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The Winkte (Shorty Story No. 28)

Updated on July 9, 2017
Painting by George Catlin
Painting by George Catlin | Source

Author's note

These short stories will be part of the sequel to my novel The Lady Who Loved Bones. Any suggestions for improvement or for future stories are welcome.

Mary Two Stones

Reverend Issac Nelson showed up at Black Wolf’s camp, and he immediately began to say prayers aloud for Sweet Water. He prayed for her recovery and that the others would not be afflicted with smallpox.

Bent Feather came riding in with another individual. Everyone stared curiously, especially Reverend Nelson, at the person who dressed and had the mannerisms of a female, but appeared to be a male, at least to Shorty who raised his eyebrows dramatically and muttered, “Dadgum, not another one. We’ll all be wearing dresses soon.”

“Who is this?” Hannah inquired.

Bent Feather replied, “High Eagle, the medicine man, was nowhere to be found. This is his helper, Mary Two Stones.” Mary said hello in a rather deep voice. She was dressed in a fringed and beaded deerskin dress with green, dark blue, red, pink, and white beads in a geometric pattern.

“The Fetterman Fight!” Shorty blurted.

“Say what?” a confused Hannah responded.

“The Fetterman Fight,” Shorty repeated. “I heared of the name Mary Two Stones. She was there.”

Black Wolf boasted, “I too was there. Fetterman and white eyes trapped and massacred due to visions of winkte.”

Mary nodded and spoke. “I am wakan to my people, sacred and supernatural. The Grandfathers tell me this. Anog Ite call me in a vision to be that which I am.”

Hannah explained to the puzzled expressions that in Lakota legend, Anog Ite is the daughter of the first man and first woman and the wife of Tate, wind spirit. Via seduction she tried to replace Hanwi, spirit of the moon, as wife of Wi, spirit of the sun. Skan, the sky spirit, found her out and condemned her to live forever with two faces, one very beautiful and the other terribly ugly. Anog Ite, the Double-Faced Woman, was separated from her children and because of that, she causes pain to pregnant woman and makes babies cry. Hannah ended with, “Mary is a winyanktehca, a male who has the compulsion to behave as a female. The winkte can mediate between the psychic and the physical since the person possesses the vision of both sexes.”

“What a load of nonsense!” Reverend Nelson roared. “So some heathen god told Mary, a man, to act as a woman? Baloney! Acting in this manner is a sin. Do I need to read you the Bible verses again?”

“No thank you,” Hannah replied. “I think we all understand what your views are. I’m interested in this Fetterman business.”

"Dance to the Berdache" painting by George Catlin
"Dance to the Berdache" painting by George Catlin | Source

Dance to the Berdache

Helen interjected, “French explorers in the 17th and 18th centuries encountered individuals that they could not classify as either male or female. They called them berdache, a slur of Persian origin meaning a passive male who engages in sexual relations with other males. And George Catlin painted “Dance to the Berdache.”

“How would you know that, about Catlin?” Hannah asked.

“I’m very interested in this subject,” Helen responded, “all this wintke and berdache business.”

“Yup, I wonder why,” Shorty snapped.

Hannah said, “Back to George Catlin. When I was living in Philadelphia I met him. He went all over the West and up the Missouri River to Fort Union. Catlin was the first white man to depict plains Indians in their native territory. He had over 600 paintings stored in a warehouse in Philadelphia and I was permitted to view them, including ‘Dance to the Berdache.’ Catlin was disgusted by the practice according to his writing. He wrote notes on the scenes he depicted in his paintings. I had several conversations with him. He was a friend of my mentor, Professor Leidy.”

Helen added, “Another who wrote about men who act like women was the French Jesuit missionary Lafitau. That was back in 1724.”

“A Jesuit!” Reverend Nelson exclaimed. “No wonder.”

Shorty interrupted, “That reminds me of a story. Two men considering a religious vocation were having a conversation. ‘What is similar about the Jesuit and Dominican Orders?’ the one asked. The second replied, ‘Well, they were both founded by Spaniards — St. Dominic for the Dominicans, and St. Ignatius of Loyola for the Jesuits. They were also both founded to combat heresy — the Dominicans to fight the Albigensians, and the Jesuits to fight the Protestants.’ The first asked, ‘What is different about the Jesuit and Dominican Orders?’ “Met any Albigensians lately?’ the second asked.”

“What’s your point?” Reverend Nelson snapped.

Hannah responded, “The point is that religion has done much to persecute those who do not conform to the dogma. Specifically, in this case I am talking about suppression of the two-spirit gender identity found in certain tribes. Wintke and berdache defy Western and Christian conceptions of normal sexuality and gender. So it must be suppressed. Surprise, surprise.”

“You perverts are all going to hell!” Reverend Nelson screamed.

“Actually, Shorty’s story about the Albigensians was kind of funny,” Hannah complimented. “So Shorty, I hear you are a clown in the circus.”

“Yup,” Shorty confirmed. “George Bartholomew of the Great Western Circus hired me personally. He lost a clown, a dwarf named Sammy Shorty, who got eaten by a giant snake. Like that one we have with us, Beezelbub, except bigger, much bigger. Oh, and besides a clown, I am the sheriff of Helena.”

Hannah said, “Shorty, you’ve come a long way since Hex found you gambling in Virginia City and hired you to go along on the expedition to find fossils.”

Magic medicine
Magic medicine | Source

Alternative medicine

Shorty asked, “Hannah, when we were on the expedition do you remember the talk about that Prince Max fella, the one who brought our late German friends Hans and Heinrich to the West?”

“Oh sure,” Hannah replied. “Prince Alexander Philipp Maximilian zu Wied-Neuwied. In 1832 he was accompanied by my favorite painter, Karl Bodner, on a trip up the Missouri River. Prince Max commented on the Crow having many berdaches. He also discovered a large dinosaur fossil. Unfortunately, he didn’t bring it back with him.”

Reverend Nelson interrupted, “Smallpox is God’s punishment for sexual immorality.”

Hannah ignored him and said, “Thomas Jefferson had Meriwhether Lewis take some smallpox vaccine on his trip with Clark in 1804 up the Missouri River. The vaccine was “kinepox,” a fluid obtained from the blisters of the cowpox virus to be used in inoculating the Indians against smallpox. Unfortunately, the medicine went bad and requested replacement never arrived.”

Mary Two Stones had been paying considerable attention to Helen Strong’s camel. Doc Eberlin began to watch Mary closely who appeared to be doing something to the camel’s skin.

“What is that crazy Injun doing?” Shorty asked.

“Camelpox,” Doc Eberlin responded. “Medicine for the smallpox.”

Mary administered the medicine to Sweet Water. Along with a potion of various roots and some substances that she had in a pouch that had been hidden under her dress. And then she shook her rattles and began the Smallpox Dance.


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