Let’s look at a tremendous woman who utterly shattered the gender binary and kicked extra ass while we she did: Osch-Tisch. Osch-Tisch (which means “Finds Them and Kills Them” — in case you hadn’t picked up on her badassery yet) was born in 1854 and was assigned the male gender at birth. It turned out she was a baté, which is the Crow word for a woman who was assigned the male gender at birth. (And I’m not using Two Spirit or transgender because, as far as I can find, Osch-Tisch only ever described herself as a woman or a baté.) She filled roles from medicine woman to artist, and became a leader of the baté.
But Osch-Tisch was also known for her tremendous bravery, ferocity, and skill as a warrior. It is from this that she earned her name. The story I’m about to relate only comes from one source, as far as I can tell, because I’ve looked it up in a few places and it’s pretty much verbatim everywhere I look. That source is a Crow woman named Pretty Shield, who was being interviewed about the Battle of the Rosebud — a battle that happened June 17, 1876 where the Crow fought alongside the Shoshoni and the U.S. army against an alliance of Lakota Sioux and Cheyenne.
According to Pretty Shield, Osch-Tisch went into battle that day dressed in traditional men’s garb, which Pretty Shield said was because she was worried about being laughed at if she died on the battlefield in women’s clothing. I suspect she was worried about the U.S. army laughing at her if she died on the battlefield, because I am pretty sure (from my very basic understanding of their culture) the Lakota and Cheyenne wouldn’t have found anything funny about a baté — a bunch of white guys from the mid 1800’s? Yeah, they’d find that funny. During the battle, a Crow warrior was wounded and knocked off of his horse. The Lakota went to take advantage of the opportunity to scalp their fallen foe — but Osch-Tisch was not having any of that. She jumped off of her horse and started firing her gun as rapidly as she could at any and all approaching Lakota. A woman named The Other Magpie joined in — wielding only a coup stick (which is literally a decorated stick). The Other Magpie would hit an enemy with her stick and then a moment later, Osch-Tisch would shoot him dead. (Thus earning the name “Finds Them and Kills Them” even if, technically, The Other Magpie was doing some of the finding.) Eventually the Lakota decided that maybe a scalp wasn’t really worth all of that and fled.
The cooperation with the U.S. army was short-lived, however, and soon the Crow were forced onto a reservation and made to adopt more “civilized” customs. This meant, of course, that in the 1890’s a Federal agent named Briskow rounded up the baté and gave them haircuts and forced them into traditionally masculine clothing. The Crow Nation refused to allow this to happen to Osch-Tisch, and Chief Pretty Eagle used the very small amount of influence he still had with the U.S. government in order to force Agent Briskow into early retirement so that Osch-Tisch would left alone. Briskow’s replacement apparently didn’t want to go into early retirement as well, so he didn’t bother her.
After this, Osch-Tisch attempted to establish an underground network of Two Spirit people across the country. Her hope was that this inter-tribe effort would normalize Two Spirit people and foster understanding of them with the United States government, that they might be allowed to continue. Unfortunately, after Osch-Tisch’s death in 1929 that hope fell apart. There were no more baté in the Crow Nation for a long time after her and much of the knowledge that she held was permanently lost. The Crow Nation internalized the gender binary that was forced upon them by the United States government, and I don’t know if they even have any open baté now.
(Adapted from this Facebook post.)
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