Thursday, November 16, 2023

Red and White (Part 1 of 2 Parts), Post #252

 Image Courtesy of Craiyon:


Well, the tale of Shamus Lazrus Shuttleford is behind us now. Hope you enjoyed it… and it kicked off some memories of days gone by.

Today, we start the story of two young me, one in an environment totally foreign to him. I’ve elected to call it Red and White. Here goes.


* * * *


Pa shaded his eyes as he watched horses approaching across the meadow that ran down to the creek.

“Red Injuns,” he said.

His words sent Ma into a panic, Sissy running for her momma’s skirts, and a bolt of something right through me. Fear, probably.

“No call to worry,” my father added. “Looks like Walking Dog’s bringing his brood to say howdy.”

Walking Dog, I knew from Pa’s telling, was a Sioux Pa’d met when he first came to the Dakota Territory to set up our new homestead nearly a twelve-month ago. Ma, my sister, and I’d only arrived a few weeks back. About the last words anybody said to us before we left St. Louis was to “watch out for Red Indians.”

I wasn’t clear on how they’d met, but apparently the Indian had been a big help to Pa in getting acclimated to the area. If I understood it right, Walking Dog’s wife had made the buckskin window coverings for the house.

“What do I do?” Ma asked, her hands fiddling with her apron like she did when she was nervous.

“What you always do when company comes calling. Coffee hot?”

“Fresh brewed. But what do I say to them?”

“Not much. Walking Dog speaks a little American, but don’t know about the rest of them.”

We watched silently as the four horses drew near. Walking Dog—leastways, I figured it was the warrior—was a swamping man. Big. Big in the shoulders and chest, but lean elsewhere. Dunno where the idea came from, but “wouldn’t wanna get in a mix-up with him,” was what raced through my head. What held the two eagle feathers in place at the back of his head without a headband, was my second. He lifted his right arm and held it aloft, palm to us.

“Showing us he’s got no weapon in his hand. Their way of a friendly howdy,” Pa said before lifting his own hand. Of course, his Henry rifle leaned against the cabin wall right behind him in case of need. On the other hand, Walking Dog’s bow and quiver of arrows was at hand, as well.

A woman, a youth, and a girl drew up in front of the porch with him. Seemed like our families were a match. I noticed Ma’s eyes on the other woman and Sissy’s on the girl, before I regarded the youth I considered a mite older’n my age—probably nineteen or so—and saw lots of his pa in him. What amazed me was how handsome he was. Never given it an ounce of thought, but I didn’t equate Red Indians being either handsome or ugly. They just were.

But this whole family made an attractive bunch. Didn’t see coarseness or savagery in a single one. Course, don’t exactly know what savagery looks like. Oh yeah, like Leroy Pearton, the kid that used to bully me when I was going to school. He definitely looked savage.

“Howdy, John Clanston,” Walking Dog said in a voice that seemed to come deep down from inside him. Basso, my ma’d called that voice when we went to a Christmas sing-along one year and heard this famous opera singer caroling.

“Howdy, Walking Dog. Set yourself down and come up on the porch for a visit.”

The adults talked among themselves as our guests dismounted and stepped to the porch. Unlike a lot of the cabins you saw out here in the wilderness, Pa’d insisted on a proper porch. While others stepped out into the dirt, we exited onto wooden boards with a protective overhang.

Our two families spent a quarter of an hour getting introduced. The adults settled into the homemade chairs we dragged out onto the porch while we kids settled on the stoop, silent as stones as we listened to our elders make halted conversation. Walking Dog introduced his wife Willow, My dad dutifully identified my mom as Jenny Clanston. It was quickly apparent Walking Dog had a better command of our language than his wife, but Ma, who’d been a schoolteacher until we came to the Dakota Territory was good at nonverbal communication and soon had something going.

When Walking Dog indicated his son was Red Leg and his daughter, Little Fawn, Pa reciprocated with Charley and Sissy. That freed us to have a go at it with our peers.

“Red Leg?” I asked, indicating his right leg which was dyed red from hip to where it disappeared into his moccasin. At least, I assumed it was dyed because the other one was bronze like his bare chest. He wore a a loose, black shirt without sleeves or collar, but vestments were otherwise confined to a leather apron some called a breechclout and ankle-high moccasins.  His visiting duds, I surmised, making me wonder about that red leg. Was the dye permanent or just applied when he went visiting?

He nodded and spoke in a voice that almost matched his sire’s, “Just so. Red Leg. Charlie?”

“It’s really Charles, but everyone calls me Charlie.”

Up close, he was, indeed, strikingly handsome. I’d never seen eyes quite that shade of brown on a man—well, youth—before. While I studied him frankly, he never quite looked right at me. That’s not exactly what I meant. He looked at me okay, but at my left ear or the right. At my chin or forehead. Never in the eyes. But Pa’d warned us that wasn’t shiftiness. They considered meeting a man’s eyes as a challenge or something. That made me wonder if I’d already accidentally challenged Red Leg to a fight to the death.

I sure hoped not. His shoulders were way broader than mine, and his arms had muscles mine only pined for. We talked back and forth, doing a lot of arm waving and pointing, but he had enough English for us to get by. Of course, I had no Sioux… or Lakota, as I came to understand it, at all.

Then, as I stared at him while he watched our sisters struggle to converse, a strange thought popped into my head.

How would girls back home react to my impressive new friend? And the answer came back: they’d eat him up.

I sat stunned as some sort of emotion wracked me. What was that all about?


New situations are stressful enough, but total new environments are even more difficult. What’s going on in young Charlie’s mind? We’ll find out next time.

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Twitter: @markwildyr

Now my mantra: Keep on reading. Keep on writing. You have something to say, so say it! (Don Travis keeps reminding me I stole it from him, but he didn’t copyright it. His bad.)

 See you later.



 New posts the first and third Thursday of the month at 6:00 a.m., US Mountain time.

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