Around us acres of tall dead grass rattled in the November wind as a weak, late afternoon sun tried half-heartedly to break through a high thin overcast. Tomorrow the rain would probably come, perhaps even a mantling of snow for the higher ridges reaching upward from the rolling Montana grazing land.
I looked again at the small, white-painted clapboard house toward which my Levi-clad companion was leading me. Smoke drifted from a brick chimney before being snatched away by the wind. A faded-red l952 Ford pick-up with several bales of hay in back squatted sedately where the long driveway ended in a right-angle parking area. Two old and well-used rocking chairs sat side-by-side on the sheltered front porch, a tortoise-shell cat occupying one, a plastic pail filled with wild apples the other. Like Clyde himself, the dwelling which he, with the help of friends, had built 22 years earlier, was compact, solid, neat and sufficient to the needs it filled.
“The cat came to visit us with our grand-daughter last spring”, Clyde chuckled, “but when she left, the cat stayed; been in that old rocker most of the time ever since.”
Laugh lines crinkled the dark, weather-worn face, and I thought as I looked into the shining brown eyes of Clyde Running Bear, that here was a man who laughed easily and much.
He didn’t look old enough to be talking about grand-children, his hair as black and full-bodied as it ever could have been. He pointed off to the west where a stand of ancient cottonwoods clung to a low ridge. “My grandfather came here long ago. He built a log cabin over there: near those trees. Before that, he lived on the other side of the reservation – near Crow Agency.”
Reluctantly the cat surrendered his favored resting spot, and we sat together on the old porch, looking out over a landscape which hadn’t changed much in generations . . . except for the buffalo. They were gone, and with them a way of life that could never return.
“That big peak you see in the middle”, Clyde raised his hand in a kind of salute, “that is Medicine Butte.”
I waited, listening to the creak of old rockers on weather-worn floor boards. And the wind.
“That is where Plenty Coups went to get big medicine. Where his great vision happened. That is where our people still go today.”
I knew about Medicine Butte; looked forward to the time I would climb it myself, fasting for inspiration under a summer sun as Clyde’s forefathers had for untold generations.
As we talked and rocked, I could feel the home sickness Clyde told me he always felt whenever he had to be away from this place for more than a day. I could sense the great veneration with which he identified with this place and with its people.
Later we walked to where a gaggle of outbuildings stood, down the hill a hundred yards from the house, and I was introduced to Old Hunter, a handsome Quarter-horse gelding. “This is the finest thing I own!” Clyde’s face glowed with pride as he patted the animal’s chestnut flank. “He goes like the wind itself!”
He thought about that for some time. “You know, the long-ago horses were not like this I think. Not so good to look at.”
The wind had relaxed its hold on the swaying grasslands as we retraced our steps. A single light was on in the house where Mary Running Bear, eldest daughter of Joseph Sings Good and proud grand- daughter of Three Leggings would have dinner started. It was time to leave.
“Next time you come,” Clyde yelled waving a farewell and pointing to the traditional sweat lodge near the house, “we sweat a little. . . okay?”
NOTE: For several years I was privileged to work on a project exploring the culture and homeland of the Native American people known as The Crow. This story comes from a typical interview in my field notes. ACC
Dressed for “Crow Festival,” the niece of friend and village story-teller Elizabeth Smart Enemy poses in front of the teepee assigned to Al Cooper as honored guest quarters.
Titled “Two Worlds” this Al Cooper photo is an award-winner and a personal favorite.
AL Cooper Photos