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Chief
By Donna Flood
Chapter 6 - A Tree by a Stream


Bertha’s benevolence spread out over their  world like a tree beside a stream to give  shelter and protection for so many. As a girl she was educated in the Catholic schools set up to serve the American Indian youth.  Those  teachings were recorded in the hearts and minds of the people as they remembered and told of one or another encounter they had with her.  She quietly wrote checks for salaries to the men who worked for them.  They had families and these  wages  provided for their wives and children during the heat of economic depression in their worlds.  Checks were made out to Leon, Dean’s brother, for his first family’s child-support.  Forty dollars a month seems like nothing today,  but in 1936 it was like a fortune.  Dean had extended family whose children had to have clothing, school supplies and sometimes even food. She and Dean made wide swings through the Osage carrying full sacks of supplies to give out.

The beauty and grace of her world existed for many years so that her life was almost legendary. Bits and pieces even show up today in Ponca City and can only be recognized by those who knew Bertha. 

She was a gentle task master,  who seemed to know how to give a person their freedom to develop whatever hidden talent they might have.  Her record and book keeping reach out years later to give the family a knowledge of a great-grandparent through the lovely handwriting of Bertha’s in a Bible telling of the man and his wife, with dates where they were married  as well as  where they were born.  The information had to be dictated to her by Joe himself.  Which one of them thought to do such a thing?  Maybe it was a joint-collaboration, but the clear, clean handwriting was decidedly Bertha’s. 

Arnold, Leon’s oldest son, often shuffled along on the road  toward his Uncle’s place next door to the Joneses..  Bill Shoenholz, the uncle, was German during a time when the war made things  rough for these people.  Mostly they shrugged adversity  off and went peacefully about their business of working their land. Bertha tended her garden,  which was bordered by that road where Arnold walked.  Arnold didn’t know or remember the child support in his old age.  He did remember Bertha taking time to visit with him.

“Bertha was a gentle, kind lady.  She seemed to enjoy visiting with me,” Arnold once reminisced.

Leon was ever indebted to her and made up for her charity toward his children by keeping the ranch running smoothly.  Having a fine home for his second family was only one of the benefits, Bertha provided.

Cold winter winds whipped around the house. Something about the way the eves were extended from the roof caught that wind and played it like an instrument. The music wasn’t pleasant though.  It howled, moaned and seemed to be an entity, who was weeping.  Bertha now was learning what so many of the Native people endured.  Diabetes began to make her life miserable.  She suffered even  more  as her teeth and gums became infected,  so badly,  that she had to have all of them pulled.   The cold of the uninsulated house, and her pain caused her to sit, starring in space, while she suffered.

“Let’s go to the agency and see if we can’t get money for you to go to Mayo Clinic, Bertha?”  Dean spoke  with her.

She was in pain, sick, and didn’t want to move,  but she agreed to go. 

Driving over the prairie on roads of gravel was enough,  but now Bertha had to go before the Osage Superintendent to plead her case.  Even though she was a fine book keeper and knew exactly how much money she had, the superintendent was appointed by the Federal Government  to dole her money out to her. She and Dean were ushered into the man’s office.  He rested  behind a great desk.  His demeanor  was nonchalant and a bit removed from the present situation as if he knew,  already, what he would have to do.

Bertha opened the conversation  with her words to request monetary aid. “I’ve been going to these doctors around here and gradually, I feel I’m wasting my time.  Diabetes is of control.  I need to go to the Mayo Clinic.  I want help, counseling, anything to help me get well.”  Bertha was actually begging for some relief.

The man swung around in his chair until he was facing a window overlooking the landscape where the offices were perched atop Kihekah Hill. He gazed out without speaking until Bertha was becoming impatient.  She wasn’t in any shape to play cat and mouse with this man.

Finally, he swung his chair back around and looked levelly at Bertha.

“You don’t have any money in your account.  Very little, in fact.  Barely enough to get you through until your next payment.”  His statement was matter of fact, to the point and seemed to be final.

Bertha was always the one in control, with never a slip to loose her temper,  but now it was as she had lost all her ability to reason.

“Who do you think you are?  Who do you think I am?  No, don’t answer that, I know who you think I am.  You think I’m some stupid someone who knows nothing about my affairs.  You men come in here, high and mighty, and with an opinion of my people.  We know it, you don’t fool us with your simpering, sweet smelling words.  You are a liar. A bald faced liar!  Where is my money?  What have you done with it?”  Bertha was all the things her Chieftain ancestors had been. There was no fear with her now.  She arose from her chair like a giant bear, in one step reached for the heavy desk and jerked it up until it was in the air.  Articles on top slid off.  Dean was quick and beside her.  He wrapped his arms around her and had his face and mouth right up close to her ear.

“Bertha, Bertha!”  He spoke quietly and with love. “My dear, you cannot do this.  You cannot.  Let the sorry, little outfit,  go.”

The angry woman allowed herself to come to her senses and dropped the desk with a heavy thud.  The superintendent was so frightened he was all but running backward to get away from the enraged woman.

Dean stayed with her.  He walked close  beside her, very close, all the while,  quietly speaking to her. 

“We’ll find a way, my love.   Don’t worry. We’ll find a way.  There are cattle we can sell or something.  Come on, let’s get away from here.”

He led his wife to their car, as quickly as he could, and seated her in front. From the time it took him to get around the car and to the driver’s side Bertha had opened the glove compartment and grabbed a pistol he kept there. 

Dean was a man, smaller than Bertha, but quick and strong.  He struggled with her until he retrieved the gun. 

“We’ve got to get away from here. You must settle down.”

They drove around and about the town, in and out. All the while,  he was trying to calm the distraught woman.  Finally, after Dean was sure she was quiet he suggested they do some shopping for groceries. This was always a project,  because Bertha loved to keep the pantry stocked for any company, or for the hired hands. 

As he drove home with his wife,  he worried that maybe the superintendent was looking down from the windows of his office, higher up,  and had seen Bertha with the pistol. Dean made up his mind that he would do anything possible to bring his wife back to health.  He truly regarded her as a strong  person whose roots reached deep and wide.  She was his playmate when they were children, the wife who had bravely fought through their disappointments with lost children, and his companion.  He wasn’t going to let her go without a fight.


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