Saturday, November 28, 2015
David Thompson's Narrative of His Explorations in North America: 1784-1812: Piegan Marriage Customs
Smithsonian American Art Museum
David Thompson's Narrative of His Explorations in North America
The young men seldom marry before they are fully grown, about the age of 22 years or more, and the women about sixteen to eighteen. The older women who are related to them are generally the match makers, and the parties come together without any ceremony. On the marriage of the young men, two of them form a tent until they have families, in which also reside the widowed Mothers and Aunts. Polygamy is allowed and practiced, and the Wife more frequently than her husband [is] the cause of it, for when a family comes[,] a single wife can no longer do the duties and labor required unless she, or her husband, have two widowed relations in their tent, and which frequently is not the case; and a second Wife is necessary, for they have to cook, take care of the meat, split it and dry it; procure all the wood for fuel, dress the skins into soft leather for robes and clothing; which they have to make and mend, and other duties which leaves scarce any part of the day to be idle, and in removing from place to place and taking down of the tents and putting them up are all performed by women. Some of the Chiefs have from three to six wives, for until a women is near fifty years of age, she is sure to find a husband. A young Indian with whom I was acquainted and who was married[,] often said, he would never have more than one wife, he had a small tent, and one of his aunts to help his wife; Nearly two years afterwards passing by where he was, I entered his tent, and [found] his first wife, as usual, sitting beside him, and on the other side three fine women in the prime of life, and as many elderly of the sex, in the back part. When I left the tent, he also came out, and telling me not to laugh at him for what he formerly said of having only one wife and he would explain to me how he had been obliged to take three more. "After I last saw you a friend of mine, whom I regarded and loved as a brother would go to war, he got wounded, returned, and shortly after died, relying on my friendship when dying[,] he requested his parents to send his two wives to me, where he was sure they would be kindly treated and become my wives. His parents brought them to me, with the dying request of my friend, what could I do but grant the claim of my friend, and make them my wives. Those are the two that sit next to the door. The other one was the wife of a cousin who was also a friend of mine; he fell sick and died, and bequeathed his wife to my care. The old women at the back of the tent are their relations. I used to hunt Antelopes, their skin make the finest leather for clothing, although the meat is not much, yet it is good and sufficient for us; but now I have given that over, and to maintain seven women and myself am obliged to confine myself to hunting Red Deer and the Bison, which give us plenty of meat, tho' the leather is not as good."