I. May. The Moon When Ponies Shed Their Shaggy Hair. Horsemen against a red western sky ride through White River Valley. Warriors, women and children trail in the twilight dust, ghostlike, pushing forward, reaching back to the bleeding horizon. Buffalo gone. Freedom gone. The sacred circle broken. Huddled by the fort at the foot of ancient cliffs, places of dreaming, they chant the peace song. Dog soldiers and Indian scouts surround the horsemen: Little Hawk, Big Road, He Dog, and their chief, the man they call Strange One. In silence he roams among them, noticing none but the children. Solitary creature, like a hawk on the wing. Small and slim, a single feather at the back of his head. Braids of brown fur-wrapped hair hanging long over plain buckskin, a Winchester dangling at his knee. His power, a boyhood vision of the world behind this one. Spirit home of all things living, where he and his horse dance queer like shadows floating, giving him the name Tashunka-Uitco, Crazy Horse. Facing the Blue Coats, he stares down the darkness. Ferocious eyes, face of blazing rage. The soldiers fear him above all others, fear his strong medicine, his war club, his scalping knife. They have heard the stories. Or lived to tell their own. How he chewed dried eagle heart and wild aster flowers for power and protection from the guns and bayonets, the bullets like hail around him. How on the plains and in the hills, charging into battle on a yellow pinto, eager and tireless for the killing, he whipped them on the Powder, along the Yellowstone, beside the Rosebud, at the Little Big Horn. And after all that, this. The final insult. Bringing the Lakotas to the Soldier Town, trading skin tepees for canvas tents, bounty for hunger. Surrendering weapons and horses and vigor to the whites who swell like flood waters over the land, following the smell of gold. Wishing for the evening wind waving through tall grass, for the blazing fires of village centers where the people dance and sing Hoka hey! Hoka hey! until night gives birth to morning sun rising over the breaks of distant bluffs. Longing for the old days, the Indian ways. II. Spotted eagle circling above me. Plunging at my feet. Under its wing, iron knife stuck deep. Blood filling my moccasins. Drum beating in my head like horse hooves on hollow ground. Great Spirit, take me to distant dark country where my anger can roam free, far from white man’s chains and crooked tongues. Our ways and theirs, different as sun from moon. Hey-a-a-hey! Have courage my people. Only the earth endures. Behold! In the clouds, a thunder being smoking healing herbs in the holy pipe. A rider with lightning limbs on a white-faced bay facing east. Behold! All tribes, one nation. Walking the black road home. Hou! This day my heart is good. It is a beautiful time to die. III. Messenger comes with slow feet of bad news: Betrayal and lies. Promises broken. Red steel, long knife flashing in late sun. Brave warrior drops to the dust by the soldiers’ iron house, dark pools of blood mirror sacred sky. Ahh-h! Curly, my son. Strong, good and wise man! A father’s heart heavy with loss. A mother’s tears like rain spilling over smooth stones. The people’s vision blinded, their voice silenced, stars turning toward midnight. No killing, no taking of scalps can bring you back or make the darkness fade. But your spirit will rise, and your bones will sleep under grass facing blue sky along a creek beneath cottonwoods crowded by plum and chokeberry thickets; where as a boy you liked to run and hunt and dream, the earth, rain and four winds your only companions. This holy place your father and mother alone will know, and we will die holding the secret in our breasts with eternal love for you, our son, our Strange One.
J. T. Evans is a writer living in Richmond, Va.