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American History
Osage Highlanders - Chapter 6


The "Smoke Off Day," was at last theirs and the weather was beautiful. Patches of shapes of sunlight on the oceans of green grass were side by side with shadows of the clouds. There were burst of giant columns reaching up into massive thunderheads.  Breathtaking and massive cumulus drifting across the prairie skies like images of ships flowing along the expanse of  that landscape. Cattle contentedly grazing on the protein rich hay beneath such a great expanse was a promise of plenty for beef.

Friendly ranchers flicked a wrist for a quick wave as they slipped along over the smooth endless stretches of pavement her own folks had fought to bring to them, first with backbreaking work and then later with head- and heart breaking politics.

The price had already been paid and now they were enjoying the trip. Their old pick-em-up truck was a gift from an aging  rancher who lived closer to them.  It was as steady as he had been  and maybe had his spirit. It could be likened to  one of the beasts of the prairie buffalo in that it was stable, strong, and dependable.  They had loaded it with benches, tables, chairs, ice chests filled with food, charcoal briquettes, a grill for a fireplace--- in short everything they needed to make their guests feel welcome and comfortable. Dawn  made arrangements with bright colored flowers in large flower pots to set about on the rock porch and they took heavy weatherproof fabric to cover over the windows so their guests wouldn't have to look into the despair of the trashed out old house.

They arrived about an hour before everyone else.  By the time the folks from around the area began to drive up the long front entry road the couple  had all the comforts of home arranged for them. The tables were covered with a splashy colorful  fabric matching that over the windows. There were chartreuse green chairs with heavy padded cushions to match the soft yellow green of the fabric on the tables. The arrangements of live plants and flowers of orange, yellow and white gave the porch on the front of the house a "lived-in," look. Dawn  tied balloons on a branch of a tree at the entry way  for those who had never been in the area. Once again, maybe for the last time,  the old Jones place spoke to the people of the area. “You folks are special. We respect and honor the price you have paid to work and build.”  And so it goes for as long as time has been.  These small exchanges between people have more impact on cementing relations than any festival or other “big brother” contrived affair.

Pete had the little open fire started and Dawn took the dough for the fry bread out. It was a simple matter to drop the already prepared dough into the pan of hot oil.  There was the traditional dried corn soup cooking, bubbling too. Everyone always enjoyed this ancient food. The Anglo's would soon experience with delight the taste of it for the first time. "M-M-m, this is good, it doesn't even taste like corn," she could hear them say.

The ninety-two-year-old Native man, the elder who would ask  the prayers, was arriving with the assistance of a younger man. He came from his place out of the rest home to be with them because he was related by blood to the woman who had died here so many years ago. His very slender frame and slow steady plodding told of his age. This was his only weakness though. His spirit and sense of humor was alive. Some other of more youthful ways may never have been introduced to the ability of the Native American to set up camp so quickly and this was new to them. For him it was a welcome return to another time. Certainly, the break from the tight schedule of the nursing home made this occasion seemed to be planned just for him.  This arrangement was made by friends who stepped forward with a loving assistance and had nothing to do with Dawn or Pete's capabilities on that social order.

As the ranchers about the area began to arrive Dawn's heart was glad to see this place once again become a meeting house for the pleasure of sharing good food, conversation and their neighbor's  company.

The prayer was in the Osage man's language and although it was lengthy and no one could understand, the thought was conveyed to these people that one of the Native's own had lived here,  and had left the world at this place. This was her aunt's, Bertha Big Eagle Jones's,  home and it deserved to be respected as such. She left this place  in 1938 some sixty-one years before when Dawn was but nine months old. However, her death  was still remembered and mourned. Those of her descendants were scattered about the United States. Their children and grandchildren knew nothing about their heritage and culture. With the recording of this event at least Dawn's aunts life would not have been just blown away and forgotten like some useless weed of the prairie. No, this small gathering was a statement and a testiment against that enemy death itself. Aunt Bertha lived, she gave life to children, and she cannot simply be passed over as lost and forgotten.

  “I cannot think of a greater love and respect to be shown,": Dawn silently spoke to her own creator. Later, another observer made the same statement.

As the elder man's helpers, one of which was the young man she had just recently met, took the cedar which had been sprinkled over live coals, in and around about the rooms of the old house, one of the folks asked Dawn, "why do they do this?"

"The smoke is a symbol, a way of lifting their prayers up to a higher place. They believe if there is something of the spiritual world still remaining here it is free to leave and is invited to do so. It is a very old ceremony. The practice is  one my grandmother and her people of the Ponca tribe also performed. Probably, something like the Anglo folks traditions when they take sweet smelling flowers to the casket of a deceased person. No one performed this ceremony for my Aunt because they were not of her faith. I am not either, but these folks are and they appreciate this showing of respect to one of their own people. In this way we always hope to help correct the wrongs that went on here due to prejudice or any other situation. It is something like a blessing of the ground before going on to it. The Native people were very close to a creator, calling him by name, Wah-Kohn-Dah, Great Spirit, and they had a willingness to become subject to walking strong and obedient to the Great Spirit's laws, in spite of the fact, some believed them to be savages."

The meal was finished and they visited with each other, sharing bits of information which would have gone on unknown otherwise. There was something of a unity to come over the group. Everyone felt it. They seemed to be able to live with the distress that had for years been represented by this lonely old decaying home. The place stood out to them as an eternal threat to what could happen to their own family. No one wanted to dissect, analyze or even think about the tragedy of more than one life being lost there. The family for so many years had pushed the questions to the back of their minds. In all possibility they didn't know how to tell their young folks about it because they themselves didn't really understand all the implications involved.

At the moment Dawn had no idea of the repercussions to be visited upon her for sharing this beautiful day with those who were important to her. It didn't matter to critics that one of the children enjoying the day was a dark dusky child who was as beautiful and elegant as a Persian princess. So many of the sorrows of these people here were not evident or obvious. This child being raised by an aging grandmother and grandfather away from her blood mother because of divorce. They the vessels of criticism couldn't see another beautiful young woman there who was suffering the sadness of divorce.  This woman having to cope with a disabled child alone, and she, if only for this day was able to be taken away from these sorrows.

Neither did they see the sadness of the young wife whose husband was taken away through tragedy leaving her suddenly with all the responsibilities of raising their small girl. She herself would say, "This is such a lovely day, I'm so glad we had the opportunity to come here and see these sincere people and how they mourn the death of a loved one, even though it is so many years ago it happened. What a beautiful race and culture they must have."

This was, indeed, a reason to educate and to bring about a common understanding. Tolerance and respect is a right thing and no amount of criticism could make her believe what she did was wrong.

One by one they had excused themselves in order to return to the duties of their own lives. They came from a distance going out to different areas of Oklahoma and Kansas. Pete and Dawn were left to the job as to their possessions in order to pack up and leave.

"I'm just so exhausted," Dawn told Pete, "I believe I'll just sit for a moment here in one of these soft chairs.  It isn't that late.  We will still have time before dusk."  The complete and enveloping darkness here on the prairie now with no electricity for miles to illuminate made it necessary for them not to linger too long.

Dawn relaxed and was totally at one with the scene about her. Everything had gone so well,  and all had an enjoyable  time.


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