Parkman's "Romantic friendships," 1846

Parkman's famous narrative of his 1846 journey on the Oregon Trail refers to a "romantic" 'friendship between two male Sioux, Rabbit and Hail-Storm, one of the rare allusions to male-male intimacy not involving cross-dressing; Parkman's own descriptions of Hail-Storm stress his sensual beauty.

Parkman first sees Hail-Storm among a group of "mountain men" in the home of a white man, about seven miles from Fort Laramie.

The most striking figure of the group was a naked Indian boy of sixteen, with a handsome face, and light, active proportions, who sat in an easy posture in the corner near the door. Not one of his limbs moved the breadth of a hair ...

Later Parkman and Reynal, a Native companion, have just returned from an unsuccessful antelope hunt, when they spy:

the Hail-Storm, his light, graceful figure reclining on the ground in an easy attitude, while with his friend the Rabbit, who sat by his side, he was making an abundant meal from a wooden bowl of wasna, which the squaw had placed between them. Near him lay the fresh skin of a female elk, which he had just killed among the mountains, only a mile or two from the camp. No doubt the boy's heart was elated with triumph, but he betrayed no sign of it. He even seemed totally unconscious of our approach, and his handsome face had all the tranquillity of Indian self-control,-a self-control which prevents the exhibition of emotion without restraining the emotion itself. It was about two months since I had known the Hail-Storm, and within that time. his character had remarkably developed. When I first saw him he was just emerging from the habits and feelings of the boy into the ambition of the hunter and warrior. He had lately killed his first deer, and this had excited his aspirations for distinction. Since that time he had been continually in search of game, and no young hunter in the village had been so active or so fortunate as he. All this success had produced a marked change in his character.

As I first remembered him he always shunned the society of the young squaws, and was extremely bashful and sheepish in their presence; but now, in the confidence of his new reputation he began to assume the air and arts of a man of gallantry. He wore his red blanket dashingly over his left shoulder, painted his cheeks every day with vermilion, and hung pendants of shells in his ears. If I observed aright, he met with very good success in his new pursuits ...

Parkman adds:

Neither should the Hail-Storm's friend the Rabbit, be passed by without notice. The Hail-Storm and he were inseparable; they ate, slept, and hunted together, and shared with one another almost all that they possessed. If there be anything that deserves to be called romantic in the Indian character, it is to be sought for in friendships such as this, which are common among many of the prairie tribes.[1]


Jonathan Ned Katz, Gay American History: Lesbians and Gay Men in the U.S.A. (NY: Crowell, 1976) pg. 303-304.

  1. Francis Parkman, The Oregon Trail, ed. E. N. Feltskog (Madison: University of Wisconsin, 1969), p. 100-101, 280-282, 283. Parkman's references in the same work to Lord Byron are also relevant (see p. 30, 304-05, 458, 624, 652-53), as is his relation to the cousin with whom he traveled (see note 1, p. 415 in above ed.). Parkman's La Salle and the Discovery of the Great West, first published in 1879, contains a note on "licentious" practices among the Illinois: "Young men enacting the part of women were frequently to be seen among them. These were held in great contempt. Some of the early travellers ... mistook them for hermaphrodites" (Francis Parkman's Works, vol. 3 [Boston: Little, Brown, 1903J, p. 207).