What Did the Blackfoot People Use for Transport?

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images News/Getty Images

The Blackfoot people initially used dogs to pull their belongings on a sled-like device called a travois while they walked alongside. When they encountered horses in the 18th century, the dogs were quickly eclipsed by these much larger, stronger and more versatile animals.

The Blackfoot pursued game on foot and relied heavily on the bow and arrow in the early 1700’s, but in 1730, their lives were irrevocably changed when they ran into mounted Shoshone warriors. This was their first glimpse of the horse, and the Blackfoot were in awe of the swift creatures, which they named “elk dogs.”

There is disagreement over exactly where and when the Blackfoot people first got their own horses. Some historians maintain that they came from Southern Shoshones, but most believe they were gained in trade with the Blackfoot’s western neighbors, which were the Kootenai, Nez Perce and Flathead people, between 1730 and 1750.

Blackfoot warriors quickly became some of the fiercest and most skilled horsemen ever to ride the Great Plains. After receiving guns from the French and incorporating the horse into their battle tactics, the Blackfoot drove the Shoshone to a small southwestern corner of Montana Territory. They then forced the Kootenai and Flathead over the Continental Divide and continued to expand their sphere of influence. Their reputation as daring equestrians allowed the Blackfoot to maintain their dominion over the northern plains of Montana well into the 19th century.