My mother on the left. She had not had proper wedding herself,
because her father was opposed to my father
who had declared he was an atheist.
No doubt the Sixties in the US were just as corrupt as today, but we went along in ignorant bliss with a handsome president until he was assassinated in front of our eyes. Then another, then another, killed. Failed invasions, Vietnam, and all the rest. Riots in the streets, going to the moon. But it was only background to me. On the Blackfeet reservation I was living an even more dramatic life than I would have in the early Peace Corps, where my peers enlisted.
It’s impossible to think how any other 21-year-old woman could have sat in Blackfeet ceremonies, poured molten bronze, herded bison, horseback-hunted in sub-zero snow along the Rockies, and equally scary challenges without questioning. The hard part was the daily maintenance of the sculpture business and in summer the forced pleasing of visitors. I thought it was wildly romantic and a life-changing privilege and I was right.
Many years later an old rancher said to me, “I always thought Scriver was too hard on his women.” In comparison to the contemporary complaints about minor offenses, I should have been outraged by the put-down assumptions and the casual abuse. I didn’t even notice. My “thing” was being tough and obedient. I was a fourteen-year-old boy. I sneered at women and identified myself with the tribal people, who didn’t return the idea.
This life lasted a decade and the end was miserable for a peculiar reason: we got married at my insistence. In Bob that triggered every misery of his two previous marriages: infidelity, being “owned,” losing his local reputation, becoming dependent on a person who used it against him. I became bewildered, then exhausted, then depressed, which I described as “having the flu.”
Looking back, a doc gave me “speed” to lose weed, but to his credit when I weighed the same (145 as opposed to today’s 190) he told me to get out and not come back. Over the counter one could take Scopolamine (today’s street name: “Devil’s Breath”) which was supposed to make one calm and agreeable. It didn’t. Everyone there used alcohol as a drug but it didn’t work for me.
In the beginning I was the one who researched and made contacts. I had no phone, no car, couldn’t drive, lived separately but slept part of the night with Bob. He taught me to drive, paid the bills, fed me at cafés, and told me stories, as did his dad, who came in 1903. He took me along to visit old tribal people and to paint plein aire. He took me to St. Paul to learn to patine, which is not easy, and I kept the shop records but not the real books. I never knew how much money he made, even when we married. I was marginally aware that he sometimes had to have help from his mother, who had inherited a modest estate from her Quebec family. His brother expressed contempt for him.
Bob began to send me on long desperate solitary drives, like delivering bronzes to Cody, Wyoming, in a road-closing blizzard. He had had a heart attack so couldn’t. I fully expected to die in the attempt and the Cody staff was both indignant and admiring.
When I left, I took almost nothing. He was terrified that I would wipe him out, but at that time the law favored men and was designed to preserve the integrity of ranches. I signed papers but didn't attend court. Now there is an automatic proportion of income that is allotted to the woman depending on the length of the marriage, up to half.
Early after the marriage he sold the entire rodeo series to Calgary for enough money to buy the ranch that became the Blackfeet Land Resource shared with the Nature Conservancy. I had loved more the previous little ranch on Two Medicine where I spent the winter alone just after the divorce. Bob brought me groceries and at Christmas his mother made him give me the little old red van I’d habitually driven, but the road wasn’t paved and I went nowhere until spring when I returned to the school district.
During this decade everything local changed subtly. The feds closed down the town law enforcement, which had been started by the white merchants after WWII when things went wild. They left the tribal system but dominated it. The BIA went to Indian Preference, which meant the white bureaucrats left. The white businessmen who had come after WWII were now ready to retire but there were no heirs, so they locked the door and left empty buildings. The bank closed. The ranchers who married tribal women so they had access to allotted land did not leave, because their children inherited and stayed, but they began to think about college.
A small circle of progressive youngsters, including Eloise Cobell, also began to think about college though not everyone attended. Darrell Kipp went to Billings, then Goddard, then Harvard, and used both his knowledge and contacts to return home and change everything so that people who had been afraid to speak Blackfeet now understood Kipp’s immersion Blackfeet language school which was quite different from old Joe Kipp’s empire. Darrell was genetically a Heavyrunner anyway, adopted by Kipp out of shame for guiding the soldiers who killed most of the Heavyrunner band. The distance in terms of time was about a century, which is fast.
I was sympathetic because Bob truly wanted to be a Blackfeet, horrifying his mother who was Edwardian in her worldview. She thought of “Indians” as a kind of French. I knew them through the ceremonies where they were people born in the 1880’s who kept their doin’s secret, through the slobbering mindless drunks that Bob tried as the City Magistrate, through the clever students who found ways to survival and then significance, and through the stories of the first decade of the century when the mercantile stores were just new versions of fur trading posts. I knew several kinds of tribal women and they sized me up quietly for later alliances.
There were other lives after this — animal control, Divinity school, circuit-riding, municipal civil service, and twenty years of writing — ten of them in cahoots with a renegade. The world changed around all this so that what a thing once meant became something else entirely, but I was always committed to the story of it all. I didn’t want money. Publishing became impossible anyway. I was able to “return home,” and here I am. But I’m not the same. And neither is the world.