Native American Marriage Customs

From the Memoirs of John R. Young by A. K. Hafenís Book "Folklore and Pioneer Memoirs."

A squaw fight came about this way. If a brave saw a maiden that he desired he would go to her father, who, according to their laws, had a right to sell her and bargain for her, usually obtaining from one to five ponies for her. If it happened that the girl had a lover, and he would put up as much purchase money as had the first applicant, then the lovers would settle it by a fist fight.

Sometimes conditions would be such that every warrior in the tribe would be allowed to aid his tribesman to win his wife. It would then be a national war, and would be conducted on long-established rules and ceremonies which the Indians held in deep reverence..

In 1861 at Santa Clara, I witnessed one of these tribal fights. A young, slender girl of Tutse Gabetís band was purchased by a brave from Coal Creek (Cedar) John*s band. But a brave of the Santa Clara tribe was the girl*s accepted lover. The aspirants were men of influence in their respective bands, though they were unequal in physical ability. The man from Coal Creek, Anawakeets, was a large, muscular, well matured man of commanding personality, while Panimeto, the Clara man, was only a stripling, a youth of fine features and an eagle eye, about fifty pounds lighter in weight than Anawakeets.

By the rules of the contest, this physical difference made it impossible for the lovers to settle it by a single combat. Hence, it was arranged by tribal agreement, that twenty warriors on each side should participate in the struggle. The ground selected was a flat just west of the old Clara fort. A square was marked off, the creek being chosen for the south line. A line drawn in the sand marked the east, west and north boundaries.

East of the east line was Anawakeets goal, which if he could reach with the girl, she was his; contra, west of the west line was Panimetoís goal, claiming the same concessions. On opposite sides of a line running north and south through the center of this square, were the braves, lined up, stripped to the skin, save for the indispensable gee string.

At the tap of the Indian drum, the two files rushed like angry bullocks upon each other. A second tap of the drum, and the warriors clinched. To vanquish an opponent one had to throw him and hold him flat on his back for the supposed time it would take to scalp an actual enemy. At the end of an hour*s exciting struggle, a few warriors on each side had been vanquished, but the forces remaining were equal in number, so neither party had gained any advantage.

They now changed the procedure. The father led the maiden to the central line. She looked terrified, as well she might, for the ordeal through which she was to pass was a fearful one. The champions ran to the girl, and seizing her by the wrists, undertook to force her to their respective goals. Soon it became a "tug-of-war" with fifteen strapping warriors on each side.

Gyrating from one side of the field to the other, they came, in one of their wild swirls, to the banks and fell into the water pell-mell up to their necks, The girl, evidently in a swoon, was entirely submerged, only her mass of glossy tresses floating on the surface of the water.

Andrew Gibbons, one of the Indian missionaries, flung himself on the bank, and seizing the girl*s hair, he raised her head above the water. Instantly every brave broke his hold, and scrambled on the bank, and Anawakeets angrily demanded that Gibbons should fight him for having interfered. Gibbons accepted the challenge, and stepped into the ring. Tutse gave the signal and Anawakeets sprang to the fray, only to measure his length backward on the sand. After Gibbons had held Anawakeets until the imagined scalping was performed, he stepped back and folded his arms. His vanquished opponent arose, stepped to the maiden, spoke a few low words, and taking the unresisting hand, led her to the victor and presented her as a bridal trophy for the white manís valor and skill.

Gibbons accepted the maiden, and leading her to Panimeto, gave her to him. The presentation was followed by a war-whoop from Anawakeets and his braves. Rushing to their camps they returned with guns in hand, and forming a circle around the girl, ordered her to march. This time it was Thales Haskell, another Indian missionary, who stopped Anawakeets, and Tutse Gabet again commanded the father to lead the girl to the center of the field and told the warriors that they might go on with the fight until the sun should hide its face behind the mountain. If neither party won by that time, the girl should be released from her fatherís vows.

Again the warriors took their places, the champions grasping again the wrist of the trembling young squaw, on whose face was a look of despair. At this critical moment, the girl*s younger brother, who had stood aloof with folded arms and clouded brow during all the struggle, bounded to his sister*s side and, drawing his knife from its sheath, he buried it in her bossom. She fell lifeless into her father*s arms. The brother, holding the bloody knife on high, said, "I loved my sister too well to see her suffer more. If there is a brave who thinks I have done wrong, let him take the knife and plunge it into my heart. I am not afraid to die.

Every warrior lowered his head and turning, walked in silence to his camp.

After this tragedy, Jacob Hamblin persuaded the Indians to give up this custom.

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