History, Department of


Date of this Version



Published in Smugglers, Brothels, and Twine: Historical Perspectives on Contraband and Vice in North America's Borderlands, ed. Elaine Carey and Andrae M. Marak (Tucson: The University of Arizona Press, 2011), pp. 24-43. Copyright (c) 2011 The Arizona Board of Regents.


To make order from chaos, societies and states often seek to define what constitutes illicit transnational behavior and identify who is committing such trespasses. Public verbalization and acceptance of these definitions aims at bringing a return to order. Foreign, transient, or otherwise peripheral elements of society are often targeted in these efforts. As modern globalization draws exponential links across borders and between nations, cultures, and economies, this process of anxiety, public rhetoric, and attempted enforcement will grow. An example of these phenomena can be drawn from the outcry and debate that raged across the Forty-ninth Parallel between Montana Territory and the Canadian provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan in the early 1880s. About one hundred miles northeast of Great Falls, Montana, and sixty-five miles south of the US-Canada border, lie the Bear Paw Mountains and the Rocky Boy Indian Reservation. Rocky Boy tribal members, a combination of Chippewas and Crees, are unique among the reservation tribes of the northern Great Plains. Unlike other tribes in Montana or the Dakotas, their history has firm roots north of the Forty-ninth Parallel in terms both geographic and legal. Prior to the 1916 creation of the reservation, the US government officially classified the Chippewa and Cree bands that would eventually settle on the Rocky Boy Reservation as "foreign" Indians. As such, they were subject to deportation and did not have the same legal relationship with the US federal government as other Indian tribes in the region. For more than thirty years, the experience of Chippewas and Crees was subject to the capricious winds of change as driven by local press, and by economic and political interests. Throughout the Crees' quest for legal settlement in the United States, individual Montanans and some groups occasionally and vigorously rallied behind their cause, but the predominant sentiment toward them was negative. Until the establishment of the Rocky Boy Reservation in 1916, various bands subsisted on the peripheries of Montanan cities and Indian reservations, making consistent and determined, though ultimately unsuccessful, overtures to the United States for federal recognition. While an obscure story in the broad scope of North American geography and history, this narrative of transnational indigenous activities and response of local Montanans sheds light on late-nineteenth-century borderlands history as well as the modern crises of globalization and illicit transnational vice. The interactions of Crees from Canada and Montanans during this period poignantly reveal the process of defining illicit behavior itself as well as identifying individuals and groups perpetrating it across international boundaries.

Included in

History Commons