WE drifted from the
desert country back eastward until we reached the Wewoka River in the
Creek Nation, Indian Territory.
The Creeks were advanced
in civilisation. True, there were among them those not far removed from
our condition, but many possessed a culture equal to that of the highest
type of the white man.
They were engaged in
farming and other industries, and often held fairs to exhibit their
We had not been long with
them when they had one of these fairs in Muskogee. We learned there were
to be horse-races. This alone was enough to draw our whole band to the
On our way to the town we
saw many things which interested us, and certain it was that we with our
wild appearance and our peculiar costumes were of no less interest to
the people we passed. Many of them were of the white race.
Arrived at the
fair-grounds, we left the women to pitch our tepees and we looked around
We had heard of the
railway train with its “Smoke-Horse,” so we went to the station to see
With roar and clash and
clatter, hiss and shriek, the huge monster came dashing in. Its
ear-splitting war whoop startled us. Its blazing eye, like a camp fire
in the middle of its forehead, astounded us. When it stopped and the
“Smoke-Horse” stood panting and blowing its breath out in great clouds,
we stood aloof with our blankets over our heads and talked it over.
The thing itself was far
beyond the thing we had pictured.
We wondered what made it
go if, as we had heard, it was not really alive.
One of the young fellows
declared that the next time it came, he would ambush and lasso the
monster so that we could examine it.
We noted its speed; and I
for one, felt certain that if it would leave its smooth trail and come
out on the open prairie Buckskin could outrun it.
For want of a better
name, we called the train the “Big Noise.”
The exhibits at the
fair-grounds came in for their share of comment and criticism.
We found the bed-quilts
of many pieces and colours most attractive. We thought the big pumpkins
and the potatoes might be good eating and we knew the com was excellent.
But when we learned that it was necessary to toil all summer to raise
them, we lost all interest.
We liked the looks of the
fat hogs and the cattle and the chickens, but it was beyond our
comprehension how people could be content to live in one spot and work
all the time and feed them every day. We greatly admired the horses, but
in our judgment the care they required overbalanced their worth.
Contrasted with our free
life of the plains this “white man’s road” in which these Creeks were
going was unlikable to us. We could kill enough game in a few days to
last us for months, and have more fun doing it than they could have in
years. We could go and come as we pleased, untrammelled by hog-feeding
and rubbing-down horses. And the excitement we had in creeping into an
enemy’s camp, outwitting him and getting his horses, was more fun in our
opinion than any that the white man could get out of a lifetime.
As we walked about the
place with eyes big and ears wide, we saw much which excited our
We saw white men and
Creeks gazing at wide sheets of paper so intently we thought they were
praying to their medicine.
We observed when they ate
they used little iron forks. Surely not to keep their fingers clean!
We were struck with the
war-bonnets the women wore! Truly these were a queer people.
We noticed how loudly
people talked to each other, even when standing or sitting close
The plains Indians
habitually talked in low tones. Indeed this was necessary when in camp,
if we were to enjoy privacy, for the walls of the tepee were thin.
As compared with the
white man the Indian is a man of silence. When on a hunt he seldom
speaks lest he scare away the game; when on the warpath, he keeps still
lest by speaking he discover himself to enemies. Besides, when one is
talking neither his eyes nor ears can do their duty.
We were sitting on the
ground in a circle talking over the many odd things, when a man on a
velocipede went pedalling past. Not a man of us gave so much as a hint
of the astonishment we felt, but the wag of the band finally broke the
silence caused by the strange sight.
“Ugh. The white man is
very lazy. He straddles a wagon wheel and sits down on it to walk.”
He spoke in an undertone,
without so much as a ghost of a smile on his stolid face.
No one laughed at the
time, but when we entered a tepee and were sure that no strangers could
see or hear us, we stoics of the plains were suddenly transformed into
the most hilarious of laughers.
Came the day of the big
races. A white man approached our camp and told us if we had any horses
that could run, to get them ready. Also that we would have to pay him so
much money as an entrance fee.
This was another new
thing to us. Of money we had not so much as a single piece. Had we
possessed any we would not at that moment have had empty stomachs. We
had had nothing to eat that day.
We talked a good deal
about the lack of courtesy shown us by these Creeks of the white man's
road. If they had visited us in our country, not only food but presents
of clothing and other things would have been placed before their tepee
We satisfied the white
man by giving him two ponies so that my horse could enter the race. When
he saw my little steed he broke into most astonishing roars of laughter
and called his friends to see the grotesque thing that we called a
“And they are to run him
in the big race!” they cried between roars.
“All right, my son, but
it’s darned tough on you,” called the chief man of them to me as they
took their departure.
Many white men and others
came to our camp and offered bets.
Some of our people threw
robes on the ground and asked the white men to throw their silver on top
of them. This every man refused to do. They were afraid the money would
be stolen, we were told.
situation! Men in their own camp afraid that friendly visitors would
steal from them!
Some of them offered
paper money against our beautifully tanned and painted robes. With this
we would have nothing to do. We did not know the value of it. But silver
money would make good ornaments.. We would accept it.
Finally, we came to terms
with the white men.
When the sun passed
short-shadow time, I got ready for the race. I stripped to the skin
except for the breech clout, and painted face and body, my legs, with
their stripes—red, yellow, white and blue—looking like barber-poles.
Then I unbraided my hair, except the scalp-lock, in which I stuck a
beautiful eagle feather.
Buckskin was lazily
cropping grass at the end of a rawhide lariat I tied it around his under
jaw, and he was ready.
The sun was sliding
toward the place of long shadows when I mounted and rode toward the
The faded and frayed
fringe of humanity which bordered the southwestern frontier was surging
toward the track and chatting in the many tongues.
Big, clean-limbed horses
with shining skins and small gaily jacketed jockeys on their backs, were
out on the track warming up.
As I watched those
horses, noted their greyhound build, and contrasted them with Buckskin,
my heart became a mudhole full of frogs.
loose-jointed gait and with drooping head, old Buckskin, like a bundle
of loose-hung accidents, carried me on toward the starting-place.
Near it a young girl
stepped out from a tepee and coyly approached us. I brought my horse to
How pretty she looked
with the little circle of red in the centre of her forehead!
That little circle of red
meant much to me because it betokened the fact that she had not yet been
taken to wife, and I had asked her the old, old question.
Her name was Nacoomee—Handful-of-Flowers.
She stepped modestly
around to the side of my horse, her eyes two camp-fires in the dark. She
was barefooted. She had bet her moccasins on Buckskin. The only clothing
she had on was a piece of faded red blanket wrapped about her. She had
bet her dress of finest doeskin against a handful of lump sugar with a
Confused, she turned
quickly away, but not before I had caught a flash of the dark eyes, and
the music of the words—
“Go, Tahan, and win.”
The mudhole full of
croaking frogs in my heart became a sunlit green place in the woods with
laughing water and bordering flowers and singing birds. In the midst of
it all was a new tepee and Nacoomee, no longer in the rag of a blanket.
At the starting-place
Buckskin stopped, put his hindfeet and forefeet close together, humped
his back like a buffalo in a storm, hung his big head still lower and
lopped forward his long ears as though he was so ashamed of himself he
was ready to fall down and die.
“Git that old jack-rabbit
out of the way! We’re going to have a race,” yelled a white man at me.
“Y’d better do y’r hair
up, sonny, ’er yer bronch’ll git his feet tangled up in it,” gurgled an
At this I took fire and
felt like getting my gun and filling his big mouth full of bullets.
The hardest thing for an
Indian to bear is ridicule. , But fire bum them! what cared I for those
Over the fence the
crickets were singing their prairie song beneath the dust covered
flowers, and yonder stood Nacoomee—the “world”—barefooted and in a strip
of red blanket, and her words, “Go, Tahan, and win,” still sounded their
sweet music in my ears.
Yonder, too, sat my
people, naked and bronzed like statues, indifferent as statues,
apparently, as though they had not wagered everything they had on my
I was going to win that
race. Buckskin, my good old friend, would that day prove to the howling
wolves about us, that he was indeed brother of the wind, and I would
ride him as light as a feather in an eagle’s wing.
And at the end of the
race there would be more than gloiy.
All the fine horses came
up in an even line abreast of us.
Buckskin was quietly
dozing. A flag dropped in the judges' stand. My naked heel went into
Buckskin’s flank. He was off like an arrow from a bowstring and soon
caught up with the “greyhounds.” They had a running start. I had asked
for a standing start.
We were to go twice
around the big circle—a distance of probably two miles.
The first time we came
round it, the horses were strung out and Buckskin and I were at the
tail-end of the procession. But at a word from me, he began to creep up
We passed horse after
horse until at the head of the home stretch, with but a short distance
to go, only two horses were ahead of us. But they were going in their
long level leaps like greyhounds. Their riders glanced back and began to
I didn't have to whip
Buckskin—he knew as well as I knew. I lay down flat upon him, patted him
on the neck and began to chant a wild song.
“Now, Buckskin, you can
beat them. You must win. Now, Buckskin, now—go!” I sang.
He understood. He went.
When we flashed under the wire all of those fine horses were still
And now the joy, the
ecstasy, the glory, of it! The crowd surged around us to get a closer
look at good old Buckskin. We got rich on that race. But by far the most
precious of all the prizes that Buckskin won for me, was Nacoomee, Hand