Osh-Tisch

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OSH-TISCH

OSH-TISCH (Finds Them and Kills Them, a.k.a. Maracota[or Woman], Jim [from mi:akà:te, "girl"]), (b. 1854; d. 2 January 1929), medicine man, warrior, artisan.

Osh-Tisch (a more accurate transcription is ó:tsikyap dapés) was the most famous boté, or berdache (a word used by early French explorers for an androgynous Native American male), of the Crow Indians. He grew up at a time when the tribe freely roamed the plains in pursuit of buffalo and was a leading figure during the period of transition to reservation life.

The visibility of Crow berdaches was commented on by observers as early as the 1830s. By reputation, boté excelled in women's work, such as cooking, butchering, and hide-tanning, and in the use of hides to make clothing, lodges, and other items. The Crow sun dance ceremony required the participation of a boté, who cut down the tree used for the central pole of the ceremonial lodge.

By his own account (thanks to a rare instance of a transcribed interview with a berdache made by retired U.S. Army General Hugh Scott), Osh-Tisch was "inclined to be a woman, never a man" and cross-dressed at an early age despite initial parental opposition. By the time he reached adulthood, his skills in hide-tanning and constructing lodges were legendary. The lodge he made for Chief Iron Bull was the largest in the tribe's history. Crows stated, "Iron Bull's lodge is like the lodge of the Sun" (Curtis, p. 51).

When interviewed by Scott, Osh-Tisch denied that a vision or spiritual calling had led him to adopt women's clothes. At the time, however, the Crows were under pressure to abandon traditional beliefs, and Osh-Tisch may have been reticent to speak for this reason. In fact, he had become a medicine person based on a vision he had experienced while young. (A record of this transformation survives in a lodge he made with decorative elements symbolic of the vision.)

Osh-Tisch's name refers to an event that occurred in June 1876. Some 175 Crow warriors fought with General George Crook against the Sioux and Cheyenne at the Battle of the Rosebud—an engagement that could have been as disastrous as General George Custer's last stand eight days later were it not for Crow aid. Among the Crow warriors was Osh-Tisch, dressed in male clothing, fighting alongside a woman named "The Other Magpie." Together, they rescued a fallen Crow, and Osh-Tisch killed and scalped an enemy. The episode was long remembered in the region. A photograph taken not long after shows Osh-Tisch seated with a woman, probably "The Other Magpie."

By the late 1870s the Crows were confined to their reservation in Montana, dependent on the government for food and other necessities. Government agents, missionaries, and teachers discouraged traditional Crow culture, frequently singling out boté. In the late 1880s one agent rounded up Osh-Tisch and others, cut their hair, and forced them to do manual labor. The Crow response is indicative of their attitude toward berdaches: the tribe's chief personally intervened and demanded that the agent leave the reservation.

In the early 1900s a Baptist missionary began to denounce Osh-Tisch from his pulpit, urging congregants to shun him and other boté. Osh-Tisch, however, continued to cross-dress—because, as he told Scott in 1919, "That is my road." According to Scott, he still enjoyed an "enviable position" in the tribe.

Osh-Tisch received an allotment of land in the 1880s, and census records show him as the head of a household that included relatives and an adopted child, whose gender was originally recorded as male and later as female. In the early 1900s Osh-Tisch's relations with agents improved. According to Scott, one agent's daughter remembered "Maracota Jim" as pleasant and good-natured, calling on the family to sell native crafts. He visited friends at reservations in Montana and Idaho, and acquired a reputation as the best poker player in the region (in many tribes, berdaches were believed to be lucky). In place of hidework, Osh-Tisch took up sewing and in the 1920s won ribbons at the local county fair for his quilts.

Photographs taken in 1928 at Scott's request show Osh-Tisch wearing elaborately decorated clothing he had made for his own burial. He died the following year, having outlasted and outwitted efforts over several decades to change his "road."

Bibliography

Curtis, Edward S. The North American Indian, vol. 4. New York: Johnson Reprint Corporation, 1970.

Riebeth, Carolyn R. J.H. Sharp among the Crow Indians 1902–1910: Personal Memories of His Life and Friendships on the Crow Reservation in Montana. El Segundo, Calif.: Upton and Sons, 1985.

Roscoe, Will. Changing Ones: Third and Fourth Genders in Native North America. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1998.

Scott, Hugh Lenox. "Berdache," "Notes on Sign Language and Miscellaneous Ethnographic Notes." MS 2932, National Anthropological Archives. Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.

Williams, Walter L. The Spirit and the Flesh: Sexual Diversity in American Indian Culture. Boston: Beacon, 1986.

Will Roscoe

see alsotranssexuals, transvestites, transgender people, and cross-dressers; two-spirit males.

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