Monday, November 22, 2021

1816-18 Student Eliza Ogden writes of Thanksgiving at Litchfield Female Seminary in Connecticut

Litchfield Female Seminary in Connecticut

July I8, 1816, I arrived at Litchfield the 3rd of July. I went to Mrs Bull's to board. The next day I went to school in the afternoon, but I did not learn my lesson. Thursday I arose in the morning very early, ate breakfast, studied until the bell rang. I went to school, learned a lesson in Geography in the forenoon, in Grammar in the afternoon. Friday I was examined in the Elements of Geography. Saturday I learned a lesson in Geography, and was examined through the rules of the school. Sunday I attended Church, heard Mr. Beecher preach...he wished to have us all be good Christians. After meeting I went home, and in the evening went to Conference. After Conference I went home...and went to writing my Journal 
Dec. 1, 1816. Miss Pierce's school commenced the 27th of November on Wednesday. I was very glad to have school begin again, for I wish to improve all my time, as I am going home so soon. In the morning Mr. Brace called the girls to read and to have them explain upon what we read to show to him Saturday. In the afternoon I recited in the Elements and Geography. Mr. Brace said we must begin Elements again. Thursday was Thanksgiving day. I attended meeting. Mr. Beeeher preached an excellent sermon. Friday I recited my lessons in Elements and Geography.
Dec. 1, 1817. After spending a pleasant vacation in Litchfield, I entered school on Wednesday. I recited a lesson in Elements in the morning; did not miss. Thursday there was no school as it was Thanksgiving. I did not attend meeting. Friday morning arose very early, attended school, recited a lesson in Elements. I recited in Rhetoric in the afternoon. 

17C Thanksgiving - 1619 at Berkeley Plantation in Virginia


"First Thanksgiving" by Sidney King.  The weary sailors rowed to shore and surveyed the landscape of their new settlement. As instructed by the Berkeley Company, the men, led by their leader, Captain John Woodlief, knelt on the dried grass to offer a prayer of thanks for their safe journey across the ocean. They prayed: “We ordain that the day of our ship’s arrival, at the place assigned for plantation, in the land of Virginia, shall be yearly and perpetually kept holy as a day of thanksgiving to Almighty God.”

The First British American Colonial
Thanksgiving Took Place in Virginia, not Massachusetts

"...A year and 17 days before those Pilgrims ever stepped foot upon New England soil, a group of English settlers led by Captain John Woodlief landed at today’s Berkeley Plantation, 24 miles southwest of Richmond. After they arrived on the shores of the James River, the settlers got on their knees & gave thanks for their safe passage. There was no traditional meal, no lovefest with Native Americans, no turkey. America’s first Thanksgiving was about prayer, not food.

"On September 16th, 1619, the Margaret departed Bristol, England, bound for the New World. Aboard the 35-foot-long ship were 35 settlers, a crew, five “captain’s assistant”, a pilot, & Capt. Woodlief, a...survivor of the 1609/1610 Jamestown’s “Starving Time.” The mission of those aboard Margaret was to settle 8,000 acres of land along the James River that had been granted to them by the London-based Berkeley Company. They were allowed to build farms, storehouses, homes, & a community on company land. In exchange, they were contracted as employees, working the land & handing over crops & profits to the company.

"After a rough two-&-a-half months on the Atlantic, the ship entered the Chesapeake Bay on November 28, 1619. It took another week to navigate the stormy bay, but they arrived at their destination, Berkeley Hundred, later called Berkeley Plantation, on December 4. They disembarked & prayed. Many historians think there was nothing but old ship rations to eat, so the settlers may have concocted a meal of oysters & ham out of necessity rather than celebration. At the behest of written orders given by the Berkeley Company to Captain Woodlief, it was declared that their arrival must “be yearly & perpetually kept holy as a day of Thanksgiving to Almighty God.” And that’s exactly what they did–for 2 years. On March 22, 1622, the Powhatan, who’d realized the settlers intended to expand their territory & continue their attempts to convert & “civilize” them, attacked Berkeley & other settlements, killing 347. Woodlief survived, but soon after, Berkeley Hundred was abandoned. For 3 centuries, Virginia’s 1st Thanksgiving was lost to history.

"Graham Woodlief is a direct descendant of Captain Woodlief. While he’s known his family’s history since being a teenager; he’s devoted a considerable amount of energy to research, since he retired in 2009. Today, Woodlief is president of the Virginia Thanksgiving Festival, which has been held annually since 1958. Woodlief ...thinks the major reason that Plymouth, & not Berkeley, is...thought to be the site of the 1st Thanksgiving is that “they had better PR than we did.” He also said the emphasis on prayer, instead of Plymouth’s festive harvest meal, also made Virginia’s Thanksgiving a bit less appealing, though more accurate. “In fact, most Thanksgivings in the early days were religious services, not meals,” Woodlief says.

"Nearly 309 years after the 1622 battle with the Powhatans, Berkeley Plantation’s missing history was rediscovered. In 1931, retired William & Mary President (and son of President John Tyler) Dr. Lyon G. Tyler was working on a book about early Virginia history. While doing research, he stumbled upon the Nibley Papers, documents and records taken by John Smyth of Nibley, Gloucestershire, about the 1619 settlement of Berkeley. Originally published by the New York State Library in 1899, the papers’ historical significance had gone undetected. According to many Virginia historians, the papers are concrete proof that the New World’s “day of Thanksgiving” originated in their region. Upon his discovery, Tyler told Malcolm Jamieson, who had inherited Berkeley plantation in the 1920s. The plantation was already considered one of the more historic homes in the state, once a residence to a signer of the Declaration of Independence, as well as the birthplace of a US President. Now, it had another feather in its historic hat. Jamieson, with the help of descendants of Captain Woodlief, instituted the 1st Virginia Thanksgiving Festival in 1958. Its been celebrated ever since...

"In Kennedy’s 1963 Thanksgiving Proclamation (made 17 days before his assassination), the president acknowledged Virginia’s claim, saying “Over three centuries ago, our forefathers in Virginia and in Massachusetts, far from home in a lonely wilderness, set aside a time of thanksgiving.” In 2007, President George W. Bush also noted the history while visiting Berkeley Plantation, commenting that, “The good folks here say that the founders of Berkeley held their celebration before the Pilgrims had even left port. As you can imagine, this version of events is not very popular up north.”

"The Berkeley Company, in England, had been given a grant of 8,000 acres, by King James I in Virginia, along the James River. England was going through a severe recession, especially in the woolen industry, & Englishmen were flocking to America to escape religious persecution & for a better life. The English town of Berkeley, a center for the woolen industry, was especially hard-hit by the recession.  The 4 adventurers who made up the Berkeley Company were William Throckmorton, John Smythe, George Thorpe, & Richard Berkeley, who owned Berkeley castle. They needed a leader for an expedition to Virginia & chose Capt. John Woodlief. He had been to the New World several times & had survived the starving time at Jamestown.  With a passenger list of 35 able-bodied craftsmen & a ship’s crew of 19, Woodlief headed to the New World. They sailed on the Margaret, a small ship that was only 35 feet long & weighed 47 tons, loaded with cargo. It was a perilous journey across the Atlantic, for 2 & a half months. They were plagued by storms, the men were homesick, conditions were claustrophobic, there was vermin infestation. They prayed constantly.

"The Margaret landed at Berkeley Hundred on Dec. 4, 1619. The men rowed ashore & surveyed the wintery landscape that surrounded them. As they were instructed by the Berkeley Company, the men knelt & gave thanks for their safe voyage across the ocean.  They were given a proclamation, by the Berkeley Company, when they departed England, with 10 specific instructions.  The first instruction was that they pray & give thanks for their safe voyage when they landed. And they were to do so perpetually & annually. It is thought the Englishmen gave thanks the next 2 years, as they were instructed, until the settlement was destroyed in 1622. It was the 1st Thanksgiving by Englishmen in the New World, 1 year & 17 days before the Pilgrims landed in Massachusetts. It was considered “official,” as they were ordered by England to give thanks — & it was planned, not spontaneous, as many Thanksgivings in the New World were. It was also not a one-time celebration, but repeated annually, as the Englishmen were instructed."

Sunday, November 21, 2021

16C Thanksgiving - 1598 on the Rio Grande in Texas

Juan De Oñate celebrated Thanksgiving in 1598 at modern day San Elizario, Texas.

Conquistadors under the leadership of Don Juan De Oñate celebrated Thanksgiving in 1598 at modern day San Elizario, Texas.  Over 20 years before the widely known feast in New England, Spanish Conquistadors held a mass & a feast giving thanks in what is now San Elizario, Texas.  Al Borrego, artist & spokesman for the San Elizario Genealogical & Historical Society, said "Oñate, colonizer of New Mexico, entered what is now the United States, near San Elizario, Texas, on April 20, 1598, at the banks of the Rio Bravo," Borrego said.  "They built a church with a nave large enough to hold the expedition (over 500), held a mass followed by the 'Toma' (official taking possession of the territory the river drained into), followed by a feast & celebration & even a comedy in the afternoon." The San Elizario celebration had all the key trappings of a Thanksgiving, right down to the local indigenous population joining in the meal.  Juan de Oñate was a member of a distinguished family that had loyally worked for the Spanish crown. His father had discovered & developed rich mines in Zacatecas, Mexico. Oñate, himself, had opened the mines of San Luis Potosí & performed many other services for the Spanish king. But he wanted to carve an unquestioned place in history by leading an important expedition into unexplored land.

He was granted land in the northern Rio Grande Valley among the Pueblo Indians by the viceroy of New Spain. The viceroy moved to a new post, however, & his successor was slow to grant Oñate permission to begin his expedition. Finally, in 1597, approval came. To reach his new holdings, Oñate chose to bypass the traditional route that followed the Rio Conchos in present-day Mexico to the Rio Grande & then northward along the Rio Grande into New Mexico. In the summer of 1597, Oñate sent Vicente de Zaldívar to blaze a wagon trail from Santa Barbara in southern Chihuahua, along which could be found adequate water supplies. Zaldívar underwent many hardships, including capture by Indians, in carrying out his instructions. No mention of the hardships was made, however, when he made his report to Oñate. (The trail blazed by Zaldívar has become the route of today's highway between Chihuahua City & El Paso.)

By early March 1598, Oñate's expedition of 500 people, including soldiers, colonists, wives & children & 7,000 head of livestock, was ready to cross the treacherous Chihuahuan Desert. Almost from the beginning of the 50-day march, nature challenged the Spaniards. First, seven consecutive days of rain made travel miserable. Then the hardship was reversed, & the travelers suffered greatly from the dry weather. On one occasion, a chance rain shower saved the parched colonists. Finally, for the last five days of the march before reaching the Rio Grande, the expedition ran out of both food & water, forcing the men, women & children to seek roots & other scarce desert vegetation to eat. Both animals & humans almost went mad with thirst before the party reached water. Two horses drank until their stomachs burst, & two others drowned in the river in their haste to consume as much water as possible.  The Rio Grande was the salvation of the expedition, however. After recuperating for 10 days, Oñate ordered a day of thanksgiving for the survival of the expedition. Included in the event was a feast, supplied with game by the Spaniards & with fish by the natives of the region. A mass was said by the Franciscan missionaries traveling with the expedition. And finally, Oñate read La Toma -- the taking -- declaring the land drained by the Great River to be the possession of King Philip II of Spain.  A member of the expedition wrote of the original celebration, "We built a great bonfire & roasted the meat & fish, & then all sat down to a repast the like of which we had never enjoyed before. . .We were happy that our trials were over; as happy as were the passengers in the Ark when they saw the dove returning with the olive branch in his beak, bringing tidings that the deluge had subsided."

After the celebration, the Oñate expedition continued up the Rio Grande & eventually settled near Santa Fé. As one historian noted, when Jamestown & Plymouth were established early in the 17th century, they were English attempts to gain a foothold in the New World. Santa Fé was but one of hundreds of towns the Spanish already had established in the New World.

— adapted from an article by Mike Kingston, then editor of the Texas Almanac 1990–1991.

Saturday, November 20, 2021

16C Thanksgiving - 1578 in Newfoundland

Order of Good Cheer 1606 by Charles William Jefferys 1869-1951

 In 1578, English explorer Martin Frobisher landed in what is now Newfoundland & Labrador, Canada, as part of his quest to locate the fabled Northwest Passage. In response to his safe travels to the Great White North, over 4 decades before the Plymouth Colony celebration, Frobisher & his men held a service of thanks. "Frobisher, an English explorer in the uncharted northern territories, organized the 1st religious Thanksgiving for his crew & early Canadian settlers as a way to take stock of all they had accomplished in a short time." During his 1578 voyage to Baffin Island to set up a new English colony, Frobisher's ships were scattered. At Frobisher Bay, the explorer was happily reunited with his fleet, & all who had survived the storms honored their reunion with a day of thanks.

Many claim that the 1st Thanksgiving in North America was held by Sir Martin Frobisher & his crew in Newfoundland in 1578. Giving thanks was an important aspect of Elizabethan society, so it would have been a natural thing for him & his men to do.  Sir Martin Frobisher, mariner, explorer, 3 three voyages from England to the “New World” in search of a passage to Asia. He was the 1st European to discover the bay that is named for him & returned with tons of dirt that he thought contained gold. Each expedition was bigger than the preceding one & on his 3rd, in 1578, he commanded a flotilla of 15 ships & more than 400 men. They set sail on 31 May for Baffin Island, where they intended to establish a gold mining operation & the 1st English colony in North America. On 1 July, they sighted Resolution Island, but they were driven by storms across the entrance to Hudson Strait. The fleet was dispersed & one ship, which carried their prefabricated barracks, was sunk by ice. Another ship deserted the flotilla & sailed back to England. The remaining ships assembled at the Countess of Warwick’s Island, which is known today as Kodlunarn Island, a tiny speck of land in Frobisher Bay. They established 2 mines on the island & set up shops to test the ore from other mines. The mine sites & the ruins of a stone house are still clearly visible.  Vicious storms blew the fleet around Hudson Strait for most of July & when they finally assembled at their anchorage in Frobisher Bay, they celebrated Communion & formally expressed their thanks through the ship’s Chaplain, Robert Wolfall, who “made unto them a godly sermon, exhorting them especially to be thankefull to God for theyr strange & miraculous deliverance in those so dangerous places” (Richard Collinson, The Three Voyages of Martin Frobisher: In Search of a Passage to Cathaia & India by the North-West, Cambridge University Press, 2010).

While Thanksgiving is traditionally a harvest celebration & Frobisher’s was for a safe arrival, it was undeniably an act of giving thanks, one committed with relief & within the context of their society. Frobisher sailed for Elizabeth I, whose reign was marked by public acts of giving thanks. Elizabeth expressed her gratitude for having lived to ascend the throne, for delivery from the Spanish Armada and, in her last speech to Parliament, for her subjects.  The 1st known use of the word “Thanksgiving” in English text was in a translation of the bible in 1533, which was intended as an act of giving thanks to God. The tradition of gratitude was continued each fall as people gave thanks for the harvest that would see them through the winter.

Edited from The Canadian Encyclopedia.

Friday, November 19, 2021

16C Thanksgiving - 1565 in St Augustine

Bry Theodor De Bry (528-1598), The Natives of Florida Worshiping the Column Erected by the Commander on his First Voyage 1564

There are actually several events claiming to be the 1st Thanksgiving in colonial Spanish & English America. The 1st, & probably the earliest, colonial Thanksgiving took place on September 8, 1565. An explorer, Pedro Menéndez de Avilé, along with 800 Spanish settlers celebrated a Mass of Thanksgiving to commemorate the successful sea voyage & founding of the town of St. Augustine, which would go on to be the 1st & longest-lasting port within the present-day United States. St. Augustine is the oldest continuously inhabited European-established settlement on  the Atlantic Coast of the United States.  Occurring as it did so soon after trans-Atlantic landfall, this was a maritime Thanksgiving, with sailor's fare making up the bulk of the feast, probably along with local native food, which would likely have included oysters & fish. It is said he invited members of the Timucua tribe to dine along with them. The local St. Augustine Timucua were known by the Spanish as the "Agua Salada," or Salt Water, Timucua, a testament to the maritime culture that existed in St. Augustine prior to European colonization. This 1st Spanish Thanksgiving took place 55 years before the Pilgrims landed.  Following the sacrifice of the Holy Mass, Menindez ordered a communal meal to be shared by the Spaniards & the Indians who occupied the landing site.
Pedro Menéndez de Avilé

Thursday, November 18, 2021

Egypt - Ancient Thanksgiving Celebrations - Harvest Festivals

The origins of Thanksgiving celebrations stem from the Harvest Festivals existing thousands of years before European colonists sailed for the Americas. Harvest festivals flourished, when hunger was a constant threat, & many societies often felt at the mercy of the gods. The Neolithic Agricultural Revolution resulted in the wide-scale transition of many human cultures & communities beginning 10-12,000 years ago as hunter gatherers began to settle down & farm. Their more permanent communities permitted humans to experiment with plants. Once early farmers invented agricultural techniques like irrigation, crops could yield surpluses that often needed storage. Most hunter gatherers could not easily store food for long due to their migratory lifestyle, whereas those with sedentary dwellings & fields carved in the landscape could grow & store their surplus grain. With this more reliable supply of food, populations could expanded & began to develop specialized workers & more advanced tools. This evolving knowledge led to the domestication of both plants & animals. A successful harvest was vital for the healthy stability of a community. Prior to the establishment of formal religions, some believed that their crops were controlled by gods or contained spirits. Harvest celebrations often marked the end of summer & were a time of feasting & paying tribute to gods for bounty, prosperity, & good health. These harvest festivals were common around the globe in one form or another for millennia. Some harvest festivals, more commercial than sacred, continue today.
Egypt's Harvest Festival of Min - The Feast of Dais

In Egypt, Min was a central god of reproduction & vegetation, & the Feast of the Dais was held in his honor.  Min was the Egyptian god of fertility, rain, the desert, & travelers. He was also considered a god of regeneration which is believed to symbolize the forceful renewal of the sovereignty of the Egyptian pharaoh. Min was honored in the coronation rites of new pharaohs to ensure their production of a male heir. Min was depicted as a human male with one arm, one leg & a prominent penis. He carried a flail & wore the Double Plumed Crown. The harvest festival to Min was an important celebration attended by the reigning pharaoh & the royal court. The pharaoh sitting on a canopied litter, his court, soldiers, standard bearers, fan bearers, dancers, musicians would form a great procession to his temple. The priests of Min also formed a large contingent in the procession, burning incense & carrying shrines & images of the pharaoh & his ancestors.  Elaborate floats formed part of the procession. At the front pf the procession was a white bull, the symbol of Min, that had a sun-disk fastened between his horns representing Min himself. During the Feast of the Dais, Min received the 1st wheat of the harvest cut by the pharaoh himself.  Pharaoh cut the first sheaf with a sickle & put it in front of the statue of God.  Min's holiday was celebrated at the beginning of the farming season, when Pharaoh hoeing a field with a hoe & poured water under the personal supervision of the god Min. When Pharaoh came to reign, he was also considered the heir of Min. During the festivals dedicated to Min, naked men participated in contests, games dedicated to God, such as climbing a high pole, probably from a tent.  Bouquets of flowers & the lettuce were also offered to Min. The relief above, from the funerary temple of Ramses III  at Medinet Habu, shows the harvest festival of Min featuring a statue of Min, which formed a major part of the procession, behind the carnival float of Min.  The above relief of the procession float of Min depicts it followed by 2 priests. The priests carry sacred lettuce plants, the symbol of Min & similar in shape to Romaine lettuce. The pointed lettuce plants are stylized & frequently appear in many images depicting Min. The wild prickly lettuce Lactuca virosa was domesticated & this version of the lettuce was Lactuca sativa which was said to have both aphrodisiac & opiate qualities.
The cult of Min lasted for 3000 years & following the Roman conquest of Egypt even the Roman Emperor Augustus was depicted offering lettuces to Min god in the temple of Kalabsha, aka the Temple of Mandulis, that was located approximately 50 km south of Aswan.

Tuesday, November 16, 2021

9000-year-old Obsidian Tools Found at Bottom of Lake Huron

The two ancient obsidian flakes recovered from a now submerged archaeological site beneath Lake Huron represent the oldest & farthest east confirmed occurrence of western obsidian in the continental United States.

Obsidian, or volcanic glass, is a prized raw material for knappers, both ancient & modern, with its lustrous appearance, predictable flaking, & resulting razor-sharp edges.

As such, it was used & traded widely throughout much of human history.

Obsidian from the Rocky Mountains & the West was an exotic exchange commodity in Eastern North America.

“Obsidian from the far western United States is rarely found in the east,” said Dr. Ashley Lemke, an anthropologist in the Department of Sociology & Anthropology at the University of Texas at Arlington.

The two ancient obsidian artifacts were recovered from a sample of sediment that was hand excavated at a depth of 32 m (105 feet) in an area between two submerged hunting structures at the bottom of Lake Huron.

“This particular find is really exciting because it shows how important underwater archaeology is,” Dr. Lemke said.

“The preservation of ancient underwater sites is unparalleled on land, & these places have given us a great opportunity to learn more about past peoples.”

The larger artifact is a mostly complete, roughly triangular, biface thinning flake made from a black & translucent material with a sub-vitreous texture.

The second artifact is a small, very thin, translucent flake on a material visually similar to the larger specimen.

“These tiny obsidian artifacts reveal social connections across North America 9,000 years ago,” Dr. Lemke said.

“The artifacts found below the Great Lakes come from a geological source in Oregon, 4,000 km (2,485 miles) away — making it one of the longest distances recorded for obsidian artifacts anywhere in the world.”

See: PacTV site 16th November, 2021

Monday, November 15, 2021

DNA Tracks mysterious Denisovans to Chinese cave, just before Modern Humans Showed Up

DNA Tracks mysterious Denisovans to Chinese cave, just before Modern Humans Showed Up

29 OCT 2020 By Ann Gibbons

For today's Buddhist monks, Baishiya Karst Cave, 3200 meters high on the Tibetan Plateau, is holy. For ancient Denisovans, extinct hominins known only from DNA, teeth, and bits of bone found in another cave 2800 kilometers away in Siberia, it was a home. Last year, researchers proposed that a jawbone found long ago in the Tibetan cave was Denisovan, based on its ancient proteins. But archaeologist Dongju Zhang of Lanzhou University and her team wanted more definitive evidence, including DNA, the molecular gold standard. So in December 2018, they began to dig, after promising the monks they would excavate only at night and in winter to avoid disturbing worshippers.

After working from dusk to dawn while temperatures outside plunged to –18°C, then covering traces of their dig every morning, the scientists' persistence paid off. Today in Science, Zhang's team reports the first Denisovan ancient DNA found outside Denisova Cave: mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) gleaned not from fossils, but from the cave sediments themselves. Precise dates show the Denisovans took shelter in the cave 100,000 years and 60,000 years ago, and possibly as recently as 45,000 years ago, when modern humans were flowing into eastern Asia.

The find shows that even though their bones are rare, "Denisovans were widespread in this hemisphere," says University of Oxford geochronologist Tom Higham, who was not part of the study. It also ends a long quest for Denisovan DNA outside Siberia. "Every year, I've said we will find this," says co-author Svante Pääbo of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology (EVA). "It's been a decade."

The presence of Denisovan DNA in the genomes of living people across Asia suggested these ancient humans were widespread. But the partial jaw from Baishiya Karst Cave was the first fossil evidence. Zhang and her colleagues identified the jaw as Denisovan based on a new method that relies on variation in a protein. Some researchers questioned the claim, however, because the method was new, and no one knew where in the cave the jaw had been found.

Those questions are likely to fade. The dig, led by Zhang and Fahu Chen of the Institute of Tibetan Plateau Research, took many sediment samples and found charcoal from fires, 1310 simple stone tools, and 579 pieces of bone from animals including rhinos and hyenas. Paleogeneticist Qiaomei Fu of the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology in Beijing managed to extract hominin mtDNA from the sediment itself. The mtDNA, perhaps shed in poop or urine, most closely matched that of Denisovans.

Meanwhile, geochronologists led by Bo Li and Zenobia Jacobs of the University of Wollongong dated material from those same sediment samples. They used optical dating to reveal when light last struck mineral grains in the samples, showing when each grain was buried. The four layers that yielded Denisovan mtDNA were laid down 100,000, 60,000, and as recently as 45,000 years ago, although the younger sediments were disturbed.

The dates for the older sediments seem highly reliable, says Higham, who dated Denisova Cave. And by showing DNA and dates can be gleaned from the same sediment samples, the work opens "a new era of molecular caving," says geochronologist Katerina Douka of the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.

The charcoal in the cave shows its occupants built fires. They also used simple stone tools, and, from the cave's high opening, must have spied on animals grazing in the meadows below. Some may also have been on the lookout for modern humans, who were in the region by 40,000 years ago.

In a separate study published today in Science, Pääbo reports extracting modern human DNA, the oldest yet in Asia, from 34,000- and 40,000-year-old fossils from what is now Mongolia and from near Beijing, respectively. Those genomes included Denisovan DNA, the legacy of mating that happened roughly 50,000 years ago. But the Denisovan sequences differed from those found in living New Guineans and Australian Aboriginals. Homo sapiens must have met and mated with two populations of Denisovans—one in mainland Asia and one in Southeast Asia, says EVA paleogeneticist Diyendo Massilani—further evidence that they were once numerous and wide-ranging.

The Denisovans bequeathed a particular genetic gift to modern Tibetans: a "superathlete" variant of a gene, called EPAS1, that helps red blood cells use oxygen efficiently and is found in Denisovans from Denisova Cave. Zhang and her colleagues think the Tibetan Plateau Denisovans may have been adapted to life at high altitude, and that EPAS1 may have spread widely among them, before they handed it on to modern Tibetans.

But molecular dating suggests EPAS1 spread rapidly only in the past 5000 years. And natural selection would have favored that gene variant only in people who lived at high altitude year-round, says archaeologist Mark Aldenderfer, professor emeritus at the University of California, Merced. The Denisovans may have lived only seasonally in the cave. Zhang's team will need to find nuclear DNA to test its hunch.

Zhang expects more digs at the cave will clarify the issue with DNA and perhaps fossils. "The study of this cave is only beginning," she says.

Neil Bockoven tells us that two breakthrough studies employing several cutting edge technologies have documented the oldest modern human DNA in Asia, and the first Denisovan DNA outside of Siberia. 

It appears that modern humans showed up in Central Asia at roughly the time that Denisovans died off there. In one study, researchers tested sediments, not bones, in a Tibetan cave for DNA. The sediments were dated with optical methods, which can detect when light last struck the mineral grains. The mitochondrial DNA found in the sediments likely came from Denisovan poop or urine. 

The other study determined that modern humans were in the Beijing area by at least 40,000 years ago. The optical dates from the cave sediment study indicate that Denisovans were there 100,000, 60,000, and probably 45,000 years ago. 

Highly-respected geochronologist Tom Higham said that the finding ends a long quest for Denisovan DNA outside of Siberia, and it shows the species was widespread in the hemisphere before we showed up. 

Earlier work has documented that we mated with Denisovans, and the fact that some people today in the Philippines, New Guinea and Australia carry as much as 6% Denisovan genes is further proof that the species was wide-ranging. The two studies highlight the breathtaking discoveries that are happening due to applying new technologies. 

Friday, November 12, 2021

What We Have Learned, so far, about Ancient Cave Art

Neil Bockoven tells us that the oldest works of "cave art" presently documented are handprints in Tibet that may be 226,000 years old  - probably Denisovan or Neanderthal (Zhang et al. 2021). 

The oldest Homo sapien drawing is a cross-hatching on a piece of red ochre made more than 73,000 years ago in South Africa (Henshilwood et al. 2018).

The oldest known cave painting is a Neanderthal's 64,000-year-old, red hand stencil in Spain (Hoffmann et al. 2018). 

Nearly 350 caves that contain prehistoric art have been discovered in Europe, but a lot has been found elsewhere too. The most common subjects in cave paintings are large animals, such as horses, bison, aurochs, and deer, as well as tracings of human hands. 

The oldest representational painting - of a warty pig - is found in Indonesia and dates to at least 45,500 years (Brumm et al. 2021). All of these wonderful works of art help define the early edge of human abstract thinking. 

See Ancient Wonders of Archaeology, Art History & Architecture

Sunday, October 31, 2021

Halloween - 1607 Jesuit suspects Lutheran sect of Witchcraft

This 1607 woodcut by a Jesuit, Christoph Andreas Fischer, The Hutterite Anabaptist Pigeon Coop, accuses that Protestant sect of witchcraft with its symbols — bats, brooms and more.

Dr. Adam Darlage, who teaches at Oakton Community College, with campuses in Skokie & Des Plaines, Illinois, studies how Christians have been less than kind to one another. For example, Darlage analyzed the meaning of a 1607 woodcut depicting Hutterites as pigeons, witches, and bigamists. Bigamists? In those days, Hutterite leaders let members of their flock abandon spouses who wouldn’t convert, he says, and thereafter allowed remarriage. Hence the accusation.

Halloween - A brief history of Halloween's Celtic & religious origins

More than 2,000 years ago the Celtic people believed summer came to an end on October 31st, so in anticipation of the end of "the season of life" & the beginning of "the season of death," Celts would celebrate Samhain or Samain (pronounced "sah-win") or "Summer's End." In the 19C, one academic explained, "The Samhain feast...was, like the Greek Apaturia, partly devoted to business...other wise the feast, which occupied, not only Samain or the first of November, but also the three days before and the three days after it."The festival segment of Samhain focused on the harvest & death of crops & the approaching season of cold & darkness, to symbolize the the transition from life to death. The Celts thought the veil between this world & the next was thinnest during Samhain & that spirits & fairies could more easily move between the two realms. Some might pass from the living to the dead, and some dead ancestors might come to visit during this time. The Celtic celebration of Samhain was the New Year’s Day on the Celtic calendar.
In ancient times the festival was said to be celebrated with a great assembly at the royal court in Tara, the archaic hill fort and bastion of the Irish kings. The festival began after a ritual fire was set ablaze on the Hill of Tlachtga. This bonfire served as a beacon, signaling to people gathered atop hills all across Ireland to light their ritual bonfires. This ritual was called the Féile na Marbh in old Irish, meaning the 'festival of the dead' took place on the night of Samhain, or “Oíche Shamhna” and and was said to fall on the 31st of October. The word 'bonfire' itself is a direct translation of the Gaelic tine cnámh or Bone Fire, because villagers were said to have cast the bones of the slaughtered livestock upon the flames. October was the traditional time for slaughter - for preparing stores of meat and grain to last through the coming winter. With the bonfire ablaze, the villagers extinguished all other fires and then each family then solemnly lit its hearth from the local common flame, thus bonding the families of the village together with the symbolic bones of their ancestors. English travelers of the 19C are said to have witnessed this ritual.
In some homes, a door would be opened to the west & a beloved dead relative would be specifically invited to attend the celebration. Villagers might leave a candle or other light burning in a western window to guide the dead home.On Samhain Eve, the Celts lit their bonfires & laid out harvest gifts for the souls traveling through the corporeal plane on their way to the next realm. Families would leave food & wine on their doorstep to aid the souls passing over & to keep the pesky ghosts at bay. Many wore costumes when leaving the house hoping to be mistaken for ghosts themselves. The Celts believed dressing up both honored the good spirits & helped avoid the bad ones.
Ancient Celtic legends supported this concept of transition from life to death. In one, Nero, while begging from door-to-door on Samhain, discovered a cave leading directly into the fairy realm. In another, gods called Fomorians demanded tribute from Celtic mortals, who offered harvest fruits to these gods at Samhain. This story reinforced the Celtic tradition of setting out harvest gifts for souls crossing over & for the ghosts gathered near at Summer's End.Sometime in the 8C, Pope Gregory IV changed the date originally set for All Saints' Day to the same day as Samhain, essentially merging the traditions connected to those holidays & making the church more attractive to non-believers. The Catholic Church established November 1st as All Saints Day (also known as All Hallows) & November 2 as All Souls Day.
A traditional Irish Halloween carved turnip jack-o-lantern

Incorporating the existing Celtic custom of going door-to-door on Samhain, the church encouraged a practice called "souling." The practice of dressing up in costumes & begging door to door for treats on holidays goes back to the Middle Ages. Trick-or-treating resembles the late medieval practice of “souling,” when poor folk would go door to door on Hallowmas (November 1), receiving food in return for prayers for the dead on All Souls Day (November 2). It originated in Ireland & Britain, although similar practices for the souls of the dead were found as far south as Italy.Shakespeare mentions the practice in his comedy The Two Gentlemen of Verona (1593), when Speed accuses his master of “puling [whimpering, whining], like a beggar at Hallowmas.”In 19C England, one writer reported, "The custom of "souling" carried on with great zeal in this neighbourhood." Another wrote of "children who are singing their "Souling Song" under my window." One noted, " give away to the souling-children."
James Elder Christie (British artist, 1847-1914) Halloween Frolics

The traditions of "guising," & "mumming" grew into an event where masked individuals would go door-to-door disguised as spirits dancing & singing in exchange for food & wine. A 19C Scottish song noted, "In a guizing excursion, he sung some verses." The custom of mumming was first written about in the 1400s in English. In 1546, it was noted, "The disguising and muming that is vsed in Christemas tyme." By 1801, one sports writer explained, "A sport common among the ancients...consisted in mummings and disguisements." (The Danish word mumme meant to parade in masks. The term guising was first used in written English in 1563.)In order to see as they paraded at night, Irish participants would carve faces into turnips & potatoes to light as lanterns, as they passed from house to house, & to set outside their doorways to light dark steps & to scare away evil spirits.

Saturday, October 30, 2021

Making a grand living in 1647 England by identifying & torturing witches

Frontispiece from Matthew Hopkins' (c. 1620-1647) The Discovery of Witches (1647), showing witches identifying their familiar spirits

Folks in 17C England & her British American colonies often dealt with hardships by looking for a scapegoat to blame, much as we do today. Witchcraft was a convenient superstition to latch onto during this period. Witchcraft had been illegal since 1563, & hundreds of people, mostly women, were wrongly accused. 'Proof' of being a witch could be a third nipple, an unusual scar or birthmark, a boil, a growth, or even owning a pet (a 'witch's familiar', or potential embodiment of an evil spirit). Witch-finder Matthew Hopkins employed Mary Goody Phillips who specialized in finding "witch marks" on the bodies of accused females.Confessions were often made under torture or duress. After a trial, victims were often hanged.

Professionals who exposed witches could make a lot of money, as local magistrates paid the witch finder the equivalent of a month's wages. And the busiest tradesman of all was Matthew Hopkins, a shadowy figure who called himself 'Witchfinder General' & had scores of women executed in East Anglia during the turmoil of the English Civil War in 1645 & 1646.John Stearne (c. 1610–1670) was another associate of Matthew Hopkins. Stearne was known at various times as the witch–hunter and "witch pricker." A family man & land owner from Lawshall near Bury St Edmunds, Stearne was 10 years older than Hopkins. Within a year of the death of Matthew Hopkins, John Stearne retired to his farm & wrote A Confirmation and Discovery of Witchcraft.
During the year following the publication of Hopkins' book, trials & executions for witchcraft began in the New England colonies with the hanging of Alse Young of Windsor, Connecticut on May 26, 1647, followed by the conviction of Margaret Jones. As described in the journal of Governor John Winthrop, the evidence assembled against Margaret Jones was gathered by the use of Hopkins' techniques of "searching" & "watching". Jones' execution was the first sustained witch-hunt which lasted in New England from 1648 until 1663. About 80 people throughout New England were accused of practicing witchcraft during that period, of whom 15 women & 2 men were executed. Some of Hopkins' methods were once again employed during the Salem Witch Trials, which occurred primarily in Salem, Massachusetts in 1692–93.

Although torture was unlawful in England, Hopkins was said to have used a variety of torture techniques to extract confessions from his victims. His favorite was sleep deprivation. Although Hopkins claimed to never use the swimming test, some argued that witches floated, because they had renounced their water baptism when entering the Devil's service. James VI of Scotland (later James I of England) 1566-1625 claimed in his Daemonologie, that water was so pure an element that it repelled the guilty. Suspects were thrown into water, & those who floated were considered to be witches. Or the alleged witch might also be bound at the hands & feet & thrown into a body of water. If the body floated to the surface, that was proof, that the accused was indeed a witch (at which point they might execute her by some other means). If she sank to the bottom & inevitably drowned – she was innocent but also dead.

For a fascinating update on the truths, lies, and exaggerations containted in books written by these two witch finders in the mid 17C see The Discovery of Witches and Witchcraft: The Writings of the Witchfinders by Matthew Hopkins, John Stearne. Edited with an introduction and notes by S.F. Davies (Sept 2007) Published: Brighton: Pucknel Publishing. A critical, scholarly reprint of the writings of the Witch Finder General and his accomplice.S. F. Davies researches witchcraft writing at the University of Sussex. He also has edited Puritan preacher George Gifford's (1548-1600) Dialogue concerning witches and witchcrafts(2007).

Also see
"The Reception of Reginald Scot’s Discovery of Witchcraft: Witchcraft, Magic, and Radical Religion" by S.F. Davies
Journal of the History of Ideas, Volume 74, Number 3, July 2013, pp. 381-40 This article considers the reception of Reginald Scot’s (1538-1599) skeptical Discouerie of Witchcraft (1584). As well as the surprisingly mixed reception of the 1st edition, this article examines the publication of the 2nd edition. The latter appeared in 1651, long after Scot’s death; the possible reasons for its publication have never been examined. Not only interest in witchcraft but other kinds of magic and even religious radicalism may have been involved.
Woodcuts dealing with water, witches, and "scolds."

The always surprising Alice Morse Earle found a 1st-hand account of the Dunking Stool in her 1896  Curious Punishments of Bygone Days. Francois Maximilian Misson, a French traveler and writer, recorded the method used in England in the early 18th century: The way of punishing scolding women is pleasant enough. They fasten an armchair to the end of two beams twelve or fifteen feet long, and parallel to each other, so that these two pieces of wood with their two ends embrace the chair, which hangs between them by a sort of axle, by which means it plays freely, and always remains in the natural horizontal position in which a chair should be, that a person may sit conveniently in it, whether you raise it or let it down. They set up a post on the bank of a pond or river, and over this post they lay, almost in equilibrio, the two pieces of wood, at one end of which the chair hangs just over the water. They place the woman in this chair and so plunge her into the water as often as the sentence directs, in order to cool her immoderate heat.

Wednesday, September 1, 2021

In Canada - Woman's Involvement in the Fur Trade

Women Fur Trading at Fort Nez Percé in 1841. Fort Nez Percés, later known as old Fort Walla Walla, was a fortified fur trading post on the Columbia River on the territory of modern-day Wallula, Washington. Despite being named after the Nez Perce people, the fort was in the traditional lands of the Walla Walla. Founded in 1818 by the North-West Company, after 1821 it was run by the Hudson's Bay Company until its closure in 1857.

In Canada - Woman's Involvement in the Fur Trade 

by Mason McDowell at University College of the North

The University College of the North is an institution devoted to community & northern development & reflects the Aboriginal reality & cultural diversity of northern Manitoba.

The fur trade was one of the biggest economic trends in Canadian history. Even though much of the trading happened between European & Aboriginal men, women played a very interesting & an important part in the fur trade. From creating & strengthening relationships between the European & Aboriginal men, to helping navigate, dressing furs, even cooking & setting up camps, women had a big part in the fur trade. When it came to the actual act of trading & being on trade routes, many people believe that it was just between native men & European men, but in actuality women sometimes also travelled on trade routes trapping, preparing, & traded their own furs. While men dominated the fur trade, women played a very important role in the fur trade, often being the suppliers for their trader husbands, & some even going as far to participate in the trading as well. 

 When the European traders first came to North America “colonization was not envisaged”  by them, so the traders brought no white women from Europe over to North America. This made it much harder for the European traders to practice their own culture & start families in North America so “instead, the traders were forced to come to terms with an alien, nomadic culture,”  a culture that the Europeans traders’ own livelihoods depended on. The Aboriginals culture & way of life had given them “distinct advantages with coping with the wilderness environment,”  & the fur traders knew that having the knowledge of the land would be crucial to their survival in the harsh conditions of North America. The traders also knew that the Aboriginals had distinct & valuable techniques in hunting, trapping, tracking, & navigating. So, European men started turning to Aboriginal women for companions on their long journeys. The Aboriginal Women educated the European men with their ways of living on the land & practicing their own culture while, helping traverse & navigate the harsh wilderness of North America.


When it came to Aboriginal women & European men, their encounters together were not usually “casual promiscuous encounters, but the development of marital unions which gave rise to distinct family units.”  Even though “there were differences in attitudes & practices between the Europeans & the Aboriginals; the fur trade society developed its own marriage rite, marriage a la facon du pays, which combined both Aboriginal & European marriage customs.”  When a European man married an Aboriginal woman in fur trade society, the European men would gain & strengthen trade relationships with Aboriginal men, & would “secure the trade of the tribe or band”  that the Aboriginal woman belonged too. This tradition soon caught & became accustomed to European traders, with many marrying Aboriginal women to create the social ties to improve their access trade opportunities & gain better knowledge of the aboriginal culture & way of life. Many intermarriages between Aboriginal women & European traders became more & more popular, with both sides of the marriages having a lot to gain from the courtship. With the increased intermarriages the fur trade society began to grow, creating new & strengthening the existing relationships among traders & Aboriginals almost everyday.

 The European traders had gained a lot by marrying into an Aboriginal family as the Aboriginal women were “trained in the skills necessary for survival”  in the harsh wilderness of North America. The Aboriginal women helped the European traders navigate & traverse the wilderness & taught them many survival skills, crafted snow shoes to make it easier to travel through the deep snow, & provided traditional Aboriginal clothing for the traders to keep from freezing in the sub-zero temperatures. Aboriginal women would also cook, preserve food, & prepare camp while their trader husbands were off either trading or trapping furs. One major food contribution that Aboriginal women made was “preservation & manufacturing of pemmican,”  which was a very important & nutritious staple food in a fur trader’s diet. European traders also enjoyed the presence of Aboriginal women in their everyday lives as they kept the company on the long journeys between trading posts; for the traders the aboriginal women also filled “the role of a wife & mother left void by the absence of white women.”  The men of the North West Company, a Montreal-based company at time of the fur trade in particular, “had always appreciated the economic advantages to be gained by forming alliances with Aboriginal women.”  European traders’ marrying into an Aboriginal family helped them “secure the trade of the Aboriginal women’s tribe or band.”  Besides helping the European traders strengthen & secure trade relationships, the Aboriginal women “did much to familiarize the European men with the Aboriginal way of life.”  The Aboriginal women also taught the European traders trapping techniques, fur preparation, & even going as far to teach the traders a bit of their language. By teaching the traders their language Aboriginal women “greatly contributed to the men’s effectiveness as a trader,”  & helped further close the cultural gap between Aboriginals & Europeans. Intermarriages in the fur trade were very beneficial for European traders as they learned many valuable skills & techniques used by Aboriginals for hundreds of years. At the same time those parties filled the void that the lack of white women left in their lives, & greatly increased the success of their livelihoods by creating & strengthening trade relationships between them & Aboriginals.

 Aboriginal women were also benefiting from the intermarriage during the fur trade, with the influx of European technology that they were enjoying the luxuries of goods from Europe & the courtships by the European men. Many Aboriginal women were anxious to keep trade flowing, so they could have more access & the ability to use more “European goods such as kettles, cloth, knives, needles, & axes to help alleviate their sometimes-onerous work roles.”  Their working roles often included cooking, preparing & dressing furs, & crafting clothing & snowshoes, & making other tools. During the early years of the fur trade “many Aboriginal tribes & bands actively encouraged the formation of marriage alliances their women & traders.”  In Aboriginal society “marriage was seen in an integrated social & economic context.”  So, the European traders & Aboriginals made an agreement that if the Aboriginals allowed European traders marry & begin families with their women the Aboriginals would have “free access to the trading posts & provisions.”  This would give the Aboriginals full trading capabilities at trading posts across British North America, & it would also give the Aboriginals more access to European technology. The European traders, in turn, would strengthen & gain better access to trade relationships with the Aboriginals, while simultaneously gaining knowledge of Aboriginal techniques & culture to further increases their profits. Even though Aboriginal men & European traders were more dominate when it came to being hunters & trappers, some Aboriginal women were trapping, preparing, & trading their own furs. Kees-Jan Waterman & Jan Noel outline that “fur transactions were the norm for people of both sexes”  rather than just being confined to men. When it came to the act of trapping itself “men were the hunters of beavers & larger game animals, & the women were responsible for trapping smaller fur-bearing animals, especially the martin whose pelts were highly prized.”  Aboriginal women & the Aboriginal population in general benefited greatly due to intermarriages in the fur trade, with gaining more access to trading posts & European technology, which greatly impacted their lives & made their traditional ways of hunting & fur preparing easier. 

Even though white women did not come to the predominantly fur trading areas of British North America until later when the fur trade society was already greatly established, & when they did arrive, they also had great contributions to the fur trade as well. The white women played a largely subsidiary role in fur trade society often being compared to a modern-day house wife. The majority roles of white women who were married to traders were “as suppliers of food & other supplies,”  which means they often cooked & set up camp for the traders if they travelled with them, so that their trader husbands could focus on the trapping & hunting rather than setting up his camp & cooking meals. If a white woman did not travel with her trader husband, she often stayed at home to take care of the children, whilst the trader was out making money to support the family.  Even though white women did not serve the major role & exert the same impact as Aboriginal women did in fur trade society, they still made contributions by helping the traders on their long journeys for the business.   

 In conclusion, women were very impactful & important in fur trade society & were one of the reasons that the fur trade was as successful of & economic trend as it was. If women had not been as involved so much, many European traders would not have had such strengthened social relationships with Aboriginals tribes & bands at that time. The traders also wouldn’t have had the knowledge of the land & Aboriginal culture if it wasn’t for the intermarriages with the Aboriginal women. This also proves that major companies in the fur trade such as The Hudson’s Bay Company & The North West Company may not have been as successful as they were, with The North West Company outlining the many “economic advantages to be gained by forming alliances with Aboriginal women.”  Even if women didn’t travel on trade routes with their trader husbands, they were able to stay home & care for their families & raise the next generation of traders. In the end women really were one of the major reasons that the fur trade was as profitable & successful as it was, & greatly benefited both Europeans & Aboriginals alike.    


Van Kirk, Sylvia. Many Tender Ties: Women in Fur-trade Society, 1670-1870. Norman, Oklahoma:         University of Oklahoma Press, 1980.

Van Kirk, Sylvia. “The Impact of White Women on Fur Trade Society.” Visions Pre-Confederation (2015): 338-351.

Van Kirk, Sylvia. “The Role of Native Women in the Fur Trade Society of Western Canada, 1670-1830."  Woman of the Western Front (1984): 9-13.

Waterman, Kees-Jan. Noel, Jan. “Not Confined to the Village Clearings: Indian Women in the Fur Trade in Colonial New York, 1695–1732.” New York History Vol 94 (2013): 40-58.

White, Bruce M. "The Woman Who Married a Beaver: Trade Patterns & Gender Roles in the Ojibwa Fur Trade." Ethnohistory Vol 46. (1999): 109-47.

Tuesday, August 31, 2021

Indigenous Women & the Fur Trade

This picture of Alexander & Natawista Culbertson, & their son Joe, was taken c. 1863. Natawista married the American Fur Company’s powerful manager at Fort Union, in 1840. Visitors to the fort, where the Culbertsons entertained in white-linen European elegance, described Natawista as a beautiful, adventuresome woman & a skilled rider. Natawista briefly accompanied Alexander, when he retired to Illinois, but returned to Canada to rejoin her Blood family. Montana Historical Society Photo Archives 

Brokers of the Frontier:  Indigenous Women & the Fur Trade

From Women’s History Matters (assisting the Montana Historical Society) December 2, 2014

For 2 centuries—from the mid-1600s to the 1860s—Indian & Métis women...brokered culture, language, trade goods, & power on the Canadian & American fur-trade frontier. They were partners, liaisons, & wives to the French, Scottish, Canadian, & American men who scoured the West for salable furs. Stereotyped by early historians as victims or heroines (and there were both), indigenous women also wielded significant, traceable power in this era of changing alliances, increasing intertribal conflict, & expanding European presence in the West.

The roles indigenous women played during the fur trade reflected the roles they historically held within their communities. Despite cultural distinctions among tribes, indigenous women generally shared the common responsibilities of procuring & trading food, hides, & clothing. Women also embodied political diplomacy as tribes forged internal & intertribal relationships around family alliances & cemented these social structures through (often polygamous) marriage. These traditional economic & political roles placed indigenous women at the center of trade, & made them desirable & necessary partners for fur traders.

A multicultural & economically diverse group working for international companies, the fur traders who came to Montana were all far from their families. Whether company managers, clerks, laborers, or trappers, the men sought companionship, intimacy, & entrée into local tribal communities, as well as assistance in making their economic endeavors a success. Marriage to indigenous women could provide all of these things.

In keeping with tribal customs, traders arranged liaisons with indigenous women by exchanging gifts with tribal families, who themselves recognized the potential benefits of establishing alliances. Depending on both partners’ preferences, relationships lasted a season, many months or years, or a lifetime.  Some indigenous wives returned to eastern settlements with their white husbands; some raised families together in the West.

Whatever the specifics of their individual relationships, the important socioeconomic positions indigenous women held in their own cultures manifested in their contributions to the fur trade. Indigenous wives gave fur traders invaluable ties to the land & tribes. Their knowledge of the region’s climate, wildlife, plants, languages, & topography shortened considerably the male outsiders’ learning curves. At the same time, the women brought inside information to their tribes about the reliability of traders & prices while relaying tribal news to their white partners.

Indigenous women also accomplished work fundamental to the survival of the fur traders & to their economic success. While incorporating European household goods into their daily lives (and thus making those goods more marketable), women in the fur trade continued to utilize indigenous methods to produce food & durable goods such as clothing, footwear, & blankets as well as baskets, parfleches, & other portable trade & traveling containers. Women also prepared hides, expertly cleaning & tanning them to command high prices.

Notwithstanding the power they derived from being experienced locals, many indigenous wives faced adversity & tragedy. They had to learn new languages, navigate European cultural norms, & often adapt to unfamiliar dwellings. Separation from their families & the reality of living amid an almost exclusively male population caused particular hardship; fur trade wives lost the support & companionship of other women with whom, in their native societies, they would have shared the duties of daily work & child rearing. Living at fur forts also placed them at increased risk of sexual exploitation. In addition, close proximity to Europeans exposed indigenous women to many infectious diseases. In 1837, when a steamboat brought smallpox up the Missouri, they were among the disease’s first victims—and its first carriers back to tribes...

The feelings & perceptions of women...who brokered the geographical & cultural frontiers of the North American continent’s fur trade, do not exist in written documents. Most of what we know of their lives comes from traders & territorial visitors, not the women themselves. Thus, we know from a visitor’s published account that Coth-co-co-na adorned her husband with her artistry, gifting him with a beautifully beaded tobacco sack. But we don’t know how she felt about her husband or her role as the indigenous wife of a Euro-American. Nevertheless, careful reading of existing documents can reveal glimpses of the complexities that she & other indigenous women faced as they melded their lives with men from a very foreign culture. 

The Métis are often called “children of the fur trade.”  


Boller, Henry A. Among the Indians: Eight Years in the Far West, 1858-1866.  Chicago: Lakeside Press, 1959 (1868).

Brown, Jennifer S. H.  Strangers in the Blood:  Fur Trade Company Families in Indian Country. Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press, 1980.

Graybill, Andrew. The Red & the White: A Family Saga of the American West. New York: W. W. Norton, 2013.

Lansing, Michael. “Plains Indian Women & Interracial Marriage in the Upper Missouri Trade, 1804-1868.” The Western Historical Quarterly 31, no. 4 (Winter, 2000), 413-33.

Meikle, Lyndel, ed. Very Close to Trouble: The Johnny Grant Memoir. Pullman: Washington State University Press, 1996.

Milner, Clyde II, & Carol O’Connor.  As Big as the West: The Pioneer Life of Granville Stuart. New York: Oxford University Press, 2009.

Schemm, Mildred Walker. “The Major’s Lady: Natawista.” The Montana Magazine of History 2, no. 1 (January 1952), 4-15.

Van Kirk, Sylvia. Many Tender Ties: Women in Fur-Trade Society, 1670-1870. Winnipeg: Watson & Dwyer, 1980.

Waterman, Kees-Jan. Noel, Jan. “Not Confined to the Village Clearings: Indian Women in the Fur Trade in Colonial New York, 1695–1732.” New York History Vol 94 (2013): 40-58.

White, Bruce M. "The Woman Who Married a Beaver: Trade Patterns & Gender Roles in the Ojibwa Fur Trade." Ethnohistory Vol 46. (1999): 109-47.

Wischmann, Lesley.  Frontier Diplomats: Alexander Culbertson & Natoyist-Siksina among the Blackfeet. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2004.