Quote/Info Dump: Two Spirits Among Algonquians
Quote/Info Dump: Two Spirits Among Algonquians
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Men as Women

Fr. Jacques Marquette

JR 59: pp 128-29
Father Jacques Marquette was an important early Jesuit missionary to New France. He was apparently the first(?) observer to mention the two-spirit custom in New France, describing it among the Illinois and Sioux in 1674:
Je ne scais par quelle superstition quelques Ilinois, aussi bien que quelques Nadoüessi, estant encor jeunes prennent l'habit des femmes qu'ils gardent toute leur vie. II y a du mystere; Car ils ne se marient jamais, et font gloire de s'abbaisser a faire tout ce que font les femmes; ils vont pourtant en guerre, mais ils ne peuuent se seruir que de la massuë, et non pas de l'arc n'y de la flêche qui sont les armes propres des hommes, ils assistent a toutes les jongleriës et aux danses solemnelles qui se font a l'honneur du Calumet, ils y chantent mais ils n'y peuuent pas danser, ils sont appellés aux Conseils, ou l'on ne peut rien decider sans leurs aduis; Enfin par la profession quils font d'une vie Extresordinaire, ils passent pour des Manitous C'est a dire pour des Genies ou des personnes de Consequence.

1900 translation, edited
I know not through what superstition some Ilinois, as well as some Nadouessi [Sioux], while still young, assume the garb of women, which they retain throughout their lives. There is some mystery in this, For they never marry, and glory in lowering themselves to do everything that women do. They go to war, however, but can only use clubs, and not bows and arrows, which are the weapons proper to men. They assist at all the juggleries [shaking tent divination ceremonies], and at the solemn dances in honor of the Calumet [sacred pipe]; at these they sing, but must not dance. They are summoned to the Councils, and nothing can be decided without their advice. Finally, through their profession of leading an Extraordinary life, they pass for Manitous, That is to say, for Spirits, or persons of Consequence.

Fr. Zenobius Membré

Father Zenobius Membré (aka The Early Missionary with the Best Name) was a Franciscan missionary and companion of La Salle's, and mentions the custom among the Illinois as well, writing in 1680-81:
quoting pg. 151:
Hermaphrodites are numerous. ... [The Illinois] are lewd, and even unnaturally so, having boys dressed as women, destined for infamous purposes. These boys are employed only in women’s work, without taking part in the chase or war.

Unfortunately, I can't find the original French version anywhere, so this translation from the 1850s is the best we can do.

Baron Lahontan

Louis Armand, Baron de Lahontan was a French soldier, explorer, and writer, who described the custom (also among the Illinois, as well as neighboring groups) in 1703: (vol II pp 141-42)
L'on trouve parmi les Ilinois quantité d'Hermaphrodites; ils portent l'habit de femme, mais ils font indifferemment uſage des deux Sexes. Ces Ilinois ont un malheureux penchant pour la Sodomie, auſſi bien que les autres Sauvages qui habitent aux environs du Fleuve de Miſſiſipi

English translation from 1703: (vol II p 462)
Among the Illineſe there are ſeveral Hermaphrodites, who go in a Woman's Habit, but frequent the Company of both Sexes [more literally: use both sexes indiscriminately]. Theſe Illineſe are ſtrangely given to Sodomy, as well as the other Savages that live near the River Miſſiſipi.

Pierre de Charlevoix

Pierre François Xavier de Charlevoix was another priest and explorer of New France. Writing in 1721, he described two-spirit customs among, yet again, the Illinois, among others:
(publ. 1761, Vol II p 73-74) (vol III pg 303)
Dans les Pays Méridionnaux ils gardent peu de meſures ſur l'article des Femmes, qui de leur côté ſont fort laſcives. C'eſt de-là qu'eſt venuë la corruption des mœurs, qui depuis quelques années a infecté les Nations Septentrionnales. Les Iroquois en particulier étoient aſſez chaſtes, avant qu'ils euſſent Commerce avec les Illinois, & d'autres Peuples voiſins de la Louyſiane: ils n'ont gagné à les fréquenter, que de leur être devenu ſemblables. Il eſt vrai que la moleſſe & la lubricité étoient portées dans ces Quartiers-là, aux plus grands excès. On y voyoit des Hommes, qui n'avoient point de honte d'y prendre l'habillement des Femmes, & de s'aſſujettir à toutes les occupations propres du Sexe, d'où s'enſuivoit une corruption, qui ne ſe peut exprimer. On a prétendu que cet uſage venoit, de je ne ſçai quel principe de Religion; mais cette Religion avoit comme bien d'autres, pris ſa naiſſance dans la dépravation du cœur, ou ſi l'uſage, dont nous parlons, avoit commencé par l'eſprit, il a fini par la chair: ces Efféminés ne ſe marient point, & s'abandonnent aux plus infâmes paſſions; auſſi ſont-ils ſouverainement mepriſés.

In the southern countries [of New France] they scarcely observe any mean with respect to the women, who are no less prone to lasciviousness; from hence comes that corruption of manners, which has infected the northern nations some years since; the Iroquois in particular had the reputation of chastity before they had any commerce with the Illinois, and the other nations in the neighbourhood of Louisiana; they have gained nothing by the acquaintance except becoming like them. It must be confessed that effeminacy and lubricity were carried to the greatest excess in those parts; men were seen to wear the dress of women without a blush, and to debase themselves so as to perform those occupations which are most peculiar to the sex, from whence followed a corruption of morals past all expression; it was pretended that this custom came from I know not what principle of religion; but this religion had like many others taken its birth in the depravation of the heart, or if the custom I speak of had its beginning in the spirit, it has ended in the flesh; these effeminate persons never marry, and abandon themselves to the most infamous passions, for which cause they are held in the most sovereign contempt.

John Tanner

John Tanner was a fascinating figure. He was a white settler who was kidnapped as a child and raised as an Ojibwe; he later worked as an interpreter and wrote about his experiences. He tried to rejoin Euro-American society, but could not fit in, and his personal life eventually spiraled out of control, exacerbated by a bitterly escalating feud with Henry Rowe Schoolcraft (who grew to despise Tanner and was not a particularly ... nice or charitable ... man to anyone he felt had slighted him). In 1846 he mysteriously vanished after being suspected of murdering Schoolcraft's brother. (A body that may have been Tanner's was found years later.)

His account, written in 1830, of a particular two-spirit is valuable as the closest thing to an early native perspective we have, since Tanner was raised and acculturated as an Ojibwe, even though Tanner himself was illiterate and the book was written by an army doctor he knew. The book probably does closely reflect Tanner's perspective and dictation, however. (Note his use of female pronouns.)
quoting pg. 105:
Some time in the course of this winter, there came to our lodge one of the sons of the celebrated Ojibbeway chief, called Wesh-ko-bug, (the sweet,) [Wiishkobak "He is Sweet"] who lived at Leech Lake. This man was one of those who make themselves women, and are called women by the Indians. There are several of this sort among most, if not all the Indian tribes; they are commonly called A-go-kwa, a word which is expressive of their condition. This creature, called Ozaw-wen-dib, (the yellow head,) [Ozaawindib "Yellow-Head"] was now near fifty years old, and had lived with many husbands. I do not know whether she had seen me, or only heard of me, but she soon let me know she had come a long distance to see me, and with the hope of living with me. She often offered herself to me, but not being discouraged with one refusal, she repeated her disgusting advances until I was almost driven from the lodge. Old Net-no-kwa [Tanner's adoptive mother] was perfectly well acquainted with her character, and only laughed at the embarrassment and shame which I evinced whenever she addressed me. She seemed rather to countenance and encourage the Yellow Head in remaining at our lodge. The latter was very expert in the various employments of the women, to which all her time was given.
[Later] I found myself relieved from the persecutions of the A-go-kwa, which had become intolerable. Wa-go-tote, who had two wives, married her. This introduction of a new inmate into the family of Wa-ge-tote, occasioned some laughter, and produced some ludicrous incidents, but was attended with less uneasiness and quarreling than would have been the bringing in of a new wife of the female sex.

Alexander Henry the Younger

(written 1801), pp. 163-4
Berdash [=Ozaawindib], a son of Sucrie [=Wiishkobak], arrived from the Assiniboine, where he had been with a young man to carry tobacco concerning the war. This person is a curious compound between a man and a woman. He is a man both as to members and courage, but pretends to be womanish and dresses as such. His walk and mode of sitting, his manners, occupations, and language are those of a woman. His father, who is a great chief amongst the Saulteurs, cannot persuade him to act like a man.

Henry goes on to describe Ozaawindib's character and some of his exploits in detail, which is valuable for showing that Ozaawindib was still a brave warrior, and able to participate in diplomatic missions, military engagements, etc., as well as to use a bow in war (which Marquette denied was the case among the Illinois and Sioux):
About a month ago, in a drinking match, he got into a quarrel and had one of his eyes knocked out with a club. He is very troublesome when drunk.
He is very fleet, and a few years ago was reckoned the best runner among the Saulteurs. Both his speed and his courage were tested some years ago on the Schian river [i.e., the Cheyenne], when Monsieur Reaume attempted to make peace between the two nations [the Saulteaux/Ojibwes and the Dakotas], and Berdash accompanied a party of Saulteurs to the Sioux camp. ... [The Sioux chased the party.] The Saulteurs imprudently dispersed in the plains, and several were killed; but the party with Berdash escaped without any accident, in the following manner: One of them had ... a bow, but only a few arrows. On starting and finding themselves pursued, they ran a considerable distance, until they perceived the Sioux were gaining fast upon them, when Berdash took the bow and arrows from his comrades, and told them to run as fast as possible, without minding him, as he feared no danger. He then faced the enemy, and began to let fly his arrows. This checked their course, and they returned the compliment with interest, but it was so far off that only a chance arrow could have hurt him, as they had nearly spent their strength when they fell near him. His own arrows were soon expended, but he lost no time in gathering up those that fell near him, and thus he had a continual supply. Seeing his friends some distance ahead, and the Sioux moving to surround him, he turned and ran full speed to join his comrades, the Sioux after him. When the latter approached too near, Berdash again stopped and faced them with his bow and arrows, and kept them at bay. Thus did he continue to manoeuvre until they reached a spot of strong wood which the Sioux dared not enter.

"La Berdash (Sucre's son)" is also listed as a member of the Ojibwe contingent accompanying Henry's travel on the Red River of the North in 1800 (pg. 53).

(Schoolcraft also was acquainted with Ozaawindib, and described him as "one of the principal Chippewas, from Cass Lake," who "proved himself to be a trusty and experienced guide through the most remote and difficult parts of the route" of Schoolcraft's expedition to the source of the Mississippi. Schoolcraft does not mention anything concerning Ozaawindib's gender roles, dress, marriages, etc.)

Peter Grant

Peter Grant was a fur trader with the North West Company, who wrote about the Saulteaux (plains Ojibwes) in 1804:, pg. 357
They have the greatest faith in dreams, by which they imagine that the Deity informs them of future events, enjoins them certain penances and even inspires or encourages them in their most difficult and hazardous enterprizes. ... I have known several instances of some of the men who, by virtue of some extraordinary dream, had been affected to such a degree as to abandon every custom characteristic of their sex and adopt the dress and manners of the women. They are never ridiculed or despised by the men on account of their new costumes, but are, on the contrary, respected as saints, or beings in some degree inspired by the Manitou [i.e., their personal guardian god, or spiritual power generally], yet, in other respects, they are merely considered as women and are never allowed the privileges refused the latter. It is really amusing to see stout strapping fellows of this order, nursing children [!], garnishing and making shoes, imitating the women in all their employments, even assuming the shrill tone of their voice, and walking with their toes inclined inwards [the stereotypical walking style of Ojibwe women].

Stephen Harriman Long

Kaw tribe
1823, quoting a "Mr. Say", pg. 129
Sodomy is a crime not uncommonly committed; many of the subjects of it are publicly known, and do not appear to be despised, or to excite disgust; one of them was pointed out to us: he had submitted himself to it, in consequence of a vow he had made to his mystic medicine, which obliged him to change his dress for that of a squaw, to do their work, and to permit his hair to grow.

George Catlin

Meskwakis/Sauks; no idea what the quoted Meskwaki means, obviously too scandalous for Carlin to translate
1841 [written 1830s], vol II, pp. 214-215
Dance to the Berdashe ... is a funny and amusing scene, which happens once a year or oftener, as they choose, when a feast is given to the "Berdashe," as he is called in French, (or I-coo-coo-a, in their own language), who is a man dressed in woman's clothes, as he is known to be all his life, and for extraordinary priviledges which he is known to possess, he is driven to the most servile and degrading duties, which he is not allowed to escape; and he being the only one of the tribe submitting to this disgraceful degradation, is looked upon as medicine and sacred, and a feast is giving [sic] to him annually; and initiatory to it, a dance by those few young men of the tribe who can ... dance forward and publicly make their boast (without the denial of the Berdashe), that Ahg-whi-ee-choos-cum-me hi-anh-dwax-cumme-ke on-daig-nun-e how ixt. Che-ne-a'hkt ah-pex-ian I-coo-coo-a wi-an-gurotst whow-itcht-ne-axt-ar-rah, ne-axt-gun-he h'dow-k's dow-on-daig-o-ewhicht nun-go-was-see.

Such, and such only, are allowed to enter the dance and partake of the feast, and as there are but a precious few in the tribe who have legitimately gained this singular privilege, or willing to make a public confession of it it, [sic] will be seen that the society consists of quite a limited number of "odd fellows."

This is one of the most unaccountable and disgusting customs, that I have ever met in Indian country, and so far as I have been able to learn, belongs only to the Sioux and Sacs and Foxes—perhaps it is practiced by other tribes, but I did not meet with it; and for further account of it I am constrained to refer the reader to the country where it is practiced, and where I should wish that it might be extinguished before it be more fully recorded.

Thomas McKenney

pp 315-16
Thomas L. McKenney was US Superintendent of Indian Affairs from 1824-1830, and spent some time among the Ojibwes in 1826. I've left McKenney until last because he states he has not personally witnessed evidence of the two-spirit practice, but has only heard about it second-hand. Nevertheless, his report concerns the Ojibwes, and accords with other descriptions from eyewitnesses, so I am including it. He wrote in a letter from 1826:
I had hoped to have seen one of these anomalies, which are sometimes found among the Chippeways, and I believe amongst other tribes in the west. It is what they call a man-woman. I have it from undoubted authority, that such do exist. This singular being, either from a dream, or from an impression derived from some other source, considers that he is bound to impose upon himself, as the only means of appeasing his manito [personal guardian god], all the exterior of a woman; and undergo all the drudgery which the men exact from the squaws. So completely do they succeed, and even to the voice, as to make it impossible to distinguish them from women. They contract even their walk; turn in their toes, perform all the menial offices of the lodge; wear, of course, petticoats, and breast coverings, and even go through the ceremony of marriage! Nothing can induce these men-women to put off their imitative garbs, and assume again the pursuits and manly exercises of the chiefs. It is like taking the black veil. Once committed thus far, they are considered as beyond redemption, (unless their vow shall be limited, as is sometimes the case; as for example, until they take an enemy alive) and live, and die, confirmed in the belief that they are acting the part which the dream, or some other impression, pointed out to them as indispensable.

Women as Men

Baron Lahontan

vol II pp 142-43 (Illinois and perhaps other groups) (less clear than with men->women)
... d'autre filles ne veulent point entendre parler de mari, par un principe de débauche. Celles-ci s'apellent Ickoue ne Kiouſſa, c'eſt-à-dire, femme de Chaſſe, parce qu'elles le divertiſſent ordinairement avec des Chaſſeurs; alléguant pour raiſon quelles ſe ſentent trop indifferentes pour s'engager dans le lien conjugal, trop négligentes pour élever des enfans, & trop impatientes pour paſſer tout l'Hiver dans le Village; & voilà comment elles colorent leurs déréglemens. Leurs parens n'oſeroient s'ingerer de leur reprocher leur mauvaiſe conduite; au contraire, ils paroiſſent l'approuver, en diſant, comme je crois vous l'avoir déja marqué, que leurs filles ſont maîtreſſes de leurs corps, qu'elles diſpoſent de leurs perſonnes, & qu'il leur eſt permis de faire tout ce qu'elles jugent à propos. Au reſte, les enfans de ces publiques ſont réputez légitimes, joüiſſant de tous les privileges des enfans de familles, avec cette difference, que les Chefs de Guerre ou de Conſeil ne voudroient jamais les accepter pour Gendres ...

vol II p 463 [doesn't specify which people]
... ſome young Women will not hear of a Husband, through a principle of Debauchery. That ſort of Women are call'd Ickoue ne Kiouſſa, i.e. Hunting Women: for they commonly accompany the Huntſmen in their Diverſions. To juſtify their Conduct,  they alledge that they find themſelves to be of too indifferent a temper to brook the Conjugal yoak, to be too careleſs for the bringing up of Children, and too impatient to bear the paſſing of the whole Winter in the Villages. Thus it is, that they cover and diſguiſe their Lewdneſs. Their Parents or Relations dare not cenſure their Vicious Conduct; on the contrary they ſeem to approve of it, in declaring, as I ſaid before, that their Daughters have the command of their own Bodies and may diſpoſe of their Perſons as they think fit; they being at their liberty to do what they pleaſe. In ſhort, the Children of theſe Common Women are accounted a Lawful Iſſue, and intitled to all the Privileges of other Children; abateing for one thing, namely, that the noted Warriors or Counſellours will not accept of 'em for their Sons in Law ...

(Luckily, "The Jeſuits do their utmoſt to prevent the Lewd Practices of theſe Whores, by Preaching to their Parents that their Indulgence is very diſagreeable to the Great Spirit, that they muſt anſwer before God for not confineing their Children to the meaſures of Continency and Chaſtity, and that a Fire is Kindled in the other World to Torment 'em for ever, unleſs they take more care to correct Vice")

Johann Georg Kohl

pg. 126-27
Note no mention of woman taking a wife — still marry a husband and otherwise act like women (at least to Kohl's knowledge or as far as he would reveal) / 1855
Even the Indian girls dream at times [during the puberty vision quest] that they will become mighty runners, and evince a pride in excelling in this art, like the men. A case occurred during my stay at La Pointe. A warlike maiden suddenly appeared, who boasted of having taken a Sioux scalp, and she was led in triumph from lodge to lodge. I was told that a supernatural female had appeared to this girl, who was now nineteen, ... who prophesied to her that she would become the greatest runner of her tribe, and thus gain the mightiest warrior for husband. I must remark here, as indeed every reader will easily conjecture, that the fasting dreams of the Indian girls chiefly allude to the subject of marriage. Thrice—so said the prophetic voice—she would join in an expedition against the Sioux, and thrice save herself victoriously by her speed of foot. In running home the warriors of her tribe would try to outstrip her, but she would, in the two first campaigns, beat everybody. ... On the return from the third campaign, however, a young Ojibbeway would race with her, and conquer her, and she would then be married to him.

The girl had made her first war expedition this year. She had proceeded with the warriors of her tribe into the enemy's camp, raised the scalp of a wounded Sioux on the battle-field, and had run straight home for several days, thus bringing the first news of the victory, which greatly augmented her renown.

At La Pointe she walked in procession through the village, the scalp being borne before her as a banner. She was pointed out to everybody as the heroine of the day and of the island, and probably long ere this some young warrior has run a race with her, in which she was only too ready to be defeated.