A Blood Indian's Story of Murder, Confinement, and Imperfect Justice
Published by: University of Oklahoma Press
Imprint: University of Oklahoma Press
In 1879, a Canadian Blackfoot known as Spopee, or Turtle, shot and killed a white man. Captured as a fugitive, Spopee narrowly escaped execution, instead landing in an insane asylum in Washington, D.C., where he fell silent. Spopee thus “disappeared” for more than thirty years, until a delegation of American Blackfeet discovered him and, aided by the Commissioner of Indian Affairs, exacted a pardon from President Woodrow Wilson. After re-emerging into society like a modern-day Rip Van Winkle, Spopee spent the final year of his life on the Blackfeet Reservation in Montana, in a world that had changed irrevocably from the one he had known before his confinement.
Blackfoot Redemption is the riveting account of Spopee’s unusual and haunting story. To reconstruct the events of Spopee’s life—at first traceable only through bits and pieces of information—William E. Farr conducted exhaustive archival research, digging deeply into government documents and institutional reports to build a coherent and accurate narrative and, through this reconstruction, win back one Indian’s life and identity.
In revealing both certainties and ambiguities in Spopee’s story, Farr relates a larger story about racial dynamics and prejudice, while poignantly evoking the turbulent final days of the buffalo-hunting Indians before their confinement, loss of freedom, and confusion that came with the wrenching transition to reservation life.
William E. Farr is a Senior Fellow at the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West and Professor Emeritus of History at the University of Montana, Missoula. He is the author of The Reservation Blackfeet, 1882–1945: A Photogaphic History of Cultural Survival and Julius Seyler and the Blackfeet: An Impressionist at Glacier National Park.
“Many of our people disappeared in the days of the early reservation. They went away to boarding schools, the army, jail. Some never returned. We didn’t know what happened to them. Spopee was the exception. He came back. But we still didn’t know what had happened or where he had been. Like our chief White Calf and our people who were confined to the reservation in the last days of the buffalo, Spopee too had been unjustly confined. Now, thanks to William Farr, both pitiful stories are told by someone who knows our history well.”—Earl Old Person, Chief of the Blackfeet Nation
“In this gripping account, the author tells the story of how Spopee was ‘discovered’ and rescued and reveals the plight of American Indians in the last days of their buffalo culture.”—Hugh A. Dempsey, author of Crowfoot, Chief of the Blackfeet
“Joining vivid prose and deep sensitivity for the complexities of this story, Farr pulls Spopee out of the shadows and into the light. He seamlessly integrates detailed, comprehensive research with the broader implications of the legal case, never losing sight of the sympathetic, yet flawed, characters at the heart of it. Blackfoot Redemption is a compelling page-turner and an essential book for students and scholars of Native American, western, and legal history.”—Sherry L. Smith, author of Reimagining Indians: Native Americans through Anglo Eyes, 1880–1940
"In this unique and well-written account, Farr uses a wide range of sources to tell the tragic story of Spopee, the ‘vanishing Indian’ confined to insane asylums for thirty-two years. In describing Spopee's experiences, Farr also tells the broader story of the U.S. government's harsh confinement of Blackfeet Indians to their reservation in Montana and of society's sad treatment of those it deemed different and useless."—Blue Clark (Muscogee), author of Indian Tribes of Oklahoma: A Guide