Monday, July 28, 2008

A Tale of Two Women

During the Nineteenth-Century, not all encounters between whites and reds on the High Plains were violent. 

From Fort Lincoln, Dakota Territory, Libbie Custer (left, with husband, George) recalled an incident when Running Antelope and several other braves visited in her home one day.

While he spoke, lifting his graceful hands toward Heaven in appeal, one of my husband's birds that was uncaged floated down and alighted on the venerable warrior's head. It had been so petted, no ordinary movement startled the little thing. It maintained its poise, spreading its wings to keep its balance, as the Indian moved his head in gesture. The orator saw that the faces of the Indians showed signs of humor, but he was ignorant of what amused them. His inquiring eyes saw no solution in the general's, for, fearing to disconcert him, General Custer controlled every muscle in his face. Finally the bird whirled up to his favorite resting-place on the horn of the buffalo head, and the warrior understood the unusual sight of a smile from his people.

Not all women were so gracious and sensitive as Libbie. During a peace council with the Kiowa and Southern Cheyenne at Fort Larned, Kansas, several westering wives decided to get a closer look. Wrote one observer:

These Indians . . . all sat in a circle, silently smoking, with the interpreter, a half-breed woman, Celestia Adams. . . . Several officers were seated in the circle. One of the women from among the traveling caravans seated herself next to Celestia, in spite of the latter's whispered remonstrances, and when the pipe of peace was passed around to each individual in the circle, she took a whiff herself, to the surprised consternation of her husband and the indignant chiefs. But it was done, and after asking Celestia to tell them to "come again," she withdrew from the circle.

The head chief, noted those present, "was insulted, and frowned with a malignant eye at the fun-loving white squaw."


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