“Did the men ever tell you anything about a woman who fought… on the Rosebud?”
– Pretty Shield
This week, we will be looking at the incredible warrior, Osh-Tisch. Before we start, we must clarify some important things. In this article, we will be referring to Osh-Tisch as baté, which is a Crow word referring to a person assigned male at birth who is a woman. We will be using this word, because it is the word she used for herself, and while we embrace giving new words to old experiences, we are not here to strip away the words people used to describe themselves.
Osh-Tisch was a leading baté of the Crow nation and held an esteemed position in her society. In the Crow nation, it was not only acceptable for one to be baté, but they were often regarded highly as being the bridge between the two genders. Being baté, Osh-Tisch was allowed to take on both traditionally female and traditionally male roles and was known for excelling at both. She was esteemed not only for the amazing sewing skills that earned her the right to make the Crow Chief Iron Bull’s a buffalo skin lodge, but she was also known for her ferocity in battle. Her strength as a warrior is what earned her the name Osh-Tisch, which translates to “finds them and kills them.” Not only incredibly threatening and impressive, but it also refers to the time she helped another soldier by shooting a wounded enemy in the Battle of Rosebud.
From what we know, Osh-Tisch had a very good life for a long time. She was accepted by her community, and she flourished. However, it did not last. In the late 1890s, a federal agent came onto Crow territory and decided to enforce European values.
If you have gotten the chance to read any of our previous articles, you probably are aware that Europe was, in general, not the safest place for queer people. The overwhelming majority of people were at best ignorant to queer issues, and at worst genocidal towards the queer community. Much of this attitude came from the religious teachings at the time; religious teachings that were then brought over to America.
Since these were white people invading, they decided to impose their bigoted beliefs on everyone in sight. Among those bigoted beliefs was an incredibly deep sense of transphobia ingrained into their society: one that did not exist before in most Native American communities. So when they came across the baté, they didn’t react well and tried to “fix” the “problem.” Missionaries were often sent to try to rehabilitate these people and force them into a gender that they weren’t, and into gender roles that were wholly European. In this case, it was not a missionary; it was a federal agent.
Federal Agent Briskow came into Crow land, gathered as many baté as he could find, and forced them to do as he wanted. He made them get masculine European haircuts, dress as European men would, and forced them into manual labour.
We want to stop and specify here that it was European gender roles he was forcing them into; Osh-Tisch did manual labour before, and just because she was not a man does not mean she did not experience what most Europeans considered to be masculine. This includes fighting in a battle, something that was considered masculine by most of the European society. Not only were they stripping her gender away in this disgusting attempt to make her cisgender, but they were also stripping away her culture.
In a happy turn of events that is rare for situations like these, her community stood behind her. Though the Crow people didn’t have much influence, because white people refused to listen to anyone who didn’t have a complexion like vanilla pudding, they were able to have their demands met. Chief Pretty Eagle managed to force the agent into resignation and made him leave their land. The Crow nation stood behind the baté and defended them passionately. They were horrified by the notion that this agent would force the baté to become something they were not. They called it “unnatural,” which is a word many of us recognize being used against us. But the Crow people stood by the baté without reservation, and it was a brave and incredible act. We don’t see many of its kind from the heterosexual cisgender community while we research these articles, but this was an inspiring exception.
Unfortunately, we cannot leave you in this rare happy moment in history, because it is not the end of the story. While during her life Osh-Tisch did her best to support the baté, after her death the European societal norms all but took over, and Osh-Tisch is known as one of the last baté for a long time.
Fortunately, that isn’t the end of the story either. The story has not ended, despite how hard people have tried to wipe out this part of America’s past. It is here, and it is preserved by Native American communities. Though the Europeans did manage to take over America and destroy much of Native American culture, and many European values have been internalized by the Native American communities, many people still remember that time.
Many people do their best to remind others of this history, of a time when it was not only accepted to be queer but embraced. Like every part of history, knowing that it has happened before tells us it can happen again; in this case, that statement isn’t a warning, it is a message of hope.
[Disclaimer: some of the sources may contain triggering material]
Browns, B. Pretty Shield's Story of the Battle. Retrieved from http://www.astonisher.com/archives/museum/pretty_shield_big_horn.html
NativeOut. Historical Two Spirits. Retrieved from http://nativeout.com/twospirit-rc/two-spirit-101/historical-two-spirits/
Roscoe, W., & Gay American Indians (Organization). (n.d.). Living the spirit: A gay American Indian anthology. New York.
Seaberg-Wood, S. “Not a Man, Not a Woman” Crow Bote Life and Resistance in the Late 1800s.