Trumbull's "Brothers by adoption," 1876

In his book on Friendship the Master-Passion Or The Nature And History Of Friendship, And Its Place As A Force In The World, first published in 1892, H. Clay Trumbull describes an event of 1876 which illustrates the "warm friendship" existing between two Native "brothers by adoption."

An officer of the United States army, who has given much study to the customs of the North American Indians, tells of the warm friendship sometimes existing between men of the same tribe, or even between two men of hostile tribes, under the name of "brothers by adoption." Speaking of the Arapahoe warriors in this connection, he says: "They really seem to 'fall in love' with men; and I have known this affectionate interest to live for years, surviving lapse of time and separation." An illustration of the heroism inspired by such a friendship is given by this officer, as coming under his own observation. Three Bears and Feather-on-the-Head were attached friends, and were together as scouts in the United States service. In the early gray of a cold morning in the late autumn of 1876, the government force to which these scouts were attached made a surprise attack on an Indian village in a canon of the Big Horn Mountains. The horse ridden by Three Bears becoming unmanageable dashed ahead of the attacking party, carrying his rider into the very heart of the village, where all were now aroused for the defense of their homes and lives. Seeing his friend's desperate peril, Feather-on-the-Head urged forward his pony, in order to save his friend or to die with him. Throwing himself from side to side of his pony to avoid the thick-flying shots of the enemy as he dashed on, Feather-on-the-Head reached the center of the village just as the horse of Three Bears had fallen under him. Sweeping past the spot where his imperiled friend stood, at the full speed of his pony, Feather-on-the-Head caught up Three Bears and mounted him behind himself. Then together the two hero-friends flew unharmed through the shower of bullets out of that valley of death; and regained their place with their command in safety. Who will say that this act of Indian heroism through friendship is undeserving of mention alongside of the heroic exploits in the legends of Greece and Rome and the Norseland?[1]


Jonathan Ned Katz, Gay American History: Lesbians and Gay Men in the U.S.A. (NY: Crowell, 1976) pg. 311-312.

  1. H. Clay Trumbull, Friendship the Master-Passion, or, The Nature and History of Friendship, and Its Place as a Force in the World (Phila.: John D. Wattles, 1894), p. 165-66. Trumbull also describes a "Friendship Dance," a religious ceremony by which recognition is made of the "union" of two warriors (p. 71-72). Trumbull is the author of The Blood Covenant (Phila.: J. D. Wattles, 1893) about an organized, intimate brotherhood. Trumbull (1830-1903) himself had passionate friendships with Henry Ward Camp and Robert E. Speer (see Phillip E. Howard, The Life Story of Henry Clay Trumbull [Phila.: Sunday School Times, 1905], p. 194 If. [to p. 230], 413). I wish to thank Stephen W. Foster for the above sources and information. The Rev. James Owen Dorsey, in an essay on "Omaha Sociology," dating to 1881-82 quotes Native sources on homosexuality (Third Annual Report, 1881-82, Bureau of American Ethnology, Smithsonian Institution [Washington, D.C.; Govt. Ptg. Ofc., 1884], p. 266, 268, 365 [on "Schoopanism, or paederastia). In his book On The Leruipe and Their Legends ... first published in 1884, Daniel G. Brinton includes a section on "The Lanape as 'Women,'" and refers to Hammond's report of 1882 (Phil.: D. G. Brinton, 1885), p. 109-10.