On Thanksgiving, we always tell the story about how the native people
helped the pilgrims to survive and ultimately thrive in the new world.
This is well and good, but there are so many other inspiring stories
that could be told about the many purposeful, powerful Native American
women who influenced the formation of this country.
I recently came across Woman Spirit, a fascinating web page by Julia White, of Cherokee and Sioux heritage. She writes:
“From the beginning of time, Native women have been a driving force in
their cultures. When the explorers came to the shores of North America,
they provided valuable information and services, which still carries
their mark today. Sadly, little has been written about these women, and
little is known.”
In honor of Native American Heritage Month, this week I will share in
my own words some information that I gleaned about exceptional native
Sheros thanks to Julia White’s research
Big Eyes (Tatooed Woman)
Big Eyes got her name from the two tattoos underlining her eyes, making them seem huge. The facial tattoos were customary decorations for Wichitas women.
When she was a young girl living in the Red River region of what is now East Texas, Big Eyes was captured by the Tejas people and eventually sold as a slave by them to the Tiguex people of Arizona where she remained until she was about 20 years old.
In 1540, the Spanish explorer Francisco Vasquez de Coronado came upon the Tiguex. A great battle was fought and Big Eyes was captured by the Conquistadores and given as property to Juan de Zaldivar, one of Coronado’s captains.
The Spaniards took her with them on their search for the Seven Cities of Cibola and the fabled gold to be found there. They journeyed north and then east along the Pecos and the Red Rivers. When they reached the Texas panhandle, she escaped into the familiar landscape and returned to her people, the Wichitas. She made reputation for herself as a worldly woman by relating many odd and amazing tales about her life with the Spanish and their strange ways.
In the summer of 1542, Hernando de Soto’s expedition from Florida reached the Mississippi Valley where he heard tell of the Wichitas woman who had traveled to the west and back in the company of the great Coronado. De Soto sought Big Eyes out and pressed her for information about Coronado and his travels.
She drew a map in the dirt with her finger for him. It traced the route Coronado had taken from the Rio Grande, as well as the journey she had taken from Tule Canyon back to her homeland. One of de Soto’s troops copied her map onto parchment and the route she had drawn became the first link between the expeditions of Coronado in the west, and de Soto in the east.
Big Eye’s rendering found its way to the mapmakers of Europe who were able, for the first time, to estimate the scope of this continent. Hers was a monumental contribution to the history and physical formation of this country.
Tomorrow Native Sheros – Part 2
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