Barbara Loeb is the co-editor of The Woman Who Loved Mankind by Lilian Bullshows Hogan, the fascinating life story of a 20th-century Crow woman elder. Loeb and Mardell Plainfeather set out to tell Hogan's story in traditional Crow storytelling forms.
When Mardell Plainfeather and I recorded the life story of Mardell’s elderly Crow Indian mother, Lillian Bullshows Hogan, I wanted to write Lillian’s stories the way she talked. No easy task, but my quest led me to the idea that oral storytelling is performance, so it was important to follow the rhythms of Lillian’s voice, changing to a new line each time she paused. That meant years of intense and detailed work—twenty years worth, to be exact—yet, despite of countless hours with these stories, I still find the stories fresh and relevant.
Lately I have been pondering a small cluster of three particularly timely stories that address trans-gender issues. Crow people solved some of these dilemmas long ago. Women might follow a more masculine lifestyle if they choose, and men might become berdaches (men who dressed and lived as women). Early church ministers, Indian agents, and other white authorities were uncomfortable with the idea of berdaches, and they harassed and humiliated them out of existence. The tradition disappeared, but Lillian’s family knew the last of the old-time Crow berdaches quite well. He lived until 1929. In the Apsáalooke language his name was Ohchikapdaapesh, or Ochiich, for short. In English his name meant Finds Them and Kills Them. Ochiich was a respected warrior who wore men’s clothing in battle but lived much of his life as a woman. He was a good cook and a skilled beader, and he almost always wore a dress and other women’s garments.
Lillian described this traditional berdache, as well as her memories of his visits to her family. She recalled his fun-filled teasing and the oranges and other goodies he brought to her and her brother whenever he came for a visit. She also recounted one of his military accomplishments, and she told a moving story of a confrontation between Agent Estep, the white man who enforced harsh federal polices on the reservation, and Chief Plenty Coups, the last of the tribe’s great old-time chiefs. Estep called Ochiich into his office and attempted to force him into more masculine ways, but Chief Plenty Coups made it clear, in no uncertain terms, that Ochiich had a place in Crow society just the way he was. If you would like to read the story of Ochiich, Agent Estep, and Chief Plenty Coups click here.