Linda and I are what are known as "Buckskinners." We have been giving living history presentations and participating in re-enactments for the past 20 years. These programs recreate the lives of the mountain men who lived in the Rocky Mountains in the 1820's and 30's. In doing this, we have learned a lot about the way people lived then; and in recreating and re-enacting them, we have developed characters to portray the life and times. Linda is a blonde. These critters were rare in the Rockies in the early 1800's, so we had to come up with a plausible explanation for her presence in our portrayal of the times. I developed a story of how she came to be out here, how we met, and how she got her name.
As the story goes, she was kidnaped when she was a baby somewhere east of the Missouri River by the Arickaree Indians and brought west and sold to the Lakota Sioux who took her with them to the Black Hills of the Dakota territory. She grew through her teens with them. She was often given all of the menial tasks and generally mistreated by the women of the tribe. As time passed, they began to call her Hinziwin. (Sun Hair Woman) When an opportunity to escape presented itself, she took it and fled from the village. Later she was found by a Crow hunting party and taken farther west into the Big Horn Mountains of Wyoming. She had been adopted into the Crow tribe, but was still treated poorly by those around her.
Late one fall I came in contact with a band of Crow led by Arapooesh (Rotten Belly) and began trading with them. As a white trapper and trader, I was in possession of many wonderful things that the Indians had never seen or imagined.....things like knives, needles, mirrors, strikers and much more. The women of the tribe, in particular, could see the value of these things immediately and were willing to give almost anything to get them. Any woman who came into possession of even one of these treasures became an instant celebrity and her status in the tribe climbed by leaps and bounds. I decided to spend the winter with the Crow and after a period of time I noticed an unkempt and wild looking woman lurking at the edge of the crowds that gathered around me. In time I realized that behind that furtive and disheveled appearance was a white woman.
I asked Chief Arapooesh (Rotten Belly) about her and he said she was of little value and that I could use her if I wished. I approached her and gained her trust. After a period of time, she moved to my camp, and she began to shape things up in no time at all. Soon my clothes were mended and clean. She tanned the hides of the deer and elk that I killed for food and soon presented me with a new set of buckskin clothes to wear and before long she had a new wardrobe too.. In doing this, she had convinced me that she needed a knife, needles, beads, etc., to make my clothes. Neither of us realized it at the time but her status in the tribe was changing significantly. Just the fact that she had become the white man’s woman had moved her up the ladder. The possession of the "foofaraw" I gave her to do her chores raised her standing even more.
As the winter passed, I came to think a great deal of Hinziwin and decided to keep her. To make it official I gave Arapooesh’s wife a trade blanket and several hanks of beads to mollify her over the loss of her servant. I gave Arapooesh an old musket and a supply of powder and lead, which satisfied him completely. I then took a step that white trapper’s seldom did, much to the shock of the tribe. I asked Arapooesh to give Hinziwin to me as a wife--not just as an item of trade. It was a custom with the Indians in the Great Great Grand- father times, that on occasions of great importance a man could change his name to signify the occasion or change the name of someone in his family. It was also the custom of the time that a woman walked behind the man in deference to him and his position. On the occasion of our marriage, I changed her name to make it clear to all that met her from that day forward, she was no longer just another woman of the tribe. Her new name said it all.
I named her Icamaniwin (ee-chah-mah-nee-win), "Walks Beside Him Woman" As time has passed, I've shortened her name to Itchy. Epilogue: Another custom of the times was that the man of the family sat at the rear of the tipi and if there were visitors, the guest of honor sat to the left of the master of the lodge. The woman sat near the door and the wood pile to enable her to tend the fire. Today in our lodge Linda always sits to my left (the heart side) in the place of honor, and the guests sit next to her.