The people of the camp were
rapidly gathering in the arena where the game was to be held. There was no
changing of clothing. No special uniforms were needed for the game. The
women played in their long dresses. The men wore their every day garb.
At this particular time,
the leaders had chosen to admonish and teach the people through prayer.
"Great Spirit," Sam began
as he looked toward the sky. "Great Spirit, Wah-Kahn-Dah.” He repeated.
“Please. We plead. Please, look upon us now."
The strong pleading voice
of prayer was marked by the use of the language of the chief. It was a
more complete language with “jaw breaker” words. The folks laughed when
they described this vocabulary. However, there was no laughter now. The
crowd was quiet and respectful as Sam prayed.
“Wah-Kahn-Dah, you have
brought us through these many trials on our trip from the north. Many of
us died and we buried our children, our brothers, our fathers, and our own
mothers on the trail on our way to this place. Today, those of us who
remain want to thank you in prayer. I am honored my people have asked me
to speak to you for them. I am thankful they have trusted me to do so. It
is at this time I must humble myself before you, Wah-Kahn-Dah. These many
days and months are becoming years and yet, we are struggling to be
exemplary among your creations. We want to do the things that will allow
us to live without giving up the teachings as close to us as our own
“There are so many things
today, hard for us to accept. Even this part about calling certain ones,
“Chief.” We never saw to it to set ourselves apart, one from the other,
as these others do. We never called ourselves Chief, or President or
“We that could cradle our
people as a father was never far from them. People of our clans came to
elders with their troubles. We cried with our family when they lost one of
their own. We fought together, side by side, and we placed ourselves under
your awesome power as a mediator for them. Never did we call ourselves
"Chief." If we had any extra strength, then we were thankful to you,
Wah-Kahn-Dah, and shared it with those we loved."
"Today, as I stand before
you, Wah-Kahn-Dah, in the midst of my own. Let it be known I have signed
away and have relinquished thousands of acres of land that was our mother
to us. I had no choice but to sign the papers. In return, these warm lands
were given to us. Few the acres, small the space, cramped it is. There are
no sacred, mighty hills here to be able to come closer to you. There is no
place to hide from our enemies. We are constantly and boldly watched by
those who gaze upon us with rudeness in curiosity. We endeavor to continue
Respectfully, Sam's voice
raised and lowered in his pleading cry to his maker and the modulation of
it held everyone's attention. At places they would respond with their
agreement and a soft spoken, "Ah."
"Let it be remembered," Sam
continued, "I never wished to be called by this title the whites use, that
of "Chief." I have a name, and it means something to me. Everyday, I come
to you, Wah-Kahn-Dah, in a fearful way. I fear that I might step aside
from the straight path you wish me to keep. I fear, in doing so, I cannot
open my mind to you. I do not want a crooked path to rise up before me.
This, I do not want to happen. My responsibility to my people to keep a
clear mind I accept. I have a name, OO-Hah-Shingah, and I wish to be
called by that name, not by a word, "Chief," which means nothing to me."
"We have worries, Great
Spirit, Wah-Kahn-Dah. Even as I speak to you, in the hearts of our young
women rests the desire to mix with the white men who live around us. I am
afraid for this to happen. How will their children be raised? Will they be
taught our ways? How can this be so, when their father is a white man.
Will their mother be happy with a child that loses respect for her own?"
So, on and on went the long
prayer. It was to gently admonish, praise, teach and at the same time
entreat his creator. Little could he know the outcome of these, his
people, since his life was to be soon over. He could not see the future
completely. His intuition told him there they would be a great
intermarriage and it would weaken many things about the tribe. Still, he
wouldn't know either what an imprint their ways were to make on the white
society. Many of their customs would be admired and used by the world
around them. Even as the women married into the white race, the strength
of the woman's traditions were not lost. Instead, the white male who
married her often was united with the tribe's ways.
Sam at the moment was
simply worried the Anglos would never understand or respect their beliefs.
He didn't know then, that the children of these mixed marriages would
learn of the ways. This understanding caused them to retire in peaceful
admiration of their ancestor's strengths.
Usually, these mixed blood
children would not live according to the old ways. The stronger of the
Christian men taught the children their faith. Still, there was respect
for the orderliness of the old ways.
Ending the accepted lengthy
prayer, Sam called out, "On with the game!”
The people were in high
spirits as they chose up sides to play.
"Now the women dashed back
and forth. Their sticks flailed at the ball. The women's skirts were
swinging freely about them as they played. There were the young women and
the older ones. The grace of the young women and the smoothness of their
movement was complimented by their clothing. Equally, the older women did
not let the dress hamper their participation. The older women were not to
be underestimated as they could whack a young man with their shinney stick
to the delight and uproarious laughter of the on lookers. Men, young men,
women and young women all played together.
The fact that the Poncas
had been weavers made it easy to adapt to the wearing of the cloth dresses
instead of their buckskin dresses which had served them in their colder,
northern, Nebraska home. The every day dress they now wore was one with a
blouse having a band sewn around the bottom. The fabric of the skirt was
gathered around their waist. The gathered skirt fit up under the blouse
band. This new fabric was a more comfortable garb than the buckskin.
Oklahoma warm country was not as cold as the Nebraska weather and they
needed the cooler, cotton material. At this time, even though the dress
was fuller in the skirt, the light weight fabric was better for the heated
activity of this sport.
The game picked up in a
fervor as they played on until dusk forced them to stop. The players stood
about visiting and resting until the dark was so dense a path back to the
camp could hardly be seen. Finding their way by focusing on the light
Esther had placed on the table was what they did. By keeping their eyes on
the flickering flame of the kerosene lantern they were able to make it to
their own camp.
"Is there some fry bread
left?" Creth and Fannie were coming into the circle of light the lantern
"In the wagon, on top of
the dishes, in that bundle," Annie told her sister.
Sam was busy with hooking
up the horses to the wagon. They tossed their heads and the harnesses
rattled, making a jingling sound. The animals stamped at the ground with
their large heavy hooves and that made a soft clomp, clopping sound.
Others returning from the arena were visiting in the dark and their quiet
laughter and voices told the girls this was the ending of a pleasant day.
"Lizzie and David are
asleep on the pallet I made for them in the bottom of the wagon." Esther
warned the girls as they started to climb into the wagon to keep their
voices down so as not to wake the children.
The wagon moved slowly away
from the campground. In a little while the girls were asleep too. They
slept soundly and only woke when their mother shook their feet to tell
them they were home. That morning before they left Esther had seen to
having tubs of water filled and left to heat in the sun. Now, the young
women headed toward those tubs of what they knew would be warm water.
Quickly they bathed, even shivering a bit in the coolness of the night.
Crawling into clean beds their bodies were lent to relaxing one final time
for the night.