Saturday, April 16, 2005

George Kicking Woman Passes Away

George Kicking Woman, Blackft religious leader, died last week.

The first time I ever heard anything about a Sacred Thunder Pipe Bundle was when I assigned my high school students in the early Sixties to write an essay about their favorite room. Clifford Kicking Woman wrote about his bedroom because the Sacred Bundle hung above his bed. He loved both looking at it and feeling that it protected him.

The first time that I know of Clifford’s parents, George and Molly Kicking Woman, being written about was in a slantwise way by Doug Gold in his book “A Schoolmaster among the Blackfeet.” (Caxton Printers, @1963. LOC 63-7444) They seem to be the focus of the chapter called “The Honeymoon of George Hitting Woman. ” Actually, many of the stories in this book are not personal experiences at all but floating Montana tales rather like urban myths -- things that COULD happen but probably didn’t, which often recounted funny encounters with new-fangled stuff. My father told some of the same stories only they were from South Dakota, where my father grew up.

Anyway, the gimmick in this story is that Gold reserved a hotel room so George could take Molly there for a honeymoon. When the happy couple got there, they turned down the room because they saw that it had a bathroom connected and, being used to bathrooms down the hall to be shared by anyone on the floor, they assumed that everyone on the floor would have to come through their room to use the bathroom. Making the story involve a honeymoon was a way to make interruptions even worse than they would be otherwise.

Gold was writing, or at least published, at a time when ideas and understandings were changing rapidly. In the Sixties with Bob Scriver, I attended my first Sacred Thunder Pipe Bundle Opening at George and Molly Kicking Woman’s house. Molly came from a Canadian family that included many old-time ritualists so their opening was always extra large and rather vigorous, since there is always competition between parts of the Blackfoot Confederacy on the two sides of the 49th parallel. Earl Old Person was there and he asked to tape the ceremony. Refused, he bowed politely, and left.

Then Jim Ludwig insisted that he was going to video tape. They said no, but Ludwig wouldn’t leave. Finally Bob came in handy because he was the City Magistrate and told Ludwig, a white man from back east, that if he didn’t leave, Bob would have him put in jail until after the ceremony. Then Ludwig buckled.

We sat behind old Jim Whitecalf, Jr. who was chewing tobacco and to our enjoyment he (nearly blind), kept spitting the juice accidentally on R.L. Lancaster, a writer from Texas who got a lot of prizes for his book about Jim, but no prizes at all for his social skills. Lancaster had on a crisp new white shirt. Well, at the beginning.

Later on, we became Bundle Keepers ourselves, accepting Richard Little Dog’s Bundle with as authentic a transfer ceremony as we could muster out on the campgrounds on the west end of Browning, right down to Crazy Dogs hired to keep tourists away. The Bundle Keeper’s circle then was recorded by Bob in a sculptor’s way: miniature portraits seated in a circle. Molly and George Kickiing Woman (with one of their grandchildren -- Clyde Heavyrunner, Jr. -- nestled next to Molly), Richard Little Dog, Margaret and Tom Many Guns, Joe Gambler, Louis and Mary Jane Fish, The drummers were Joseph Young Eagle, Joe Old Chief, Louis Fish Wolf Robe and Joe Turtle. I believe that Joe Old Chief and I are the last living members of that circle. George and Molly were the youngest Bundle Keepers then. Several whites entered the circles, but Bob and I were the only all-white couple. The others had Blackfeet wives.

Adolf Hungry Wolf writes about his experiences in “Shadows of the Buffalo: A Family Odyssey Among the Indians.” Beverly, his wife, is a collaborating author. (William Morrow and Co.Inc., @1983. ISBN 0-688-01680-4.) He tells a gentle story that includes these same people.

As the years passed, George and Molly became the oldest, but they never faltered. Every Mother’s Day, partly as an honor to Molly, the Kicking Woman Bundle was opened. They didn’t exclude visitors, though they didn’t advertise, and they were generous when young members of the tribe, some of them militant about reclaiming their heritage, began to be Bundle Keepers. The younger ones were educated, progressive, and determined to keep their heritage alive. Those who couldn’t find anyone with a Bundle to transfer to them found repatriated Bundles returned from museums and “re-kindled” them. Accustomed to Christian church for an hour or so on Sunday morning, they were a little surprised to find out how much time the ceremony took.

George was not, of course, because his whole life was preparation for and participation in Bundle Openings. One smudges and prays with a Bundle at dawn and dusk. One obeys rules, often having to do with avoiding newfangled stuff. For instance, one is not to turn frying meat with a fork. (Use wooden tongs.) There’s that hotel story coming back the other way.

Molly and George were an exceptionally bonded couple -- they never ended their honeymoon. When Molly died, George was devastated. As long as he could still drive, he would go out to the cemetary and park by her grave for many hours. The cemetary workers shared their lunches with him and made sure he left for home while it was still light. There is no doubt that George and Molly are reunited by his death, if you even say they were separated at all.

In more recent years Howard Terpning came through Browning and took a lot of photos of George in Bob Scriver’s lodges and up on the shoulder of Chief Mountain. You’ll find George portrayed in “Grandfather Tells Stories,” sitting by a campfire with a bunch of kids, or up in the mountains holding up a pipe with feathers on it. (He would not have agreed to open to his Thunder Pipe Bundle, so Terpning had to get the pipe details somewhere else.)

It would have been easy for this couple to have closed off everyone from their Keeper ceremonies, even the youngsters of their own tribe, but they didn’t. Rather, they saw the ceremony as something living and tough-fibered that might change but should not be extinguished. In their gentle stubbornness, they are the same.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Wow. What a great post Mary. Thank you for sharing important moments through story telling.

I went to college with a Cliff Kickingwomen, and he came from Montana but had family in Stockton, CA too. He was a great guy, and I think he's the character in your story.

Peace to you from Sonoma County, CA.