We love it when we learn about historical accounts of men being men and about the men who loved them. One of the fun resources that is out there is the History Boys blog on DailyXtra.com. In one of their latest posts "Same-Sex Love In The Saddle: The Homosexual World Of The American Frontier," they tell a tale of men in the 19th-century frontier having wild dances, finding love, and taking part in bachelor marriages.
Forget Brokeback Mountain — what if our perceptions of cowboys as macho, invincibly heterosexual, homophobic manly-men are all wrong?
The 19th-century American frontier was one of the the gayest periods in the country’s history, sexually speaking. Scottish-born adventurer and noted homosexual William Drummond Stewart knew what he’d find in the untamed west.
… Although it’s undocumented if he ever consummated his homosexual feelings in these early years, Stewart was certainly aware of them, and of the dangers they posed in a society on a moral crusade. He wrote two autobiographical novels, but named his narrator “Edward Warren.” In the book, Warren describes his inner struggle with his desires.
… After his military career, Stewart split his time between his family’s estate in Scotland and their London home in the Belgravia district. He learned quickly that a moral campaign against sodomites and increased police prosecution throughout the early 19th century made the UK a less than ideal place for the homosexually inclined.
… In Men in Eden: William Drummond Stewart and Same-Sex Desire in the Rocky Mountain Fur Trade, author and historian William Benemann muses that it would have been an enviable set-up: a lowborn mistress and a bastard child, proving the still unmarried man’s heterosexuality. Stewart’s fantasies for an all-male world untainted by female contaminant did not include a “beard,” like his fake wife. He would soon find this masculine utopia in the American west.
The American West was literally a man’s world. According to the Annenberg Learner’s article, “Paradise of Bachelors,” the 1850 California census showed that more than 90 percent of the state’s population consisted of men, which likely reflected the rest of the fledgling territories’ population.
… Groups of all-male units would build little homes together, working their mining claims, sharing a common fund of money divided equally with men who had never cooked, washed or mended clothing before learning to do so for their newfound familial unit. “Paradise of Bachelors” notes that “household intimacy inherent in camp life could also transcend racial difference. White men amicably shared tents, food, and economic responsibilities with Chinese, African American, and Latino miners.”
In this all-male society, lines between emotional and sexual relationships blurred easily. Depending on the racial group each labourer came from they may have had their own ideas about men who have sex with men, but there was no concept of “homosexual” or “heterosexual.” The article notes:
As traditional notions of “normal” gender roles were challenged and unsettled, men could display both subtly and openly the erotic connections they felt for other men. When the miners at Angel Camp in southern California held dances, half of the men danced the part of women, wearing patches over the crotches of their pants to signal their “feminine” role. Men routinely shared beds in mining communities and on the range, and cowboys and miners settled into partnerships that other men recognized (and sometimes referred to) as “bachelor marriages.”
… Our Scottish dandy, William Drummond Stewart, first arrived in America in 1832, when he was 36 years old. He began his new life in St Louis, Missouri, where he accompanied a pack train west to an 1833 “rendezvous” of hunters and trappers in the Green River Valley of Wyoming. At the rendezvous he met a renowned French Canadian-Cree hunter named Antoine Clement, who became his lover.
As Benemann notes from Stewart’s autobiography, Warren (Stewart’s narrative stand-in), meets a “seductively handsome American Indian, and indeed it was not uncommon for a European who had carefully repressed his homosexuality at home to find it blossoming — to his dismay and to his wonderment — once he encountered Native Americans so strikingly handsome that it became almost a cliché to compare them to a naked Adonis or Apollo.”
The couple would stay together for a decade, even travelling to Murthly Castle in 1839 after the death of his childless older brother, to take up his position. They lived in Dalpowie Lodge on the estate, and he presented Clement first as a valet, then as a footman. Clement was apparently unhappy in Scotland, and so they spent a significant amount of time traveling, including a visit to the Middle East, before eventually returning to America together.
Head over to the History Boys blog on DailyXtra.com or the History Boys on Facebook for more of Stewart's story, his dream of recapturing the glory age of the frontiersman rendezvous, but with festive pennants, colorful tents, and naked men running into nearby lakes.
How does Stewart's time in America end? Happily ever after? Give the History Boys a click and find out.