Esther and Sam stood silently over the tiny
grave of their last child. Here on the hill at the edge of their
property the place would not be disturbed by the farming of the ground.
Esther shivered and in her grief she shook all through her body as if
the cold wind was a part of her. She had already had a child torn from
her arms to be taken at the age of four to the schools of their
conquerors. The woman who was past her youth had grieved for that child
until her husband saw to it the medicine man came to aid her in recovery
from her loss. They had survived the long trek on foot from the Black
Hills to these allotments given to them. The parcels of land were small,
contained, and measured out as was the custom. The land was new to them.
They could not become adjusted to learn of the healing plants quickly
enough to save those who were ill onto death.
As they walked back toward their house
Sam spoke to Esther, "Woman! I know your heart is heavy. It has to
be. We have been through so much, all of us. These things have been hard
on us. When they took our little girl, you grieved so hard I was afraid
you would leave me too. Don't do that again. We have our ways and they
are good ways. Right away now we must go, we must make a short trip
across the river out of this Fox Town area."
Esther was silent and respectful as Ponca
women were disciplined to be. She knew of what he was speaking, and she
knew too it was what had to be done.
Directly she went into her house. She
began gathering up the things she needed, sweeping her house clean of
all the items belonging to the child who had died. "Go with me to
the timber, Husband," she addressed Sam. "The burning of
these things must be done soon. Baby might be needing them, you
know!" Together they carried the bundles to the timber. There was
the hand made cradle, its garments, soft moccasins and whatever little
toys it had. All these she stacked in a heap and Sam lit them with a
fire. All the while the tiny possessions were melting into a heap of
ashes, Esther gentle tapped the place where her heart was and softly
sang a cradle song. Not long after the last coals were gone and the
ashes had flown to the wind Esther leaned heavily on her husband's arm
as he helped her back to the place where they must learn to somehow live
and accept this new life.
"I am ready, let us go now,"
So it was Esther and Sam took their team
of horses away from their home, across the river and into the camp of
the McDonald family. Old man McDonald came out from one of the newly
built government houses to greet them.
"McDonald!" Sam wasted no time
with getting to the point. "McDonald, I am here for a reason this
time. We just buried our last child, and you know our ways. You have a
son the same age as the one we just lost. We are here to adopt your
"Come in, Come in," McDonald
was ready to welcome the people to his home. "I am so sad to hear
you lost our son. Come in, come in, see our son, Lewis McDonald who was
the age of your boy."
When they entered the house the child,
Lewis was brought to Esther and Sam. Esther was so busy getting to know
him. "My you are such a good boy, so big, so strong! We want to
take you as our son!"
The child's mother was helping the little
boy child to get acquainted with Esther too. "Look, Son this woman
is Esther. This is her man, Sam."
All at once the child began to feel a
special place somehow. In his little spirit there arose an inspiration
of something greater than he could understand and it made him pull
himself up taller and stronger.
So it was the Ponca way. The boy Lewis
McDonald was adopted by Sam and Esther Little Cook. Not in the way of
their conquerors who had to have possession. No, the adoption simply
meant that they would contribute to the child's welfare for the rest of
his life just as if he were their own. If he needed clothing, medicine,
schooling, security, they were his parents. In this way life was not
taken away from them. Their need to prosper the child taken from them
would simply be given over to this child. And so it was until the time
of their death.
To this day when the Little Cook song is
played to honor that family the McDonald family too will rise to enter
the arena with them. These are the ways of the Ponca tribe, and though
this is just a skimming of the richness from the top, it was their ways,
and they were good. They were Ponca, "Pawn-KAH" Gentle
Leaders, respecter of Wah KAH n Dah, Great Spirit who opposed the evil
taking their child from them. They strengthened themselves to stand with
Wah Kah Dah in this loving provision to say, "Life is sacred, and
though the evil sickness and death took him away,
we with our Native culture, customs will be able to overcome the loss
through the adoption of another child his age."
In this way, "We have not given