previous next
[173]

Chapter 18: bucks and squaws.

More than the White women gain, their Red sisters lose by this unnatural disparity of the male and female sexes. In the Indian lodges, there are more females than males, and in these lodges the females are bought and sold like cows and slaves.

Rounding Cape Horn and passing the summit near Truckee, three or four miles from Donner Lake, the scene of a wild winter legend, we dip into the valley of Humboldt River, a valley rising higher than the top of Snowdon; and are now among the savage mountain tribes-Utes and Shoshones-horse Indians, they are called, in contrast with the tamer savages of the Pacific Slope.

At Winnemucca, called after a stout Pah-Ute war chief, we observe an Indian of another branch of the Ute family, wrapped in a thick blanket, leaning [174] on a brand, and guarding two crouching squaws. The air is sharp, the time being mid-winter, and the plateau higher than Ben Nevis;. yet the two young women crouching on the ground are clothed in nothing but cotton rags.

“Pai-Ute?” I ask, having lately met some members of his tribe in Salt Lake City, where the new developments of doctrine are seducing many of his people into joining the church of Latter Day Saints.

“Pai-Ute,” he says.

“ Your name? ”

“ Red Dog.”

“Smoke a cigar?”

Red Dog unslips a corner of his blanket, draws the wool about his throat, and lights the Indian weed; a luxury more tempting to his savage tastes than anything on earth except a drink of fire-water. His squaws look up and smile, though with a shrinking air; an elder and a younger woman; each with Hat broad face and dark Mongolian eyes; one eighteen or nineteen, the other hardly fifteen, years of age.

“ Your squaws? ” we ask, the man, through one of the scouts, who hang about these Indian trails. [175]

“Yes, mine. Old squaw, young squaw-big one, old squaw; little one, young squaw.”

“Are they both your wives?”

“Yes, both; this is old wife, that is young wife; two squaws-me!” and the Red rascal grins with a triumphant air, through all his daubs of paint.

“Are you a Mormon, eh?”

“Plenty of Pai-Utes are Mormon chiefs; Pai-Utes very fond of Enoch,” says Red Dog, evading a direct reply to my enquiry.

Encouraged by the sound of friendly voices, the younger wife, a pretty Indian girl, peeps through her lashes, while the elder wife stares boldly up into your face, and begs. Both women have a strange resemblance to the nomads seen about a Tartar steppe; just as their sisters on Tule River bear a strange resemblance to the Chinese females in San Francisco. But these savage damsels bring their owner a lower price than their sisters from Hong Kong. Two hundred dollars are supposed to be the value of a comely Chinese girl. This Pai-Ute bought his squaw for twenty dollars. Her friends, it seems, were out of luck; the snow is getting deep; elk and antelope are scarce; and they have sold her to a [176] stranger, as they might have sold him a pony or a dog. The money paid for her will be spent in drink. By law, no whisky can be sold to Indians; but up in these snow-deserts, where is the magistrate to enforce the law?

“Are you taking her home to your own country? ”

“Ugh! ” he hisses through his teeth, “ the Pai-Utes of our family have no country left. The Whites have taken all our lands and springs. Some Pai-Utes have lands; not many. One day the Great Father will give us back our lands.”

“How do you live?”

“We wait and go about; kill game — not much; sow seed — not much. Pai-Utes very poor. One more cigar?”

“Tell me, Red Dog, about your two squaws. If you are very poor, why have you bought another wife?”

“To work for me. No squaw, much work; plenty squaw, no work. I get more dollar, buy more squaw.”

“ You make them work for you?”

The rascal grins, and clutches at his brand. Poor creatures, he will make them grind and toil; [177] perhaps lend them out as road-menders, possibly drive them to the Humboldt River camps. Among the Mission Indians, who are broken more or less to gentle ways, a buck may beat his squaw, in passion, but he seldom forces her to work. His women, as a rule, are willing slaves, eager to sweat for their ungrateful lord; but if they leave the roots undug, the patch of corn unsown, he only laughs and yawns. He would have done the same, and therefore thinks the negligence a venial sin. An Indian of these mountains snarls at such a buck with scorn, saying, “he is not brave enough to thrash his squaws!”

Compared with Apaches, Kickapoos, and Kiowas, the Utes are but a sorry lot-root diggers, rat catchers; yet the sorriest Ute alive — a dog not brave enough to scalp a sleeping foe, or to avenge a blood feud — is brave enough to kick and club a girl. Yet he prefers to set his women at each other, trusting that their jealousies will make them tear and scratch enough to save him trouble in his lodge.

“Why have you brought the old squaw with you?” we enquire of the Pai-Ute bridegroom.

“ Ugh!” he grunts, “to break the little one. All [178] girls are wild. You pinch and slap them for a month or more. When they are taken from the lodge, they mope and cry; you beat them till they stop, then they are good. When you fetch a young squaw, old one likes to come. She makes the young one stumble on stones, and sleep with two eyes open. That ties her tongue.”

Red Dog is not worse than others of his pagan tribe. To him a squaw is nothing but a drudge and beast. He keeps her like a cow, and treats her like a dog. He buys her, sells her, as he likes. Nobody interferes. American law knows nothing of a Red man's lodge. If Red Dog were to beat his bride, while all these White men were about, he would be lynched. But if he kills her in the night, when no White men are near, no sheriff will pursue him for the crime.

While she remains a member of her tribe, a woman has some natural defender, in her father, in her brother, in her son. When drafted into another tribe, her only hope is in the favour and compassion of her lord. In other days such sales of women into other tribes were rare, but as the tribes fall off in numbers, the women pass more [179] frequently from lodge to lodge. Red Dogs, with money in their belts, are now scouring the land in search of squaws.

“Have you not girls enough in your own camp, without coming up to Winnemucca when you want a wife?”

“No; not enough. White men have taken nearly all our squaws.”

It is a fact; for them, a sad and bitter fact. Some Indian tribelets are so poor in squaws, that many of the hunters have no partners; and the chiefs and medicine men can hardly stock their tents. This is the case on every frontier where the Red men live in contact with the White. A Hybrid steals, a Pale-face buys. Once she has passed into a stranger's ranch, the Indian girl is lost to her tribe for ever.

An Indian convert knows that selling girls is not the White man's custom, but no pagan Indian ever heard a voice against this ancient rule and habit of his tribe. When he obtained his squaw, he paid her price. His mother was bought, her mother bought. A girl, he says, is worth so many skins, so many dollars. If he loses her, he loses so much [180] wealth. She helps to dig his roots, to groom his horse, to bear his tent; and if the hunter is to sell his child, why may he not accept a White man's gold as quickly as a Red man's skins? The White man, he perceives, is strong. Once she is taken to the settler's ranch, his child will be better off than she would be in the biggest Indian wigwam. If he asks the girl, he will be told that she prefers to be a White man's squaw.

A train rolls in, and Red Dog kicks his wives, who shake their rags, and huddle to their feet. The railway company allows the Utes and Shoshoncs in these high wastes to fancy that the road is built for them, and lies under their protecting power. All Utes and Shoshones ride on the trains without payment, on the easy condition that they squat outside the carriage door. A winter night is coming on. At six o'clock the cold is thirty-seven degrees below freezing, and the wind is rising to a gale. These women have to squat all night, clinging in their sleep to rail and chain. Poor little bride! Beyond the cuffs and kisses of her savage purchaser, she will have to bear the vials of a rival being emptied on her head. To-morrow, when she quits the train, 18o [181] she will commence a march of ninety or a hundred miles, through drift and ice, and when she joins her husband's band, she will assume the duties of a slave. When Red Dog grows tired of her, he will sell her to some other Dog.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

hide People (automatically extracted)
Sort people alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a person to search for him/her in this document.
White (3)
White Indians (2)
Ben Nevis (1)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: