Wednesday, December 14, 2011

I'll See Your Two Horses and Raise You One!

Today, we're all captivated by Sister Wives, a relatively new reality show on television, but Polygamy was commonplace long ago among some of the Native American plains tribes.  More than one wive sharing a husband isn't a new thing.  While there were some monogamous relationships, the danger involved with buffalo hunting, saw many braves die and left  women far out-numbering the men.  Plural marriages become commonplace. 

Besides, needing to re-populate the tribe, Indian women shouldered a good share of the work in camp.  A husband with two or three wives was more likely to have a large family and be looked upon with admiration.  Being part of a polygamous relationship also split the workload and made the burden less cumbersome for one wife.  Consider being responsible for motherhood, skinning and preparing all meat killed by the man of the house, tanning of those skins, beading, cooking, sewing, laundry, plus all the packing and unpacking when the camps relocated.  I'm sure I haven't listed everything an Indian wife did, but it's no wonder they welcomed other women into their lodges. 

In a courting ritual, it's told that young braves presented horses to the fathers of their intended. The rumor that these animals were to pay a purchase price is unfounded, instead the number given provided a method for the male parent to judge the depth of the suitors' desire for the young maidens and their ability to be good providers.  Many of the 'donated' animals were taken during raids on enemy encampments, and success in attaining the most demonstrated even further the ability of the brave to be a worthy mate.

Some variations existed among the tribes.  It's said that some courting was conducted inside a blanket.   When a young brave wanted to make known his intentions, he played a love song on his flute outside the young woman's tepee.  If she welcomed him, she wrapped in a blanket, joined him outside, and extended one arm to enfold him inside where they discussed their relationship and plans in private.

Marriage ceremonies were often simple.  In the Cheyenne tribe, it was customary for the bride to be toted atop a blanket and left outside the lodge of her young brave's father.  In the Sioux, custom shows that many brides were delivered on horseback to a rite conducted by the chief.  Dancing and feasting usually followed.

It's said when a man wished to divorce a wife, he simply pounded a drum and announced he was throwing her away.  Don't know the validity of this, but I do know that in most tribes the lodge was the property of the spouse, handed down from mother to daughter, and that the children stayed with the wife.  Sort of make sense to me.  Sure would end a lot of divorce battles these days.  :)  Life wasn't simple among our red brothers and sisters. Tomorrow, more about the Plains Indian Woman, motherhood, birthing and rituals.  

Again, I credit my favorite research book from Reader's Digest, America's Fascinating Indian Heritage, for teaching me so much about my passion for history set in the old west.

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