Welcome to another day at Petticoats and Pistols blog. Did you know that there were White Indians, living on the upper Missouri River? Did you know that when George Catlin made his way to the Mandan village on the upper reaches of the Missouri (in 1834), he found what he called strange Indians…Indians who were white.
Catlin found this particular Indian Tribe fascinating and devoted much of the first volume of his work to documenting these people. To the left here is Sha-ko-ka, Mint. This young girl was in her teens when Catlin painted her picture, yet if you look closely at the picture, you’ll see that she has white hair — I believe she also had hazel or blue eyes.
I’m going to quote Catlin here, because I think he describes this phenomenon quite well — and makes you feel as if you are there. Forgive me, but I think you’ll enjoy these passages from his book, Letters and Notes on the Manners, customs, and Conditions of the North American Indians. The painting to the left by the way is supposed to be about Mandan warrior and their women. Here’s Catlin:
“A stranger in the Mandan village is first struck with the different shades of complexion, and various colours of hair which he sees in a crowd about thim; and is at once almost disposed to exclaim that ‘these are not Indians.’
“There are a great many of these people whose complixions appear as light as half breeds; and amongst the women particularily, there are many whose skins are almost white, with the most pleasing symmetry and proportions of features; with hazel, with grey, and with blue eyes, — with mildness and sweetness of expression, and excessive modesty of demeanour, which render them exceedingly pleasing and beautiful.”
Interestingly, Catlin notes that there were Indians who had gray, almost completely white hair — and had had such color from infancy. He notes that the only color of hair not seen by him was that of red or auburn. He notes that the men who had the bright, silvery gray hair, often hid it and “dyed” it using means available to them at the time. But the women were often proud of their hair and displayed it openly. Catlin, of course, goes into their daily lives in great detail, even to their foods and how they take their meals.
Another aspect that is interesting is that Catlin noted that none of the people had any knowledge of how their heritage came to look so different from other American Indian tribes. The Mandans were traders and they were also an agricultural tribe of Indians — often trading the corn that they raised for buffalo meat or other items of exchange. Off to the right here is a painting by Catlin of their village on the Missouri River.
Today, the Mandan tribe lives mostly in North Dakota. They were almost wiped out by the diseases that were carried to them by the white man when he came in contact with them. It’s a glorious history and somewhat of a mystery, since even in Catlin’s day, no one of the tribe could offer an explanation for their looks, that were so unusual for the Western Tribes.
Catlin ventured that a Celtic Prince, lost to his country, might have found these people — I now forget the name of that Prince. It’s possible. What about you? Do you have any conjectures about these people? How they might have come to be there — half-white?
If you’re more than a little curious, I would offer you to get this book, THE PRINCESS AND THE WOLF, where I go into more detail about the strange customs of this people.
So tell me, what do you think? Come on in and let’s talk a little about it.