The woman known as Woman Chief was a warrior of the Crow tribe and one of their most significant leaders in the 19th century.
She was the third-ranking member of the Council of Chiefs, and it is possible that she was the “Pine Leaf” person described in James Beckwourth’s autobiography. Woman Chief was born in the Gros Ventres nation in Montana around 1806; the Crow people took her as a prisoner when she was only 10 years old.
A Crow warrior adopted and raised the girl, and through her early years, she was only interested in traditionally male pursuits. She was always supported by her stepfather who encouraged her to be strong. According to Wikipedia, Woman Chief earned acclaim for her horse riding, marksmanship, and ability to field-dress a buffalo.
She was a Two-Spirit, a term used by indigenous North Americans to describe a gender-variant individual. However, unlike other Two-Spirits, Woman Chief always wore typical female clothing and never adopted the men’s garments. She became celebrated as a warrior after defending her people during a raid by the Blackfoot on a fort sheltering Crow and other families.
The Chief fought off many attackers with the group of soldiers that she raised and raided Blackfoot settlements, taking many scalps and horses. When Woman Chief rose to the third rank in the Council, her prestige and wealth increased, and she married four wives. Following the 1851 Treaty of Fort Laramie, she became involved in many negotiations with the tribes of Upper Missouri and brought peace between the Crow people and the tribe of her birth, the Gros Ventres. Unfortunately, after few years of peace, she was ambushed and killed by her birth tribe.
Woman Chief attracted significant attention from Western visitors including Rudolph Kurz and Edwin Denig, who were fascinated by this woman.
Kurz and Denig linked this exotic figure to the mythological Amazon warriors and called her Absaroka Amazon. Absaroka is the Crow name for the tribe that adopted her, which in translation means sparrow hawk. Because of their accounts, the world knows valuable details about her life. Many white men who met Woman Chief said that they had never seen a woman like her and that it was a confusing and fascinating feeling at once. There were stories that she could strike great fear into the hearts of men.
She was also compared to mythical creatures because of her unique presence. In Beckwourth’s autobiography, a woman is described with the name Bar-chee-am-pe, also known as Pine Leaf, who may actually be Woman Chief. Several details from the book match with some parts of her life, but many believe that Beckwourth’s account is exaggerated and that the entire book may be fictional.
When he lived with the Crow people in the 1980s, Beckwourth apparently met “Pine Leaf.” He says that she was one of the strongest warriors who vowed to kill many enemies, including one hundred before she would marry. Maybe the biggest exaggeration is that he claims to have had a relationship with her and proposed marriage.
After the proposal, he left the tribe for a while, and when he returned, Pine Leaf finally agreed to marry him. It is written that the marriage lasted some five weeks because Beckwourth suddenly disappeared from the Crow tribe and never saw her again. Whether or not this actually happened is only known to him. Besides Woman Chief, there were also other female warriors in the Crow Tribe, including two named Among The Willows and Comes Towards the Near Bank.
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