From their reservation in western Montana came a delegation of
15 Flatheads (Selish), the historic tribe of De Smet and Ravalli, accompanied by
several Spokan (Sihqomen) and Coeur d' Alene (Kalispiel). These three tribes
were closely associated and spoke nearly similar Salishan dialects. They also
had the same dress and general appearance.
Despite their name, the Flatheads do not, and never did, have flat heads. This
paradoxical statement is explained by the fact that the Indians of the Columbia
region, most of whom formerly compressed the head by artificial means,
considered their own heads as pointed, and contemptuously applied the term
'flat-heads' to their neighbors in the mountains, who had not the custom, but
allowed the skull to retain its natural shape.
The early travelers adopted the name without understanding the reason of its
application, and thus it came that the one tribe which despised the practice was
supposed to be above all others addicted to it.
The men wore their hair turned up from the forehead, similr to that of the
Crows. Their color is not the coppery brown of the eastern Indians, but rather
the creamy yellow sometimes seen among the Pueblos. In temper they are
good-natured and fond of pleasantry, resembling the Pueblos rather than the
stern warriors of the plains.
They formerly occupied the rough mountains at the extreme head of Missouri
river, subsisting more by roots and berries than by hunting, as they were cut
off from the buffalo country by their powerful enemies, the Blackfeet. They had
houses of bark and reeds, as well as the skin tipi.
In 1855 they were gathered on a reservation, where the confederated tribes now
number about 2000, besides about 670 Spokan and 500 Coaur d' Alene on the
Colville reservation in Washington. To see more images from the Indian Congress,
visit the Indian Congress Photo Gallery. This collection includes over 500
photographs of Native Americans, including portraits of individuals, group
photos of families and photographs of various activities.
The library also has the original "Secretary's Report" from the Trans
Mississippi Exposition. This document includes a section on the The Indian
Congress by Mr. W. V. Cox, Secretary of the Government Exhibit Board. It also
contains the Report of Captain Mercer, manager of the Indian Congress.
1998 Omaha Public Library