This story is for Stanley Chief Coward and also G. The artifact is the birth amulet shaped like a snake and beaded in blue with yellow crosses.
1901-1924 Historical Time-Line
1901: Last recorded smallpox epidemic. Willow Creek School is in a disastrous state. Discipline is enforced with confinement to "cells," like an old meat refrigerator with holes in it or a root cellar often flooded and full of rodents and rotten vegetables. These places were sometimes too small to permit lying down. The offenders were fed bread and water. Monteath recommends the Cut Bank Creek location for a new school. Smallpox returns. It seems impossible to keep a quarantine, especially with the railroad. There is much tuberculosis. Commissioner Jones wants the Indians to cut their hair and for their rations to be cut, though the rations were the compensation for giving up parts of the reservation. President William McKinley assassinated; Teddy Roosevelt becomes President. Walt Disney is born. Picasso is in his "blue period." Ragtime jazz is developing. Adrenalin first found. The first American bowling tournament is in Chicago.
1902: Great Falls Tribune headline: "Piegan Indians in Open Revolt." Monteath threatens to arrest White Calf, whereupon the Indian police all quit and Little Dog comes to say that if he dares to do such a thing, Monteath will be bound with ropes and thrown in front of the next train. Blackfeet population is estimated at 2,084 with 50 births and 33 deaths. Cattle are at 10,000 (with 4,000 calves) and horses at over 22,000. Mike Connelly is one of the Montana stockmen running cows on the Rez. The entire focus is on farming and much attention is given to irrigation and water rights. This is a flood year, washing out 75% of the seeds. 64 kids attend the Jesuit school and 57 go to the deplorable Willow Creek school. Monteath blames his troubles on half-breeds, especially Joe Kipp, Maggie Wetzel (who married Joe Kipp) and Horace Clarke. He wants them confined to a separate reservation or removed completely. John Steinbeck is born. Chekhov writes “The Three Sisters." William James writes “The Varieties of Religious Experience." Enrico Caruso makes his first record. Cushing begins studying the pituitary gland. The Aswan Dam is opened.
1903: Old White Calf dies. He is the last of the old-time head chiefs. A formal tribal council is organized. Joe Kipp and Horace Clarke are on it plus seven older full bloods. By now the ration roll is cut down from 2,100 to 550. Cattle have gone from 19,709 to 19,090. Monteath is complaining about Horace and Helen Clarke, and Horace is banned from the Res, though he's on the council. There is an outbreak of mange among the cattle. The Alaskan frontier is settled. Jack London writes "The Call of the Wild." Whistler, Gauguin, and Pissaro died. "The Great Train Robbery" is filmed. The Wright brothers successfully fly the first airplane. The electrocardiograph is invented. The first coast-to-coast crossing of American by car takes 65 days. The Teddy bear is invented.
1904: Boarding school on Cut Bank Creek opened for students. Through a lease for cattle grazing, the Conrad Investment Company manages to divert water from Birch Creek. Ration roll cut to less than 100. This is a drought year and gardens fail. Grass is dried up. The north and south boundary fences are finished. Rev. Matson, who had run Willow Creek Methodist Mission for ten years, dies. Grazing permit system begins. Daniel Floweree brings 7,000 cattle in. J. H. Sherburne, W.C. Broadwater, and Simon Pepin are in business through the latter partnership is denied permits at first. Thad Scriver has arrived as a clerk for Sherburne. Teddy Roosevelt re-elected. W.H. Hudson writes “Green Mansions.” James Barrie writes “Peter Pan.” Anton Chekhov writes “The Cherry Orchard” and dies. Weber writes "The Protestant Ethic and the Birth of Capitalism." Rolls Royce is founded. The first ultraviolet lamps are made. Yellow fever is eradicated in Panama. 10-hour work day is established in France. Paris conference on the white slave trade. Broadway subway opened in New York. New York cop arrests woman for smoking in public. Helen Keller graduates from Radcliffe. First trench warfare used. Steerage rates for immigrants to U.S. cut to $10.
1905: A list of stock on the reservation shows 12,000 Blackfeet horses, 1,200 cattle owned by the Agency traders, 300 cows belonging to the Jesuits at the Holy Family Mission, and enough others to total 42,464. Most of those were "lease" or "permit" cattle which the fence was now keeping in. Charles Conrad's heirs claim he is due $30,000 for helping with negotiations in 1896. Provinces of Saskatchewan and Manitoba formed. Sinn Fein formed in Ireland. Jules Verne dies. Albert Schweitzer writes “J. S. Bach.” Einstein formulates the theory of relativity. Rayon appears. The first neon lights appear. Mount Wilson observatory completed in California. The Rotary Club founded.
1906: James Jensen comes as acting agent, then Captain J.Z. Dare. He discovers that the Indians are having to pay the same grazing fees on the Rez as the white cattlemen are. Dare lets Horace Clarke come back. Floweree, Pepin, and Broadwater all expand their grazing permits. The drought continues and overgrazing begins to be evident. '06/'07 was a bad winter and much stock was lost. Floweree wanted a 40% rebate on his permit. Franco becomes Prime Minister of Spain. Ruth St. Denis introduces modern dance. Ibsen dies. Winston Churchill writes ‘Life of Lord Randolph Churchill.” Cezanne dies and Garbo is born. U.S. Food and Drug Act. Allergies understood. China and Britain agree to the reduction of opium production. "Typhoid Mary" is found. Night shift work for women internationally forbidden. San Francisco earthquake kills 700. Damage equals $400 million.
1907: The Blackfeet ask Dare, who asks Washington, whether there isn't a "Big Claim." This idea is braced back to Agent Baldwin, but the government denies any claims at all. The Blackfeet win the case over water with the Conrad Investment Company. Teddy Roosevelt bars Japanese from entering the US. Oklahoma joins the Union. Rasputin dominates Tsar Nicholas II. Panic of 1907 causes a run on banks, stopped by J.P. Morgan importation of $100 million in gold from Europe. Nobel prize for literature goes to Rudyard Kipling. First cubist exhibition in Paris. The first Ziegfield Follies. Baden-Powell forms the Boy Scouts. Mother's Day established. 1907-08 turns out to be another rough winter. Montanans succeeded in getting "allotment" on the reservation, which they equated with it being opened for exploitation. (It meant that instead of the tribe holding the land communally, it would be divided up and assigned to individuals--with a good bit left over for sale to outsiders.) In the end allotment takes ten years and requires Congressional intervention to solve the scramble over oil and mineral lands. It turns out Dare has not been properly putting Tribal money in their fund. Rather he has been putting it in the United States account. There is no way to trace the lost money. Lebreche is encouraged to sell all his cattle and buy a much-needed sawmill, but once he has it, the government prohibits him from using it. Willits and Scriver begin the Browning Mercantile.
1908: James Sanders briefly acts as agent and then C.A. Churchill comes. Churchill gets into a fracas with Broadwater, who allowed several thousand sheep to graze on the Rez through his job as Stock Yard Manager for the Great Northern. Churchill is depositing stock permit money in his personal account. He divides the Rez into districts and tries to control the removal of cattle, but Floweree defies him. Churchill points out that the money brought in by the permits is at least balanced by the amount of damage (overgrazing and diseases) and informal rustling that goes on so there is little or no profit. Churchill's daughter marries the son of J.H. Sherburne. (This would be Eula Sherburne.) William Howard Taft becomes president. Union of South Africa founded. Lyndon Johnson born. Isadora Duncan popular. Kenneth Grahame writes “The Wind in the Willows” and E.M. Forster writes “A Room with a View.” Lucy M. Montgomery writes “Anne of Green Gables.” The first steel and glass building put up in Berlin. Ammonia synthesized. Bakelite invented. Earthquake in southern Calabria and Sicily kills 150,000. General Motors Corporation formed. Fountain pens popular. The first "Model T."
1909. Frank Lloyd Wright builds Robie House near the University of Chicago. Frederic Remington dies. Peary reaches the North Pole. First permanent waves given to women.
1910: US Census counts 2,268 Blackfeet on reservation. Complaints that traders are overcharging, or have a number of different prices, depending on who is asking. Hints that Agent Churchill pressures those who don't pay their bills. 150 Rocky Boy Chippewa are dumped on the Rez. They have no place to go. King Edward VII dies and is succeeded by George V. Japan annexes Korea. China abolishes slavery. U.S. Congress passes the Mann Act which prohibits transportation of women across state lines for immoral purposes. E. M Forster writes “Howard's End.” Mark Twain and Leo Tolstoi die. Karl May writes “Winnetou.” William James, Julia Ward Howe, and Mary Baker Eddy die. Puccini stages "The Girl of the Golden West", the opera, in NYC. Stravinsky stages “The Firebird,” a ballet. The first deep-sea research expedition. Halley's comet. People begin taking "week-ends." The first Father's Day established by Jack Dodd's mother. (Jack marries Helen Tellefero. He is the head of Glacier Park for a while.)
1911: McFatridge is the new agent. He, his wife and his son are called "The father, son and holy terror." 9,000 outsider’s cattle remain and McFatridge asks to throw them off. His reservation doctors quit, so he ends up treating tuberculosis, trachoma and VD himself. Rev. R.A. Riggin, the Methodist missionary, is running cattle instead of doing mission work, so he is assessed $1,700 in fees and pays half that. There is constant wrestling with the Conrad Investment Company and the Conrad-Valier Water Company over water rights. The cost of the Rez irrigation systems is charged against the assets of the tribe. The Indian Office gave Great Northern a right of way for a wagon road from Midvale to the park entrance as well as timber and gravel. Congress approved the Great Northern to build hotels and take land from townsites for $30 an acre. McFatridge first valued them at $90, but was leaned on by the Indian Office and made the adjustment downward. Revolution in China. A republic declared and Chinese pigtails banned. Mona Lisa stolen from the Louvre. Roald Amundsen reaches the South Pole. Nobel prize to Marie Curie. Reservation alloted to individuals
1912: July 20, Blackfeet reservation-wide survey on land. Allotment was about ready. Cattle rustling was a major problem. McFatridge formed "The Blackfeet Stock Protective Association." The reservation fence was taken down and sold. Rocky Boy's Chippewa had been allotted Blackfeet land, but showed little enthusiasm and instead were given Ft. Assiniboine's abandoned land. Robert J. Hamilton,. a half-breed who had been adopted by A. B. Hamilton, a Fort Whoop-Up whiskey trader, led a delegation to Washington, D.C. to complain that the old people were starving, the tribal council was being run by the agent, and the Blackfeet water rights has been stolen. McFatridge's son, Leslie, had threatened S.E. Selecman, the Browning Public School principal, who thrashed him. From then on it was war between the agent and the principal. Selecman had to go to court to keep his job. Woodrow Wilson is president. Arizona and New Mexico becomes states. In the US approx. 5 million people visit cinemas daily. Leopold Stokowski becomes the conductor of the Philadelphia Symphony Orchestra. Vitamins and cellophane invented. V. Stefansson and R. Anderson explore Arctic Canada. Wilson's cloud chamber detects protons and electrons. Titanic sinks. The "Piltdown Man" found. Woolworth founded. The first successful parachute jump. Jim Thorpe is the outstanding sportsman at the Stockholm Olympic Games, but when it is discovered that he played semi-professional baseball in 1911, his gold medals and trophies are taken from him and his records erased from the books.
1913: Scriver (now an American citizen) buys Willets out of the Browning Mercantile. The Great Northern had its stumpage fees for their new road waived. Balkan War. Richard Nixon born. Willa Cather, D.H. Lawrence, and Robert Frost are publishing. Eleanor H. Porter writes “Pollyanna.” Grand Central Terminal opens in NYC. Geiger invents the geiger counter. The composition of chlorophyll, Vitamin A, and the basic theories of jet propulsion discovered. Panama Canal opens.
1914: Dealing with "surplus" lands (unalloted) becomes an issue. McFatridge has his own committee which includes James Perrine, Levi Burd, Malcolm Clarke and Charles Buck. The only land being farmed by irrigation was a 30 acre demo plot on Seville. Wolf Tail is the Chair of the Tribal Council and James Perrine is the secretary. Perrine says that only half-breeds of proven competence should get their allotments and that the irrigation project should be shut down. The Blackfeet want to reserve the mineral rights, but the Indian Office tries to assure them there are no minerals except low grade coal. Now McFatridge is willing to allow outside cattle (Rocky Creek Ranch Company, which is C.B. Power and friends. C.B. is the son of T.C.) as many as 20,000. At the time the Blackfeet owned 12,000 cows and 9,000 horses. Indians with allotments were leasing them to white ranchers. Many complain that the elderly full bloods around Heart Butte are starving. White Antelope leads a group of 200 full-bloods who complain of agent corruption. Elsie Newton reports six or eight polygamous families, adultery and prostitution and "two flourishing churches." (Presbyterian -- this would be the Reverend James Gold, father of Douglas -- and Catholic.) She thought the whites were as immoral as the Indians. Other inspectors from the government find McFatridge in chaos, Cut Bank Boarding School a tragedy, and the stock and land allotments confused if not unfairly distributed on purpose. They recommend he be removed. World War I begins. James Joyce writes “Dubliners” and Joyce Kilmer writes “Trees.” E.R. Burroughs writes “Tarzan of the Apes.” Pope Pius X succeeded by Benedict XV. Henry Bacon designs the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC. First successful heart surgery on a dog.
1915: McFatridge dismissed and runs off to Canada with $1200. C.L. Ellis takes charge. A million dollars has been spent on irrigation projects that are not used. Some were badly made and others are in disrepair. All this cost was handled as liens on the allotments. The Indians are collectively in debt to Indian traders for $115,000 and the agent feels they are overcharged. Everyone is after the "surplus" lands. A tribal herd (as opposed to cattle distributed to individuals) of 1200 arrives but it is in danger from rustlers and attrition. 90% of the full bloods have trachoma and 75% have tuberculosis. Over 1,000 are on rations, including some of the Rocky Boy's band. McFatridge has failed to register the tribal brand with the state. The allotment boundary markers are missing and must be resurveyed. Sinking of the Lusitania. Rupert Brooke dies and Saul Bellow and Arthur Miller are born. Edgar Lee Masters publishes “A Spoon River Anthology.” “Birth of a Nation” is released. Classic New Orleans jazz in bloom. Hugo Junkers constructs the first fighter airplane. Henry Ford markets a farm tractor. U.S. Coast Guard established. Margaret Sanger jailed for writing a book on birth control.
1916: Standard Oil of Ohio requests a blanket lease for oil and gas. Sampson Bird and Hamilton go to Washington but don't get permission. Woodrow Wilson re-elected and gets married while in office. Pancho Villa strikes across the Mexican border and is pursued by Pershing. 8 hour work day granted to railroad workers to prevent strike. John Dewey writes “Democracy and Education.” Jazz sweeps the U.S. National Park Service created. Prohibition growing. Carl Sandburg publishing “Chicago Poems.”
1917: Mountain Chief is told Washington is still considering the oil lease. There are 35,000 head of cattle on the reservation, excluding the tribal herd, but 9/11's of them are owned by thirty families. By now allotments have been approved and patented and some half-breeds are mortgaging their land to make profits on the war-driven meat prices. The full bloods are making money from hay. Thomas Ferris is briefly the acting agent. Russian revolution. John Fitzgerald Kennedy born. Sarah Berhardt's final US tour. Degas and Rodin die. Charlie Chaplin makes one million dollars a year. Trans-Siberian railroad completed. Buffalo Bill Cody dies. 4 women arrested and jailed for 6 months for picketing the White House for suffrage.
1918: A quick succession of superintendents includes Wadsworth, F.C. Campbell, and Harvey O. Power who is dismissed for offenses. Four years of severe drought. Tribal herd is up to 6,000 head. Stuart Hazlett, the lease clerk, conspires to strip people of their land by improperly certifying them. Sherburne Mercantile ends up with 40,000 acres that have been improperly alloted to incompetent and in-debt Indians. Livestock on the Rez numbers 65,000 cattle, 25,000 horses and 5,000 sheep. There are worries about overgrazing. The sawmill is in disrepair and borer beetles are killing trees. Dr. George Martin is a reputed morphine addict. Armistice signed. Women over 30 get the vote in England. Joyce's “Ulysses” impounded and burned by the post office. Leonard Woolley begins Babylonian excavations. World-wide influenza epidemic, by 1920 nearly 22 million are dead. Small town America reduced by 10%. Missouri the last state to ratify compulsory school attendance.
1919: Dec. 1 election to see whether Cut Bank or Browning should be county seat of Glacier County. Power is ejected. The Agency staff is openly drunk. Horace Wilson is superintendent. He shows up drunk on the Navajo Reservation in the middle of Prohibition, shows up at a hearing about illegal liquor on the Rez and is drunk himself. There are few internal fences, so stock wanders and trespasses. Tribal herd estimated at 4,000. John Hall handled the sales and shipment that year. Mild winter. Teddy Roosevelt dies. Prohibition ratified. President Wilson presides over the first League of Nations meeting in Paris. Race riots in Chicago. American steel and American dock workers strike. Bauhaus founded and built by Gropius. Renoir dies. Jazz gets to Europe. Cyclones analyzed. Jim Thorpe finishes his 6-year major league baseball career with the Boston Braves. Plays in 60 games: hits 327. American Legion formed. Invention of the mechanical rabbit begins greyhound races.
1920: The mismanaged tribal herd is finally disposed of, at a loss. Wilson and Snell, Project Manager from the Reclamation Bureau, are pushing more irrigation projects. They call a meeting, take minutes of what they say, and send it on as representing what the people want. The only people on the Rez doing a good job of irrigation farming are the Jesuits -- and they haven't paid anything for the water. Warren G. Harding President. 19th amendment gives American women the vote. U.S. Senate votes against joining the League of Nations. Adler, Jung and Bertrand Russell are publishing. “The Cabinet of Doctor Caligari” released. Paul Whiteman tours Europe with his band. Brain surgery, the stratosphere, alloys and blood circulation all advanced. Earthquake in Kansu Province, China, kills 200,000. Hitler announces his 25 point program. The Rorschach test invented. Submachine gun patented. Man O'War retires.
1921: Louis Hill gets a ten year lease for oil through Wilson. A second competing application was denied. Hill did not drill succesfully. Wild cat leases through the tribe granted. Hazlett acting as agent and go-between. Wilson dismissed and convicted of bigamy. Blackfeet are still starving. Over the winter of 1920-21, two-thirds of the people needed rations. F.C. Campbell is the new superintendent. He says the reservation is bankrupt and he starts a series of "five year plans." He goes house-to-house, visiting 4/5ths of the people. 50% of the full-bloods had no cash and not everyone was cutting wood for winter. He felt they would have to do some small farming to survive and organized them into groups who could share heavy equipment. All this was to be financed by the "Reimbursable Plan" which had lost the people much of their land. James Willard Schultz became critical and headed The Executive Committee for the National Association to Help the Indian. He felt his father-in-law, Yellow Wolf, was allowed to starve. The Red Cross is present, but their funds are lost in a bank closure. A little flour mill is established in Heart Butte. Hitler's storm troopers begin terrorizing. Hirohito becomes prince regent of Japan. Britain and Ireland sign a peace treaty. Virginia Woolf writing. John Burroughs, American naturalist, and Enrico Caruso die. First effective tuberculosis vaccine. Chromosomes understood. Unknown soldier interred at Arlington. KKK at its worst.
1922: James Willard Schultz publishes a pamphlet entitled "The Blackfeet Are Starving." Gandhi sentenced to 6 years in prison for civil disobedience. T.S. Eliot publishes “The Wasteland.” "Nanook of the North” released. Alexander Graham Bell dies. Advances in the study of elements and astronomy. The Stockmarket booms and American cocktails are popular in Europe. Emily Post publishes "Etiquette." The Reader's Digest is founded. Insulin invented and white blood corpuscles discovered. "Last of the Mohicans" made into a movie. Pope Benedict XV is succeeded by Pope Pius XI. USSR forms.
1923: Prospects for farming are poor and the white farmers are not renewing their leases. Robert Hamilton becomes chairman and Joseph Spanish becomes secretary of the tribal council. Richard Sanderville and Levi Bird are loyal to the agent. Campbell wants to remove Oliver Racine (a Hamilton supporter) from the council on grounds of adultery. There are more problems with overgrazing, trespassing and rustling, to say nothing of confusion over who leased what from whom for how long. Forrest Stone is the assistant to the superintendent. Warren G. Harding dies in office and is succeeded by Calvin Coolidge, the vice president. Martial law established in Oklahoma to try to control the KKK. Centers of Tokyo and Yokohama destroyed by earthquake. 120,000 killed. Teapot Dome scandal. Felix Saalten writes “Bambi.” Gershwin composes “Rhapsody in Blue.” First birth control clinic opens in NYC. Montana and Nevada become the first American states to introduce Old Age Pensions. Time magazine founded. Shick patents electric razor. All Native Americans become citizens of the U.S. Calvin Coolidge re-elected. Woodrow Wilson dies. Mussolini elected in Italy. Hitler jailed but soon out. Eleonora Duse dies. E.M. Forster writes “A Passage to India.” F.C. Andrews discovers mesozoic dinosaur fossils in the Gobi Desert. U.S. limits immigrants and bars Japanese. Stanislavsky writes “My Life in Art.” Gandhi fasts. De Mille directs “The Ten Commandments.” The first insecticides. Mah-jong is a craze around the world. Leopold and Loeb. Will Rogers on the 2.5 million radios in the US.
CUT NOSE WOMAN
“No place could look more like Eden than this,” he remarked to himself as he swung up over a ridge so high it surely must be a major divide, maybe Hudson’s Bay Divide which sent water to the north through Canada. The Rockies, still snow-white in June, stood to the West. Below him was a wide green valley with a small creek wandering along ox-bows in the fertile willow thickets that had once been a pond created by beavers. He shifted his pack and satchels as his eye wandered back and forth. Then he saw movement and focused on one place.
It was a woman, slender, wearing a wide-brimmed straw hat and a loose calico dress with the sleeves rolled up. As he watched, she got a strike, played her fish a few moments, then pulled it onto the grass and mint where she stood barefooted. Her tackle was only a willow stick, a few yards of line with no reel, and a hook. Her movements were graceful, confident.
Absorbed in her task, she didn’t notice as he quietly went down the hill and found his way to her through the labyrinth of brush. Not until he was only a few feet away did she hear him and turn. He jerked to a stop.
A skull. She had a skull for a face.
Equally aghast, she thought she was looking at a burned man, charred black.
Both stood for a long moment as their innards lurched and screamed. Outwardly, they showed nothing while their minds groped for civility and understanding. They were disciplined, polite people, though both were loners by choice.
Finally he succeeded in controlling himself, so that he could say, “I thought Blackfeet never ate fish.”
“I’m not like other Blackfeet.” Her voice was strange -- not nasal and not muffled like a cleft-palate voice, but with a resonance missing.
They eyed each other until she managed to ask, “Are you hungry?”
“Well, actually, ma’am, I am purty hungry.”
“Do you eat fish?” she asked seriously.
Her little cabin, logs up to the eaves and shingles on the pointed tops of the end walls, stood on a high spot in a clearing. The cat on the doorstep looked at the visitor scornfully and slipped into the brush. Following the woman inside, he saw the few objects, each carefully maintained and placed: a round table, a few straight chairs, a bed made up with clean sheets and Indian blankets, and a fine black woodstove with nickel trim. Its name was emblazoned on the oven lid: Othello. He didn’t think about that. Jars with bouquets sat on the windowsills next to herbs growing in old coffee cans. The room smelled of soap and sweetgrass. She had brought her stringer of fish to the table..
“Let me clean them fish for you,” he offered, and piled his belongings next to the door.
“All right.” She handed him the fish and a colander.
He took the trout out onto the clean grass. When he cut the heads off and threw them to the side, the cat came back. He scooped up the guts the cat didn’t drag off in his hands and carried them to the outhouse. It was the most scrubbed outhouse he had ever seen. He rinsed his hands and the trout in the creek, carrying them back in the colander.
When he returned, the stove had heated and the woman was cutting baking powder biscuits. She set a mug of coffee in front of him. Every time he looked at the skull of her face, he felt a twinge of revulsion, but by now he had figured out that she was a “cut-nose woman.” A woman whose husband had cut her nose off to punish her for unfaithfulness, so that no man would ever want her after that. He could see that if a person could ignore the squirming, wet, internal flesh of her amputation -- which wasn’t possible for long -- she was quite beautiful. He pitied her.
For her part, she had realized that this was a “black whiteman,” like the buffalo soldiers of the recent past. Not quite so frightening as they had been -- he showed no signs of being military or even belligerent. She could give full attention to getting the trout fried and the biscuits baked exactly right at the same time.
After they had eaten -- he had insisted that she sit down with him -- he took his chair outside, along with a strange piece of luggage shaped like an animal with a long neck. It was a violin case. He didn’t play like a Metis, all jigs and songs. Rather his music was a long story, rising and falling, repeating parts, drawing out chords. When he began to play, the birds were silent, but after they had listened a little while, they matched their singing to his violin.
In an hour or so, he lay out flat on the grass and slept while she cleaned up from the cooking. It seemed natural, domestic, companionable, in a way she hadn’t felt for a long time. She hoped he would stay for supper -- for the night. And he did. When she made more coffee after supper, he took out a flat bottle and doctored the coffee with whiskey. “Now this is good stuff and I normally wouldn’t mix it with anything else, but I don’t judge you’re used to drinkin’.” She soon adapted.
The day began to end so that some creatures sought hiding places to sleep in and others came out to search for food. By now the man and woman were laughing over not much -- little stories, maybe. As it grew darker, it was easier to look at the woman and the man became only a shadow.
Pretty soon he led her to her own bed, which she turned down for sleep. They lay down with no clothes, her back to him, and he began to stroke her neck and shoulders. He unbraided her heavy hair. When it was very dark, he turned her toward him and slid on top of her. He was needy and skillful. But he couldn’t enter her. He was baffled.
“Ain’t you... Wasn’t your nose cut by your husband?”
“Yes.” He could hardly hear her.
“Well, don’t that mean that he and at least one other had ... well, had had you?”
The small voice, like a child, said with dignity, “No one has ever had me.”
For a moment she couldn’t speak, the trauma exploding in her mind again.
So unexpectedly had he come upon her and so quickly did he act that she felt nothing for several minutes until she put her hands to her face and realized that she would never be the same. Then in a few more minutes the shock wore off and she began to hurt with a wild, shocking, stifling pain beyond anything she had ever felt. So this was what it was like--the thing she had heard about: an old-fashioned punishment meant to be lifelong.
But right then she didn't have any thoughts at all-- just pain and then blackout. When she woke and saw her husband was gone, she ran out the open door. It was winter and she packed snow on her face, soon bright with blood. All her blood might have run out that hole if the missionary couple hadn't passed by and put her in their car. They drove her to the hospital. For a little while they didn’t recognize her, though they knew her well since they had sponsored her education away from the reservation. She had finished a boarding high school but had married instead of going to college. They had not approved of the man she married. Didn’t understand why she married at all. The missionary was not asked to perform the wedding, which had hurt his feelings.
After the terrible cutting, they assumed that in fact she had been unfaithful. Her husband was gone for a few years and came back with a new wife. No one paid any attention to the legalities.
When she healed enough, she went to a little cabin along Willow Creek that no one was using. There she set up housekeeping. Her family brought her supplies.
The black man had seen terrible things, some of them unpredictable and not deserved, and he was inclined not to ask her any more questions, but he really wanted to know. “Why? Why’d he do it?”
“He said I thought I was too good for him. And he couldn’t -- you know -- get stiff. So he said he’d bring me down a notch. He thought maybe I was thinking about someone better than him, but I wasn’t.”
Her goodness did not affect the black man the way it had affected the husband -- in fact, the opposite -- so he pushed his way in and gently made love to her. She was amazed. It was not like she had expected.
Afterwards he asked her, “Why did that man want to marry you?”
“He thought it would make him important to have an educated wife.”
“Well, then, why did you marry him? Was he educated, too?”
“Oh, he didn’t know nuthin’. But I didn’t know I could refuse.”
“Jus’ like bein’ a slave,” mused the man. And then he thought about why she hadn’t refused him, but decided not to ask. He thought probably he knew.
They had a few nice days -- she cooked, he played his violin, and they both did some fishing. They made love. Then the man said he had to leave. “I’m jus’ a fiddle-foot,” he explained. But at the top of the divide, he stopped and looked back quite a while. She went in the house.
It was a mild winter and she got along very well, though it was soon clear she was pregnant. The baby was born on February 14 when all the signs turned to point to spring. She had no calendar so didn’t know the date. The baby was small and she had an easy birth alone in her cabin. In the past she had helped with birth. When the baby's umbilical cord had dried, she sewed it into a snake-shaped buckskin amulet and beaded it in blue with yellow crosses.
In March the missionary delivered more food to the Cut Nose Woman and returned aghast. "There she was, out of doors with a nearly newborn, and, my dear, you won't believe this."
His wife was sorting second-hand clothes. The parsonage was in constant danger of being buried in second-hand clothes and ridiculous worn-out shoes. Right now it was cast-off winter clothes she was sorting in hopes of eliminating the worst unusables and thereby reducing the amount of room needed for storage. "What won't I believe?"
"The baby is black. As inky as that kitten there."
The wife stopped and turned to stare at him. So did the kitten, feeling eyes on itself. But the kitten went back to cleaning its paws before the wife moved again. "I don't remember any colored around here."
"Me neither. Now, down in Great Falls... But I've never heard of her leaving the reservation. I can't imagine her going with that face, that great gaping hole in the middle of her face."
"Does she have any baby clothes?"
"None that I saw."
"I suppose we'd better take some out this afternoon. Lucky she's fairly close to town." Then in the car, she said, “You know, she can’t keep that baby.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, it’s just indecent. We should take it from her and find it a good Christian Negro home.”
“She’s a good Christian -- she just can’t come to church with her face.”
“But she can’t live out there in the brush with a baby and no father! It will be the victim of racism and prejudice and just make her situation worse! And think of the baby -- with a mother who has no nose!”
The missionary didn’t follow the logic and neither could he understand his wife’s need to get that baby away from Nosy. He did remember that she was very disappointed when the girl married instead of going on to school. Since then it was almost as though she didn’t want her to have anything, wanted her to be punished even more. But then, she WAS unfaithful. And it was just plain defiant of her to be out here in this cabin, still having affairs. Was she making money from sex?
The old black car with its narrow wheels slowly negotiated the muddy and puddled dirt road to the cabin. They sat in the car, waiting as was the custom at a country house on the reservation, but no one came. Finally the preacher got down and went to look in the house. “Nobody there,” he said truthfully. "Just the cat." Nosy had heard them coming.
Over the next five years the missionary tried to catch Nosy and her baby in the cabin any number of times, but she always managed to elude him. Then it was time for the boy to go to school and the truant officer had many more tricks than the missionary did. He took the black boy along to the Cut Bank boarding school. The boy went willingly and loved school, though he missed his mother sometimes.
Nosy missed her boy all the time. When her relatives brought supplies, she asked for whiskey and got it. That took the edge off her loneliness, though it slowed down her housekeeping. She stopped fishing and didn’t often wash sheets to drape over the willows to dry in the sun. The boy came back in summer and she didn’t drink then.
Then one June she didn’t stop drinking. She drank right through the summer, which disgusted the boy, who was now old enough to want to be with other kids instead of a drunken mom. He began to leave her half-passed out and go off on his own errands. That made her cry, which was a disaster with no nose. She blubbered and smeared snot and filth across her face until he couldn’t stand to look at her. He told her he was going to go to a boarding school away from there, though there was a high school in town now.
That night she sat sober, though her head ached, and thought. In the morning two cousins came and she talked to them about making new arrangements. In a few days they returned with a wagon and team. Her household fit into the wagon with room for herself, the driver, and her son on the front seat. The cat sat on the very top, hanging on to the bedding with its claws.
Her son was pleased at the little edge-of-town Moccasin Flats cabin and proud to carry in furniture. They scrubbed and she rigged closets by stringing up calico curtains in the corners of the two rooms. He had a room for himself. He didn’t mind the outhouse or having to carry water from the city water faucet, because now he was with his friends and they did the same. At least now they had electricity.
At first people were shocked by Nosy’s face, but they got used to it and pretty soon no one even thought about it. One day a check came. It turned out that her husband, the one who cut off her nose, had died and she was the legal heir to his allotment. His second wife had no claim.
Nosy took the check down to the bank and opened an account. Then she went over to the mercantile store and bought a radio. That radio stayed on day and night, murmuring along when it was turned down and blaring when it was turned up. After a while, no one paid attention except Nosy.
If the clouds were just right so that they bounced radio waves a certain way, a Canadian radio station would come in from Calgary or Lethbridge. It was a station that played classical music and when it was audible, Nosy sat by the radio with the cat in her lap and wouldn’t talk to anyone. There were certain violin concertos that made her grin, -- those old teeth flashing under that hole in her face.
It was a horrible sight.
Monday, November 21, 2005
Boulder erratics are giant stones that the Ice Age glaciers carried out onto the prairies and then dropped when the ice melted. There they are, all alone out there in the grass, making a good place for a hawk to rest, swatching it with white excrement flags that have nothing to do with surrender. Or maybe a big cat will jump up on top on a warm summer day, to bake in the sun and doze where it can see in every direction. Most often in the old days the buffalo come to scratch their itchy hides, especially when they were shedding and the great mangy patches of winter fur came off in rug-sized pieces. The buffs circled round and round, pushing against the stone, so that they wore a ring path around the outside. Then came the rain or snow and the ring was a mini-moat, holding enough moisture that plants found the location friendly. When the boulder was warm, they bloomed. Now it's up to the cattle and horses to create that little ecology.
The Blackfeet had a lot of stories about these boulders. They figured that now and then they came to life, like a slide chute on the side of a mountain, and just moved themselves on as they pleased. Napi was often said to have been pursued by such a boulder -- deservedly, no doubt.
Over centuries of standing on the prairie, the boulders became landmarks and then, eventually, altars where people left small signs: tobacco tied up in calico, sweetgrass braided, a complex of beads, in later years maybe a note on paper. They were and are a distinctive place to pray.
The boulder in this photo has been underground for ten thousand years. It was dug up by earth-moving equipment when the road was rebuilt. There is no moss or lichen yet. The edges have not been polished as they would have been in buffalo days. But there it is -- looking rather like a buffalo itself. What does it know about the underground, where the old people thought the buffalo must have gone when they disappeared?
Maybe the badger that has dug its hole into the dirt underneath could tell us.
Posted by Mary Strachan Scriver at 8:13 PM