Bulletin Board
Little Shell Tribe Contacts
Home News Council Committee Recognition Legal History Genealogy Pictures Resources Culture Our Community

Little Shell Tribe History


Up until 1879 the Indians who were in Central Montana were more or less nomadic tribes of Sioux, Crows, Chippewas, and the half-breed metis.

As early as 1840, individual members of the metis Indians penetrated the area to help the traders and trappers. These Indians were hired as guides, but they did not remain long in the area. One of the guides was Jacob Berger.

The most hostile and troublesome were the Sioux who were scattered in the area and restless. This was their favorite hunting ground, and they visciously resented the white man. They attacked and stole horses, invaded settlements, were a menace to the freighters on the Carroll Trail, and even approached forts and killed soldiers.

At one time, 1873, a proposal was made to move the Crow Indians from their reservation in the Gallatin Valley to Judith Basin. Although plans were carried out as to the exact location in the area, the removal of the Indians was never accomplished; the Crows were left on their reservation in the Gallatin Valley.

In 1879 came the advent of the Chippewa and French Indians into Central Montana and they made permanent settlements on Spring Creek. They were leb by Pierre Berger, a Frenchman

(Webmaster note: Pierre Berger was not a Frenchman, but a Leader in the Little Shell Tribe of Chippewa Indians).


To understand the Indians of Montana who are unaffiliated with any established reservations, it is necessary to go back to early French Colonizations of North America. For it is from these early explorers that one finds the progenitors of the Landless Indians. Even the surnames are the same, since the French encouraged their men to marry Indian women. These mixed blood descendents, at first concentrated along the Great Lakes, scattered throughout the North Eaastern states and Canada, but maintained their greatest number along the Red River of the North, which had its source in North Dakota and Minnesota, but which flows north into Lake Winnipeg and ultimately Hudson Bay. And so it is that these people living in Montana today, whose ancestry was predominately a non-native, are called displaced.

These people, now known generally as "The Landless Indians", have had various names; half-breeds, bois-brule, and Metis. The early French referred to them as the Metis, a French adjective meaning cross-breed.

Perhaps the word Metis is the best for them, for their degree of Indian blood was seldom fixed at exactly one-half. The child of an Indian mother and French father would be half-blood, but when the offspring reached maturity he might marry either a full-blood Indian or a full-blood Caucasian. Thus as years went by, and intermarrying continued, the individuals could possibly become almost pure Indian or pure white. So too the blood became mixed between Indians of various tribes. For while in Canada it was the Cree with whom the French usually married, in the United States it was the Chippewa. Thus there emerged, along the Red River, particularly, a group of people who were neither Indian nor white; neither Cree nor Chippewa nor French, but a mixture of all these. They represented the emergence of a new race indigenous to the continent.

The new people adapted traits from their French fathers and Indian mothers. For their livelihood they depended primarily upon the buffalo as did their Indian forebears. But unlike their Indian grandparents, the hunt stemmed from Red River settlements, where they each fall returned with pemmican (for which they became famous) to be sold or traded to the Hudson Bay Company for winter food items. Their transportation was not confined to horse alone, as was the Indians', for their distinguishing characteristic was the Half-Breed Cart, a unique invention of their own, made entirely of wood. Its wheels, sometimes six feet in diameter, had very broad tires, while a small body rested upon the axle and shafts. Each cart was drawn by a single pony, and could carry from 600 to 800 pounds. Since no grease was used on the axle, the noise made by these carts was almost insufferable. Nearly every Northern Plains writer has attempted to describe the horrible screeching that a train of such carts made; but probably none has been presented more graphically than did Joseph Kinsey Howard when he said "it was as if a thousand fingernails were drawn across a thousand panes of glass". Later, when metal was used in their construction and the wheels could be greased, the Metis generally called their vehicles Red River Carts. In either case, however, the cart served a double purpose. In long winters, a man would lift the body easily from the wheels, hitch a horse to it, and have a carriole or sleigh.

While the geographical heart of the new race seems to have been along the Red River near present day Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, and Pembina, North Dakota, not all of them lived in Canada. True, the majority of the French-Cree descendents lived there. On the American side of the line a goodly number also lived-- those who were closer related to the Chippewa. Their center was Pembina, established as a trading center in 1870, a factor which gives it the distinction of being the oldest settlement in the northwest. These Indians moved constantly westward in their pursuit of the buffalo-- along the Missouri River and its tributaries, but often west and south again to the valleys of the rivers there.

Individual members penetrated the now Montana region, too, often serving as guides for the fur traders. One of them, Jacob Berger (often spelled Bergier or Bercier and always pronounced so by the Metis today) was in the employ of the American Fur Company in 1830; others followed in his steps.

But it was not only with the fur trade that the Metis came into Montana. As the years passed, many carts filled with Red River hunters and trappers came into Montana Territory, and settled in regions where buffalo were plentiful. In making this move, the Metis followed somewhat the pattern of their Indian heritage, a nomadic tendency to follow their food. Unlike the Indians, they built cabins, and stayed sometimes several years. Then, group by group, they returned to relatives and friends in the Pembina region, where after a succession of years of residence, they moved again to Montana. Thus it was that durning the decades of the 1850's, 1860's and 1870's, the creaking carts groaned their way back and forth between the little settlement at Pembina and the unspoiled valleys of Montana.

Perhaps one of the best known settlements (for it became more permanent than did the others who so frequently left their cabins and returned to the Red river) is the one at the present Lewistown in central Montana. A group of Metis left the Pembina district in 1870 and headed Westward with no particular desitination in mind save that of trailing the buffalo. One of the members described facets of that expedition well when she wrote, shortly before her death in Lewistown in 1943, the following account:

"While we roamed the prairies of the western Dakotas, we were always in the company of people of part Indian blood, and traveled in many groups. We left Dakota in 1870 shortly after we were married, and set out traveling all over the plains, just camping here and there without a thought of settling permanently in any place just following the buffalo trails. you might think we lived the life of real Indians, but one thing we had always with us which they did not-- religion. Every night we had prayer meetings, and just before a buffalo hunt we see our men on bended knees in prayer. Our men did all the hunting, and we women did all the tanning of buffalo hides, jerky meat making,pemmican and moccasin making. For other supplies, we generally had some trader with us, like Francis Janeaux, who always had a supply of tea, sugar, tobacco, and so on".

(From the influence of their French fathers, the Metis devoutly followed the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church. So devoted to their church were they that as a matter of general practice they seldom embarked upon a hunt without having a priest accompany them. When they stayed away from the settlement over a long period of time, they observed Sunday with recitations of the rosary and with prayers.)

After having camped along the Milk River for several years, where game was becoming increasingly scarce, Pierre Berger, leader of the group, called the members around him to discuss the situation. he recalled that previously a Cree Indian had told him of a spot across the Missouri River where small game and birds were abundant and where grass grew high. The land sounded promising, so in May 1879, twenty-five families left the familiar Milk river area in their squeaking carts and started for this new region. As it was necessary for them to go by way of Fort Benton and then eastward until they came to the Judith Mountains, it took most of the summer for the group to make the journey.

Here at their destination, the Judith Basin looked fertile and inviting. Berger decided that this area would provide an excellent home site. Twenty-five familiwes built cabins and hurriedly made preparations for the appraching winter. True to the description given by the Cree, game was plentiful. So during the decade of the 1880's (and at a time when the Metis who remained behind in their accustomed haunts on the Red River were starving) the Spring Creek colony flourished. Soon Janeaux established a trading post for them; in time other establishments sprang up, and a colorful Montana frontier village, destined later to become Lewistown, was born. Early Metis occupancy is reflected in the names of two Lewistown streets, Morasse and Oullette, while Janeaux bears the name of ther trader.

In 1869, while Montana Territory was being colonized by Red River hunters-- at least on a temporary basis-- an historical incident occured that left its mark upon the landless Indians of Montana. It has been the prime cause of confusion about them ever since. When the Hudson Bay Company relinquished its charter to Rupert's land and the Dominion of Canada was formed, the Metis in the Red River settlements became dissatisfied. Finally, in 1869, they established a provisional government, a land they called Assiniboia, now Manitoba. Louis Riel, that remarkable Metis, was their leader. When the British successfully overcame the Metis government, Riel and many of his followers went to Montana Territory. A few years later, he was called upon to return to Canada to lead his people in their fight over a land policy, and revolted against the government. Their military leader Gabriel Dumont went to Riel and convinced him that he should return to Canada to head the revolt. When the British army crushed this second rebellion, more Metis than ever came to the United States, particularly to Montana Territory. Riel, however, was captured by the british, tried for treason, and subsequently hanged in Ragina. Gabriel Dumont lived for many years in the Lewistown area, particulary near Grass Range where he brought several boys orphaned by the Rebellion to his childless home, but he later returned to Canada, where he died.

The largest and by far the best Metis Community was that on Spring Creek in Judith Basin. The hunters who founded it had chosen one of Montana's most beautiful locations, midway in the green well-watered Judith Basin. Twenty-five families came in Red River carts in 1879, and thereafter the colony grew steadily; before any appreciable white migration occured, it had 150 families.

Tragic Story of the dispossessed Metis of Montana

Montana Magazine of History Spring- 1953
Lewistown Democrat News December 31, 1943
"Strange Empire" Joseph Kinsey Howard 1952

Bulletin Board
Web www.littleshelltribe.com
Little Shell Tribe Contacts
Home News Council Committee Recognition Legal History Genealogy Pictures Resources Culture Our Community

The Little Shell Tribe Newsletter is FREE to all Enrolled Tribal Members. It is published 12 months a year and is supported by particle funding by the Little Shell Tobacco Abuse Prevention Program. To place your name on the list for the newsletter, Click Here to get the Address/phone number to request your name and address be placed on the newsletter subscription list. The Contact is Toni Jo Atchison, Tobacco Abuse Prevention Specialist

Toni Jo Atchison, Little Shell Tobacco Abuse Prevention Specialist Announces Tribal Newsletter is FREE to Tribal Members

By the LittleShellTribe.com Webmaster:

Toni Jo Atchison, Little Shell Tribal Tobacco Abuse Prevention Specialist has announced that the Tribal newsletter is FREE to all Enrolled Tribal Members. Previously, a subscription of $10 was required for the newsletter and was published quartely. The subscription cost covered monies that funded the creation, mailing of the newsletter, along with helping with office expenses. Now, with funding provided in part under a contract with the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services, Montana Tobacco Use Prevention Program, and the Little Shell Tobacco Abuse Prevention Program, the Newsletter will be published 12 months a year. To place your name on the List for the newsletter (if you do not currently receive it), contact Toni Jo at the main office or write a letter requesting your name to be placed on it. Tribal and Non-Tribal members are still welcome and are encourgaged to send donations to the Office to help with tribal expenses.

To view the Little Shell Tribal Tobacco Prevention Program, Click Here


In order for the tribal government to operate and represent the members of the Little Shell Tribe through the Federal Recoginition process and enrollment, there is an immediate need for operating funds for office rent, clerical supplies, mailing, telephone services, and copier payments. Any size donation will help our tribe keep the doors open. Many thanks to the people who have contributed to the LST

Webmaster Note: This website and domain is not paid for by any funds sent to the LST. I pay for this out of my own pocket and have donated it's pages to the cause of the Little Shell Tribal members.


This Website and Domain is owned and operated by Little Shell Tribal members, It is not operated or controlled by the Government of the Little Shell Tribe. All Rights Reserved. This website is updated and operated by me, Robert Dean Rudeseal. I am an enrolled member of the Little Shell Tribe of Montana and a direct descendant of Pierre Berger and Judith Wilkie who brought the Little Shell Tribe permanently to Montana.

All items on this website are posted in accordance to the Fair Use Laws of the United States of America. All materials posted herein are protected by copyright law and the exemption for fair use of copyrighted works