Woman Chief

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Woman Chief
Beckwourth pine leaf11.jpg
Idealized illustration of "Pine Leaf", possibly identified with Woman Chief, from James Beckwourth's autobiography
Crow chief and warrior
Personal details
Died 1854
Fort Union

Woman Chief (c. 1806–1858) was a chief and warrior of the Crow people. Interested in traditionally male pursuits from an early age, she became one of the Crows' most significant leaders, joining the Council of Chiefs as the third ranking member. She attracted substantial attention from Western visitors; she may be the same person as "Pine Leaf" described by James Beckwourth, though the accuracy of this account is challenged.

Biography[edit]

The woman eventually known as Woman Chief was born to the Gros Ventres people; her birth name is unknown. At the age of about 10 she was taken prisoner by a raiding party of Crows, and was adopted by a Crow warrior who raised her among his people. She showed a disposition to assume traditionally male activities, and her foster father evidently encouraged her pursuits, as he had lost his sons to death or capture. She earned acclaim for her horse riding, marksmanship, and ability to field-dress a buffalo. However, unlike other Two-Spirits, she wore typical female clothing rather than adopting men's garments. When her father died, she assumed leadership of his lodge.[1][2]

Woman Chief gained renown as a warrior during a raid by the Blackfoot on a fort sheltering Crow and white families. She reportedly fought off multiple attackers and was instrumental in turning back the raid. She subsequently raised her own band of warriors and raided Blackfoot settlements, taking off many horses and scalps. For her deeds she was accepted to represent her lodge in the Council of Chiefs and was given the name Woman Chief. She eventually rose to the rank of third among the Council's 160 lodges. She married four wives, which increased the wealth and prestige of her lodge. She became involved in peace negotiations with other Upper Missouri tribes following the 1851 Treaty of Fort Laramie, and successfully negotiated peace with the Gros Ventres, the tribe of her birth. After several years of peace, Woman Chief was ambushed and killed by a Gros Ventres party.[1][3]

Western visitors who met Woman Chief, including Edwin Denig and Rudolph Kurz, were fascinated with her. Typically, they considered her an exotic figure among the patriarchal Crow and likened her to the Amazons of European myth. Their accounts are now considered biased, though they provide valuable details about Woman Chief's life.[3][4] James Beckwourth wrote about a Crow warrior named Bar-chee-am-pe, or Pine Leaf, who may be identified with Woman Chief. Some details of Pine Leaf's life match what is known of Woman Chief, though Beckwourth's account appears to be greatly exaggerated, if not entirely fictional.[5] Beckwourth claimed to have met Pine Leaf while living with the Crow in the 1820s. He wrote that she was a formidable warrior who vowed to kill one hundred enemies before she would marry. He further claimed to have had a romantic relationship with her and to have proposed marriage.[6] Among those challenging Beckwourth's account was Bernard DeVoto, who wrote that Beckwourth is reliable save for three areas: numbers, romance, and his own importance.[7]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b Edwin T. Denig: Five Indian Tribes at the Upper Missouri, University of Oklahoma Press, Norman, 1961, p. 195–200
  2. ^ Jenkins, Jennifer L. (2001). "Woman Chief". In Bataille, Gretchen M.; Lisa, Laurie. Native American Women: A Biographical Dictionary. Routledge. p. 341. ISBN 1135955875. Retrieved January 12, 2014. 
  3. ^ a b Jenkins, Jennifer L. (2001). "Woman Chief". In Bataille, Gretchen M.; Lisa, Laurie. Native American Women: A Biographical Dictionary. Routledge. p. 342. ISBN 1135955875. Retrieved January 12, 2014. 
  4. ^ Roscoe, Will (1988). "Strange Country, This: Images of Berdaches and Warrior Women". In Roscoe, Will. Living the Spirit. MacMillan. p. 69. ISBN 031230224X. Retrieved January 12, 2014. 
  5. ^ Roscoe, Will (1988). "Strange Country, This: Images of Berdaches and Warrior Women". In Roscoe, Will. Living the Spirit. MacMillan. p. 68. ISBN 031230224X. Retrieved January 12, 2014. 
  6. ^ Thomas D. Bonner (Ed.): The Life and Adventures of James P. Beckwourth, Harper & Brothers, New York, 1856, p. 201–203, 403
  7. ^ Bernard DeVoto in the introduction to Thomas D. Bonner (ed.): The Life and Adventures of James P. Beckwourth. Edited, with an Introduction by Bernard DeVoto, Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 1931 (reprint of the edition by Harper and Brothers, New York, 1856), p. xxiii

Further reading[edit]

  • Benjamin Capps: Woman Chief, new ed. 2002: Chivers Press. ISBN 978-0-7540-8179-1 novel, fictionalizing the life of Pine leaf, based on the few established facts