As a young man, Francis Parkman loved to wander over his beloved New England; over Europe; over the American West when travelling the Oregon Trail. In his Journal, July 23, 1846, he made a reference to Indian women—squaws to most whites. One reference got my attention.
He wrote that crying was the “commonest thing” in humanity. Then referred to a common sight that impressed him. He had often seen the women crying as they moved from camp to camp. Part II, Journals, 461
Reading that in 2017, 171 years removed from the historian’s trailside observation, still stirred my interest. Why would Indian women be so often in tears? Was it the hardship of everyday life? We know they worked like slaves while their husbands loitered, smoked and exchanged boasts and plans. The women worked like slaves turning freshly-killed buffalo hides into soft robes and teepee coverings. And worked like slaves feeding their families. It wasn’t for nothing that every Indian woman wanted a white man as a husband.
Maybe that brought all their tears.
Or was it the constant movement of villages to greener grass and better water? Any time a chief had his squaw level his lodge, every other woman in camp followed.
The rootlessness of Indian life could have brought the tears.
Or was it the result of Indian tradition that women mourn the loss of husbands, sons and village warriors in battle? Or even for favorite horses who died?
The habit of mourning for other losses could have made tears for one’s own life easy to shed.
Or was it the verbal, mental and physical abuse they experienced. True, as Parkman noted, when among themselves the women joked, laughed, and exchanged good-natured quips with each other. And when in the presence of the warriors they heard their salacious sexual talk—even the American trappers were shocked by the unblushing vulgarity of sexual references by Indian men. Whenever the women heard them, they never failed to laugh. But I wonder: women of any culture being natural objects of gentleness, could their laughter have been a self-mechanism? Knowing they could do nothing to raise their status? Laughing to keep from crying?
That could have surfaced tears.
Whatever may be said about that, tears are as natural in women as foreign to men. I’ve always said my wife Judy is a tear waiting to cry. Nevertheless I wouldn’t want her to be any less the gentle, gracious, amiable lady I’ve loved since 1956.
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