June 13, 2024

Osage Kettle Carriers – Marmitons, Scullery Boys, Deviants And Gender Choices (Tink Tinker, wazhazhe / Osage Nation)

Due to the historical sourcing and cultural explanations necessary to Dr. Tinker’s scholarship, the editors of The New Polis have kept all of the author’s footnotes intact, though we have inserted hyperlinks when books are named and formatted paragraphing for easy online readability. We have also kept the entire composition in one post rather than breaking it up into parts as we usually do with longer articles. 


Author’s Introductory Remarks

I wrote an early draft of this essay a dozen years ago as a chapter for a book that I never completed. While my students have read the piece through these years and several dozen American Indian readers have vetted its content, it never quite fit in any of the journals in which I more customarily published. At least, it did not fit as a stand-alone essay. So, it languished on my hard drive for a couple of decades.

There have always been queered gender folk in Native communities, of course, but over the past three or four decades that has become perhaps clearer to non-Natives. For much of colonialist times, Native communities found it easier to conceal and protect this part of their communities rather than put them at risk of powerful colonialist disapprobation because of open euro-christian homophobia.

I speak here of queered gender identity for two reasons. The first is that these queered gender folk in our Native communities do not at all fit into the modern eurochristian categories of gay or lesbian, or even the other permutations that have emerged. The problem is that “gay,” for instance, has become a quintessential eurochristian signifier for a very discrete, if complex, socio/cultural phenomenon that locates itself in modern eurochristian cultures.

Native cultures were distinctly different. Perhaps queer can be likewise critiqued as culturally limited, but I have chosen to use it as a general qualifier for this common enough Native contingent in any Native community. What I describe is the society dedicated to a particular manifestation in the world of the wazhazhe udsethe, the Osage Nation.

Secondly, it becomes clear that Native queerness, as I am describing it historically, signals a broader spectrum of gendered identity and not one specific pattern. This, of course, is also becoming more apparent in eurochristian cultures these days. I nevertheless argue for cultural discreteness. Perhaps the most important cultural distinction to be made is that historically queered gender folk were always respected in Indian communities. There were always clearly defined social roles for this important part of each community.

As a historical study, this essay looks closely at colonialist archival evidences, since the traditional oral sources have been largely erased through durable eurochristian colonial intentionality. Unfortunately, when it comes to archival evidences, what we have focuses almost exclusively on men. Colonial archivists largely ignored Indian women as uninteresting and unimportant, given the hyper-sexism of eurochristian colonialist culture. To that extent, the reader will have to adjust to that reality even as my essay is vulnerable to critique as participating in that male privileging.

I resist the easy temptation to lump these American Indian queer men into the modern eurochristian category of “gay” or even homosexual, in order to highlight the disparate cultural difference necessary to understand traditional Native cultures as something other than a primitive replica of eurochristian social structures.

In the same vein I have abstained from any analysis of the emergent contemporary notions of LGBTQIA folk, including transgender identifying folk. That would introduce too many cross-cultural complexities. My fear is that we would tend to lose sight of the distinct cultural particularities of the American Indian cultural phenomena.


I. Kettle carriers, tsexek’in.

This is a curious word in the Osage language archival materials, a label designating certain men in every Osage community. Yet it is a word that has lacked a clear sense of meaning in the historical texts and interpretive reports about Osage culture and one that has fallen out of public usage in contemporary Osage communities. We can, of course, give a literal translation into the english language. The word means “kettle carrier,” but what exactly does it mean to be a kettle carrier?

This becomes a particularly important question when looking over the so-called war and peace ceremonies of the Osage people. We willnot be able to make sense of those ceremonies without sorting out who these important men were. They play a significant and recurring role in the and detailed ceremony that envelops the Osage activity of defensive battle and the necessary restoration of balance that follows any military engagement. There are some four dozen occurrences of the term in Francis La Flesche’s War Ceremony and Peace Ceremony of the Osage Indians (WCPC), yet La Flesche leaves the word shrouded in considerable mystery.[1]

When the Xthé-t’sa-ge [the eight appointed battle commanders] and the people have eaten their midday meal, the Xthé-t’sa-ge again paint themselves and their horses with charcoal and go forth on another procession around the village, followed this time by all the people in their gayest attire, the Tsí-zhu [sky people] going around by the right and the n-ga [earth people] by the left. Each division carries a drum. Occasional stops are made when the singers gather around the drum and sing the wa-sha΄-be a-thinsongs, called I-wa-tsi, “To which the People Dance.” These songs are also called Tsé-xe-k’inNon-honWa-thon, Songs of the Elder Tsé-xe-k’ior Kettle Carriers. (La Flesche 30)

The Do-dón-hon-ga [the spiritual leader for a military contingent] and some of the Tsé-xe-k’i[kettle carriers] remain where they were left by the attacking warriors, the former to continue the duties of his office and the latter to care for the pack horses and the camp utensils. (79)

La Flesche can be very cautious in terms of what he reveals and what he purposely conceals in his description of the Osage, and his description of the tséxek’in, or kettle carriers, he gives us very little concrete information even as he describes details of their functioning. In spite of their repeated appearance in the ceremonies, La Flesche seems to resist giving his readers a clear and full description of these men.

In the first citation above, his first mention of the category, he offers the simple literal translation. The songs at this point of the ceremony are the songs of the “elder” (nonhon) “kettle carriers.” Yet, despite the recurring importance of the kettle carriers in the ceremonies, La Flesche’s description leaves us largely in the dark as to why these extraordinary men assumed such significance in the ceremonies or what their actual function was in Osage communities or what the term actually means within the Osage social whole.

His casual definitions of the word leave the reader completely in the dark. In fact his quick identifying asides are actually more contradictory than they are elucidating. So, after offering the literal definition as “kettle carrier,” the ensuing one-line definitions muddy the waters and become entirely obscure whether we note those offered later in WCPCor the definitions given in his Dictionary.[2]

I would like to venture a sharper definition here of the category called “kettle carriers” and then proceed to clarify my reasoning for the definition through an analysis and interpretation of the surviving evidences. In particular, I will argue that the kettle carriers were an important and highly respected men’s society among the Osages, and that the men who made up this society were men who would have been considered sexual deviants by most euro-western observers in La Flesche’s day in terms of the euro-westernbinarygender system.[3]

Typically called berdache in the euro-literature about American Indians, the closest analogy to the kettle carriers in the modern amer-european world would be the category of gay men, although the social construction takes radically different forms in the two societal provenances. As such, then, the kettle carriers were men who variously took on women’s work, might occasionally even adopt women’s dress, most often followed women’s habits, and lived the typical sexual orientation that non-Indian scholars like to call berdache.[4]

La Flesche’s hesitation to clarify his definition of the category then becomes clearer. As an Indian scholar writing for a White audience in order to convince them of the sophistication of Indian social structures, La Flesche intentionally avoids explicitly naming what is quite normal in his own Indian world but might prove morally repugnant and off-putting to his White readers.[5]

To give the phenomenon a more modern name, the kettle carriers were men of that in-between gender (of women and men) who now call themselves “two-spirit.” These are the men Osages, in other contexts, called mixúga, taught by the moon.[6]

In order to come to a more deeply nuanced understanding of war and the war ceremony among the Osages, we must come to an understanding of these men who were “influenced” by the moon, who engaged in women’s work, who sometimes dressed as women, and who evidently mated sexually with other males. For eurowestern people, this entails a radical shift away from the simplistic binary understanding of gender construction towards an American Indian construction of gender identity that makes room at least for “third and fourth” genders. Even then the construction of these four genders allows for much more fluidity in personal identity options.[7]


II. Victor Tixier (1839-40)

Early euro-western observers were never quite sure what to make of this category of person in Osage (or other Indian) communities, even when they are recording their ceremonial importance. Somehow, Victor Tixier, the young, upper class French adventurer and writer who spent some months living among and traveling with the Osage [1839-40], along with many other european observers, missed entirely that the category of kettle carrier represented a sexuality orientation or a gender choice, or he was too embarrassed to say so.

Tixier, who also never recognized their important ceremonial role, merely comments that these men somehow had failed to achieve warrior status and success in life and were thus condemned to be the kitchen help, cooks, and servers in an Osage town. When one of these fellows shows up with a name that would indicate that he was a “chief” of some sort, Tixier dispatches with the matter by a quick and sharp disavowal of the man’s chiefly status — a pretentious name, he reports, since the man was a mere “marmiton” (French for scullery boy), useful only for culinary duties.[8]

Mr. [Edward] Chouteau told us that this worthy savage, who passed in Paris for an important chieftain, was only a marmiton,[9]that is to say not even a warrior in his own nation but a cook for the braves. Yet this old Osage bears the pretentious out-of-place name…Big Soldier.[10]

Eventually, we will connect Tixier’s category of marmiton with the kettle carriers in other accounts of the Osages and demonstrate the importance of Big Soldier in a very different way than other writers have. At this point, perhaps it should be reiterated that Tixier’s disdain for the marmiton had nothing to do with the person’s sexual proclivities, about which Tixier evidently remained forever in the dark.

Rather, his scorn has to do with the failure of the marmiton to live up to the French (european) stereotyped meme of American Indians as the noble savage, a beast, the bloodthirsty warrior. This becomes clear a few pages later where he relates a tale of another marmiton for whom he records the name Bahabêh, reported to have been the son of a famous Osage military hero. Tixier’s description of Bahabêh’s supposed failure gives us a clearer idea of how he understands the category of marmiton to have functioned in Osage culture.

Twenty times he tried to follow in his father’s footsteps, but an adverse fate has never given him the occasion to show his valor, although neither will nor patience was lacking, for, waiting in ambush during a severely cold winter, his feet froze and he lost the phalanxes of his toes. Poor Bahabêh remained a marmiton.[11]

The persistence of White romantic fantasy, and the imputation of european notions of savagery that leads to the description of plains Indian peoples as “warrior cultures,” implies here that somehow Bahabêh failed to achieve manhood because of lack of success in war. We are left to wonder, in this case, what lack of success might have meant given his “twenty” occasions of participation in a military contingent, except to suppose that he failed to take another human being’s life, a common part of the White fetish about Indians.

But this cannot be true, given what we know about the general dearth of killing in Osage and all Indian warfare. It should also not go without qualification, at least in passing, that “ambush” is not a traditional form of plains Indian combat and must be discounted in Tixier’s narrative as reflecting his own idealization of Indian people as a non-native speaker indulging his first brief taste of the exotic Other. What actually happened to Bahabêh and his feet must remain something of a mystery.

What we have then in Tixier’s narrative of Bahabêh—as a failed-warrior-reduced-to-marmiton—is a piece of what became the persistent colonizer-romanticized myth of the plains culture as a hyper-masculinist warrior culture, a culture in which a male could not achieve manhood without living up to the warrior ideal. Indeed, colonial (White) interpretations of plains Indian societies persistently and explicitly repeat what Tixier leaves as an unspoken allusion here, the persistent lie that plains Indian cultures would not allow a young man to marry until he had taken the life of an enemy.

This is a colonizer myth that has textured the colonial conquest and has served the colonizer well, magnifying the presumed bloodthirst of Indians far beyond the factuality of historical battle casualty numbers. It has functioned both to legitimize the conquest in the mind of the colonizer and to conceal the actual bloodthirst of the indisputably savage eurochristian war-making habits that helped to shape the worldview and thinking that emerged from centuries of bloody european war making.

What Tixier fails to note, however, in the complexity of the Osage culture is that all participants in a military contingent (both combatants and non-combatants) are entitled to count a formal “battle honor” (odonor defensive combat honor) merely by virtue of their presence with the combatants. This is to say that each non-combatant marmiton who accompanied a military contingent—as a cook or kettle carrier—could rightfully count a “combat honor” for every contingent he had assisted. Bahabêh would have been well-decorated with such honors—being able evidently to count at least twenty of them by Tixier’s measure, a courageous man indeed.[12]

So we are left with the lingering question as to what historical reality Tixier’s signifying label of marmiton might actually relate. The french word is regularly translated as scullion in the french-english dictionaries,[13] although McDermott is clear that this translation alone will fail to capture the breadth of the actuality even for his own limited understanding of the reality.[14]

In english cultural parlance a scullion is a servant employed to do menial tasks in a kitchen, a kitchen helper,[15] and indeed marmiton can also be glossed in english as “kitchen boy.”[16] Perhaps more intriguingly for our purposes, the word marmiton is directly related to the french word marmite, meaning kettle or pot. From this hint alone it becomes nearly impossible to understand Big Soldier as any less than a member of the society called by the Osages “kettle keepers” or “kettle carriers”—ṭséxek’in.

Indeed, Big Soldier was undoubtedly a ṭséxek’innonho(elder kettle carrier); and most likely the ṭséxek’inwaṭonga(chief kettle carrier) for his village or clan.[17] In any case, the kettle carriers have such a prominent role in the Osage combat ceremony that we must explore their function more fully.


III. A. Big Soldier

As we turn to Big Soldier it needs to be clearly noted that there are few limitations placed on the kettle carrier in terms of larger social roles the person might fill in those societies. In terms of what Tixier calls his “pretentious” name, we can safely argue to the contrary that there seems to have been no restriction on attaining chiefly status among Osages that hinged on sexual orientation.

Indeed, aki’da Tonga, Big Soldier, is listed as one of the Osage signers of three of the first major treaties with the United States;[18] he accompanied an important Osage delegation to Washington; and he was one of the delegates on an ill-fated Osage tour of France in 1827-29.[19] Thus, far from being punished by his community or marginalized for his sexual orientation, Big Soldier was included as one of their key representatives and spokespeople. Towards the end of this essay we will discuss the real importance of Big Soldier’s name in the Osage community.

What we do know historically is that Big Soldier (aki’da tonga) was an Osage ancestor of some renown. We could recall a famous moment in colonial history in which he expressed a distinct resistance to eurochristian culture and power that still rings true for many Indian people today. Vine Deloria, Jr., once argued that this 1822 speech of Big Soldier’s recorded in U.S. government documents was, “The best thing an Indian ever said.”[20]

And indeed his speech is one of clear and unequivocal Indian resistance over against the imposition of eurochristian culture on Indian people from a man who had already been a guest of the U.S. government in Washington, D.C., and had seen the technological wonders of that world.

We know he was an important conversation partner with some colonial officials. Still, we need to note that at least some european observers remained unconvinced. In this essay, I want to demonstrate that Big Soldier’s detractors were dealing with a certain euro-centric homophobia, even if they failed to explicitly notice a definite lack of heterosexual orientation on Big Soldier’s part.

Thus, we get a very different glimpse of Big Soldier in Tixier’s travelogue reporting an encounter some sixteen years later (ca 1838) when Big Soldier was already an elder in the Osage community (around sixty to sixty-five years old) and by then a veteran of the Osage delegation that had traveled to Tixier’s home country about a decade before. Tixier was, to say the least, unimpressed and even had the audacity to challenge the authenticity of his name.

In the context of Tixier’s travelogue about his upper-class-elitist-european exotic adventure, cavorting with the “noble savage,” it is very clear that when he calls Big Soldier a marmiton, he intended it as a putting down and a dismissal of the importance of Big Soldier.  The charge occurs in the context of Tixier’s very first encounter with Osages, his meeting of Big Soldier at the moment of Tixier’s arrival in St. Louis. Upon learning a little bit about Big Soldier from French expatriates, Tixier announces that in spite of the man’s grand name, he was certainly not even a “warrior” among his own people even though, Tixier declares, he passed himself off for an important chieftain while touring in France. No, says Tixier, Big Soldier was “a marmiton.”

As one continues reading it becomes increasingly clear that Tixier himself lacked a full understanding of what the category he called marmiton (or alternatively in his writing lapânie) actually meant in Osage culture. Moreover, Tixier’s translator and editor more than a century later equally failed to understand the full implication of who Big Soldier was in his own community.[21]


IV. Other Osage Cultural Observations

More importantly, when one reads the war and peace ceremony description of Francis La Flesche or the earlier discussion of Osage war ceremonies by J. Owen Dorsey,[22] it becomes apparent that the category of person that Tixier calls “marmiton” and La Flesche and Dorsey identify as “kettle carrier” or “kettle bearer” repeatedly played a very significant ceremonial role. The rest of this essay will describe Osage social mores and cultural structures to offer a new interpretation of the Osage mixúga (“taught by the moon”) or men-women who constituted the society of kettle carriers.

Generally, they have been labeled by euro-observers with the curious and largely inexplicable term berdache, about whom quite a bit has been written, usually in pretentiously mundane language.[23] Far from being social outcasts, these figures played a central participatory role among Osages (as similar figures did in other Indian communities) and were always assured of a clearly defined place in the social whole.

With the very first mention of this category of men in his recounting the Osage War Ceremony—quoted above at the beginning of this chapter—La Flesche translates the term literally as “kettle carrier.” Yet on the very next page (31), he inexplicably modifies his translation of tséxek’ito “private warriors,” a strange anomaly of a designation that he does not interpret for his reader any further; nor is the term ever repeated.

One is left to wonder what a private warrior might be, especially since it becomes fairly clear in reading the Osage War Ceremony that these men are non-combatants or largely non-combatants. And in the same volume, in recounting the “Osage Peace Ceremony,” La Flesche calls these men “servants” (206) and “subordinates” (221).[24] And early in the combat ceremony, the kettle carriers are called on to perform serving tasks of being a formal messenger (52) or carrying a ceremonial pot out of the village to empty it (51).

La Flesche next introduces the kettle carriers as key participants functioning within a ceremony performed by the battle spiritual leader (dodonhonga). Here again they perform a ceremonial/serving function, namely by picking grass and collecting it into four bundles which are then used symbolically by the battle spiritual leader (74) and by the akida (“warriors” or defenders?) (76). Their serving function is highlighted again on the first day of travel, when the battle excursion is interrupted for the conducting of another ceremony.

The eight battle commanders build a small purification (or sweat) lodge and heat stones for the ceremony.[25] Once the eight are inside the lodge, the kettle carriers (and not the akida, the rank and file battle-ready defenders) function as attendants for the ceremony that ensues. One of the kettle carriers takes the hawk bundle and removes the sacred bird inside it and places the bird on the top of the lodge. It will then be his duty to recover the bird at the end of the ceremony, after the lodge has been completely tipped over by those inside, and to interpret an important omen for the success of the outing.

If the Ṭse′-xe-k’in replies, “It lies breast upward,” the Xthe′-ṭs’a-ge (battle commanders) say, “It is well, it is well.” This they take as a sign that the expedition will succeed and that none of the warriors will be lost. If the bird is found to have fallen breast downward they receive the report in silence, for the bird had taken the position of a fallen warrior, a sign that the war party will suffer losses.[26] ( 78)

Once the enemy have been located and the battle commandershave devised the immediate strategy, the fighting component of the contingent begins its approach to the enemy. At that point, La Flesche reports, “The Do-don΄-hon-ga and some of the Tse-xe-k’in remain where they were left by the attacking warriors, the former to continue the duties of his office and the latter to care for the pack horses and the camp utensils” (79).

Here we find two distinct duties spelled out for the kettle carriers. Namely, they are to care for the horses (pack horses are named, but other horses (extra mounts) were no doubt also left behind with these caretakers) and to care for the camp itself.  While the latter duty is named simply as care for camp utensils, one is driven to the conclusion that the kettle carriers have a more specific task involving the camp and the use of the utensils, namely in the preparation of food, a description confirmed by Tixier in his use of the term marmiton and in identifying the marmitons as “cooks for the braves” (Tixier 99).

The kettle carriers, then, are non-combatant Osage men who were brought along as cooks and horse herders, and the term signifies the kettle carriers’ principle occupation as cooks, especially on excursions that would be dangerous or difficult for women. That there were men among the Osage who assumed women’s duties such as cooking and the care of cooking utensils is already well-known, and Tixier identifies them for us clearly in the historical context of the mid-nineteenth century even if he did not explicitly identify them by the name of tsexek’in.[27]


V. Big Soldier in France

Tixier announces a curious response of Big Soldier to the arrival of french citizens in his home territory of Missouri (St. Louis, in this case). Meeting Tixier, Big Soldier shows great pleasure in reminiscing over his own visit to France and recalling, as Tixier reports, that he “had been astonished by what he had seen in our country, and remembered with particular pleasure that he had been married three times there” (Tixier 99).

So how do we correlate our assumption of Big Soldier’s sexual orientation with his claim to have been married three times while in France? This is not at all difficult when we remember the general characterization of the two-spirit man in terms of their mischievous impudence, the impish and playful audaciousness (La Flesche),[28] the flamboyance (Tixier 199), or their deliberate countercultural social affectation.[29]

As a kettle carrier, then, why would Big Soldier not have take particular pleasure in receiving offers of marriage to French women? To have engaged in the actual ceremony of marriage three times, by his own count, would be a peculiarly bold and blatantly audacious act on his part, one that would have given unique pleasure to one who had so decisively rejected euro-culture only a half decade before in response to his first visit to Washington DC.

On that occasion, of course, he had allowed that perhaps his own sons would make different choices than he himself was making with regard to the invitation to accede to american culture and its values. Does this not present further prima facie evidence against any notion of Big Soldier as a two-spirit man?

Here one must remember two particularities about American Indian cultures. First of all, it is important to recognize that the Indian family was never reduced to the mere “nuclear” family of euro-western cultures. Indian families were made up of extensive relationships that coursed through the whole of a community and throughout the whole of a nation. Not only did aunts and uncles carry the name and responsibilities of parents to nephews and nieces, but they were also grandparents to the children of those nephews and nieces. Cousins customarily were understood to be close siblings, brothers and sisters.

Thus, Big Soldier could count numerous sons and daughters in his immediate family—without having engaged in the sexual penetration of a woman. Secondly, however, we need to remember that the plains two spirit man had a typical responsibility for teaching younger boys in the technical arts of becoming men in those societies. Indeed, it is not inconceivable that in accounts of the battle engagement the category of “kettle carriers” includes young boys who are not two spiritat all, but are under the care of the kettle carriers who are accompanying the battle detachment.

That is to say, young boys who are not yet old enough to attack the enemy and to count coup in the engagement but are nevertheless old enough to accompany the contingent on its excursion but must remain in camp and assist the adult kettle carriers in their activities of keeping the camp and caring for the horses left behind, and thus technically have the name kettle carriers. What is known is that the two spirit manhad distinct responsibilities in most plains communities for teaching those young boys who were too old to be with their mothers yet too young to regularly accompany their fathers on hunting excursions.

Finally,the general Indian cultural notion of adoption would just as easily play a role in Big Soldier’s claim to having sons. As one who had played a significant role in the upbringing of any number of young boys, a kettle carrier would have every right and expectation, in an Indian understanding of family relationship, to call on these young men as his sons, long after they had left his tutelage for adult life and their own marriage and family. Their children would certainly be his grandchildren. Two spirit status would never deprive a man of gaining status either as parent or as grandparent!

One example that brings these things together is Tixier’s description of a Kaw (Kansa) marmiton who rides into the Osage hunting camp accompanied by a couple of Kaw boys (kangas). Using the untranslatable word lapânie as a synonym for marmiton, Tixier reports an encounter with this Kaw visitor that helps us fill in Tixier’s conception of this group of men called marmiton, whom we now know as kettle carriers. In this case, the colorful Kaw man ostentatiously rides into an Osage hunting camp accompanied by two young Kaw boys fresh from participating in a hunting expedition (their “saddles were laden with fresh meat”).

“This lapânie,” Tixier says, “was a perfect type of his kind. Boldness, insolence, cleverness, vanity, and baseness were all together in this pasquin of the redskins.”[30] Boldness is a curious adjective to apply to someone that Tixier and other european observers also accuse of cowardice!

With a conspicuous flamboyancy, as Tixier describes the incident, the marmiton singled out an Osage lodge marked by the tethering of particularly nice-looking horses and engaged in an ostentatious and disingenuous public exaltation of the lodge’s occupant. The Kansa had, says Tixier, “cleverly found out” the man’s name and “cried out several times about the camp that Ishta-ska was the greatest Osage warrior.”

Not really knowing Indian cultures and probably relying on the far from perfect translating skills of a french trader, Tixier tells his readers that the marmiton’s public proclamation of the occupant as a famous Osage hunter results in the Osage man’s response of giving the marmiton a very fine horse as a gift. “Such proclamation is paid for dearly,” says Tixier, “The pride of a savage inclines him to encourage the one who flatters him. Proclaimed the bravest, the wealthiest, the most generous in the nation, he pays as a rich, generous man.”

What Tixier could not have known is whether the two men were already well-acquainted. The Kaw and Osage were very closely related tribes, and indeed, the Kaw were originally a part of the Osages who split off in some earlier historical time. They spoke the same language and retained very similar ceremonial structure, clan structure, general culture, etc. So this lapânie would clearly know Osage cultural values and responses since they would be identical to his own.

More than that, it is extremely likely that the two already knew each other from previous encounters and may have already been engaged in a reciprocal gift-giving relationship. In any case, what draws our attention here is Tixier’s rather vivid description of the lapânie and his explicit comparing of this Kaw man with Big Soldier. After recounting the antics of this marmiton, Tixier goes on to say, “The lapânie constantly makes faces and contortions, he never has the calm, dignified attitude which characterizes the soldier. If you remember Big Soldier, who went to Paris, you have a correct idea of what the Indian marmitons look like.”

As we have already begun to see, Tixier’s description here accords with other descriptions of cross-gendered men and their social function in plains Indian communities. Ella Deloria describes the winkte, the Dakota/Lakota two-spirit men, whom she also calls “hermaphrodites” or “transvestites.”  They also are known for giving names—both when asked and on other less ceremonial occasions.

Using Deloria’s insights, editor DeMaillie comments on the name of a man memorialized in the “No Ears Winter Count” who had the name Slukela. Translating the name as “Skinned Penis,” the editor points to the cultural meaning of the name and its intrinsic vulgar humor. Deloria, he notes, suggests that the vulgar character of the name indicates that it was given to the man by a winkte, who are known to have “frequently bestowed upon people obscene or scatological nicknames which became commonly used.”

While european and amer-european people might see this as impudence, it is socially accepted impudence among the Lakota. The names stick and become common usage, as Deloria notes.  Moreover, they often become the names remembered in the “official” documents, the tribal winter counts.[31] Thus, Big Soldier’s French marriages can beunderstood as fully in keeping with Indian humor generally and Osage humor particularly.[32]

The impudent and presumptuous character of Tixier’s Kaw marmiton is actually mirrored in La Flesche’s description of the kettle carriers, albeit one in which La Flesche still fails to give any real definition of the category. Here it has to do with the kettle carrier songs that are sung on the first public day of the war ceremony. “The audacious and boastful character of the Ṭsé-xe-k’in songs is in strong contrast to the Xthé ts’a ge and Do doń hogasongs,” reports La Flesche, and “the former voice the uncontrolled exuberance of the younger element and the latter the seriousness of the older and more experienced class.”[33]

The xthé ts’a ge and do doń hoga, of course, are community elders, selected from and by the council of elders to be leaders in the military engagement. “Calm and dignified” captures their demeanor both in Tixier’s experience and in La Flesche’s description of their part in the Osage war ceremony.

Yet the kettle carrier songs cannot be merely the voice of the uncontrolled exuberance of youth. As we have already seen, the kettle carriers society includes men of all ages, including particularly elder kettle carriers, leaders of kettle carriers and chief kettle carriers. To the contrary, La Flesche calls these songs the songs of the “elder” kettle carriers (tsexek’innonhonwathon, WXPC, 33).

The tenor of these songs must instead reflect something intrinsic to the character of kettle carriers, something that La Flesche intentionally obscures out of his desire to win respect among his White readers for the Indian worldview and for the value system of the Osage Nation he is describing in his work. Taking our clue from Tixier’s description of the marmiton, we can suggest that the kettle carriers had a societal responsibility to behave in ways that challenged the inherent masculine arrogance of men socially defined in terms of their hunting and military defensive responsibilities, in this case through the use of exaggeration and caricaturization. Thus La Flesche can rightly describe the songs as “audacious and boastful.”

It is certainly not insignificant that the Kaw kettle carrier / marmiton that Tixier encounters is traveling, evidently alone, with two young boys. Thus, the one thing modern euro-american society fears the most about gay men [34] is built into plains Indian culture as a strong social value. This kettle carrier has custody for these two boys precisely because one of his social functions is that of teacher, a responsibility for teaching young boys how to become men.

In any case, Tixier reminds us, if we remember his description of Big Soldier we will have “a correct idea of what the Indian marmitons look like.” The kettle carrier that entered the Osage hunting camp was, for Tixier, of the same mold as Big Soldier. It should not go unnoticed, however, that one of Tixier’s countrymen who had preceded his own visit with the Osages, articulated a much higher opinion of these men than he did. Another French adventurer, Louis Cortambert, Foreman reminds us, “who had visited the Osages a few years before, gave the marmiton, or scullion, a higher station in the tribe.”[35] Foreman continues by quoting Cortambert.

In speaking of Osage dignitaries, one must not forget to speak of the marmiton, an important personage in each village. At the time I found myself there, they commenced to return from the great autumn hunt; it was an occasion of rejoicing. The marmiton, dressed in an old French braided coat, showed himself at the same time all over the village, proclaiming the names of those who made him presents to contribute to some gala, bawling in each lodge invitations to the ball. . . . The marmiton has the right to indiscretion and insolence; the marmiton knows all that happens; the marmiton is the gazette of the village.[36]

Here we see in this short description a couple of the aspects of the marmiton that are coming into clearer focus. First of all, the marmiton appears to have a “town crier” function, similar to a description in Tixier.[37] Secondly, Cortambert reaffirms the “audacious” character of the marmiton, something detailed in Tixier’s account of the Kansa lapaniê (a word he uses as a synonym for marmiton) and mentioned as an aspect of the kettle carrier’s character by La Flesche. The marmiton’s right to indiscretion here fits once again with the report of the winkte among the Lakota in Ella Deloria’s account.

Now, however, we must respond to Tixier’s charge that despite his pretentious name, Big Soldier only passed himself off “in Paris for an important chieftain” and was “not even a warrior in his own nation.” The frenchman was then presuming that Big Soldier was a fraud. Here we must return to Big Soldier’s name and attempt to explain how one who is “only a marmiton” came to posses such and imposing and important name among the Osages.


VI. Big Soldier’s Name

Big Soldier’s name does not really translate as Big Soldier. Rather, the translation presumes the White, eurowestern stereotype of Indian peoples, namely, that Indians were militaristic societies where all the men were “warriors” or “braves,” i.e., “warrior cultures.” It perpetuates the amer-european myth that Indian men customarily and recklessly pursued some warrior ideal living in militaristic societies that gave in to primitive blood thirst with constant warfare. Yet, there is really no word for “soldier” or even “warrior” in Osage, a lack that is consistent with all pre-contact Indian communities in north America.

Thus, akída tonga, or big akída, is really a problematic name to translate into english. While some want to translate akída as warrior, and the word was indeed used to name the members of a military detachment, translating the word as warrior in english actually biases the whole understanding of the phenomenon for english language speakers. We have seen in the previous chapter that warfare was relatively non-violent among Indian peoples generally prior to the european invasion of the continent. Combat was ultimately oriented towards the defense of the people.[38]

The total destruction or conquest of an enemy was never a military objective. Indeed, the killing of an enemy was not usually accorded the same high honor as “counting coup” or touching an enemy in battle without being touched in return.

Akída, then, really refers to defense, that is, defense of the village or defender of the people, as we shall explain, and the same seems to be true in other Indian communities. Some young Lakota men were determined to honor a returning veteran from the Vietnam War and called on some of their elders to give the young man a Lakota name, a “warrior” name they insisted. After thinking the request through for a time, the elders finally announced that they had chosen a name but that it had been difficult to comply fully with the request.

There is, they replied, no word in Lakota for warrior. All the words that refer to battle and the function of young men in battle had to do with the notion of defense. Thus, they gave the returning veteran the name of “defender of the people.”[39] The Osage word akída has such a variety of meanings in different contexts that the common translation of warrior or soldier is certainly false.

A different example of the use of the word akída are the monshoakída, those who “watch over the land” or “protectors of the land.”[40] These were members of a men’s society among the Osage whose task was the defensive patrol of Osage heartlands. A couple members of the society were always on patrol to monitor enemy incursions into Osage land and to give Osage towns adequate notice for protecting themselves.

Another sense of the word, however, seems inherent in Big Soldier’s name, namely the akida gahíga. First of all, the word tongcan mean big or large in terms of size, but it also refers to some sense of rank or importance. In the latter sense it would modify an adjective in terms of status or leadership. A “big” akída could undoubtedly be one of the five akída appointed by each of the two village headmen or chiefs (gahíga). These are the men whom La Flesche calls akida gahíga, “chief protectors,” since one of their principal functions is to protect the chief or headman who appointed them.

In turn, these ten chief protectors had special responsibilities for maintaining order in the town and lived in houses constructed immediately around the chiefs’ houses in the center of the village. Thus, they served a key political function in each town.[41] That they might commonly have been veterans of military encounters is only tangentially relevant, since their immediate role has to do with maintaining domestic order. Indeed, akída tonga was a formal title reserved for one of these akída gahíga.[42]

It would have been this important social status that would have mandated that Big Soldier act as a signatory to the early Osage treaties with the United States. In other words, he was indeed a “chief” and worthy of his name—even though he may have never functioned as a military combatant.


VII. Kettle Carriers and the Conclusion to the War Ceremony

Finally, the real social importance of the kettle carriers and their society in Osage culture leaps to the fore in the ceremonial drama that accompanies the return of the military contingent to the town after combat with an enemy. In the case that their foray has resulted in an enemy casualty, the combatants cut a slender sapling to make a staff, to the top of which they attach a small sapling hoop upon which they mount the scalp. The staff is then presented to the dodónhonga, the spiritual leader and pipe carrier of the military contingent, along with any captives and captured goods, who then directs the contingent toward home.

At this point, the dodon΄ honga, carrying the staff, seems to take over the direct leadership of the detachment—since the return to the village is a ceremonial movement. Thus, he is the one who leads the group’s procession to the town. At some distance from town, however, he sends a kettle carrier (rather than a shoka/ messenger) to announce the impending arrival of the detachment to the village, once again reminding us of the “crier” function of a lapânie/ marmaton in Tixier’s account of an Osage village event in 1840 and Cortambert’s description a couple of years earlier.

Reaching the perimeter of the town, the dodónhonga, in a strikingly significant move, then hands the staff to his “chief kettle carrier,” and this kettle carrier is the one who receives very special the honor of parading the trophy into the village itself. Thus, this crucial non-combatant figure assumes the first of some very important and very public ceremonial tasks just as the military detachment reenters the village.

Particularly striking is the role of the chief kettle carrier in that part of the ceremony called “releasing the spirit(s) of the slain enemy.” As the dodónhonga enters the village, he is closely followed by his chief kettle carrier (carrying the willow sapling with the enemy scalp) and the xoka (master of ceremonies, and elder who remained in the village throughout). In that ceremonial order they finally enter the “house of mysteries” which had been constructed solely for the purpose of the war ceremony, and moving to the left around the inside perimeter they approach the smoke hole in the roof at one end of the lodge.

All of this is done in a sacred, ceremonial way, accompanied by songs, prayers, and sacred action. Then in an act that must be incongruous for euro-american people, it is the chief kettle carrier, a non-combatant, Tixier’s “only-a-marmiton,” who is responsible for the decisive action that releases the spirit(s) of the slain enemy.

[T]he Chief Tse¢-xe-k’iwith a quick movement thrusts the slender poles on which are suspended scalps, through the opening to the sky and pulls them in again, by which act the spirits of the slain are released. (WCPC, 81)

It is an action born out of utter respect for one’s enemy and one that calls forth the renewed balancing of the cosmos after its decisive disruption in an act of military combat. Yet, it is the principal non-combatant, flamboyant and ostentatious kettle carrier who is given the ultimate responsibility for the final success of the military engagement. This is a high honor indeed for any person. That it accrues to one who in another culture might be despised and marginalized ought to give pause, especially if one hopes to understand the complexity and depth of an American Indian culture and its commitment to the balance and harmony of all existence.

Being a kettle carrier, then, certainly did not deprive one of social status of any kind. Clearly, just the opposite is the case. The kettle carrier had every possibility for attaining high esteem and high status in an Osage community. As we reflect back on the mixed european respect for the man called akida tonga (Big Soldier) and read carefully between the lines, we see a highly respected elder, a chiefly personage, who was in some contexts a key spokesperson for his people.

We can imagine that he himself had functioned as the chief tséxek’in on the return of a military contingent to their home village and had performed the soul releasing ceremony. And now we can see more clearly that the man who gave what Deloria calls the best speech an Indian ever gave was queer! And, most importantly, he was not alone in his community, but rather he was a member of the formal society called Kettle Carriers. In fact, he was probably the chief queer of the Osages by the end of his life, the head of his Kettle Carriers society. Such a scenario could only happen in the indigenous world of American Indians.


Tink Tinker is the Clifford Baldridge Emeritus Professor of American Indian Cultures and Religious Traditions and a citizen of the wazhazhe udsethe (Osage Nation). His career spanned 34 years at Iliff School of Theology where he also taught in the Iliff/DU Joint Doctoral Program. During his tenure at Iliff, Tinker also provided (pro bono) leadership for the Four Winds American Indian Council, a local urban Indian community project.



[1]Francis La Flesche, War Ceremony and Peace Ceremony of the Osage Indians, Bureau of American Ethnology, Bulletin 101 (Washington: US Government Printing Office, 1939). Yet strangely enough, the Osage word rates no listing in the index. The english “kettle carriers” only receives a single listing in the index, referring the reader to those pages that relate the “kettle carriers’ songs” the second quote offered here.

[2]Interestingly, LF offers no entry or definition for tsexek’inin the Dictionary. He does, however, offer definitions of two compound phrases that include the word: “tse-xe-k’in-non-honwa-thon” and “Tse-xe-k’inPa-hon-gthe.” The former (nonhon, elder; wathon, songs) is not given any translation per se in its first appearance; rather it is merely identified with another song title: “Same as i-wa-tsi” (p. 161), which is defined as “Songs to which the people dance” (p. 81), even though the word for song (wathon) is missing. For some reason, then, La Flesche completely ducks the question of translation, offering instead a mere reference to the ceremonial function of these particular songs. On page 93 he does offer a translation, calling the tsexek’innonhon“Chief Kettle Carriers.” He does give a more literal translation for the phrase in his 1939 WCPC, as we have already noted: “Songs of the…Elder Kettle Carriers” (WCPC, 30). The phrase tsexek’inpahongthe, called the “leaders of the kettle carriers” (WCPC, 89),is given a much fuller explanation in the Dictionary:

[L]eader of the Kettle Carriers. Two divisions, the Tsi’-zhu and the Hon-ga, select two warriors from each division to serve the Ceremonial Mourner during his period of fasting. These four men are called Tse-xe-k’inPa-hon-gthe. They make the forked stake upon which the Do-don΄-hon-ga hangs his pouch and ceremonial pipe when he is at rest. The also decide the length of time the Do-don΄-hon-ga is to take the Non΄-zhin-zho(fasting) rite. (p. 161)

One can only wonder what the distinction between these two categories might actually have been, between chiefs and leaders, yet there must have been a clear distinction within the society since they are used on the same page referring to two different activities (WCPC, p. 93).

[3]“Society” was the signifier used by early American ethnographers to name voluntary associations (sodalities or sodal organizations)—in contrast to family or clan groupings (modal organizations). See Robert H. Lowie, Social Organization(Rinehart, 1948), p. 14; Plains Indian Age-Societies: Historical and Comparative Summary, Anthropological Papers of the American Museum of Natural History, vol. 11:13  (New York: The Trustees of the American Museum of Natural History, 1916), pp. 908-910; William C. Meadows, Kiowa, Apache, and Comanche Military Societies: Enduring Veterans, 1800 to the Present (University of Texas Press, 1999).

While this is a useful starting point for understanding the Indian context, it fails to notice that “society” membership is never simply a matter of choice for a would-be member. Rather, the society itself often makes the choice and extends an invitation. To this extent, “society” in an Indian community is different from church membership in the eurowestern world. Once the invitation has been extended and accepted, certain initiation rites, sometimes quite extensive and lengthy and usually expensive, must be engaged by the invitee. For the society of elders (nohonzhinga) among the Osage, the time for the initiation could run as long as seven years.

[4]Will Roscoe, Changing Ones: Third and Fourth Genders in Native North America (St. Martin’s Griffin, 1998), 8ff. and inter alia. Roscoe is one of the few lucid writers on the general phenomenon among north American Indian peoples and offers a fairly balanced and nuanced interpretation. Most academic treatments of the berdash or “two-spirited” person in the Indian world seem to be written by White gay and lesbian writers who finally have little more breadth or depth of understanding of Indian people than what Tafoya calls the “anthropological keepers of knowledge” about Indians. Terry Tafoya, “M. Dragonfly: Two-Spirit and the Tafoya Principle of Uncertainty,” Two-Spirit People: Native American Gender Identity, Sexuality, and Spirituality, edited by Sue-Ellen Jacobs, Wesley Thomas, and Sabine Lang (University of Illinois Press, 1997, p. 195). The literature on the berdache is quite extensive and can be sampled from Roscoe’s bibliography: Bibliography of Berdache and Alternative Gender Roles among North American Indians(New York: Haworth Press, 1987); also in Journal of Homosexuality 14(1987): 81-171; or from sampling the citations in the more recent collection of essays in which Tafoya (above) published.

[5]In his discussion of “two-spirit” identity in the Indian world, Tafoya notes the problem of explicitly naming Indian realities in a euro-White world that has used the policing of sexuality as a convenient excuse for colonial conquest: “Were I  a historian, I might remind the audience that the hatred and oppression against Native American by the European invaders and colonialists might have had some influence on what so-called informants would discuss, considering that the interviewer might classify community-sanctioned behavior as a ‘sexual dysfunction, a sexual deviancy, or a crime’” (197). La Flesche, of course, is an Indian. His lack of forthcoming in identifying the kettle carrier does not have to do with any lack of understanding on his part. Rather, I suspect he is protecting Indian people generally and the Osages particularly from any attack of moral outrage that might contribute to the continued colonial marginalization of Indian people.

[6]That La Flesche is himself fully aware is immediately apparent in reading his much earlier volume on the Omaha (his own people) where he records stories about the Osage mixúga related by Black Dog. Alice Fletcher and Francis La Flesche, The Omaha Tribe, 27th Annual Report, Bureau of American Ethnology (Washington: US Government Printing Office, 1911), pp. 131-133.

[7]La Flesche and Fletcher,The Omaha, relate the story of another Osage who was a highly regarded akída(“warrior”?!) and a leader among the young men, who received a vision calling him to live as a mixúgaeven though he was married and a father of children. We are told that he took on women’s dress whenever in the village and only changed his dress when he joined a battle contingent for defense of the village.

[8]John Francis McDermott, ed., Tixier’s “Travels on the Osage Prairies,” translated by Albert J. Salvan (University of Oklahoma Press, 1940), 99 [Voyage aux prairies osages, Louisiane et Missouri, 1839-40].

[9]McDermott, fn. 6, notes:

Throughout this translation we have retained the French term marmitonbecause the English equivalent scullion, or cook, does not clearly convey the meaning of the Indian term.  The marmitonwas apparently a cook but he was also a herald or town-crier. Compare later passages in this volume. For a brief comment on this subject, see Grant Foreman, “Our Indian Ambassadorsto Europe,” Missouri Historical Society Collections, V (February, 1928): [109-128; ] see 127 and n. 59.; 115.

[10]Again, McDermott notes (fn. 7):

Foreman, op. cit., 115, gives Marcharthitahtoongahas this man’s Indian name , and states that in 1827 he was forty-five years old. If this is correct, Big Soldier was fifty-eight when Tixier met him. His age is disputed, for when J. M. Stanley painted his picture at the Council held at Tahlequah in June 1843, he stated that Big Soldier was then about seventy years old and wore the medal presented to him by Lafayette. He died in the summer of 1844. Big Soldier, or Ne-ha-wa-she-tunga, according to Richard Peters (Treaties between the United States and the Indian Tribes, 270), was one of the warriors of the Great Osage to sign the Treaty of August 10, 1825.

And he was also a signatory to the treaties of 1815 and 1822. See note 17 below.

[11]Tixier’s Travels, p. 119-120.  Elmo Ingenthron, in his Indians of the Ozark Plateau (Point Lookout, MO: The School of the Ozarks Press, 1970), p. 78, gives the by now stereotypical report that Indian berdaches came by their state via a failure of courage or a failure in the arts of war.

In keeping with their tradition of tribal strength the Osages forbade the marriage of their young men who had shown weakness or cowardliness in their first warring engagement.  These were compelled to live out the remainder of their lives as “squawmen,” dressed like squaws and doing the work of squaws, never getting a chance to redeem themselves. “Squawmen” were forbidden to marry lest they beget cowardlysons who might endanger the survival of the tribe.

Ingenthron, of course, has quite missed the actuality of the Indian world generally and Osages in particular. Typically, he cites no evidence to support his claim. These claims always tend to function on the basis of White American “common-knowledge” passed—orally and in written form—from generation to generation.

[12]La Flesch describes that part of the ceremony following a battle where the men claim the battle honors due to each. At the conclusion of the event, he reports, “Then follow the men who had not won any of the above o-don′ [honors], but could claim the honor of having taken part in the expeditionand in the battle. This o-don′ is called Wa′-thu-xpe, a term that seems to have lost its meaning. The Ṭse′-xe-k’in[kettle carriers] who were not present at the battle but who were ordered to remain behind to take care of the camp and pack horses are allowed to claim this o-don′.” WCPC, p. 86.

[13]See, for example, Larousse’s French-English, English-FrenchDictionary (Washington Square Press, 1955), p. 157; or Freedict.com: http://www.freedict.com/onldict/onldict.php

[14]On page 99, at footnote 6, McDermott includes this note: “Throughout this translation we have retained the French term marmitonbecause the English equivalent scullion, or cook, does not clearly convey the meaning of the Indian term. The marmitonwas apparently a cook but he was also a herald or town-crier.” Compare later passages in this volume.For a brief comment on this subject, see Foreman, “Our Indian Ambassadors,” 127 and n. 59.”

[15]Yourdictionary.com:  http://www.yourdictionary.com/ahd/s/s0176700.html; or http://www.m-w.com/cgi-bin/dictionary?book=Dictionary&va=scullion&x=11&y=17.

[16]Word Reference.com: http://www.wordreference.com/fr/en/translation.asp?fren=marmiton&v=b.

[17]Each of these is given particular responsibilities in the Osage “War” (or combat) Ceremony. See La Flesche, War Ceremony and Peace Ceremony of the Osage Indians, pp. 30, 31, 33, 51, 71, 74, 76, 78, 79, 80, 81, 86, 89, 93, 126, 129, 130, 137, 138, 139, 142,149, 151, 206-217, 219, 221, 222, 233, 235, 238, 239, 242, 245, 248, 250.

[18]For the 1815 and 1822 Osage Treaties, see Charles J. Kappler, compiler and editor, Indian Affairs: Laws and Treaties, volume II (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1904), pp. 199f., and 201f. For the 1825 treaty, see note 8, above.

[19]John Joseph Matthews, The Osages: Children of the Middle Waters(University of Oklahoma Press, 1961), p. 539-547.

[20]See Derrick Jensen’s 2000 interview with Vine Deloria, Jr., http://www.derrickjensen.org/deloria.html:

That’s the best thing any Indian ever said. I teach at the University of Colorado, and so many of my students are convinced that they are free, yet they act just like everyone else. They all do the same things. They all think alike. They’re almost like a herd, or clones. They’re enslaved to a certain way of life. The thing is, once you’ve traded away spiritual insight for material comfort, it is extremely difficult ever to get it back. I see these kids hiking in the mountains, trying to commune with nature, but you can’t commune with nature just by taking a walk. You have to actually live in it. And these young people have no way of critiquing the society that is enslaving them, because they get outside of it only for the occasional weekend. They may see beautiful vistas and develop an aesthetic appreciation of this other world, but they’re not going to get to a metaphysical understanding of who they really are.”

Big Soldier’s speech is recorded in: Jedidiah Morse, “A Report to the Secretary of War on Indian Affairs” (Washington DC: US Government Printing Office, 1822), p. 207.

[21]Unfortunately, this is also true of important Osage writers. J.J. Matthews slips into the pattern of taking the colonizer text at face value in his own judgment of Big Soldier in his Osages, 540f.

[22]“An Account of the War Customs of the Osages,” The American Naturalist(1884): 113-133.

[23]Contemporary Two Spirit people understandably object to the term. All too often this word whose meaning is long lost has been interpreted to mean “kept boy” or male prostitute. Will Roscoe, Changing Ones. Thus, berdachehas nothing to do with any part of Native cultures.

[24]In the wawalonceremony description (Peace Ceremony) the tséxek’inare called servants: “kettle carriers or servants” (WCPC, p. 206); or subordinates: “…when one of the subordinates, a Tse¢-xe-k’in, is sent to bring water for the people to drink” (p. 221). [Cf. Tixier, where serving water was precisely the function of the marmitons in an Osage feast: Tixier’s Travels, p. 172.]

[25]Called i’nugthin, sitting in the stones.

[26]WCPC, p. 78. Here we need to note particularly that even the loss of one life is an unacceptable trauma to an Osage community. See the return to the village narrative in the Osage War Ceremony.

[27]Even Burns misunderstands and mis-identifies the phenomenon of kettle carrier / marmiton. Stanley Vestal, in The Missouri(Lincoln: University of Nebraska, 1967), reports that the “Osages had a class of men who served as chefs or cooks, devoting themselves to the culinary art, to preparing and presiding over formal feasts, and also acting as town criers,” p. 214. Burns, after citing Vestal, responds: “these unusual men were called marmitonsby the French. In most instances, they were old warriors who had no other way of making a living,” A History of the Osage People, p. 283. Here Burns completely misunderstands the communal and extended family structures of his own ancestors’ world (“making a living” is a eurowestern category of discourse) and fails to note that the kettle carriers, coming in all sorts of ages from young to old, were a society of alternative-gendered men in the Osage world. Of course, La Flesche had already put the lie to any notion that the marmitonwere a category of “old men” in his description of the “songs of the kettle carriers.” He characterizes the kettle carrier’s songs as marked by the “uncontrolled exuberance of the younger element.” Osage War Ceremony, p. 33. See note 27, below. Burns’ understanding of the marmitonseems to have been informed by a longer history of misinformation. Din and Nasitir, The Imperial Osage, pp. 12f., give a nearly identical report, pointing to Chapman and Washington Irving before him:

In addition to the elders, the Osages had officials who served as marmitons, towncriers, and cooks, enjoying prestige and serving prominent persons. They were usually warriors who could no longer fight because of age or injury. Washington Irving, who traveled through the west in the 1830s, laconically described the functions of one of these men: “Chief cook of Osage villagers—a great dignitary—combining grand chamberlain, minister of state, master of ceremonies and town crier—has undercooks. He tastes broth &c. When strangers arrive he goes about the village and makes proclamation—great white man, great chief arrived. Warriors turn out to greet him properly. Chief lodge prepared for reception—mats placed, etc.” [Annotating Chapman, “Origin,” 57; and John Francis McDermott, ed., The Western Journals of Washington Irving, 135.]

[28]“The audacious and boastful characterof the Ṭsé-xe-k’insongs is in strong contrast to theXthé-ts’a-geand Do-doń-hon-gasongs; the former voice the uncontrolled exuberance of the younger element and the latter the seriousness of the older and more experienced class.” La Flesche, WCPC, p. 33.

[29]We might particularly remember here the insight of Ella Deloria with regard to a Lakota named Slukela who is remembered in the “No Ears Winter Count.” Slukela, translated “skinned penis” by DeMallie, is explained by Deloria thus: “The name has all the indications of vulgarity, as if bestowed by a hermaphrodite [winkte]. The winkte, transvestites, frequently bestowed upon people obscene or scatological nicknames which became commonly used.” James R. Walker,Lakota Society, Raymond J. DeMallie, ed. (University of Nebraska, 1982), p. 127. Big Soldier’s French marriages are fully in keeping with Indian humor generally (see Vine Deloria, Jr., Custer Died for Your Sins) and Osage humor particularly (see Burns, The Osage People, pp. 290f.).

[30] Tixier, p. 199.

[31]James R. Walker, Lakota Society, Raymond J. DeMallie, ed. (University of Nebraska, 1982), p. 127.

[32]See Vine Deloria, Jr., Custer Died for Your Sins, for examples of Indian humor generally; and for Osage humor see Burns, The Osage People, pp. 290f.

[33]WCPC, p. 33. Of course, the power of euro-White fetishizing of American Indians knows no limits. Fenton and Kurath give a very different (and appreciably later) take on the stately dance and songs of the Xthéts’age. They seem blissfully unaware that the ceremony they are ostensibly describing is the “Wa-sha¢-be A-thinwatsi” (dance of the charcoal carriers, or Osage war ceremony) that had been detailed by La Flesche a decade-and-a-half before (although they cite La Flesche later in their text):


“Among the seminomadic [sic.] Osage the ceremony [pipe dance!?] either escaped recording, or else strongly emphasized belligerence, for the only dance noted even by the observant Victor Tixier is the Médicine du Charbon (Tixier, 1844, pp. 211-215, ill. p. 225). In preparation for war, warriors blackened themselves with charcoal and danced around camp in two opposite groups with “maniacal contortions . . . beating drums or blowing ts-tsêhs(reed flutes); some took up a warlike song which they accompanied by striking their fans on some piece of wood.” Among other objects they carried a calumet, a small calabash fined with pebbles, wings of calumet birds (bald eagle) which they used as a fan. In the picture they hop or crouch low. The dance was preceded by a ceremony of striking the post and boasting, and a War Dance by successive soloists, jumping on both feet and enacting battle mime, as in Iroquois wasase(Tixier, 1844, p. 215). It is possible that the Osage devised a different form from that of their archenemies, the Pawnee. Even if this dance does not represent the calumet ceremony, notwithstanding similar paraphernalia and actions, yet it isof interest in showing the merging of the various concepts and the recurrence of the same elements in dances variously for peace and war.”

William N. Fenton and Gertrude Prokosch Kurath, The Iroquois Eagle Dance: An Offshoot of the Calumet Dance, Bureau of American Ethnology, Bulletin 156 (U.S. Gov. Printing Office, 1953), p. 278. “Maniacal contortion”? This is a bizarre and extraordinarily prejudicial use of language for two people who had never witnessed the ceremony. Moreover, the description is all the more wacky given that La Flesche had published his interpretation of the war ceremony in the same series a decade and a half earlier and who characterizes the dance as “stately” (p. 33).

[34]The phobia is perhaps justified in the case of too many roman catholic priests, where a skewed dynamic of sexual repression has functioned, but that calls for another, fuller analysis.

[35]Grant Foreman, p. 127.

[36]Louis Richard Cortambert, Voyage au Pays des Osages(1837), 35. Cited from Foreman, pp. 127f.

[37]Tixier, p. 187: “Baptiste suggested a race among the little boys. A lapâniefulfilled the functions of town crierand announced the race, carrying at the end of a long staff a scarlet breech cloth, the prize to be given to the winner. All the kangasunder eighteen were allowed to compete.” Interestingly, Matthews also gives a description of the town crier that seems to connect the crier with the kettle carrier: “The town crier of the Little Ones [Osages] was called wah-tdse-pia’n, the humble one. He had special privileges, and was usually a born exhibitionist andparader. He was privileged to tell lies, to make jokes at the expense of the most dignified, even about the Grand Hunkahor the Grand Tzi-Sho….” The Osages, 165. Here again we can see a close connection with Ella Deloria’s description of the Dakota/ Lakoktawinkte.

[38]See Tom Holm’s excellent description of Indian warfare in Strong Hearts, Wounded Souls: Native American Veterans of the Vietnam War(University of Texas, 1996). Especially Chapter 3: “Native American Warfare and the Warrior’s Place in Tribal Societies,” pp. 26-65.

[39]This story was relayed to me recently by Russell Means, and the young man is question was one of his relatives.

[40]Louis Burns, History of the Osage People, pp. 66, 93. Francis La Flesche, A Dictionary of the Osage Language, BAE Bulletin 59 (US Government Printing Office, 1932. Reprinted by Indian Tribal Series: Phoenix, 1975). Even Burns continues the practice of calling these a-ki’-da“soldiers.” Indeed, he calls the chief protectors and the protectors of the land “the only standing military force permitted” in Osage society (p. 93). This explanation presumes too much the normativity of european military and societal notions.

[41]See especially Francis La Flesche, “Wa-sha¢-be A-thin, or War Ceremony,” in WCPC, pp. XX.

[42]Although it is clear that the title functions in other contexts as well, as Matthews reports for the buffalo hunt. One of the key functionaries on that occasion also carried the title: Matthews, 540. Thus, we moderns need to exercise caution in identifying historical persons. The signifier can and does refer to different personages.

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