Sunday, August 24, 2014

Sex with Indians

Lately I've had perseverating thoughts about sex with Indians; no, not in a perverted way.  I consider my interest more as an innocent curiosity.  I anticipate that this posting may appear a bit tangential so I’m providing an advance warning for readers who want to ditch while they are ahead.  At times I think the only reason I don’t carry a mental health diagnosis is because I’m foolish enough to continue to show up for work and pay bills.  Yes, in America it seems that the most diagnosed are the poor who need public assistance or the wealthy who need something to whine about on the talk show circuit.  Anyway, back to the post…

I've been working my way through Undaunted Courage: Meriwether Lewis, Thomas Jefferson, and the Opening of the American West by Stephen Ambrose.  Yes, another one of those used books I've picked up cheap somewhere along the line.  I have to admit, I was struggling as the beginning describing Lewis’ preparation was pretty boring, but eventually they got on the road, er river.  OK, I suppose you know where I’m headed (and you wouldn't be wrong).  Yes, the story was moving rather slowly, Lewis and Clark had finally started on their trip and winter was closing in so they weren't going to get too far in the first year and then they select winter quarters which is to hole up with the Mandans.  Ambrose is clear that sex abounded between the men and Indians, but notes that it is not clear whether Lewis and Clark participated.  I found this interesting of itself as one may wonder was there no record because Lewis and Clark actually abstained or is there no record because of the need to preserve the image of “an officer and a gentleman” or is there no record because the lead voyagers were a bit of voyeurs as well or is there some other explanation.

Regardless of Lewis and Clark’s participation or lack thereof, I was surprised to see references to sex at all.  First, many historical books often gloss over any sex and secondly during this time in history sex typically was not recorded.  Thus, there is a curiosity of why there would be a record of sex in this instance.  I wonder, was it because many aspects of this venture were scientific so it was decided to include references to sexual interaction to maintain scientific integrity or as I alluded to previously perhaps the leaders (as many people do) found it easier to comment on the sexual adventures of others.

Aside from being surprised to learn of a recorded history of this interaction, there is much wonderment surrounding this part of history.  First, let’s consider that these cultures had largely been separated for thousands (?) of years.  At this point in time, certainly the Indians could have overwhelmed Lewis’ Corps of Discovery so one would need to presume that sex was consensual.  (Or maybe some merit to exploring whether Indian women were “oppressed” in the tribal unit).  One would also have to wonder how introductions were made (along the lines of Chevy Chase in European Vacation… “We are looking for six…”) and what boundaries were formulated (what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas?)  One wonders if a high level of testosterone common to adventure seekers played a role (in contrast to today’s military ventures of “no beer and no sex” for the troops because we don’t want to offend our hosts).  One would also need to wonder and suspect that at least one or more children may have been conceived from these ventures (among the detailed supplies that Ambrose identifies, I failed to read anything about condoms for the troops).

Fast forwarding to less than 100 years from the Lewis and Clark expedition, sex with Indians becomes personal.  Details are scant, but my great-grandmother W born in 1895 is regarded to be a “half-breed,” having an Indian mother.  Unlike Cher’s tune, “Half Breed,” I don’t recall any issues of stigma; my great-grandmother lived with my great-grandfather in a regular house in a common small town.  Due to time, this piece of history is for me regrettably, largely lost.  I am fortunate to have memories of my great-grandmother, but did not know to ask the many questions I would like to ask today.  For those budding anthropologists out there in need of a PhD dissertation topic – here’s a winner – sex with Indians.  Yes, I’m living proof that it happened.  What remains is an understanding and appreciation of this often not talked about aspect of history.