(Died at Washington, Jan. 29, 1903) (By George Bird Grinnell)
For sixty years, as boy, young man and fierce warrior, he had roamed the prairie, free as the other wild creatures who traversed it, and happy in his freedom.
He had been but a little fellow when the white men first came into the country to trade, but he was old enough to have been present, and was well enough thought of in the tribe, at the signing of Governor Stevens's treaty with the Prairie people in 1855, to affix his mark - as The Father - to that paper. As yet the coming of the white man meant little to him and to his people. It furnished them a market for their robes and furs, for which they received in exchange guns and ammunition, which made them more than ever terrible to their enemies. The whole broad prairie was still theirs to camp on and to hunt over. Their lodges were pitched along the streams from the Red Deer River on the north to the Elk River on the south, and their war journeys extended south to the country of the Mexicans.
More than twenty years ago happened the greatest misfortune that ever came to his tribe. The buffalo disappeared and never returned. From this time forth they were forced to depend on the food given them by the white men, and, in order to receive that food, they were obliged to stay in one place, to confine themselves to that little corner of ground, their reservation.
Long before this he had become the chief of his tribe - the father of his people. Already he was putting their welfare before his own, was thinking first of them and of himself last.
For it was the duty of a chief to look out for the well-being of his people; to care for the widows and orphans; to make peace between those who quarrel; to give his whole heart and his whole mind to the work of helping his people to be happy. Such were the duties that the old-time chief studied to perform. And since on his example and his precept so much depended, he must be a man who was brave in war, generous in disposition, liberal in temper, deliberate in making up his mind, and of good judgment. Such men gave themselves to their work with heart and soul, and strove for the welfare of those in their charge with an earnestness and a devotion that perhaps are not equaled by any other rulers of men.
And this devotion to his fellows was not without its influence on the man himself; after a time the spirit of good will which animated him began to shine forth in his countenance, so that at length, and as they grew old, such chiefs came to have the beneficent and kindly expression that we may sometimes see on the countenance of an elderly minister of God whose life has been one long, loving sacrifice of self to his Maker and to his fellowmen. And if the face was benevolent and kindly, not less sweet and gentle was the spirit that animated the man. Simple, honest, generous, tender-hearted, and yet withal on occasion merry and jolly. Such men, once known, commanded universal respect and admiration. They were like the conventional notion of Indians in nothing save in the color of the skin. They were true friends, delightful companions, wise counselors - men whose conduct toward their fellowmen we all might profitably imitate. We do not commonly attribute a spirit of altruism to Indians, but it was seen in these old-time chiefs.
Such a chief was white Calf, long chief of the Blackfeet. In his day he had been a famous warrior, and in the battle which took place in 1867, when the great chief, Many Horses, was killed, white Calf with two others had rushed into a great crowd of the enemy - the Crows and Gros-Ventres - who were trying to kill Wolf Calf, even then an old man, and, scattering them like smoke before the wind, had pulled the old man out of the crush and brought him safely off. It was not long after this that he put aside the warpath forever, and since then had confined himself to working for the good of his people by the arts of peace. No sacrifice was too great for him to make if he thought that by it the tribe might be helped; yet he possessed a sturdy independence that bullying and intimidation could not move - even that threats of soldiers and the guard house could not shake. When he was sure that he was right he could not be stirred. Yet, if reasons were advanced which appealed to his judgment, no man was quicker to acknowledge error.
Though nearly eighty years old the chief was not bowed with the weight of time nor were his natural forces greatly abated. He was still erect and walked with a briskness and an elasticity rare for one of his years. Yet in a degree he felt that his powers were failing, and he sometimes avoided the decision of important questions on the ground that he was getting old and his mind was no longer good.
A little more than two weeks ago he stood in the presence of the Chief Magistrate of the nation, who shook him warmly by the hand and talked to him and the others of his people present. A few days later, just as they were about to leave Washington for their distant prairie home, the old chief caught cold, pneumonia set in, and just before midnight on the 29th of January he peacefully passed away.
He was a man who was great in the breadth of his judgment, and in the readiness with which he recognized the changes he and his people were now obliged to face, and adapted himself to these changes; but greatest of all, in the devotion that he held for his tribe, and in the way in which he sacrificed himself for their welfare. Buffalo hunter, warrior, savage ruler and diplomat; then learner, instructor, persuader and encourager in new ways, he was always the father of the people. Just as for many years he had been constantly serving them, so now, at the end of his long chieftainship, he gave up his life in the successful effort to protect them from a great calamity.