Excerpt from Spark on the Prairie:
"Teach us the road to travel, and we will not depart from it forever. For your sakes, the green grass shall not be stained with the blood of whites. Your people shall again be our people, and peace shall be our mutual heritage."
-- Satank, Medicine Lodge Treaty negotiations, 1867
May 7, 1871
North Fork of the Red River, Indian Territory
Satank accepted Maman-ti's pipe and smoked. More than a hundred warriors had gathered around the council fire to listen to the words of Maman-ti, the gangling warrior who could almost touch the clouds, who had not forgotten the old ways like some of his people who called themselves Gaigwu but acted like cowardly Tehannas and Mexicans. Satank passed the pipe to the fool Satanta, a good provider, a good speaker and, at times, a good man to have by your side. Satanta would have been stronger, though, if he would learn that open mouths draw flies. The middle-aged warrior liked the sound of his own voice. Satank preferred silence.
Satank had never been impressive looking, especially now that his weary bones forced him to stoop, his hair showed more gray than black, and the young ones, not to mention a few old, whispered when he passed, leading the big horse carrying the strange bundle. He wore a thin mustache, contrary to the customs of Gaigwu, The Principal People on Earth, sported ragged, spartan chin whiskers, and he had been shot in the mouth twenty-four winters ago, all combining to render his face far from handsome. The bluecoats despised him, as did Old Stone Head, the Indian agent. So did many of his people. Yet all respected or feared him, for he wore the red elkskin sash, and that was enough. He was Koiet-senko.
He came to hear Maman-ti because it was expected of him. Satank led the Koiet-senko Society, limited to the ten bravest warriors. Having seen seventy winters, Satank had been proving his courage long before Maman-ti or Satanta were born. Yet he had also adopted the ways of peace after hearing the white leaders during the Timber-Hill Winter at the place the white-eyes called Medicine Lodge. His speech had moved many in the audience to tears, had earned praise from an accomplished talker such as Satanta and Ten Bears of the Comanche. He had meant what he had said, too, for Satank had never lied.
The Tehannas had lied. Like all white-eyes.
He thought back to The Winter The Horses Ate The Ashes, and the white man in Kansas named Peacock. Satank had been impressed and awed with how white-eyes communicated with turkey scratches on paper and had asked Peacock to give him a letter that would introduce him to other white-eyes so he could trade with them. Peacock had obliged, and Satank excitedly rode off to try this kind of talk, but when he showed the letter to a wagonmaster on the Santa Fe Trail, the white-eye beat him savagely with a blacksnake whip. Later, Satank learned the letter Peacock had written did not praise Satank as a friend, but called him a beggar and a thief, the worst Kiowa ever born, and said to teach him a lesson rather than barter with him.
Satank had ridden back to Peacock's fort with ten good warriors and killed everyone inside, including the lying little Peacock. That had given him much pleasure.
Peace had not been easy, not for a Koiet-senko, and the white-eyes, from Stone Head to the bluecoats nearby, did not make things easier. They demanded children of The Principal People -- and Comanche and Kiowa-Apache -- shun their heritage, pray to this squaw called Jesus, learn the white-eye language, both spoken and written, and dress like white-eyes. Maybe this was how things had to be. Satank did not know. But the whites were insulting, treating warriors like children, shaming them all -- men, women, boys, and girls -- by telling them they had to forget their old ways, forget the buffalo, forget the raids into Texas and Mexico, forget the Ten Grandmothers, and all the ways of The Principal People.
Satank would not do this. He would not live as a white-eye, with no honor, no love for the hills and creeks. He would not dirty his hands like some plowman. He detested the taste of the white man's beef, so hard on the few teeth he had left, and longed for buffalo. He wanted to feel the wind in his hair as he rode into battle, and he was not alone, yet he would not break his word -- until Tehannas killed his favorite son.
That had happened last spring. His second son had ridden off to Texas to steal horses and mules, the way a good warrior should. Yes, Stone Head would be angry, would say the Kiowas were not living up to their end of the treaty, but what did Stone Head know? He was a Quaker, what Satank considered the weakest of the white-eye tribes. So Young Setagya had crossed the Red River, to be killed by some Tehanna. His friends, who would never become Koiet-senko, had left Young Setagya in Texas. Mad with grief, Satank, riding alone, had followed the path the young braves had taken, found his son's grave, wrapped the bones in a blanket, bundled them tightly on the back of a fine blood bay stallion, and brought his favorite son home.
He talked to Young Set-aÃ±gya often, invited friends to share a pipe in his son's lodge. Many thought him crazy, and maybe he was: crazy that he had ever believed the white-eyes, crazy that he had ever believed The Principal People could follow the white man's road, crazy that he thought he could live in peace. He, a Koiet-senko.
So he listened to Maman-ti, and liked what he heard.
Only a few moons ago, Maman-ti had led a band of The Principal People and their allies into Texas, where they had killed four black men hauling supplies. The black men's scalps made poor trophies, and the warriors and pitched them on the road, but they had captured good livestock and grain. Maman-ti was a warrior, and the warrior's road should be taken by The Principal People. He wanted to lead another raid, a raid promising much bounty, much glory. Who would come with him?
"What of Kicking Bird?"asked Ãdo-eete, the young brave called Big Tree. Satank saw much in Big Tree, saw more than a little of a younger Satank. Big Tree had proved his bravery time and again, might likely someday replace Satank as leader of the Koiet-senko -- if only he would stop listening to Kicking Bird, Satanta, and Stone Head the Quaker.
"Kicking Bird talks of peace, and that is his right," Maman-ti answered. "His wives do not go hungry. Stone Head and the long knives make sure he eats well while we starve for food and for the old ways. Big Tree, you have shared my vision. You know the white man's road means death. Let Kicking Bird travel that path. Perhaps the road of Maman-ti leads to death, too, but if so, at least I shall die Gai'gwu." Maman-ti approached Big Tree as he spoke, and placed both hands on the young man's square shoulders. "do-eete, my brother, will you ride with me?"
"I will ride," the warrior answered.
Maman-ti moved over to Satanta, asked the same question, heard the same reply. Now he stood in front of Satank.
"Grandfather, will you ride with me?"
He felt the stares and knew the raid Maman-ti planned depended on his answer. Words from Big Tree, Satanta and Maman-ti carried weight, but not the power of Satank's. He might be a crazy old man, he might not care about his personal appearance, but no one questioned his courage, and when he painted his face for war, others were quick to join him.
"I will ride," Satank answered. He felt like a true Koiet-senko once more. Maybe in Texas he would take the Great Journey to the next life, but if so, at least he would join Young Setagya. It would be a death befitting a warrior such as himself. He would die with honor, he would die a leader of The Principal People, or he would live. In either case, the Tehannas would pay for killing his son. He would have his revenge.
Copyright 2003 by Johnny D. Boggs