“That was long time ago
when I was a girl. It was even before I went to Chilocco.” Gramma talked
to those who would listen. While she seemed to be looking off into another
world at something only she could see we waited for her to continue.
“There were some of our
families who lived way out away from the main tribe at WhiteEagle. Several
of our family lived close to each other though. We had big families then.
There was my mother, her sisters, and all the kids, too.
Gramma lived comfortably in
a nice part of town directly across the street from where another Native
American family had a home. Their children played on the lawn and Gramma
enjoyed watching them. A girl with beautiful, raven black hair, who was
only maybe three years old, never failed to stop what she was doing, look
toward Gramma and wave with a princess style gesture. It was always the
high point of the day for the elderly woman. Gramma glanced over in that
direction now as she spoke about the children of her family in another by
gone place. It was if she was truly visualizing her own childhood.
“The whole country was
suffering, you know,” Gramma continued. “Everything was all dried up. The
corn, our gardens, and crops. It was a drought. The weather made it hard
on everyone. There was no food for the animals. It was the same way in
Texas, too. Those ranchers were having to sell out, lock, stock and
barrel. Some of them took bankruptcy. There were others who had the
federal government pay them for their starving cattle.
At the moment while
everyone was seriously contemplating what the old woman had said her
little black, Mexican hairless, dog came running across the slick floor.
He was unable to keep traction while he scooted around a corner and all
but slid through a sharp turn. Laughter broke the seriousness of the story
telling. Outside warm, fall breezes picked up into something more like
swift winds. The rustling of the falling leaves seemed to punctuate the
story somehow. They could feel the elements surrounding the Ponca tribe so
“We had a different
government then. It was the Chief who lovingly cared for the people. They
had such a depth of understanding for the circumstances of their folks. It
seems like they just knew what to do. They all got together and discussed
the problems their folks were having. The hunger was the main concern. It
was different living on a reservation. Not much hunting that's for sure.”
“How are we going to see
after our folks?” One of them asked.
Another might clear their
throat before they spoke. “The way we have to do is like the White Man
wants. He told us they would have food for us. You all remember that don't
you? Reservations weren't what we wanted. It was what they wanted. So
now, it seems to me they have to find a way to feed us. Some of us will
have to get a hold of them up there, in Washington. Maybe write a letter
or call on the telephone.”
“I believe this is what we
have to do.” The agreement was made between the men, who were the
patriarchs of their own family. Indeed, this is what they did.
Gramma squinched her eyes
down almost to slits while she related the rest of the story. “The
federal government was sensitive to the people's plight. The cattle they
had bought from the ranchers in Texas were shipped on the railway directly
to the tribe. There were only thirty-five but the livestock were divided
equally among the families. As the cattle stepped out of the cattle cars
of the train they were slaughtered on the spot. The animals were
butchered, cut in pieces so that all had a share. I was just a girl but I
remember it well. My aunts and uncles help cut up the meat. When they took
it home where they cut it into strips and hung it over racks to dry.”
“Times were hard, I
guess.” Gramma reflected. “But, it wasn't so bad to me. The Chief was
there always worrying about everyone. Sometimes they would send a call out
to come together at a place. The folks had to harness up the horses, load
up all the kids in the wagon and go. Sometimes it would be for giving us
seeds for our garden, or other times there might be shovels and hoes we
received. It sure was a different time then. We didn't have a bunch of
offices, lots of employees, a gambling hall, all that, but we never were
worried or afraid. Our Chief always was thinking and seeing to our needs.
Times were different and I guess I really miss my old folks, my aunts,
uncles, all them.”
At the very end of this
sight is a picture of Native folks butchering cattle in the way told about
in this story. Scroll all the way down: