For many mid-nineteenth-century Native American women living in the United States, the Civil War was an extremely difficult, turbulent period. Although each Native American tribe’s relationships with white Americans and the federal government differed, many tribes experienced one or more of the following during the war years: the trauma of broken treaties and devastating losses of land, forced marches to new homelands, unfulfilled promises of government-subsidized food, hostile attacks by vigilante bands of white settlers, massacres perpetrated by the U. S. army, starvation, and disease. For women, these disasters and dislocations made their daily lives a never-ending struggle to survive. Although women’s roles varied according to each tribe, all Native American women were concerned with food gathering and food production, the building and maintainance of shelters, childcare, and clothing manufacture. War, forced marches, and moves to new lands made these responsibilities much more arduous, and sometimes impossible to perform adequately.
Of the many myths nineteenth-century white Americans harbored about Native American women, one major assumption permeated all of white society. As one historian has portrayed the white viewpoint, “The Anglo-American image of the ignoble squaw was of a squat, haggard, ugly, papoose-lugging drudge who toiled endlessly while her husband sported in the hunting fields or lolled about the lodge” (Smith, 1987, 65). White Americans also were convinced that Native American women were powerless slaves. In reality, as hard as all Native American women worked, most male and female Native Americans perceived women to be vital members of their communities. Although the men, as the tribes’ hunters and