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‘Much Addicted to Women’
The Beaver Men: Spearheads of Empire by Mari Sandoz

1964, Hastings House, NY, American Procession Series, pages 1-44

Mari Sandoz’s lively account of the early years of the beaver trade, in which French Kings emptied prisons to staff missions of exploration among native peoples and the English and Dutch attempted to undercut the French river trade by buying furs at coastal outlets, is first and foremost a chronicle of ecological disaster, in which Amerindians agree to destroy their carefully managed habitat, to kill the very world which sustained them, for guns, rum and steel.

At the same time, from the earliest French expeditions into North America in the 1530s, through the time the later Plans Tribes referred to as the founding of the Village of Bearded Men on the Missouri river circa 1640, bachelor adventurers, of the condemned men out of prison, such as Champlain’s “bush lopper” Etienne Brule, married and bedded as many Indian maids as humanly possible as they built alliances with various tribes, warred against other tribes and even served as chiefs. These men were in competition with the Jesuits—the priests trying to make pacifistic Christian farmers out of the hunting warrior of the north—agents of empire such as Brule, addicting the Indians to guns and alcohol as mater of course. The Jesuits for their part claimed Brule was “much addicted to women” and a drunkard, which, considering the Jesuit view, makes Brule into something of a Conan.

One trivial note, which indicates how much European contact changed warrior culture in the Eastern Woodlands, was the fact that shields were common up until the general spread of firearms.

Brule was the prototypical white Indian, dressed and painted like his adopted people but still wearing his thick black beard, He travelled as far south as Maryland in 1614 to ally with the Susquehannocks [a mixed race tribe, for which this is the earliest date of mention] against the Five Nations. Brule disappeared for three years, claiming to have been captured by the enemy, with maimed hands as proof of their tortures.

Brule, a chief of the Hurons, is last heard of in an account of them killing and eating him in 1633, though this is highly unlikely, and probably represented a cover story for his disappearance into the depths of the continent after being deposed by the Hurons, whose term for making a chief step down was related to their term for “eating.” The Hurons soon died in an epidemic, which was said to be the revenge of Brule’s sister, for deposing her brother, as he went west, possibly as one of the men who founded the Village of Bearded Men.

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