The Golden Age of the Indian, 1750-1875

Exhibitions | The Golden Age of the Indian, 1750-1875 | Northwest Montana History Museum

Indians relied on the buffalo for many of their essential needs: food, hides for shelter and clothing, and bones for tools and weapons.

The horse came from the Spaniards in the middle of the 18th century and provided them with mobility and speed for hunting and during battles, and with a beast of burden to replace the dog.

Indians are spiritual beings with numerous ceremonies and they are dedicated to family and community (tribe).

The Buffalo Story

Exhibitions | The Buffalo Story | Northwest Montana History Museum

On one wall is a story of the buffalo and examples of hide, leather, and leg bone and descriptions of the buffalo hunt.

Touch Table

Touch Table

This touch table is provided to let visitors directly feel fur, leather, bone, and antler.

Wall Hide

Exhibitions | Wall Hide | Northwest Montana History Museum

A painted hide depicting the "battle for the plains" by Dean Brennan, a well-known local artist.

Indians often recorded memorable events in picture art since they had no written language.

Also hanging there are a number of animal pelts showing the furs that the Indians prized and traded at the trading post for items which shaped the new culture of the Golden Age.

Ceremonial Case and Wall Shelves

Exhibitions | Ceremonial Case and Wall Shelves | Northwest Montana History Museum

This display shows some of the items used for Indian spiritual ceremonies -- sage, sweetgrass, and other plants.

In the wall case are a number of stone tools, pounding stones, grinding stones, and club heads.

There are drums that were used during ceremonial dances.

On the shelf are trade buckets, trade cloth, and a trade blanket.

There are also two Indian baskets, likely traded from Indians of the Pacific Coast.

Just outside this photograph is a map showing the trade routes.

Blackfeet Headdress

Exhibitions | Blackfeet Headdress | Northwest Montana History Museum

Made from Eagle feathers and Ermine tails.

Societies and Religion

Exhibition | Societies and Religion | Northwest Montana History Museum

Indians participated in special spiritual groups called societies. They wore clothing with similar color patterns, decorations, and themes.

The buffalo head and shield have the same patterns.

There is also an unusual headdress made of raven feathers and interesting clothing

Buffalo Headdress

Exhibitions | Buffalo Headdress | Northwest Montana History Museum

Here we see some clothing of the Indian and a Buffalo headdress.

Notice his war and defense weapons. Look at the long hunting lances, bow and arrows, and war clubs.

Notice the necklaces and bracelets. See how Indians used feathers for decoration.

There is a red shield on the back wall. It was made from the hump of the buffalo because that was the thickest hide and offered the best protection in battle.

The metal knife was especially important to the Indian for hunting, skinning, preparing food, feeding the family and also for defense.

Bear Headdress

Exhibitions | Bear Headdress | Northwest Montana History Museum

This display shows additional clothing items, bow, arrows, tools, club, lance, hatchet, and dipper.

See the fire starting tools that they used before they had flint and steel from the white trader.

The most striking item here is the grizzly bear headdress. (The grizzly bear skull shown here has the government permit tag attached to the jaw.)

Near the top is a Crow travel stick with doll-like figures attached.


Exhibitions | Shelter | Northwest Montana History Museum

This shelter was used for protection from the weather and is made with a willow framework and buffalo hide covering.

Sometimes they heated rocks outside, carried them inside and poured water over them to make steam; some might have called it a sweat lodge.

Women and Children

Exhibitions | Women and Children | Northwest Montana History Museum

Beautiful women's clothing is shown, as are necklaces, bracelets, and other adornments.

Next to her is a child with similar clothing as well as samples of children's toys.

Hide Stretcher

Exhibitions | Hide Stretcher | Northwest Montana History Museum

Indian women would tie a hide to this rack where it was scraped clean, rubbed with animal brains (some were smoked), and then allowed to dry.

Life in the 1870s

Exhibitions | Life in the 1870s | Northwest Montana History Museum

On the top shelf of this case is a woman’s winter blanket with beaded stripe and wolf fur collar and also a black felt reservation hat with feather.

You’ll see women’s tools here such as the stone tool with deer leg handle.

The awl was used to make holes for beading and sewing.

There are rock scrapers – small stones to hold in your hand which were very sharp and used to scrape hides and cut meat.

You’ll see other scrapers, ornaments, necklaces, wooden bowls, a grinding stone, a buffalo horn spoon which took great skill to shape it, and much more.

Trade Goods and Food Case

Exhibitions | Trade Goods and Food Case | Northwest Montana History Museum

On the upper shelf are a number of items that Indians traded for and used in their everyday tasks -- hanks of trade beads, a skinning knife, stone tools, and arrow points.

On the lower shelf are food items, mostly berries, roots, and herbs. Some were extremely important in their diet, such as the rose hips which provided Vitamin C. Pemmican was made of buffalo meat dried in the sun, pounded and mixed in equal parts with melted fat. Pounded dried berries were added to the mixture, and the resulting product was packed into skin bags. It could last for many months and perhaps as long as two years. Indians often traded buffalo meat, pemmican, and tallow at the trading post and with other Indian tribes.

Men traded for guns, ammunition, gunflints, knives, tobacco, hatchets, vermillion, and looking glasses. Women traded for copper and brass kettles, metal awls, fire steels, hatchets, butcher knives, needles, scrapers, scissors, spoons, linens, and coarse sheeting, blankets, buttons, and beads.

Drying Rack

Exhibitions | Drying Rack | Northwest Montana History Museum

The women cut strips of flesh from the animal that was the reward of a hunt. The strips were laid over the willow branches of the drying rack. They may have been dipped in berry juice; they may have been smoked. The dried jerky lasted for a long time.

A hide bowl was used for cooking; often a stomach of the buffalo was used.

Rocks were heated in a fire, carried to the bowl, and slipped into the liquid where the food (meat, vegetables, herbs, and water) was cooked.


Exhibitions | Tipi | Northwest Montana History Museum

We didn’t forget the tipi. Crouch down to look inside it. The floor is covered with animal skins. A small fire is made in the center with the smoke rising to the exit hole in the top.

The man of the lodge sat in the back facing the door. His guests sat around the edge. A ceremonial buffalo skull may have been near the center.

The family dwellilng would have sleeping robes or blankets around the edge. The tipi shown here is 14 feet in diameter and could house 5-8 people. It could be set up in 15 minutes and taken down in 3. Whole camps could be ready to move in 20 minutes in an emergency.

They followed buffalo herds in the summer and moved 10-15 times during the summer and fall months.