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  • Coleen Graybill

Peter & the Search for the Peigan Encampment

When we arrived in Browning, MT, on September 24th, we decided to just poke around for the afternoon instead of sitting in the camper or hotel. We ended up at the Lodgepole Gallery & Tipi Village to do a little gift shopping. The owner, Darrell Norman asked us to take a look at a Curtis image he had. It was a copy of Piegan Encampment taken by Curtis in 1900. As I looked at it and then looked out his window... it was almost the same mountain contours as in the image. Darrell suggested a couple roads to go down to find EXACT location it was taken from. Now we were off on a mission! We got close to the right spot, but not quite it.

Piegan tipis dot the landscape with Glacier National Park mountains behind them.
Piegan Encampment 1900

Praire land and Glacier National Park mountains.
The mountains of Glacier National Park in the background. My guess is that we needed to be a 1/4 to 1/2 mile back, and the foothills would line up with the big mountains exactly.

The next morning we met with our third descendant of our trip, Peter VanDenBerg of the Blackfeet Nation. Peter is the descendant of "Mountain Chief - Piegan" taken by Curtis in 1905. We met Peter at his home there on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation. It wasn't a hard decision to photograph and interviewed him at his home, with a view like this right out your window you don't need to search for a different location!

The photo session and interview went great and he was a delight to talk with. He really gave us a peak into reservation life as well his difficulties in finishing his bachelors degree. Once we were finished, Peter took us out into the field and showed us old tipi rings! They were difficult to see and wouldn't have shown up well in photos. But it sure felt amazing to stand in the center of them. :)

We started telling Peter about how the horizon line almost matches the photo we showed him and he also gave us some suggestions of where to go. "So... would you mind showing us yourself?" we kindly asked. "Sure!" he said, and off we went. We went down this road and that road and even did a bit of four-wheel driving. We didn't end up getting any closer than we were the day before, but we enjoyed Peter giving more history about Browning and the landscape around it. We ended up at the Northern Plains Indian Museum right in town. He offered to give us a personal tour!

Mountain Chief memorial footprints at the Northern Plains Indian Museum, Browning, MT.
At the Museum, he put his foot in his bronzed footprint of his ancestor. Wow. That just kind of gives you chills!

What a great day we had with Peter! We look forward to sharing his image and story!

Interviewing Peter for the Descendants Project at his kitchen table in Browning, MT.
Interviewing Peter at his kitchen table. Photo by Lynn Boutte

Peter VanDenBerg at his kitchen tale.
I loved his dining room. We almost got the view camera out to take this image as well. But the mountain views won out.

Getting ready to take Peter's portrait out in the prairie land next to his home.
Getting ready to take Peter's portrait out in the prairie land next to his home. His puppy tried really hard to be in every shot, and we kind of liked her being in them too. Photo by Lynn Boutte

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