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American History
A Name For Eldest Daughter

Our car sped along the hot dusty Oklahoma roads leaving a great trail of dust behind. The flying dust looked like the rooster tail of a speedboat in the water. This was Ponca country in Kay county, and we were on the reservation. It was a world tied to them. Our family  lived in Osage county and today it was a treat to be visitors here in Kay county.

As children, we were ever alert to our American Indian mother's love for adventure. Our Scot- Irish father  indulged her wishes. He trusted her motives and this loyalty was never misplaced.

Brush Arbor - Photo by Faye Heffington
Photography by Faye Heffington of the Hunter line

He drove  the car  through the gate which was  tied together by two lengths of barb wire fence. The family was immediately inside the yard and in new surroundings.

A short distance from the front gate was a house so small it almost looked like a children's playhouse. It had  two rooms with a very small porch - maybe six feet by eight feet across. It seemed  like it  had never been painted. The boards of the house were weathered to a natural patina of gray.

To the right stood the ever present brush arbor.  The Indian homes all held these more or less permanent structures. Winter time saw the arbors standing stripped of the overhead branches as though  depleted of the finery-- at least until the next summer. Such arbors became the center of the Indian people's activity in the summer.  They were saddled with the white man's wish to house them in tight, safe abodes and this was a quiet way to wrest back the  outdoors as much as possible.  In the arbors was a bed, a stand with water bucket and a wash basin. A place to hang a towel was usually  simply a nail hammered on the side of the table. Sometimes,  there was a refrigerator. A small wood cooking stove served them, too.  This  was actually a summer house, one with no walls. Its  feeling of a house  was  intriguing to the children.

The yard was scraped free of any vegetation.  As a matter of fact,  it often was swept with a broom as one would sweep a floor in order to keep ay clutter from lingering there. There were no frivolous touches such as flower beds. For generations the hated “Wais' ahs,” (snakes) were controlled in this way and the custom was simply continued.

We tumbled out of the car and Dad ambled off toward the brush arbor where an elderly man was sitting in the shade.

Grandmother Grace Little Warrior did not keep them waiting long on the little front porch before she opened the door.  She welcome them. The children were instantly looking all about them.  Their eyes were taking in each object. Admittedly,  there wasn't much to observe. Everything was severely plain in agreement with the Native teaching of self discipline.  A rough table covered with an oil cloth which stood  in the middle of the room. The table was flanked by benches rather than chairs.   Some homes did not have benches to always stand at the table. The chairs were as mobile as the people themselves,  and would be placed wherever they happened to be needed at the moment, including the front porch.

There was a water bucket and wash basin on a rough built small table inside this house much like the one at the arbor. In one corner of the room stood an ancient wood cooking stove. Everything was in immaculate order. There was not one thing out of place. The surfaces of  the utilitarian objects in the room served as furnishings and had a scrubbed,  re-scrubbed look about them. The windows had no curtains in agreement with their nomadic life style of but a few decades before. Everything here was expendable and could be left with no sentimental or any other value attached to it.

"Where does she keep all her things?"  the children .wondered aloud. They were met with her sh- sh- sh- as their mother shushed them.

Grandmother ushered them into the second room which held two small beds. This is where they were instructed to sit and sit still. Their mother bent over and gently told them they must be quiet.  It was necessary to be  respectful because this room held the ancient sacred peace pipe. She didn't have to speak to the children twice. They were in total stunned awe, not for the peace pipe.  It was wrapped up in what appeared to be a heavy canvas  fabric and was not visible to them.  These new and different surroundings were what held their attention.

"Now children," their grandmother was teaching them, "this peace pipe is considered rare and sacred. It is the last one the Ponca's have. Originally there were twelve, one for each clan and its chief.

“All who come into the presence of the peace pipe must behave with self-control. You are not to be rowdy and noisy, tumbling, roughhousing, or anything else disrespectful of its presence. To receive a name in the presence of the pipe is an honor."

The girl,  who was only eight,  couldn't know of the value of such an object. It would be  years later that she learned Gramma Grace was the daughter of a chief.  It was her assigned duty to care for this,  the last peace pipe. Throughout her life she had maintained a clean, moral, dignified way of living and she was respected now as an elder. Since she carried this status it was desirable to have her name an elder daughter. For  sons,  a male of high regard would be chosen for the naming. Forever after that,  when a public gathering was attended the name giver should be gifted and honored by the person named.

As years flow from one to another, with trials and tribulation strong, one has to wonder about the ways of the old ones. How were these traditional  laws tied to the moral fiber of their heart and life?  It wasn't the wealth of gold they left to their heirs.  The strength bestowed upon that person held a far greater power over their will. Whether it came from something of greater heights under the shadow of the peace pipe or only from the lips of the aging daughter of a chief would never be known.

"Jen-nee, her name is Jen-Nee. Water woman. This name is passed down to her. It was  Chief Standing Bear's Mother's name.”

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