Annie (Dorothy) Mad Plume Wall 1914–2009
Annie (Dorothy) Mad Plume Wall, well-known for her practice of herbal medicine among the Native American Blackfeet community, died of natural causes on August 2, 2009, at the age of 95.1
“I’m not sure people knew just how deep her herbal knowledge was,” said Rosalyn LaPier, Wall’s granddaughter (oral communication, September 1, 2009). “In fact, I can’t think of anyone today who could rival her in practical knowledge of traditional Blackfeet medicinal herbs.”
Wall was born in Big Badger Creek, Montana in 1914. When she was 1½ years old, her mother passed away due to complications related to childbirth, and Wall was raised by her maternal grandparents and her great-grandmother.1 They were referred to as “buffalo Indians,” a phrase which, according to LaPier, was coined by anthropologist John Ewers (1909–1997). This term refers to those Native Americans who preceded reservation-living and knew an entire geographic area, as well as 500 or so miles away, because of their nomadic lifestyle.
Wall’s Native American name was Yellow Fox Woman, given to her by her grandfather Middle Rider. LaPier explained that Native American names usually had nothing to do with the animal but a spiritual or supernatural occurrence, as believed in the Blackfeet culture.
“It was probably related to a supernatural event or occurrence that [Middle Rider] experienced, so he passed on some of his supernatural power to her,” said LaPier (e-mail, September 3, 2009). LaPier further explained that some people also passed on names that they believed gave them a good life, which is why LaPier’s Native American name is also Yellow Fox Woman.
Wall learned about traditional Blackfeet herbal medicine from her grandmother and great-grandmother. She was taught to gather and use many medicinal plants in poultices and teas, and she taught younger generations of her family to gather and use such plants, as well. She often used otahkoyitsi (Comandra umbellata, Santalaceae) root in a poultice to relieve inflammation, the lichen ootsiisiimats (Letharia vulpina, Parmeliaceae) dried and burned as an incense to treat headaches, and siiksinoko (Juniperus horizontalis, Cupressaceae) berries in a tea to treat kidney problems, to name a few.2
Wall was also very conscious of seasonal and weather conditions and knew the best times to collect certain plants. According to LaPier, Wall lived by the seasons because she was a subsistence gatherer when she was young. When she was older, she would go to the grocery store everyday, so she could have fresh food since she wasn’t used to being able to refrigerate foods: “In fact, if you had looked in her refrigerator in the last few years, you would’ve found it stuffed full with medicinal herbs and only a little food,” said LaPier.
In Wall’s eulogy, LaPier’s husband David Seck described Wall as a pharmacopeia of traditional healing medicines and said she would often mail instructions for which plants to use for healing (and how to use them) when someone was ill.3 Seck also added, “Speaking from my own experience, it would be a good thing if modern doctors would incorporate more of these plants that are still freely available into their treatments. And the tribe should do what it can to protect the places these plants grow.”
“Annie is the bridge connecting the old ways to the modern world,” Seck continued in the eulogy. “She helped so many people connect the old ways to the modern world, with the stories that she told and the knowledge that she shared. In those ways she will live forever in the hearts of those who knew her.”
Others spoke of Wall’s value as an herbal healer as well: “She was one of the most respected people on the reservation,” said Gertrude Heavy Runner, who knew Wall most of her life (oral communication, September 8, 2009). “She was fluent in our language and our ways. But the traditional use of herbal medicine amongst the Blackfeet will never be lost. It’s part of our tradition.”
Wall is survived by her sons Francis Wall and Thomas Wall, her daughters Irene Old Chief, Angeline Wall, Roselyn Azure, and Bernadette Wall, 30 grandchildren, 80 great-grandchildren, and 32 great-great-grandchildren.1 She was preceded in death by her husband Francis (Aimsback) Wall, her daughters Theresa Still Smoking and Elizabeth Wall, her son Gilbert Wall, and three other newborn sons.
—Kelly E. Lindner
- LaPier R. Annie Dorothy (Mad Plume) Wall. Glacier Reporter. September 2, 2009. Available at: http://www.goldentrianglenews.com/articles/2009/09/02/obituaries/awall.txt. Accessed September 2, 2009.
- LaPier R. Blackfeet botanist: Annie Mad Plume Wall. Kelseya Newsletter of the Montana Native Plant Society. 2009;22(41):1,9. Available at: http:// www.mtnativeplants.org/filelib/165.pdf. Accessed August 30, 2009.
- Beck D. Annie Wall Eulogy [transcript]. Delivered in Browning, Montana on August 7, 2009.