Mountain Men and Life in the Rocky

Subject Guide


Mountain West

Malachite’s Big Hole

Edward Rose Battles the Blackfoot Indians:

The following description of the behavior of Edward Rose during a battle between Crow Indians, who were the adopted people of Edward Rose, and the Blackfeet was recorded by Leonard Zenas in 1834 (Reference-Note this date may be erroneous in the Journal).  At the time Leonard was part of a brigade lead by Joe Walker and working for Bonneville's company.  

About the 20th of November, after travelling for three or four days in pursuit of provision, we at length arrived in the vicinity of buffalo, where we pitched our tents and the Indians prepared for a general hunt.  In the evening their horses were all dressed in the best style, and at an early hour the next morning four or five hundred Indians were mounted and ready for the chase.

This was a favourable opportunity for me to gratify my curiosity in seeing this kind of sport, and my companions and myself followed in the rear of the Indians. Our hunters had not advanced far on this sporting expedition until they met with an object which entirely put them out of the notion of showing us their agility in catching buffalo, for, at some distance across the plain, along the base of some rough craggy hills, espied a considerable body of people, appeared to be advancing towards us.  Immediately a halt was called, for the purpose of observing the movements of the strangers, and consulting on what steps should be taken.  It did not require the keen eye of a Crow Indian long to tell that their visitors were Indians and belonged to their implacable enemies, the Blackfeet tribe.  This was enough.  War was now their only desire, and our Indians advanced towards their enemies as fast as the speed of their horses would admit, who, being on foot, were soon overtaken and forced to ascend the rocks, which they did in safety.

The Crows immediately surrounded the Blackfeet, confident of an easy victory but when they made the attack, they found that their enemy was too well prepared for defence, and they immediately despatched an express to the village for a reinforcement of men, conscious that the Blackfeet would not attempt to leave their present position until such would have time to arrive.

This was quite a different kind of sport from that which I expected to witness when I left the Indian camp, but one of no less interest, and far more important to me.  Whilst the express was absent both parties employed their time in strengthening their positions - the Blackfeet had chosen a most fortunate spot to defend themselves, and by a little labour found themselves in a fort that might have done credit to an army of frontier regulars.  It was situated on the brow of a hill, in a circle of rocks shaped similar to a horse-shoe, with a ledge of rocks from three to four feet high on either side, and about ten feet, on the part reaching to the brink of the hill, with a very creditable piece of breast work built in front, composed of logs, brush and stones.  From their present situation they have a decided advantage over the Crows, and if well prepared for war, could hold out a considerable length of time, and deal destruction thick and fast on any force that might attempt to scale their fort - which looks more like the production of art than nature.

Whilst the Blackfeet were assiduously engaged in defending their position, the Crows were no less idle in preparing for the attack, the destruction of which, they were determined should not be relaxed as long as there was a living Blackfoot Indian to be found in the neighborhood.  Previous to the arrival of the reinforcement, which was about ten o'clock, there had been three Crows and one Blackfoot killed, which was done at the first attack after the latter were driven into their fort.

When the express reached the Crow village every man, woman, and child able to point a gun or mount a horse repaired with all speed to the scene of action, who came up uttering the most wild and piercing yells I ever heard in my life.  A great deal of contention at first took place among the principal men of the Crow tribe as to the manner of attacking their enemy, who appeared to look down upon them in defiance; notwithstanding the Crows kept up a continual yelling and firing of guns, all of which was without effect.  Finally they appeared to harmonize and understand each other.

As matters now seemed to indicate the approach of a crisis, I repaired to an eminence about 200 yards from the fort among some cedar trees, where I had an excellent view of all their movements.  At first the Crows would approach the fort by two or three hundred in a breast, but on arriving near enough to do any execution, the fire from the fort would compel them to retreat.  They then formed in a trail along the top of the ridge, and in rotation would ride at full speed past the breast-work, firing as they passed, and then throwing themselves on the side of the horse until nothing will be exposed to the enemy except one arm and one leg.  This they found to be very destructive to their horses and also their men, there being now ten Crows and several horses laying dead on the field. Urged by their ill success thus far and by the piteous lamentations of the wives, children and relatives of those who had fell, the Crow Chiefs decided on suspending the attack, and determined to hold a council of war for the purpose of deciding on what measures should be adopted, in order to destroy these brave Blackfeet.

When the principal chiefs met in council all was still except the lamentations of the bereaved, who, perhaps, regret the severe penance which the customs of their people compelled them to endure for the memory of a deceased friend, and lament more on account of the prospect of trouble ahead, than for the loss which they have sustained.  The chiefs held a hasty and stormy council.  Some were in favour of abandoning the Blackfeet entirely, & others were determined on charging into their fort and end the battle in a total and bloody massacre.  This was finally decided upon, but not until after several speeches were made for and against it, and the pipe of war smoked by each brave and chief.

As soon as this determination of the chiefs was made known the war-whoop again resounded with the most deafening roar through the plain - every voice that was able to make a noise was strained to its very utmost to increase the sound, until the very earth, trees and rocks seemed to be possessed of vocal powers. By their tremendous howling they had worked as great a change in the courage of their soldiery, as the most soul- enlivening martial music would the cowardly fears of a half-intoxicated militia company.

Now was the moment for action.  Each man appeared willing to sacrifice his life if it would bring down an enemy; and in this spirit did they renew and repeat the attack on the breast-work of their enemy, but as often did they retreat with severe loss.  Again and again did they return to the charge, but all was of no use - all their efforts were of no avail - confusion began to spread through their ranks - many appeared overwhelmed with despair - and the whole Crow nation was about to retreat from the field, when the negro [Edward Rose], who has been heretofore mentioned, and who had been in company with us, advanced a few steps towards the Crows and ascended a rock from which he addressed the Crow warriors in the most earnest and impressive manner.  He told them that they had been here making a great noise, as if they could kill the enemy by it - that they had talked long and loud about going into the fort, and that the white men would say the Indian had a crooked tongue, when talking about his war exploits. He told them that their hearts were small, and that they were cowardly - that they acted more like squaws than men, and were not fit to defend their hunting ground.  He told them that the white men were ashamed of them and would refuse to trade with such a nation of cowards - that the Blackfeet would go home and tell their people that three thousand Crows could not take a handful of them, - that they would be laughed at, scorned, and treated with contempt by all nations wherever known - that no tribe would degrade themselves hereafter by waging war with them, and that the whole Crow nation, once so powerful, would forever after be treated as a nation of squaws.  The old negro continued in this strain until they became greatly animated & told them that if the red man was afraid to go amongst his enemy, he would show them that a black man was not, and he leaped from the rock on which he had been standing, and, looking neither to the right nor to the left, made for the fort as fast as he could run.  The Indians guessing his purpose, and inspired by his words and fearless example, followed close to his heels, and were in the fort dealing destruction to the right and left nearly as soon as the old man.

Here now was a scene of no common occurrence.  A space of ground about the size of an acre, completely crowded with hostile Indians fighting for life, with guns, bows and arrows, knives and clubs, yelling and screaming until the hair seemed to lift the caps from our heads.  As soon as most of the Crows got into the fort, the Blackfeet began to make their escape out of the opposite side, over the rocks about 10 feet high.  Here they found themselves no better off, as they were immediately surrounded and hemmed in on all sides by overwhelming numbers.  A large number on both sides had fell in the engagement in the inside of the fort, as there the Crows had an equal chance with their enemy, but when on the outside the advantage was decidedly against them, as they were confined in a circle and cut down in a few moments.  When the Blackfeet found there was no chance of escape, and knowing that there was no prospect of mercy at the hands of their perplexed and aggravated, but victorious enemy, they fought with more than human desperation.  From the time they left their fort, they kept themselves in regular order, moving forward in a solid breast, cutting their way through with their knives, until their last man fell, pierced, perhaps, with an hundred wounds.  In this massacre, if one of the Blackfeet would receive a dangerous wound he would drop to the ground, as if dead, and if his strength was not too far exhausted, he would suddenly rise to his feet and plunge his knife to the heart of an enemy who would be rushing through the crowd, and then die. This would not be done in self defence, nor with a hope of escape, but through revenge.

This was truly a scene of carnage, enough to sicken the stoutest heart - but nothing at all in comparison with what took place afterwards.  The Crows, when they found the enemy strewed over the field, none having escaped their vengeance, commenced a general rejoicing, after which they retired a short distance for the purpose of taking repose and some refreshment.

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