Time was moving along for
me. I knew what Weldon was doing because Uncle Dean kept us
informed. He was working, saving money, working at the ranch and, anyone
could see he was planning to return to ranching and the land. The blood
of his ancestors was too strong for him not to do that.
“Weldon won the world champion calf roping contest for this year.
That will bring him in some loose change.” Uncle Dean was proud of his
son. He had a snap shot of him enlarged as he was hitting the dirt off
his horse to go at a dead run toward the calf at the end of the rope. I
could see him wrapping the short rope around the calf’s hooves and then
throwing his gloved hands up high to tell the judges they could stop
their time clocks. The picture was on top of the colonnade with glass
doors where other collectibles were kept and was just before the
hallway. It couldn’t be missed. I enjoyed seeing Weldon in his classic
black hat that looked a little like the side kick, “Froggie’s” hat of
one of the movie stars of the day. It was like Weldon to take on the
laughable character as his role model rather than someone like
Hop-A-Long Cassidy, a hero who always wore a white hat.
“If I know Weldon he is stashing all that money.” True to Uncle
Dean’s word he was doing just that. We were all so proud of what we
believed to be our future, the person who would restore all that was
For me, the job I took at Chilocco, my letters to my fiancé in
California was simply a temporary life style before I could go back to a
sweeter, more stable place,
back to the Osage.
My fiancé was on leave from California and it was to be the last
time I would see him for a while. The embassy duty in the Philippines
he had worked hard to earn and he was looking forward to that. The
weather was unusually cold and the roads were icy. Driving back from a
get-together with his family on the farm in Kansas was a tricky
business. He was a level-headed person, always, and drove carefully. I
always felt safe with him. He reminded me of my Dad rather than Uncle
Dean. Uncle Dean was known to be more into speed but Dad was always
plodding and careful. This is the way we made it back to Chilocco on
that very cold night.
“It’s late and I have
to get to work in the morning.” I muttered as we walked across the
frozen ground toward my apartment.
“No matter,” don’t
try to rush on this slick sidewalk. He was holding my arm and I leaned
on him for security.
Out of the darkness
of the night there was the very loud cry of an owl. It was so startling
I almost slipped.
“It’s only an old
barn owl. They are all noise, no reason to be afraid.
“I knew this boy-man,
had not a clue about our Native ways. In fact, the one pow-wow he had
attended seemed to get on his nerves because of the very long prayer in
Ponca before the ceremonies, but, nevertheless, I said.
“Owls are hated by
our people. They bring news of death.”
This young man, who
was being trained in all the ways of death in the Marines by his own
admission, now said nothing.
The next day when
Mother called and told me Weldon had been shot and killed at the very
time the owl cried diverted me some, from the awful realization of the
horror of what she was saying. The ways of my folks of old must have
been stamped into my character as strong as the color of my eyes, or the
color of my skin. I never wept. It would be 53 years later before I
broke down and cried over the loss, so deep was the sorrow. As usual, I
knew where my duty belonged and that was to my Uncle and to Mariah. For
many years I would stop for an instant and think, “I wonder why Weldon
has not come by to see me?” Only to stop and realize he was lost to me
Nothing is as bleak
and lonely as a iced over landscape in Oklahoma. The bits of grass
sticking up through the snow and icy themselves were covered to make
them look like shafts of crystal, stems. No cattle dotted the landscape,
it was too cold for them to be left unprotected, apparently.
Uncle Dean was
driving that day and I was accepting of that. Nothing could have forced
me under the wheel. We covered the long highway, slowly, to the
Pawhuska funeral home and then on to a small café in Shidler where we
were to meet the family.
The funeral home was obviously built for crowds with chairs lined up
in front of Weldon’s casket. There were only a few people in the chairs
and I knew none of them. Mother, for my whole life, did quiet battle
with me because I never would go to view the body at the funerals of
people we knew. I took a seat in one of the chairs and she came up to
me for bringing me up to the casket. I think she half way believed I
would not. To her surprise I walked right up to my cousin’s body. The
expression she had stayed with me for a life time. It was almost like
she had a sick satisfaction and a kind of gloating for me to see my
loved one there. For that moment, I was as Osage as either Mariah or
Weldon. I remember looking over at her with a steely resolve to make her
back away from me. I stood for a long time beside him, long enough to
observe how the funeral director had to work to try to conceal what the
shotgun blast had done to his face on the right side. He had his head
turned toward me and he seemed to have the most placid, pleasant
expression, like someone who was seeing a person they knew well and were
glad to see.
I stayed so long at the
casket Mother finally came and did lead me away. There were no tears for
me. My anger was too deeply sealed in my mind and heart to even cry.
“They wouldn’t give me the whole day off for the funeral.” I
mentioned to Uncle Dean as we drove toward the Foraker cemetery. “It is
the way of the Bureau. Experience has taught them of the ceremonies
involved with Native funerals and they will allow only one half day off
work.” In my mind I knew there was no way I could get back to the job
by noon and Uncle Dean must have known, too, because he said nothing.
Who cared about the shallow rules and ways of those around us, we had
lost our whole world, why should we care about anything, especially
nothing as trite as someone’s game playing for power. When we parked in
front of the small café at Shidler, it was almost noon. The funeral was
scheduled for two o’clock.
There was a starkness about the room of the place where bare tables,
linoleum floors and the complete lack of any decor made the statement
that the restaurant was to serve a ranching community. What decor
could compare with the beauty of their skies, wild flowers, or new born
calves, anyway? One by one, the family came through the door. The
silence of the group was as icy as the weather outside. The scene spoke
to the emotions and event of the day with an agreement in grey, hard,
Something about Weldon’s personality seemed to be
with us, and I felt he, while wearing his black felt hat, very much like
Smiley Burnett’s, (Lester Alvin Burnett) the side kick of Gene Autry,
would have laughed at how proper we all were for his funeral. The
funeral that was just a beginning of the loss the family would feel over
the years and in a temporal, spatial way the stories to make him a
legend that would not let Chief die.