Sees Himself

Tests of bravery come in many forms. There is a lot of pressure for a young man wishing to be seen as a man, or at least seen as older than his brothers who must  watch the pony herd instead of going into battle. His older brothers look at him and watch to see if he is ready. Is he strong enough to go along on a raid yet or does he need more time. He has practiced with his bow until he can hit anything in sight, he has made his own shield and done a vision quest. He has fasted. In his mind he is ready.

There has been constant talk of the blue coats entering the area of the Little bighorn river. The older braves have been continually riding in to talk with the elders after spying on the enemy, there is a steady rise of anticipation of what will surely be a big battle with the one they call yellow hair and the rest of the pony soldiers which has made the camp a beehive of activity. There will be much blood on the greasy grass. Tensions are high as squaws are getting their men’s battle gear out of the beaded deer hide cases they are stored in. The younger girls gathering the youngest together to keep them safe. Men are getting their ponies ready, applying paint on the flanks and withers, braiding feathers into their manes, slapping their handprints onto their necks, talking to them of the brave deeds they will perform. The younger boys excitedly riding around the pony herd keeping them in a tight bunch for when they are needed. Anticipation could not be higher.

For several nights this young warrior has had the same dream. He sees himself on his pony waiting near the edge of village to go out with his brothers. His job is to be one of the decoys that lures the first soldiers away from the village. His part is dangerous, the rifle of the soldiers can reach out a long way. His older brother has told him to lay low on the back of his pony, but to yell loudly and appeared scared so that the soldiers looking for an easy kill will follow them. It’s an important job and he is nearly bursting with pride to have been chosen.

He does not want to fail in his task and that is his biggest fear. To some how let down his brothers which is why he has not slept for more than a few hours each night. His dream comes whenever he closes his eyes but as dreams often do, the answer of his bravery is just out of his reach. So it is with some trepidation when the call comes to leap into action. He is certain he will brave but he is slightly worried that for some terrible reason he won’t be. In a few moments he and everyone else will know for sure. He sees himself and now is the moment of truth.


Misses His Friends

Young men and war. How glorious it is. Sitting around the campfire, hearing the elders talk about battles they had when they were young warriors. Riding out across the prairie with a comrade and speaking of brave deeds you would do if given a chance. Scalps you would take, coup you would count, enemies dying on your lance or from your arrows. The excitement, the stories to bring back to the lodge of your prowess in battle, the admiring glances of the young maidens. All this and more if you can only get into the next fight. How agonizing not to have participated yet and be a respected warrior.

Then it happens. You get your opportunity to wage war with your sworn enemy. In this case it is the blue coats that have been relentlessly entering your land, running off the game, killing anyone they see. They’re coming and it will be a big battle, the biggest anyone has ever seen. The biggest in the memory of even the oldest old man in the village. Bigger even than the old mans grandfather could have remembered were you able to ask him. All the tribes are joining together to take part in this exciting, exhilarating, awful, incredible magnificent event. The medicine men have been singing of visions they have had where the Greasy grass is covered with the dead, the women going from body to body making sure no one is alive. Guns, rifles, and pistols laying about for the taking. Reputations made, brave acts to sing about for generations. And you and your friends will play a part. You will  be the relentless, merciless warrior and be victorious in this battle just as you have dreamed of since you  were a child.

And then after a time filled with smoke and war cries, violence and death it is over. The Greasy grass is indeed covered with the dead just as foreseen by the visionaries and the spoils of war have been collected and it’s time for feasts and celebrations, and dancing and story telling, and a time to come down from that glorious battle high and look around you for your friends. That’s when you find that several of them are not at the celebration and never will be again. They’re among the dead laying in the Greasy grass. Killed by the enemy you were victorious over.

Suddenly in the aftermath of what was your greatest adventure you see that those friends that you rode with and boasted with and fought alongside of are no more. They are the same as the enemy now, lifeless and scattered across the land waiting for loved ones to come gather them for preparation to spend eternity in that other world where the dead reside. Songs will be sung about them that will live in the hearts of some for a while but the truth is they are gone forever now and will not share anything with you ever again. This death today is permanent. There will be more conquests and defeats for you to come, very likely more  of the latter than the former but those boyhood friends will not be a part of them. Now you think and mourn, the shine has gone off the day and in reflection you find that there is a high price to pay for glory. Perhaps too high but that’s something to think about later. His name tonight is Misses His Friends.


2014 Crow Nation Fair and Rodeo Day 1


This post has been moved to All future postings of Powwows, Indian Relay Races, Rodeos and Rendezvous will be posted there from now on exclusively. So if you’re looking for new images and posts for all those events attended this year, plus all the old posts posted on check out See you there!

An incredible event takes place on the third week-end of August at Crow Agency, Montana. Just a couple of miles from site of the Battle of the Little Bighorn where Custer and his men met their ends, literally thousands of Indians from various tribes but primarily Crows, put on a Fair and Rodeo. The event is not connected to the battle, in fact I didn’t even hear it mentioned in any of the activities. The purpose is for fellowship, gathering, displaying their lodges or teepees, and celebrating their culture.

The event is also known as the World’s Largest Gathering of teepees in one place, and Crow Agency is known as the Teepee Capitol of the World. This weekend there were over 1000 teepees set up along the Little Bighorn river stretching for close to three miles. That was not a typo. There were over 1000 lodges erected. I walked among them early one morning for nearly an hour from one end to the other and still didn’t cover it all. In places they were packed so tightly together you couldn’t walk between them. In other places you would find a solitary teepee nestled in among the trees, or set up alone out in the grasslands that surround the river.

Surprisingly, to me anyway, there were very few decorated lodges. The majority were made of the plain white canvas you see everywhere. That didn’t affect the impression made by seeing so many together however. At times, during sunrise or sunset, the canvas would take on some of the colors of the sky and were wonderful to see in their own rights.

Another unexpected impression was seeing the number of cars and pickup trucks surrounding each lodge. My first impression was it looked like a parking lot where the parkers were all drunk, with the vehicles being parked haphazardly around each lodge. I suppose I went there with certain expectations, fostered by scenes from Dancing With Wolves and other movies, of the way an Indian camp should look. A romanticized impression that had no basis in fact in the modern Indian world. As I came to terms with the reality versus the movie version of camp life I started to realize the cars and trucks were the modern equivalent of horses tied to the front of each lodge. It was simply these horses had four wheels instead of four feet. After a bit it began to seem normal to see them parked there. I do have to admit though that it made me feel good to see the occasional horse tied in front of a lodge. Adapting to facts doesn’t take the romanticism out of the romantic.

The other surprise, and it shouldn’t be a surprise at all, was the incredible friendliness of the Crow people. I didn’t and don’t have any prejudice for Indians, I just had never spent any time amongst a large group of them. They have a different culture, a culture that dovetails with the rest of modern American culture but is strikingly different in some aspects. I never felt like I had entered an alien place even though there were times I didn’t understand the language being spoken, or the reason for some of their traditions. Every person I approached with a question or comments was more than ready to help.

I was lost one time, turned around in the maze of teepees and narrow little lanes, where the passing pickup trucks narrowly missed running over the stakes used to secure the lodges to the ground, (yes, even the Director of one of the largest Institutes in the scientific-speaking world gets disoriented sometimes) and approached a group of serious looking young fellows standing there smoking and watching the chaotic life going on around them. If you had seen this group of young men standing around in a back alley in some city I seriously doubt whether you would have approached them. I asked them where I was and how did I get back to the center of camp where all the dancing was going on. It was getting dark, making the maze I was in even more confusing, and their directions were not very clear. The guys were laughing and teasing me about being lost but in a good-natured way, when one of them decided what I needed was, in his words, an Indian guide to get me back to civilization. A really nice kid walked back with me to the center of the camp where I regained my bearings. He said he was getting ready to go off to college and was a little worried about how all that was going to work but looking forward to it none the less. I wished him well, we shook hands and that was that. It left me with a different perspective about these young people, Crow or other wise, who with all the markings of the modern world, tattoos, piercings, superficial attitudes, were still just young kids worried about life and how to get through it.

There was an incredible amount of activities going on the entire weekend. It was kind of like an Indian Las Vegas, where many of them never seemed to sleep. Dancing went on throughout the night, and when they weren’t dancing they were partying. Being well past the point where I found that interesting or fun I was glad I had the Bokeh Maru to return to for a much-needed break from the festivities. I’ll be posting more on the Crow Fair and Rodeo over the next couple of days. Stay tuned.