Little Bear (Native American leader)

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Little Bear was a Cree leader who lived in the Alberta, Idaho, Montana, and Saskatchewan regions of Canada and the United States, in the 19th and early 20th centuries. He is known for his participation in the 1885 North-West Rebellion, which was fought in Alberta and Saskatchewan.

Early life[edit]

Very little is known about Little Bear's early life. His father was Big Bear. Historical records[which?] tell of Little Bear's age. Around 1915 they recorded that Little Bear was already in his 70s. He may have been born in the early or mid-1840s. He was probably living in the Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming region in the 1850s. Little Bear said in Butte, Montana in either 1912 or 1913, that his father lived along the Snake River in Idaho but relocated to the Butte, Montana region to hunt for buffalo and other wild game.

The Black Hills War[edit]

Little Bear was said to have participated in the Great Sioux War of 1876 or Black Hills War. However, nearly all the battles of that war were fought in Montana and northeastern Wyoming. After the War, many Cree fled north to Canada and west into British Columbia, Idaho, Oregon, and Washington. Little Bear and his family continued to live in extreme northern Montana.

The North-West Rebellion and aftermath[edit]

In early 1885, the Cree living in central Alberta and central Saskatchewan fought and lost in the North-West Rebellion against Canada.

Frog Lake Massacre[edit]

During the Rebellion, Wandering Spirit led a group of soldiers—including Little Bear—into attacking the tiny settlement of Frog Lake, Alberta. They killed nine Whites in what became known as the Frog Lake Massacre.

Return to Montana[edit]

After the Rebellion ended, Little Bear and Lucky Man, knowing the Canadian Whites were after them, fled. The two gathered many of their people and journeyed back to Montana. They slipped through the Babb, Montana region in 1885 and hid out in that region, and then roamed about their original Montana homeland. They frequented the land on and around the Flathead Reservation which the Flathead Indians' agent did not like. Little Bear was considered the leader of the Ojibwas of the Basin, Montana region (southwest Montana).[citation needed]


Montana Whites[who?] did not like Little Bear and claimed he was not native to the United States. They demanded that Little Bear and the Ojibwas he led be deported to Canada. For the first couple of years after returning to their original Montana homeland, many of Little Bear's people roamed throughout the vast Blackfeet reservation. In 1888, the United States reduced the size of the Blackfeet reservation, leaving them with three much smaller reservations. They are the Blackfeet reservation, Fort Belknap reservation, and the Fort Peck reservation. Life got harder for CLittle Bear and his people, and they often went hungry.

In 1895, the United States forced hundreds of landless Cree and Ojibwas of Montana to move to Canada, including Chiefs Little Bear and Lucky Man. They feared the death penalty for their roles in the Frog Lake Massacre.

After Little Bear and Lucky Man reached Canada, they were apprehended and stood trial for the Massacre. They were acquitted of the charges, after which Little Bear returned to Montana.

Efforts to gain a reservation[edit]

During the 1890s, Little Bear knew he had to follow the Chippewa leader Rocky Boy if the landless nations of Montana were to eventually gain a reservation.

In 1902, Rocky Boy and Little Bear attempted to gain either a reservation or tribal recognition on the Flathead reservation. The bill to make the Flathead reservation for other landless tribes failed in 1904.

In 1905, 1906, 1908, and around 1911 Little Bear contacted Canadian leaders to request land for some of the Cree of Montana. At least five First Nations were set aside for the Chippewa of Montana. They are the Onion Lake, Samson, Ermineskin, Louis Bull, and Montana First Nations.

The Babb Chippewa reservation[edit]

In 1909, the United States set aside a new Chippewa reservation within the Blackfeet reservation, between Saint Mary Lake, Babb, and the Canadian border. Chief Rocky Boy was first to settle there, followed by Little Bear and the people he led. In all around 200 Chippewa and Cree people settled there.

Rocky Boy reservation[edit]

Since hundreds of Chippewas and Cree continued to remain landless, Rocky Boy and Little Bear stepped up their efforts to get another reservation set aside in Montana. Rocky Boy's brother, Pennahto, told Little Bear to request the old Fort Assiniboine Military Reservation be set aside as a new reservation. Neither Pennahto nor Rocky Boy lived to see the establishment of Rocky Boy Reservation.

After Rocky Boy Reservation was officially established in 1916, Little Bear became its first Chairman. He was already an old man at the time.

Little Bear died in 1921, at or nearly eighty years of age.


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