IN the crowd at the
race-track was Colonel Clayton, commanding officer of Fort Gibson. He
wanted to see the boy and the queer-looking animal that had won the race
against some of the best horses in the southwest, so I was introduced to
After I had told him
something of my life, he induced me to go with him to his house at the
post Here he told me of the advantages which would come to me and the
service I might render by connecting myself with the army. But just then
I had far more important business on hand. Promising the officer to
return and enlist, I went back to Muskogee to find that my people had
gone. They had packed up the booty won on Buckskin, and headed westward.
It was several days
before I located them. I found their camp at night and they were having
a feast celebrating my little broncho's victory.
They were overjoyed at my
safe return. They thought I had been arrested, when they saw me start to
Fort Gibson with the officer, and not knowing how to find me or to give
me help, had hastily decamped.
While they sang a song in
my honour, I looked for Nacoomee. She was taking no part in the
I found she was in her
father’s tepee, and before it a Mexican was sitting.
I gave him a quick glance
of contempt, then grabbed his scalp-lock and jerked it fiercely. Like
the coyote that he was, he sneaked into the darkness.
“Ee-e-mah, Nacoomee!” I
She came and followed me
to the feast
The next day I lost no
time in giving her father the costliest trophies I had won in the race.
They won. Nacoomee was mine.
I was ready. Gose at hand
stood a mule with a large pack on his back, and Buckskin and another
horse beside him.
Nacoomee and I mounted
and started on the old trail marked out by the first man and woman—a
trail just wide enough for us two. According to the custom of the tribe,
we needed no wedding ceremony.
That evening we stopped
in a sequestered spot beside a little stream. We were in an unfriendly
part of the country, but we gave the matter little thought The future
was held captive in the now. The present was all.
My bride pitched our
tepee. When she was busy within, I went to loosen the rawhide ropes that
bound our food-pack to the mule.
Nacoomee called to me.
“What are you doing,
She ran to me and pushed
“Have you forgotten so
soon you have a wife to do that?” she pouted.
Confused, I replied
“There's no one but you
to see me do it”
She burst into a ripple
of teasing laughter.
I took my gun and scouted
around our camp.
In a short time I came
back with a fat young buck on my shoulders.
I skinned it and Nacoomee
helped me cut up the meat.
She chattered gaily as
“I am glad you got this
fresh meat, Tahan. The tenderest piece we shall give to the Spirit of
the place. I am sure it will please better than the dried meat we
I gave her the piece.
She laid it carefully
aside, and went to look for the sticks to hold it. She chose three about
the size of my wrist, and cut them some longer than my length. Tying
their tops together, she fixed the meat on them and set it up at the
back of the tepee.
This was our offering to
make the Life of the place our friend.
Her sacrifice was a
string of beads placed on a little bush beside the brook.
Mine was a beautiful
buckskin bag filled with tobacco. After I had scattered part of the
contents to the Four Ways, I laid the bag on a stone on the hillside. I
chose this spot because the stone was shaped like a bear.
The days that followed
were dream days.
Birds, like flowers made
alive by the breath of the prairie, darted about in the sunshine and
among the yellowing leaves; or swung in the tops of the tall cottonwoods
to sing their feast-songs and chirrup to us their welcome from the
Great eagles stretched
their arms and swam in the blue, far overhead.
And over all came
floating now and then a snow-white feather-cloud from the Spirit of
The nights came and
brought cool breezes, but no darkness.
Owls called and answered
one another in stately voice through the starlight. Our brother-wolves
sat on the hills and sang us their night-songs. The horses cropped the
rich pasture. And all was contentment.
Each day I left Nacoomee
alone with her bead-work, while I scoured the prairie to see what food
it held for us.
Afoot, one day, I wounded
an antelope. It gave me a weary chase before I downed it, and it was no
light burden to carry homeward.
I was late, but the fire
burned bright in the tepee, and savoury odours met me.
Over the coals hung
broiling meat on the skewers, and in the ashes yam-like roots were
The roots Nacoomee had
found on the flat near the creek.
How good that supper
tasted, as we sat on the robes and ate it in the bright light of our
So—came and went away
again and again the nights with their voices and their stars and their
thin-bent moon in the west
We changed camp many
times—just to be doing it, seemingly. But often I believed it was
because of some dream or some warning of bird or of beast that had come
For it was in the
constant presence of Intelligent Life we were living, and to us
everything around us was interested in our welfare.
One day, while on the
move with all our belongings, we idled about on the prairie. Our shadows
began to grow long before we thought of a camping-place. But we found
one not far away.
It was beside a little
stream of sweet water, where grew good grass and tall trees.
When the tepee was
pitched and the horses hobbled, I stepped across the little stream and
stood listening to the whisperings in the tree-tops.
From the other edge of
the stream spoke Nacoomee: “How pleasant this place is! Always and
always I could stay here.”
“Every place is
pleasant,” I replied. “Come to this side.”
I stretched out my hand
toward her. She took it but did not cross. Her face was bent down
towards the water.
“Look!” she exclaimed
joyfully, “both of our faces are there close to a flower. It must mean
that always and always we shall be together.”
She had hardly finished
speaking. A brown and withered leaf floated down between us, fell into
the ripple, and drifted away.
With a startled look on
her face, Nacoomee raised her eyes to mine. Our hands fell apart.
A squirrel whisked up a
nearby tree, where he sat chattering.
A red bird—like a spray
of blood—dashed out of the bushes with a plaintive cry.
I leaped across the
stream. Silently, and together, we hurried to the tepee.
Something, we both knew,
had startled the wild things.
I took up my gun.
A short distance up the
stream, a trail crossed it. I went cautiously towards it, until I saw
coming a small party of warriors. At first I took them for enemies, but
I soon learned they were of our own people—the Estizeddelebe—and were
headed for Zakatoh’s camp.
Back in the tepee I found
my woman waiting—her gaiety changed to sadness. I asked her nothing. She
told me nothing.
So I can only guess at
the message the brown leaf brought to Nacoomee.
She asked to go back to
Zakatoh’s camp. We went bade the next day.
In the winter that
followed the white hunters had a big buffalo kill.
We came upon the signs of
it—a wide, level stretch of prairie covered with the bones.
We could have walked
across the littered space, almost without setting foot on the bare
The white men wanted only
the skins. They left the meat for the wolves.
This made us feel much as
cattlemen would have felt if their herds had been treated in this way.
And this was not the only
slaughter-ground we came upon that winter.
This caused much serious
talk among our people.
If such work went on, we
knew that starvation lay in wait for us. Even then, at times, our
meat-poles were bare for days.
That winter and another
Our lodges became fewer
and fewer in number. By ones and by twos and by families our people went
away and did not come back.
The prairies were empty
of game. Not even a jackrabbif could be found. And the children cried
Came the First Green
Grass. And one day I came into camp with a lean antelope behind my
I dismounted in front of
my tepee. The flap was closed, and two sticks were crossed before it.
This meant I must not enter.
No one ever thought of
going into a tepee if crossed sticks were before the door.
As I stood deep in
thought, a woman passed me.
She didn't speak. She
simply looked at me. But I knew from the look why the sticks were
crossed before my door.
I went a little way off
to cut up the antelope meat. But my eyes didn’t leave the sticks very
long at a time.
Not until the next day
were they taken away.
Then I entered my tepee.
Nacoomee was sitting on a
robe, with a limp little creature in her arms.
I made the fire brighter
so I could see it better. And I looked at it a long time.
Nacoomee broke the
“Is he not wonderful,
Tahan?” she exclaimed joyously.
“He is wonderful,” I
agreed, “the most wonderful child in all the world!”
A little later while I
was broiling strips of the antelope meat, Nacoomee suddenly cried out:
“Oh! now I have it! His
name shall be Tapah-yeete.”
So our child was given
his name—Big Boy Antelope.
I had often thought of
the promise I had made Colonel Clayton to return to Fort Gibson. I felt
the time had come for me to keep it. But it was not until the leaves
began to fall that I started, with my little family, in the direction of