can only attempt to follow a logical path through the maze of fact and legend." (Dempsey, p. 13)

Crowfoot's youth shows numerous examples of his skill at warfare.  In several raids on enemy camps during the 1840s, he was shot by the enemy.  In one instance, Crowfoot daringly ran into an enemy camp and touched a lodge of the enemy Crow tribe.  Subject to Crow gunfire, a ball hit Crowfoot in the arm, but passed through without shattering any bone.  In another raid on the Shoshoni tribe, Crowfoot was more seriously injured by gun fire, necessitating help to return to his own camp.  The lead ball had lodged in Crowfoot's back, and as it was never removed, caused him problems in later life.

Title: Combat between Blackfoot, Assiniboine and Cree people, Fort McKenzie, Montana.
Date: August 28, 1833
Photographer/Illustrator: Bodmer, KarlGlenbow Archives Image No: NA-2347-1

Crowfoot was by all accounts a brave warrior, and several episodes narrated by Dempsey enforce the claim.  On one occasion, Crowfoot was out with a party which hoped to steal horses from the Crees, but encountered an enemy band wandering the windswept prairie on their own horse-stealing foray. As Dempsey wrote,
Crowfoot was among the first to rush into the fight, where he singled out a Cree warrior who was running toward the trees.  To travel more quickly, Crowfoot hurled aside his rifle as he ran after his enemy.  The Cree reached the dense bushes, but Crowfoot followed him.  Risking ambush, he plunged along the trail until he came close enough to grab the Cree by the hair.  Wrenching him backward, Crowfoot plunged the knife into his chest and killed him on the spot.  He then hacked the scalp from the Cree's head and returned to his comrades, who had also been victorious.  (Dempsey, p.18)
Glenbow Image No: NA-1241-10
Title: Chief Crowfoot, Blackfoot.
Date: 1885
Photographer/Illustrator:
Gully, F., Calgary, Alberta
Another violent encounter with the Crees later developed into a shooting match between rifle pits. When stalemate seemed to threaten, Crowfoot left his defences and crawled forward towards the enemy.  Dempsey writes that "[a]rrows and balls whistled past him, but he kept moving forward until he found a shallow depression midway between the two lines.  Then reaching into his firebag, he withdrew his pipe and turned to his comrades, shouting, 'Oki, come and smoke with me!" (Dempsey, p. 18)  Crowfoot's calm in the face of danger inspired his followers to start crawling forward towards his position, and when the Cree saw this movement, they assumed the worst, turned and fled.  Leading by example had won the day.

A bloody confrontation in 1873, shows that revenge could be the causus bellus of First Nations warfare.  Crowfoot's eldest son had left the camp at Three Hills and headed to war.  The son was Crowfoot's only healthy son.  One son suffered from developmental issues and the other had poor vision.  The eldest would never return to his father's camp, having been shot by the Cree north of the Red Deer River.

As Crowfoot mourned, his anger grew.  Dempsey notes, that Crowfoot's one true flaw was his fiery temper, and in this case his wrath was directed towards the Cree tribe. (p. 67)  As Dempsey wrote, "Revenge did not have to be upon the actual killer of Crowfoot's son; it was knowledge enough that the Crees were responsible.  The blood of a Cree, any Cree, would avenge the loss."  (p. 71)  After searching the prairies, a small group of Cree were discovered.  One man was killed, his body "scalped and mutilated, satisfied Crowfoot's desire for revenge."  (p. 71)  Later on, when a peace treaty was in effect between the two tribes, Crowfoot adopted the future Cree chief, Poundmaker, as his son.  Given the previous revenge killing of a Cree man, the choice of Poundmaker as a "replacement" for his eldest son is particularly ironic.


Title: "Crowfoot", Chief of the
 Blackfeet Indians. 
Credit: O.B. Buell/Library
 and Archives Canada/C-001871
Date 1886
Crowfoot's power in the 1870s and beyond were not due to his military prowess.  When chiefs such as Big Swan and Old Sun rode out against their enemies, Crowfoot remained in his lodge.  This being said, Crowfoot's reputation of bravery in his earlier years could not have hurt him in later life.  The 1870s were the last gasp of Crowfoot's power amongst his tribe.  During this period he had a large herd of around 400 horses, and still enjoyed the esteem of his people.  Even at the signing of Treaty No. 7, however, Crowfoot was not considered the greater leader of the Blackfoot confederacy.  Both Red Crow and Rainy Chief of the Bloods had larger followers, and Red Crow was closer to what one might call the leader of the combined Blackfoot, Blood and Piegan tribes. By 1881, whisky had crushed the organization of Crowfoot's people.  Dempsey notes that it was only "with the old order changing [that] he emerged as Crowfoot the peacemaker."  (p. 81)

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Jean L'Heureux: Itinerant Imposter Priest

Some claim that Canadian history is boring.  While it may lack grandiose figures like Abraham Lincoln, or, (thankfully), megalomaniacs like  Adolph Hitler, it does have some colourful characters whose biographies offer material for edutainment.  One such figure in the early history of the Canadian West is Jean L'Heureux.  Rejected by fur-traders and the clergy alike for both pretending to be a priest and practising homosexuality, L'Heureux enters mainstream Canadian history as a treaty interpreter.  His personal life and beliefs largely remain a mystery, but what is known suggest a man on the distant fringes of society, who felt most comfortable with the First Nations of the foothills and plains.

Title:     John Le Heureux, Red Crow, Sgt. Percy,
Crowfoot, Eagle Tail, and Three Bulls.
Provincial Archives of Alberta Number:     A16120
L'Heureux's early life is a mystery.  Sources claiming he was born in L'Acadie, Trois-Rivieres, near Saint-Hyacinthe, at Longueuil, or even in France.  Hugh Dempsey's entry for the Dictionary of Canadian Biography simply states that he was born around 1837 in Lower Canada. He was well educated, having trained for the priesthood as a young man but was kicked out by the Oblates.  Sources vary as to the reason for his displacement, but homosexuality or theft have both been suggested by historians.

L'Heureux arises in the history of the Canadian West in 1861, when he was staying at the St. Albert mission (near Fort Edmonton).  From the priests' perspective, L'Heureux's term in the region was inglorious.  After being discovered engaged in sodomy, he was quickly sent south.   The priests arranged for him to head to Montana with a band of Blackfoot.  Not one to follow others' plans, L'Heureux was quickly donning a cloak of authority.  By wearing a cassock, he told the Blackfoot that he was working for the Oblates, and managed to trick the Jesuits in Montana into believing he was a secular priest.

As Hugh Dempsey describes, L'Heureux found the Blackfoot more understanding that the Euro-Canadians:
Over the next several years L’Heureux lived with the Blackfoot, often wearing a cassock and performing baptisms and marriages. He was despised and vilified by the clergy and fur traders both for being homosexual and for pretending to be a priest. He was also mistrusted because of his complete devotion to the Indians who, he had discovered, did not condemn homosexuality. He took the Blackfoot name of Nio’kskatapi, or Three Persons, after the Holy Trinity. (CDBO)

Title: Group of Blackfoot Confederacy natives.
Remarks: L-R: One Spot [pipe bearer of Crowfoot],
 Blood; Red Crow, Blood; Jean L'Heureux, interpreter;
 North Axe, Peigan; Date: [ca. middle 1880s] 
GlenbowFile number: NA-2968-4
It was perhaps this acceptance by the Blackfoot that made L'Heureux such an advocate for the First Nations of the region. Throughout the 1860s to 1883 he routinely lobbied for help against epidemics, starvation, and the American army.  In 1877, at the Treaty No. 7 signing,  L'Heureux refused to translate for Lieutenant Governor David Laird as he would be interpreting for Crowfoot and other Blackfoot chiefs.  Frank Oliver, noted that L'Heureux, "stood unswervingly with the Indians as an Indian."  (Dempsey, CDBO)

L'Heureux worked for the Department of Indian Affairs during the 1880s, but was dismissed in 1891 for favouring the Roman Catholics.  His autumn years were spent in Father Lacombe's hermitage at Pincher Creek, and later he moved further into the foothills where he lived in seclusion.  In 1912, he was accepted into the Lacombe Home in Midnapore, "still wearing his cassock and clerical collar." (Dempsey, CDBO)  In 1919 he passed away and was recorded by the church as a "lay missionary."

Elsewhere Dempsey summarizes L'Heureux's mixed reputation among the principle groups in the early Canadian West.  The comments may serve as unfortunate epitaph for a wild and mysterious character who was an outsider to all cultures of the frontier.  "Throughout his life he was a controversial figure, despised and distrusted by many fur traders, an asset and embarrassment to the Oblates, and received by the Blackfeet with the mixed emotions they had for crazy people."  (Dempsey, Crowfoot: Chief of the Blackfeet, 1988, p. 83)


L'Heureux on far right.  Title: Blackfoot on visit to Ottawa, Ontario.Date: 1886
Photographer/Illustrator: Woodruff, John, Department of the Interior
Remarks: L-R back row: Father Lacombe, Jean L'Heureux (interpreter). L-R middle row: Three Bulls (Blackfoot), Crowfoot (Blackfoot), Red Crow (Blood). L-R front row: North Axe (North Peigan), One Spot (Blood).Image No: NA-13-2

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