Distant Drums of Wounded Knee Part One (a story)
Wounded Knee Cemetary
Distant Drums of Wounded Knee Part One
The Indian hoofed through a ravine somewhere out in western South Dakota where land is mostly sky. The wind blew sharply as his feet crunched a crusty patch of snow. It looked to him like he had ten miles to go to get to that distant hill with a white-framed Catholic church perched on top. But it was getting too cold and too windy for him to continue that night. Perhaps there would be a nice hollow around the bend where he could lay down his sleeping bag and start up a little fire to fry some Italian sausage and half a green pepper. His pack was immense--fifty pounds of dried foods along with sleeping gear. If he wanted to, he could hold off from the universe for a whole year with all that food. Water was no problem, since snow melted in a pot over a fire would do.
He burnt his lips on hot, over-cooked Italian sausage, but it was good; he savored each drop of spicy grease and delighted in burnt green pepper. Too bad he didn't have some bread from home--nice Shoshone fry bread. But he just didn't have room enough in his pack for bulky fry bread--what with fifty pounds of dried foods. You name it, he had it, including things like freeze-dried beef stew, dried pineapple shreds, apricots, raisins, wafer-thin slices of Genoa salami.
It started to snow in frozen pellets just as he dozed off. They stung and irritated his face. Talk about being cold! It seemed worse than the stories his grandfather told him about hunting along the south shore of Bull Lake, Wyoming where the winds blew down from the Wind River Mountains to sting like sulfuric acid. A pocket gopher scampered past his head, its cheeks all puffed out with fine earth. The cold didn't seem to bother this creature, but then he could easily retreat into a nice warm mud tunnel. He was truly deft in adjusting to the laws of winter. The moon peeked through storm clouds, but it still snowed hard. Crazy place, this South Dakota.
Then he heard a strange sound; eer-donk, eer-donk, eer-donk. It was precisely at 1:30 am. Eeh gads, he had gotten only three hours sleep and this noise sure wasn't helping. Shivering, he crawled out of his sleeping back and climbed out of the winding ravine to see a windmill spinning like a roulette wheel--the restraining cable had snapped like a rubber band in the strong winds while he slept, and now everything was going haywire. A simple solution came to mind. He moved the location of his sleeping bag and backpack by a hundred yards or so and fell into a deep sleep.
An owl hooted, or at least what seemed to be an owl. It must have been dawn as Venus still glimmered in the winter sky. Again he lit a fire, brewed some instant coffee, and wolfed down three breakfast bars without even chewing the raisins and nuts in them. Time to move on.
The early morning wind blew fiercely. His backpack pulled against his tired shoulders like rigging against the mast of a ship in a mid-Atlantic storm. He knew he must cover a few miles before sunrise while he still could not be easily observed. Last night, after his Italian friend had dropped him off near Porcupine, South Dakota, he had covered about four or five miles before settling down to that hot and spicy Italian sausage he had carried in his coat pocket. South Dakota looked good to him with its soft hills, gentile ravines and clumps of pines, a soft and gentle land compared to southern Idaho where he had taken a teaching position at Francis Parkman State College. It was good to be free, even with a fifty-pound pack.
Anything was better than a humanities department without a sense of humanity and nothing but professors with goatees and phony British accents. Why the hell a British accent in the wilds of Idaho? For the sagebrush? For the geese? For the buck antelope? No, for the faculty members themselves, that's who. They had kept asking him if he was a professional shoeshine boy, or was it Shoshone Indian? Boy had they had fun with him. They hired him because they had wanted an intellectual pincushion. They hired him because they subscribed to affirmative action that allowed them to affirm their intellectual superiority. They affirmed that western humanity was infinitely more logical, infinitely more cultured (like yogurt), and infinitely more universal than non-western culture. What Indian could compare with Mozart, Brahms, Bach, Shakespeare, Balzac? They loved to quote Francis Parkman, their schoo's namesake, in department meetings: "It is obvious that the Indian mind has never seriously occupied itself with any of the higher themes of thought." Did George Armstrong Custer?
They roared with laughter when he said he never heard of Francis Parkman until he had come to Idaho and their campus with its "twist of ivy." Some of them had Ivy League doctorates. He had only an M.F.A in creative writing from a small college in upstate New York. He had given a few poetry readings at an Irish pub near campus, and some of his poetry had been published in obscure journals like Wolf's Rag and Snakebite Review. He was hired to teach creative writing as a full-blooded Shoshone.
Now was not the time to be thinking of such things. He had about ten miles to go; he must travel in total darkness or twilight, and he must be on the lookout for trip wires the feds might have set up. Trip and trip wire and you're toast .It was damn cold for February even with the sun bobbing up over the eastern horizon. Time to play possum till around sundown. With all the nooks and crannies in these ravines, that shouldn't be too difficult. Were those drums he heard in the distance? If he could get there without being detected, he just might be the first representative of the Shoshone Nation to make it to Indian-seized Wounded Knee. He made sure that his eagle feather remained close to his chest tucked safely under his shirt.
In addition to members of the IRA giving assistance to the AIM (American Indian Movement) at Wounded Knee '73, Hollywood actors like Paul Newman and Marlon Brando provided financial assistance as well.Even Viet Nam War veterans flew in supplies for the Indians from Chicago.
Note: This is a modified version of Chapter XI of my first novel Clearing of the Mist (1979, reprinted, 2000) See also my hub Spiritual Reclaiming of the Black Hills of Sout Dakota
Have you ever written a short story?
Pine Ridge Rez
© 2010 Richard Francis Fleck