Three-Persons and the
Chokitapix Jean L’Heureux’s
Blackfoot Geography of 1871
Translated and Edited by Allen Ronaghan
Published by Central Alberta Historical Society
Those curious about the early history of this area will find this small booklet published by the CAHS press, an interesting study.
It begins with a look at the expedition of John Palliser.
The Palliser Expedition of 1857-60, sponsored by the Royal Geographical Society, aimed to map the Prairies with a view to settlement by European immigrants.
The report would identify areas of timber, arable land and routes for railroads (CPR).
Less well examined by the expedition were those lands of the Blackfoot Indians, Peigan and Blood tribes, who did not welcome white men.
This diary of Jean L’Herureux gives a comprehensive description of these unexamined areas, places known to Albertans by other names.
This diary, originally written in the French language, has been translated and edited by Allen Ronaghan.
The name “three-persons” of the title, was given to L’Herureux by the Blackfoot, when, as a Roman Catholic Priest, he spread the message of God, (Father, Son and Holy Spirit). L’Herureux had some training in a seminary, but did not become a priest.
When he joined the Blackfoot tribes and became fluent in their language, he passed himself off as a priest.
That detail, though interesting, is not really important to this diary.
The descriptions of the land, the rivers and small watercourses, as well as the Blackfoot names given to these areas are the strength of this telling.
The author has included the diary in French as well as a brief dictionary of the Blackfoot language, and maps.
In the front of the book is an introduction giving details of L’Herureux’s origins, and the difficulties the author found working with the diary and verifying the details as far as possible. In the body of the book, a diary excerpt is given, with explanatory footnotes by the author.
One diary entry explains the social set up of the tribes and one sad note relates . . . “three tribes, the Blackfoot, the Bloods, and the Peigans . . . the country is owned in common by the entire nation with a territorial division for each tribe.”
Is it any wonder they did not welcome those who planned to sell off their land?
Because this is a small book, it is possible to keep your finger in the maps pages and check as you read, finding the places called by their Blackfoot names, now named differently.
L’Herureux reports on a One Tree Creek (now part of Dinosaur Park) and the enormous vertebrae of a powerful animal.
The natives called them “the bones of a grandfather bison”. (This is the first report of dinosaur bones in Alberta).
Though his diary reads like a government report recommending the land for immigration, it ends on a sad note.
The whisky traders from America have come to the Blackfoot land and L’Herureux pleads with the government to “put an end to such evil.”
A nice interesting dip into Alberta history.
Peggy Freeman is a freelance writer living in Red Deer.