Mountain Men and Life in the Rocky

Subject Guide


Mountain West

Malachite’s Big Hole

Women as Protectors:  

There are numerous events recorded in the journals which report Indian women acting to save the lives of fur traders when their warrior-husbands had decided attack with the intention of killing the trader(s).  These women didn’t merely interpose themselves to act as peacemakers but at times would actively interfere in the attack.  Because women did not hold an equal position with men in Plains Indian society, such actions speak to the importance Indian women placed on protecting the traders and the benefits they derived through trade, even though they were risking severe punishment for themselves.  Both of the examples recorded below are from Rufus Sage and took place in the winter of 1842 (Reference):   

Two parties in the [American] Fur Company's employ, from different posts, met at a neighboring village, — one having goods and the other alcohol.  The Indians, as usual, got drunk, and commenced a fight among themselves; because the goods-trader happened to be in the lodge of one of the weaker party, they attacked him.  He was compelled to flee, and barely escaped with his life through the friendly interference of the squaws.  His goods were all stolen; —while one of the Indians who defended him was brutally murdered, and several others wounded.”  

and also this:

Through the misrepresentations of those in the interest of the [American] Fur Company, he [Bull Eagle] fancied himself misused by our trader [of the Lupton Fur Company], and came determined on revenge.  Arms in hand and stripped for the contest, accompanied by his wife and two or three friends, he confronted us, —his strange appearance told for what.  In the fury of passion his every look gave evidence of the raging demon within.  

Here, lest he should be misunderstood, he premised by a full statement of his grievances.  They were many, but the chief of them was, that our trader had employed another to "act soldier" in his stead, while he was too drunk to perform the duties of that appointment.  "I have been dressed as a soldier," said he, "to be laughed at, and now Peazeezeet [the Lupton Fur Company trader] must die!"

The room was full of Indians, and one of them, an old man, exclaimed "When Peazeezee dies, let me go under, —I must live no longer!"  

"Is this your love for the pale-face?" returned the infuriated chieftain. Then die you first!"

Upon this, seizing the defenceless old man, he drew his knife and made a heart-thrust. The intended victim, however, grasped the descending blade in his bare hand and arrested its course — but his fingers were nearly severed in so doing.  Here the wife of Bull Eagle rushed up to her husband and seized him by both arms, while others interfered, and the scene of conflict was removed from the apartment to the space in front.  

Now was a general fight. The women and children, crying for terror, ran about in the utmost confusion and dismay, —while raving combatants yelled and whooped, as knives, clubs, and tomahawks were busily dealing wounds and scattering blood.  

Soon after, the parties retired to their village, and the melee ended with only six wounded.

In a brief interval the Bull Eagle again returned, accompanied by his wife, —the latter earnestly endeavoring to dissuade him from his purpose.  

A shot was his first salute, on entering the door, which a timely thrust from the squaw averted from its object.  The kind-hearted creature then grasped the bow.   Relinquishing it in her hands, the madman made a pass at the trader with his tomahawk, —this blow was dodged, and the heroine, rushing between the two, prevented its repetition.  Dropping his tomahawk, he then fell upon the object of his hatred, butcher-knife in hand.  

But here he found himself in the firm grasp of several friendly Indians, by whom he was borne from the room.  Once again a fierce battle between supporters of Bull Eagle and protectors of the white traders ensued outside the trading house.  Before order was restored, two of the combatants were killed and numerous others injured." 

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