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Chief Little Bear

He was greatly disliked in Montana. White historians claim chief Little Bear was not native to Montana (the United States), especially during the 1880s, 1890s, on up to his death in 1921. However, a conspiracy hovers around the life of ogima Little Bear and his father who was ogima Big Bear, or in Anishinabe, ogima Mis-sta-hi Mus-squa. Shortly before ogima Mis-sta-hi Mus-squa died, he requested from his sons (he had several sons and one may have been ogima Rocky Boy for all we know) that they return to their original homeland the whites drove them out of. Ogima Mis-sta-hi Mus-squa claimed he was driven out of his original homeland by the whites while still a young child. White historians claim that ogima Mis-sta-hi Mus-squa was born in western Saskatchewan (where the Jackfish Lake Saulteaux Chippewas live), in the 1820s. That information alone tells a story because the whites had yet to colonize Saskatchewan, as well as Montana, in the 1820s and 1830s.

According to historical records, ogima Mis-sta-hi Mus-squa wanted the one son of his who was devoted to peace, to return to their original homeland (Montana) because he knew the whites would tolerate him all the more. Below is a photograph of ogima Little Bear or his Anishinabe name, ogima Imasees. History tells of chief Little Bear being a war leader. His father, ogima Big Bear, obviously originally lived to the east in the Michigan, Ohio, and Wisconsin region. While a youngster, his family joined many other Chippewas and migrated west into northern Utah then southeast Idaho. They eventually moved up to the Black Hills of southwest Montana.

Westward Migration

Chief Big Bear told his children that his family had been driven out of their original land by the white invaders while he was yet young. In the 1830s and 1840s, 10,000s of Chippewas were leaving their lands in the Great Lakes region. What we don't know is the exact time of this exodus to the west by the Chippewas chief Big Bear was among. In 1832, the United States set aside a 5 million acre Chippewa Reservation in Iowa and northwest Missouri. A migration of 10,000s of Chippewas from southern Wisconsin and northern Illinois, followed. Then in 1838-1839 another massive migration of 100,000 or more Chippewas from Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, New York, Ohio, and Pennsylvania happened. They migrated to western Missouri then into northeastern Kansas. They eventually migrated to southeastern Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, and Mexico. Many migrated into Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, and Utah. The Seven Fires Prophecy motivated the exodus.

It is the northern most group of Chippewas chief Big Bear was among. Chief Big Bear's family probably arrived to either western Iowa, northwestern Missouri, or eastern Kansas between 1832 and 1838. From there, they joined the 70,000 or more Chippewas who migrated to the Salt Lake Valley of northeastern Utah. While living there after they arrived between 1847 and 1848, chief Big Bear eventually moved to southeastern Idaho. He probably fought in the 1846-1848 Mexican-American War. His original homeland was probably Wisconsin. While in Utah, his wife gave birth to his son Little Bear. This may have happened between 1847 and 1850. Little Bear was probably raised in southeastern Idaho. However, his family also lived in Utah, Wyoming, and Montana.

Bear River Massacre

Sometime in the mid 1850s, the United States broke treaty promises and launched an invasion into the vast Chippewa Deseret Reservation. The war which followed escalated into the Snake River and Black Hills Wars. The Black Hills are really located in southwestern Montana. Lewis and Clark wrote that down in their journals. On January 29, 1863, the United States sent their soldiers to a Chippewa village located in what is now Franklin County, Idaho. Could be Franklin County, Kansas for all we know. The Swan Creek and Black River Chippewas (the Saginaw's) had a Reservation in Franklin County, Kansas at the time they shared with the Brotherton, Munsee, and Stockbridge Chippewas. Now if the Bear River Massacre actually happened in Franklin County, Kansas, there is then a problem. It means ogima Big Bear fled with his family west into the area in Colorado where Denver is located. They were not wanted there. In fact, chief Big Bear may have had family who were killed in the November 29, 1864 Sand Creek Massacre. They fled further to the west over the Rocky Mountains into northeastern Utah. From there, they relocated to southeastern Idaho.

Either scenario is likely. Anyway, after chief Big Bear and his family settled down to live in Idaho, they were forced to relocate up to the Black Hills of southwestern Montana. This may have happened in the early or mid 1860s. By the mid 1860s, the United States intensified their settlement of the Black Hills of Montana but Chippewa soldiers were constantly sent to the Black Hills to battle the white invaders. Some of the white settlements were fortified. Most had garrisons of citizens who were armed with repeating rifles and revolvers. They could easily defend their settlements being they had superior weapons. The United States even launched an invasion to the Great Falls region in late 1865 and early 1866 but were driven out in defeat. Chief Little Bear obviously participated in the war by the mid 1860s.

The 1876-1877 War and Exodus

In early 1876, the United States reinforced several of their fortifications in Montana and sent 1,000s more of their soldiers to Montana in May and June of that same year. It escalated on June 25, 1876, when Chippewa soldiers prevented 1,000s of United Soldiers and their Indian allies, from destroying their capitol located at what is now the Great Falls, Montana region. In late 1876, the United States launched a winter campaign which lasted into the early part of 1877. By the spring of 1877, Chippewa ogimak (leaders) knew they had to follow prophecy and commence another exodus. At first 10,000s of Chippewas fled west into Idaho, Oregon, and Washington but the United States halted that exodus. In response, the Chippewas then fled north into Alberta and Saskatchewan (around the Cypress Hills). Chief Big Bear and chief Sitting Bull, led 10,000s of Chippewas to the Cypress Hills. For the next 8 years little fighting took place. That could be as a result of a large Reservation Canada and the United States promised the Chippewas.

The 1885 Northwest Rebellion

By early 1885, Chippewa leaders in Saskatchewan knew they were lied to. Canada had no intentions of honoring any agreements they reached with Chippewa leaders. Even before the 1885 Northwest Rebellion commenced, Canada was coercing many Chippewas to leave the Cypress Hills and relocate to southeastern Saskatchewan where woodlands dominated the landscape. Chief Big Bear led large numbers of Chippewas north into the region where Jackfish Lake is located in Saskatchewan. Chippewa leaders wanted a very large Reserve. Chief Big Bear controlled a large Chippewa population between what is now Prince Albert and Onion Lake, Saskatchewan, and Frog Lake, Alberta. The Jackfish Lake region was their primary military location. Fort Pitt, Saskatchewan was one of their targets. It was located 68 miles northwest of Jackfish Lake and 9 miles from Alberta. On July 5, 1884 Louis Riel arrived to the area where Fish Creek, Saskatchewan is now located. Riel established a white colony and that ignited the 1885 Northwest Rebellion.

After Riel illegally established the white colony in Saskatchewan, the few whites and mixed bloods living there formed a civilan army. They were well armed with repeating rifles, revolvers, and machine guns. Canada also had other Forts in Saskatchewan known as Fort Battleford and Fort Carlton. Fort Battleford was located 17 miles south of Jackfish Lake. Fort Carlton was located 32 miles southwest of Prince Albert, Saskatchewan. Nearly all of the fighting during the 1885 Northwest Rebellion, was fought between Fort Carlton and Fort Pitt. Fort Carlton was first targeted by chief Big Bears soldiers in March of 1885. On March 27, Chippewa soldiers forced the whites to flee from Fort Carlton and took the fort.

On March 30, 1885, Chippewa soldiers took the town of Battleford. The 500 or so white and mixed bloods who lived in Battleford, fled to nearby Fort Battleford. Since they were well armed and Fort Battleford was a strong fortification, Chippewa soldiers did not attack the fort. The region between Fort Battleford and Fort Carlton was now under Chippewa control but Canada was in the process of sending reinforcements to Saskatchewan.

Meanwhile, in Alberta chief Little Bear was leading scores of Chippewa soldiers to launch raids against unwanted whites. On April 2, 1885, chief Little Bear ordered his soldiers from the Yellow Quill Chippewas to kill 9 whites at Frog Lake. It is known as the Frog Lake Massacre. The Frog Lake Massacre is the event which forced chief Little Bear to flee back to Montana. The next day, April 3, 1885, more Yellow Quill (aka Blue Quill) Chippewas launched raids near what is now Saddle Lake, Alberta which is 53 miles west of Frog Lake, Alberta and 80 miles northeast of Edmonton, Alberta. On April 17, 1885, Fort Pitt was taken by Chippewa soldiers led by chief Big Bear. Big Bear let the white soldiers leave unharmed. On April 24, 1885 Chippewa soldiers attacked the whites at Fish Creek, Saskatchewan. Also on April 24, 1885, white reinforcements arrived to Fort Battleford. On April 26, 1885 Chippewa soldiers probably led by ogima Little Bear, launched a raid on a HBC post at Lac La Biche, Alberta which is 86 miles northwest of Frog Lake and 103 miles northeast of Edmonton, Alberta. It appears as if ogima Little Bear was leading a large number of Chippewas to the northwest.

As more white soldiers were sent to Saskatchewan, chief Big Bear eventually agreed to surrender after he led a large number of Chippewas up to the Loon Lake region of Saskatchewan (Loon Lake is 70 miles northwest of Jackfish Lake) in late May and early June of 1885. Big Bear bravely surrendered on July 2, 1885 at Fort Pitt. The descendants of the Chippewas who were led to the Loon Lake region by ogima Big Bear are the Big River, Big Island, Canoe Lake, Flying Dust, Makwa Sagahiehcan, Ministikwan, Onion Lake, Pelican Lake, Thunderchild, Waterhen Lake, and Witchekan Lake Chippewas.

Chief Little Bear had far more to worry about. He knew he was wanted for the massacre at Frog Lake. He also knew if he was captured he would be executed. So ogima Little Bear along with several other Chippewa leaders who participated in the 1885 Northwest Rebellion, gathered their families and agreed to flee back to Montana. However, ogima Little Bear did succeed in leading large numbers of Chippewas from Saskatchewan, northwest into Alberta. The descendants of the Chippewas who were led to north central Alberta are the Beaver Lake, Cold Lake, Frog Lake, Heart Lake, Kehewin, Onion Lake, and Saddle Lake Chippewas. They may even be among the Chippewas who settled at Moberly Lake, British Columbia that Canada considered renegades of the 1885 Northwest Rebellion.

Return to Montana

Chief Little Bear along with several other Chippewa leaders who participated in the 1885 Northwest Rebellion, carefully made their way south to Montana. By late winter of 1885, they reached the region where Babb, Montana is now located. They were not numerous. Just a few Chippewa leaders and their families. They probably numbered no more than between 25 and 50. After reaching their Montana home, they became the target of intense white hostility. They were considered renegades of the 1885 Northwest Rebellion. However, the Canada-United States border was a jurisdiction line. In the United States, ogima Little Bear was protected. Little Bear had to change his name from Wild Horse to Little Bear. He gradually settled down to live with the Montana Chippewas who were considered landless by the United States but they followed earlier treaties which set aside the large Black Hills Reservation. The United States refused to honor the treaties but Chippewa leaders did.

Ogima Little Bear could do nothing to ease his predicament. His only option was to follow other Chippewas who accepted what had happened. He often organized plays to entertain whites and even did so on holidays. Although there was an intense white resentment against ogima Little Bear, he was allowed to remain in Montana. Then in 1895, the United States stole what is now Glacier National Park from the Black Hills (Blackfeet) Reservation. A year later, many of the Chippewas who lived in the Great Falls and Havre regions and other Montana locations, were forced to relocate to Alberta. Among them were ogima Little Bear and other Chippewa leaders who participated in the 1885 Northwest Rebellion. They were forced to go to trial but were acquitted. Afterwards, ogima Little Bear returned to Montana. He eventually became a follower of chief Rocky Boy after Rocky Boy became the principle leader of the Montana Chippewas in 1902, after chief Little Shell III died in 1901. Those Montana Chippewas who were forced to relocate to Alberta in 1896, settled down to live at the Montana Reserve which includes Ermineskin, Louis Bull, and Samson. They also settled down to live at the Paul Reserve. Ogima Little Bear also helped to have many Montana Chippewas granted land at Onion Lake Reserve.

In 1902, ogima Rocky Boy became well known in Montana. He worked diligently to have new Chippewa Reservations set aside in Montana. Ogima Little Bear supported Rocky Boy as one of his councilors. Ogima Rocky Boy was instrumental in having Chippewa Reservations set aside within the Flathead Reservation (the Elmo Kootenai), the Blackfeet Reservation, and the Valley County Chippewa Reservation which is Fort Belknap-Rocky Boy Reservation. After ogima Rocky Boy's death in 1916, ogima Little Bear was put in power by the United States. He had no choice but to follow their instructions. The United States forced the Chippewas of the Fort Belknap-Rocky Boy Reservation to lose their Chippewa tribal nationality. However, many of the Indians living at the Fort Belknap-Rocky Boy Reservation are clinging to their Chippewa identity. Even at the Blackfeet and Flathead Reservations, many Chippewas are clinging to their Chippewa identity. Ogima Little Bear died in 1921. He was around 70 to 75 years old. Around that same year (either 1920 - 1921 - 1922), Joseph Paul formed the Little Shell Tribe of Chippewa Indians of Montana on his families ranch near Lewistown, Montana.

Little Shell Chippewa Blackfeet Reservation | Little Shell Pembina Chippewa Reservation

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