Authors: Mardi Oakley Medawar
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For the Black Leggings Society and Gus Palmer, Jr.
In October 1867, Kiowa, Comanche, Arapaho, Apache, and Cheyenne Indians signed peace treaties with the Federal government. Fifteen thousand Indians camped near by during the council, among them the famous chiefs Satanta, Little Raven, and Black Kettle. Five hundred soldiers acted as escort for the U.S. commissioners. Interest in this colorful spectacle was so widespread that Eastern papers sent correspondents, among them Henry M. Stanley, who later was to find Livingstone in Africa. While the treaties did not bring immediate peace they made possible the coming of the railroads and eventual settlement. The site of the council was at the confluence of Medicine River and Elm Creek, a little southwest of Medicine Lodge.
âMedicine Lodge Peace Treaties, historical marker erected by the Kansas Historical Society and State Highway Commission in Medicine Lodge, Kansas.
The most annoying sound I've ever known is that high, nasally voice of a pouting child. I find it especially grating when heard on an unseasonably hot day when sweat is rivering down my skin and pesky gnats dart determinably for my eyes. As if that weren't enough, because the day was too hot to wear protective leggings, I was riding bare-legged and the blanket covering my saddle was doing nothing at all to ease the chafing of my inner thighs. In the year of 1867, the early autumn was proving itself to be just as brutal as the passing summer, the sun beating down with the force of a striking hammer.
You would have thought that such lamentable traveling conditions would be enough to shut up my wife and son. You would have thought wrong. Under no conditions does a five-year-old boy know how to shut up, and my wife was laboring under the delusion that each of his complaints should be met with logical, and therefore rather lengthy, responses. When I rolled wearied eyes, she sent me a rebuking look that clearly said, This is all your fault.
She was right.
Before beginning the grisly trek from our country just north of the Red River, venturing north to the Osages' country, I had presented my new son with his very own pony. Ordinarily, children of his age rode safe inside protective cages that were strapped onto a travois. Because of my gift of the pony, Favorite Son wasn't where he should have been, but between my wife and I, the joy of him having his very first pony was quickly fading for all of us.
Crying Wind was losing her voice trying to console and reason with a dyspeptic five-year-old and I was trapped, unable to ride up front with the other men. It was unthinkable for a father to abandon his child while that child was learning to ride properly. Longing with every particle of my soul to be with the other men, I wormed in the saddle, trying to find a new patch of skin somewhere on my buttocks that wasn't completely blistered, while Favorite Son mewled and Crying Wind tried to distract him.
“Oh, look there, my little heart,” she said, pointing off. “See the redbird?”
Dutifully, Favorite Son and I looked in that direction just in time to see a flash of scarlet as a bird careened against a cloudless pale blue sky. The landscape boasted only tall grasses undulating with each dry hot breeze, like the waves of a fast-moving river. A sigh slipped out of me as I found myself longing for our home country of red buttes, tall trees and incalculable rivers and creeks. And humidity. Wonderful, cloying humidity. I have never been a high prairie person. On the high prairie, the air is so dry a person can watch his skin crack.
I went on this occasion because the entire Nation was gathering in Kansas. To go there, we had to travel through the very heart of Osage country. The Osage were certainly aware of our numerous presence. They were allowing their former enemies to pass safely through. Still, because the giant Osage were known to be somewhat contradictory, our great mass of warriors rode farther ahead, leaving the women and children to travel about a half mile behind.
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Women always traveled or walked behind men, but not, as is so widely supposed, because men considered women to be inferior. The first time I heard this statement, I was too appalled to speak. I simply stood before the smug individual, who voiced this as a fact, with mouth agape, looking very much like an astonished carp.
Indian men walked or rode ahead of their families because the Indian men of a long-ago day were gallant. I love that word
âit is so full-bodied, so completely right for the men I knew back then. And it was because of their gallantry that they placed themselves in harm's way. For if an enemy struck, those men were more than preparedâout of unconditional loveâto give up their lives in order to buy the time needed for their wives and children to run away, hide, survive.
That is not to say that women and children traveled wholly on their own. A smattering of warriors were selected to ride with them. During this journey to the place called Medicine Lodge, I was a member of the smattering. I didn't particularly care for this because I wanted to be with my friend Skywalker. Something seemed to be the matter with him and I was worried. But I had sealed my fate by giving my son the pony. So, he was with the noted warriors and I was with the women. A place my other friends, who only meant to tease, said I belonged anyway.
Sadly, that was all too true. While the true warriors of our nation liked me, even respected me for my unusual doctoring skills, they knew I was not a very good warrior. If I were with them and the Osage decided to come out for a fight, my Kiowa brothers would first have to concern themselves about my safety before taking on the Osage. So, as it turned out, my blunder about the pony worked to their advantageâthey wouldn't have to worry about hurting my feelings by suggesting that I ride with the women because I'd trapped myself. Although, these same warriors weren't overly concerned about my tender feelings when it came to teasing me about my name, Tay-bodal.
Bluntly put, Tay-bodal means Meat Carrier. It was not my first name but it has been my name for so long now that I can't really remember the first one. This second name was earned during the time when I was just entering my twenties and newly married to my first wifeâa good woman who died long before I ever even met my second wife, Crying Wind. In my childhood, it was generally agreed that I was a bit eccentric, so overly fascinated by all things living that I did not properly study the lessons necessary for ordinary life. Hence, when I came of age to join a warrior society, none of the leaders of the societies approached me for membership. Because my people have always been a forgiving lot, I was allowed to go my own way and become a doctor, but not a traditional doctor. The two doctoring societies, the Owl Doctors and the Buffalo Doctors, did not invite me to join their memberships, either. When I married for the first time, I was totally unprepared to support a wife and it was for her sake alone that I tried to fit in where I clearly did not belong and the first step of this fitting in was to join an organized hunt comprised of about a dozen warriors.
I was quite nervous about the whole thing, for generally I hunted with my fatherâa gentle, quiet man who rarely corrected me while taking great pains to protect me from myself. The seasoned warriors I'd attached myself to, were neither gentle nor quiet and they most certainly did not have any great concerns regarding my welfare. Still, I was determined to bluff it out, prove that I was a man, that I was not too young to have the responsibility of a wife. The way I chose to carry off this great pretext was by acting just as cocky as possible.
It's a long hard fall from cocky. I should have known I was headed for the fall the day I neatly packed my portion of the kill onto the back of my horse, ignoring the other men who were taking the time to salt down their portions. While I was tying tight the travel pack, one of them stopped what he was doing and came over to me, asking what I was doing. I was quite terse with the man, appallingly rude. He backed off and went back to the clump of men. Turning away from the sight of them, I busily kept on with what I had been doing while listening to their muttering and muted laughter. All I thought, as I tied the last cord that would keep my prize from slipping off my horse's flanks, was how glad I was to be going home. During the time spent with those men, I realized that they had a companionship I could not share. Their brotherhood made me feel left out, sorry for myself and resentful. Which is why I had acted no better than an angry child. I wanted to go home and I wanted to go quickly. They weren't being fast enough to suit me and I let them know it.
Everything would have been all right if they hadn't decided to get back at me for my arrogant and sullen attitude. For two days they all pretended that we were lost. I didn't know the area at all and was completely dependent on them. If they were lost, so was I. By the third day, the hunt leader. (I suppose because he was becoming tired of their game) announced that everything was all right, that he knew where we were. Well, that was good news but I would have felt better had it not been for the persistent and increasingly noxious smell of rotting meat. After three days of being wrapped up inside a rawhide blanket and without any preserving salt, my portion had gone off. Realizing now that I had been the brunt of a joke, I stubbornly held on to that portion, torturing all of them with it for as long as I could stand it. When the air around us became so fetid that the others were pleading with me to throw it away, I finally did. So, it was from that time that I have been called Tay-bodal (the Meat Carrier). And for years following that humbling hunt, whenever my new name was said in polite society, the typical question following the mention was, “Isn't he that idiot?”
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“Redbirds are sacred to the Osage people,” Crying Wind continued. “In their religion, the Osage came from the stars and were redbirds before they became human beings.”
I was tempted to add that our council hadn't entirely decided if the Osage were indeed human but they did agree that the Osage had come from somewhere other than this earth. In the days of my childhood, Little Bluff, the greatest chief of the Cauigu (Kiowa), had made peace with the Osage. Being much younger than me, my wife didn't remember the terrible years of war and so she was inclined to be frustratingly broad-minded about those people. My offering a differing comment, while she was working hard to be sweet-voiced and reasonable with our pouting son, would have set her off and she was already mad enough about the pony.
All right, I admit it, giving a five-year-old a pony was stupid. But I hadn't known just how stupid until Crying Wind became stony-faced, unnaturally quiet, and the air between us as heavy as the lull before the onslaught of a tornado. Now, before you begin to think that, as my wife, she should have been diffident to whatever I did simply because I was her husband, think again. The wives ran the households and any husband who acted first and consulted with his wife later could find himself staring into the eyes of doom. It was because I had presented the pony at the last moment before the Nation left our old camp behind, and because our son was so excited by the gift, that she reined in her temper. But throughout the long day of travel I'd felt her anger. Oh yes, I most certainly did.