Distant Drums of Wonded Knee Part Two
Wounded Knee Cemetary
Distant Drums of Wounded Knee Part Two
He remembered one time when he hiked out on the prairie with the only sympathetic colleague, an Italian-American by the name of Tony Vespucci. They were about to climb a high and grassy parabolic dune when he stopped to stare at something in the sagebrush. Could it be? Yes, an eagle feather and a spotted feather at that! The bird must have left it here for him--it was perfect, hollow quill and all. He gave it to Tony to see if he felt anything unusual about it, and the Italian said he felt electricity in it and that it made him feel good. Other faculty members wouldn't understand such an improbable attraction for feathers, but Tony understood. He felt a strong electricity in that feather.
The sun had risen fairly high, but it remained cold, as cold as upstate New York near Lake Ontario where winds howled down from Canada. They called him Sam, Sammy Ravelle, but his real Shoshone name was "Tho-ap Udadye," Smoke from the Warm Valley. His grandfather had raised him in a little tar-paper cabin high on a hill surrounded by cottonwood trees that cliddered with deep yellow leaves in the autumn breezes. His grandfather was the grandson of a chief named Washakie. He had no living grandmother or parents, he was an only child reared by a man four times his age. Sam was Shoshone by birth and Shoshone-raised. His grandfather was a sun dance elder, and so too had been his grandfather's grandfather. Sam often watched his grandfather lead sun dancers around the cottonwood lodge several times until the dancers sat in a semi-circle and awaited the morning's light when they would greet the rising sun with soul-piercing eagle bone whistles. Nothing was more mystical to him than the sound of eagle bone whistles piercing the morning stillness of a sun dance lodge with its entrance facing the rising sun.
He thought he heard footsteps and hoped to hell it wasn't a Fed. Just ahead of him a fellow backpacker trudged along after coming out of a side ravine. Whoever it was, he had a small Irish flag fluttering in the strings of his backpack. An Irish flag in South Dakota?
"Who goes there!" he shouted.
"Sure 'tis only me, Kitty O'Connell," she said with some trepidation.
"You from Ireland or somethin'?"
" What on earth are you doing here? My name's Sammy Ravelle from Wyoming."
"Yer Indian, I suppose?" she asked noticing how dark-complected he was.
"Shoshone," he said as he approached her to get a good look.
She stood there all bundled up in a hooded parka, her blue eyes shining. She was of small frame, standing only five foot-two. As they shook hands, he explained to her that they must stay put till sundown or the Feds might spot them, especially as they got closer to their destination. She offered him some Irish soda bread and Irish teabags, and he boiled some water on a primus stove.
"So what in hell brings you all the way to South Dakota?"
"Sure it's all over the Dublin papers, and when I heard they needed food and things, I thought I'd volunteer. And you came from Wyoming for the same reason I s'pose."
"Well, actually I came from Idaho. I quit an assinine teaching job I had out there in order to help out here."
"Oh, where did ya teach?"
"Parkman State. I taught creative writing, but all that my students could write, no matter how much I told them not to, was Hallmark poetry."
"So, yer a writer. Have you written any books?"
"A few minor, skinny poetry collections, that's all."
"What kind of poetry?"
"Mostly natural-style--you know--about my Indian heritage and spirit-animals of importance to us."
"Spirit-animals? That's a lovely name for it. We Irish are proud of spirit-animals like swans, especially black swans. We believe our heritage is close to the land, you know what I mean?"
The tea water boiled and he poured it into two plastic mugs. It tasted good with soda bread, a kind of peasant's bread from the auld sod.
"We have something like this but we fry it in grease instead of baking it. My grandfather used to make it. We'd dip it in a kind of berry juice called chokecherry gravy."
"Well, now, In Ireland we'd put a bit of jam on it--perhaps blackberry or wild damson."
A distant explosion interrupted their chat. Sam peered over the edge of the ravine to see a puff of smoke floating just about the ground. He thought he heard drums again and possible gunfire. They were just a bit too far away from Wounded Knee to be able to determine what was happening. Serpentine patches of snow laced the prairie, making it look like an Appaloosa stallion.They had nothing to do but wait, wait till sundown. Kitty poured him another spot of tea (tay as she called it) steaming in the cold air.
"So why would an Irish girl take interest in aboriginal Americans?"
"Well now, we're aboriginal, too. We go back to neolithic times on the Emerald Isle when we built proleek dolmens and huge burial mounds with sacred entrance ways always facing east like Bru na Boinne, and only on December 21st does the rising sun illuminate the passage way and inner burial chamber. The solstices are important to us," she relected. "While you have been subjugated by the American government, we believe that strangers came to our four green fields of Ireland and seized one of those fields from us called Ulster. We want it back. They tried to seize our language and replace it with English, but our Gaelic tongue is alive and well."
Just then another explosion rattled through the still air.
Fellow hubbers just might be interested in reading a spellbinding book about Viet Nam veterans aiding Indians at Wounded Knee '73 by Bill Zimmerman entitled Airlift to Wounded Knee (1977).
© 2010 Richard Francis Fleck