Part Two – The Making of a Warrior
Chapter 11 – The Horseman – Sachem and Me 2
By Ghost Dancer
Like me, Sachem was born out of time, out of place, and was trying his best to remain true to his own spirit in a world that would not allow that. He did not know that truly the only reason I captured him was so that the rancher would not have him hunted, shot and killed. Nor did he know that being with me, he could remain free. I would teach him how to live in both worlds as I had to. My goal was to teach him what he needed to know about people, how to avoid problems, and how to truly escape.
My first task would be to win his trust and respect; something he would never give easily. It would have to be earned. This took a lot of time and I worked with him every day, letting him see that I would never hurt him, no matter what he did too me. We had plenty of skirmishes. On one memorable occasion, I wanted him to come in from the pasture so I could work with him. My sister’s Shetland pony, Star, had just come into season, so I got the bright idea of using her as bait to get Sachem into the barn. Well beautiful Star did her job; Sachem was excited, but leery of the barn. I had climbed on the roof to watch him and as soon as I saw him step into the barn, I dropped down to shut the double barn doors. When I had them about half closed, Sachem and Star both kicked out with their hind legs. When the hooves hit, the doors came flying back at me like a powerful wave, hitting me square in the face and sending me flying backwards through the air. Jackie and Greg had been watching from outside the fence and they both let out howls of laughter, hollering that Star and Sachem had outsmarted me and planned this together. Here I am, laying there with all the air knocked out of me, and they are falling on the ground laughing. To put the icing on the cake, both Star and Sachem came out and I know they were laughing as they went prancing off together.
Now here I am, the real smart one who thinks he knows all about animals and horses, and I’m laid straight out, nose busted, mouth busted, and pride surely injured. Mom opens the gate and comes in to see how badly I’m hurt. I tell her I’m okay while Greg and Jackie stand there play-acting flying backwards, laid out and poking their tongues out like they are unconscious. Me, I was determined to catch Sachem now and get my honor back. So I got a lasso and went to work.
If you knew my family you would know they love entertainment. They all found somewhere to park themselves to watch what was about to unfold. It took about a half hour to get him cornered enough to get a noose over his neck. Now, at this point, Sachem had never been ridden at all. This big boy had been born wild and he was the boss in his world. He fought, he tried to charge me, he tried to stomp me, all to no avail. I just kept talking to him, slowly wearing him down; always gentle, not rough or heavy handed.
After about an hour he was spent. I edged my way closer, keeping hold of the lasso and talking to him calmly until I was right beside him. He was shaking so I just stood there letting him get used to the closeness. Then I slowly brushed my hand against his neck; I felt him quiver throughout his whole body. Still I kept telling him how strong he was and how proud I was of him; that I was his friend, not his enemy. I told him I was trying to protect him from being hunted and killed; that I was not his owner, I was his friend; that we are equal. His ears and eyes relaxed as he listened to the drone of my voice. I knew he understood my intentions and he knew I was telling him the truth. I kept rubbing him gently and then scratched his head. Slowly, he was beginning to accept me. He loved the head scratching and kept moving his head to where he wanted it scratched.
Meanwhile, Greg and Jackie kept hollering, “When are you going to ride him?” So, why not? I started leaning on him and letting him feel the weight of my body, being extra careful not to spook him. He accepted my leaning across his back and scratching his side and hind quarters, so I took hold of his mane and swung up onto his back. I kept talking to him the whole time trying to let him know it was alright. Well, he didn’t know what had happened, but he sure didn’t like it. I leaned forward down to his neck and whispered in his ear that I was still right here and I was his friend. I don’t think he believed me.
The next instant, he went to sun fishing and bucking like a cyclone. I kept trying to talk to him, but he wasn’t in a talking mood. So around and around we went. He even tried to smash me by rearing up and falling straight on his back. I already knew what he was fixing to do, so I bailed off to the side and let him hit his own back on the ground. Then when he started to get back to his feet, I swung right back on. Finally, he just tried running as fast as he could, and boy, could he fly. Everyone was clapping, and I felt so proud of myself. Sachem must have sensed this or felt me relax some and he ran even faster – straight towards Mom, Greg, Jackie, Teresa – and the fence. I leaned backwards, fearing the worst, and just when he got to the fence, he stopped on a dime, digging his feet in. There I went, flying straight over his head, over the fence and into the front yard. Sachem just stood there, curling his lips up and shaking his ahead.
Yeah, he won that round. Even the other horses joined in laughing at me. The great bronc rider and trainer got handed his rear end. Sachem won this round, but it wasn’t going to be over. I did my best to laugh with him and let him know that it was okay. I had that coming. Should have taken my time with him instead of letting my ego get in the way. It was good medicine.
After a while the trust and friendship began to come. I taught him how to hide on his belly, hide using the trees and forest, how to unlock the gates, even to jump high fences rather than trying to stomp or kick them down. Dad had guns, so I taught him to fear them; the smell of one meant for him to get out of there. I made sure he understood the different sounds of a gun. I taught him how to dodge a lasso and not to be trapped. He loved learning and he began to understand what the world was like when I took him out riding through the country side, around the different ranches. I even rode him down roads with lots of traffic and noise, so he would understand to avoid these or how to cross but avoid being hit.
Never did Sachem have a saddle or bridle put on him. I let him smell them and see what they were by putting them on the other horses. He smelled these strange things and tried to take them off the other horses; didn’t like them on his people. Now, Sachem was still a free spirit, and even though he was my brother and friend, he still had his true wild ways. If he smelled a mare in season, don’t worry, he would not be trapped again. He never made the same mistake twice, but there was no stopping him when he smelled a beautiful one calling for his attention. I tried. I knew these ranchers would want him dead if he was caught messing with their prized mares. I could battle him all I wanted, and he would still get away.
One day we were out riding, and he must have caught a scent, for he suddenly began acting strange. I knew he was up to something, but still didn’t know what. I thought he was just being mischievous, so cut it out. He just looked at me and snorted. Then he started galloping and I just went with the flow, thinking he wanted to burn off some energy. Boy was I wrong. We were riding beside a paved road and he was flying all out. I noticed we were getting closer and closer to a telephone pole guide wire, so I nudged him with my knees to get him to pull away some. He ignored me, and we kept getting closer and closer. I bent down on his neck figuring I would get as low as I could and avoid the wire. But, oh no, too late and too fast, he veered closer in to the wire. The metal wire barely scraped his neck all the way down. I had nowhere to go. The wire cut me from my throat down to the top of my hip, flinging me backwards off his back. I don’t remember what happened next, but I woke up to see him standing there as though he was making sure I was okay and alive. Then he took off, jumped a fence, and I heard him calling out to the female. I should have known what this was about. He knew I would not let him go to her, so he got rid of me.
A man who happened to be a butcher, pulled over. He helped me into his car and took me home. Mom had a fit when she saw all the blood on the man’s work apron, thinking it was mine. Later Sachem came back home and came to me. Yeah, I was bandaged up and I knew he smelled the blood. When he placed his head on my chest, I knew he was sorry and that he didn’t mean to really hurt me. I told him, “Hey buddy, one day you will get in trouble behind your girls.” I hugged him and told him I was okay. He nodded his head and wanted to play. I told him he needed a bath, so I pointed to where I always bathed him, and he went over. Yeah, it hurt me. I had a few bruised ribs but working the stiffness out would help. This was how good our relationship was. He knew he was safe here.
Sachem never let anyone ride him except me, but he would allow other members of my family to touch him and brush him and clean his feet. But that was that. Late that spring, I told him I would be gone for a few months, so he had to behave. I don’t think he really understood what “gone” meant, but I knew my dad would be coming to get me soon. When the day came, I really had a tough time leaving him, but I knew he would remember what I had taught him and would be cared for. I went to Alabama, spent a few weeks with my dad, then took my motorcycle and went to South Dakota.
When I got back to my dad’s, I knew or felt that I should get back to Florida as soon as possible. I asked Dad to take me and he agreed. We left the next morning before dawn. When I got back to Mom’s, I could barely see Sachem hiding in the woods. I jumped the fence and whistled; at first, he just stood there looking towards me. I whistled again and here he came; a blur flying towards me, so excited I thought he was going to run me over. He smelled me all over, making sure it was me. I was as happy as he was. Then he butted me with his head, wanting a head scratching. I hugged him and told him I had missed him too. My dad walked over to the fence and I introduced them. Sachem was so happy he started jumping up and down and bucking playfully around the pasture. Dad said he was beautiful. I told Sachem I had to go see Mom and everyone and that I would be back later.
When dad left to go back to Alabama, my sister, Judy went with him to live for the first time. Afterward, we talked for a few hours, then when everyone went to bed, I went out and spent time with Sachem. He laid on the ground and I laid my head on his belly. We talked most of the night and fell asleep that way. The sun was already up when I woke. I went to bathe and then bathed him too. Then we went to the garden, picked us some cantaloupes. I busted his open for him and began eating mine. When he was finished, I swung up on his back and we walked out of the garden and headed down the road toward our favorite place to swim, the old rock quarry where the water was crystal clear. Yeah, Sachem loved it too. We had been apart for a long time, so we had fun; just him and me all day. I wanted him to know that I was truly back, for a while anyway. We walked side by side and I talked to him about my journey and what I had learned in South Dakota. I told him how his people and my people were experiencing the same things; that I knew I could not be silent any more about things. I must be what I was. He understood and pushed me with his shoulder. Yeah, brothers we truly were, Sachem and me.
For some time, a couple of months or so, everything was good, then trouble began. The rancher who had made the deal with me, drove by our place one day while I was working with Sachem, teaching him to stand up and paw in the air and twirl himself. The rancher stopped and sat there glaring at us. I told Sachem to run now and he did. He went and hid in the woods. I walked toward the fence, but the man just drove off. I knew something was up. I could feel it, just didn’t know what. At this time, I was going to school and then to the garage to help Dad until he closed at 5:00 pm. Sometimes I had to drive a car or truck back to the house for him to work on, or he would need me to help him do something. Anyway, after work we headed home. When we got there, three sheriff’s cars and animal control was there. I flew out of the car and so did Dad.
Mom was there crying and arguing with them. The rancher was there as well. He had told the law Sachem was his horse and he wanted him back. He said I was just supposed to train him. The animal control people were shooting Sachem with tranquilizers. I flew into them, knocking them down and the deputies grabbed me. Dad called the rancher a liar. Greg, Jackie and Teresa were all crying and hollering at them too. The cops said that unless we could prove the horse belonged to me they were taking it. Our agreement had been verbal and the rancher never gave us any paper. It was our word against his.
The ranch owner who lived across the road from us heard the commotion and came over. He told the sheriff that the horse had to be mine; that I had been training that horse since it was wild. The rancher who was lying told the sheriff that yes, I was only training the horse for him. He said that I had trained two others for him too. Dad told the sheriff that the rancher was lying, that I had trained the two other horses, and as payment, this horse would be mine.
By this time, they had shot sachem with about 4 tranquilizers. I could see the darts sticking out of him. He was still fighting but was becoming weaker. I was beyond outraged. Every fiber of my being wanted to smash these people. Mom kept urging me to just be calm. Dad came over, “Son, there isn’t anything we can do. We didn’t get papers from him.”
Finally, I calmed down and said quietly, “Okay. Let go of me. You don’t need to hurt him.” They let go and I walked over to where Sachem stood trembling and led him to the horse trailer. Before I loaded Sachem, I glared at the rancher and he backed away. I spoke to Sachem the whole time, telling him to just remember what we learned together. Okay? Live to fight another day. He looked at me all hurt and that tore me up inside. Memories of what they had done to Misty haunted me. I swore that would never happen again and I meant it. I stood and watched the rancher shake the sheriff’s hand. I saw the smile on his face as they left.
The neighbor across the road had numerous expensive horses and a big beautiful ranch himself, but he was kind and decent to us. He called me “son,” and told us he knew we were telling the truth, but the man was very wealthy and a powerful man who got what he wanted. He said we should have gotten papers to prove our arrangement; that is what the law will go by. Before he left, he looked at me and said how sorry he was this happened. Dad and Mom came and hugged me telling me it would be alright this time, just wait and see. But I knew better. I knew the greed and jealousy I saw in the rancher’s eyes. He would rather kill Sachem than to ever let him be free. Greg, Jackie and Teresa were all crying. They came and hugged me. They knew this was wrong and the injustice hurt them too. We all ate quietly that night and Greg went out to look after the other horses. They were missing Sachem as well. Horses are sensitive just as all animals are and they pick up on your emotions.
I laid in bed for hours, just thinking about what to do. Later that night I got up and climbed up on the bunkhouse roof. I began my prayers asking for help for my brother. I could feel the stars looking down on me. They were smiling, and I fell asleep right there. Towards dawn I heard something moving around, but a thick fog had rolled in and I couldn’t see much. Feeling the dampness, I climbed down and went in the house to take a shower. I put coffee on and started making breakfast as was routine for me, the early riser.
Everyone had school or work to go to. I went out to our bunkhouse and woke Greg first. He always slept hard and didn’t want to get up. He hated school anyway. Then I woke the girls and last the grownups. After breakfast everyone went either to a bus stop or to work. I went with Dad to work. I would walk to school from work and then back to work after school. When Dad and I got home that evening, once again, the deputies were there. They were looking for Sachem. Seems someone had helped him get loose and run off, they said. They walked out to our pastures and began looking around. Sachem was not in the first pasture, but yep, there he was in the other one, hiding in the trees.
The deputies immediately accused me of getting him. I said nothing. I had not, but it seemed best to just let them think what they wanted to. They called the rancher and he came back, all puffed up and threatening me with jail for horse stealing. They were going to tranquilize Sachem, but I stopped them. I whistled and he came to me. I walked him back to the horse trailer and put him in. Then I told Sachem I would see him tonight. I hugged him and he head butted me. “Remember brother, I will see you.”
After they left, Mom asked me if I had done it. I told her I had not but reminded her that I had taught him how to open locks, so he could get out when he wants to. “They will never keep him locked up,” I said, “But I tell you and Dad this: Tonight, I will. I’m taking him back to where he belongs, with his people and free. This will never stop until we are all in trouble, otherwise.” They never said a word.
After supper, Dad came outside and asked me to be careful. “He thinks you did this last night. They will be looking for you tonight.” I smiled at him and said, “It won’t be the boy they know; it will be the real me.”
Around 9:00 that night, I slipped away on Comanche. I put him in a smooth gallop, not all out but a pace that ate up the miles until we got within a mile of the rancher’s spread. I left Comanche in a dark field and told him to stay there. Then scouted ahead on foot to check it all out. Florida has a dark side at night. Panthers bears, gators and snakes come out, and then there is the swamp thing or skunk monkey that frightens people. There are shadows everywhere and I became a shadow. Knowing the rancher, I knew he would have Sachem locked up tight somewhere, under guard probably. Made no difference. Guards all have weaknesses too.
I whistled like a killdeer and heard a snort from a horse in the one building under the flood lights. Well, this meant I would just have to be more careful, I guess. I took my time circling the whole area trying to see where the guard was posted. The small houses where the workers lived all still had dim lights on and I could hear people moving and talking in them. I checked the other buildings and found Rusty and Sun Hawk in one of them. Both were excited to see me. Hey! why not? He wouldn’t have them if it were not for me. I might as well get them too. I had leather gloves on, so I knew there would be no prints. I had moccasin boots on, so I knew I would leave no tracks. One at a time, I got them out of their stalls and gave them each a hug to renew our bond. They remembered me and wanted to be loved. I got them outside and told them to stay nearby. They did, and I felt sure they remembered their lessons. Now it was time to free Sachem.
I snuck up to the building with all the flood lights. This is where Sachem had to be and there had to be a way in they wouldn’t expect. I studied the area until I found a drainage ditch, where barn waste was washed down and away from the building. I never hesitated. In I went in and yeah, it smelled bad, but it gave me cover so I could get inside. Right away, I spotted Sachem looking towards me, and knowing he would be as excited as a puppy, signaled to him to be quiet. The guard was sitting in an office and appeared to be sleeping. He didn’t move, and his breathing was slow and even. I kept an eye on him as I moved cautiously towards Sachem.
Releasing the bolt lock and bar lock, I opened the stall door and slipped inside. Sachem was strapped by his halter to a cinch ring bolted in the stall. I undid all this and removed his halter. Thanks to Sachem’s unshod feet, we moved soundlessly, easing our way out if the building through a side door. Once we were safely away from the lights, I reckoned the time to be about 1:30 AM by the stars. I swung up on his back and through the dark, guided him to where I had left Rusty and Sun Hawk. They came when I called and together we all headed away. Moving randomly, as if we were not sure where we were going, first one way then abruptly heading at a different angle, we made our way toward Comanche and freedom.
For the next couple of hours or more, we travelled deep into the swamps and forest where Sachem used to run and live. Finally, I heard a nicker. Sachem and the others answered. This would be where I stopped. I swung off Sachem’s back and hugged him close. I loved my brother and Rusty and Sun Hawk. I hugged them all and then ordered them to go and hide. Sachem just stood looking at me. I told him he had to go; it was the only way he could ever be free. He took a few steps and then came back to me for one last head scratching; he laid his head on my shoulder. I hugged him and said, “Now go brother. Stay free for us both!”
I swung up on Comanche and we turned for home at a gallop. Dawn would not be far off; I had to get back as fast as I could. We got home near 6:00 AM. I still needed to get Comanche cooled down, so I had him do walking laps in the pasture. I got a blanket and brush, wiped him down and brushed his coat. I went in, took a shower and started coffee. Greg was up already; he never said a word, just got dressed like nothing had happened. I noticed Jackie and Teresa peeking out their door when I went to wake them and Dad and Mom. Seems everyone was already up. We all ate breakfast in silence, then left for school or work.
Later that day the sheriff showed up. They searched our place, but found no other horses than the ones we were supposed to have. For several weeks after, they kept coming back frequently to check. Then one night, Dad told me I should go with Mom to Alabama. Her dad, my Grandpa Beavers was sick, and she needed to get up there. We left, and I never went back to Florida until years later. Soon after Dad and Mom sold their place in Ocala and moved the family to Alabama. They bought some land and I helped my dad build their new home.
I never heard anything ever again about Sachem. I can only pray that he lived a long life and his people lived long too and some remain wild and free. Walking away and not just staying wild with him was one of the hardest things I have ever done. Mom and Dad never asked what happened or what I did, but they knew I followed my heart.
That summer when I went back to South Dakota, I rode the mustangs they had up there. None were like Sachem; they didn’t have his independent spirit. I have never ridden or trained a horse since. I view all the wild animals, bears, panthers, wolves, foxes, deer, elk, and horses as my people.
I see what they did to us, the Native people, and I see they wish to do the same to them. Yes, they even used to hunt Native people, human beings, for sport; even groups led by scouts went out to shoot us. Bounties were offered for our hair. Usually the target prey were Natives living at peace who would not fight back. To this day I feel it is everyone’s duty and responsibility to protect all life on land and in the seas, even the trees.
Today, people don’t even protect one another, or the weak ones, or the elders, much less the young ones any more. Where do people have the right to destroy all this life, just because they can? We didn’t create it. Spirit did. Just as Spirit created us. True warriors have almost gone.
Next in Part Two – The Making of a Warrior – Chapter 12, South Dakota Summers