Metis on the Milk River.

From: Philip Rappagliosi and Robert Bigart. Letters from the Rocky Mountain Indian Missions: Philip Rappagliosi, Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, !!": ###vii $ ###viii %&ne of the last ref'ges for the northern (reat Plains b'ffalo )as the *ilk River +alley in northern *ontana. ,'ring the late -./!s and early -..!s many 0ndian and *etis gro'ps gathered there to h'nt the diminishing herds. ,'ring the s'mmer of -.// Father Rappagliosi traveled )ith a gro'p of abo't /! families follo)ing the b'ffalo herds in the *ilk River drainage. 1his camp spent the )inter of -.//$/. living in h'ts along the river bottoms in the Frenchman 2reek area. 1he U.3. 4rmy estimated in Frebr'ary -./. that the camp contained -!. families )ith 5-- people. *ore *etis arrived d'ring -./. and in &ctober -./. the 4rmy estimated that abo't "!! *etis families )ere living in the area. 1he camp on the *ilk River incl'ded a n'mber of 2anadian *etis )ho had been displaced from their farms and many families of 4merican *etis )ho )ere members of 2hippe)a 0ndian bands in North ,akota. 1hese 4merican *etis families had also follo)ed the shrinking b'ffalo herds to *ontana. 1he priests of the &blates of *ary 0mmac'late had been active in )estern 2anada for many years, and the *etis in the camp )ere 2hristian and spoke French. Father Rappagliosi )as already fl'ent in French from his school days and en6oyed the pio's reception the *etis gave him. 1he *etis camp in *ilk River )as also a symptom of the tra'mas that )o'ld destroy the basis of *etis life in the Northern Plains: the b'ffalo pop'lation )as rapidly imploding, and the U.3. 4rmy and the North 7est *o'nted Police )ere establishing military control of the region. 1o postpone disaster, the *etis moved so'th and )est of their acc'stomed h'nting gro'nds. 8o)ever, the *ilk River )as then part of an 0ndian reservation for the Blackfeet, (ros +entres, and other tribes. 4nother resident at the *ilk River camp d'ring the )inter of -.//$/. )as Father 9ean Baptiste *arie (enin, )ho )as to fig're in Rappagliosi:s story. Father (enin had )orked )ith the 3io'# d'ring the -.5!s and )as adopted as a brother by 3itting B'll. Beca'se Father (enin had traveled freely among the camps of hostile 3io'# ref'gees in 2anada after the Battle of Little Big 8orn and he and his parishioners had aided the )o'nded and destit'te Ne; Perce ref'gees from the Battle of the Bear Pa)s in -.//, the U.3. 4rmy )as <'ite antagonistic to Father (enin and the *etis camps in the *ilk River area. ,'ring November -./. the soldiers based in Fort Benton forced the 2anadian part of the camp to retreat north of the forty$ninth parallel. Father (enin had left for 2anada d'ring the spring of -./.. 1he 4merican part of the camp moved to the 3'n River area off the reservation in 4pril -./.. 0n -./= most of the 4merican *etis moved to the 9'dith Basin and fo'nded the comm'nity of Le)isto)n. 7ith the collapse of the b'ffalo herds, the *etis of Le)isto)n t'rned to ranching and gardening for s'pport.>

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2ompiled by La)rence Bark)ell 2oordinator of *etis 8eritage and 8istory Research Lo'is Riel 0nstit'te

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