Natawista (Holy Snake Woman), Peacemaker

Natawista with Alexander Culbertson and son Joe, taken circa 1863.  Photo courtesy of the  Montana Historical Society Research Center Photograph Archives :  941-818.

Natawista with Alexander Culbertson and son Joe, taken circa 1863.

Photo courtesy of the Montana Historical Society Research Center Photograph Archives: 941-818.

A diplomat and mother, Natawista played a key role in helping establish treaties and navigate negotiations between American and British traders with Blackfoot tribes. She was born around 1824 in traditional Blackfoot territory, probably in what is now known as southern Alberta. Her father was Chief Stoó-kya-tosi (Two Suns), who was sometimes known as Sun Old Man and Father of Many Children.

When Natawista was around sixteen years old, she was married to Alexander Culbertson in 1840. Culbertson was the chief trader for the Upper Missouri Outfit of the American Fur Company. Because of the intense competition between American and British traders for the Blackfoot trade, it had become common for officers to marry the daughters of chiefs to cement trading relations.

In 1843, naturalist John James Audubon met Natawista at Fort Union (Fort Union Trading Post, North Dakota) on the upper Missouri River and referred to her as a “princess… possessed of strength and grace in a marked degree.” Eight years later Swiss artist Rudolf Friedrich Kurz described her as “one of the most beautiful [Indigenous] women. She would be an excellent model for a Venus.”

In 1854, Natawista insisted on accompanying a party of United States government negotiators led by her husband to the Blackfoot camps. “I am afraid that they and the whites will not understand each other,” she said, “but if I go, I may be able to explain things to them, and soothe them if they should be irritated. I know there is great danger.” Partly because of her efforts, a treaty was signed a year later.

During their years together, Natawista and Culbertson had five children. At some time after 1870, Natawista went to the Blood camps and never returned to her husband. She lived with her nephew Mékaisto (Red Crow) and her extended family for much of the remainder of her life.

You can find out more about Blackfoot historical figures and culture at our Indigenous History Program led by Rebecca Many Grey Horses at the Galt Museum & Archives on Tuesdays from 10:30–noon until the end of October.