Biawacheeitche or Woman Chief was born to the Gros Ventre tribe. She was captured and adopted by the Apsáalooke (Crow) nation when she was ten. At an early age she showed an inclination towards male pursuits. According to Edwin Thompson Denig, a fur trader who knew her for several years, she could “rival any of the young men in all their amusements and occupations.” She was “fearless in everything” and adept at hunting and warfare. She led large war parties and was recognized as the third highest leader in a band of 160 lodges. Although she wore the dress of a woman she kept up “all the style of a man and chief, [she] has her guns, bows, lances, war horses, and even two or three young women as wives....the devices on her robe represent some of her brave acts.” In 1854 she was killed by the Gros Ventre near Fort Union.
Her story was popularized in James Beckwourth’s memoirs, in which she is referred to as Pine Leaf. Beckwourth was an emancipated slave, fur trader and mountain man that had apparently fallen in love with Woman Chief. After refusing his proposals of marriage multiple times, she finally conceded that she will marry him only “when the pine leaves turn yellow.” Later Beckwourth realized that pine leaves do not turn yellow.
Denig, Edwin Thompson. Five Indian Tribes of the Upper Missouri: Sioux, Arickaras, Assiniboines, Crees, Crows. Ed. John C. Ewers. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1961.
Kurz, Rudolph Friederich. Journal of Rudolph Friederich Kurz: An Account of His Experiences among Fur Traders and American Indians on the Mississippi and the Upper Mississippi Rivers during the Years 1846 to 1852. Ed. J.N.B. Hewitt. Trans. Myrtis Jarrell. University of Nebraska Press, 1970.
Lang, Sabine. Men as Women, Women as Men: Changing Gender in Native American Cultures. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1998.
Roscoe, Will. Changing Ones: Third and Fourth Genders in Native North America. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1998.
Williams, Walter L. The Spirit and the Flesh: Sexual Diversity in American Indian Culture. Boston: Beacon Press, 1986.
United States. Bureau of American Ethnology. Annual report of the Bureau of American Ethnology to the Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution. Washington: BAE. 1895.