Luciano K. Ricotta
17 May 2018
Masculine Gender Roles in Warrior Culture
The novel Fool’s Crow by James Welch is a story about how dreams and honor are shown in the warrior culture of Native Americans. Colin Calloway’s historical text, Our Hearts Fell to the Ground, include historical documents investigating the Plains Indian Views of How the West Was Lost. Both of these texts, one being a novel and the other being a collection of historical documents, talk about warrior culture and gender roles. Callaway’s text reflects the masculine gender roles that are rooted in the warrior culture of Welch’s Fools Crow through the use of dreams and stories, horses, and war honors and naming ceremonies.
The men of Indian tribes put much value in their dreams and they considered them sacred. In warrior culture, it was considered disrespectful to question another man’s dream. For example, in Fools Crow, Welch says “He knew it was wrong to question another man’s dreams, but he couldn’t help being skeptical because the ice spring dream had come to Fast Horse.” (20). Throughout the entire text, dreams are used to guide a man’s thinking and they allow men to connect spiritually with the warrior culture. Welch later goes on to also emphasize that stories were a large part of masculine warrior culture. Welch states:
The young men huddled around the small fire inside the makeshift war lodge beneath Woman Don’t Walk Butte. They laughed and told stories of the raid, each one recounting his part, his act of boldness, until the others mocked him and called him a near-woman. As they escalated their stories and responses, they all felt the thrill of their new wealth and the beginnings of their man hood. (34)
Not only does Welch specifically mention that the stories and their responses were a root in their man hood, but he also mentions that they would mock other men by calling them a “near-woman” as if they had non-masculine traits. Dreams and stories as a part of masculine warrior culture are mirrored in Calloway’s text. Calloway states “He told me to lead since I had been planning a raid and had said my dream was good. But he said that the earth does not move and by traveling steadily we could overtake them. He wanted to be sure that our horses would not lose their strength.” (79). As stated above good and positive dreams were essential to leadership as a masculine gender role in warrior culture. Without it, the Indian warrior may not have gotten asked to lead. Another aspect of masculinity rooted in warrior culture that is displayed in this quote is the strength and importance of horses.
Horses were a large part of warrior culture in the fact that if an Indian had many horses and strong horses, he was a man. Welch states, “His father, Rides-at-the-door, had many horses and three wives. He himself had three horses and no wives. His animals were puny, not a blackhorn runner among them” (3). Although White Man’s Dog’s father was masculine in their culture and had many strong horses, White Man’s Dog himself was not as masculine (yet) and did not have strong horse or many horses as shown in the quote above. These horses were essential to warrior culture because they made the warriors spiritually strong and physically strong in war. Welch also states, “On those skulls Eagle Head and Iron Breast had dreamed their visions in the long-ago, and the animal helpers had made them strong in spirit and fortunate in war.” (3). Welch is expressing here that strong and fast animals (horses) were essential for men to have because when it comes time for men to act on their masculine gender roles and fight in a war they will be physically and spiritually prepared because of these animals. Calloway’s text supports the idea that horses were a large part of warrior culture. Calloway states, “Indian peoples welcomed horses into their cultures and incorporated firearms into their arsenals.” (40). Clearly, we see that in both texts, horses were prevalent in the warrior culture of this time. The strength and arsenal of horses that a man controlled directly reflected his masculinity and his ability to perform his gender roles in warrior culture.
Through dreams, stories, and horses, men were honored for achievements and bravery in war. There were even naming ceremonies held for Indians with noble and brave acts pursued in war. For example, in Welch’s text, Red Paint wakes up Fools Crow and yells with laughter “Yes! Fools Crow, the great warrior!” (153). This occurs a day after White Man’s Dog (Fools Crow) gets back from the war. The first thing that White Man’s Dog hears that day is Red Paint calling him by his new name and calling him “the great warrior”. The text later goes on to say:
Fools Crow. The naming ceremony. Three Bears had named him Fools Crow after hearing how he had tricked Bull Shield into thinking he was dead and then risen up to kill the Crow chief… Then men of the warrior societies laughed and kidded Fools Crow, but in their eyes he had become a man of much medicine. (153)
This passage explains why White Man’s Dog was awarded the name of Fools Crow and what the other men in the warrior society thought of it. White Man’s Dog was awarded the name Fools Crow because he killed the Crow chief by fooling Bull Shield. After the naming ceremony, other men in the warrior society see him as a man. He is no longer White Man’s Dog but now will go by the name of Fools Crow, a much more respected and honored name. This shows that the names that are given at these ceremonies also have significant meaning to them. Calloway’s text also talks about how being a warrior and partaking in ceremonies is a large part of warrior culture and fulfilling masculine gender roles. Calloway states:
By any standard, Mato Tope, second chief of the Mandans, was a remarkable man. Known to the whites as Four Bears, he was the most prominent Indian of his day on the upper Missouri River. He was without peer as a warrior, but he was also a husband, father, artist, and ceremonial leader…The life of Four Bears, as recorded by himself and by visiting artists, and his death, recorded by fur trader Francis Chardon, illustrate the warrior culture of the Plains Indians. (61)
Calloway’s text agrees with Welch’s novel in the fact that they both agree that being a warrior, husband, father, or ceremonial leader are all essential masculine gender roles that illustrate warrior culture. Another similarity seen between the two texts are the warrior names. In Welch’s text, there is an Indian by the name of Three Bears and in Calloway’s text, there is an Indian by the name of Four Bears. Although these are not the same people and the names do not have the same meaning, the similarity seen in the names shows that these unique and special names were eminent in warrior culture, specifically those of males.
The fictional novel and story Fools Crow accurately portrays the warrior culture of the time it is written in. The historical warrior culture and the masculine gender roles we see in Calloway’s text is rooted in the story Fools Crow. Historical documents such as Calloway’s Our Hearts Fell to the Ground often do not attract readers looking for a good book or story to read. Fools Crow, on the other hand, does just that by drawing readers in who wish to read a fictional novel. Although the novel is fiction, as read in the historical documents in the Calloway text, it still accurately portrays warrior culture of the Native Americans. This is why the book is so valuable. While remaining a fictional novel that draws readers in and continues to encourage them to keep reading, it also portrays the historical facts about warrior culture. So by reading Fools Crow, readers are not only experiencing a good novel but are also learning about the history of warrior culture whether they intend to or not. Both texts mirror each other in the way they explain how dreams and stories, horses, and war honors and naming ceremonies are rooted in masculine gender roles of warrior culture.
Calloway, Colin G. Our Hearts Fell to the Ground: Plains Indian Views of How the West Was Lost. Bedford/St. Martin’s, Macmillan Learning, 2018.
Welch, James, and Thomas McGuane. Fools Crow. Penguin Books, 2011.