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BarCheeAmpe (1806 - 1854)

Updated: Jan 17

Two Spirit Woman Chief

Pine Leaf (Barcheeampe in Crow) was born around 1806, a member of the Gros Ventre, a neighboring tribe in the foothills of Montana. Around the age of ten, her home was raided by the Apsáalooke (Crow), who captured her and brought her back to their village. She was raised by foster parents among the Crow, but instead of being happy doing the same boring stuff the other girls were doing, she was interested only in combat. She practiced and excelled at horseback riding, archery, rifle marksmanship, and hunting, and, before long, became known among her people as the best shot and the fastest rider in the village. When her foster brothers were killed or captured in battle, Pine Leaf's father encouraged her "to be as a son", and she honored him by swearing to avenge the fallen brothers.

As a teenager, Pine Leaf's warrior father was killed by the Blackfoot Tribe. She rallied a small army and led a retaliatory raid, killing and taking prisoner those who attacked her people. She became known as Woman Chief, and set out to make peace treaties with the surrounding tribes.

Pine Leaf married four wives and killed at least five men in combat. She became one of the Crows' most significant leaders, joining the Council of Chiefs as the third ranking member.

Early 19th Century Crow Village

Pine Leaf was a Two-Spirit person. Two-Spirit is a term used by indigenous North Americans to describe a gender-variant individual. Pine Leaf became so adept at hunting and warfare that she rose to become their chief. She was known for her horse riding, marksmanship, and ability to field-dress a buffalo. Unlike other Two-Spirits, she wore typical female clothing rather than adopting men's garments. 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.”

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.

Pine Leaf died negotiating a peace treaty.

BarCheeAmpe was also the name of the first LGBT Native American group, founded in New York City in 1990. The group brought together Native queer people to challenge settler colonialism and defend Native peoples. The group also drew non-Native queers of color into antiracist queer alliances committed to Native decolonization.

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