Gold was discovered in Montana north of the Missouri River in 1862 and this brought a flood of gold-seekers into the area who ignored the fact that this was Blackfoot land and the treaty did not allow their presence. The government ignored the treaty, too, and attempted to negotiate a new treaty in which the gold-rich lands would be ceded to the United States. The general feeling was that Indian reservations should not contain gold mines.
Calf Shirt was a prominent Kainae (Blood) chief in the era after the Civil War. This was an era in which the American traders no longer viewed the Indians as equal partners in the fur and hide trade and had no respect for Indian culture. Calf Shirt is generally described as a large and powerful man. He was aggressive and became a terror when drunk. While “under the influence” he was considered a mean bully and had killed a number of his own people while in one of his drunken rages.
In the spring of 1865, a group of American miners established Ophir at the mouth of the Marias River in an attempt to challenge Fort Benton’s dominance as the head of steamboat navigation on the Missouri River. There was, however, trouble with the Blackfoot. During the winter, some horses went missing and the Americans simply assumed that Indians—meaning the Blackfoot—had stolen them. A group of four Americans then killed three Blood Indians (the Blood are a part of the larger Blackfoot Confederacy) who they assumed were the thieves. It was later found that the horses had actually been liberated by a Crow war party.
In May 1865, Chief Calf Shirt led a war party of about 100 warriors seeking revenge. They found a group of woodcutters from Ophir near the Marias River and attacked them. They killed ten in revenge for the death of the three Blood warriors. In the eyes of the Blood, this was an equal trade. As a result of this attack, the community of Ophir dissipated and the wood from the cabins was used to fuel the steamboats.
While most histories credit Calf Shirt and the Blood with the attack against the woodcutters, there are some who have offered other opinions concerning this event. There are some who feel that the Indians were actually hired by non-Indians from Fort Benton to conduct the raid, while others feel it was actually carried out by non-Indians. In both of these versions, the actual reason for the attack is the fear on the part of Fort Benton business owners that the proposed Ophir transportation center would threaten their business.
In December 1873, after trading his buffalo robes at Fort Kipp, Calf Shirt kept demanding more whiskey. Young Joe Kipp refused and Calf Shirt pulled a gun. He missed, but Joe Kipp did not. Calf Shirt stumbled, wounded, out of the trading post where a volley of 15 more shots from other whiskey traders brought him down. His wives asked a medicine man to pray over his body for 3 days in an attempt to bring him back to life. Both the Bloods and the Americans asked them not to do this. They did not want him resurrected.
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