This story addresses the Indian struggle to define themselves. War let them be warriors again, but seeing the larger world also introduced a lot of confusion. WWII was even more confusing because of the ruthless genocide of the holocaust.
The person who comes to my mind is James Welch, Jr., who was so embraced by France, and the artifact is the iniskum, the little baculite fossils that Blackfeet call “buffalo stones” and consider good luck.
1925-1942 Historical Time-Line
1925: The Browning City Council asks the government to provide relief for the aged and infirm. Oliver Sanderville complains about Campbell but the agent is cleared by the inspector. Campbell was bypassing the Council and going by the community chapters' directions. The Council, in turn, voted him out. Nelson A. Miles dies. The New Yorker begins. Noel Coward stages “Hay Fever” in London. Theodore Drieser writes “An American Tragedy.” United Church of Canada founded. Chaplin does “The Gold Rush.” Singing Show Me the Way to Go Home. Quantum mechanics. The Scopes trial. Crossword puzzles popular. International convention rails against illegal narcotics trade. State of Tennessee forbids sex education in the schools.
1926: Merriam Report delineates Indian poverty, unemployment, lack of health care and education. The German economy collapses. Queen Elizabeth II born. Book of the Month club founded. Ernest Hemingway: “The Sun Also Rises.” A.A. Milne: “Winnie the Pooh.” Duke Ellington's first records. Kodak produces first 16mm movie film.
1927: Willa Cather: “Death Comes for the Archbishop.” Sinclair Lewis: “Elmer Gantry”. The First Talkie: “The Jazz Singer.” Kern and Hammerstein: “Show Boat.” Gershwin: “Funny Face.” Rodgers and Hart: “A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court.” Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences founded. First electronic musical instrument. Holland Tunnel opens. Iron Lung developed. Lindbergh crosses the Atlantic.
1928: Agent Campbell charges horse owners for mange control and for roundup costs, then sells the horses to Chappel Brothers exclusively instead of competitively. Herbert Hoover president. Chiang Kai-sheck president of China. D.H. Lawrence: “Lady Chatterley's Lover.” Franz Boas: "Anthropology and Modern Life," The Fascist theory of the "master race." Penicillin. First scheduled TV programs. Amelia Earhart flies the Atlantic. NY Times puts up moving electric sign around Times Building.
1929: Major hearings on July 24 as part of a general investigation of all reservations. (Senators Frazier, Wheeler, and Pine) Senator Investigator Liggett writes a long report, not released until 1932. It boils down to six clusters of complaints:
1. Indians defrauded by deliverate conspiracy.
2. Tribal possessions dissipated.
3. No accounting of tribal herd.
4. Indians' interests seem secondary. (This is mostly about Great Northern, including their practise of exploiting Indians as tourist attractions.)
5. Agency officials dominate council.
6. No accounting made to Indians about leasing.
Stone becomes the new superintendent.
Faulkner begins his series on Yoknapatawpha County. Audrey Hepburn born. Erich Maria Remarque: “All Quiet on the Western Front.” Virginia Woolf writes the essays “A Room of One's Own.” 14th Encyclopedia Britannica published. Quartz crystal clocks. Collapse of the stock market in NY. St. Valentine's Day massacre of gangsters in Chicago. Estrogen.
1930: Holy Family Mission closes. U.S. Census counts 3,000 Blackfeet on Rez. Stone asks for $300 from the tribe to pay the hospital bill of a sick old man: Robert Hamilton. "Tip" O'Neill and Louis Hill hit the first big gusher on Michael's ranch near Cut Bank. Stone asks for a geological survey of the reservation but is denied. Robert Frost: “Collected Poems.” Oliver La Farge: “Laughing Boy” gets Pulitzer Prize. Dashiell Hammett: “The Maltese Falcon.” Movies: “Blue Angel,” “Anna Christie” with Garbo. Artificial fabrics made from acetylene. Blood types discovered. Flashbulbs. Blondie in the comics. Veterans Administration and Federal Bureau of Narcotics. Grant Wood paints “American Gothic.” "Deadwood Dick" dies.
1931: Pearl Buck: “The Good Earth.” Schweitzer: “Out of My Life and Thought.” Jehovah's Witnesses form. Clark Gable's first movie. Anna Pavlova dies. Edison dies. Cyclotron invented. Al Capone jailed for income tax evasion. 4-5 million people in the US. First trans-Africa railroad. Empire State Building completed.
1932: Franklin D. Roosevelt is President. Famine in the USSR. Hitler nearly elected in Germany. Erskine Caldwell writes “Tobacco Road.” Will Durant begins “The Story of Civiliation.” Ferde Grofe: “The Grand Canyon Suite.” Radio astronomy, riboflavin, polarized light, sulfa. Lindbergh baby kidnapped. Golden Gate Bridge begun.
1933: Santa Rita well comes in. Much drilling in Cut Bank area. Many bids for leases, but no criteria and not much regulation for how to go about it. U.S. Congress votes independence for the Phillipines. 20th Amendment of the Constitution of the US sets inauguration on Jan. 20. First US Aircraft Carrier launched. The first concentration camps erected in Germany. Book burning by Nazis. 21st Amendment to the Constitution repeals prohibition. “Little Women” stars Katharine Hepburn.
1934: Indian Reorganization Act (part of the New Deal). Creates present form of tribal government. Government supplies 5,500 of drought relief cattle, but 300 are lost over a hard winter, partly because they were in rough shape to begin with. 138 Indian families classified as self-supporting. 747 families receiving federal assistance. FDR granted broad powers and starts many agencies. James Hilton: “Goodby, Mr. Chips”. F. Scott Fitzgerald: “Tender is the Night.” Ruth Benedict: “Patterns of Culture.” John Dewey: “Art As Experience.” Movies: “It Happened One Night,” “The Thin Man.” Male hormone isolated. Phthalocynanine dyes prepared. Dionne Quintuplets born.
1935: Warren O'Hara is superintendent. Blackfeet Tribal Constitution prepared and Tribal Charter approved by the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
1936: Social Security begun. Clarence Day: “Life with Father.” T.S. Eliot: “Murder in the Cathedral.” Movies: “Anna Karenina,” “David Copperfield,” “Mutiny on the Bounty” with Clark Gable. Electric Hammond organs popular. Jazz becomes "swing." Oil pipelines among Iraq, Haifa, and Tripolis. AA organized. Persia becomes Iran. New four year drought cycle beginning on the reservation. C.L. Graves is superintendent. An inventory of tribal goods and equipment shows much is missing, at a value of $100,000. For years now there has been a growing schism between the old full-bloods and the younger mixed-bloods. The mixed-bloods ally with the whites and they are accused of chicanery and dominating the Tribal Council. King George V dies and is succeeded by Edward VIII. Gossip soon starts about Wallis, Edward abdicates and George VI takes the throne. Spanish Civil War begins. Mussolini and Hitler ally. Dale Carnegie: “How to Win Friends and Influence People.” Margaret Mitchell: “Gone with the Wind.” Penguin Books founded. Kipling dies. Movies: “Mr. Deeds Goes to Town,” “Intermezzo,” “The Great Ziegfield.” Boulder Dam completed. Artificial heart made. The Johnstown Flood. Life magazine begun.
1937: George VI's coronation on radio. Guernica. Steinbeck: “Of Mice and Men.” The First jet engine. Bonneville Dam dedicated by FDR. Movies: “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,” “La Grande Illusion,” “Life of Emile Zola.” Gershwin dies. Nylon. Golden Gate Bridge opens.
1938: Japan at war with China. House Un-American Activities Committee formed. Diplomatic relations with Germany broken off. Daphne Du Maurier: “Rebecca.” Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings: “The Yearling.” Thornton Wilder: “Our Town.” H.G. Wells puts “War of the Worlds” on radio. The ballpoint pen. 40 hour work week. Stuart Chase: “The Tyranny of Words.” 20,000 TV sets in use in NYC. Movies: “Pygmalion,” “Alexander Nevsky,” “You Can't Take it With You.”
1939: The Tribal Council's cashbook journal is not updated between 1/1 and 9/1, so the books can't be audited. Many payments not receipted by Nancy M. Goss, the treasurer. Hazlett is chair. Council includes Brian Connolly, Wright Hagerty, and Levi Burd. FDR asks for a half billion dollars for defense. Women and children evacuated from London. WWII begins. William O Douglas and Felix Frankfurter join the Supreme Court. James Joyce: “Finnegan's Wake.” John Steinbeck: “The Grapes of Wrath.” W.B. Yeats dies. Grandma Moses. DDT, polyethylene and atom splitting. Earthquake in Anatolia, Turkey, claims 45,000. First nylon stockings. Movies: “Gone with the Wind,” “Ninotchka,” “Wizard of Oz,” “Stagecoach.”
1940: U.S. Census counts 4,000 Blackfeet. Hazlett removed. Levi Burd is new chair. Brian Connolly is identified as a lease trespasser. FDR re-elected. WW II continues. Churchill becomes Prime Minister. Hemingway: “For Whom the Bell Tolls.” Raymond Chandler: “Farewell My Lovely.” F. Scott Fitzgerald and Hamlin Garland die. Movies: “Grapes of Wrath,” “The Great Dictator” (Chaplin), “Rebecca,” “Gaslight,” “Fantasia.” Rodgers and Hart: “Pal Joey.” Lascaux caves discovered in France. Electron microscope. Helicopters. Average life expectancy from 49 in 1900 to 64 in 1940 except on reservations. "Galloping Gertie" bridge over Puget Sound breaks up in wind.
1941: Stalin takes over Russia. Pearl Harbor. War declared on Japan, Germany and Italy. James Joyce, Virginia Wolf, Sherwood Anderson, Rabindranath Tagore and Lou Gehrig die. Movies: Garbo's last film, “Citizen Kane,” “Suspicion,” “How Green Was my Valley.” Underwater photography. Dacron. Grand Coulee Dam opened. Manhattan Project begun.
1942: U.S. seizes 500 square miles of Pine Ridge for practise bombing range. Bataan death march. Jean Anouilh: “Antigone.” Camus: “L'Etranger.” T.S. Eliot: “Four Quartets.” Fermi splits the atom. First US computer. Magnetic recording tape. Sugar, gas and coffee rationed in US. Movies: “Mrs. Miniver,” “Bambi,”
Jess lounged against the counter, enjoying the edge of the wood against his tight shapely butt, and moved a toothpick in the cracks of his strong teeth. His strangely green eyes were half-closed as he watched the white women fussing and gossiping over their groceries. The other clerk, Everett, was a soft-spoken and lean-muscled fellow, full-blood by the look of him. He was gathering things into groups on the varnished counter and trying to write them down. His forehead was damp and he kept stopping to adjust his long apron.
“Jess, are you workin’ today or not?” demanded Everett.
“You know, Ev,” you and I oughta enlist and get outta this rez. See the world. Show we’re warriors.” That was the real beginning of this story.
PARIS, FRANCE: THE WAR HAS JUST ENDED.
He could hear pigeons cooing and shuffling. For a moment he thought he was just a kid again, waking up with his brothers in the shared bed in the drafty cabin on their allotment, which he always called "our ranch." He kept his eyes shut. But the smell of perfume finally told him he was with a woman and then he grinned, because that perfume was the real stuff! It was French perfume because he was in Paris! Probably Channel Number something. He cracked one eyelid to be sure she was there and --WOWIE! -- she was lookin' at him -- up close. The sun was making her blonde hair seem wired for electricity.
Jess grinned his genuine ladykiller smile. "Smatter? Not used to seein' a real Injun in yer bed?"
"Aaa, cherie! You are so beeeyootiful! I loove the color of your skin -- like dark copper -- and your nose, so strong, and the cheekbones -- ah, eef only I had the cheekbones like these!" She was running her finger around his face. He liked that quite a bit. Used to be a little French Canadian girl down towards Choteau who did that. Must be their culture or something.
"Whoa! Where you goin'?" She had rolled out and was putting on a negligee -- that's what it was in Paris, not a housecoat or a bathrobe. Because this town knew about clothes and they didn't just wear a dress, they wore a gown. She had explained it last night when she asked for money to buy a new one. Wrapping ties around her slender waist, she leaned down to kiss him. He could see down the front of her green gown past her small hanging breasts to her belly. She was built pretty nice.
"We must 'ave something to eat to start this glorious day!" She threw open the shutters at the window, which scared off the half dozen pigeons that had miraculously escaped both idle target practise and the stew pot. But the sun that had been winking through the louvers went under a cloud. She washed from a basin, reaching inside the negligee to soap and rinse her underarms.
"Where's my cigarettes? I ain't hungry. Come back to bed!" he whined. Peeping at him from under her elbow, she brushed her hair from the bottom to the ends, upside down, and shook her head impishly.
"Aw, come on-- jest for a minute." He held out his arms. "Come on, come on," he pleaded, but she stepped away and pulled on a dress -- er, gown.
Pitching him his nearly used-up pack of Lucky Strikes, she slipped out the door. He rested a saucer on his blanketed belly and took his first draw of the day on a cigarette. The first one was always a deep relief, like the first shot of whiskey late in the afternoon -- if you waited that long. The pigeons came back to the little railing outside the window and sat looking at him. Something about them made him think of home.
He thought of grouse, fool hens, so curious they would sit there gawking at you even while you threw a stick or stone that knocked their heads off. They were good eatin', too. When there was so much quarrellin’ and drinkin’ in the little log cabin that he couldn't stand stayin’ there any more, he would walk off into the foothills. He could live off rabbits and fool hens or fish nearly a week in good weather before he got bored and went home. Sometimes he got a beating for being gone, but most times no one really seemed to notice.
Unless his grandfather had some project goin'. He didn't dare disappear when there was hayin' or woodcuttin' to do. His grandfather never really beat on him, but his father did -- trying to get in good with the old man. His grandfather had never really liked his son. No one in the family really understood why. Maybe he wasn't really his son.
On the table beside the bed were the remains from last night. A wine bottle -- with a real cork the way they did here in Europe. Wrappings from food he'd bought on the Black Market. His wallet -- hell, he'd better be more careful about that. But there it was on the table. This woman, Annette, she must be with him because she really cared about him and would never steal from him -- but you had to be careful. The Army really dinned that into you. Keep from bein' stole from and keep from catchin' something. But this white woman -- napiyaqui -- not just white but so blonde -- he thought he might be really in love.
He tried to picture Annette on the reservation. They could live in Browning -- maybe not in the Yegen Hotel which was a top-of-the-line place with real leather upholstery in the dining room, but there’d be a cabin empty somewhere. But then he was forgetting that when he got home he'd have government help. Hell, he'd be a warrior with G.I. loans and stuff. Maybe a house -- maybe he would build a real house. He'd get Annette to draw a plan of what she wanted.
Damn, the guys would be so jealous. A white -- blonde! -- wife from Paris, France, and a house he built. Hell, their wives never even dared to shop in the department store in Great Falls called "The Paris." Those little reservation girls were dime a dozen. This Annette, now, what she could do with that tongue of hers. Writhin' around under him like that -- it took talent. Of course, it was probably because she just couldn't resist him. She got hot over him bein’ Indian for one thing. Whooeee!
Pretty soon she came back with bread. She had saved some chocolate bar from the night before, and made a kind of sandwich for breakfast. It wasn’t bad at all. “Tell me about ze reservation.”
"Well, we're all gettin' cheated something terrible. The government ain't payin' us what we ought to get for our leases and our cattle keep gettin' stole by the white ranchers from down South..."
"No, no, cherie! Tell me about the tipis!" She pretended to pout. "I want to know how it eez to live like le sauvage, a wild Indian!"
"Hardly anybody lives in a tipi now," he began sheepishly, but then seeing her face fall, he changed directions. "Now, the door of a tipi should always face east and...."
But she wanted to tell him, even though she'd never been there. "And the skins they are painted all over with wonderful stories about war and love and les animaux! About how brave the men are and how many enemies they kill on the warpath!"
Actually, his grandmother's lodge had come to her in a dream and it was mostly designs that meant stuff like mountains, stars and puffballs, which were a kind of little fungus that grew in the grass. If you kicked them, they popped with a little cloud of dust. You shouldn’t kick them because they had something to do with babies. But that was hard to explain. He let her rattle on.
"And tell me about the war paint and how ferocious you look with the lightning and strikes, all black and white and red!" She pretended to draw them on his face.
He could never explain what it meant to have your face painted -- something like Communion or a Saint medallion for protection. Maybe in her version she was thinking about camouflage or the way some guys put black stuff under their eyes to stop light from reflecting from their cheeks or something. Anyway, most people were good Catholics now and didn't mess around with paint anymore. But if the woman wanted a story, hey, he was gonna come through with a good one.
"I go out in the morning when the grass is wet, and I call my horse." She smiled and relaxed back onto the pillows. "With one leap I am on his back and we go across the prairie as fast as the wind. I am searching for the buffalo!" She laughed. "Ah, there they are!" He leapt up pointing at the wall.
Instead of standing on the floor, he stood on the bed, bouncing it up and down to suggest the horse galloping under him. The pigeons outside went up in a whirl again. The voices of people came up from the street but he didn't hear them. "My horse is fast, but the buffs are almost faster! I whip on both sides and my horse gets inspired! He goes faster, right up alongside the biggest bull buffalo of the lot! I nock an arrow in my bow and take aim! The muscles on my back ripple as I pull back on the string with two fingers."
"Which two? Which two?"
"These two fingers!" He held up his index and middle fingers on his right hand. He'd never shot a bow in his life. When he went for a deer, he always used his old broken-down Enright rifle. If he worked on it for a while beforehand, oiled it and tightened stuff up, it would shoot pretty far, but he wanted a scope. He didn't want to have to spend all day tracking and sneaking up on something. Now that he knew about real guns, he wanted something better.
"And here in Europe you are also the warrior, n'est pas? And you creep across the No Man's Land with the bayonet clenched in your strong white teeth, to slit throats , especially German throats!” She demonstrated, crawling across the bed with the butter knife, looking fierce. God, she looked like a cat with blue eyes! He was thrilled.
"Tell me about how an Indian fights, Jess!" she begged. "How do you do it? Tell me about killing the enemy!"
For the United States Jess did not kill the enemy. He had been a packer of supply mules in the Italian mountains. It was a real lucky job, he thought, up in the high air where there was no war to speak of, where he could look down across the valleys. But the trails were pretty scary and the Italian mules, like all mules, balked and acted stupid. In winter it could get miserable with snow. Rain started mud slides. Mostly it was a job for a country boy, not a brainy kind of job or a heroic one. It would be years before he finally figured out how to make it sound like a war to people who packed horses into the wilderness all the time just for fun. But when he finally got the knack, it was a good yarn.
He picked up details from other guys, like the man who said the whole war was black and white to him, until he saw his first blood when artillery exploded the mule he was leading. Then it all turned to technicolor -- blue sky, green grass, white crosses and red poppies. Or maybe that was a movie. But he came to believe that it really happened to him.
With Annette he had to draw on memories of old warpath stories from his grandfather. "I slip along quiet as a shadow in my moccasins, never breaking a single twig or disturbing any grass, and then I rise up when the Nazis least expect me and from behind I jerk the knife across their throats. They don't even make a gurgle when they go down, because I know exactly where to cut 'em!" He lunged at her to demonstrate, but she jumped off the bed and stood behind the chair where his jacket hung. She smoothed its shoulders and looked down shyly. There were few decorations.
"I got lots of medals comin'-- they just ain't caught up with me yet. You know how military mail can be."
Annette smiled at him. “Now I will go get us some coffee, cherie! Wait for me! Promise to stay here.”
Jess grinned to himself as he lay back on the mound of pillows. He was so relaxed he could easily slip back into dreaming except for the cigarette. He didn't want to burn Annette’s quilts -- a little ragged but they looked to be silk. The sun came back out of shadow and fell across the bed. People were shouting down on the street -- it seemed far away and unimportant. The pigeons had not returned.
Then footsteps thundered up the stairs in the hall. "Oh, my God, M.P.'s!" he thought, and then, "Hell, I'm not doin' anythin' bad!"
Fists smashed on the door, bursting it open. In the doorway stood a squat man with knife scars on his face. "Awright, merde, what you doin' here with my wife?"
"Mon femme! Mon espousee! "
"It was Annette -- she's not your wife!" explained Jess.
"Annette is mon femme, you lowlife! What you gonna give me for havin' my wife behind my back?"
Jess' eyes flicked to the wallet but the man already had it and was emptying it. The brute went through his clothing, picking each item up, searching its pockets and then throwing it at Jess while he, with shaking hands, put on each item of clothing in as much in order as he could manage. The man went to his pack and emptied it of the last bits of food, matches -- whatever else was useful or valuable.
"Now get outa here, merde, before I tear you to pieces!" The man threw back his head and began to laugh. Jess could hardly bring himself to pass close enough to get out the door, but when he got through it, Annette was standing in the hall, also laughing.
"If you could see your face, mon sauvage! You have met the buffalo, eh?" She was holding his shoes and threw them after him.
Jess plunged down the stairs with his own shoes bouncing off his back. When he got to the bottom he gathered his courage enough to collect them, then took off in his sock feet -- not easy on cobblestones. He was almost as afraid of his sergeant as he was this gorilla of a man and would never be able to explain where his shoes went. One glance up the stairs he allowed himself-- they were kissing! His beautiful blonde Annette was kissing that man! He couldn't believe it.
Other people stared, laughed and pointed at him. They seemed to know what had happened. He had to get out of that street but he had no idea where he was. What papers had been in his wallet? Oh, God. A badger game. That's what it was. A set-up.
A few streets away, he stopped at a café, flinging himself into the little metal chair, and began to go through his pockets in hopes of finding something, maybe enough change for one of those sludgy coffees these frogs drank... but nothing. The waiter was headed his way. Probably spoke no English...
Then out of the corner of his eye he caught a familiar face. It was a long, sorrowful face above the uniform, but the color of an old copper penny and topped with a thatch of blue-black hair. It was his old hometown buddy Everett! This was real luck. But he was so shook up still, that he knew he would tell Everett what had happened before he could stop himself.
One good thing about it, it all happened too far away from the reservation for anyone to ever find out about it. His old buddy Everett would have to be persuaded not to write home about it. Another good thing about it, Everett would probably buy him a drink, maybe even loan him some money.
"Ev! Hey, Ev! Whatchu doin'?" He turned one of the little chairs at Ev’s table around it and sat across it as though it were a horse.
"Jess? Jess, you don't look quite right. You feel okay?"
"Sure, I'm fine. Just a long night with a pretty little lady..."
He started to tell Ev all about it, but a tall dark soldier walked up to them. Not just infantry, but Army Air Force with a silk scarf around his neck. He wasn’t just dark but black. "Jess, you recognize this guy? He's from home! One of us!"
"Oki, chicki!" said the flyboy, extending one dark hand. "Chenustepi?"
"He's old Nosey's kid, Jess! You remember her, don't you? Remember Hector?"
"Half Blackfeet and black all over besides!" said the pilot, mocking movie talk. He put out a hand to Jess. "Shake!"
Ev held up his hand in the stereotypical Indian salute. "NO, no! You’re not doin’ it right! How! Hey, Jess, say HOW to the chief!" There was an interval of clowning around while they all sized each other up. “How did this happen? Fact is stranger than fiction.”
When the three settled, they beamed at each other. Somehow it seemed natural to meet up like this in Paris. The war was over, things were winding down, soon they’d be going home.
Ev looked at the other two and reflected. Both half-breeds but they couldn’t be more different. Jess could be a real pain in the butt -- lazy and selfish -- but if something really had to be done, he’d drive on through to the end. The army must have appreciated that. The basketball coaches always did: if things got tight, they put Jess in the game. He was a great player, but he generally fouled out before long.
Hector, though, was a mystery. As a child he had learned to be invisible and rarely allowed himself to be “seen” even now. Most people saw his dark skin and never noticed his Indian features, though what did people think were “Indian features” -- Victor Mature, like the movies?
“Hector,” asked Ev, “How in the world did you manage to get into the Air Force?”
“They thought I was a nigger. Didn’t know I was an ignorant savage.” Ev saw that Jess was confused -- couldn’t tell if Hector was joking or not. Luckily, Hec saw it, too. “Jokes,” he said. Jess relaxed and laughed.
Ev changed the subject. “What are you going to do when you get home, Jess?”
“Ranch. I’m throwin’ in with my dad. You?”
“Thought maybe I’d try going to college.”
“What about you, Hec?”
“Not goin’ back. Got new friends in Texas.”
Jess and Ev were shocked. They had never considered living anywhere but the reservation. They yearned for home.
Suddenly Jess startled and jumped up. He’d just spotted that French buffalo coming around the corner. “Gotta go, guys. If anyone asks, you never heard of me.” He took off, moving much faster now that his shoes were on.
“Wait! Where can we find you?” yelled Ev, but it was too late. He turned back to Hector.
“Were you serious about Texas?”
“Never more serious.” He ordered brandy.
“What about your mom?”
“Dead. Got a telegram.”
“I’m really sorry. Everyone knew Old Nosy.”
“They only thought so.”
Ev thought for a moment, looking at his coffee dregs, then ordered another. When it came, they sat in silence for a while. The shade line cast by the sun down between the buildings had moved a little when they spoke again and Hec was now a little drunk.
He said in a low voice, “Everett, after what I’ve seen and heard about in these here concentration camps, I don’t want to see any more white faces than I can help. I’m going to live with the darkest people I can find.”
Ev was shocked. “But, Hec, we’ve won the war. We’ve ended all that.”
“They’ll just find some reason to start it all again. They want to kill every person who isn’t white.”
“Jews ARE white.” protested Ev. “We’re fighting on the side of our country, America. We’re patriots, we’re warriors, we’re ON the white side. Why would they kill us?”
“I’m tellin’ you. It’s genocide. At least over here they’re right up front and just murdered everyone directly, shot, gassed, burned, whatever. With us Indians they were a little more subtle. Look at this.” Ev took what appeared to be a knobby little stone out of his pocket and put it on the table. “Look close.” It had a sheen of red ochre on it, and seemed to be standing on four legs, like an animal of some kind. It was knobbier towards one end.
“Looks kinda like a buffalo.”
“Very good. It’s an iniskim, a buffalo stone. They’re lucky. My mom sent it along to protect me. There’s a story that goes with it.”
“I can’t remember. Tell me.” Suddenly Ev felt that it was urgent for him to know.
“The people were starving for lack of buffalo to eat. This chief had a wife. She’s out in the snow looking for firewood. She hears this little cheeping sound and it’s a stone like this one, shaped like a buffalo. She takes it home, does a ceremony and it brings the buffalo, so they are saved.”
Ev nodded. “Aaaaah,” he said in assent and agreement.
“The way they killed us, Ev, was that they killed the buffalo. We WERE the buffalo. Now the buffalo are gone and our people are gone, too.” The two men sat staring at the little knobbly stone that might look like a buffalo. “Our bodies live -- our hearts are killed.”
Ev couldn’t think what to say. There was just enough truth to the statement to keep him tied up in emotion. Finally he muttered, “God have mercy on us all” and crossed himself, good Catholic that he was.
“Mon dieu,” said a man in a beret two tables away, whose eye was attracted by the gesture. “Un peau rouge! A red skin!” His voice was respectful. He was in awe. Then in puzzlement he wondered, “But who is le peau noir?” He could not tell they were both les pieds noir: Blackfeet.