Rocky Boy (Chippewa leader)
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Asiniiwin, translated Rocky Boy or Stone Child, was an important Chippewa leader who was chief of a band in Montana in the late 19th century and early 20th century. His advocacy for his people helped gain the establishment of what is called Rocky Boy's Indian Reservation in his honor. Formed from part of Fort Assiniboine, which was closed, it is located in Hill and Chouteau counties in north central Montana.
Not much is known about Asiniiwin's early life. Some speculate he was born and raised in Wisconsin, and migrated to the Montana region later on, as did many Chippewa. However, written historical records prove he was a native to Montana. He told a companion he was Chippewa and born somewhere between Anaconda, Butte, and Deer Lodge. He was the son of Chief Bobtail aka Alexis Piche Bobtail. His birth date was probably in either 1851 or 1852. Little is known about him in his early life.
Rise to power
In the 1880s, the Montana Chippewa and Cree, were without treaty or land. Thomas Little Shell was possibly the dominant Chippewa leader in Montana during that time. Little Shell owned land near where present-day Plentywood, Montana is located. Little Shell negotiated with representatives of the United States, about ceding land in North Dakota.
Rocky Boy lived primarily in southwestern and western Montana. He was fond of the Great Falls, Montana region. When Little Shell passed on in 1901, Rocky Boy became well received by the United States.
Rocky Boy led a band of about 130 men, women and children. Other Chippewa had settled on reservations of other tribes. He worked to keep the Chippewa tribal identity alive in Montana, at a time when more whites were settling the land, and expected the Indians to disappear.
Rocky Boy was the principal leader of the Montana Chippewa people. Other leaders who followed or worked with Rocky Boy were located around Montana. Some lived on other Montana reservations and tried to get the Ojibwa of those Montana reservations tribal recognition within these locations.
- Little Bear was a principal leader of some Cree people in western Canada, leading them to Montana as refugees after Riel's Rebellion.
- Buffalo Coat was an important Chippewa leader in the Great Falls region, including the regions around Fort Shaw, Montana and to Fort Benton, Montana. In 1898 he asked for land and citizenship for the landless Chippewa in the Great Falls region. The United States refused to grant Buffalo Coat's people land and citizenship. The United States claimed they had no jurisdiction and, thus, were not capable of granting Buffalo Coat any land.
- Ka-na-bay-zhic-um, or Long Hair, was the chief of the landless Chippewa who lived near the Marias River, which is located north of Great Falls near present-day Loma, Montana and Fort Benton. It includes land near the Blackfeet Indian Reservation and the Sweet Grass Hills.
- Kah-keesh-ka-wash-chah-bay-wo was the principal leader of the landless Chippewas on the Crow-Northern Cheyenne Reservation and the immediate region around the Billings, Montana region. He may have played a role in the attempt by the Cheyenne to break off the Northern Cheyenne Reservation in 1897.
- Lucky Man was affiliated with Little Bear. He was probably native to western Montana or north central Montana. He fled up to Alberta and Saskatchewan around the time of the 1877 Nez Perce exodus with Little Bear. He returned to Montana with Little Bear.
Many others, including Rain of the Bow, Mah-chop, Pay-pah-mi-show-ait, and Nan-ome-sha, were also sub-chiefs. Each man led anywhere from 25 to 200 or more landless Chippewa, in Montana, Idaho and elsewhere. Each of them kept in contact with Rocky Boy to learn of any news of the establishment of new Chippewa Reservations. Their goal was to keep the Chippewa tribal identity alive.
Struggle for a Chippewa Reservation
Soon after Little Shell passed on or probably well before, Rocky Boy was sought after by both the Chippewas and the United States. Rocky Boy may have become an important Chippewa leader in Montana after Little Shell was forced off Reservation rolls in 1891. Rocky Boy was inclined towards the peace path and cooperation. He was well liked.
Rocky Boy could travel the following railroads for free: B.A. & P; Oregon Short Line; Rio Grande Western; and Southern Pacific Railroad. Rocky Boy had letters of recommendation from the governor of Idaho, as well as an Idaho District Judge, and several affluent citizens of Pocatello, which is next to the Fort Hall Reservation. He also had many letters of recommendation from many affluent people from Utah. He was obviously sought after in those locations to help the Chippewa living there, relocate to reservations.
In 1902, Rocky Boy commenced negotiating for a new Chippewa Reservation in Montana. He had several supporters among the whites, including Senator Dixon. Rocky Boy sent a letter to the President of the United States requesting a reservation. His goal was to establish a reservation for the landless Chippewa of southwestern and western Montana, as well as those Chippewa living on the Coeur d'Alene Reservation and Flathead Reservation, who wanted to relocate to the new Chippewa Reservation. With the help of Senator Dixon who spoke on his behalf and several other affluent Montana citizens, Rocky Boy commenced the struggle to find a Chippewa Reservation in Montana.
Proposed 1904 Flathead Reservation
In 1904, the government of the United States debated over finding a home for the Chippewa of Montana on the Flathead Reservation, but the bill was not ratified. Rocky Boy was obviously upset about the failure and those Chippewa living on the Flathead Reservation, even more so. They would continue to live on the Flathead Reservation as Rocky Boy continued the quest to find a new Reservation for the landless Chippewa of Montana. The Chippewa of the Flathead Reservation were not the only tribe to be forced by the United States to assimilate among the Kootenai and Salish, so were the Nez Perce. Though the attempt by Rocky Boy to preserve the Chippewa Tribal Status on the Flathead Reservation failed, today over 100 Chippewa are still clinging to their Anishinabe identity on the Flathead Reservation.
The 1908 Swan Valley Massacre
In late 1908, the United States learned that small groups of Chippewa living on the Flathead Reservation had left the Reservation to hunt in the adjoining Swan Valley. In response, the United States sent a game warden and several deputized citizens, to the Swan Valley to find the hunters. They found one small group and requested from them, their hunting licenses which they provided. Though they had legal permission to hunt, the game warden told them he would return the next day and if they had not left the Swan Valley they would be arrested. He returned the next day shooting instead of negotiating. In the battle that followed 4 Chippewa were killed and the game warden also. To ease the unrest the Chippewa felt about the Land Acts to open up the Flathead and Fort Peck Reservations to white settlement, the United States sent Indian Inspector Frank Churchill to Montana to negotiate with Rocky Boy in the same said year of 1908.
The Valley County, Montana Chippewa Reservation
In 1908, Frank Churchill met and negotiated with Rocky Boy. Rocky Boy told him that Chippewa were living all over Montana including on the Blackfeet Reservation, Crow Reservation, Fort Peck Reservation, and the Flathead Reservation, and near white settlements such as Anaconda, Billings, Butte, Deer Lodge, Garrison (Ulm), Havre, Glasgow, Great Falls, Helena, Missoula and many others. In an attempt to ease the fears of the Chippewa of western Montana and Idaho (Coeur d'Alene Reservation and the defunct Lemhi Reservation), Churchill requested from the government of the United States that all of Valley County, Montana be withdrawn from white settlement and a new Chippewa Reservation be set aside in the same said county, covering near 1.4 million acres. Both requests were granted. However, many of the Chippewa from western Montana and Idaho (Coeur d'Alene Reservation and the Lemhi Reservation), were not willing to make the journey and they were charged high rates by railroad owners apparently and that ended that quest. Churchill knew the problem was not over.
The relocation to the Blackfeet Reservation
Representatives from the United States continued to negotiate with Rocky Boy after the Valley County, Montana Chippewa Reservation quest. Many Chippewas were still landless and living near many white settlements and on the Coeur d'Alene Reservation and Flathead Reservation. Many were also living on the Blackfeet Reservation. In 1909, Rocky Boy reached an agreement with the United States for a new home for the landless Chippewa from western Montana and Idaho, on the Blackfeet Reservation, between St. Mary, Babb, and the Canada–US border.
They were relocated there in November 1909. Many did not like it and commenced to leave the Blackfeet Reservation. However, Rocky Boy remained with about 50 Chippewa. The present-day Indians who live between St. Mary and Babb, are descended from the 50 or so Chippewa who remained. They have, however, been forced by the United States to lose their Chippewa Tribal identity. They know not who they are.
The establishment of the Rocky Boy Reservation
Many Chippewas and the Cree under Little Bear's leadership were still landless in 1910. Little Bear had no choice but to follow Rocky Boy as a result of the US Government's decision he and his subjects were Canadian Cree. Many Chippewa living on the Coeur d'Alene Reservation and Flathead Reservation continued to keep in contact with both Rocky Boy and Little Bear, as they continued the quest to find a reservation in Montana. Finally in 1916, the United States established the Rocky Boy Reservation. Rocky Boy did not live to see the establishment of the joint Chippewa-Cree Reservation. Many claim he was assassinated. After news of the establishment of the new reservation was learned of by the landless Chippewa and Cree, they commenced to relocate to the new Reservation.
The exodus to Great Falls
After either being forced off of Rocky Boy Reservation rolls or just leaving on their own, the nearly 100 Chippewas who lived on the Rocky Boy Reservation, relocated to Hill 57 in Great Falls. Their reason for the exodus was probably over Nationality. Well over 600 Indians were led by Rocky Boy his sub-chiefs. The Rocky Boy Reservation's tentative roll was sent to the government of the United States, and they abruptly removed over 200 names. The goal for the Chippewa Reservation was to keep the Chippewa tribal identity alive in Montana. When the news that the Cree and the Metis made up the majority (they claim it is now 90%) of Rocky Boy Reservation's population, the Chippewa knew they had been deceived.
As mentioned, near 100 fled to Hill 57. They did so to keep their Nationality alive, though the whites claim these people were Cree, Metis and Chippewa. This issue is ongoing. Today, they are either the non federally recognized Ahontoay or the non federally recognized Swan Creek and Black River Chippewas. They are Landless Chippewa and landless because the United States will not recognize their Nationality, or the United States will not grant the Montana Chippewa a Chippewa Reservation.
One group is known as the Little Shell Tribe of Chippewa Indians and the Little Shell Tribe of Chippewa Indians of Montana have state recognition as a tribe by the State of Montana, though their quest for federal recognition remains unsuccessful.
Between 1900 and 1910, a period of great unrest occurred in Montana and the rest of the western United States, as the Land Acts took effect and Reservations were opened up to white settlement. Rocky Boy was instrumental in keeping the peace. That may likely be his main legacy. He died on April 18, 1916 at the age of 64 or 65.
- Montanakids - Rocky Boy's Indian Reservation
- "Rocky Boy's Reservation Timeline Chippewa and Cree Tribes" (PDF). Indian Education: Montana Office of Public Instruction. March 2010.