Authors: G. Clifton Wisler
G. CLIFTON WISLER
Lanham â¢ Boulder â¢ New York â¢ Toronto
Published by M. Evans
An imprint of Rowman & Littlefield
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10 Thornbury Road, Plymouth PL6 7PP, United Kingdom
Distributed by National Book Network
Copyright Â© 1989 by G. Clifton Wisler
First paperback edition 2014
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without written permission from the publisher, except by a reviewer who may quote passages in a review.
British Library Cataloguing in Publication Information Available
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
The hardback edition of this book was previously cataloged by the Library of Congress as follows:
Wisler, G. Clifton
Lakota / G. Clifton Wisler.
p. cm.â(An Evans novel of the West)
1. Lakota IndiansâFiction. I. Title. II. Series.
PS3573.I877L35 1989 89-1498
ISBN: 978-0-87131-536-7 (cloth : alk. paper)
ISBN: 978-1-59077-264-5 (electronic)
ISBN: 978-1-59077-263-8 (pbk. : alk. paper)
The paper used in this publication meets the minimum requirements of American National Standard for Information SciencesâPermanence of Paper for Printed Library Materials, ANSI/NISO Z39.48-1992.
Printed in the United States of America
In grateful appreciation,
is dedicated to
Victor, Lionel, and my other friends at Sinte Gleska College and among the Sicangu Lakota people
They called themselves Lakota for the branch of the tribal language spoken by the seven southern bands. The white man called them Teton Sioux, the prairie dwellers, and spoke the name with a mixture of dread and respect. They were the fiercest hunters and the most unrelenting of enemies. But all that was yet to come. For in the year marked by the black robe priests 1848, under the greenleaf moon of May, bands of the tribe knew only the peace of iiattening ponies and mild weather.
In Little Thunder's camp, deep in Pe Sla, the circular valley that is the heart of Paha Sapa, the Black Hills, the people were restless. There, in that sacred place which is the center of the earth, Tasiyagnunpa, the Meadowlark, felt the pains of birthing beginning. As her female relatives offered prayers and provided what comfort experience had taught, Tacante, the father, climbed a distant slope in search of a dreaming.
For Tacante, it was not the first time he had awaited a child's coming into the light. Twice before Tasiyagnunpa's belly had grown large. Each time a small, sickly thing had emerged, only to close its eyes in the silent death understood only by the grandfathers' grandfathers.
"Sing the brave song, my brother," Hinhan Hota, the Gray Owl, had urged. "There is much that isn't understood."
"Han," Tacante had sadly agreed. Yes, Wakan Tanka, the Great Mystery, gave life only to take it away again. Who could understand that?
Each time Tacante grieved for the dead ones three days, even as he had mourned for a father and a mother taken by winter's chill. Now, as he climbed the rocky hillside, his heart sang with new hope.
"Wakan Tanka, hear me," he pleaded. "I have danced and I have smoked. I have undertaken Inipi, the purification rite, and even now I starve myself as I did long ago in the time of my coming upon manhood. Always I am generous to the needy. I hunt so that the people grow strong, and I have never neglected to pray and smoke before going upon the hunt."
Tacante paused and stared out at the darkening skies. Soon the sacred hoop of stars, Can Gleska Wakan, would appear high overhead and bring the earth back to life from the depths of winter's death. Surely this was a time of birth. Down below Tasiyagnunpa struggled to give him a son. But it would live only if Wakan Tanka so willed it.
"I am called Tacante," he spoke as he removed his buckskin shirt, then stepped free of his moccasins. He continued stripping until he stood naked before the Great Mystery, a man free of pride and bare of pretensions. "I ask a son, Wakan Tanka, a brave one to follow the sacred path behind me. He Hopa, who has great power, says I will not live long if I walk the warrior path. It is the only path a man can walk who has been given the name Tacante."
He stopped a moment and gazed at the evening star sparkling on the horizon. It was true. Tacante meant Buffalo Heart, but it might as well have been spoken Heart of the People. One so named must always ride first into battle, must always put the needs of the people ahead of his own. He had been a shirt wearer four winters now, and the scars on his chest and thighs attested to his courage. Tacante now added to those scars, for he drew his knife and cut the flesh of his chest four times. Blood seeped from the wounds and dripped down his bare trunk, across his thighs, and down his legs. He sang a brave song and chanted boldly.
"Ah, Wakan Tanka, grant my prayer. Send to me a brave heart to endure what will come. May a son come tonight to the Lakota people, one with the heart to lead others and the power to see clanger. Ah, Wakan Tanka, walk with me these short days of my life. All that is flows from your power. Help me to walk the sacred way."
Tacante chanted and sang, turning slowly so that the darkness above could see the blood flowing from him. To the Great Mystery he prayed and pleaded. Then, as his strength began to ebb, he sank to his knees, then passed into the peace of dreaming.
In the silent, hollow darkness of the netherworld, Tacante saw many things. First there came a great marching of storm clouds. Thunderbird flapped its wings, and yellow tongues of lightning danced across the heavens, stinging Mother Earth and causing her to tremble. Into this scene crept Tatanka, Bull Buffalo. He was not the tall, humped master of the yellowing plain as in the past, though. Tatanka stood on the prairie amid the storm, and tears fell from his somber eyes. Before him stretched a sea of whitening bones, for his brothers lay slaughtered in their hundreds. Only bones remained to haunt the valleys.
"Our path is a short one, Tacante, my brother," Bull Buffalo spoke. And even as Tatanka howled a death chant, the rumbling thunder tormented him with its yellow daggers.
Tacante awoke hours later. He Hopa, Four Horns, the medicine man of great power, dabbed yellow paste on Tacante's wounds.
"You've had a dreaming?" the old man asked.
"Hau, a dark dream, He Hopa," Tacante answered. He then described the vision, and the medicine man frowned.
"Ah, you've seen much," He Hopa observed.
"What does it mean?" Tacante asked.
"Much, perhaps. Or little."
"There is much death to come. The buffalo will die, and with him the Lakota."
"This can't be," Tacante objected. "There are more buffalo on the earth than stars in the heavens. Tatanka is our uncle. He feeds and clothes the people. He is for all times."
"Ah, have you not seen how the rocks of Paha Sapa break apart in the grip of winter? Only Father Sky and Mother Earth live long. All else walks a path. Short or long, who can say?"
"And what am I to do, He Hopa? I am but a single Lakota."
"You're a shirt wearer, Tacante," He Hopa scolded. "You must see to the welfare of the people."
"If such hard times are ahead, I will need help."
"Then ask Wakan Tanka that the son born this night be strong and swift and wise. For surely Tasiyagnunpa brings a boy into your lodge. I, too, have dreams."
"Yes," Tacante said, raising his arms skyward and chanting the required prayers. He turned slowly and sang. He Hopa joined in, shaking a rattlesnake charm in one hand while clutching the sacred medicine bags in the other. And then, swift as a red-tailed hawk dives upon his prey, the old medicine man halted.
"Dress yourself, Tonska," He Hopa commanded. "Your son awaits you, Nephew."
Tacante raised a howl of thanksgiving and then uttered a short prayer. After dressing himself, he hurried back to the camp.
Tasiyagnunpa remained in the women's lodge, among the grandmothers, but Wablosa, Redwing Blackbird, her mother's sister, emerged from the lodge with a tiny bundle.
"Cinks?" Tacante asked. My son?
Wablosa nodded, then showed the child to its father. Tacante touched the infant's tiny, whitish hands and stroked the raven-black hairs on its head.
"Ah, Tacante, a son," He Hopa observed. "What will he be called?"
"I had thought 'Little Heart,' or 'Buffalo Calf,' as I myself was called."
"He hasn't the look of a buffalo," Wablosa joked. "The grandmothers have named him Mastincala."
"Rabbit's a good name for one so light-skinned," He Hopa declared.
"A hard name to wear among the foxes and elks," Tacante complained. "I've dreamed. I saw thunder."
"Yes, Tonska, but the dream was for you, not him. Mastincala is a good name. Perhaps Rabbit will give him speed and cunning. There is time yet for Tatanka to visit his dreams."
Tacante dropped his head in disappointment. And yet his frown did not linger. The child gazed up with mystified eyes, and buffalo heart or no, a father's pride swelled within him. He touched the baby boy on the forehead and silently pledged all the devotion a father could offer.
You will be proud one day to walk the sacred path with me, Mastincala, Tacante promised. And proud, too, to be the son of a shirt wearer.
Mastincala, the rabbit boy, learned early the lessons life taught a Lakota child. When the urge to cry came upon him, Wablosa pinched his nose and covered his mouth until tiny lungs burned with the need for air.
"There, little one," his aunt would scold. "See how it is death to cry out? Would you give away a silent camp to our enemies?"
The infant couldn't understand the words, but he soon learned the futility of wailing. Once, while the band was erecting its tipis, he cried to attract attention. Tacante promptly carried his cradleboard beyond hearing and left him to howl to himself. No sooner did he stop than old Wablosa appeared to tend him. By and by, as his needs were met by Wablosa, Tasiyagnunpa, or some female cousin or aunt, he learned instinctively to trust that all would be tended in time.