|ME-TAH-ING-GAY, a story written by the author
from the notes left by her grandmother, Elizabeth Little Cook, Pensoneau,
The little girl stretched and yawned as she
looked about her room, softly lit by the dawn. Her mother's voice she
could hear from outside and she reached to pull the light curtain back
from her window. The morning light faintly shown around the figure of the
woman from her place in the field behind the house. Me-Tah-Ing-Gay saw her
mother's arms were raised above her head and her long flowing black hair
hung loose about her upper body. The soft spoken words of their native
Ponca tongue flowed, rising and falling in a lyrical sound almost like a
song. There was a pleading continuity to the words and they came rapidly
sounding urgent in their appeal. The child listened.
"Great Spirit, I have no great
intelligence, but I can look around me and see the beauty of your
creation. I see this great sky you have wrapped around us. Your sun is
coming up now, to warm the ground beneath our feet. I listen, and I hear
the sweet chirping of the little things you have made to give us pleasure
with their song. Daily, I come to you at this early hour and I speak with
you first before I do anything. As I look about me to see these things,
great and small, I come to you to plead, on this day, you will look to the
things we do. See that our paths be straight. Even as I straighten and
comb my hair for the day, I will part it directly in the middle of my head
to remind me of this straight path. My shawl I pull around my shoulders
will be edged with fringe to touch my legs and remind me of your many good
As Esther Broken Jaw Little Cook continued
her morning prayer, Me-Tah-Ing-Gay, slid slowly from her bed. She could
hear her father in the kitchen and knew he must be getting the fire in the
stove ready for her mother to start breakfast. The year was l888. Sam
Little Cook, Me-Tah-Ing-Gay's father was already dressed and ready for his
work. Sam owned a lumber mill at the little town of White Eagle and
although he was full blood Ponca, he was dressed in the costume of the
day, a suit coat, white shirt, shiny leather shoes, the typical dress of
the businessman of that day. As he was working about the stove he observed
his little girl standing in the door way.
Me-Tah-Ing-Gay was only four years old but
she had managed to touch his heart with her goodness. He felt honored he
and his wife had been given this child who was so intelligent and good,
their youngest now. She seemed so totally aware of everything around her.
She was their joy, this youngest child.
Esther walked into the kitchen and
Me-Tah-Ing-Gay saw her hair was smoothly combed, neatly parted down the
middle and pulled back into a bun at the back of her neck.
"Good morning, little one,"
Esther told her small child.
"Good morning, Mother," the
little girl ran to her mother.
Esther gathered the child into her arms and
easily lifted her from the floor. "Did you sleep well, my girl?"
"I didn't wake once during the night,
only when I heard you speaking with Great Spirit, this morning."
"That is good. Now, I want you to wait
for me while I get breakfast. Your father has promised to take us to town
today, in order for me to shop for a few things I need around the
Esther finished preparing their breakfast
and turned to Me-Tah-Ing-Gay, "Come on, little one, let me get you
ready while we wait for our biscuits to cook. That evening as the couple
was visiting and going over the events of their town day Sam spoke to his
wife, "Esther, I must tell you, I learned from some of the town
people the agent is coming to visit."
"And now, what is his business with
us?" Esther wanted to know.
"Who knows? We will just have to wait
until he gets here. Maybe it will be something good."
When the agent arrived, Sam made every
effort to be in subjection to the man's authority. The Ponca's were a
strong but gentle people and although they were in subjection there was an
" Esther has a fine meal prepared for
you," Sam was practicing the ever present hospitality in offering the
man a meal.
"As you know, I'm here on business,
and I really think we should get that over before I do anything
else," the man was not easily distracted.
"Well, Sam, what I'm here to do is
register your last child with a Christian name. Where is your last
Sam looked at Esther, "Go find the
girl and bring her here, won't you? The agent wants to give her a new
Quietly and quickly, Esther returned with
"Come shake the hand of the gentleman,
and speak politely to him in his language," Esther told her.
"How do you do, Sir?" the little
girl spoke a greeting to him in English.
"Well, now, little lady, can you tell
me what you are called" What is your name?"
"Me-Tah-Ing-Gay," came the soft
whispered name that meant, "Little Bright Moon." She knew she
was of the rain band and her mother and father had named her after one of
the elements of the sky, as was the custom.
"Well, now, Me-Tah-Ing-Gay, from this
day on you will have a new name. From now on you will be called,
Elizabeth. See, I will write it here in this book and you will be
registered as Elizabeth Little Cook. This is your Christian name and that
is what you are to be called from here on out."
The events transpired rapidly and before
Esther had a moment to think about it, the child was named, and assigned
to a boarding school.
That evening as they returned home from
depositing their child to the authorities of the boarding school, Esther
did not go to the house. Instead, she went to the timberland that edging
their property. Late into the night Sam could hear her mourning cries. The
calls to her Great Spirit were the grief wails the women cried at the time
of the death. Years later the chill of the grief cries would be heard by
the white man, and cold shudders of the thing grabbed at their hearts
until they would make the statement, "nothing has ever been heard
Sam did hear, but he did not go to her.
This was her time with her Great Spirit, he did not intrude. When she
returned her hair was cut short. The mud she had covered her head with as
a symbol of her sadness was caked and dried. Day after day continued with
her mourning until Sam had to speak with her.
"Today, my wife, you must put aside
your mourning,. I have sent for our Indian doctor to pray with you."
"I am greatful," Esther spoke.
The medicine man stayed with them for a
number of days and this is what he advised Esther, "I know this is
something you cannot understand. You must believe, I know the ending of
the matter. Put away your grief. Brace yourself up. Your daughter is not
dead and you must be alive when she returns to you."