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Sweeter Than Elderberry Wine
Get Down! Get Down! White Man!

John hammered the stake with the rag tied to the end of it into the ground and instantly he was the owner of 160 acres. Some of the folks were taking their time about getting back to register their land but he wasn’t at leisure to do that. Zona was waiting for him with the wagon holding their camping gear and he would necessarily need to get right on back and take care of business before enjoying the luxury of basking in the pleasure of his accomplishment. Before he mounted his horse once more he pulled his suit coat off and threw it over a large rock. Upon the coat, he placed a smaller stone, directly in the middle of it so that he would be able to easily find the location apart from all the other stakes in the ground.

That evening with Zona and their wagon now in tow John was trying to see where he had left his jacket. It was no where to be seen. Had someone taken it? Finally after much backtracking and searching he realized a small prairie fire had run through and burned up his jacket except the small part that was under the rock.

“Oh John! I can’t believe you have lost your one good suit coat. I’ll have to sew one up. How on earth are we going to get to Sunday’s meeting without it?”

“Aw, someone of my uncles will have one I can borrow, I’m sure.”

John was not worried one bit about his suit coat. More important things were on his mind.

“Have you noticed the folks camped next to us?” John asked Zona.

“Yes, I know they aren’t Osage and aren’t Cherokee. I wonder what is their tribe. I wonder where is their home or maybe just traveling through?” Zona was curious. The Natives were going about their business and paid little attention to them.

John knew some of the sign language with which the tribes used to communicate and was thinking about this as he rode carefully into their camp.

“Get down, Get down, White man!” A tall Native man spoke to John in broken English. You want water?”

“For my family, over there.” John motioned with his head toward his wife’s direction.

This kind of body language alone made the Native man know John was not a stranger to their ways and it made him less suspicious.

“Come take bread, soup.” The Native man offered his women’s cooked food.

John knew it would have been rude in their eyes to refuse their gift of sustenance and they would have less respect for him if he did not accept their hospitality. The leaders could even believe he wasn’t brilliant.

Lacking a permanent tee-pee made John know they were on the move and after taking their gifts of a meal he was back to setting up his own camp.

“Who were they? What tribe?” Zona wanted to know.

“I would say, Ponca. This is not far from their reservation. They can’t be caught out of bounds without being arrested but I’m sure the scouts know about how far to go. This small hunting party won’t draw attention.”

“Why were they friendly to you?” She asked.

“I don’t know. Could have been the few Osage words I was able to speak which is similar to Ponca or maybe it was the sign language? I think part of it is curiosity about what has been going on with the run. They thought everyone was trying to run away from something. This small group wouldn’t trust us if we weren’t in a family. These people surely have respect for that if nothing else about us.” At the time John had no experience with this tribe and it was too far into the future to know that one of his sons would marry a beautiful mixed, French-Ponca woman.

The cool of an Oklahoma April evening settled quickly upon them and John was in a hurry to get a good camp fire started. He immediately dismissed the brief encounter they had with a small band of peaceful Natives.

The wind off the prairie was now whipping at the fire and spread small, sparkling bits of cinders up and around the camp before lifting up to the night sky.

Zona had already used the fire for cooking and heating bath water so John was ready to extinguish the last of the burning embers.

“Best get this out for now. Are you through with the fire?” John waited on his wife to answer.

“Yes, and please do put it out. I don’t even want to think of a raging prairie fire at this time. That would be the last thing these people need after having come through this day.”

The day had been long and the hardest part of their adventure was over. A claim was staked and registered. All they now needed was a roof over their head. John narrowed his eyes, looked out over the expanse and visualized a location where he wanted to build a house.

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