Opinion: Indian women were baby factories

"The ancestors of the Indians in Illinois first arrived here thousands of years ago from Northeastern Asia. They came across a land bridge that existed at what is now called the Bering Strait.

They had coarse black hair, beardless faces, copper-colored bodies that suggested Mongoloid ancestry. Yet their eyes were round, more like Europeans. At the time of the arrival of the first whites, the land had a confederacy which consisted the Peoria, Kaskaskia, Cahokia, Kickapoo, Michigamea and the Tamaroa. The Peoria were to be mainly found near Lake Pimiteau (Peoria) on the Illinois River. The Cahokia and Tamaroa lived on the American Bottom. The fierce Kickapoo lived in the Sangamon River valley and Mackinaw River valley

Most of the early French traders and trappers took Indian squaws for wives. The word squaw comes from the Algonquin for woman. White women were scarce in the harsh and dangerous environment of New France. Indian women made attractive wives for several reasons. First, they were already skilled in survival and had cooking and sewing skills to make life more pleasant for her husband. Second, marrying an Indian maiden afforded protection when the Indians went on the warpath. Frenchmen with Indian wives were usually left alone by warring braves.

Squaws usually returned to their work within a week of giving birth. Their task was made easier by the use of a papoose board or cradle that was strapped to her back, giving her the freedom to do other things. Strangely, white women never adopted this practical device in large numbers. While adultery was sometimes committed by squaws, the punishment was much harsher than the wearing of a scarlet letter A. In some cases, the woman was taken to the middle of the village and offered to any and all braves who wanted her. Prostitution, as we know it in the western world, simply did not exist among the Indians.

As a whole, Indians did not treat their wives in the romantic notion of today's standards. She was more of a baby factory and a beast of burden. Half-breed children were plentiful, especially during the early French regime. Many whites did not legally marry their Indian wives and were free to take white ones when they became available."

Get the Story:
Bill Nunes: American Indians in Illinois country (The Edwardsville Journal 6/6)