Texts by and about Natives: Commentary

8. James Willard Schultz

In the late nineteenth century, some remarkable men moved West to live on the country’s disappearing frontier. Men like Charles Russell, Frank Bird Linderman, George Bird Grinnell, and James Willard Schultz became recorders of the open West romance and the stories of the at-large Indians. Although it has not been uncommon to characterize these men as hangers-on or romantic reporters, their lives and work show a more dedicated purpose—to know and record the last of the Indian culture in its native landscape even as the culture was subsumed by white settlement, changed by forced moves to reservations, or even outlawed. Schultz, Linderman, Russell, and Grinnell were not trained as historians. They were, instead, men who had simply moved West to take it all in, and in the cases of Russell and Grinnell (an artist and a Yale Ph.D. in osteology, respectively), men who brought their formal training out West to use it in adventurous ways. But all were storytellers who published widely in their lifetimes and who grew to know Native life and landscapes quite thoroughly.

James Willard Schultz came West in 1877 at the age of 18 because he reportedly wanted to “shoot a buffalo.” He had visited his uncle, who ran the Planter’s Hotel in St. Louis, and heard stories from trappers and fur traders who were lodging there. In 1877 his mother gave him five hundred dollars and permission to buffalo hunt for the summer in Montana; he promised he would get home in time to start school at West Point, but, of course, he did not return as he was supposed to. Rather, he stayed in Montana, and, in 1880, helped establish a trading post near Fort Conrad on the Marias River, where he remained for five more years. There he traded with Pikuni and Blood Indians and established another post on the Missouri where he traded with the Crees. Schultz became fascinated with the Indian life and joined the Blackfeet tribe. He learned to speak the Blackfeet language and married a Pikuni (Blackfeet) woman, Mutsi-Awotan-Ahki, or Fine Shield Woman, with whom he had a son, Hart Merriam Schultz, or Lone Wolf. This son became an established artist and he illustrated some of his father’s books. In the 1880s, Schultz and George Bird Grinnell explored much of northwestern Montana, where they named many of the mountains, glaciers, lakes, and streams in and around the present Glacier National Park.

After Fine Shield Woman’s death, Schultz moved to Los Angeles, where he wrote literary criticism for the Los Angeles Times. He later married Jessie Louise Donaldson, a professor at Montana State University in Missoula, and collaborated with her on the book Sun God’s Children. In his later years Schultz wrote extensively of his life among the Indians for newspapers and (like many of his fellow adventurers) for boys’ magazines. He published thirty-seven books. His papers are housed in the Merrill G. Burlingame Special Collections at Montana State University and are detailed on-line through the MSU-Bozeman Libraries. His best-known book is his first, My Life as an Indian (1935), a nostalgic but detail-filled account of his journey to Fort Benton, Montana, to work with a trader and then to live steadily among the Pikunis or Blackfeet Indians. Included here are two short papers Schultz wrote, describing particular experiences with the tribe.

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