Silly me. Had a meeting on Saturday – typical blah, blah, blah. K. was nice enough to provide some meeting supplies. Always count on a schoolteacher to have plenty of pads and pencils. Of course, I immediately become fascinated with the pencils (sorry folks!). I gotta get out more, as some might say, because I had never seen these before.
The Blackfeet Indian Pencil
“Hey, what’s up with these pencils?” It seems that K’s father was also a schoolteacher who used to supply his kids with these pencils. “Really, is that the box?” The box was in prime, unopened condition. She mentioned something about 25 years ago…maybe that’s when her dad passed? Anyway, full-box, all nicely pointy.
These aren’t your typical cheap big-box brand pencil. Note the tight grain and elegant finish. The rubber on the erasers was useless after all these years, but you can imagine how nice they must have worked. A little research got me this:
The pencils were made in Browning, Montana by the Blackfeet Indian Writing Company as part of a tribal owned economic initiative.
The company was founded in 1972, and sold by the Blackfeet Nation to a private firm in 1992. In 1997, sales were a mere 27,000 pencils . That’s probably a minuscule fraction of the number sold by the large firms. I’m not sure when they folded, but it seems to be around 2000.
Well, that’s pretty dang interesting. Gone forever is the means to produce these writing instruments.
According to Pencils.com (heh),
Due to the unique brand position given the social and economic benefits gained for a time by the Blackfoot tribe from these operations the Blackfeet brand developed a somewhat loyal customer base. Part of their orginal market advantage was that the Blackfeet factory received a special designation for US government bids. Eventually, this factory lost its competitiveness in this arena to the Industries of the Blind pencil operations located in Milwaukee.
On a side note, any vending operations at “the Center” must remit a percentage “off-the-top” to some kind of association for the blind. Thus, we have no vending. The pencil business sounds pretty rough. But how rough? Read on for some really interesting and scary history:
All this is fine and good, a happy story of a poor tribe using good judgment and business sense to get along in a white man’s world. Except for one little flaw…
Back in the early 1800’s, when the Native Americans still owned most of the central, northern, and western United States, the Blackfoot were hellacious warriors and all-around troublemakers in the Plains Indian world.
They were renowned for their tracking capabilities, their skill at hunting, and their apparently genetic hatred for anyone who was not another Blackfoot. This included other Indians and all white people. Abraham Lincoln’s short tour of duty in the Army was spent fighting Blackfoot war parties.
The Blackfoot were so deranged and violent, in fact, they were among the first of the western Native American tribes brought completely to heel by the Army, and only then after nearly thirty years of hard fighting.
A Sioux war-party raid on the factory!
From there they broke into a silent, single-file trot for the massive pencil factory. There had not been a Sioux war party in living memory, and the lack of practice soon made itself evident. Things went awry immediately. Having broken into the darkened pencil factory the drunken Sioux first realized no one had brought a flashlight. Then a member of their war party tripped over a five gallon bucket of yellow pencil paint, startling the rest, and a fist fight broke out. This was only brought under control when someone turned the factory lights on. This alerted the lone 81 year old night-watchman at the far end of the plant. He did not know who was fighting whom at the far end of the factory, but his eyes were sharp enough to see that they were Native Americans, some in war paint, and that he didn’t recognize any of them. The ancient Blackfoot gene kicked in, and he sounded the factory whistle. Lights came on in homes all across the reservation.
By the time the furious and liquored-up Sioux came to their senses and discovered they’d been fighting each other in the dark, hordes of Blackfoot workers and tribal policemen were rushing towards the building carrying everything from fire extinguishers to truncheons to antique cap-and-ball pistols which had been hidden from the damned white men for over a century.
Alas, these were not “war pencils”. Just the regular, black ferrule type.
Finally, allow me to draw your attention to the illustration on the box. It’s a Remington!
Here are some more links to assist you in your pencil musings: