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Old North Trail

Historic Site or District
Interpretive sign along Hwy 89 – Steve Thompson

For 10,000 years aboriginal people of North America used The Old North Trail (from the Yukon Territory in Canada to New Mexico), first on foot, then with dogs pulling cargo-laden travois, and finally with horses.

Today, you can still see traces of the trail in certain locations.

Where the trail skirts the eastern flank of the Crown of the Continent region, the Blackfoot Confederacy once controlled a vast area immediately east of the Rocky Mountains from the North Saskatchewan River in Alberta, Canada to the Yellowstone River in southern Montana.

The Blackfeet people (or the Blackfoot, as the three tribes in Alberta are known) were very jealous of any other tribe or white men entering this area. For decades before and after Lewis and Clark and David Thompson explored this this region, few white men dared enter this area, especially in the heart of Blackfoot country along today's Alberta-Montana border.

Historical Time Period: For the last 10,000 years

A century ago Chief Brings-Down-the-Sun (Blackfeet) told Walter McClintock about the Old North Trail: "There is a well-known trail we call the Old North Trail. It runs north and south along the Rocky Mountains. No one knows how long it has been used by the Indians. My father told me it originated in the migration of a great tribe of Indians from the distant north to the south, and all the tribes have, ever since, continued to follow in their tracks."

"The Old North Trail is now becoming overgrown with moss and grass, but it was worn so deeply, by many generations of travelers, that the travois tracks and horse trail are still plainly visible..."

"In many places the white man's roads and towns have obliterated the Old Trail. It forked where the city of Calgary now stands. The right fork ran north into the Barren Lands as far as people live. The main trail ran south along the eastern side of the Rockies, at a uniform distance from the mountains, keeping clear of the forest and outside of the foothills. It ran close to where the city of Helena now stands and extended south into the country inhabited by a people with dark skins and long hair falling over their faces."

"My father once told me of an expedition from the Blackfeet that went south by the Old Trail to visit the people with dark skins. Elk Tongue and his wife, Natoya, were of this expedition, also Arrow Top and Pemmican, who was a boy of 12 at that time. He died only a few years ago at the age of 95. They were absent four years. It took them 12 moons of steady traveling to reach the country of the dark-skinned people, and 18 moons to come north again. They returned by a longer route through the "High Trees" or Bitterroot country, where they could travel without danger of being seen. They feared going along the North Trail because it was frequented by their enemies, the Crows, Sioux, and Cheyennes. I have followed the Old North Trail so often that I know every mountain, stream, and river far to the south as well as toward the distant north." (Brings-Down-the-Sun in McClintock 1992: 434-437).

Source: The Old North Trail or Life Legends and Religion of the Blackfeet Indians by Walter McClintock, Published in 1910.

Click the black and white photo, to view the Old North Trail (red dashed line) through Blackfoot Confederacy territory in Montana and Alberta, Canada.

News Links

Smithsonian- The Old North Trail: This ancient, sacred highway may have carried travelers from Canada to Mexico

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