Primitive Love and Love-Stories
by Henry Theophilus Finck
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A total disregard of these women's feelings was also shown in the "very extensive prevalence of polygamy," and in the custom that the wife last chosen was always mistress of her predecessors. (Bancroft, I., 512.) But the utter incapacity of Navajo men for sympathetic, gallant, chivalrous sentiment is most glaringly revealed by the barbarous treatment of their female captives, who, as before stated, were often shot or delivered up for indiscriminate violence. Where such a custom prevails as a national institution it would be useless to search for refined feeling toward any woman. Indeed, the Navajo women themselves rendered the growth of refined sexual feeling impossible by their conduct. They were notorious, even among Indians, for their immodesty and lewd conduct, and were consequently incapable of either feeling or inspiring any but the coarsest sensual passion. They were not queens, as the astonishing Hale would have it, but they certainly were queans.

Concerning other Indians of the Southwest—Yumas, Mojaves, Pueblos, etc.—M.A. Dorchester writes:[212]

"The native Indian is naturally polite, but until touched by civilization, it never occurred to him to be polite to his wife." "If there is one drawback to Indian civilization more difficult to overcome than any other, it is to convince the Indian that he ought not to put the hardest work upon the Indian women."

The ferocious Apaches make slaves of their women. (Bancroft, I., 512.) Among the Comanches "the women do all the menial work." The husband has the pleasant excitement of killing the game, while the women do the hard work even here: "they butcher and transport the meat, dress the skins, etc." "The females are abused and often beaten unmercifully." (Schoolcraft, I., 236, V., 684.) The Moquis squaws were exempt from field labor not from chivalrous feelings but because the men feared amorous intrigues. (Waitz, IV., 209.) A Snake, Lewis and Clarke found (308),

"would consider himself degraded by being compelled to walk any distance; and were he so poor as to possess only two horses, he would ride the best of them, and leave the other for his wives and children and their baggage; and if he has too many wives or too much baggage for the horse, the wives have no alternative but to follow him on foot."

Turning to the great Dakota or Sioux stock, we run against one of the most naive of the sentimentalists, Catlin, who perpetrated several books on the Indians and made many "fearless" assertions about the red men in general and the Mandans in particular. G.E. Ellis, in his book, The Red Man and the While Man (101), justly observes of Catlin that "he writes more like a child than a well-balanced man," and Mitchell (in Schoolcraft, III., 254) declares that much of what Catlin wrote regarding the Mandans existed "entirely in the fertile imagination of that gentleman," Yet this does not prevent eminent anthropologists like Westermarck (359) from soberly quoting Catlin's declaration that "it would be untrue and doing injustice to the Indians, to say that they were in the least behind us in conjugal, in filial, and in paternal affection" (L.N.N.A.I., I., 121). There is only one way of gauging a man's affection, and that is by his actions. Now how, according to Catlin himself, does an Indian act toward his wife? Even among the Mandans, so superior to the other Indians he visited, he found that the women, however attractive or hungry they might be,

"are not allowed to sit in the same group with the men while at their meals. So far as I have yet travelled in the Indian country I have never seen an Indian woman eating with her husband. Men form the first group at the banquet, and women and children and dogs all come together at the next."

Men first, women and dogs next—yet they are "not in the least behind us in conjugal affection!" With his childish disregard of logic and lack of a sense of humor Catlin goes on to tell us that Mandan women lose their beauty soon because of their early marriages and "the slavish life they lead." In many cases, he adds, the inclinations of the girl are not considered in marriage, the father selling her to the highest bidder.

Mandan conjugal affection, "just like ours," is further manifested by the custom, previously referred to, which obliges mourning women to crop off all their hair, while of a man's locks, which "are of much greater importance," only one or two can be spared. (Catlin, l.c., I., 95, 119, 121; II., 123.) An amusing illustration of the Mandan's supercilious contempt for women, also by Catlin, will be given later.[213]

The Sioux tribes in general have always been notorious for the brutal treatment of their women. Mrs. Eastman, who wrote a book on their customs, once received an offer of marriage from a chief who had a habit of expending all his surplus bad temper upon his wives. He had three of them, but was willing to give them all up if she would live with him. She refused, as she "did not fancy having her head split open every few days with a stick of wood." G.P. Belden, who also knew the Sioux thoroughly, having lived among them twelve years, wrote (270, 303-5) that "the days of her childhood are the only happy or pleasant days the Indian girl ever knows." "From the day of her marriage [in which she has no choice] until her death she leads a most wretched life." The women are "the servants of servants." "On a winter day the Sioux mother is often obliged to travel eight or ten miles and carry her lodge, camp-kettle, ax, child, and several small dogs on her back and head." She has to build the camp, cook, take care of the children, and even of the pony on which her lazy and selfish husband has ridden while she tramped along with all those burdens. "So severe is their treatment of women, a happy female face is hardly ever seen in the Sioux nation." Many become callous, and take a beating much as a horse or ox does. "Suicide is very common among Indian women, and, considering the treatment they receive, it is a wonder there is not more of it."[214]

Burton attests (C.S., 125, 130, 60) that "the squaw is a mere slave, living a life of utter drudgery." The husbands "care little for their wives." "The drudgery of the tent and field renders the squaw cold and unimpassioned." "The son is taught to make his mother toil for him." "One can hardly expect a smiling countenance from the human biped trudging ten or twenty miles under a load fit for a mule." "Dacotah females," writes Neill (82, 85),

"deserve the sympathy of every tender heart. From early childhood they lead worse than a dog's life. Uncultivated and treated like brutes, they are prone to suicide, and, when desperate, they act more like infuriated beasts than creatures of reason."

Of the Crow branch of the Dakotas, Catlin wrote:[215] "They are, like all other Indian women, the slaves of their husbands ... and not allowed to join in their religious rites and ceremonies, nor in the dance or other amusements." All of which is delightfully consistent with this writer's assertion that the Indians are "not in the least behind us in conjugal affection."[216]

In his Travels Through the Northwest Regions of the United States Schoolcraft thus sums up (231) his observations:

"Of the state of female society among the Northern Indians I shall say little, because on a review of it I find very little to admire, either in their collective morality, or personal endowments.... Doomed to drudgery and hardships from infancy ... without either mental resources or personal beauty—what can be said in favor of the Indian women?"

A French author, Eugene A. Vail, writes an interesting summary (207-14) of the realistic descriptions given by older writers of the brutal treatment to which the women of the Northern Indians were subjected. He refers, among other things, to the efforts made by Governor Cass, of Michigan, to induce the Indians to treat their women more humanely; but all persuasion was in vain, and the governor finally had to resort to punishment. He also refers to the selfish ingenuity with which the men succeeded in persuading the foolish squaws that it would be a disgrace for their lords and masters to do any work, and that polygamy was a desirable thing. The men took as many wives as they pleased, and if one of them remonstrated against a new rival, she received a sound thrashing.

In Franklin's Journey to the Shores of the Polar Sea we are informed (160) that the women are obliged to drag the heavily laden sledges:

"Nothing can more shock the feelings of a person accustomed to civilized life than to witness the state of their degradation. When a party is on a march the women have to drag the tent, the meat, and whatever the hunter possesses, whilst he only carries his gun and medicine case."

When the men have killed any large beast, says Hearne (90), the women are always sent to carry it to the tent. They have to prepare and cook it,

"and when it is done the wives and daughters of the greatest captains in the country are never served till all the males, even those who are in the capacity of servants, have eaten what they think proper."

Of the Chippewas, Keating says (II., 153), that "frequently ... their brutal conduct to their wives produces abortions."

A friend of the Blackfoot Indians, G.B. Grinnell, relates (184, 216) that, while boys play and do as they please, a girl's duties begin at an early age, and she soon does all a woman's "and so menial" work. Their fathers select husbands for them and, if they disobey, have a right to beat or even kill them. "As a consequence of this severity, suicide was quite common among the Blackfoot girls."

A passage in William Wood's New England Prospect, published in 1634,[217] throws light on the aboriginal condition of Indian women in that region. Wood refers to "the customarie churlishnesse and salvage inhumanitie" of the men. The Indian women, he says, are

"more loving, pittiful and modest, milde, provident, and laborious than their lazie husbands.... Since the English arrivall comparison hath made them miserable, for seeing the kind usage of the English to their wives, they doe as much condemne their husbands for unkindnesse and commend the English for love, as their husbands, commending themselves for their wit in keeping their wives industrious, doe condemn the English for their folly in spoiling good working creatures."

Concerning the intelligent, widely scattered, and numerous Iroquois, Morgan, who knew them more intimately than anyone else, wrote (322), that "the Indian regarded woman as the inferior, the dependent, and the servant of man, and, from nature and habit, she actually considered herself to be so." "Adultery was punished by whipping; but the punishment was inflicted on the woman alone, who was supposed to be the only offender" (331). "Female life among the Hurons had no bright side," wrote Parkman (J.C., XXXIII.). After marriage,

"the Huron woman from a wanton became a drudge ... in the words of Champlain, 'their women were their mules.' The natural result followed. In every Huron town were shrivelled hags, hideous and despised, who, in vindictiveness, ferocity, and cruelty, far exceeded the men."

The Jesuit Relations contain many references to the merciless treatment of their women by the Canadian Indians. "These poor women are real pack-mules, enduring all hardships." "In the winter, when they break camp, the women drag the heaviest loads over the snow; in short, the men seem to have as their share only hunting, war, and trading" (IV., 205). "The women here are mistresses and servants" (Hurons, XV.). In volume III. of the Jesuit Relations (101), Biard writes under date of 1616:

"These poor creatures endure all the misfortunes and hardships of life; they prepare and erect the houses, or cabins, furnishing them with fire, wood, and water; prepare the food, preserve the meat and other provisions, that is, dry them in the smoke to preserve them; go to bring the game from the place where it has been killed; sew and repair the canoes, mend and stitch the skins, curry them and make clothes and shoes of them for the whole family; they go fishing and do the rowing; in short, undertake all the work except that alone of the grand chase, besides having the care and so weakening nourishment of the children....

"Now these women, although they have so much trouble, as I have said, yet are not cherished any more for it. The husbands beat them unmercifully, and often for a very slight cause. One day a certain Frenchman undertook to rebuke a savage for this; the savage answered, angrily: 'How now, have you nothing to do but to see into my house, every time I strike my dog?'"

Surely Dr. Brinton erred grievously when he wrote, in his otherwise admirable book, The American Race (49), that the fatigues of the Indian women were scarce greater than those of their husbands, nor their life more onerous than that of the peasant women of Europe to-day. Peasants in Europe work quite as hard as their wives, whereas the Indian—except during the delightful hunting period, or in war-time, which, though frequent, was after all merely episodic—did nothing at all, and considered labor a disgrace to a man, fit only for women. The difference between the European peasant and the American red man can be inferred by anyone from what observers reported of the Creek Indians of our Southern States (Schoolcraft, V., 272-77):

"The summer season, with the men, is devoted to war, or their domestic amusements of riding, horse-hunting, ball-plays, and dancing, and by the women to their customary hard labor."

"The women perform all the labor, both in the house and field, and are, in fact, but slaves to the men, without any will of their own, except in the management of the children."

"A stranger going into the country must feel distressed when he sees naked women bringing in huge burdens of wood on their shoulders, or, bent under the scorching sun, at hard labor in the field, while the indolent, robust young men are riding about, or stretched at ease on some scaffold, amusing themselves with a pipe or a whistle."

The excesses to which bias and unintelligent philanthropy can lead a man are lamentably illustrated in the writings of the Moravian missionary, Heckewelder, regarding the Delaware Indians.[218] He argues that

"as women are not obliged to live with their husbands any longer than suits their pleasure or convenience, it cannot be supposed that they would submit to be loaded with unjust or unequal burdens" (!) "Were a man to take upon himself a part of his wife's duty, in addition to his own [hunting (!), for the Delawares were then a peaceful tribe], he must necessarily sink under the load, and of course his family must suffer with him."

The heartless sophistry of this reasoning—heartless because of its pitiless disregard of the burdens and sufferings of the poor women—is exposed in part by his own admissions regarding the selfish actions of the men. He does not deny that after the women have harvested their corn or maple sugar the men arrogate the right to dispose of it as they please. He relates that in case of a domestic quarrel the husband shoulders his gun and goes away a week or so. The neighbors naturally say that his wife is quarrelsome. All the odium consequently falls on her, and when he gets back she is only too willing to drudge for him more than ever. Heckewelder naively gives the Indian's recipe for getting a useful wife:

"Indian, when he see industrious squaw, which he like, he go to him [her], place his two forefingers close aside each other, make two look like one—see him [her] smile—which is all he [she] say, yes! so he take him [her] home. Squaw know too well what Indian do if he [she] cross! Throw him [her] away and take another! Squaw love to eat meat! no husband! no meat! Squaw do everything to please husband! he do same to please squaw [??]! live happy."

When that Indian said "he do the same to please the squaw," he must have chuckled at his own sarcasm. Heckewelder does, indeed, mention a few instances of kindness to a wife (e.g., going a great distance to get some berries which she, in a pregnant state, eagerly desired;) but these were obviously exceptional, as I have found nothing like them in other records of Indian life. It must be remembered that, as Roosevelt remarks (97) these Indians, under the influence of the Moravian missionaries, had been

"transformed in one generation from a restless, idle, blood-thirsty people of hunters arid fishers into an orderly, thrifty, industrious folk; believing with all their hearts the Christian religion."

It was impossible, however, to drive out the devil entirely, as the facts cited show, and as we may infer from what, according to Loskiel, was true a century ago of the Delawares as well as the Iroquois: "Often it happens that an Indian deserts his wife because she has a child to suckle, and marries another whom he presently abandons for the same reason." In this respect, however, the women are not much better than the men, for, as he adds, they often desert a husband who has no more presents to give them, and go with another who has. Truly Catlin was right when he said that the Indians (and these were the best of them) were "not in the least behind us in conjugal affection!"

Thus do even the apparent exceptions to Indian maltreatment of women—which exceptions are constantly cited as illustrations of the rule—melt away like mists when sunlight is brought to bear upon them. One more of these exceptions, of which sly sentimentalists have made improper use, must be referred to here. It is maintained, on the authority of Charlevoix, that the women of the Natchez Indians asserted their rights and privileges even above those of the men, for they were allowed to put unfaithful husbands to death while they themselves could have as many paramours as they pleased. Moreover, the husband had to stand in a respectful posture in the presence of his wife, was not allowed to eat with her, and had to salute her in the same way as the servants. This, truly, would be a remarkable sociological fact—if it were a fact. But upon referring to the pages of Charlevoix (264) we find that these statements, while perfectly true, do not refer to the Natchez women in general, but only to the princesses, or "female suns." These were allowed to marry none but private men; but by way of compensation they had the right to discard their husbands whenever they pleased and take another. The other women had no more privileges than the squaws of other tribes; whenever a chief saw a girl he liked he simply informed the relatives of the fact and enrolled her among the number of his wives. Charlevoix adds that he knew of no nation in America where the women were more unchaste. The privileges conferred on the princesses thus appear like a coarse, topsy-turvy joke, while affording one more instance of the lowest degradation of woman.

Summing up the most ancient and trustworthy evidence regarding Mexico, Bandelier writes (627):

"The position of women was so inferior, they were regarded as so far beneath the male, that the most degrading epithet that could be applied to any Mexican, aside from calling him a dog, was that of woman."

If a woman presumed to don a man's dress her death alone could wipe out the dishonor.


So much for the Indians of North America. The tribes of the southern half of the continent would furnish quite as long and harrowing a tale of masculine selfishness and brutality, but considerations of space compel us to content ourselves with a few striking samples.

In the northern regions of South America historians say that "when a tribe was preparing poison in time of war, its efficacy was tried upon the old women of the tribe."[219]

"When we saw the Chaymas return in the evening from their gardens," writes Humboldt (I., 309),

"the man carried nothing but the knife or hatchet (machete) with which he clears his way among the underwood; whilst the woman, bending under a great load of plantains, carried one child in her arms, and, sometimes, two other children placed upon the load."

Schomburgk (II., 428) found that Caribbean women generally bore marks of the brutal treatment to which they were subjected by the men. Brett noted (27, 31) that among the Guiana tribes women had to do all the work in field and home as well as on the march, while the men made baskets, or lay indolently in hammocks until necessity compelled them to go hunting or fishing. The men had succeeded so thoroughly in creating a sentiment among the women that it was their duty to do all the work, that when Brett once induced an Indian to take a heavy bunch of plantains off his wife's head and carry it himself, the wife (slave to the backbone) seemed hurt at what she deemed a degradation of her husband. One of the most advanced races of South America were the Abipones of Paraguay. While addicted to infanticide they, contrary to the rule, were more apt to spare the female children; but their reason for this was purely commercial. A son, they said, would be obliged to purchase a wife, whereas daughters may be sold to a bridegroom (Dobrizhoffer, II., 97). The same missionary relates (214) that boys are laughed at, praised and rewarded for throwing bones, horns, etc., at their mothers.

"If their wives displease them, it is sufficient; they are ordered to decamp.... Should the husband cast his eyes upon any handsome woman the old wife must move merely on this account, her fading form and advancing age being her only accusers, though she may be universally commended for conjugal fidelity, regularity of conduct, diligent obedience, and the children she has borne."

In Chili, among the Mapuches (Araucanians) the females, says Smith (214), "do all the labor, from ploughing and cooking to the saddling and unsaddling of a horse; for the 'lord and master' does nothing but eat, sleep, and ride about." Of the Peruvian Indians the Jesuit Pater W. Bayer (cited Reich, 444) wrote about the middle of the eighteenth century that wives are treated as slaves and are so accustomed to being regularly whipped that when the husband leaves them alone they fear he is paying attention to another woman and beg him to resume his beating. In Brazil, we are informed by Spix and Martins (I., 381),

"the women in general are slaves of the men, being compelled when on the march to carry everything needed, like beasts of burden; nay, they are even obliged to bring home from the forest the game killed by the men."

Tschndi (R.d.S.A., 284, 274) saw the marks of violence on many of the Botocudo women, and he says the men reserved for themselves the beautiful plumes of birds, leaving to the women such ornaments as pig's claws, berries, and monkey's teeth. A peculiar refinement of selfishness is alluded to by Burton (H.B., II., 49):

"The Brazilian natives, to warm their naked bodies, even in the wigwam, and to defend themselves against wild beasts, used to make their women keep wood burning all night."

Of the Patagonians Falkner says (125) that the women "are obliged to submit to every species of drudgery." He gives a long list of their duties (including even hunting) and adds:

"No excuse of sickness, or being big with child, will relieve them from their appointed labor; and so rigidly are they obliged to perform their duty, that their husbands cannot help them on any occasion, or in the greatest distress, without incurring the highest ignominy."

Even the wives of the chiefs were obliged to drudge unless they had slaves. At their marriages there is little ceremony, the bride being simply handed over to the man as his property. The Fuegians, according to Fitzroy, when reduced to a state of famine, became cannibals, eating their old women first, before they kill their dogs. A boy being asked why they did this, answered: "Doggie catch otters, old women no." (Darwin, V B., 214.)

Thus, from the extreme north to the extreme south of the American continent we find the "noble red man" consistent in at least one thing—his maltreatment of women. How, in the face of these facts, which might be multiplied indefinitely, a specialist like Horatio Hale could write that there was among the Indians "complete equality of the sexes in social estimation and influence," and that

"casual observers have been misled by the absence of those artificial expressions of courtesy which have descended to us from the time of chivalry, and which, however gracious and pleasing to witness, are, after all, merely signs of condescension and protection from the strong to the weak"[220]

—surpasses all understanding. It is a shameful perversion of the truth, as all the intelligent and unbiassed evidence of observers from the earliest time proves.


Not content with maltreating their squaws, the Indians literally add insult to injury by the low estimation in which they hold them. A few sample illustrations must suffice to show how far that adoration which a modern lover feels for women and for his sweetheart in particular is beyond their mental horizon.

"The Indians," says Hunter (250), "regarding themselves as the lords of the earth, look down upon the squaws as an inferior order of beings," created to rear families and do all the drudgery; "and the squaws, accustomed to such usage, cheerfully acquiesce in it as a duty." The squaw is not esteemed for her own sake, but "in proportion to the number of children she raises, particularly if they are males, and prove brave warriors." Franklin says (287) that the Copper Indians "hold women in the same low estimation as the Chippewayans do, looking upon them as a kind of property which the stronger may take from the weaker." He also speaks (157) "of the office of nurse, so degrading in the eyes of a Chippewayan, as partaking of the duties of a woman." "The manner of the Indian boy toward his mother," writes Willoughby (274), "is almost uniformly disrespectful;" while the adults consider it a disgrace to do a woman's work—that is, practically any work at all; for hunting is not regarded as work, but is indulged in for the sport and excitement. In the preface to Mrs. Eastman's book on the Dakotas we read:

"The peculiar sorrows of the Sioux woman commence at her birth. Even as a child she is despised, in comparison with her brother beside her, who is one day to be a great warrior."

"Almost everything that a man owns is sacred," says Neill (86), "but nothing that the woman possesses is so esteemed." The most insulting epithets that can be bestowed on a Sioux are coward, dog, woman. Among the Creeks, "old woman" is the greatest term of reproach which can be used to those not distinguished by war names. You may call an Indian a liar without arousing his anger, but to call him a woman is to bring on a quarrel at once. (Schoolcraft, V., 280.) If the Natchez have a prisoner who winces under torture he is turned over to the women as being unworthy to die by the hands of men. (Charlevoix, 207.) In many cases boys are deliberately taught to despise their mothers as their inferiors. Blackfeet men mourn for the loss of a man by scarifying their legs; but if the deceased is only a woman, this is never done. (Grinnell, 194.) Among all the tribes the men look on manual work as a degradation, fit only for women. The Abipones think it beneath a man to take any part in female quarrels, and this too is a general trait. (Dobrizhoffer, II., 155.)[221] Mrs. Eastman relates (XVII.) that

"among the Dakotas the men think it undignified for them to steal, so they send their wives thus unlawfully to procure what they want—and woe be to them if they are found out."

Horse-stealing alone is considered worthy of superior man. But the most eloquent testimony to the Indian's utter contempt for woman is contributed in an unguarded moment by his most ardent champion. Catlin relates (N.A.I., I., 226) how he at one time undertook to paint the portraits of the chiefs and such of the warriors as the chiefs deemed worthy of such an honor. All was well until, after doing the men, he proposed also to paint the pictures of some of the squaws:

"I at once got myself into a serious perplexity, being heartily laughed at by the whole tribe, both by men and by women, for my exceeding and (to them) unaccountable condescension in seriously proposing to paint a woman, conferring on her the same honor that I had done the chiefs and braves. Those whom I had honored were laughed at by the hundreds of the jealous, who had been decided unworthy the distinction, and were now amusing themselves with the very enviable honor which the great white medicine man had conferred especially on them, and was now to confer equally upon the squaws!"


It might be inferred a priori that savages who despise and abuse their women as the Indians do would not allow girls to choose their own husbands except in cases where no selfish reason existed to force them to marry the choice of their parents. This inference is borne out by the facts. Westermarck, indeed, remarks (215) that "among the Indians of North America, numberless instances are given of woman's liberty to choose her husband." But of the dozen or so cases he cites, several rest on unreliable evidence, some have nothing to do with the question at issue,[222] and others prove exactly the contrary of what he asserts; while, more suo, he placidly ignores the mass of facts which disprove his assertion that "women are not, as a rule, married without having any voice of their own in the matter." There are, no doubt, some tribes who allow their women more or less freedom. Apache courtship appears to be carried on in two ways, in each of which the girl has the power to refuse. In both cases the proposal is made by pantomime, without a word being spoken. According to Cremony (245). the lover stakes his horse in front of the girl's "roost." Should she favor his suit, she takes his horse, gives it food and water, and secures it in front of his lodge. Four days comprise the term allowed for an answer. Dr. J.W. Hoffman relates[223] that a Coyotero Apache, having selected the girl he wants, watches to find out the trail she is apt to frequent when she goes to pick berries or grass seed. Having discovered it, he places a row of stones on both sides of it for a distance of ten or fifteen paces:

"He then allows himself to be seen by the maiden before she leaves camp, and running ahead, hides himself in the immediate vicinity of the row of stones. If she avoids them by passing to the outside, it is a refusal, but should she continue on her trail, and pass between the two rows, he immediately rushes out, catches her and ... carries her triumphantly to camp."

Lewis and Clarke relate (441) that among the Chinooks the women "have a rank and influence very rarely found among Indians." They are allowed to speak freely before the men, their advice is asked, and the men do not make drudges of them. The reason for this may be found in a sentence from Ross's book on Oregon (90): "Slaves do all the laborious work." Among such Indians one might expect that girls would have their inclinations consulted when it came to choosing a husband. In the twelfth chapter of his Wa-Kee-Nah, James C. Strong gives a graphic description of a bridal chase which he once witnessed among the Mountain Chinooks. A chief had an attractive daughter who was desired by four braves. The parents, having no special choice in the matter, decided that there should be a race on horseback, the girl being the winner's prize. But if the parents had no preference, the girl had; she indulged in various ingenious manoeuvres to make it possible for the Indian on the bay horse to overtake her first. He succeeded, put his arm round her waist, lifted her from her horse to his own, and married her the next day.

Here the girl had her way, and yet it was only by accident, for while she had a preference, she had no liberty of choice. It was the parents who ordered the bridal race, and, had another won it, she would have been his. It is indeed difficult to find real instances of liberty of choice where the daughter's desire conflicted with the wishes of the parents or other relatives. Westermarck claims that the Creeks endeavored to gain the girl's consent, but no such fact can be gathered from the passage he refers to (Schoolcraft, V., 269). Moreover, among the Creeks, unrestrained license prevailed before marriage, and marriage was considered only as a temporary convenience, not binding on the party more than a year; and finally, Creeks who wanted to marry had to gain the consent of the young woman's uncles, aunts, and brothers. Westermarck also says that among the Thlinkets the suitor had to consult the wishes of the "young lady;" yet on page 511 he tells us that among these Indians, "when a husband dies, his sister's son must marry the widow." It does not seem likely that where even widows are treated so unceremoniously, any deference is paid to the wishes of the "young ladies." From Keating Westermarck gathers the information that although with the Chippewas the mothers generally settle the preliminaries to marriage without consulting the children, the parties are not considered husband and wife till they have given their consent. A reference to the original passage gives, however, a different impression, showing that the parents always have their own way, unless the girl elopes. The suitor's mother arranges the matter with the parents of the girl he wants, and when the terms have been agreed upon her property is removed to his lodge. "The disappearance of the property is the first intimation which she receives of the contemplated change in her condition." If one or both are unwilling, "the parents, who have a great influence, generally succeed in bringing them to second their views."


A story related by C.G. Murr, a German missionary, warns us that assertions as to the girls being consulted must always be accepted with great caution. His remarks relate to several countries of Spanish America. He was often urged to find husbands for girls only thirteen years old, by their mothers, who were tired of watching them. "Much against my will," he writes,

"I married such young girls to Indians fifty or sixty years old. At first I was deceived, because the girls said it was their free choice, whereas, in truth, they had been persuaded by their parents with flatteries or threats. Afterwards I always asked the girls, and they confessed that their father and mother had threatened to beat them if they disobeyed."

In tribes where some freedom seems to be allowed the girls at present there are stories or traditions indicating that such a departure from the natural state of affairs is resented by the men. Sometimes, writes Dorsey (260) of the Omahas,

"when a youth sees a girl whom he loves, if she be willing, he says to her, 'I will stand in that place. Please go thither at night.' Then after her arrival he enjoys her, and subsequently asks her of her father in marriage. But it was different with a girl who had been petulant, one who had refused to listen to the suitor at first. He might be inclined to take his revenge. After lying with her, he might say, 'As you struck me and hurt me, I will not marry you. Though you think much of yourself, I despise you.' Then would she be sent away without winning him for her husband; and it was customary for the man to make songs about her. In these songs the woman's name was not mentioned unless she had been a 'minckeda,' or dissolute woman."[224]


An odd story about a man who was so ugly that no girl would have him is related by Boas.[225] This man was so distasteful to the girls that if he accidentally touched the blanket of one of them she cut out the piece he had touched. Ten times this had happened, and each time he had gathered the piece that had been cut out, giving it to his mother to save. Besides being so ugly, he was also very poor, having gambled away everything he possessed, and being reduced to the necessity of swallowing pebbles to allay the pangs of hunger. A sorcerer, however, put a fine new head on him and told him where he would find two lovely girls who had refused every suitor, but who would accept him. He did so and the girls were so pleased with his beauty that they became his wives at once and went home with him. He resumed his gambling and lost again, but his wives helped him to win back his losses. They also said to him:

"All the girls who formerly would have nothing to do with you will now be eager to be yours. Pay no attention to them, however, but repel them if they touch you."

The girls did come to his mother, and they said they would like to be his wives. When the mother told him this, he replied: "I suppose they want to get back the pieces they cut out of their blankets." He took the pieces, gave them to the girls, with taunting words, and drove them away.


The moral of this sarcastic conclusion obviously was intended to be that girls must not show independence and refuse a man, though he be a reckless gambler, so poor that he has to eat pebbles, and so ugly that he needs to have a new head put on him. Another story, the moral of which was "to teach girls the danger of coquetry," is told by Schoolcraft (Oneota, 381-84). There was a girl who refused all her suitors scornfully. In one case she went so far as to put together her thumb and three fingers, and, raising her hand gracefully toward the young man, deliberately open them in his face. This gesticulatory mode of rejection is an expression of the highest contempt, and it galled the young warrior so much that he was taken ill and took to his bed until he thought out a plan of revenge which cured him. He carried it out with the aid of a powerful spirit, or personal Manito. They made a man of rags and dirt, cemented it with snow and brought it to life. The girl fell in love with this man and followed him to the marshes, where the snow-cement melted away, leaving nothing but a pile of rags and dirt. The girl, unable to find her way back, perished in the wilderness.


In the vast majority of instances the Indians did not simply try to curb woman's efforts to secure freedom of choice by intimidating her or inventing warning stories, but held the reins so tightly that a woman's having a will of her own was out of the question. It may be said that there are three principal stages in the evolution of the custom of choosing a wife. In the first and lowest stage a man casts his eyes on a woman and tries to get her, utterly regardless of her own wishes. In the second, an attempt is made to win at least her good-will, while in the third—which civilized nations are just entering—a lover would refuse to marry a girl at the expense of her happiness. A few Indian tribes have got as far as the second stage, but most of them belong to the first. Provided a warrior coveted a girl, and provided her parents were satisfied with the payment he offered, matters were settled without regard to the girl's wishes. To avoid needless friction it was sometimes deemed wise to first gain the girl's good-will; but this was a matter of secondary importance. "It is true," says Smith in his book on the Indians of Chili (214),

"that the Araucanian girl is not regularly put up for sale and bartered for, like the Oriental houris; but she is none the less an article of merchandise, to be paid for by him who would aspire to her hand. She has no more freedom in the choice of her husband than has the Circassian slave."

"Marriage with the North Californians," says Bancroft (I., 349),

"is essentially a matter of business. The young brave must not hope to win his bride by feats of arms or softer wooing, but must buy her of her father like any other chattel, and pay the price at once, or resign in favor of a richer man. The inclinations of the girl are in nowise consulted; no matter where her affections are placed, she goes to the highest bidder. The purchase effected, the successful suitor leads his blushing property to his hut and she becomes his wife without further ceremony. Wherever this system of wife-purchase obtains the rich old men almost absorb the youth and beauty of the tribe, while the younger and poorer men must content themselves with old and ugly wives. Hence their eagerness for that wealth which will enable them to throw away their old wives and buy new ones."[226]

A favorable soil for the growth of romantic and conjugal love! The Omahas have a proverb that an old man cannot win a girl, he can only win her parents; nevertheless if the old man has the ponies he gets the girl. The Indians insist on their rights, too. Powers tells (318) of a California (Nishinam) girl who loathed the man that had a claim on her. She took refuge with a kind old widow, who deceived the pursuers. When the deception was discovered, the noble warriors drew their arrows and shot the widow to death in the middle of the village amid general approval. I myself once saw a poor Arizona girl who had taken refuge with a white family. When I saw the man to whom she had been sold—a dirty old tramp whom a decent person would not want in the same tribe, much less in the same wigwam—I did not wonder she hated him; but he had paid for her and she was ultimately obliged to live with him.

Of the Mandans, Catlin says (I., 119) that wives "are mostly treated for with the father, as in all instances they are regularly bought and sold." Belden relates (32) how he married a Sioux girl. One evening his Indian friend Frombe came to his lodge and said he would take him to see his sweetheart.

"I followed him and we went out of the village to where some girls were watching the Indian boys play at ball. Pointing to a good-looking Indian girl, Frombe said: 'That is Washtella,'

"'Is she a good squaw?' I inquired.

"'Very,' he replied.

"'But perhaps she will not want to marry me,' I said.

"'She has no choice,' he answered, laughing.

"'But her parents,' I interposed, 'will they like this kind of proceeding?'

"'The presents you are expected to make them will be more acceptable than the girl,' he answered."

And when full moon came the two were married.

Blackfeet girls, according to Grinnell (316),

"had very little choice in the selection of a husband. If a girl was told she had to marry a certain man, she had to obey. She might cry, but her father's will was law, and she might be beaten or even killed by him if she did not do as she was ordered."

Concerning the Missasaguas of Ontario, Chamberlain writes (145), that in former times,

"when a chief desired to marry, he caused all the marriageable girls in the village to come together and dance before him. By a mark which he placed on the clothes of the one he had chosen her parents knew she had been the favored one."

Of the Nascopie girls, M'Lean says (127) that "their sentiments are never consulted."'

The Pueblos, who treat their women exceptionally well, nevertheless get their wives by purchase. With the Navajos "courtship is simple and brief; the wooer pays for his bride and takes her home." (Bancroft, L, 511.) Among the Columbia River Indians, "to give a wife away without a price is in the highest degree disgraceful to her family." (Bancroft, I., 276.) "The Pawnees," says Catlin,[227] "marry and unmarry at pleasure. Their daughters are held as legitimate merchandise.... The women, as a rule, accept the situation with the apathy of the race." Of the Cheyennes, Arapahoes, and other Plains Indians, Dodge says (216) that girls are regarded as valuable property to be sold to the highest bidder, in later times by preference to a white man, though it is known that he will probably soon abandon his wife. In Oregon and Washington "wives, particularly the later ones, are often sold or traded off.... A man sends his wife away, or sells her, at his will." (Gibbs, 199.)


Besides this commercialism, which was so prevalent that, as Dr. Brinton says (A.R., 48), "in America marriage was usually by purchase," there were various other obstacles to free choice. "In a number of tribes," as the same champion of the Indian remarks, "the purchase of the eldest daughter gave a man a right to buy all the younger daughters as they reached nubile age." Concerning the Blackfeet—who were among the most advanced Indians—Grinnell says (217) that

"all the younger sisters of a man's wife were regarded as his potential wives. If he was not disposed to marry them, they could not be disposed of to any other man without his consent." "When a man dies his wives become the potential wives of his brother." "In the old days, it was a very poor man who did not have three wives. Many had six, eight, and some more than a dozen."

Morgan refers (A.S., 432) to forty tribes where sisters were disposed of in bunches; and in all such cases liberty of choice is of course out of the question. Indeed the wide prevalence of so utterly barbarous and selfish a custom shows us vividly how far from the Indian's mind in general was the thought of seriously consulting the choice of girls.

Furthermore, to continue Dr. Brinton's enumeration, "the selection of a wife was often regarded as a concern of the gens rather than of the individual. Among the Hurons, for instance, the old women of the gens selected the wives for the young men, and united them with painful uniformity to women several years their senior." "Thus," writes Morgan (L. of I., 320),

"it often happened that the young warrior at twenty-five was married to a woman of forty, and oftentimes a widow; while the widower at sixty was joined to a maiden of twenty."

Besides these obstacles to free choice there are several others not referred to by Dr. Brinton, the most important being the custom of wrestling for a wife, and of infant betrothal or very early marriage. According to a passage in Hearne (104) cited on a previous occasion, and corroborated by W.H. Hooper and J. Richardson, it has always been the custom of northern Indians to wrestle for the women they want, the strongest one carrying off the prize, and a weak man being "seldom permitted to keep a wife that a stronger man thinks worth his notice." It is needless to say that this custom, which "prevails throughout all their tribes," puts the woman's freedom of choice out of question as completely as if she were a slave sold in the market. Richardson says (II., 24) that

"the bereaved husband meets his loss with the resignation which custom prescribes in such a case, and seeks his revenge by taking the wife of another man weaker than himself."

Duels or fights for women also occurred in California, Mexico, Paraguay, Brazil and other countries.[228]

Among the Comanches "the parents exercise full control in giving their daughters in marriage," and they are frequently married before the age of puberty. (Schoolcraft, II., 132.) Concerning the customs of early betrothal and marriage enough has been said in preceding pages. It prevailed widely among the Indians and, of course, utterly frustrated all possibility of choice. In fact, apart from this custom, Indian marriage, being in the vast majority of cases with girls under fifteen,[229] made choice, in any rational sense of the word, entirely out of the question.


It has long been fashionable among historians to attribute to certain Indians of Central and South America a very high degree of culture. This tendency has received a check in these critical days.[230] We have seen that morally the Mexicans, Central Americans, and Peruvians were hardly above other Indians. In the matter of allowing females to choose their mates we likewise find them on the same low level. In Guatemala even the men wore obliged to accept wives selected for them by their parents, and Nicaraguan parents usually arranged the matches. In Peru the Incas fixed the conditions under which matrimony might take place as follows:

"The bridegroom and bride must be of the same town or tribe, and of the same class or position; the former must be somewhat less than twenty-four years of age, the latter eighteen. The consent of the parents and chiefs of the tribes was indispensible." (Tschudi, 184.)

Unless the consent of the parents had been obtained the marriage was considered invalid and the children illegitimate. (Garcilasso de la Vega, I., 207.) As regards the Mexicans, Bandelier shows (612, 620) that the position of woman was "little better than that of a costly animal," and he cites evidence indicating that as late as 1555 it was ordained at a concile that since it is customary among the Indians "not to marry without permission of their principals ... and the marriage among free persons is not as free as it should be," etc.

As for the other Indians of the Southern Continent it is needless to add that they too are habitually guided by the thought that daughters exist for the purpose of enriching their parents. To the instances previously cited I may add what Schomburgk says in his book on Guiana—that if the girl to whom the parents betroth their son is too young to marry, they give him meanwhile a widow or an older unmarried woman to live with. This woman, after his marriage, becomes his servant. Musters declares (186) that among the Tehuelches (Patagonians) "marriages are always those of inclination." But Falkner's story is quite different (124):

"As many of these marriages are compulsive on the side of the woman, they are frequently frustrated. The contumacy of the woman sometimes tires out the patience of the man, who then turns her away, or sells her to the person on whom she has fixed her affections."

Westermarck fancies he has a case on his side in Tierra del Fuego, where, "according to Lieutenant Bove, the eagerness with which young women seek for husbands is surprising, but even more surprising is the fact that they nearly always attain their ends." More careful study of the pages of the writer referred to[231] and a moment's unbiassed reflection would have made it clear to Westermarck that there is no question here either of choice or of marriage in our sense of the words. The "husbands" the girls hunted for were boys of fourteen to sixteen, and the girls themselves began at twelve to thirteen years of age, or five years before they became mothers, and Fuegian marriage "is not regarded as complete until the woman has become a mother," as Westermarck knew (22, 138). In reality the conduct of these girls was nothing but wantonness, in which the men, as a matter of course, acquiesced. The missionaries were greatly scandalized at the state of affairs, but their efforts to improve it were strongly resented by the natives.[232]


With the Abipones of Paraguay "it frequently happens," according to Dobrizhoffer (207),

"that the girl rescinds what has been settled and agreed upon between the parents and the bridegroom, obstinately rejecting the very mention of marriage. Many girls, through fear of being compelled to marry, have concealed themselves in the recesses of the woods or lakes; seeming to dread the assaults of tigers less than the untried nuptials."

The italics are mine; they make it obvious that the choice of the girls is not taken into account and that they can escape parental tyranny only by running away. Among the Indians in general it often happens that merely to escape a hated suitor a girl elopes with another man. Such cases are usually referred to as love-matches, but all they indicate is a (comparative) preference, while proving that there was no liberty of choice. A girl whose parents try to force her on a much-married warrior four or five times her age must be only too glad to run away with any young man who comes along, love or no love.[233]

In the chapter on Australia I commented on Westermarck's topsy-turvy disposition to look upon elopements as indications of the liberty of choice. He repeats the same error in his references to Indians. "It is indeed," he says,

"common in America for a girl to run away from a bridegroom forced upon her by the parents, whilst, if they refuse to give their daughter to a suitor whom she loves, the couple elope. Thus, among the Dakotas, as we are told by Mr. Prescott, 'there are many matches made by elopement, much to the chagrin of the parents.'"

The italics again indicate that denial of choice is the custom, while the elopement indicates the same thing, for if there were liberty of choice there would be no need of eloping. Moreover, an Indian elopement does not at all indicate a romantic preference on the part of an eloping couple. If we examine the matter carefully we find that an Indian elopement is usually a very prosaic affair indeed. A young man likes a girl and wishes to marry her; but she has no choice, as her father insists on a number of ponies or blankets in payment for her which the suitor may not have; therefore the two ran away. In other words, an Indian elopement is a purely commercial transaction, and one of a very shady character too, being nothing less than a desire to avoid paying the usual price for a girl. It is in fact a kind of theft, an injustice to the parents; for while paying for a bride may be evidence of savagery, it is the custom among Indians, and parents naturally resent its violation, though ultimately they may forgive the elopers. Dodge relates (202) that among the Indians of the great plains parents prefer a rich suitor, though he may have several wives already. If the daughter prefers another man the only thing to do is to elope. This is not easy, for a careful watch is kept on suspicious cases. But the girl may manage to step out while the family is asleep. The lover has two ponies in readiness, and off they speed. If overtaken by the pursuers the man is liable to be killed. If not, the elopers return after a few weeks and all is forgiven. Such elopements, Dodge adds, are frequent in the reservations where young men are poor and cannot afford ponies. Moreover, the concentration of large numbers of Indians of different bands and tribes on the reservations has increased the opportunities of acquaintance and love-making among the young people.

In an article on Love-Songs among the Omaha Indians,[234] Miss Alice Fletcher calls attention to the fact that the individual is little considered in comparison with the tribal organization: "Marriage was therefore an affair of the gentes, and not the free union of a man and woman as we understand the relation." But side by side with the formal marriage sanctioned by the tribe grew up the custom of secret courtship and elopement; so the saying among the Omahas is: "An old man buys his wife; a young man steals his." Dorsey says (260):

"Should a man get angry because his single daughter, sister, or niece has eloped, the other Omahas would talk about him saying, 'That man is angry on account of the elopement of his daughter.' They would ridicule him for his behavior."

Other Indians take the matter much more seriously. When a Blackfoot girl elopes her parents feel very bitter against the man.

"The girl has been stolen. The union is no marriage at all. The old people are ashamed and disgraced for their daughter. Until the father has been pacified by satisfactory payments, there is no marriage." (Grinnell, 215.)

The Nez Perces so bitterly resent elopements that they consider the bride in such a case as a prostitute and her parents may seize upon the man's property. (Bancroft, I., 276.)

Indian elopements, I repeat, are nothing but attempts to dodge payment for a bride, and therefore do not afford the least evidence of exalted sentiments, i.e., of romantic love, however romantic they may be as incidents. Read, for instance, what Mrs. Eastman writes (103) regarding the Sioux:

"When a young man is unable to purchase the girl he loves best, or if her parents are unwilling she should marry him, if he have gained the heart of the maiden he is safe. They appoint a time and place to meet; take whatever will be necessary for their journey.... Sometimes they merely go to the next village to return the next day. But if they fancy a bridal tour, away they go several hundred miles, with the grass for their pillow, the canopy of heaven for their curtains, and the bright stars to watch over them. When they return home the bride goes at once to chopping wood, and the groom to smoking."

What does such a romantic incident tell us regarding the nature of the elopers' feelings—whether they are refined and sentimental or purely sensual and frivolous? Nothing whatever. But the last sentence of Mrs. Eastman's description—photographed from life—indicates the absence of at least four of the most elementary and important ingredients of romantic love. If he adored his bride, if he sympathized with her feelings, if he felt the faintest impulse toward gallantry or sacrifice of his selfish comforts, he would not allow her to chop wood while he loafed and smoked. Moreover, if he had an appreciation of personal beauty he would not permit his wife to sacrifice hers before she is out of her teens by making her do all the hard work. But why should he care? Since all his marriage customs are on a commercial basis, why should he not discard a wife of thirty and take two new ones of fifteen each?


Having thus disposed of elopements, let us examine another phenomenon which has always been a mainstay of those who would fain make out that in matters of love there is no difference between us and savages. Waitz (III., 102) accepts stories of suicide as evidence of genuine romantic love, and Westermarck follows his example (358, 530), while Catlin (II., 143) mentions a rock called Lover's Leap,

"from the summit of which, it is said, a beautiful Indian girl, the daughter of a chief, threw herself off, in presence of her tribe, some fifty years ago, and dashed herself to pieces, to avoid being married to a man whom her father had decided to be her husband, and whom she would not marry."

Keating has a story which he tells with all the operatic embellishments indulged in by his guide (I., 280). Reduced to its simplest terms, the tale, as he gives it, is as follows:

In a village of the tribe of Wapasha there lived a girl named Winona. She became attached to a young hunter who wished to marry her, but her parents refused their consent, having intended her for a prominent warrior. Winona would not listen to the warrior's addresses and told her parents she preferred the hunter, who would always be with her, to the warrior, who would be constantly away on martial exploits. The parents paid no attention to her remonstrances and fixed the day for her wedding to the man of their choice. While all were busy with the preparations, she climbed the rock overhanging the river. Having reached the summit, she made a speech full of reproaches to her family, and then sang her dirge. The wind wafted her words and song to her family, who had rushed to the foot of the rock. They implored her to come down, promising at last that she should not be forced to marry. Some tried to climb the rock, but before they could reach her she threw herself down the precipice and fell a corpse at the feet of her friends.

Mrs. Eastman also relates the story of Winona's leap (65-70). "The incident is well known," she writes. "Almost everyone has read it a dozen times, and always differently told." It is needless to say that a story told in a dozen different ways and embellished by half-breed guides and white collectors of legends has no value as scientific evidence.[235] But even if we grant that the incidents happened just as related, there is nothing to indicate the presence of exalted sentiments. The girl preferred the hunter because he would be more frequently with her than the warrior (one of the versions says she wanted to wed "the successful hunter")[236]—which leaves us in doubt as to the utilitarian or sentimental quality of her attachment. Apparently she was not very eager to marry the hunter, for had she been, why did she refuse to live when they told her she would not be forced to marry the warrior? But the most important consideration is that she did not commit suicide for love at all, but from aversion—to escape being married to a man she disliked. Aversion is usually the motive which leads Indian women to what are called "suicides for love." As Griggs remarks (l.c.):

"Sometimes it happens that a young man wants a girl, and her friends are also quite willing, while she alone is unwilling. The purchase-bundle is desired by her friends, and hence compulsion is resorted to. The girl yields and goes to be his slave, or she holds out stoutly, sometimes taking her own life as the alternative. Several cases of the kind have come to the personal knowledge of the writer."

Not long ago I read in the Paris Figaro a learned article on suicide in which the assertion was made that, as is well known, savages never take their own lives. W.W. Westcott, in his otherwise excellent book on suicide, which is based on over a hundred works relating to his subject, makes the same astounding assertion. I have shown in preceding pages that many Africans and Polynesians commit suicide, and I may now add that Indians seem still more addicted to this idiotic practice. Sometimes, indeed, they have cause for it. I have already cited the words of Belden that suicide is very common among Indian women, and that "considering the treatment they receive, it is a wonder there is not more of it." Keating says (II., 172) that "among the women suicide is far more frequent [than among men], and is the result of jealousy, or of disappointments in love; sometimes extreme grief at the loss of a child will lead to it." "Not a season passes away," writes Mrs. Eastman (169),

"but we hear of some Dacotah girl who puts an end to her life in consequence of jealousy, or from the fear of being forced to marry some one she dislikes. A short time ago a very young girl hung herself rather than become the wife of a man who was already the husband of one of her sisters."

It cannot be denied that in some of these cases (which might be multiplied indefinitely) there is a strong provocation to self-murder. But as a rule suicide among Indians, as among other savages and barbarians, and among civilized races, is not proof of strong feeling, but of a weak intellect. The Chippewas themselves hold it to be a foolish thing (Keating, II., 168); and among the Indians in general it was usually resorted to for the most trivial causes.

"The very frequent suicides committed [by Creeks] in consequence of the most trifling disappointment or quarrel between men and women are not the result of grief, but of savage and unbounded revenge."

(Schoolcraft, V., 272.) Krauss (222) found that suicide was frequent among the Alaskan Thlinket Indians. Men sometimes resorted to it when they saw no other way of securing revenge, for a person who causes a suicide is fined and punished as if he were a murderer. One woman cut her throat because a shahman accused her of having by sorcery caused another one's illness. A favorite mode of committing suicide is to go out into the sea, cast away oar and rudder, and deliver themselves to wind and waves. Sometimes they change their mind. A man, whose face had been all scratched up by his angry wife, left home to end his life; but after spending the night with a trader he concluded to go home and make up the quarrel. Mrs. Eastman (48) tells of an old squaw who wanted to hang herself because she was angry with her son; but when, "after having doubled the strap four times to prevent its breaking, she found herself choking, her courage gave way—she yelled frightfully." They cut her down and in an hour or two she was quite well again. Another squaw, aged ninety, attempted to hang herself because the men would not allow her to go with a war-party. Her object in wanting to go was to have the pleasure of mutilating the corpses of enemies! Keating says that Sank men sometimes kill themselves because they are envious of the power of others. Neill (85) records the cases of a Dakota wife who hanged herself because her husband had flogged her for hiding his whiskey; of a woman who hanged herself because her son-in-law refused to give her whiskey; of an old woman who flew into a passion and committed suicide because her pet granddaughter had been whipped by her father.

If a storm in a tea-kettle is accepted as a true storm, then we may infer from these suicides the existence of deep feeling and profound despair. As a matter of fact, a savage's feelings are no deeper than a tea-kettle, and for that very reason they boil up and overflow more readily than if they were deeper. Loskiel tells us (74-75), that Delaware Indians, both men and women, have committed suicide on discovering that their spouse was unfaithful; these are the same Indians among whom husbands used to abandon their wives when they had babes, and wives their husbands when there were no more presents to receive. Yet even if we admitted such feelings to have been deep, suicide would not prove the existence of genuine affection. Heckewelder reports instances of Indians who took their own lives because the girls they loved and were engaged to jilted them and married other men. Was the love which led to these suicides mere sensual passion or was it refined sentiment, devoted affection? There is nothing to tell us, and the inference from everything we know about Indians is that it was purely sensual. Gibbs, who understood Indian nature thoroughly, took this view when he wrote (198) that among the Indians of Oregon and Washington "a strong sensual attachment" not rarely leads young women to destroy themselves on the death of a lover. And the writer who refers in Schoolcraft (V., 272) to the frequent suicides among the Creeks declares that genuine love is unknown to any of them. Had the young men referred to by Heckewelder lost their lives in trying to save the lives of the girls in question, it might be permissible to infer the existence of affection, but no Indian has ever been known to commit such an act. If a savage commits suicide he does it like everything else, for selfish reasons—as an antidote to distress—and selfishness is the very negation of love. The distinguished psychologist, Dr. Maudsley, has well said that

"any poor creature from the gutter can put an end to himself; there is no nobility in the act and no great amount of courage required for it. It is a deed rather of cowardice shirking duty, generated in a monstrous feeling of self, and accomplished in the most sinful, because wicked, ignorance."

In itself, no doubt, a suicide is apt to be extremely "romantic," A complete dime-novel is condensed in a few remarks which Squier makes[237] anent a quaint Nicaraguan custom.

Poor girls, he says, would often get their marriage portion by having amours with several young men. Having collected enough for a "dowry," the girl would assemble all her lovers and ask them to build a house for her and the one she intended to choose for a husband. She then selected the one she liked best, and the others had their pains and their past for their love. Sometimes it happened that one of the discarded lovers committed suicide from grief. In that case the special honor was in store for him of being eaten up by his former rivals and colleagues. The bride also, I presume, partook of the feast—at least after the men had had all they wanted.


Indians indulge not only in elopements and suicide, but in the use of love-charms—powders, potions, and incantations. Inasmuch as the distinguished anthropologist Waitz mentions (III., 102) the use of such charms among the things which show that "genuine romantic love is not rare among Indians," it behooves us to investigate the matter.

The ancient Peruvians had, according to Tschudi,[238] a special class of medicine men whose business it was

"to bring lovers together. For this purpose they prepared talismans made from roots or feathers, which were introduced, secretly if possible, into the clothes or bed of those whose inclination was to be won. Sometimes hairs of the persons whose love was to be won were used, or else highly colored birds from the forest, or their feathers only. They also sold to the lovers a so-called Kuyanarumi (a stone to cause love) of which they said it could be found only in places that had been struck by lightning. They were mostly black agates with white veins and were called Sonko apatsinakux (mutual heart-carriers). These Runatsinkix (human-being-uniters) also prepared infallible and irresistible love-potions."

Among North American Indians the Ojibways or Chippawas appear to have been especially addicted to the use of love-powders. Keating writes (II., 163):

"There are but few young men or women among the Chippewas who have not compositions of this kind, to promote love in those in whom they feel an interest. These are generally powders of different colors; sometimes they insert them into punctures made in the heart of the little images which they procure for this purpose. They address the images by the names of those whom they suppose them to represent, bidding them to requite their affection. Married women are likewise provided with powders, which they rub over the heart of their husbands while asleep, in order to secure themselves against any infidelity."

Hoffman says[239] of these same powders that they are held in great honor, and that their composition is a deep secret which is revealed to others only in return for high compensation. Nootka maidens sometimes sprinkle love-powders into the food intended for their lovers, and await their coming. The Menomini[240] have a charm called takosawos, "the powder that causes people to love one another." It is composed of vermilion and mica laminae, ground very fine and put into a thimble which is carried suspended from the neck or from some part of the wearing apparel. It is also necessary to secure from the one whose inclination is to be won a hair, a nail-paring, or a small scrap of clothing, which must also be put into the thimble.

The Rev. Peter Jones says (155) that the Ojibway Indians have a charm made of red ochre and other ingredients, with which they paint their faces, believing it to possess a power so irresistible as to cause the object of their desire to love them. But the moment this medicine is taken away, and the charm withdrawn, the person who before was almost frantic with love hates with a perfect hatred. The Sioux also have great faith in spells.

"A lover will take gum," says Mrs. Eastman, "and, after putting some medicine in it, will induce the girl of his choice to chew it, or put it in her way so that she will take it up of her own accord." Burton thought (160) that an Indian woman "will administer 'squaw medicine,' a love philter, to her husband, but rather for the purpose of retaining his protection than his love."

Quite romantic are all these things, no doubt; but I fail to see that they throw any light whatever on the problem whether Indians can love sentimentally. Waitz refers particularly to the Chippewa custom of putting powders into the images of coveted persons as a symptom of "romantic love," forgetting that a superstitious fool may resort to such a procedure to evoke any kind of love, sensual or sentimental, and that unless there are other and more specific symptoms there is nothing to indicate the quality of the lover's feelings or the ethical character of his desires.


Some of the Indian courtship customs are quite romantic; perhaps we may find evidence of romantic love in this direction. Those of the Apaches have been already referred to. Pawnee courtship is thus described by Grinnell.[241]

"The young man took his stand at some convenient point where he was likely to see the young woman and waited for her appearance. Favorite places for waiting were near the trail which led down to the river or to the spot usually resorted to for gathering wood. The lover, wrapped in his robe or blanket, which covered his whole person except his eyes, waited here for the girl, and as she made her appearance stepped up to her and threw his blanket about her, holding her in his arms. If she was favorably inclined to him she made no resistance, and they might stand there concealed by the blanket, which entirely covered them, talking to one another for hours. If she did not favor him she would at once free herself from his embrace and go away."

This blanket-courtship, as it might be called, also prevailed among the Indians of the great plains described by Colonel Dodge (193-223). The lover, wrapped in a blanket, approaches the girl's lodge and sits before it. Though in plain view of everybody, it is etiquette not to see a lover under such circumstances. After more or less delay the girl may give signs and come out, but not until she has taken certain precautions against the Indian's "romantic" love which have been already referred to. He seizes her and carries her off a little distance. At first they sit under two blankets, but later on one suffices. Thus they remain as long as they please, and no one disturbs them. If there is more than one suitor the girl cries out if seized by the wrong one, who at once lets go. In these cases it may seem as if the girl had her own choice. But it does not at all follow that because she favors a certain suitor she will be allowed to marry him. If her father prefers another she will have to take him, unless her lover is ready to risk an elopement.

The Piutes of the Pacific slope, like some eastern Indians, appear to have indulged in a form of nocturnal courtship strikingly resembling that of the Dyaks of Borneo. The Indian woman (Sarah W. Hopkins) who wrote Life Among the Piutes declares that the lover never speaks to his chosen one,

"but endeavors to attract her attention by showing his horsemanship, etc. As he knows that she sleeps next to her grandmother in the lodge, he enters in full dress after the family has retired for the night, and seats himself at her feet. If she is not awake, her grandmother wakes her. He does not even speak to the young woman or grandmother, but when the young woman wishes him to go away, she rises and goes and lies down by the side of her mother. He then leaves as silently as he came in. This goes on sometimes for a year or longer if the young woman has not made up her mind. She is never forced by her parents to marry against her wishes."

Courtship among the Nishinam Indians of California is thus described by Powers (317):

"The Nishinam may be said to set up and dissolve the conjugal estate almost as easily as do the brute beasts. No stipulated payment is made for the wife. A man seeking to become a son-in-law is bound to cater (ye-lin) or make presents to the family, which is to say, he will come along some day with a deer on his shoulder, perhaps fling it off on the ground before the wigwam, and go his way without a single word being spoken. Some days later he may bring along a brace of hare or a ham of grizzly-bear meat, or some fish, or a string of ha-wok [shell money]. He continues to make these presents for awhile, and if he is not acceptable to the girl and her parents they return him an equivalent for each present (to return his gift would be grossly insulting); but if he finds favor in her eyes they are quietly appropriated, and in due course of time he comes and leads her away, or comes to live at her house."

Belden remarks (301) that a Sioux seldom gets the girl he wants to marry to love him. He simply buys her of her parents, and as for the girl, after being informed that she has been sold

"she immediately packs up her little keepsakes and trinkets, and without exhibiting any emotion, such as is common to white girls, leaves her home, and goes to the lodge of her master,"

where she is henceforth his wife and "willing slave." Among the Blackfoot Indians, too, there was apparently no form of courtship, and young men seldom spoke to girls unless they were relatives. (Grinnell, 216.) It was a common thing among these Indians for a youth and a girl not to know about each other until they were informed of their impending marriage.

The Araucanian maidens of Chili are disposed of with even less ceremony. In the choice of husbands, as we have seen, they have no more freedom than a Circassian slave. Our informant (E.R. Smith, 214) adds, however, that attachments do sometimes spring up, and, though the lovers have little opportunity to communicate freely, they resort occasionally to amatory songs, tender glances, and other tricks which lovers understand. "Matrimony may follow, but such a preliminary courtship is by no means considered necessary." When a man wants a girl he calls on her father with his friends. While the friends talk with the parent, he seizes the bride

"by the hair or by the heel, as may be most convenient, and drags her along the ground to the open door. Once fairly outside, he springs to the saddle, still firmly grasping his screaming captive, whom he pulls up over the horse's back, and yelling forth a whoop of triumph, he starts off at full gallop.... Gaining the woods, the lover dashes into the tangled thickets, while the friends considerately pause upon the outskirts until the screams of the bride have died away."

A day or two later the couple emerge from the forest and without further ceremony live as man and wife. This is the usual way; but sometimes

"a man meets a girl in the fields alone, and far away from home; a sudden desire to better his solitary condition seizes him, and without further ado he rides up, lays violent hands upon the damsel and carries her off. Again, at their feasts and merrymakings (in which the women are kept somewhat aloof from the men), a young man may be smitten with a sudden passion, or be emboldened by wine to express a long slumbering preference for a dusky maid; his sighs and amorous glances will perhaps be returned, and rushing among the unsuspecting females, he will bear away the object of his choice while yet she is in the melting mood. When such an attempt is foreseen the unmarried girls form a ring around their companion, and endeavor to shield her; but the lover and his friends, by well-directed attacks, at length succeed in breaking through the magic circle, and drag away the damsel in triumph; perhaps, in the excitement of the game, some of her defenders too may share her fate."

A Patagonian courtship is amusingly described by Bourne (91). The chief of the tribe that held him a captive several months would not allow anyone to marry without his consent. In his opinion

"no Indian who was not an accomplished rogue—particularly in the horse-stealing line—an expert hunter, able to provide plenty of meat and grease, was fit to have a wife on any conditions."

One day a suitor appeared for the hand of the chief's own daughter, a quasi-widow, but the chief repulsed him because he had no horses. As a last resort the suitor appealed to the young woman herself, promising, if she favored him, that he would give her plenty of grease. This grease argument she was unable to resist, so she entreated her father to give his consent. At this he broke out in a towering passion, threw cradle and other chattels out of the door and ordered her to follow at once. The girl's mother now interceded, whereupon "seizing her by the hair, he hurled her violently to the ground and beat her with his clenched fists till I thought he would break every bone in her body." The next morning, however, he went to the lodge of the newly married couple, made up, and they returned, bag and baggage, to his tent.

Grease appears to play a role in the courtship of northern Indians too. Leland relates (40) that the Algonquins make sausages from the entrails of bears by simply turning them inside out, the fat which clings to the outside of the entrails filling them when they are thus turned. These sausages, dried and smoked, are considered a great delicacy. The girls show their love by casting a string of them round the neck of the favored youth.


It is noticeable in the foregoing accounts that courtship and even proposal are apt to be by pantomime, without any spoken words. The young Piute who visits his girl while she is in bed with her grandmother "does not speak to her." The Nishinam hunter leaves his presents and they are accepted "without a word being spoken;" and the Apaches, as we saw, "pop the question" with stones or ponies. Why this silent courtship? Obviously because the Indian is not used to playing so humble a role as that of suitor to so inferior a being as a woman. He feels awkward, and has nothing to say. As Burton has remarked (C.S., 144), "in savage and semi-barbarous societies the separation of the sexes is the general rule, because, as they have no ideas in common, each prefers the society of its own." "Between the sexes," wrote Morgan (322)

"there was but little sociality, as this term is understood in polished society. Such a thing as formal visiting was entirely unknown. When the unmarried of opposite sexes were casually brought together there was little or no conversation between them. No attempts by the unmarried to please or gratify each other by acts of personal attention were ever made. At the season of councils and religious festivals there was more of actual intercourse and sociality than at any other time; but this was confined to the dance and was in itself limited."


It is needless to say that where there is no mental intercourse there can be no choice and union of souls, but only of bodies; that is, there can be no sentimental love. The honeymoon, where there is one,[242] is in this respect no better than the period of courtship. Parkman gives this realistic sketch from life among the Ogallalla Indians (O.T., ch. XI.):

"The happy pair had just entered upon the honeymoon. They would stretch a buffalo robe upon poles, so as to protect them from the fierce rays of the sun, and, spreading beneath this rough canopy a luxuriant couch of furs, would sit affectionately side by side for half a day, though I could not discover that much conversation passed between them. Probably they had nothing to say; for an Indian's supply of topics is far from being copious."


Inasmuch as music is said to begin where words end, we might expect it to play a role in the taciturn courtship of Indians. One of the maidens described by Mrs. Eastman (85) "had many lovers, who wore themselves out playing the flute, to as little purpose as they braided their hair and painted their faces," Gila Indians court and pop the question with their flutes, according to the description by Bancroft (I., 549):

"When a young man sees a girl whom he desires for a wife he first endeavors to gain the good-will of the parents; this accomplished, he proceeds to serenade his lady-love, and will often sit for hours, day after day, near her house playing on his flute. Should the girl not appear, it is a sign that she rejects him; but if, on the other hand, she comes out to meet him, he knows that his suit is accepted, and he takes her to his house. No marriage ceremony is performed."

In Chili, among the Araucanians, every lover carries with him an amatory Jew's-harp, which is played almost entirely by inhaling. According to Smith

"they have ways of expressing various emotions by different modes of playing, all of which the Araucanian damsels seem fully to appreciate, although I must confess that I could not.

"The lover usually seats himself at a distance from the object of his passion, and gives vent to his feeling in doleful sounds, indicating the maiden of his choice by slyly gesturing, winking, and rolling his eyes toward her. This style of courtship is certainly sentimental and might be recommended to some more civilized lovers who always lose the use of their tongues at the very time it is most needed."

"Sentimental" in one sense of the word, but not in the sense in which it is used in this book. There is nothing in winking, rolling the eyes, and playing the Jew's-harp, either by inhalation or exhalation, to indicate whether the youth's feelings toward the girl are refined, sympathetic, and devoted, or whether he merely longs for an amorous intrigue. That these Indian lovers may convey definite ideas to the minds of the girls is quite possible. Even birds have their love-calls, and savages in all parts of the world use "leading motives" a la Wagner, i.e., musical phrases with a definite meaning.[243]

Chippewayan medicine men make use of music-boards adorned with drawings which recall special magic formulae to their minds. On one of these (Schoolcraft, V., 648) there is the figure of a young man in the frenzy of love. His head is adorned with feathers, and he has a drum in hand which he beats while crying to his absent love: "Hear my drum! Though you be at the uttermost parts of the earth, hear my drum!"

"The flageolet is the musical instrument of young men and is principally used in love-affairs to attract the attention of the maiden and reveal the presence of the lover," says Miss Alice Fletcher, who has written some entertaining and valuable treatises on Indian music and love-songs.[244] Mirrors, too, are used to attract the attention of girls, as appears from a charming idyl sketched by Miss Fletcher, which I will reproduce here, somewhat condensed.

One day, while dwelling with the Omahas, Miss Fletcher was wandering in quest of spring flowers near a creek when she was arrested by a sudden flash of light among the branches. "Some young man is near," she thought, "signalling with his mirror to a friend or sweetheart." She had hardly seen a young fellow who did not carry a looking-glass dangling at his side. The flashing signal was soon followed by the wild cadences of a flute. In a few moments the girls came in sight, with merry faces, chatting gayly. Each one carried a bucket. Down the hill, on the other side of the brook, advanced two young men, their gay blankets hanging from one shoulder. The girls dipped their pails in the stream and turned to leave when one of the young men jumped across the creek and confronted one of the girls, her companion walking away some distance. The lovers stood three feet apart, she with downcast face, he evidently pleading his cause to not unwilling ears. By and by she drew from her belt a package containing a necklace, which she gave to the young man, who took it shyly from her hands. A moment later the girl had joined her friend, and the man recrossed the brook, where he and his friend flung themselves on the grass and examined the necklace. Then they rose to go. Again the flute was heard gradually dying away in the distance.


As it is not customary for an Indian to call at the lodge where a girl lives, about the only chance an Omaha has to woo is at the creek where the girl fetches water, as in the above idyl. Hence courting is always done in secret, the girls never telling the elders, though they may compare notes with each other.

"Generally an honorable courtship ends in a more or less speedy elopement and marriage, but there are men and women who prefer dalliance, and it is this class that furnishes the heroes and heroines of the Wa-oo-wa-an."

These Wa-oo-wa-an, or woman songs, are a sort of ballad relating the experiences of young men and women. "They are sung by young men when in each other's company, and are seldom overheard by women, almost never by women of high character;" they "belong to that season in a man's career when 'wild oats' are said to be sown." Some of them are vulgar, others humorous.

"They are in no sense love-songs, they have nothing to do with courtship, and are reserved for the exclusive audience of men." "The true love-song, called by the Omahas Bethae wa-an ... is sung generally in the early morning, when the lover is keeping his tryst and watching for the maiden to emerge from the tent and go to the spring. They belong to the secret courtship, and are sometimes called Me-the-g'thun wa-an—courting songs." "The few words in these songs convey the one poetic sentiment: 'With the day I come to you;' or 'Behold me as the day dawns.' Few unprejudiced listeners," the writer adds, "will fail to recognize in the Bethae wa-an, or love-songs, the emotion and the sentiment that prompts a man to woo the woman of his choice."

Miss Fletcher is easily satisfied. For my part I cannot see in a tune, however rapturously sung or fluted, or in the words "with the day I come to you" and the like any sign of real sentiment or the faintest symptom differentiating the two kinds of love. Moreover, as Miss Fletcher herself remarks:

"The Omahas as a tribe have ceased to exist. The young men and women are being educated in English speech, and imbued with English thought; their directive emotion will hereafter take the lines of our artistic forms."

Even if traces of sexual sentiment were to be found among Indians like the Ornahas, who have been subjected for some generations to civilizing influences, they would allow no inference as to the love-affairs of the real, wild Indian.

Miss Fletcher makes the same error as Professor Fillmore, who assisted her in writing A Study of Omaha Indian Music. He took the wild Indian tunes and harnessed them to modern German harmonies—a procedure as unscientific as it would be unhistoric to make Cicero record his speeches in a phonograph. Miss Fletcher takes simple Indian songs and reads into them the feelings of a New York or Boston woman. The following is an instance. A girl sings to a warrior (I give only Miss Fletcher's translation, omitting the Indian words): "War; when you returned; die; you caused me; go when you did; God; I appealed; standing," This literal version our author explains and translates freely, as follows:

"No. 82 is the confession of a woman to the man she loves, that he had conquered her heart before he had achieved a valorous reputation. The song opens upon the scene. The warrior had returned victorious and passed through the rites of the Tent of War, so he is entitled to wear his honors publicly; the woman tells him how, when he started on the war-path, she went up on the hill and standing there cried to Wa-kan-da to grant him success. He who had now won that success had even then vanquished her heart, 'had caused her to die' to all else but the thought of him"(!)

Another instance of this emotional embroidery may be found on pages 15-17 of the same treatise. What makes this procedure the more inexplicable is that both these songs are classed by Miss Fletcher among the Wa-oo-wa-an or "woman songs," concerning which she has told us that "they are in no sense love-songs," and that usually they are not even the effusions of a woman's own feelings, but the compositions of frivolous and vain young men put into the mouth of wanton women. The honorable secret courtships were never talked of or sung about.

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