Sam, Esther, and
Meka-Thee-Ing-Gay stepped carefully over the board walks in front of the
stores at the early day town of Ponca City, Oklahoma. Their father walked
almost a half block ahead of them as was the Ponca custom. This was a
practice going back to the time when the man went ahead of his family in
order to face a dangerous situation first. The woods and plains sometimes
caused the people on foot to come into direct contact, suddenly, with a
wild, ferocious, animal. The natural strength of the man with his
readiness and alertness freed up the women to protect the children. Now,
Esther, meekly continued this custom, always keeping a distance behind her
husband. If he picked up his pace, so did she. When he slowed or stopped
to look at something along the way, she too, stopped and waited until he
was ready to continue. Their ways had been adjusted to if not understood
by the people of the town and no one ever made note of them.
Occasionally, a new comer might be curious and ask questions.
The town's activities held
the child's fascination but not enough to keep her from remembering her
favorite treat. "Mother, please may I have some candy. I would like some
"I'm sure your father will
not forget hard candy for you." Esther reassured the child.
Sam was busy in a store and
Esther was visiting with one of the women from her family who happened to
be in town also. The two women spoke together in their own language and
they were too busy with their conversation to notice the goings on of the
people around them.
quietly beside her mother and was watching a lady who had arrived on the
scene. The woman was a stranger. This she knew because of the way she was
dressed. Her clothes looked to be those of a woman from the city. Her long
red dress trailed behind her as she picked her way over the rough board
walk. The dress she wore was cut to fit tightly about her waist and the
corset she wore accented her stylish figure. The neckline too, was cut low
and was different from the fashions worn by the women folk around town.
The little girl quietly observed the woman as she walked along. Red shoes
peeked out from beneath the lady's skirt. To complete the ensemble a red
parasol was being twirled by the tapering delicate fingers of this woman.
Her beauty held the child's attention. The little girl even noticed the
woman's raven black hair in dark long curls which was caught up beneath a
jaunty little red hat. The accessory was perched precariously to one side
of her head.
Meka-Thee-Ing-Gay had been
so busy watching she had failed to notice her mother and her mother's
friend had stopped talking. Instead, they were quietly listening to a
police officer speak to the lady dressed in red.
"Yes Mam, well, Mam, I'm
sorry to have to tell you this, but well, you know--" The officer of the
law stammered and was embarrassed with a face entirely as red as the
woman's outfit. "We will have to ask you to leave town."
"Well! Well! What ever
for?" The irrate young woman quickly responded to the officer.
"You see, Mam, dressed as
you are, we simply cannot allow you to remain on the street."
Esther and her friend stood
completely silent. They didn't raise their eyes from the ground and could
have been simply shadows against the wall of the building behind them.
"Whatever do you mean?" The
woman's voice was shrill and high with disbelief. "Where I come from, this
is the latest fashion."
"It may be the style where
you come from, Mam, but here in Ponca City, Oklahoma we just can't allow
it. And now, if you will come with me I will see that you get out of
The incident would be told
and retold among the Native families. It was repeated with no inference as
to morality, passed on, from one to the other, spoken flatly with no
emotion. The story was like a teaching experience telling of the Anglo
people's ways. No judgement was made of the woman or of the lawman. The
story simply told how things had happened with no embellishments or
changes. It was a way they had of teaching their children the ways of the
people around them which were so different from their own. The Indian
attitude was one of generous tolerance. It was as if to say, “hmmmmm
interesting, the way these folks do things. Strange, but interesting.” A
chuckle or two might follow.
Ponca laws in those days
were strict regarding adulterous behavior. A woman had no opportunity to
dress in any other way than what was comfortable and practical. The
strengths of their passions were not dependant on enticements as to dress
and this was only part of the difference in the two races.