Authors: Janelle Taylor
The Oglala warriors returned from a successful hunt. While the women prepared for the feast at dusk, the council, which consisted of members of the Big Belly
Society, met in the ceremonial lodge. Big Bellies were a group of older men who had proven their prowess throughout the years and who had held ranks of honor: chiefs of every degree, shamans, and renowned warriors, most of whom had seen the last of their fighting days and were now called upon for their wisdom. These men were responsible for the tribe’s leadership and for making the crucial decisions for the tribe’s benefit. Working with and for them was a group of ten warriors, known as “shirt wearers,” who carried out the instructions of the council. When selected for this important honor and rank, a man was given a painted shirt which was fringed with scalplocks and which he guarded with his life if necessary, as it was a big
for an enemy to steal such a sacred shirt. Many shirts were half-blue and half-yellow, others were half-red and half-green, and others were all yellow or striped with black. The colors were to remind the warrior of his responsibility to the Great Spirit, and the scalplocks were to remind him of his duty to his people. These prized shirts, one of which belonged to Bright Arrow, were worn only during special ceremonies and during all battles.
Gray Eagle introduced Powchutu to the other fourteen council members, the “shirt wearers,” and Sacred Bow members who were present; and all seemed pleased by his arrival. The ex-scout was voted into the tribe; but, like all Indian braves, he would be required to prove himself before becoming a member of the
the Warrior Society, to which all proven warriors belonged.
Gray Eagle looked around the circle of men as he told how his half brother would accomplish this task. “My brother speaks the white tongue as easily as the whites. Many times he has dressed white and moved among them without suspicion. On the new sun, he will
ride to the fort and enter it. He will say he wishes to send messages on the white man’s paper to his children far away in the white lands. While he is there, he will study the soldiers’ strength and plans. Our scouts have warned us the bluecoats are gathering men and weapons to attack us during our journey to the Plains. The bluecoats know we are vulnerable during this season while Mother Earth renews her face. We must prepare weapons and make plans before we begin our journey in five moons. We must find ways to hunt the buffalo and guard our new camps at the same time. The bluecoats are known for their attacks while warriors and hunters are away from camp. We must trick them this season. We must learn their size, skills, and thinking. When my brother has learned such things, he will return to us, and he will become a member of our council and Warrior Society. Is there one among you who says no?”
Many of the “shirt wearers”—Bright Arrow, Flaming Star, Deer Stalker, and Star Gazer—and of the Sacred Bow carriers—Sun Cloud, Night Rider, Rising Elk, and Thunder Spirit—observed while the council talked and voted. Unless a warrior fiercely disagreed with the council, he did not speak out in a lodge meeting. Members, who were the wisest and bravest of warriors, made the decisions for the tribe, which the head chief was duty bound to carry out, with the help of the “shirt wearers.” But when it came to crucial matters, such as intertribal war or allied war with the whites, each man spoke his mind and gave his vote, and the majority always ruled. Today, the business was simple, so only the council members talked and voted.
White Arrow, best friend to Gray Eagle and father of Flaming Star and Thunder Spirit, spoke up in a strong voice which belied his sixty-nine years, “I say we send
Eagle’s Arm to the fort to spy on our foes. I say we accept him into council when he returns.”
Big Elk, the war chief of forty-three years of age, concurred. “I say we must know the secrets of our foes to defeat them. They have become many and strong since we left the Plains. They seek to destroy all Lakotas and their allies. We must plan our defenses and attacks cunningly. Eagle’s Arm can be our eyes and ears inside the fort.”
Talking Rock, Plenty Coups, Walks Tall, Black Buffalo, and the other councilmen all nodded agreement. All had spoken and/or voted except the shaman Mind-who-Roams. All eyes focused on the medicine chief and holy man of fifty-six as he carefully chose and weighed his words before speaking.
“The visions which come to me these moons bring sadness to my heart. I see evil shadows over our lands. I see the blood of many Oglalas spilled. I see many mourning for the losses of those we love. There is danger and trouble ahead for us, my brothers. We must be brave and strong, for the Great Spirit will lead us from our perils and darkness into the light and safety. We must prepare ourselves, for the demands we shall soon face are great and painful. There are those who sit in this council who will not live to see the Sun Dance. We must not lose hope and faith, my brothers, for the greatness of the Oglala lives beyond us. We will destroy our enemies and know great victory before winter returns to our lands, but our lands must first taste the blood of those we love. The Great Spirit wills Eagle’s Arm to ride to the fort, but he did not ride alone in my vision.”
“I will become a white man once more and join my father’s brother on his quest. Once more I will look and speak as Clay Rivera,” Bright Arrow announced, as if the shaman had named him as Powchutu’s partner. “I
know the white man’s tongue and ways. I will cut my hair, dress as white, and play the white man for two suns.”
Walks Tall argued. “It is wrong to cut your hair; it is your honor.”
“Hair can grow again, Walks Tall, dead brothers cannot. If two lost braids save only one warrior, it is worth my sacrifice. Pray each hair cut saves the life of an Oglala. What is the honor of one man over the survival of his tribe? I do this with love for my people.”
Mind-who-Roams raised his hand to silence Walks Tall’s next remark. “The son of our chief follows the will of
do not speak against it, my brother. They will return safely, for I have seen them riding upon the Plains.”
Sun Cloud remembered how Bright Arrow had ridden into a Crow camp, duped them, and rescued him when he was seven years old. He had seen his brother’s prowess in battle, and he knew Bright Arrow would be victorious. He beamed with pride and pleasure. No man could have a brother who walked taller or stronger than his did. Perhaps this stirring trip would enliven his brother’s heart, for he had not been himself since the loss of his wife. If only they knew what had happened to Rebecca “Wahea” Kenny after she mysteriously vanished last spring while gathering herbs in the forest, but this was not the time to dwell on that incident. Bright Arrow would travel as Clay Rivera, the name he had used during his banishment from their tribe. This time, the Spanish name would protect his identity as it had done long ago.
When there was nothing more to say and all had agreed, the council meeting ended. Some of the men separated into small groups to converse or to exchange tales of past days as they drifted outside for fresh air to
await the feast. Gray Eagle left to speak with Shalee, to reveal their plans and the departure of Powchutu and Bright Arrow. Sun Cloud vanished with his friend Thunder Spirit, and Flaming Star went to see his wife Morning Light and their three children.
White Arrow approached Powchutu after the lodge was empty of all except them and Bright Arrow, who had not left his sitting mat and seemed to be ensnared by deep thought. “What you do is a good and generous thing, my new brother. Your journey will be hard and dangerous. My heart rejoices at your return and help.”
Powchutu, who was now called Eagle’s Arm, smiled at the man he had met when Gray Eagle had come to him to plead with him to explain Chief Black Cloud’s claim over Alisha Williams, in those days before Alisha had discovered Gray Eagle could speak English. He had traveled with White Arrow and Gray Eagle to the Blackfeet camp, and had carried out blind treachery there. Along the way, he had come to know White Arrow as an honorable man, a tried and trusted friend of Gray Eagle’s. As it had been with him, White Arrow had loved Alisha from the first; he had been kind and gentle with her, and they had become friends. Indeed, Powchutu had White Arrow to thank for making Alisha’s life easier and happier in the Eagle’s domain before love and peace had come between his half brother and his first love.
White Arrow noticed Powchutu’s smile and faraway gaze. He remarked genially, “Each season my mind drifts into the past more and more, as yours does now. It has been many winters since I held you captive for Alisha to become Shalee and to find my brother’s heart.”
Powchutu chuckled and nodded. “We are lucky, for our lives have known more good than bad. If things had been different long ago, she could be your wife or
mine this day. She touched both our lives and hearts, and we are better men for having known and loved her. It is strange how the Great Spirit works his will, and sometimes it is hard to accept and to understand. The sufferings I caused others trouble me deeply, but they led us to the paths of our true destinies. It is good to find peace in my heart and acceptance in my people’s lands.”
Bright Arrow stood to join them. “Your words are true, my uncle, for the Great Spirit works in mysterious and often painful ways. I have been my own prisoner since spring last touched our lands. Sometimes it is easier to die than to live as dead without your heart. Tell me, how did you slay the pain of your mate’s loss and become a whole man again?” he asked both men, for Powchutu had lost Sarah Anne—the real Shalee— and White Arrow had lost his Wandering Doe, whose loss had also saddened Bright Arrow because White Arrow and Wandering Doe were his second parents, as was the Indian way.
White Arrow and Powchutu exchanged looks, neither knowing how to respond. Finally, Powchutu replied in a strained voice, “I miss her each day and night, Bright Arrow. She took a part of me when she left my side. The pain is less, but it still lives. Each sun I long for her and force myself not to weep openly for her absence. Some days, it is as if she still lives and I might see her soon. But she was very ill, and it was best she did not linger and suffer. She lives in our children and in my heart. She lives in the land and in the wind. She can never die, for my mind keeps her alive. It is different with you, Bright Arrow; you are young and have much of your life ahead of you. You should seek another mate to take away your loneliness and pain. Let her smile and arms bring you comfort and new life. You are too young and vital to be alone, to be without spirit
“Eagle’s Arm speaks wisely and kindly, my son. My life with Wandering Doe was long, and I have many good memories. Yours with Wahea was short and troubled, and only a new love and life can heal your wounds. I would be as a walking dead man if I did not have Pretty Woman to send laughter into our tepee and to pull me from my dark moods. I do not love her as I loved Wandering Doe, but she fills an emptiness and longing within my heart and life. She has given me two fine children, Crow Stalker and Prairie Flower. If I had not joined with her, I would not have them, and I would be forced to live with my other children. It should not be so, for Flaming Star and Medicine Girl have tepees and families of their own, and soon Thunder Spirit will begin his new life with a chosen mate. He is like your brother Sun Cloud; he thinks I am too old to hunt and thinks he must protect me and provide for me and my second family. Thunder Spirit is like you, Bright Arrow; he lost the woman he loved, but to another man. Who is to say which loss is harder to accept? His eyes were for Little Feet alone,” the older man murmured without thinking.
Bright Arrow looked surprised. “Why did he not come to me and ask for my first daughter in joining? She accepted Chief Races-the-Buffalo’s offer because she feared no other would ask for her. I had placed the marks of the white man and evil upon her face and body.” He blamed himself, alluding to her auburn hair and hazel eyes, and the scars on her face and body from the smallpox attack in the Cheyenne camp when she was six and nearly died as her sister Moon Eyes had.
“But she is beautiful and all love her,” White Arrow protested.
“She panicked when all her friends were joined except her. She believed it was the white man’s evil
touches upon her body which turned warriors’ eyes away. She is a good wife to her mate and a good mother to her two sons, but she does not love her husband. When I visit her, I see a sadness and loneliness which matches mine for Wahea.”
“Thunder Spirit was away for many full moons. If he had been here, he would have challenged for her hand. Such a loss is sad.”
Powchutu remarked, “Men have often lost the women of their hearts or dreams because they held silent. Sometimes it is hard to know when it is the ‘time to be quiet; the time to speak up.’”
Bright Arrow knew this was a “time to be quiet,” for he recalled hearing Little Feet crying and confessing her love for Thunder Spirit to her mother Rebecca “Wahea” Kenny. Knowing now that love was returned, he wished he had gone to his second father as he had been tempted to do and had asked him to speak with his son about Little Feet; he had been too proud to risk rejection. Now, each must walk the path he chose when he did not wait for
to work His will.
White Arrow advised his friend’s son. “When you find another who captures your eye and passion, speak for her quickly before she is lost to another. Come, we must rest before the feast. I am no longer a young man, and the suns grow longer for me between the moons.”
“When we have moved our camp, I will obey your words, Father and Uncle; I will seek another mate who causes my heart and body to reach for her. A man should not be alone.” Bright Arrow watched the two older men depart, then turned to pray.
Forgive me, Rebecca, my love, for someone must ease this pain of your loss. I must feel joy and life again. If you lived, you would have been returned to me.
He had set the pattern for his life when he was eighteen, and he had captured Rebecca Kenny and had
slain two warriors to keep her. Many things, bad and good, had happened to him, and to others, because of that action. He had lived in torment until
had guided his steps home. Yet, if he had that part of his life to live over again, he would make the same decisions. Surely there was a purpose to his losing Rebecca… If only
would reveal it to him, he could move on with his life. Perhaps the Great Spirit had allowed him time to enjoy his willful mistake before correcting it. Perhaps he and Rebecca had been returned to their destined paths. But if she had to be removed from his Life-circle, why were his love and desire for her not removed? he questioned in renewed anguish.