Snow drifted gently from the grey sky, matching the sadness in his heart: the heart that had been ripped from him. All the warmth that had been in his mother’s body had started to drift away. A warmth that had kept him safe through his ten years. A warmth that ended when the blue-coated soldier had fired upon his mother. Her body was the only thing that stopped him from sharing her fate. He was so scared. His entire body shivered through fear and the biting cold. What was going to happen to him now?
He had been scared when they had fled with the other Hunkpapa to join Chief Spotted Elk when the Indian agents had killed noble Sitting Bull. Almost a man, he had vowed not to cry but his mother let him weep into her shoulder as they fled to the new reservation. Life had been hard on the old reservation: the ground was dry, crops refused to grow, wasting diseases took people like his father away, the rations were meagre, and the warriors could not hunt the buffalo even if the Indian agents said they could, because there was none left. Sitting Bull had given them hope though. Sitting Bull who had managed to get so many to safety when they went to war against Long Hair Custer. Who had parlayed with the Americans on behalf of the Sioux people. Who had visited the big cities in the east with the funny-man Buffalo Bill. Now he was gone. Gone like his father, his grandfather…and now his mother.
Tears had frozen on his cheeks. Gently he kissed her on her forehead and took off the Ghost Shirt which he wore over his normal one. He placed it around his mother’s body so she would not get cold. She hated the cold. For that reason he used to throw snowballs at her when the snows came.
“I hope the Ghost Shirt works better for you, mother,” he sniffed. A smiling warrior had given him the shirt during their flight after Sitting Bull’s death. He had never taken it off since. He had even urged his mother to wear it. Were the southern Navajo right? He had heard from the warriors that they had rejected the Ghost Dance. The young warriors had partaken in the ritual to make them immune from the bullets of the bluecoats, drive the invaders from their land, bring back their ancestors, and bring back the buffalo. He had been so excited. A chance to see his father again. It did not matter in the end. The dead remained dead, the buffalo were nowhere to be seen, bullets still killed them, and their land continued to be taken.
The snow crunched with his every step. Crunch. Crunch. Crunch. Before he lost his heart he had loved that sound. In a distant memory, he remembered his father showing him how to make a man out of snow. They had stuck stones into it to make a head and found some crow feathers, as dark as the night sky, to make hair. He and his friends had then pelted his father with snow. It was only two years ago but it felt like a lifetime. The bluecoats had taken everyone he loved from him: his father from the wasting disease, his mother from the bullet, his friends lost during their exodus from the reservation. For all he knew they could be lying in the snow like his mother.
All around him were tepees flattened by the long departed roar of the soldiers’ bullets, snow greedily drinking up the red blood, and gouges in the white from people fleeing, along with their pursuers. He was not scared of encountering any of the soldiers. It would be a relief. He could join his mother and father. Or maybe the stories of the young scouts were true about soldiers taking children to be raised by white families. Maybe he could tell a white family about what was happening to his people and they could tell the leader of the Americans what was happening. The leader of the Americans would see what the army and agents were doing, and would give them back their lands, and give them medicine and guns and buffalo. Except that the only people around, Lakota or American, were lying dead in the snow.
A loud snort and the crunch of snow brought his mind back to the frozen reservation. Was it an American soldier, or a Lakota warrior? The rider wore a rifle across his back, brown trousers, and a white Ghost Shirt. His dark hair had smatterings of white, but not thanks to the snow. Upon his face were tell-tale lines of age. The aged warrior nimbly jumped off his horse like a man of half his years to land in the snow with a crunch. He waded through the snow to kneel before him.
“Are you lost my boy?” he asked in Lakota. “Where are your parents and kin?”
He felt tears welling up behind his eyes. To avoid his shame, he looked at the snow seeing it melt as his salty tears dropped to the earth. He felt the warrior grasp him in an embrace. “Do not fear child. We may be separated from them for now but we shall be reunited. Come, I shall take you somewhere safe.” He took the warrior’s hand and together they waded through the snow. The aged warrior gently lifted him onto the horse.
“I am Mahpiya Icahtagya,” the warrior said smiling.
“Chaska,” he replied.
Not wasting any time they soon left the scene of broken dreams and hearts. The snow continued to fall as if they had never been there.
Brogan, Hugh, The Penguin History of the United States, Second Edition, (1999, London)
Brown, Dee, Bury my Heart at Wounded Knee, (1971, New York)
Foner, Eric, Give me Liberty!: An American History, (2004, New York)