Ozaawindib - a Brave Two-Spirit

Weshcubb (or Wiscoup, or Le Sucre - “The Sugar”) was a mighty warrior known for his prowess as a warrior and his skill as a diplomat. He was the main leader who destroyed all of the villages of Cheyennes and drove them from the Red River valley in North Dakota. It is known that he maintained a village at Red Lake and also at Leech Lake. Weshcubb is also mentioned by explorer Zebulon Pike who met him at Leech Lake on February 11, 1806. Pike reported meeting the chief and other Ojibwe leaders, and learned that the Sioux had once occupied the region, but had been driven away generations previous. However, he was also known for his son Ozaawindib (Yellow Head), who was himself famous as a two-spirit.

The two main historical sources for information on Ozaawindib are Alexander Henry (the Younger) (1765-1814), a fur trader with the North West Company who traveled throughout the Northwest (northwestern Minnesota, North Dakota, Manitoba, and west to the Pacific Ocean) from 1799 to 1808, and John Tanner, who was kidnapped in Kentucky by Shawnee Indians at around age ten and lived most of his life among the Ottawa and Ojibwe. Tanner (ca. 1780-ca. 1846), whose Indian name was Shaw-Shaw-Wabe-Na-Se (The Falcon), was adopted by a female Ottawa chief named Net-no-kwa. He recounts his travels throughout much of the land between Michigan and North Dakota, where his path crossed both Ozaawindib’s and Henry’s.

Ozaawindib was listed as “La Berdash” (Sucre’s son) as porter #4 on Alexander Henry’s Red River brigade. He was noted to be a brave and strong man, albeit a two-spirit. John Tanner also wrote about Ozaawindib. He wrote: “Some time in the course of the winter, there came to our lodge one of the sons of the celebrated chief called Wesh-ko-bug (or Wiscoup, the Sweet [or Le Sucre])…this man was one of those who make themselves women and who are called woman by the Indians. There are several of this sort among most, if not all the Indian tribes; they are commonly called A-go-kwa. This [man] called Ozaw-wen-dib (the Yellow Head) was now near fifty years old and had lived with many husbands.”

Ozaawindib may have dressed and acted like a woman, but he was also a brave warrior. Henry relates an account of Ozaawindib’s heroism in his journal entry dated January 2, 1801:

“Berdash, a son of Sucrie [Sucre, Sweet, or Wiscoup], arrived from the Assiniboine, where he had been with a young man to carry tobacco concerning the war. This person is a curious compound between a man and a woman. He is a man both as to members and courage, but pretends to be womanish, and dresses as such. His walk and mode of sitting, his manners, occupations, and language are those of a woman. His father, who is a great chief amongst the Saulteurs [Ojibwe], cannot persuade him to act like a man…”

“He is very fleet, and a few years ago was reckoned the best runner among the Saulteurs. Both his speed and his courage were tested some years ago on the Schian [Sheyenne] river, when Monsieur Reaume attempted to make peace between the two nations, and Berdash accompanied a party of Saulteurs to the Sioux camp. They at first appeared reconciled to each other through the intercession of the whites, but on the return of the Saulteurs, the Sioux pursued them. Both parties were on foot, and the Sioux have the name of being extraordinarily swift. The Saulteurs imprudently dispersed in the plains, and several were killed; but the party with Berdash escaped without any accident, in the following manner: One of them had got from the Sioux a bow, but only a few arrows. On starting and finding themselves pursued, they ran a considerable distance, until they perceived the Sioux were gaining fast upon them, when Berdash took the bow and arrows from his comrades, and told them to run as fast as possible, without minding him, as he feared no danger. He then faced the enemy, and began to let fly his arrows. This checked their course, and they returned the compliment with interest, but it was so far off that only a chance arrow could have hurt him, as they had nearly spent their strength when they fell near him. His own arrows were soon expended, but he lost no time in gathering up those that fell near him, and thus he had a continual supply.”

“Seeing his friends some distance ahead, and the Sioux moving to surround him, he turned and ran full speed to join his comrades, the Sioux after him. When the latter approached too near, Berdash again stopped and faced them with his bow and arrows, and kept them at bay. Thus did he continue to maneuver until they reached a spot of strong wood which the Sioux dared not enter. Some of the Saulteurs who were present have often recounted the affair to me.”

Read more:

Zebulon Montgomery Pike, The Expeditions of Zebulon Montgomery Pike, to Headwaters of the Mississippi River, through Louisiana Territory, and in New Spain, though the Years 1806-7-8, ed. Elliot Coues, vol. 1 (New York: Francis P. Harper, 1895 [1810]), 156-57.

William W. Warren, History of the Ojibway People (St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society Press, 1984 [1885]), 256.

Alexander Henry and David Thompson, New Light on the Early History of the Greater Northwest, vol. 1, ed. Elliott Coues (New York: Adamant Media Corporation, 2007 [facsimile of 1897 edition published by Francis P. Harper])

Tanner, J. A Narrative of the Captivity and Adventures of John Tanner, 105-6.

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