More on Horses and Women on the Plains

Thomas Kavanagh, Curator (tkavanag@UCS.INDIANA.EDU)
Wed, 1 Feb 1995 09:41:41 -0500

Robert Johnson writes:

An interesting article on the horse culture is by either
Patricia K Albers or Beatrice Medicine titled "When The
Horse Came Hell Began" which "deconstructs" the sexism of
the squaw image perpetrated by white historians and
ethnographers. It appeared in the Montana Journal. It gives
a more reasoned view of the impact wrought by the horse
culture on Native Americans.

The article in question is "Hell Came with Horses: Plains Indian
Women in the Equestrian Era" by Dr. Margot Liberty (_Montana_,
1982). It is a good article for a state history magazine. But I
don't think Margot would call it exactly "'[deconstucting]' the
sexism of the squaw image"; indeed, I don't think she uses the
word 'squaw' at all. What she does point out is that
Plains Indian cultures of classic times have been so male-
dominated in their general image as to almost totally
obscure the women who constituted the other half of the

Note that it is not simply "white historians and ethnographers"
who produced this skewed result, but the classic Plains cultures
were themselves male-dominated.

Her basic argument is that
[in Paleo times] small hunting and gathering bands in which
relative equality between men and women prevailed. From this
baseline the addition of river bottom gardening technology
... allowed women in some groups ... to increase their
personal contribution to the basic food supply and thus to
rise in prestige ... The hunting and gathering peoples,
meanwhile, continued the old traditions, until the
introduction of horses created a genuine revolution. There
was then geometric expansion of ... male and warrior
enterprises ... led to a sharp plunge in women's rights and
prerogatives. The gardening tribes were badly shattered by
invasion and disease during equestrian times, but women's
status among them appears to have remained at a relatively
high level.

My own concern is the image of the Paleo group as "small hunting
and gathering bands." If the reconstruction suggested in my
other post is valid, then Paleo groups, such as the group that
produced the Olsen-Chubbock site, could have been upwards of
several hundred people. This, of course, says nothing about the
relative egalitarism within the group.

On the other hand, it certain is probable that with the increased
production of buffalo hides for sale/trade to Euro-Americans that
came in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, there was an
increased demand for women's labor as hide dressers. But this did
not result in an increased status for the indidivual woman,
rather it resulted in polygamy.
Thomas Kavanagh
Curator of Collections
Mathers Museum
Indiana University