REMARKS

Since in my own mind many of these posts have been "chapters," I'm splitting some of them out to separate blogs. But also, my audience is divided and quite different, one part from another. Many have dropped out and many have newly arrived. There are recognizable paper "book" versions of some of the posts that fit together.

I find that some people still assume that a blog is a sort of diary. This one is not. It is not for children, either in terms of subject or writing style. It's not written "down." Think academic magazine or column without footnotes.


SOCIAL MEDIA

My name shows up on google+ and twitter, but I only monitor and will not add you. I do NOT do Facebook though someone with the same name does. Please use plain email. My phone landline is in the phone book. I have no cell phone.

Other Blogs by me

IF YOU ARE LOOKING FOR INFORMATION ABOUT THE ART OF BOB SCRIVER, PLEASE GO TO: www.scriverart.blogspot.com.

Notes from Alvina Krause between 1957-1961 are posted at www.Krausenotes.blogspot.com


TWO REBLOGS:
Fiction about Indians at www.willowsticks.blogspot.com
Essays about Indians at www.siksikaskinitsiman.blogspot.com



Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Twelve Blackfeet Stories: A Summary

The twelve Blackfeet stories that I’ve just posted are by myself -- some people didn’t realize that -- and represent my own quick shorthand of what I think has happened since the first “Euro” horse got to the Blackfeet. Each story is about twenty years later than the one just before it. Some of the people are in more than one story and others only appear once. They are meant to be atypical, in unique situations that we don't normally think about much.

1. The first story, Dogwoman, is about the days when the first horses show up and make change. She is so put out by this change that she ends up leaving the band. The US is just forming at this point. Spain and France think they “own” the prairie except that the Hudson’s Bay Company is already coming into the north which is called “Assinnaboia.”

2. Eats Alone. The cultural infrastructure of the Blackfeet when they were dependent on dogs was very strong and tightly knit. Horses were enough the same as dogs that the transition was actually pretty effective. The biggest difference was that now the men could cover long distances for hunting and fighting -- or just exploring. Two men, buddies which is an old human motif, go far to the SW and even begin new lives there, but return after a tragedy. One of them dies back in Montana, so his buddy takes his wife and has a daughter with her. He becomes a very rich and important man, but hesitates to be responsible for his band through ceremonial obligation. These years are the ones that represent a “peak civilization” so colorful that people who weren’t even on this continent have yearned for it ever since. The Eats Alone band was real.

3. "Horse Healer." By 1800 Lewis & Clark were almost on their way and trading forts were in place in Canada where most of the Blackfeet were. A woman of importance among her own people gets kidnapped and thrust into this new context. She manages.


4.
"Two Medicine." Next came the missionaries, trying to learn the language and figure out what was going on. Though they didn’t approve of the native ways, they did think Indians had souls and should be treated properly. A “two-spirited” young man sees a priest in a dress and assumes that he has also chosen women’s roles. Not.

5. "Horizon." The mid-1850’s was the period of Indian removal to west of the Mississippi as settlers poured into the mid-West. This story is based on a true happening, which actually came a little later: Helen Clarke, daughter of Malcolm Clarke (He is a whole other story leading to massacre which I’ve chosen not to tell since it’s well-told other places, including in Jim Welch’s “Fools Crow.”), was visiting an insane asylum back east when she thought one of the men seemed Blackfeet. She was told that he didn’t respond to English, seemed catatonic. She sang a little Blackfeet nursery song to him and he wept. He WAS Blackfeet! Not crazy at all. The railroads were being built and Indians took to them at once!

6. "Eclipse" By the Civil War period things were worse, but institutions like the army, the church and the school tried to take hold. Rationality was very important -- progress! But things were not what they seemed. An old lady turns out to be a surprise.

7.
"Whiteout." After the war brutalized men and abandoned women clawed desperately at ways to survive, whether they were Indian or not. This story is an attempt to show just how bad it can get. An old woman, a little girl and a wolfer are trapped in a blizzard.

8.
"Cut Nose Woman." In the Edwardian period, just before WWI and maybe a little after, there was a kind of idyllic time -- a pause -- even though many men served in Europe. Old wounds began to be bound up and the dream of an agricultural Indian settled on ranches and farms began to seem possible.

9. "Gay Paree" World War II marked a turnaround on the reservation. Wool from the sheep and beef from the cattle meant real income. More important, many Blackfeet served as soldiers and were appreciated for it. But there were dark doubts. Three Blackfeet men come to very different conclusions.

10. "Basketball Hero." By the time the Korean and Vietnam veterans began to see that they were being shoved into urban ghettoes caused by relocation and Eisenhower began to close down the reservations, they felt the Pan-Indian network of organizations wasn’t vigorous enough. AIM led the way to trickster acts and near-insurgency. Sometimes it was luckier NOT to be there.

11. "Sweetgrass Hills" After AIM there was an American renaissance of Native American writing which lifted up spiritual values. In this story a young Blackfeet man goes on vision quest and by accident acquires an odd companion -- a young white woman -- but doesn’t even know it.

12. "The Sun Comes Up." Recently there have been real strides of progress. The Governor of Montana, Schwietzer, recognizes and empowers Indians. The Blackfeet are finding new ways to act vigorously and prosper. 8,000 tribal members live on the reservation, and 8,000 live off in a diasphora that keeps track of “home.” This story is about two returns to the reservation: an Indian man who has never been here and the bones of the earliest people in these stories.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Sweetgrass Hills

The artifact in this story is the rattle. The person? Oh, my! So many! I borrowed Becky Cooper's name.


1961-81 Historical Time-Line

1961: National Indian Youth Council, first all-Indian Youth protest group formed in New Mexico. Empowerment
1964: Devastating flood of the reservation, caused by three poorly maintained federal dams breaking, interrupts Centennial celebrations.
1968: Congressional investigation of Indian education finds "national disgrace." In July AIM organized by Dennis Banks and George Mitchell in Minneapolis.
1969: In November "Indians of All Tribes", a San Francisco activist group, seizes Alcatraz.
1970: On July 8, Nixon disowns termination and relocation. In November, Russell Means captures the Mayflower II on Thanksgiving.
1971: AIM holds prayer vigil on top of Mt. Rushmore. Alcatraz campers evicted. On Sept. 22 Russell and Ted Means storm the office of the Deputy Commissioner of Indian Affairs, John Crow. In fall and winter the Onondago stop traffic on Route 81 just outside Syracuse, N.Y. In Browning, the Blackfeet Free School and Sandwich Shop begins operation.
1972: Means and Banks capture Gordon, Nebraska, to protest the death of Raymond Yellow Thunder. In April the AIM leadership fragments over the use of guns at Cass Lake, Minnesota. On Nov. 1-8 AIM establishes the Trail of Broken Treaties, which becomes the capture of the BIA. They leave with files and $66,500 cash from the White House.
1973: On Feb. 6 Means and Banks are at Custer, South Dakota, to protest the killing of Wesley Bad Heart Bull. The incident becomes a riot. Feb. 27 is the capture of Wounded Knee.
1977: Jan. 2 consultative status to the United Nations is awarded to the International Treaty Council of the Western Hemisphere.
1978: Earl Old Person is made Chief of the Blackfeet Nation.
1979: Blackfeet Community College received candidate status for accreditation in Northwest Association of Schools and Colleges. One of its roots is the Blackfeet Free School and Sandwich Shop.


SWEETGRASS HILLS


Even when ol’ Jess Saint John (pronounced “Sin Jin”) was running the S-Fishhook, he always kept a few rodeo stock broncs. Some extra income, he said, but his wife, Deeny, thought he just liked big old rough horses. Jess’ son, Jay-Jay, added some good quarter-horses and competed in steer-wrestling. No one could decide whether his prothesis for a missing foot gave him a handicap or an unfair advantage. He didn’t really score high enough for anyone to make an issue of it, but he clearly loved competing, so no one minded. It just wasn’t an issue. Except people called him “Rubberfoot.”

The Indian ponies were the idea of Jay-Jay’s teenaged son Jeeter. He’d been named James, but some old cowboy couldn’t remember his proper name and called him Jeeter, which stuck. In fact, some people called him Jeeter-bug when he was little, but he made them stop when he began to grow up. He was just on the edge of grownup now.

A few years after Jay-Jay and Jeeter had accumulated a nice little remuda of buckskins, paints and pintos, a movie company rented them. They looked great on film. As soon as the location scouts had come through, Jeeter had begun growing his hair out long and practicing bareback riding so he could be a stunt extra. (Jay-Jay’s braids had gotten kinda thin, so he’d gone to a grey pony tail. Jess and his brother-in-law Ev Goes-On-Through had never given up their military buzzcuts, because the last remaining barber was part of their social lives and because by now those haircuts had been part of their identity for a long time.) The location the movie scouts really liked was the part of their ranch where the Sweetgrass Hills were in the background.

An anthropologist from Canada, a man who was partly Blackfoot (The Canadians translated “Siksika” in the singular and the Americans translated it plural.) was hired to be advisor for the movie company. People were very concerned about authenticity these days. He passed on as much information as he could to any listeners so long as he had a cup of coffee in his hand -- maybe a little something in it. Since the coffee pot was always hot at the S-Fishhook kitchen, the anthro stopped in often. He and Deenie were trying to decide whether they were related some way since she had relatives up north.

The anthro said the Sweetgrass Hills were really supposed to be the Sweetpine hills. Another bad translation. Of course, they were also supposed to be Blackfeet reservation until gold was discovered on one of the three buttes. The anthro said they were volcanic intrusions that had pushed up through the sedimentary bottom of an ancient sea. What Jeeter knew was that the first thing every morning he and every other family member found some excuse to go out on the porch to take a look. They said they were checking the weather, but it was more complicated than that.

Jeeter loved being in the movie. When people said it was corny or criticized this or that as not being accurate, he got mad and wanted to fight them. If someone asked him to explain what it meant to him, he said, “So many bad things happened to my people. I wish I’d been there to fight alongside them.”

“What’s one teenaged kid in the face of a greedy bunch of whites from back east?”

“Well, maybe I couldn’t have stopped them, but I would have been part of the resistance.”

“Maybe you’re still part of the resistance.” Jeeter knew what his critic meant. The cyanide-heap-leach-pond gold reclaimers wanted to grind up Gold Butte -- the whole thing -- to get what the hard rock mine had left behind as too expensive to recover with pick and shovel. The Sweetgrass Hills were water-makers, collecting rain and snow and filtering it through the ground to the area wells. Cyanide leach ponds -- manmade ponds with supposedly impervious linings where gold-bearing ore could be soaked in cyanide solution to draw out the precious metal -- always eventually leaked into the water table, poisoning the wells.

But testifying in hearings or even marching in a demonstration wasn’t as much fun as riding a good horse bareback, your face striped and dotted in a makeup woman’s idea of authentic warpaint, tearing around a replica fort and actually getting to burn it down!

The film company was there for two months and then one morning they were gone -- like a circus moving on to the next location. The horses went back to lounging around their field, though a few still had traces of paint. The square of the “fort” stayed black for a while. What Jeeter missed most was the anthropologist. “Why don’t you go to the library?” asked Jay-Jay. “Or even the county historical society? What about the Museum of the Plains Indian in Browning?” But they didn’t have an anthropologist anymore.

Finally his great-uncle Ev Goes-On-Through gave him the name of an even older man than Ev who lived near Heart Butte. This old man was not an anthropologist -- he was an informant, the one the anthropologists learned from. Ev told Jeeter how to be polite and patient -- and leave a few bills under the sugarbowl before he went home.

After four visits (The sacred number for Blackfeet is four, not the Christian three, because sacredness for Plains Indians is a matter of the land and there are four compass points.) the old man began to talk about long ago. Jeeter didn’t repeat to anyone what he said. Nearly blind, the old timer sat by his wood stove all day. Without being asked, Jeeter began to bring stove-length wood along with him to stack by the door and to tend the stove while he was there. The old man ate very little, but he loved the heat. All through the winter, Jeeter did his chores at home, got through school, and made a bee line for his old man friend.

In spring, when the green grass came, the old man left on the “Wolf Trail” to the Sand Hills to join the shadows of others he knew better than the living. Jeeter was devastated and spent a lot of time alone. Jay-Jay said to his wife, Jeeter’s mother, “What is it that makes us “Sin Jins” get so sad so easy?” She didn’t know, except that there was a lot to be sad about on a reservation. She did know it was a good reason to avoid drinking.

In June when school was out and the rains finally stopped, Jeeter announced that he was going on a vision-quest to the top of the Sweetgrass Hills. The anthropologist and the old man had both told him about vision-beds of rock, walls of the sedimentary rock plates either stacked or propped on edge, to be wind shelters while a boy coming of age fasted, prayed, and waited to be contacted by his totem animal. He was sure he could find one of these, maybe a bear, though none had been seen up there for a long time.

Ev was the only one who didn’t think it was a crazy idea. He helped Jeeter make four little flags of different colors, coded for the four directions, but told him NOT to stare into the sun as old-timers did. Too many old-timers went blind. He agreed to drive Jeeter up the ranch roads until he was close to where the vision-beds were supposed to be and then come looking for him on the fourth day. He made the boy take along some bottled water, another change from the old days.

At the last minute he produced a old worn red-brown leather rattle. It wasn’t a loud sound, more of a whispery rice-falling noise. “What’s in there?” asked Jeeter.

“Dunno.”

“Where did you get it?”

“Bought it off a drunk.”

“Is it ceremonial?”

“He was too drunk to tell me.”

“How could someone like that have a terrific rattle like this?” Jeeter turned it over and over in his hands, the contents sliding softly along the inside.

“He wasn’t always a drunk. Once he was a kid like you.”


It was hard work finding a vision bed. Low to the ground, maybe a couple of feet high, oriented west-to-east, with a long view of the Rockies, in an area with a lot of loose rock and alpine fir, sweet-smelling. Rock so old it was encrusted with lichen. He had brought a bedroll over his shoulder and when he found a vision bed, the size and shape of a rowboat, he threw the blankets out on the center. Stripped to his gym shorts, he lay down with his head to the east, the pointed end. Then he remembered the four flags and planted them in the corners before he lay back down.

He felt silly. His heart rate and temp were still high from climbing up. Sitting up cross-legged, he began to scan the view, letting the distance and the atmosphere seep into him. Pretty soon he thought of his rattle and began a rhythm, at first fast and fancy, then just an ordinary heart pulse. He concentrated on keeping it steady and wished he knew songs, Indian songs, sacred songs. If this were a movie, there’d be an Indian flute and the cry of hawks.

Hawks were cruising the skies, but they either weren’t screaming or weren’t coming close enough to be heard. In the firs not far away, some kind of thrush was singing. He wondered what time it was -- lunchtime, judging by his stomach. He hadn’t brought a watch, obviously. But watching the sun cross the sky didn’t seem all that helpful. It traveled awfully slow. He lay back and dozed for a while.

When the sun got low, the coolness woke him up, so he sat up and started his rattle again, kept it going a long time into the dark, wondered if it would be cheating to pull a blanket over his shoulders but didn’t do it until shivering interrupted his rattle. It would be great to have a campfire on this rocky shale -- easy to shelter it from the wind and screened so people couldn’t see it from the flats. But in the old days would there have been a fire? He decided not. He was really hungry.

By the afternoon of the second day he was famished. He hadn’t understood hunger earlier. On the third day he wasn’t hungry anymore, but he’d taken water now and then. His body felt so light -- his mind was floating, too . The small creatures who lived around him were showing themselves, used to him now. Some came close but few paid any attention to him.

Which would be his life-guide, his totem animal? He hoped not a chipmunk, then thought, “Why not a chipmunk? Why be so proud about wanting a big noble animal? Wasn’t life itself powerful enough that even a beetle could bring a message?” It seemed to him that his mind was entering everything he saw, but especially the living things, fitting together in this spreading ecological symphony.

“Don’t get fancy,” he said to himself. But that’s the way it felt, a powerful music in which they were not just musicians, not just instruments, but the chords themselves, the entwining vibrations, the...

A shadow fell over him. His first thought was that it was his messenger animal. His second thought was that his Uncle Ev had come on horseback to check on him. His third thought was outrage.


Beck’s folks had left her alone at the ranch while they went on a business trip. It wasn’t the first time. She was a new high school grad and since she’d grown up on that ranch, she was as competent as any adult who lived there. Her plan was to spend a lot of time on her new quarterhorse gelding, see if she could make a barrel-racer of it. The horse was nearly cherry-red with the space of two men’s hands side-by-side across its chest and a rump so muscled it looked like a big apple. A square horse, like a piece of fine furniture, and she spent a lot of time rubbing its coat to a high polish. “I’m going to call you Candy Apple,” she said to the horse, and looked around just in time to see it reaching with its mouth open to take a big bite out of HER! Didn’t seem to be bonding. Maybe a good long uphill ride would make this horse pay attention to business.

There was a vague trail of sorts she pushed the horse up, until it was sweating.


She was so totally unprepared when a boy reared up out of the rocks that she nearly lost her seat on the dancing horse. “What on EARTH are you doing?” she demanded.

“What are YOU doing?” he demanded right back.

“I’m just taking a ride like any normal person!”

“Well, I’m on a vision quest. I don’t suppose you know what that is.”

“Don’t be silly. Of course I’ve read about it.”

“That’s not the same as doing it. Get out of here.”

“I don’t have to -- this is our family’s land.”

“No one can own the Sweetgrass Hills. They’re sacred.”

“The government extinguished your claim with a huge wad of money, years ago.” They glared at each other. Then she reined herself in. “I know what you mean about sacred. It’s sacred to me, too.”

The sudden alarming thought crossed Jeeter’s reeling mind that she might demand to participate in his fasting -- whites were always horning in on Indian ceremonies, trying to be noble or something. “Women can’t have vision quests.”

“Of course they can. Think of Running Eagle, the woman warrior.”

He was disconcerted. “Whites can’t do it. Whites just come around and spoil every damn thing. Kill us, take our land, now even spoil our prayers.”

She started to reply, realized this was insoluble, and wheeled her horse away, traveling downhill. She was shaken and angry and those emotions went right into the horse. Just as she was out of sight of the vision bed, the horse crow-hopped, threw her and ran off, carefully holding its reins off to the side so as not to step on them. This was an experienced bad-acting horse.

She was unconscious for a while, then semi-conscious on the sharp-edged tiles of rock. When she tried to move, her ankle hurt -- a lot. When she could bear it, she sat up, pulled off her boot -- wincing -- and saw how swollen the ankle was. By inching over a bit, she could prop her foot up on a larger rock, but that was about all she could think of to do for it at the moment.

She was close enough to the boy to yell for help. In fact, if she were still enough that the loose rock didn’t scrape together under her, she could hear the shush-shush-shush of his rattle, like a heart valve heard through a stethoscope. She didn’t want to interfere with him. He had a right to do his searching. She had always sympathized with Indians, but more than that, she could see how sincere he was.

The sun was slipping down towards night, making the sun rays slantwise. Turning her head towards a tall ridge, she saw a petroglyph. She’d seen plenty before at Writing-on-Stone, just to the north, but this was the first one that she felt she’d discovered. What was it? A person with a dog? She thought so. Thought she had to remember where this was. Then she dozed.

After dark it was chilly in spite of the rocks holding heat, and she began to think about hypothermia. Maybe she should ask that boy for a blanket. She couldn’t walk around to keep warm.

Just when she began to feel serious about it, a big white shape came out of the firs: a dog. It was the kind of dog that people raise with their sheep herds to keep wolves away and that were sometimes trained for rescue dogs, European mountain dogs that find the injured and lie down against them to keep them warm. She’d read about them (her father thought she read too much) and how the breeds had been doing this so long that they did it by instinct now -- it was in their genes.

The dog snurfled her all over, beginning with her face and going down to the ankle, which it licked for a while. Then it heaved a big sigh and stretched out against her back. It stunk but it was warm. Feeling protected, Becky slipped back into a dream. Her last thought was, “No keg of brandy under this dog’s chin.” And then ”I’d rather have hot Ovaltine anyway.”


No dog came to visit the boy in his vision bed. He lay looking at the stars, seeing some of them streak across the sky, some of them dancing with each other, the Big Dipper and Little Dipper turning through the sky. Hey. No white man stuff. He should be thinking of them as bears. He slept.

He woke in the darkest part of the night, shaking in his blanket. Awareness suddenly grew that creatures were with him. He could hear breathing and shifting in a circle around him. Maybe a herd of deer or elk, not grazing but bedding. He smelled skunk or maybe fox, but also grassy scents and funky stuff. He thought, “Must be dreaming.”

“Nope,” came into his mind. He stared into the dark and saw animal shapes: antlers, big shoulders, tails, ears. The glint of eyes in pairs, all sizes. The rocks shifted under the animals, sounding like crockery. Maybe he could feel them. Something stretched out to meet his reaching hand. “Ouch!” A small animal had bitten him. “Pay attention.” Not words, just the thought.

“Vision animals aren’t supposed to bite people!”

“Don’t tell us what to do. We’ve been doing this a long time.”

Tears came to his eyes, not because he hurt but because this was funny, almost like a cartoon, and yet somehow it was transcendent -- beyond anything he’d thought of. All the live things... all his relations... an arching grace of forgiveness and inclusion coming to him in waves from this circle.

They stayed with him for quite a while -- maybe an hour -- not really doing or saying anything very much, just being there in harmony -- sharing vibes, you might say. When the sky began to lighten, they weren’t there anymore. Jeeter started his rattle again but this time he knew a song to sing with it, his own song.


Becky woke just in time to see the Kuvasc -- or Great Pyrenees or whatever breed the dog was -- disappearing off into the trees. Maybe its leaving was what woke her. Seemed like it knew where it was going, so she didn’t call it. Then she heard the song and rattle pulsing just over the ridge. Pretty soon it stopped and the boy’s footsteps came crashing down through the scree. She tried not to look pitiful but she was very relieved.

“Damn! Were you here all night?”

“Is that big white dog yours? He stayed with me.”

“No dog. Why didn’t you yell?”

“A vision quest is a lot more important than a sprained ankle. I’ll heal up but you... did you have the vision?”

He nodded, unable to speak. She didn’t press him, knowing that things of that intensity are private. He sat down beside her and they looked out over the hazy flatland to the rose alpenglow spread over the Rockies on the West. Nothing to say, just eyes drinking up the long distances.

A hawk flew over, “Kreeee, kreeeee!” Jeeter laughed. “Just like the movies.”

“Only better.” The sweet morning updraft lifted their hair. “How did you know I was here?”

“Dunno.”

Higher and redder went the sun, then pale. After a while they saw something moving up the butte towards them. A man on a horse, leading two other horses, one of which had an ass like a candy apple. “My Uncle Ev,” explained Jeeter.

“He found my rotten horse!” said Becky, though she didn’t feel angry about the renegade. Somehow the night had not been such an ordeal even though her ankle still throbbed. There was so MUCH to life!

Later Jeeter said to his Uncle Ev, “You know, when I was surrounded by those creatures, I thought I knew the true meaning of life, but I can’t remember what they said it was.”

“Write this down,” said Ev. “The meaning of life is to get out there and live it, no matter what the cost.” After a pause he said, “And have a care for the other guy.”

Jeeter didn’t write it down, but he DID remember it.

Becky never found out where that big white dog came from, though she asked a lot of people.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Basketball Warrior

The artifact in Bob Scriver's book, "The Blackfeet: Artists of the Northern Plains" that I included in this story is the straight-up Blackfeet headdress. The people I kept thinking of were Russ Redner and Kenneth Loudhawk and particularly Kenneth's father at the time the two men were tried in Portland, OR, for transportinig dynamite in a Winnebago in Eastern Oregon. (Dennis Banks was also to be tried, but jumped bail to California where Governor Brown refused to extradite him.) The sheriff who had custody of the dynamite eventually became so nervous about it that he exploded the stuff. The case was lost for lack of the evidence, the explosives.



1943-1960 Historical Time-Line


1943:
Makes Cold Weather gives Blood Medicine Pipe to John Ewers. The Council files suit against Superintendent McBride and Forester A.D. Stephenson, defending B. Connolly. A certain amount of double-leasing seems to be going on. Different authorities make different deals with different people. The drought cattle, which were supposed to have been relief, have now somehow become a debt.
1944: National Congress of American Indians formed as Indian lobbying group. John Ewers is the builder and new curator at the Museum of the Plains Indian. Brian Connolly accuses George Pambrun of shady doings. D'arcy McNickle is a member of the government commission that investigates the whole complication. So is Felix Cohen who (as an assistant Secretary of the Interior) had helped to create the Tribal Council and didn't want to hurt it now. He was one of the most celebrated practitioners of Indian law in American and is employed by the tribe.
1945: The Tribal Council has gone into the red from 1942 to 1946.
1946: Warren O'Hara is the superintendent.
1949: Iliff McKay is the Tribal Treasurer. He was bonded, resigned, terminated his bond, and then was reinstated but without the bond. This meant the Council couldn't receive funds from the local accounts on deposit with the Superintendent Rex Kildow and precipitated an audit, which the bonding company insisted upon. The Council had loaned themselves $63,000. There was much other evidence of mismanagement. The Charter was not being enforced. Cohen advised the Council to put their money in a separate account of their own until he can work out difficulties. The superintendent suggets terminating supervision. He asks for the FBI. D'Arcy McNickle, Chief of the Tribal Relations Branch, urges the Indian Bureau to sort things out as the law requires.
1950: RELOCATION of Indians to cities. Indian slums form in Midwest and West Coast.
1951: The squabble goes on. Louis Plenty Treaty asks a senator if a petition of four or five hundred Blackfeet could abolish the Tribal Council. George Pambrun is the Chair.
1953: Law forbidding Indians to purchase liquor off-reservation is repealed. White whiskey towns had sprung up around dry reservations. Termination policy begins.
1954: Indian Health transferred from BIA to U.S. Public Health Service.
1960: JFKennedy extends federal housing assistance to reservations, increases commodities, kills heirship bill. (over 1960-63)

BASKETBALL WARRIOR


At the Am Vets Club on the rez -- most afternoons -- Ev Goes On Through and Jess St. John (pronounced “Sin Jin,” which caused Jess to be called “Slim Jim” though he certainly was not either) were steady customers, better entertainment than television. They were WWII veterans and told wild tales of fighting in France and Italy, but even if they got off those topics, they had many more stories to tell. As they reached what some would call “retirement age,” they were still full of piss and vinegar.

Ev had gotten out of college just in time to be ready for Indian preference hiring at the BIA and he’d been a paper-pusher up there in the Government Square ever since. No one was very sure what he did, exactly, but if you got into real trouble with the BIA, you went to Ev and he’d see what he could do. Most of the time he could help you out.

Jess was a totally different type. He’d returned to his father’s ranch and helped build it into a going operation. The brand was S Fish-hook, which is just fancy for SJ, their initials. There had been two brothers. One died in a car accident (yes, he was drunk) and Jess bought the other one out when he decided to move to the coast. Despite what seemed like a lot of weight and apparent inattention, he was an exceptionally vital and focused man, which is good in a rancher. If he said he was going to do something, he would.

When they got off the war stories, their favorite argument was about the proper way to manage the tribe’s oil resources. Jess thought the tribe should directly drill and develop while Ev thought it was smarter to let outsiders do the work and just manage the leases and contracts. Sometimes they came close to blows, but never all the way.

Their other favorite argument was about any profit the tribe made: Jess thought it should be paid out in per capita for private enterprise and Ev thought it should be invested in tribal infrastructure, like roads for the reservation. Jess thought the government should pay for that stuff, but Ev said that gave the BIA too much say in what was done. These were full-blood versus half-blood arguments that ran through the whole tribe and especially the Tribal Council.

It was nearly suppertime when they heaved themselves out of their chairs -- not drunk, though Jess had had a couple of beers spread over the afternoon, and went out to Jess’ pickup to go fetch his son, Jess Jr., from the schoolhouse. Jess Jr. -- JayJay, they called him -- was a basketball star in the winter and a fancy dance contestant in the summer. He had Jess’ temperament and Ev’s build, which he got because Jess had married Ev’s sister.

In the empty schoolhouse, they could hear the ball bouncing -- whack, whack, whack -- and then the basket -- whoosh with hardly a bedoing sound from hitting the rim! The same pattern over and over and with them the smacking of big tennis shoes on the wooden floor. The two men stood for a moment listening for the pure pleasure of the familiar sound before quietly pulling open the door.

Jay-Jay was alone on the floor with lights only around the basket, bouncing off the highly polished floor. His long arms and legs moved as though he were dancing and his braids flew around his head. The ball dropped though the basket, bounced once, was dribbled a few times as Jay-Jay wheeled into a new position, then arced up and through the hoop again. Whoosh. His concentration was total.

“These are the best years of his life,” whispered Ev.

“When he goes into the service, they’ll make him cut them braids,” mourned Jess.

“I hear there’s a movement to make the basketball players cut their braids. I suppose they do hurt when they whip a guy across the face.”

“Aw, players oughta be tougher than that.” Neither man ever considered that Jay-Jay might resist being drafted. Vietnam had not registered with them. They were patriots who believed the leadership only had to lead the charge. “Anyway, he’s a pow-wow star in the summer -- how can he do that without his braids?”

Neither of them noticed, sitting high on the bleachers where it was dark, a second tall young man, a new transfer student from the Dakotas where he had been a star on one of the small Sioux rez teams. But when the coach of the Warriors approached him, he had said he didn’t want to play. No one understood why. He sure moved like a player.

One day finally the Sioux young man approached Jay-Jay. “Watched you practicing the other day. Pretty good player,” he said. The two hit it off and began to spend time together, but Jay-Jay’s mom didn’t like it and said so to Jess one morning after the school bus had left and she had poured them each a second cup of coffee.

“Why doesn’t he go out for the team?” she asked Jess.

“Dunno. Maybe he’s got an injury.”

“Injury in his attitude, I think. Who are his people? Why is he here?”

“I guess his mom moved back here and made him come along. She’s enrolled here.”

“He talks against whites. It’s a sure way to get into trouble. I want Jay-Jay to go to college, not waste time on fighting whites. You got to get along with them in college.”

“I’ll talk to him,” promised Jess, but he didn’t. He couldn’t think what to say. He wanted his son to get along with whites, but he wanted him to stand his ground and Jay-Jay was even more Indian than his father was -- Jess’ father had been white, but that meant Jay-Jay was a quarter-white. Nadine, ‘Deeny,’ was fullblood same as Ev.

The Sioux transfer was named Hot Hawk. His sister also transferred -- her name was Carlette and the more crude locals joked that she was the one who was really hot. Jay-Jay began to hang out with them at lunch and so on. Carlette didn’t say much but Hot had a lot to say and Jay-Jay listened: about how this was an Indian continent and if it hadn’t been for smallpox, it still would be. And about how they shouldn’t be called Indians anyway -- was this India? Hot admired the American Indian Movement and the outrageous things they did. Then came Wounded Knee II.

Deeny’s predictions came true. Over spring break Jay-Jay, Hot and Carlette hit the road in Hot’s old car, intending to visit the Hawk family in South Dakota -- or so they said. Jay-Jay left his folks a note. He knew they wouldn’t want him to go, but he felt that if he didn’t, he’d be missing out on life, turning away from something essential to being Indian.

Discovering that small town cafes across the prairie were not inclined to serve Indians, they bought ring baloney and Wonder bread. Hot began to buy beer instead of pop or the milk that Jay-Jay was used to. “Sissy!” jeered Hot. Money ran short and by the time they got to Dakota, they only had a few dollars. Carlette simply went into a supermarket and shop-lifted. “These people are just ripping us all off anyway. They add the cost of what we took onto the prices so they don’t lose anything.” But Jay-Jay was beginning to understand that these two were outside what his family would consider proper. “Oh, Jay-Jay,” said Carlette, “Don’t be an old stick-in-the-mud. Our people have always been hunter-gatherers. Think of it that way.”

When the siren sounded behind them, Hot said, “Well, here comes the cavalry. Let’s leave them Long Knives in the dust.” He hit the gas, even though he’d had a few beers and his control and reflexes weren’t the best. Carlette was screaming with laughter. To himself Jay-Jay wished he had a death song to sing. But it didn’t feel like going into battle -- more like ... but he didn’t have time to complete the thought before they were in the ditch, upside down. It was that sudden.

Carlette was under the car, crushed to death. Hot had gone through the windshield, cutting his throat. Jay-Jay’s foot was trapped under the front seat. He twisted and pulled, suddenly desperate to get away from the car, though he didn’t quite know why. Using all his strength, he tore loose. On his stomach, using elbows and one foot, he crab-scrambled out into the grass, conscious in spite of his pain that he was smelling sweetgrass.

Then the highway patrolman was there and since he was the only one moving, the officer dragged him even farther away from the car, which was a good thing because it exploded. Not as though the gas tank had caught fire, but exploded like TNT. “Oh my God,” said the patrolman. “If I’d known that was in the trunk, I never would have chased you alone.”

“If I’d known, I never would have gotten in the car,” said Jay-Jay, and passed out.

“Accident?” asked Jess on the phone, his voice going up so that Deeny got cold chills. “Trial?” She was already thinking what to pack in order to get to Jay-Jay.

“Has a doctor seen him? Is he in a hospital?” Then a long silence. Finally Jess hung up. “They might have to amputate his foot. We’d better get there fast. They won’t spend money on fancy medical care for an Indian.”

“Call Ev,” directed Deeny as she left for the bedroom and began pulling open drawers.

They didn’t get there quite soon enough. Jay-Jay’s foot was gone, along with his athletic scholarship and his fancy dancing. “At least he still has his braids,” said Deeny. “His beautiful braids.” She began to cry again, though she hadn’t thought there was anything more to cry about. Jess folded her up under his chin and shed his own tears on top of her head.


By the time the state of South Dakota called Jess to trial, they had figured it all out. Hot had gotten the dynamite somewhere in Idaho where there was mining and was transporting it to some guys in South Dakota who claimed they were AIM, though that remained to be established at the trial. It was lucky there wasn’t very much of the stuff.

In court when the bailiff said, “All rise,” and the judge strode in, he saw at the defendent’s table a thin young man with glossy braids as thick as his wrists, who stood on one foot with his crutches alongside. Ranged in the seats behind the boy -- alongside his father, mother and uncle -- were a lawyer in a fringed buckskin jacket and long white hair, a famous writer in a corduroy jacket and a Pendleton shirt, and an Indian journalist known for his pen sharp as an arrow. The judge wondered which ones were really concerned about the boy and which were showboating.

The prosecuting attorney was one of the local good ol’ boys. The defense attorney was from Texas, a woman in a power suit and an expensive haircut. She was of mixed blood, some Indian and probably some Negro, an affirmative action graduate of an exceptionally fine law school, now assigned to this pro bono case to polish the image of her prestige law firm. The cameras loved her, but she paid no attention to them. She was all business.

When the three adult Blackfeet had gone out for coffee with her, Ev took the lead in asking her questions but oddly he didn’t think of an important one until well along in the conversation. “Miss Child, somehow I recognize your face. Do you have ties to the Blackfeet?”

“My father.”

Ev’s face became intense. “Was his real name Surprising Child?”

“Yes. I dropped the ‘Surprising’ part -- it took too much explaining. Not that a lawyer is against surprises -- or explanations, for that matter.” Now Jess was paying attention.

“Hector Surprising Child?”

“What?” asked Deeny, seeing the men’s faces change.

“Hector Surprising Child was Old Nosy’s boy. This lady is the daughter of our old Army buddy, Heck!”

The lawyer was completely poised. “I thought there might be some connection, which is why I made a special plea to get the case.”

“Heck! Our old buddy Heck! How is he?”

Now she lost her poise. “My parents were killed in a car accident ten years ago. They never saw me graduate from law school.”

The four of them sat there, as though transfixed by some spell, until the waitress came around with her refill jug. She was very curious about this little group and came around a little too often. When the glamorous lawyer reached out to take the hands of the two older Indian men and asked, “May I call you my uncles?” she was impressed. She wished for uncles to say that to -- when she drifted off to sleep that night, she heard the lawyer’s soft, beautifully inflected voice saying, “May I call you my uncles?” She thought of the lawyer’s beaded earrings and wondered if she could find a pair like them.

When they got back to the courtroom, there was an ad hoc news conference going on in the hallway outside. The three big shots were holding forth while the reporters did their work. The prosecuting attorney went by quietly and took his seat. He knew when to keep a low profile.

In the end Jay-Jay was found guilty, sentenced to six months in jail with all but time served suspended. Most of the time he served had been in the hospital. Ev shook the hands of the three distinguished men -- lawyer, writer, journalist -- who had ensured a fair trial.

Deeny whispered to Jess, “How does Ev know those guys?”

“I dunno. He travels a lot to conferences. I guess he’s been on panels with them or something.”


When they got home to the ranch, Jay-Jay refused to go back to finish up the few months of his senior year that were left. He had no trouble passing the GED. That qualified him for a state college, but he didn’t want to enroll. He spent a lot of time learning to ride with one foot. When there was talk about a prothesis, he left the room. Hour after hour he lay on his bed in his room with his back to the world.

One day he heard car doors slam and his dad talking to some man out in the yard. He heard his dad come into the house, go to his parents’ bedroom, take something out of their big trunk and go back outside. Going to the window, he saw his dad hand over something in a bundled-up calico poke and accept a check in return. When the strange man drove off, his father stared at the check, stuffed it into the pocket of his cowboy shirt, and went off toward the barn.

Jay-Jay hopped into the kitchen. “Mom, what did Dad just sell to that guy?” She was peeling potatoes into a colander in the sink and didn’t want to answer. “MOM!”

Very quietly, she said, “His buckskin parade suit.”

“Why? Why would he do such a thing?”

“Lawyers cost a lot of money, even when most of their work is for free. There are always expenses.”

“He LOVED that suit! There was nothing more important to him than wearing that suit and riding a good horse in the Indian Days parade!”

“I know.”

“I’m not worth it.” He turned and thumped back to his room. When Deeny had thought long enough to know what she wanted to say, she found him with his back turned.

“Move over, I want to sit on your bed while I say things to you.” Grudgingly, he shifted and she settled.

“Jay-Jay, I made that buckskin suit for your father when we were first married.”

“I know.” The boy’s arms were wrapped around his middle and his voice was muffled.

“Jay-Jay, your father and I together made you together. I can bead another buckskin suit, but it’s too late to make another boy.”

“What about my heritage? You sold my Indian heritage.”

Deeny got up, sighing, went into the other bedroom and got into the trunk. She came back with a rawhide cylinder Jay-Jay hadn’t seen before, sat back down and began to work at the knots in the thongs that tied the bundle together. When she got the contents out and shaken to set the feathers free, she said softly, “Look.”

Grudgingly, Jay-Jay rolled partly over and looked. “What IS that?” He rolled the rest of the way over and sat up. “What the heck kind of funny looking warbonnet is that?”

“You’re used to Sioux warbonnets, but this is the real Blackfeet way to make one -- straight-up, like a stove pipe.”

“Why do people wear Sioux warbonnets -- why not Blackfeet?”

“This is a sacred headdress, Jay-Jay. It’s not for show. You can’t wear it until you’ve had the right transferred to you.”

“Who owns it? Who made it?”

“It comes from our family, way back. We are only the Keepers, not the owners. Your Uncle Ev knows the song. He can give you the right to wear it, but not until you’re grown up.”

The boy looked at the bonnet and carefully touched the eagle feathers. The feathers were attached to a quilled rawhide strip and from the strip also hung the small soft hides of both summer and winter weasels. At the temples were small round trade mirrors and round brass falconry bells. The tips of each feather had a tassel of horsehair. He thought while his mom sat beside him with her strong, graceful hands folded in her lap.

“Those old people lost everything, my boy. Their land, their families, the buffalo. But they never gave up.

Finally, he said, “I get it.” His smile was the first in a long time and it was genuine.

“You’ve only lost your foot, son. Not your brains or your heart.”

Monday, December 05, 2005

HALF-BREED

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,”


HALF-BREED


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?"

"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.