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Kaúxuma Núpika
(around 1811) U.S.A.

Dance to the berdache
(George Catlin - Dance to the berdache)

Kootenai berdache

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Also called Qangon, Bowdash, and the Manlike Woman. Less than a decade after Lewis and Clark went into Northern Idaho, an Idaho-born woman entered the annals of history. In June, 1811, the fur traders at Fort Astoria, on the Oregon coast, wrote of a Kootenai Indian woman who came out of the interior carrying a written message from the trading post on the Spokane River, four hundred miles away.

Not only was the Kootenai woman's journey remarkable, but so was the woman herself. At first the fur traders thought she was a young man, because she dressed like a man and was accompanied by a woman she called her wife. But eventually the traders learned she was a woman, too. Her dress and behavior perplexed them, but not so much as to discourage them from employing her as a guide to lead them into the Columbia River country in search of beaver.

Other traders and explorers also wrote of the "manlike woman" who worked for them as a guide and courier and served her people as a warrior, prophetess, and peacemaker. They consistently recorded that she was dressed in traditional male attire and was always accompanied by a wife.

For the next 25 years, she worked as a professional Columbia and Snake Rivers guide, trapper, courier, and is still honored by the Kootenai people as a "warrior, prophetess, and peacemaker." During that time, between blazing trapper trails and living Kootenai tribal life she, in effect, walked between two worlds.

Her story was passed down through the generations by the Kootenai, even into the twentieth century. But unlike the story of Sacajawea, the story of Kaúxuma Núpika, also knows as Qangon, is not taught to Idaho school children. Qangon was a lesbian berdache, or Two-Spirit. She is one of the forgotten gay people of Idaho's past.

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Reports of encounters with Núpika were recorded by both David Thompson, famous pioneer surveyor, and by Sir John Franklin, of the Franklin Expedition to look for a Northwest Passage. According to the entries Thompson made in his journal concerning her, one in July 1809 and the second in July 1811, she spent time as a sort of second wife to a man named Boisverd, who was one of Thompson's men.

Thompson reports that she "became so common that I had to send her to her relations; as all the Indian men are married, a courtesan is neglected by the men and hated by the women." Presumably she was generating bad feeling by being a loose woman. This was in 1803. Thompson encountered her next on Rainy Lake, near the Upper Columbia River, in July 1809. "She had set herself up for a prophetess," he writes, "and gradually had gained, by her shrewdness, some influence among the natives as a dreamer, and expounder of dreams. She recollected me before I did her, and gave a haughty look of defiance, as much to say, I am now out of your power."

She explained to her people that the whites had changed her sex. She adopted the masculine name of Water Sitting Grizzly.

It was 1811 before Thompson ran into the Manlike Woman again. This time, she walked into his camp seeking asylum for herself and a young woman she called her wife. Thompson describes her as "apparently a young man, well dressed in leather, carrying a Bow and Quiver of Arrows, with his Wife, a young woman in good clothing".

Manlike Woman was in trouble with her adopted tribe, the Chinooks, for predicting diseases to them in her role as prophetess. Thompson says nothing of his own response to this request, but notes that his men found the whole thing a tale worth repeating. On August 2 his journal states that "the story of the Woman that carried a Bow and Arrows and had a Wife, was to them a romance to which they paid great attention and my Interpreter took pleasure in relating it."

John Robert Colombo, author of Mysterious Canada: Strange Sights, Extraordinary Events, and Peculiar Places, extracted the quotes about Manlike Woman from David Thompson's Narrative of His Explorations in Western America: 1784-1812 (1916) edited by J.B. Tyrrell.

Thompson never gives the "Woman that carried a Bow and Arrows and had a Wife" any kind of name. It was Sir John Franklin who refers to her as "the Manlike Woman" in his Narrative of a Second Expedition to the Shores of the Polar Sea (1928), and suggests the label was one given to her by the native people she influenced. Since the lack of a name contributes to obscurity, "Manlike Woman" is pressed into service, here, as the best guess available. It also has the virtue of being shorter than Thompson's "Woman that carried a Bow and Arrows and had a Wife".

Franklin describes Manlike Woman in an account written at Fort Chipewyan in April 1827. According to his story, Manlike Woman was at the heart of a sort of cult belief among the local natives that the future held improvements for them with regard to the material things in life. His source was a Mr. Stewart, who was the local factor for the Hudson's Bay Company. Stewart said Manlike Woman was believed to be supernatural because she excelled in male roles despite her "delicate frame".

Franklin's contribution ends with a fuzzy reference to a journey undertaken by Manlike Woman, involving a packet carried between two Hudson Bay Company posts, "through a tract of country which had not, at that time, been passed by the traders, and which was known to be infested by several hostile tribes." Manlike Woman undertook this journey with her wife, was attacked and wounded in the process, but achieved her objective.

"When last seen by the traders, she had collected volunteers for another war excursion, in which she received a mortal wound. The faith of the Indians was shaken by her death, and soon afterwards the whole story she had invented fell to discredit," Franklin reported, based on what he was told by Stewart.

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