Dressing-up as a Princess

Daniel Keith with wife Amelia Hayes and children, Clay County, KY circa early 1900s

Daniel Keith with wife Amelia Hayes and children, Clay County, KY circa early 1900s


We all have things we hate.

Not things like “which way to hang toilet paper”.

Real hates.  Because “hate” is, after all, a strong word.  Or at least it used to be.

We’ll leave aside war and violence for now.  Those are pretty much universally cited “hates”.

Harming and belittling children, reckless disregard for the feelings of others, wanton abuse of animals – these things, too, should be universally agreed as things worth hating.

But it is the liminal things between naivety, thoughtlessness, selfishness, and wilful ignorance we’ll consider for a moment.

Stuff like able-bodied people using the parking place reserved for the disabled.

Stuff like drunk jet-skiers destroying the peace of a blue and remote mountain lake.

Fast food bags thrown out of a car window along a country road.

But then, if you are a weirdo like me, with too many things jostling for space in a late middle-aged head, you might get annoyed, even angry, at the way so many people tend to select a preferred reality at some point in their 20s or 30s, and then stick to that “reality”, whatever new information might cross their path over the subsequent years.

This anger can distill into hate.  Hate is not good for a person, nor is it wise or saintly, but sometimes a person just can’t jump over their own shadow.




One of these distilled emotions tends to spill over whenever this writer sees the terms “Indian princess” or “Indian maiden” used to describe someone’s remote ancestor of indigenous American ethnicity.

Such terminology is intended to disguise certain truths, in order to place a romantic gloss on older, darker aspects of American history.

Using the words “Indian princess” or “Indian maiden” suggests some bygone age of intercultural amity, in which a woman of equal social standing is “courted” by a “white” outsider to her community.

These words are meant to imply a 1950s-style of courtship, in which the besotted man approaches the father of said “maiden”, seeking her hand in marriage from her father, who is of course always a “Chief”.

The words “maiden” or “princess” are also intended to elevate the woman in question – a way to skate over the fact that, for most of American history, indigenous peoples were treated much the same way as African-Americans.

Indigenous peoples were enslaved.  They were sold.  They were rounded-up in concentration camps and marched at gunpoint to dry and dusty places hundreds of miles from their rightful homelands.

Their children were removed and placed into industrial schools, where they were abused physically and sexually, beaten for speaking their native tongues.

And in a patriarchal society, no one was farther down the social ladder than indigenous women and women of color.

In the violent rough and tumble of Manifest Destiny, “non-white” women were often seen as little more than a labor resource, or a sexual commodity.

The disease, warfare, and land grabbing of the 1600s, 1700s, and 1800s saw the deaths of countless indigenous men. What almost no one ever mentions is the countless number of indigenous women and children left to fend for themselves in the wake of these communal disasters.

Not all indigenous women ended-up on reservations – perhaps not even the majority.  Many were forced into a life of back-breaking manual labor or menial drudgery as farm hands or washerwomen.  Some were forced into prostitution.  The “luckier” ones might become wife to a frontier trapper, miner, or settler, enduring a hard life of endless childbearing, cooking, sewing, washing, spinning, weaving, cleaning, etc.

This writer has read firsthand accounts where men were quite open about bringing their Indian consorts (yes, that’s plural) west, making them walk alongside an ox-wagon for days, their feet tied with rope to the woman ahead or behind them…




Everything was not horror.  Some inter-ethnic pairings and marriages were based on mutually agreed trade-offs, even affection.

Many indigenous women came to be held in high regard by their wider communities, often because of their expertise and skills in pottery-making, basketry, herbal medicine and midwifery.

Anyone with deep roots in colonial-era America has one of these women in their family tree somewhere.

Modern DNA testing will rarely show it, because the DNA of one or two indigenous women during the late 1700s or early 1800s will have been shuffled-out by now.

But they WERE there, they were real, and they were almost never an “Indian princess”.


Please note that the use of this photo is for showing a typical Old Mix American family. It is NOT intended to imply any relation to any of the issues discussed in the above blog post.


#BeforeWeWereWhite #history #IndigenousWomen #AmericanIndianWomen #appalachia

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