Sunday, Jan. 16, Flathead residents enjoyed the opening reception for an exhibit displaying regional American Indian culture at Kalispell’s Central School Museum. The exhibit includes not only recreations of traditional Indian objects such as hunting knives and a full-scale tepee, but also items that originated with Heart Butte’s Blackfeet shortly after the turn of the 20th century. The exhibit’s contents were donated by lifelong Kalispell resident Beulah Clothier—whose father served as a U.S. Indian Agent from 1916 to 1920—and includes worn and used belts, a pipe, pouches, gloves, necklaces and stone clubs.
“My mother and father kept all of the Indian artifacts,” says Clothier, who was born in 1920, the year her father, C.A. “Rabbit” Robertson, left Heart Butte. But before she left, local Blackfeet bestowed upon her the name Sapapistotsocki, or “Spear Woman,” as well as a pair of baby moccasins, also on display alongside an original photograph of Blackfeet leader Mountain Chief.
Clothier, now 84, says her father and the Blackfeet had “a wonderful relationship,” which may be more than wishful thinking, as the display case includes a letter from Blackfeet Chief Bull written to Clothier’s mother upon Robinson’s death in 1947. The letter reads, in part: “The Heart Butte people also mourning for their friend [Rabbit]…He loved the Blackfeets. Always stand by them….The sun is setting now…So when the sun is setting on life’s day, and tired hands reach upwards to his Maker.”
The display will remain open to the public at the Central School Museum for a year and a half, and also includes an authentic Indian headdress and ceremonial wand donated by the son of W.F. Halliday, who owned a Kalispell pharmacy and sold Indian crafts from 1910 until the ’30s.
Betty Jo Malone, chairwoman of revolving displays at Central School Museum, intends to send letters to local schools encouraging field trips.
When Clothier contacted the museum about the artifacts sitting in her basement, “We went over and got it right away because we were so excited,” Malone says. “This is an exhibit like no one’s ever seen in the valley.”