Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The Legends of Chief Mountain

View of Chief Mountain From Jenkins Ranche
 If you have ever been to our place, the far southwest corner of Alberta or Glacier Park in Montana – you have probably viewed Chief Mountain. It is not that there are not other mountains to see there – but Chief seems to kind of stand alone and his unique shape makes everyone who views him take notice.

As a child I awoke each morning to look out the kitchen window and say good morning to “Chief”. I remember well it was something that we always did – though I am not sure why because he never really looked a whole lot different that he did the day before. My aunt also had the same view out of her own kitchen window. I remember her always looking to greet Chief the same way we did at our own house. Seemed to me that good old “Chief” was just part of the family. So much so – that when we moved the house I live in now onto the place we all wandered around deciding where to put it – making sure I could see Chief Mountain out the window. Looking back – we should have paid more attention to which way the wind blows and maybe now I wouldn’t be constantly drifted in all winter !

As I was sorting through my photos the other night – it occurred to me that I take a lot of pictures of Chief. It got me thinking – “how did old Chief get its name ?”. Of course I grew up believing that it was because if you look at him from our place you can see the profile of an old Indian Chiefs face. However --- I have learned that especially in my family – you might want to double check on some of those story’s you grew up believing !

Diagram of Chiefs Profile ... if you can't see the image of an Indian Chiefs head
-- tilt your own head to the right and view him from the side !

Well --- turns out I couldn’t find anything about Chief Mountain being named so because of it’s resemblance to an Indian Chief – but I DID find some other interesting history about it !

- first noted on maps, published in England in 1795 or 1796, upon which it was called "King Mountain."

-Captain Meriwether Lewis is also believed to have seen the mountain on his trip up the Marias in 1806 and called it "Tower Mountain."

-There are two records of the origin of another name for this peak — "Kaiser Peak" — by which it was known for some time. Some say it was so-named by early German geographers, but the most authentic story comes from Eli Guardipee, a member of the Blackfeet tribe, who stated that it was so named for a "Bull-whacker" (oxen freighter) named Lee Kaiser, who accidently shot himself near the present town of Cardston, Alberta, in 1872. For him the creek where this happened was known as "Lee Creek," and the mountain at its headwaters was called "Kaiser Peak."

-There are many historic legends regarding this mountain, the most popular being that of the young Flathead Indian brave who spent several days upon the top of the peak searching for his "medicine vision," and using a bison skull for a pillow. Apparently you will still find a bison skull a top the mountain.

-The present name was taken from the Blackfeet Indian name "Old Chief," or "The Mountain-of-the-Chief," by which it was known to the Blackfeet, probably because of the above-mentioned legend. (Above facts listed on this website

Hmmmm ...... no mention of the mountain actually LOOKING like an Indian Chief .....

Chief Mountain with Spring Wildflowers

 However – I did manage to find this other legend that tells of a warrior husband and war chief who fell in love and married a woman whom he loved so much that he never left to fight again. Until one day he decided that they he had to go to battle one more time --- and when his fellow tribesmen returned with his dead body his wife was so distraught that she climbed Chief Mountain and threw herself and their young child off it’s peak.

“Her people buried the woman and baby there among the rocks. They carried the body of the chief to the place and buried him beside them.

From that time on, the mountain that towers above the graves was known as Minnow Stahkoo, "the Mountain of the Chief", or "Chief Mountain".

If you look closely, even today, you can see on the face of the mountain the figure of a woman with a baby in her arms, the wife and child of the chief.

Chief Mountain at Twilight through the fog
  I think we all have a certain “talisman” that lights the way home – that certain tree, road sign, road, house or mountain that reminds us we are “home”. No matter where I have been – there is still that excitement when Chief Mountain comes into view and I say to myself “there’s Chief”. And while I am likely to never climb to his peak and use a bison skull for a pillow – I am happy to live in his shadow.

AND – I still think that Chief's profile looks like that of an Indian Chief !


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