MY first recollection is
one of hunger.
The prairie grass had
taken fire and the flame, driven by a strong wind, across a wide area,
chased the game before it As the tornado of flame whirled toward our
village, buffalo, deer, antelope and wolf intermingled and fled in
terror. The men set the grass afire to the leeward of the camp and moved
our belongings into the black, burnt stretch. We were saved, but many of
our horses stampeded and were lost
The supply of food in the
camp being small, the only hope of escaping starvation was to reach
speedily a part of the country untouched by the fire, where game could
I was too young to
remember much about the “Big Burning” and the forced journey across the
desert. The lasting vividness of the episode is due to its repeated
rehearsals, for, through long years afterwards, the people discussed it
in all its horrible details.
What I do recall
personally is my hunger. I need no tradition to keep keen this memory.
Under the blazing sun,
without water and without food, we made our way across that black land
of death, and the suffering was intense.
One day some of the young
men found a buffalo. With hair singed and eyes blinded by the fire, he
was staggering about with lolling tongue. He furnished easy prey and a
welcome supply of meat
Another day one of our
few horses became too weak to carry his load, so he made food for us. We
children attempted to take one of the bones of that horse away from a
half-famished dog. He sprang savagely at us and was killed in
consequence. His flesh came good to the hungry people.
The days of suffering
entirely exhausted several of the older men and women, and they found
place upon the travois drawn by horses. One old warrior, no longer able
to walk, refused to ride and begged to be left so that he would not be
an encumbrance. He had lived long; enough, he said, and at such a time
was content to die. So he was left behind.
There was no murmuring.
The Indian’s philosophy of life teaches him to suffer without complaint,
to go unflinchingly into the future, to fight to the last breath for his
own, and to die without a whimper.
Many, many dead dotted
that fire-blackened trail. There were no poles to make burial scaffolds,
so the bodies were left on the ground where they fell.
There was no plaint from
the dying, none from the living. When the men became weak of body and of
heart, the women, although as weak and pinched as they, cheered them on
to further endurance, until . at last the fainting feet touched a land
of grass-grown hills and sparkling streams, where game abounded.
Then the camp knew once
more the feasting and the singing.
Close on the trail qf the
memory of the “Big Burning,” follows the acute recollection of the “Big
Long Cold” when the horses froze, when the buffalo and deer perished in
numbers for want of water because the Spirit of the Cold overcame the
Spirit of the Heat Many, many of our people went on the Long Trail that