36″ x 27″
Blackfeet legend says the thunder medicine pipe was a gift from Thunder, who instructed that it be well protected and brought out each spring shortly after the first roll of thunder was heard. The respected medicine man entrusted with keeping it was required to perform a ritual dance in front of his lodge where Thunder could see and thereafter shield the people from lightning’s fury. The pipe was used in oath-taking, much as the Bible is used for pledging truth in white men’s court. The Blackfeet believed that a man who lied after swearing upon the medicine pipe was doomed to die.
Terpning witnessed the ceremonial unwrapping of a thunder pipe at a ceremonial campground south of Browning, Montana. He reproduced in his painting the striking effect as the medicine man strode past, the hot sunlight from a tepee smoke flap passing across his face and body. The elderly woman was a participant in the indoor part of the ceremony.