The Piegan Indians, or Pikuni band of the Blackfoot Indians are an Algonquian-speaking people from the Great Plains. The Peigan were the largest of three Blackfoot bands that made up the Blackfoot Confederacy. The others were the Siksika and Kainai.
They were first thought to have lived in west of the Great Lakes but later moved westward. However, according to oral history, the Blackfoot creation story is set near Glacier National Park in Montana. The people practiced some agriculture and were partly nomadic. However, as the moved to the Plains they became great bison hunters and traveled more frequently. They were known for their beautiful craftwork designs in tepees, clothing, weapons, riding equipment, and war bonnets.
The Piegan’s first contact with the white man was with fur trader James Gaddy and the Hudson’s Bay Company explorer David Thompson during the winter of 1787-1788. When white settlers began to push westward, the Piegan were the southernmost tribe of the Blackfoot, roaming through the Rocky Mountains on the south side of Marias River of Montana and along both banks of the Missouri River.
During these years, the Blackfoot people suffered declines due to infectious disease epidemics for which they had no natural immunity. In 1837 a smallpox epidemic on the Plains killed 6,000 Blackfoot, as well as thousands from other tribes.
Fort Belknap and the Blackfoot Reservation were established in Montana in 1855 and three years later, the Piegan in the United States were estimated to number about 3,700. By 1861, their numbers had dropped to just about 2,500.
On January 23, 1870, a friendly Piegan village was attacked by the U.S. Cavalry and 173 were Indians were killed. Almost all of them were women, children, and elderly men. The attack is known as the Marias Massacre.
The Blackfoot also suffered from starvation because of the disruption of food supplies and war. When the last buffalo hunt failed in 1882, that year became known as the starvation year. About a fourth of the tribe suffered starvation in 1883 and 1884 when the rations were short, and a fourth of the Piegan Tribe starved to death at Fort Shaw and Fort Belknap
Today the Blackfoot live in both the United States and Canada. Many tribal members live with the Blackfeet Nation in northwestern Montana, with tribal headquarters in Browning. More than 105,000 people identify as Blackfoot.
By Kathy Weiser-Alexander, updated February 2020.