All For the Right to Pray (11)

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

All For the Right to Pray (10)

Part Two – The Making of a Warrior

Chapter 10 – The Horseman – Sachem and Me

By Ghost Dancer

After Misty was killed, I went to stay with my dad in Alabama for a while to get a grip on my emotions, then returned to my family in Florida. One day, a man came to my stepdad and wanted to make a deal with him for my services.  This man was a horse breeder and owned huge tracts of land in the area.  The man claimed that some of his land was still so wild that no one had been in there for centuries. He said there were wild horses on his property and the lead stallion was giving him fits by busting out some of his pure-bred mares and taking them off into the wild.

The deal he proposed was that he wanted me to capture two young studs, maybe 2-year-olds, and train them for him. If I could also capture the lead stallion that was causing the problems, I could have him as payment. The trick was I had to train the two colts to be trotters and to pull a cart behind. Now it isn’t that easy teaching a horse not to run or gallop which is natural, or to pull a cart, but I agreed. My dad made the deal and I fully expected the man to honor it.

So, I went to work on capturing these horses. Now in Florida there are thickets that are just as deep as any jungle in Central or South America, and these horses knew their territory.  My first task was to learn their habits, where they went regularly, where they had their drinking holes or pools. Every being has habits and once you know them, then you can make a plan or trap. I spotted the two colts the rancher wanted me to train. They were easily picked out and the lead stallion, well, he was awesome. His character was a lot like mine: fiercely independent, wild, and he held no fear.

Photo by Milena de Narvaez Ayllon on Pexels.com

Separating the two young studs from the herd wouldn’t be a problem. They stayed together mostly and because of that, I knew I could get them from above. Not once did they look up. I noticed the stallion and lead mare both kept their eyes on the trees. This showed me they had experienced danger from above before, but these two youngsters had not. I got my brother, Greg and my dad to help because it would be a handful to get both of them by myself.

So, we climbed up in a tree in a spot we had identified as a favorite hang-out. Once I had the ropes secured and tied off, all Greg and I had to do was wait until they came close enough to drop the loops over their heads and pull. This is where patience comes in. Greg was young, but he was tough and could get the job done. As any older brother would, I had toughened him up over the years.

When the horses moved beneath us, we were ready. Greg watched for my signal, and when I nodded, we both looped the nooses over the horses’ heads before they even knew it. Now these two youngsters sure threw a fit. The ropes were tied off to oak trees, so we just waited and let them wear themselves out. The herd had taken off, but I saw the stallion still taking this all in and he was not happy. He would never have made the mistake of walking under the trees without looking up from a safe distance. When the colts finally wore down, I took my time walking the rope down to each one, one at a time, and slipped horsehair hackamores on their heads. Then I put hobbles on their legs and we led them away.

Catching the stallion would be a challenge. He would definitely be playing hard-to-get, so I figured on using what is sure to catch every man – a female. I asked the rancher if he had a mare in season and he did. While he went to get the mare, Greg, Dad and I went about forming a natural corral out of brush and rotten trees with a single opening. We fixed a gate which could be closed when the time was right. The rancher brought the female in season; she would be bait for the stallion. I asked everyone to leave except Greg.

First, I showed Greg how to rub pine needles all over his body to cover his scent, then gave him instructions to hide himself and be ready to shut the gate when I signaled him. I tied the mare securely to a large oak tree inside the corral. I gave her a pat to let her know I appreciated her help. Then I gathered my equipment: strong rope, good gloves, and a couple of bolas I had made. Bolas are long strips of connected rope or leather with balls on the end used to entangle the legs of running animals. Then I scrambled up the tree. I took bark from the tree to rub all over myself, covering my scent. I stuck small branches in my hair as camouflage.

Then we settled down to wait for the stallion to pick up the mare’s scent on the wind. We waited and waited. It must have been close to dusk when he finally approached very cautiously. He had the herd with him about 75 yards behind. The lead female clearly didn’t like the looks of this place. She kept stomping her feet and stopping to size up the situation. Greg was watching and knew that when I signaled, he would shake the rattle, like a rattlesnake, to frighten off the lead mare, at the same time he closed the gate.

Our bait female did her part by calling out to the stallion and I could see him becoming more and more fidgety. This response showed she was attracted to this tall beautiful stranger who radiated pure wild power and she was letting him know it. He was letting his guard down, but patience would still be needed. Timing would be important and I had to make sure the mare would not be hurt. She was a very expensive animal and the rancher would have my head if anything happened to her.

Once the stallion came inside the corral and had been smelling the mare up close, he became totally distracted in his excitement. This is when I struck; my noose dropped over his head before he even knew what had happened. Immediately, I jumped out of the tree and rolled. This was the signal for Greg to start rattling the rattle and close the gate at the same time. The lead female spooked, as we knew she would, and led the herd away. 

Meanwhile, I had a cyclone on my rope and I knew I had to get control of him quickly. He charged at me; he could easily stomp me to death. I grabbed a bola and threw it at his front legs. The weighted leather strips wrapped up his front legs, adding to his confused anger. I reached for the other bola and kept moving around him as he tried to figure out what I was doing. He couldn’t use his front legs the way he wanted, so he turned his back to kick me. After he kicked, I threw the bola; it missed, catching only one leg. This made him even more infuriated. I didn’t have another bola, so holding the rope, I began running around him; tightening my circle. Then I jerked the rope and it tightened up around the horse’s back legs.

I kept running and winding the rope around his legs; trapping his front legs and back legs. Tension on the rope caused his head to be continuously pulled down. He had put up a fight, but finally, he just stood there trembling. I walked toward him slowly, speaking softly, letting him know I was not trying to hurt him. I signaled Greg to toss me the hobbles and put them on his front and back legs. Then I slipped a halter on his head and ran a rope from the halter to his back-leg hobbles. If he fought, the motion of his own legs would pull his head down.

After the stallion was restrained securely, I signaled for the rancher to come for the mare. He loaded her, then went ahead and left. Greg went to tell Dad to bring the horse trailer. This would be the hard part, getting the horse safely in the trailer. I kept talking softly to him the whole time, letting him get used to the sound of my voice.

It took the rest of the evening to get him in the trailer. He didn’t like my covering his eyes, but he was stressed enough, and the sight of the truck and trailer would be too much for now. He didn’t have much fight left in him when we finally got him loaded, and hopefully the familiar horse smells in the trailer would be enough to keep him calm during the ride home. Getting him off the trailer was not as bad. He didn’t know where he was, and he trembled the whole time, but he backed right out. Slowly I took the hobbles off, leaving just the halter and the blindfold that covered his eyes. When I took the blindfold off, the only thing holding him was the halter and a long rope connected to a 6-feet-long metal stake driven into the ground. I kept talking to him, letting him know that I was there while I made sure his trough had plenty of fresh water and some feed was within his reach. The other two horses had been brought earlier in the same way and were safe in another pasture. Greg and I had a bunk house that allowed us to be near all the animals and to hear them if there were problems. Tonight, I would sleep outside on the roof, so I could watch them all. The stallion would not like being captured and I didn’t want him to hurt himself. I would free him before I let that happen.

Watching the stallion now in the moonlight, I thought about how much we were the same. Two beings out of time, with no place in this modern world. He loved his freedom, being wild, and living by his wits and strength. I saw in him the same way I felt. I was trapped in a world that would never allow me to be who I truly was. My people were no longer allowed to follow the old ways, to believe as our ancestors believed, or to practice those beliefs. They survived in a world that had used diseases as biological weapons, lies and deceit to steal away our lives, lands, culture, language, history and religion. Through mass murder, rapes, and war, my people were driven out.

Only those who had escaped, hid, and ran away during the trail of tears still remained in these areas, and for generations, they had to live in fear least they be found out and hunted until they lost everything. This wild stallion was just the same. He was hunted because he was living free. He was just being what he was born to be. No, I would never hurt him, never break him. I would call him Sachem; he was my brother and I would protect him with my life. He just didn’t know it yet, but he would – one day he would, and we would have good times then. As though he sensed my thoughts, Sachem looked up at me on the roof. Yes, he was watching me too. We were two of a kind, that is what we were. Soon as I got done with the two youngsters, we would begin our journey.

As was agreed, I began working in earnest to train the two young horses. I started with the routine to help them get used to me and my family, and to following directions. Each day after our lessons, I also spent time with Sachem, bringing him carrots, cantaloupes, watermelons, and apples, letting him adjust to this place and to know I was not going to hurt him. I noticed him watching as I worked with the other horses.

Greg and Jackie always worked with the two in training, brushing and handling them. Greg named one of the colts, Rusty. He looked like he was rusting all over when he first came to us. He had cakes of clotted mud and matted hair in his mane and tail. After lots of baths, brushing and grooming, his coat shone liked burnt copper against a jet-black mane and tail. Jackie named the other horse. She noticed when he first came, that he watched everyone like a hawk and his color was red like a dark sun, so he became Sun Hawk. 

Rusty and Sun Hawk adapted easily and soon we had them relaxed enough to ride. It took about 4 months to get to two youngsters ready to hook up to the two-wheeled cart, called a sulky, used in harness racing. I worked with them on a long rein to make sure they learned how to move faster and faster at a trot without breaking into a gallop. I didn’t use a whip, but rather a light willow stick to tap them gently, letting them know what I wanted them to do. After every successful workout, I gave them treats and lots of praise.

The rancher would come over frequently to see how they were doing. When they began trotting better and better, and I had gotten them used to pulling a travois, he had the cart brought over. I had never seen one hooked up to harness, so his hired hand explained it to me. He wanted to do it himself, but I told him no, because they were not used to him. Just hooking up the cart would make them nervous enough and they would trust me. So, I asked him to step out and let me work.

I called the one named Rusty to come. I scratched his head, petted him and gave him an apple for a treat. Then I introduced him to this new thing. When he relaxed, I got him to back up and began the process of hooking him up.  This went okay and after everything was secure, I kept talking while I led him around to get used to the feel of the two-wheel cart behind him. I led him with a lead rope and then backed off and began giving him verbal commands. He picked up his pace and began his trot faster and faster around the pasture. When I told him to slow down and then stop, he did just as he was supposed to do.  The rancher nodded. I let Rusty know how proud I was and gave him another treat to enjoy while I unhitched the cart. Yeah, he loved his apples.

Next, I called Sun Hawk and he came trotting over looking for his treat. His personality was a little different than Rusty and he was more reluctant to adapt to new things. I explained to the rancher that Sun Hawk didn’t like to be pushed, but he would work fine once he felt comfortable.  It would just take a little more time to build trust with his handlers. I asked the helper to introduce himself to the horse, and could tell he was not used to taking the time to know each horse and respect their ways. I explained the horse was strong willed and temperamental and this is to be respected or our next step would not be easy. I got the man to keep talking to the horse while I introduced him to the cart. I knew he had been watching his buddy, so he already knew he wasn’t going to be hurt.  Now I had the helper hook him up slowly and work with him. Some people don’t like to be told what to do. The handler was like that and I could feel his dislike for me. I said, “Listen, these animals can feel what you are thinking, even your inside feelings. So be careful how you think. Your feelings will affect him.” I noticed Sun hawk’s tension as he wildly eye-balled the handler. I stepped up and hugged the man in front of Sun Hawk, catching the handler off guard. I told him that he may not like me, but if the horse feels that he is liable to attack.

Sun Hawk performed his tasks beautifully, but I could tell he did not like the handler. He was still tense, and his eyes never left the handler. When he was finished he came to me for his treat. I gave it to him; scratched his head and told him I was so proud of him. He perked up and put his head on my shoulder. I patted and hugged him. He loved my hugs and he could feel my heart. The helper said, “Well, we won’t be doing all that.” I responded, “Listen, don’t you like to be appreciated for doing a good job? He said, “Right,” and eyeballed his employer. I told him maybe he was working for the wrong person.

The rancher said he wanted the horses loaded now. I told him I needed another week of getting them used to other people. He said, no, that these were his horses and he was taking them now. “Load them up!” They were his horses. There was nothing I could do, so I loaded them myself and gave each another apple and hugged them. I knew this wasn’t going to work, but it was what the rancher wanted. After I said my good byes to the horses, I went to speak with the rancher. I reminded him that our agreement had been completed, and he said, “Yes.”  I pointed at Sachem and said, “He is now mine.” The rancher said “Yes.” I expected we might conclude our bargain like honorable men, but he would not shake my hand. I guessed he thought I was beneath him. So, they left, and I turned my thoughts to more important things. I walked over to the other pasture, looked at Sachem and I said, “Now big boy, our time begins. Soon you will know that I am your brother and best friend.”

Sachem as he still lives in my long ago memory

Next in Part Two, Chapter 11 The Making of a Warrior – The story of Sachem & Me 2

All For the Right to Pray (9)

Part Two – The Making of a Warrior

Chapter 9 – The Horseman – Misty 2

By Ghost Dancer

This Welsh beauty shows the same spirit and intelligence as I remember loving about my Misty – stock photo

At that time, I was in the 7th grade. One day I went to school and caught the son of another rancher down the road and two other bullies picking on a young girl with disabilities and making fun of her. One of the bullies was the son the biggest rancher in the area, well known for his prized race horses and stud farm. I have never been able to stand anyone abusing any other being and the sight of these three bullying this special needs child put me on the war path. So I stepped in front of her and told her not to worry, that she was a special little princess and the world needed more people with a beautiful heart like she had. I turned around and told the three guys they needed to know what it feels like to be picked on, then I went to work on them. Needless to say, I was kicked out of school.

It really made no difference to me. I was in advanced studies and had already turned in all the required work for the year.  Mom had to come and get me. She was upset until I explained but said I would have to tell Dad because sure as there was sky above, some parents would be calling and coming over to see us. Mom took me to the garage where Dad was working, and she went on to work. I went in and asked Dad if he needed anything done. He asked me why I wasn’t at school, so I told him what happened and why I did it. He listened and then asked how bad I hurt them. I told him not too bad, mostly just their egos and reputations and a few busted noses, mouths, blackened eyes and lots of bruises. He asked if I broke any of their bones. I said no. So he said, basically they aren’t seriously hurt. I said, “No sir,” and explained I made sure I didn’t let it get that far. They were basically just bullies picking on a scared little girl, and I just couldn’t let that go on. He said, “Okay. Don’t worry, we will handle this.” Then he went back to working on the big diesel truck and I helped him.

Sure enough, that evening there were lots of vehicles at the house when we got home. Mom was working late, so Judy had fixed dinner and was in charge of the house. The parents of the boys were there. Dad didn’t even invite them in. He stood outside and told me to go to the house. I told him I wanted to stay. He said I could, but told me to keep quiet. So I did. Dad was a short man, but he was very strong, and he had a temper. I knew he would not put up with any of these guys trying to bully him or us. So they told him they wanted me punished and kept away from their sons, that I would never be allowed back at the school. Dad stood there and listened until they were through. Then he asked them who they thought they were, when their sons were abusing and bullying a little special needs girl. What kind of parents raise their kids to act like that? Then he assured them that their boys were lucky that his son had taken it easy on them because he could have really whipped them a whole lot worse. He told them what he thought of their spoiled kids and demanded, “Get in your cars and truck and get off my land and I mean right now.” And he truly meant it. They may have been a lot bigger than Dad, but my money was on Dad. Besides, I would have been fighting right beside him. I had already grown to more than 6 feet tall at that time and layered in muscle from hard work. Well, they left, but said we hadn’t heard the last of it. And we surely hadn’t.

THE RACE

One of the neighbors had a daughter who was a lot older than me, but apparently, she didn’t realize that. She worked and trained her horses with their handlers and trainers. I had seen them several times and I had seen her riding by watching me as I trained and worked with our horses. I had always respected her and nodded when she waved or said hello but stayed away from any conversations. A few weeks after the incident with the parents, I was out riding Misty before dawn. We were headed to our swimming hole, an abandoned old quarry where the water was crystal clear and ice cold. We had high places to jump from and Misty loved playing in the water. Swimming was a great exercise for her and pulling me around in the water as I hung on to her tail added greater resistance to her workout.

As we headed down a path, we both heard someone coming from behind. Always being cautious, we pulled off the path and watched. It was the neighbor girl and she was riding their prized quarter horse. He was said to be very fast. I had seen him from a distance and he looked built for speed, and very temperamental.

I waited to see what was up. She had him in an easy lope, but was looking straight towards us. When she pulled up and stopped, she asked where I was going. I didn’t want to tell her about our secret water hole, so I just told her I was riding to exercise my horse. I knew her name was Melody and I did not trust her, especially the flirty way she acted towards me. She asked if I really wanted to run and exercise my horse, why didn’t I ever take her to the community track? I told her we didn’t belong there, and she responded that the track is open to any and all to train their horses and added that we definitely belonged there. She said my horse looks like she can really run and that her horse, Red, needed someone to compete against in his training.

I really didn’t want to have her follow me to our secret swimming place, so there was no way I was going to continue. Reluctantly, I said okay and told her we would try to keep up with her. She turned and led us back towards the community track. We didn’t talk much on the way. I didn’t want to get too close to her or her horse. As we rode, I watched her and her horse, analyzing his movements and gait. He was heavy for sure and his long legs would eat up the ground when he got his rhythm going. He wore heavy iron shoes while Misty wore no shoes. Misty was much smaller, but she was strong, light and agile. We would definitely need to get him at the start.

When we got to the track, she explained how this would work; she would get us up to a certain pole and when we were set she would say go. The first one all the way around the track and back to the pole wins. We got to the pole. She looked at me and said, “Go!” I touched Misty’s sides and she was off like a rocket taking us way out front. Misty used short steps when she started and then later stretched her rhythm out. A quarter of the way around the track, I looked back. They were way behind. We kept running and I didn’t look back again.

I rode low on Misty’s neck, with legs wrapping her sides and holding her mane with one hand. I was tall and lean muscled but didn’t weigh a whole lot. At three quarters I touched my heels again. Misty caught her fast gear and off we went. She was low to the ground when we rounded the corner on the home stretch. Misty loved to run, and I could tell she did not want to lose. I didn’t want her to lose either, so I let out a war whoop and she really turned it on. When we passed the starting pole, I asked her to start slowing down and looked behind us. Our competition had just passed the 3/4 turn. I was so proud of Misty and told her how good she had done. She shook her head, letting me know she was having a ball.

I didn’t know it, but we had attracted an audience at the stables and pens up on the hills next to the track. Even the horses were watching, and it seemed to me nobody liked us much. We were not in their class. When the girl rode up, I could see the amazement in her face over Misty’s run. She asked what breed Misty was. I said she was a Welsh and she exclaimed, “A pony?”  I responded, “Yeah, but a unique one.” She couldn’t believe her horse had been outrun by a pony and asked me what I was feeding her.  I told her, lots of carrots, apples, cabbage, and spinach to go with her feed. Then she got down to examine Misty more closely. She asked if all Welsh’s had such a powerful chest. I told her no and explained that she had been doing a resistance workout that built up the strength in her chest and legs.

She didn’t understand what I meant by resistance workout, so while we walked to cool down our horses, I explained that while her horse had natural strength, he didn’t have the explosive take-off power or digging in power because his legs were small from the knees down and his chest muscles were not fully developed. Resistance training would require him to use his chest and lower leg muscles more, so they would become more powerful. She seemed to appreciate my advice and said she would tell her trainers to start doing that.

While we were talking, I noticed others coming down leading their horses and I didn’t like the look of it. Misty sensed my concerns and tensed her body. With her training, I knew she would be ready for a challenge, but I did not want this. The girl remarked that it looked like we had attracted a lot of admirers. I said, “Yeah, either that or trouble.” She looked at me kind of funny, like she didn’t understand the trouble part.

When they all pulled up in front of us, one of them asked the girl if that race had been for real or if she was just playing with me. She told them it was for real, but for some reason they acted like they didn’t believe her. While they were all looking at Misty and me, down the hill came the highly spirited stud that everyone claimed was the threat to the triple crown. His trainer was sitting on him, but he was being led by the owner and one of his sons, and still they were having a hard time controlling him. When they walked up, the horse tried to kick another horse. The owner didn’t seem to care.

He looked straight at me and said, “It seems like you have a fast miniature horse here.” I didn’t say anything. Then he said, “Why don’t you try racing a real race horse.” The girl standing with me started to say something; the man just held his palm up at her and immediately, she shut up. Wow, is she scared to even speak her mind? Others suggested we all race. I told them I really didn’t want to race, that I was just helping the girl. The big-time breeder huffed at that and said he figured I was just scared and haughtily remarked, “People like you are always scared of facing the truth.” His clear implication that I was just scared, and we were worthless in his eyes, struck a chord in me.

I responded that we had just gotten done racing and my horse needed to rest; maybe another day. We started to leave and they all started laughing when he started making sounds like a chicken. This got to me. I knew Misty was easily in shape to race again and could hold her own. I spun her around and said, “You want a race, well you got it.” They went to hollering and began to get ready. I let them take whatever positions and preparations they wanted.

I would not let this man, or his horse get near Misty. I lined her up well off to the far outside and leaning forward, whispered that they were making fun of us. I told her they would try to pin her in and hurt her and that I wanted her to get out ahead and stay ahead. I reassured Misty that I knew she could do this, telling her she was better than she even knew and with a hug told her to just to do her best. The agreement was that when the big rancher dropped his hat down, this would be the signal to start. The girl didn’t run again. There were seven horses running against Misty and they all wanted to race.

By the time we were all lined up, a crowd had gathered to watch. The rancher called out, “Ready, set, go!” and dropped his hat. Before the start, I did a little trick we had practiced many times to help Misty gather herself even more. I swung off her right side and to their blind before she started, then, taking a quick step, swung back up as she moved forward. Misty shot out like a flash and in an instant, we were gone. I let her keep her pace for the first half mile and then began coaxing her to step it up. I did not want to look back. Right before we made the 3/4 mark, I let out a war whoop and she hit her full speed rhythm. I could feel the pounding hooves behind us. I let out my best panther scream and even Misty hit a super speed.

Before I knew it, we had crossed the line. Misty had run so fast my eyes were watering from the sheer wind. I began easing her back, letting her cool down as we continued around the track. The thought occurred to me that it would probably be best if we just kept right on going. When we got back around to the place we had come in, I directed her to head up the hill and away. We were almost up the hill when I heard someone calling. It was the girl riding after me. She said, “Yeah, let’s go. He is really pissed. Let’s get you out of here.” We left at a good trot and transitioned into a slow lope for a few miles, before slowing to a walk.

She apologized for what had happened saying she just wanted to test and work her big boy out. She appreciated the lesson saying she had lots of work to do, and admitted that it sure had been fun watching the two of us beat all the “know-it-alls.”  She formally introduced herself and I told her my name. She said she knew my name and asked if I did anything but work and train horses.  I said, “Nope, that’s enough,” and laughing, added, “Other than going fishing or hunting. Yeah, at first, I didn’t catch what she was really asking. She just shook her head and I blushed.  Hey, I wasn’t even 14 yet, but I knew trouble when I saw it, and she sure would be trouble.

She asked if I would help her train her horse sometime. I told her I was pretty busy, and I had to help my dad at the garage. She accepted that, but still, I wished she had never followed me that morning. All I wanted was for Misty and me to go swimming and have fun.

~~~

After I was expelled from school for fighting, Dad used the garage address, which was in a different town, and got me enrolled in a different school. I went to work with him in the morning, then walked to school. After school I helped him at the garage until time to go home. Just as before, I was placed in “advanced studies” since I had already tested out of the grade. These people didn’t know what to do with me either, so they let me study on my own. They had no courses for me to take, so they got books from higher schools and colleges for me to read and assignments to turn it in, which I did in the principal’s office. Learning had always come easy and I had the ability and determination to focus my mind, so that I could remember everything I read. Answering questions on the papers they gave me was simple, but unfulfilling, with no human teachers or mentors to challenge and stimulate my natural interests. By the time I was 13 and near the end of 7th grade, going to school had become senseless to me.

I always had plenty to do at home, working at the garage, taking care of the horses and the garden or whatever needed to be done around the house. There was always something so I had many opportunities to use my natural ingenuity and creativity. Judy took care of the house and helped Mom by doing the dinner, and helping with the laundry. She looked after Teresa and Greg, and Jackie helped her. Greg had his own chores to do, then always wanted to help me with mine. We all had work to do and tried to get everything done so we could do whatever we wanted. We spent most of our free time outside; there was always something to explore, something to learn, something to build or fix. We were never bored. Getting to sit for maybe an hour to watch tv was a gift we didn’t usually have time for unless the weather was really bad.

Just like I remember our playful Misty stock photo

Misty did her part too. She loved to play and amused us all by playing with the ducks and the dogs. It was the craziest thing I had ever seen, but she seemed to think it was her job. Misty had a ball playing with the kids too. I’m not sure which one taught her or if they all did, but they got her to play hide and seek. Just picture a horse hiding behind a pine tree. Hiding her head, anyway, and the kids all acting like they’re hunting for her. Misty laughs because they are looking everywhere she is not. Then suddenly they find her, and it is their turn to go hide. Misty always found them too.

One time, Greg and I were in the pasture, training our dog, Brownie, to sneak up and crawl on his belly to get under the fences. We were trying to get him to stretch out his belly and use his front legs to pull himself forward and keep his head down. Greg tapped me and said to look. I turned around to see Misty on her belly, stretched out trying to do what Brownie was doing. Greg cracked up. He said Misty was sneaking up on us! Misty was more than just a horse. She was part of our whole family. Dad, Mom, and everyone loved Misty, and she loved every one of us.

There was one time when Misty and I went to our secret swimming hole that I will never forget. She went in the water to swim and train. While she was at it, I climbed up the cliff side planning to dive from the top. I had seen the cliff divers in Mexico on TV and wanted to try some fancy dives like they did. It was a little scary and it did enter my mind that if I messed up, there would be no one to help me. I stepped back, building up my confidence. When my fear was soothed, I stepped up. Just as I launched myself off the cliff to do my somersault, I thought I saw Misty up on the cliff. I lost my concentration and didn’t hit the water exactly right, but I was okay. When I surfaced, I looked all around for Misty. I looked up just in time to see her jump off the cliff and fall straight down.

I could not control the tears as real fear flooded over me. I knew this was going to hurt her and she didn’t understand. Down she fell, hitting the water feet first. The impact made a huge splash. I waited, expecting the worst.  Finally, she surfaced and started swimming towards me looking like she had had the time of her life and wondering if I approved. I was so relieved and happy that I couldn’t scold her. Guess she thought my tears were happy ones. I got her to get out of the water and checked her out all over; she was okay. I know she was proud of herself, but I almost had a heart attack. Guess if Mom had seen me, she would have felt the same way, so I couldn’t be mad; I just hugged her. Misty was my best friend, the one I could talk to about anything. She understood my struggles and not fitting in with others. I was so much more comfortable with four-legged beings than the two-legged kind and Misty was my everything.

This is how important Misty was to me and to our family. I still feel the same way to this day. Here was a young, beautiful spirit who only wanted to have fun and be happy. She didn’t race because she loved to run, she did this because she wanted to please. It made her so happy to know she did something right for me or for any of us. Misty was so full of love that it radiated from her.

Months had passed since the incident of the race when I told Dad and Mom about it. They said what I already knew; that I should not have gone over there. It was good that Misty won, but it wouldn’t have hurt if she lost either and those people surely didn’t like that she beat their horses. Everything had been going on like usual. As was our routine, I went to work with Dad, walked to the new school, then came back to the garage after to help until closing time.

Then one day, when we came home, there were two sheriff’s cars and a vehicle from the County Health Department and several of the ranchers parked at our house.  Mom was still there when she would usually have left for work. When I saw all these people out in Misty’s pasture, I jumped out of the car before it even stopped. Mom was crying and ran to catch me before I got to the fence. She grabbed me and held on for dear life. The sheriff and deputies all had their shotguns trained on me and I heard a voice saying, “Now son, this is going to be done. You cannot stop it.” 

I saw Misty laying on the ground and screamed, “What are you doing to her?” I screamed. They had her tranquilized and Mom was trying to tell me what they claimed, but I couldn’t hear. They were hurting her, she was down, and she needed me. I saw some guy in a white jacket inject her in the neck with something. I broke away and went over that fence like it wasn’t even there, running at him. The deputies grabbed me. What were they doing? Why? I kept hearing them say she has to be put down. I wanted to strangle the guy in the white coat. Never had I ever wanted to hurt people like this. I could only see red in my eyes.

Mom, Dad, and all the children were crying and screaming. The cops held me, and mom was trying to hold me. They kept telling me she had a disease and to protect all the horses around our ranch, they had to put her down. As they were leaving, I saw the face of the man who had injected her. “I know you,” I shouted. He owned a large ranch several miles down the road and Misty had beaten his horse in the race. “I know why you are doing this, I know why all of you are doing this, you stinking cowards.”

I heard Misty whinny and jerked myself lose. I ran to sit beside her and held her head. Looking into her eyes, through sobs of unspeakable pain, I told her how much I loved her and how sorry I was that I was not there to protect her. Never, never should this have happened. If only I had been there I could have fought and ordered her to run as I fought them. I would not care what happened to me. She deserved a beautiful happy life. Not this!  I wanted her to have a family and watch her little ones grow up being taught by her.

They had done what they came to do.  I saw them all shaking each other’s hands; the ranchers and the sheriff and the deputies and the guy and in the white coat and the county health people. They said they would have to come back and take her body. I told them to get the hell away from her. They talked to Mom and Dad a few minutes then they all left. Dad, Mom and all the family came to Misty and spoke to her. They all were crying as they hugged and spoke to her.

After they all left, I sat there holding her, feeling so miserable, feeling so helpless. Here I was in my heart and soul, her protector, and I had not saved her. A little while later, Misty passed. I held her all night. Sometime during the night, Mom came and placed a blanket over the both of us. When dawn came, my world was not the same and never would be again.

I said my final good byes, then went to clean up.  Needing to clear my mind, I got Comanche and went for a ride. I stayed gone all day. When I came home Misty was gone. They had come and taken her body away. I knew this was all lies about some kind of disease. Misty was not sick. I knew what to check for and checked her every day.  This was all about her beating their so-called fine race horses. For that they murdered her. 

All that night, I stayed alone, working myself up to what needed to be done. In the morning, I went in the little bunkhouse I shared with Greg. He was sitting up and asked if was I okay. I didn’t say anything. He climbed down from his bunk and hugged me. Then he said, “If you want to get them, let me help you.” I looked down at him. He was serious. He would fight with me against them. I loved my brother. I loved his heart. See, Greg was only 9 years old. He and I are a lot alike. We both hold our emotions in and we don’t like trouble, but when it comes, we explode. We hate bullies or anyone abusing anyone or anything. We may get so upset that we cry, and when that happens, look out, someone has a whooping coming. I could not let this happen. I told him it was okay, “Let me go fix you breakfast, now get ready for school.”

I went in the house and started making breakfast. Mom came out and asked if I was alright. I nodded but didn’t want to talk. I just kept to my work, putting coffee on for her and Dad. Mom worked late at night and I knew she works hard so we all help out. Mom persisted, “You know sometimes it helps to talk about it.” I knew she was trying to help, but she didn’t understand that I felt responsible. Misty’s death was all behind a stupid race that meant nothing.

I woke Jackie and Teresa and hollered for Judy. I knew she was already up. I had heard her moving around when I came by her door. Mom and I finished fixing breakfast. I took my cup of coffee and went back outside. Went to check on all the other horses. They felt Misty’s absence too; kept looking over in her pasture. Even the ducks were unusually quiet and wanting attention. Brownie and Blackie leaned against my legs, just sitting there, respecting my silence.  Jackie came outside, wanting to know what I was going to do. I told her, “Go back and eat your breakfast, Euebee.” This is the name Greg called her. When he was little and couldn’t say, Jackie, he called her Euebee and it stuck to her. When Jackie was little, she couldn’t say words with any r’s and so Greg was in trouble too.

Finally, I went back inside even though I didn’t want to. I knew Mom would not quit until I talked to her. Dad would talk to me later, as he preferred. While Dad was eating, Mom called me into the hallway and said, “Talk to me, son.” It was then I told her about the race and all that had happened. I told her I knew this was all my fault. She said, “No, they did this. Not you! Misty knows we all love her. We didn’t do this.” Then she went on to the burden on her mind. “But son, you listen and listen good. You do not do anything back to them! Do you hear me?  I knew she meant it. She wanted my word that I would just let it go. She insisted I give my word that I would not do anything to retaliate. She kept pushing me, wanting my word. I gave it to her.

Later, I called my dad in Alabama and asked him to come get me. I had to leave. If I stayed, I was afraid I would break my word to my mom. Dad was there the next day and I left with him to prevent anything more from happening.

MISTY

Misty, oh Misty, why did you die?
We loved each other so much, I still cry.
I remember the times we shared, all the love and care,
Riding in the wind, running wild and free.
Misty, oh, Misty, please come back to me.

Why, Misty, did you leave me alone? 
Without you, I can’t go on.
They say dogs are man’s best friend.
But Misty, oh Misty, they are so wrong.
You are my true love and my best friend.
Now you’re gone, Misty oh Misty, 
I’ll be coming to you soon.

You were such a beautiful lady, a delight to see.
Running fast and wild with me.
We shared our hearts, secrets and dreams,
And you never made fun of me.
With those beautiful brown eyes, you would look into mine.
Then you were always there when I couldn’t turn to another soul.

Why, Misty, did you leave me alone? 
Without you, I can’t go on.
They say dogs are man’s best friend.
But Misty, oh Misty, they are so wrong.
You are my true love and my best friend.
Now you’re gone, Misty oh Misty, 
I’ll be coming to you soon.

Misty, you were horse as everyone knew, but to me you were so much more.
You gave me things I’ll always adore.
The precious memories that we share, the love, understanding, and the care.
Misty, oh Misty, I miss you so.
People won’t understand, but now I must go,
To once again ride with you, feeling the wind in our hair.
Together we will stay, a man and his lady, and we’ll win the race.
Misty, oh Misty, I can’t wait.

  Ghost Dancer Lyric ©1986
  In Solitary, Holman Prison, Atmore, AL 

Next on Part Two – The Making of a Warrior: Chapter 10 – The Horseman, Sachem 1

Why Do I Do This?

Lights In the Distance. . .

Walks’ Outdate – 147 Days and Counting

By Steven Maisenbacher

Walks On The Grass

Well, once again I am my own worst enemy. Seems I just can’t help but get caught up in these traps of my own creation. It’s like this, I was on here a while ago reading an email that “Sings Many Songs” sent me from another Native brother so after I read it and responded (I answer all emails…usually), I go out of that section and into the dang institutional bulletin board where I see that “Re-entry” has posted a bulletin titled “Health care when you are released.” I know, right? No! don’t do it Walks…too late!

I click on it and I’m hit with a 14-page memo about insurance and Medicaid and Medicare and whosits care and whatsitscare and I don’t care…but actually I do, cuz I’m a good one for stress. See I will think of a speedbump and before it’s over I (in my mind) have hit it and torn the frame out from under me and am sittin on the side of the road. In other words, I will worry an issue like a gator on a bait line, tossin’ turnin’ spinnin’ and freakin’ the %$#& out, thinking of all the possible scenarios and what nots and driving myself crazy with it till inevitably I resign myself to just saying,  aww to hell with it, ill burn that bridge when I get to it.

The problem is, it seems like this is gonna be a big deal; seems everyone I have talked to about the insurance, the Medicaid or Medicare, the Social Security disability, all the things I’ve gotta have within months of my release, I know nothing about. It’s not as though I haven’t worked all my life…it isn’t my fault that the prison system treats us like slave labor and doesn’t even pay into SS retirement benefits for Unicor workers.

So my remedy is like this, once I get to the halfway house I will get into the yellow pages (if there is still such a thing) and look up the lawyers that handle social security issues and start making appointments, at least seeing who could or would help me. I know they are out there like flies on a chicken bone, but I will just have to wait till I get there. Then there is the fact that I’ve got to do all this in the first 90 days and also get my driver’s license, get enrolled in college, figure out how I’m gonna get back and forth to these places. College is too far to walk or ride a bicycle to, and I’ll have to figure out how to get a car, then there is insurance and fuel for that as well, gggggggggggrrrrrrrrrr……

All these headaches, and all these things I know I’m gonna have to have, do or figure out, so…. here’s what I’m gonna do as well. Now is the time, if anybody’s reading my scribbles, I’m reaching out to you. I’ve got the need to know anything you can share with me on these type of things, and how to get them or make it less of a hassle to get them. If you know of any shortcuts that work or ways of by-passing any red tape, anything that may help me in this, any organizations that could or would help me in my needs. I already know to try to find an attorney that handles the social security things but there are other things that I don’t know about so if you have any experience with any of the things you think I may need please by all means reply to this here however you do it, (I’m not even sure how this works) but if you can get the info back to this site for me, I am sure that “Sings” can copy and paste it to me on this Trulinks thing, and there it is.

I’m so stubborn about a lot of things, I hate asking for help but I have to humble myself, so I am doing so now. It’s not too late.. stand up! Make the move.. help save “Walks On The Grass” from his own worry wart self. I sure would appreciate any and all info or input you can get me… Till next week, I’ll wait here… lol.

All For the Right to Pray ( 8 )

Part Two – The Making of a Warrior

Chapter 8 – The Horseman – Misty 1

By Ghost Dancer

This Welsh beauty shows the same spirit and intelligence as I remember loving about our Misty

The year I turned 13, my stepdad sold our home in Ocala and we bought a small ranch in West Anthony, which is known as horse country. We had plenty of room for pastures, so all the kids could have ponies and pets. Judy and I were the oldest; Jackie, Greg and Teresa were several years younger.  Greg and I helped Dad to add a bedroom, bathroom and laundry room to the house. We also remodeled the storage shed into a bunk house for Greg and me and built a large barn that would be Dad’s work garage at home.

We were far from rich compared to some of the ranchers around us who bred and raised very expensive race horses. We grew lots of vegetables, fished and hunted, so we were never hungry, and we never did without. We all loved each other and had fun all the time. Sure, there were tough times, work times, and arguments between us, but we always looked after each other. That is very rich in my eyes. There were times when we may not have liked doing all this work, heck, what kid does. We may not have liked the strict way we were disciplined, but life is not always perfect, and the work made us appreciate life so much more when everything was fun and happy.

I felt a strong responsibility to protect my younger siblings and it was my job to make sure they would be safe around the ponies and horses. I worked with them to teach them to be tough and to protect themselves. They didn’t have my size or build, so it was important that they understood the world was not all nice. Jackie was the most soft-hearted one of all. Never wanted to hurt anything.

Greg, Jackie and Teresa all had pet ducks, our two dogs were both mixed breed strays who needed a home. Then came the ponies and horses we all loved. They became part of our family.

Comanche was an Appaloosa that dad bought at a bargain because the owners were moving. He was a very smart horse and had a good time in the pasture with Star and Snowball, our two Shetland ponies, and Patches, a free spirited pinto mustang. Snowball was a former trick horse at a fair or circus. He was up in his years and had slowed down, so they wanted him gone and we took him in. He was maybe 11 years old. I made nice soft hackamores for all the ponies, so the young ones could lead them. Our pasture had shade trees in the front and lots of open space for them to play.

Then there was Misty

Misty was a beautiful free-spirited mare my dad bought and added to our family of horses. She was Welsh by breed; black in color and had tiny feet. She was fast as lightening and could turn on a dime. Her gait was so smooth I could lay down on her back as she ran and never fall off. I loved all the horses, but I quickly learned that Misty would be special.

From the very beginning, Misty never wore a halter, bridle or saddle. I would not put any of that on her. In all her training, and all the adventures we would have together, our communication was based on signals and pressure from the legs. She never wore iron shoes. I learned to trim her hooves and when her feet needed protection, or we wanted to hide our tracks, I would make leather shoes which tied up high like a boot.

Misty in my memory

When Misty first came into my life, she was maybe four years old and it was apparent she had been abused. She didn’t trust anyone and would even charge at you trying to stomp and bite. Her side kick was the worst. Having already been working with our Shetlands, I had learned my lessons in dealing with all the dirty tricks. No animal is meaner or sneakier, than an ornery Shetland pony. They may be small in size, but they make it up in heart and energy.  My brother and sisters used to watch me work with Star. Half the time they cheered for the pony, laughing at me sitting on my behind. Other times they cheered for me. It was my responsibility to make sure these ponies were trained so they could be handled and ridden, and no one would get hurt.

With Misty, it was love she need the most. I saw the scars on her body. These weren’t scars made by another horse. These were scars inflicted by so-called humans. Now my first task was to get her to understand that I would never hurt her. I knew it would take time for her to even begin trusting me. I remembered seeing in one of my dreams, how an ancestor had gained the trust of a horse. I went out in her pasture, but not near her, and just laid down. I never moved; just laid there. More than two hours in the hot sun, I laid there with my brother, Greg throwing small stones at me trying to get my attention. I ignored him.  Curious, Misty began slowly circling, trying to figure out what this two-legged was doing. What was wrong with this two-legged? She kept getting closer and closer. I knew that eventually her curiosity would win. And it did.

Finally, Misty came right up and sniffed me; using her nose, trying to figure out what was wrong. She did just what my dreams had shown me; she used her nose and pushed on me, blowing her breath all over me. I gently blew my breath back at her. This is typical introductions between all animals.

She began pawing the ground showing her frustration in not knowing what was going on. This is when I began sending my love outward towards her and softly spoke, telling her how pretty she was and that I would never hurt her. At first, she jumped back like a cat, but I never moved. She reared up like she was going to stomp me; still I didn’t move. She did land near me, but not too close. I just kept talking, keeping my voice nice and soft. Eventually, she came back over and nosed me again. She looked into my eyes and I kept talking softly.

Slowly I moved my hand closest to her and then reached a little towards her. I could see she was trembling and knew she was as scared as she was curious. For the longest time, I just kept talking to her and ever so slowly, moving my hand towards her. Finally, I gently petted her lower jaw and kept speaking quietly, telling her my intentions of being her best friend; that I would never hurt her, only be here for her.

With my fingers, I began scratching gently under her chin. She closed her eyes letting her head hang lower and I just continued scratching, slowly moving my hand further up her jaw until I could scratch her lower ear. Her body continued to tremble, and I kept right on talking to her. After a while, I slowly raised my other hand and began scratching the other side of her jaw. I raised up a little, letting her nose rest on my chest. I knew if I moved too soon, she might go crazy. I wouldn’t blame her from the looks of her scars. Who could do such a thing?

I spent a long time just sitting up, all the while, talking to her and petting her. When I began scratching her forehead, she loved it, so I continued scratching and talking while I slowly got to my knees. Later, after I had gotten to my feet, I began stroking her neck and back. She began to relax, and I could tell she was enjoying the attention. Barely moving her feet, she would move just enough to get me to scratch where she wanted. I stepped around to her side, slid my hand along her back, and scratched her rump; still talking to her. She tensed a little, watching me very closely, so I moved back to the front, keeping my hands on her. I blew my breath at her softly and told her I would see her later, then slowly walked away.

I wondered if the spell between us would be broken. How would she react? My heart was full of love and I knew if Misty charged at me, it would not be hate for me, but the memory of those who had hurt her. I kept walking towards the gate and could hear her moving behind me. I glanced around and sure enough, she was quietly following. When I got close to the fence, I asked Greg to get a watermelon from the garden. It was time for a treat for doing good. I busted the melon open, then walked toward her holding out a piece, speaking quietly, letting her get a good smell. Cautiously, Misty moved forward, stretched her neck, sniffed and took a bite, all the while, keeping her eyes on me. I laid the rest on the ground, gave her a pat, and then left her alone to enjoy her treat.

The next morning, I brought some carrots with me. Glancing into the pasture, I saw Misty watching me from about 200 yards away. She just stood there while I opened the gate and went into the barn for a curry brush and a salt block. She watched as I filled the water trough and placed the salt block about 30 yards away. Then I held out one of the carrots and softly called her. Her ears were alert, but still she hesitated for the longest time. Then slowly, she started moving towards me, still cautious, but willing to give me a chance. When she got within ten feet she stopped and shook her head, letting me know she was uncomfortable.

I just stood there with a carrot in one hand and brush in the other, talking softly, letting her know she was safe and I was there to give her a very much-needed treat. I let her smell the carrot first; she took it and began eating. I let her smell the brush with the familiar odor of horse. Talking softly, I moved closer to her and began petting and rubbing her. Then came the scratching I knew she enjoyed. Letting her see and smell the curry brush again, I began slowly brushing her neck, then shoulder, then her back. Oh, to say she loved it is nowhere near how well she responded. That brush did its magic wonder and soon I was working her all over; she even allowed me to get near her feet for the first time.

After she was all relaxed, I led her over to the water hose, so I could bathe her properly and shampoo her if she would let me. I was a little amazed when she stood quietly while I gathered my shampoo, conditioners, soaps, and brushes, as though we had done this a thousand times before. I even got out my tools to clean her hooves. This would be done last.

Oh, she loved the cool spring water gently flowing over her as I soaped her up and scrubbed her clean. Working on her tail was spooky at first, but she let me wash it and get the tangles out. She stood patiently while I cleaned the tangles and burrs out of her mane too. Then for a rinse and conditioner working its magic on her mane, tail and the fluffs on her feet. They had all been neglected for so long. I could tell somewhere in her past, someone had brushed her and bathed her. She was remembering and loving it so much. It was good to know these pleasant memories could overshadow her more recent memories of abuse and neglect.

Once Misty was all clean and rinsed, I got out my tools to clean and inspect her hooves. They needed some trimming and she let me do it all. When I was done and started putting everything away, she stood there looking like, is that it? Can’t I get some attention? So, I came back, gave her another carrot, then with a towel, dried and fluffed her mane and tail. Then one more all over brush while I told her how pretty she was and how proud and happy I was for her to come live with us.

After that she followed me around the pasture as I walked and inspected the fences between us and another ranch that had cows and horses. This place was huge and ran for miles down the road behind and our little spread and beyond like a huge box. This rancher really didn’t like our small ranch bordering his at all. Most of the ranches around us were very large with luxurious barns, while ours was just a small place, large enough for a few horses, the house, barn, garage, front yard, back yard and a garden.

Every day I continued to work on building the trust and love between Misty and me. I had not even tried to ride her yet. Greg and my sisters were anxious to ride her, but I knew she was not ready. She had to want to be friends and feel at home with all of them before they could ride her.  With each passing day she was becoming more and more friendly and playful, like a young filly, just wanting to have fun, nipping me when I wasn’t looking or doing something just to get attention. She would pick up something I laid down, and when I turned around, she would be running away with it.

Everyone had the chance to help bathe and brush our Misty. She loved looking pretty and clean and we all treated her like a little princess. She loved carrots more than apples, or other treats. She would eat a few pecans, but only because we were. She amused herself, and us, playing with the ducks and the dog. Many a night I would lay down with my head resting on her and pull a blanket over the both of us. I fixed the barn door so she could go in or out whenever she wanted to and taught her how to open the gate to the pastures, so she could go from pasture to pasture on her own. 

After months of building total trust, it was finally time to ride her. At first, I rubbed her back, then set little Teresa up on her and walked her around. Later we did the same with Jackie, and then Greg. Finally, I put Jackie and Greg both on her to see how she would handle them double as I walked her around. That went well, so I had her trot with them as I ran beside talking to her. She was a perfect lady, behaving so gracefully. Now the real test would be having me get on her. I talked to her and let her know it was still me as I grabbed a handful of mane and leaned my weight on her back, and then swung myself all the way on. She stood there a moment, getting used to my weight. Then I leaned down and whispered in her ear, “Let’s go,” while touching my heels lightly to her ribs.

She began a soft lope, not fast, just a gentle half gallop. I tried signaling her with pressure from my legs to see how she would respond. At first she didn’t understand, but we continued to practice until she caught on. This pasture had trees about halfway down in it. Using just my knees, I asked her to weave in and out of the trees. I let go of her mane and just kept talking to her. She was having fun and so was I.

Finally, I told her, “Go beautiful lady, run like the wind,” and Misty took off like a rocket. I had never been on a horse that could run so fast. Her gait was smooth and in perfect rhythm; her small feet barely touched the ground and the wind in my face made my eyes water. Wow! This was magic.  I leaned forward, patted her neck and told her, “Slow down girl, catch your breath.” She began pacing herself, slowing until she settled into an easy lope, and finally a walk. I let her cool down some, wiped away the sweat and then instructed Jackie to walk her around for a while, letting her cool down completely before letting her drink water.

This girl could run with any of them. I knew the best couldn’t touch her. Now my next step was to see how much she was willing to learn to condition her. I found a big conveyor thing at a junk yard. Dad and I brought it home and he helped me set up a makeshift exerciser. We also needed two good single trees, a yoke and some diesel inner tubes cut into strips. I hooked a big oxen yoke around a large oak tree, connected the single trees to the yoke and hooked the inner tube strips to the single trees. Next I got a horse collar that fit around Misty’s neck and chest.

When everything was ready, I called misty to come and look over this new contraption. I led her up on the conveyor and took her to the end. Then I eased the horse collar on her and let her get the feel of it. All the time I kept reassuring her that it was all okay. Greg and Jackie helped me stretch the inner tube strips from the singletree to the sides of her collar. She had to struggle to keep from being pulled backward.

Then while I stood at her head, Greg started the conveyor. Misty spooked a bit when the conveyor started pulling her one way while the inner tubes were pulling her the other, and I was telling her to walk towards me. She struggled at first, but soon figured it out. This would build up her strength and was great cardio exercise. I stayed in front of her for about 10 minutes, making sure she understood that she needed to keep walking. I sat down to watch her work and she kept at this the first time for 45 minutes. As she got stronger, I would increase the time and the amount of resistance by adding inner tubes and increasing the speed of the conveyor. Later I would ride her to a place to swim.

Misty’s training had begun. It is one thing to train a horse to run, or to walk a certain way, or even to step high like a walker, or to trot, but when you find an athletic horse that really wants to learn, you help it, just as you would a child or young person. Misty was one of those really rare horses that wanted to learn and I knew this. It was very important to me to keep challenging her to learn more things.  I hooked up a bell for her to learn to ring when she needed something. I taught her to unlock her own gate and to close it too.

Now she had to learn to hide herself. When working with any being it is important to familiarize them to specific commands. When they hear that command, they know exactly what you want them to do. Being consistent and giving rewards when they do good, encourages them. A reward can be a head scratching, an apple, or a special treat they don’t normally get. Even something as simple as praise and a hug will make them want to do better and better. I taught her to get real low, then get down and hide.

Everything I did was meant to train Misty as a war horse in the old ways where we worked together. See, traditionally, the horses we trained were part of our force; they hunted, fought and protected us as we did them. I wanted Misty to be part of me and me to be part of her. She could signal me so no one would know and I could do the same for her. This takes time and true trust. We worked on this every day. Many a night I laid down with my head on her neck and talked to her as we looked at the stars. And if it was cold I covered us in a blanket. Misty knew all my thoughts and I believe I knew all of hers. She was a gift from Spirit to be in my life and I wanted her to have the best life possible.

I used to ride her everywhere and sometimes let her loose for her speed runs. Seems we were being watched long distances. We first ran into a problem with the rancher who owned the huge tract of land behind us. He was a cattle rancher, but had plenty of race horses too. One day while Misty and I were out for a run, this man’s son was also out exercising one of their prize race horses. When he saw us across the fence he rode over and challenged me to a race. Misty was all for it. His horse was a lot bigger in height and length, but also in weight. Misty was built for pure speed and her training was already paying off. We took off and raced all out for a mile, leaving them in our dust. After we slowed to a walk and Misty was cooling off, he came riding up cussing and claiming our win was an accident; that his horse had a stone in his hoof. I offered to help, but he just told me to get out of there and went into a rage saying horrible things I will not repeat about Misty and me.

This did not set well with me. I stood up on Misty’s back, launched myself over the fence and snatched him off his horse. Even though he was bigger and older than me, he was no match for this bundle of fury. I had punched his face so many times before he even realized he had a wild man on him. Misty is the one that brought me to my senses. She jumped the fence, pushed me off him, and stood there trembling. I checked my temper, swung back up on Misty and told him to never speak to us again and if he can’t stand to lose, don’t race. Then Misty collected herself, jumped back across the fence, and we were gone.

Two days later the father and some his people showed up and told Mom that I was running the fat off his cows; that I had been seen riding in his pastures. Mom told him no, that I don’t ride in his or anyone’s pastures. He never mentioned my beating his older son up or about the race. Mom told him to leave and they did. Dad wasn’t there so I was the man of the house and what he didn’t know was that Greg and I were both armed with our bows and arrows, ready to defend our mom if these men tried anything.

The next week I was riding Misty down a dirt road, miles away from the house, when someone in a pickup truck tried to hit us. We had gotten completely off the road, yet the truck veered off the road, still trying to hit us. Misty swayed back, and we hit the woods, veering in and out of trees. I did not recognize the truck. Most trucks around there had their ranch logos on them.

After that, nothing else happened for a month or so. Misty and I continued to train every day and just enjoying our lives together. Here was a horse that didn’t think she was a horse. She thought she was one of us. She played with us all and it always seemed as though she enjoyed making everyone laugh. It tickled her if she could pull a joke on someone and she would just dance and kick up her heels and even lay on the ground and roll over and over laughing. We never knew what she would do next, playing with the dog, playing with all the kids and even the ducks and the other horses.

To Be Continued. . . Chapter 9, The Horseman – Misty 2

All For the Right to Pray (7)

Part One – Walking in Three Worlds

Chapter 7 – Sanctuary in the Wilderness

By Ghost Dancer

I have never been an indoor person and no matter where I have been or lived, being in the swamps, woods or mountains is where I truly find my inner peace and re-energize my whole being. In wild places I can truly connect to all things, open myself up to feel all the life forces, energies, spirits of all life beings and everything. In these places where everything is real, true to what it is, is where I can truly become One with our Creator, and all that exists.

Nature allows you to truly be in the presence of Spirit. Because Spirit only comes and truly works and speaks with you in the most sacred of places, and truly sacred places are made by Spirit, not by man, and have not been polluted, contaminated, corrupted, or manipulated. These sanctuaries help provide the one-on-one experiences we each need to cleanse ourselves of all the negative energies, problems, and outside influences that so distract us. 

In nature what you see is what you get. Now in saying that you must realize that beauty is always in the eye of the beholder. Many see the wilderness as a terrible place with no conveniences anywhere, just hardship, danger, harshness etc. What folks don’t understand they fear and when they fear something they stay away from it or they want to destroy. It is all on each of us to be able to see real beauty and love what is there.

All my being is always connected to these places no matter where I am. I feel so alive there, so at peace and connected to all my relations. Yes, I said relations for the One who created all of these things created all of us too. So we are all related. We are not above or below any other being. Unlike many folks, I understand that no matter what, this is where all spiritual awakenings truly come to life with higher enlightenment. Every true religious teacher throughout history first went to the wilderness to gain the enlightenment, knowledge and gifts to bring back with them. Likewise, in Native traditions, this is required of us all because it truly is the way.

Since my earliest childhood growing up, my relationships with most people have been a paradox. I have always been assertive and a doer, a hard worker, often taking on burdens that were not mine to carry. I cared about people and wanted to help others and somehow held the belief that I had the duty and responsibility to save the world. On the other hand,  I was also naïve and easily duped, not realizing I was leaving myself open to people who cared nothing about me but would use me and take advantage of me. Very often I felt overwhelmed, and seeking refuge from my hurt, I would retreat to the wilderness.

Nature is simple in just being itself. There are no fakes, no deceit, jealousy, hatred, lies, prejudices or insanity. In nature my spirit was healed; my inner peace came alive. Be it on a mountain, at a beach by the ocean, river, lake, creek or springs, even a desert, these magical places always provided all I needed to calm my mind and spirit, allowing me to refocus, re-energize, and reconnect to everything.

I have always known that I am different from everyone else; that I did not fit in, that I think differently, act differently, live differently than they do. I see things differently than most folks. I really didn’t have much of a childhood. My days were filled with lots of responsibilities and I never fit in with most other kids. The one big exception was all the Seminole / Creek kids I grew up with at Silver Springs. We had so much in common and the adventures we had together playing in the swamps, swimming in the spring waters and playing tricks on all the tourists stand out as some of my fondest memories. This is where I came to realize that my heart and spirit knew I must be with my people. Here I was truly happy and fit in. Here I did not have to hide who I was. I could just be me. 

Throughout my adult life, I still have never fit in with society or most civilized things. I’m still just as wild as I always have been. I cannot put on a false face or pretend to like someone, or act like I’m better than anyone or any other form of life. I can’t hate someone just because they are different. In fact I don’t hate anyone. Even those who have used me, tortured me, tried to kill me, ridiculed me, lied about me or falsely imprisoned me. No I don’t hate them. Some say I’m violent. Have I ever used violence? Yes, but only to protect myself, loved ones, family, or others who couldn’t protect themselves and then only enough to stop or prevent more harm to me or others. 

Have I gotten upset or mad. Yes I have, but I cannot stay mad. I have a forgiving heart. Just can’t help that and yes, I have sometimes had a bad temper but I’m like a volcano, when it gets upset it just blows up, then calms right down. When I know I’ve been wronged, I may forgive someone but that does not mean I want them around me.

What life and my years in prison have taught me, people generally do what they are taught, and children pick up the same hatreds, prejudices, bad habits, bad ways of life from others. What is sad is most don’t think anything is wrong with the way they act or think or believe. They have never made growth changes in their life so they are stuck on that same cycle as if they were chained to it. How can anyone progress if they don’t step out of their old self and old habits and move forward to evolve? How can anyone grow mentally, physically, emotionally, and most importantly, spiritually, if they don’t step off that road they have been on and make a new way?

We all have choices in life. If we stay still, we become stagnant, polluted, and infectious just as water that sits still does. We must move; we must seek to be better than we are always. Be a better person, more loving, kind, compassionate, giving, generous, forgiving, patient and understanding.

Only those who do the work ever find the true happiness and love they have always been seeking. Only those who seek to know their true selves will ever find themselves. Only those who truly seek to know Spirit will find Spirit. Everyone can do these things but no one else can do it for you. If you truly want something you must reach for it, act for it, ask for it. 

When I was a kid my family never worried about me when I disappeared in the swamps, woods, mountains or anywhere. They knew I had the skills to take care of myself. I grew up going into wild dangerous places. We had alligators, quick sand, deadly snakes, spiders, scorpions and insects as well as bears and panthers all around. I was and still am at home in these places. I fit right in. Swimming in shark infested waters or with alligators made no difference. Many animal species will attack when they sense your fear, even your own pets react to any fears you have. They sense it and respond accordingly. I hug trees, and stone peoples. I speak to them just as I would you. I do this with all plants, animals, birds, all life, even insects because they all have life energy and they have feelings too. Just most people don’t see it that way.

I have always had a gift with all of nature. Animals, birds, reptiles, trees, stones, you name it, I connect with it. I understand them. People are the ones I just can’t understand. In my experience, though many wonderful people have touched my life, in general I learned that people are treacherous; they will say one thing but actually mean just the opposite; they will smile to your face but it is a false smile. Some of the happiest and the most painful experiences of my youth had to do with two big-hearted horses that I loved dearly and the treachery of heartless people determined to destroy them and me. These experiences set me firmly on my path as a warrior. Ghost

Coming up in Part TwoThe Making of a Warrior, the stories of Misty and Sachem and so much more..

My constant prayer for Ghost Dancer: I pray for Spirit to touch the hearts of all who hear your name, for yours is a story that deserves to be heard. May Spirit touch the hearts and minds of all who speak to you, about you, and for you, in every way, in every situation that impacts your life, for wherever love resides there also peace and justice live. epd April, 2017

All For the Right to Pray (6)

Part One – Walking in Three Worlds

Chapter 6 – Intellectual and Spiritual Gifts

By Ghost Dancer

I do not remember when it was actually that folks started noticing that I had exceptional memory and learning abilities but I was very young. My Grandpa Beavers made sure that I understood how important it was for me to remember everything I saw, heard, felt , and sensed each and every day. He impressed on me how important it was for me to learn and try to keep learning everything I possibly could for one day he said I would need to be sharing all these things so they won’t be forgotten.

My mom started me way ahead of school so when I started 1st grade I could already read, write, do arithmetic and such. Yeah we ate lots of fish in our diet back then too so that surely helped my mental abilities. We kids didn’t go to kindergarten. I’m not even sure if they had things like that back then. I do know none of the other kids in my grade could do the things I could. By 5th grade, I was already doing advanced class work. They gave me an IQ test and were shocked that I scored 147. I was tested again in the 8th grade and my score was 185. By then I was doing 11th and 12th grade high school and higher work. With a photographic memory, I had nearly 100% retention of everything I read, or observed.

I loved to learn and I loved all the sciences, mathematics, history, and such. I stayed in a classrooms up till the 8th grade my classes were all with seniors and I was already doing college courses. When I went to high school they decided I was too much of a distraction and just assigned me to the principal’s office where the vice principal provided me with higher college level course materials to study.

When I finished the 10th grade I had already taken all of the college courses available to me. The principal said they really didn’t have anything else to teach me. I asked him then to go ahead and let me graduate; I was certainly ready to move on. Looking back, I still can’t believe that he actually said no, that I needed to stay in school and play sports because the school needed me. 

So I quit school and wound up getting married. It was a shotgun wedding because a girl’s father accused me of taking advantage of his daughter. In those days forced marriage was the only way to deal with such accusations. Since I was under age my dad took me to Iuka, MS and told them I was older, that my license had been taken by the court, so at age 15 I ended up married. While I was working the all-athletic coach for the high school pleaded with me to come back to school and play sports. He said they would help me make money to support my family. I declined. I was still upset that the principal would not allow me to graduate. See I had a stubborn streak in me back then and felt it was wrong and I would show them for not giving me the credit I felt was due to me or even cared about my academic potential. As for my own dreams, I had seriously thought I would like to become a scientist or a medical doctor, but here I was and this was certainly not a good start for a promising scholar.

After I went to prison, my quest to learn and to share my knowledge did not end.  I would love to tell you about some of the people who really helped me. I remember Law Professor Hand who came into the prison to teach law classes. This man expected 100% from you or you got a zero because in law you either win or you lose; there is no in between. He pushed me to really learn to understand the law and how to apply it. Thanks to Professor Hand I was able to file and win so many things in courts. I kept up with him after the classes and thank him for being so tough on me. 

Another man who was very helpful in my higher education was Dr. Peter Astrabuck [sp] who was the U.N. Ambassador from Austria in the 80’s. He opened doors for me to many college professors, colleges and universities in Europe and through them so much buried information became available to me. I was fortunate enough to meet people from France, Austria, Scotland, England, Belgium, Netherlands, Holland, East & West Germany, Portugal, Spain, Poland, Italy, Rome, Russia, Czechoslovakia, Egypt, Turkey, Israel, Jordan, Iraq, Rhodesia, Nigeria, Japan, China, India, and Hong Kong. My mind was so very hungry to learn many different things from Ancient history, medicine, sciences, engineering, architecture, and all the world religions and cultures. All these people helped feed my hunger for knowledge.

I also want to speak about Terry C. Johnston, who researched and documented so much history of the American west as a historical fiction writer. Terry was instrumental in getting me to start writing things down. He became my friend first as we both loved history. He loved picking my brain on traditional native ceremonies, thought processes, regalia, histories, religions, and culture when portraying Native people in his books. He always sent me a personally autographed first printing of each book he wrote. He also had his writer friends send me their books and communicate with me too.

Terry always encouraged me to write about what I know and what was happening in our legal struggles with the prison system. Terry personally helped by paying for airplane tickets and motel rooms for  many of my expert witnesses for court in our struggles for our right to pray and practice our religion in prison. Others such as Joseph Bruchac https://josephbruchac.com/  who wrote many books on Native culture, became my friend and helped by providing me more books and encouraging me to write for numerous native newsletters and newspapers. I began writing for Eagle Wing press, Bejouwin, Oh-Ta-Kin, Four Winds, and many more. 

Over the years as my body of knowledge grew, I had the opportunity to work with Native American college professors, museums, archaeologists, and historians, helping them learn more about ancient pictographs, belief systems, customs, artifacts, languages, etc. I loved teaching and still do. Just a few years ago I was asked to work with April Gardner who writes romance novels. She was working on a series set in the 19th century south and wanted guidance on making her portrayals of Creek and Seminole people culturally authentic and in a true light as human beings. April’s stories opened up her readers up to a whole new view of Native peoples, culture, beliefs, ceremonies, etc. I’m so very proud of all her hard work. Thank you, April for your dedication, friendship, and help. I truly appreciate all her books and she has sent me copies of each one. I was always taught to share the knowledge and teachings with all who wanted to learn so these things will never be forgotten or lost.

Now one thing I need to mention is the fact that I was born with certain other gifts that are much harder for people to understand. Though this came natural to me, I had to learn to accept it myself and surely needed to keep quiet about. Grandpa Beavers and my elders understood my abilities to know and see things most people cannot see. They always warned me to be quiet about these things for ignorant folks would fear me and claim I was possessed or did the work of the devil. See I lived in the south where churches with a variety of narrow beliefs controlled every community. Their prejudices about what I could do could literally get me killed. I guess those folks didn’t read their bibles very much. There is so much written about ones in the bible who could do what I do and yeah their own people killed them too. So yeah I had to keep these things quiet from others.

Now I have a gift of connecting with all types of animals and the ability to “read” people, seeing things others do not see. I also have the ability to travel to the spirit world which has helped me in so many more ways than most folks would accept or even understand. Most everyone has heard of people with unexplainable special gifts such as Edgar Cayce. Some people who have near-death experiences speak of leaving their body and being able to look down and watch medical teams working to bring them back to life. Spirit travel is like that, only with the ability to let the spirit leave the body and travel through time, distances, to see and learn things directly from the past, old ways and wisdoms that have been lost through the events of time. Among traditional Native cultures, individuals with these gifts are honored. In Muscogee Creek culture, such people are respectfully recognized as Keethlas or Knowers.

Doing these things does come with responsibilities, rules and a cost. It takes a toll on your body and your life; it changes you from most folks and requires a high level of self-discipline. People with this gift must learn to put up self-protective shields and to quiet the mind so as to tell the difference between the spirit world and the physical world and which dimension or plane of existence you are actually dealing with. This all comes with practice, practice and more practice.

My elders on my dad’s side of the family accepted this as did my mom and Grandpa Beavers. My sisters and brother accepted this about me and even some of my cousins. Others, well I tried my best to be careful to not let them know. Later in life I openly practiced this ability doing psychic shows and fairs all across the country. I even worked for some Hollywood and music celebrities doing readings for their programs and was once invited to the Edgar Cayce Institute in Virginia Beach VA.

I understand why most people scoff at things such as this that they simply do not understand. Too many today, just as many I have met in my life, are just fakes and frauds. These are people with no morals, discipline, training, or experience yet they take advantage of the gullible and people desperate to find solutions to very real problems. People believe they can read a book and actually be a reader of people or tell someone’s future by a casting of the cards or such. Truly gifted people know that much more is required and you must practice to develop your gifts.

There are also rules placed on you by Spirit and all spirit helpers you may use or contact; this takes a toll on you and your life. I still help others if they ask. My gift is strong, better than it ever has been. I’ve had the experience of a lifetime, and I still practice and learn even more every day. I haven’t done a show in years, but  most surely these sacred gifts have helped me in numerous ways to endure the tribulations of prison and to help other inmates along the way.

Ghost

Alone

Lights In the Distance. . .

Walks’ Outdate – 154 Days and Counting

By Steven Maisenbacher

Well, I just got done with the highlight of my days, talking to “Sings Many Songs” and I call her pretty much every day, to talk about this stuff or that stuff, or Ghost or just basically anything that is going on or that we have to chat about. I think that had it not been for that woman and our chats and her inspiration I would surely have lost my mind by now…or the remainder that is left. Anyway we were talking the other day and the topic of people came up and I made mention of the fact that this is the first time in my life that I will be totally on my own when I get home, no rebound relationship or significant other.

It further occurred to me that I might be better served that way, I mean after all while I still would love some female companionship when I’m out, I have been gone so long, and I will be 62 years old when I get out so I think I would rather have a talking frog. At least then I could limit my involvement. Smile. And it would be very inexpensive to maintain, heck, a few flies, a nice lily pad… But that’s not my point here. I’m talking to the fact that all my life I’ve had girlfriends and I’ve never been out in the free world as an adult without one, or at least one.

I think there was some sort of magnetic thing going on cuz I have never had a problem getting a girlfriend. Sometimes I would have been better served by listening to others about their character, but most often the heart wants what the heart wants, so this time I will be able to find myself in the strange new land that is the “free world.” Now I can try to figure it out without the pressure of trying to figure it out while in a relationship.

See I don’t think I’m gonna be ready to run right out and start looking for a girlfriend; there are too many things I’ve got to look for in myself and on my own. I think that it’ll be one of those deals where she will find me, and I’m sure to come in contact with a lot of them due to the interests I have in jewelry and music and all that, plus I am a devilishly handsome old codger. LOLOLO, but that’s always been more of a handicap.

Also in the past communicating thru the various pen pal sites, I’ve discovered that most of the females who are drawn to me are crazy as all heck and I have been involved with several over the years in here, some even from overseas. One even came here from Germany to see me, and we didn’t need more than a few hours to see we were really not as compatible as she thought we would be. I really don’t embrace the “you need to change, you need to do this, you need to do that” thing. I knew I was incapable of being “molded” into the man she wanted me to be and quickly told her I wasn’t the man she wanted me to be, that I wasn’t able to just become her ideal Mr. Right and therefore we should just end it and remain friends.

Right. Anyway, that abrupt ending taught me that love isn’t about changing for a person, it’s about self, but if the changes that one makes are better for the other person as well, then all the better, if not then as the old song goes, “Bye, Bye, too bad, so sad.” Now I don’t know where all this is heading; I do kinda sorta know what I was wanting to share but never seemed to get there, so let me do it like this. When I come home August 31, 2022 I will be entirely single, with no one to help me transition but myself and a few close friends who are always just a phone call away, but I’m not so worried about it.

See I’ve always faced every fear, every situation head on, often times racing into it helter-skelter and that’s just the way I am. And while I’m not afraid of the future, I’m scarred to death of the world that I don’t know; while I’m not afraid of getting it right, I’m worried about the stumbles along the way. Even though there is no stopping it, I’m gonna stumble over the world, and probably look like a damn fool with a phone in my hand, trying to figure it out. (First thing, how do you turn this *^$%* on??) So citizens of the world just know this, if you see a silver haired handsome old devil looking all bamboozled and confused, it’s just me, and I am exactly what I appear to be…baffled at the world. You’ve been warned…

All For the Right to Pray (5)

Part One – Walking in Three Worlds

Chapter 5 – Athletic Training, Skills & Opportunities

By Ghost Dancer

My dad first started playing ball with me as soon as I could walk pretty good and from then on I was in for lots of learning. Even after my parents were divorced, my training continued whenever I was with my dad. First he taught me how to catch the ball, then fielding the ball, and then throwing the ball. He always had lots of patience with me and I enjoyed the challenge of learning. From an early age Dad taught me many finer points such as using my body if necessary to block the ball from getting around me, how to position my body to go in any direction at the crack of the bat, and to throw the ball from any angle and position with accuracy. He taught me how to hold and swing the bat for the best results, to watch the ball leave the pitcher’s hand and to time the ball for the perfect swing.

Now I had a huge advantage over most kids my age. Not only did my dad live and breathe baseball and all sports generally, but I was always taller and stronger than my peers and my dad made sure I practiced at least two hours every day. He provided me with lots of equipment and always made time to practice with me. He even bought a special piece of training equipment that had very tight webbing with a strike zone designed in it. Even when I was alone, this allowed me to practice throwing the ball everyday all by myself and get more accuracy using either hand. The net would send the ball back flying to you. or it could even send the ball flying high up in the air to help you practice catching fly balls and learning to judge distances, trajectory and angles. No matter what position anyone plays one thing you have to develop is an instinct for understanding a person’s stance, bat speed, and the type pitch and location so you can always anticipate where the ball will come from. As a pitcher I could manipulate where the batter has to hit the ball – if he was able to hit it! 

I spent time every day practicing year around, training my body in strength, hand speed and coordination. Balance is key. Not only was I training for baseball, but  for all sports. I played basketball, football, track and field including long-distance cross country running, shot put, discus and javelin. I also trained in yoga and martial arts – judo, karate, aikido, budo, and kick boxing. I worked hard doing all types of manual labor which helped tone and define my muscles and body. Swimming was another favorite of mine and when I was sitting around at night I would constantly be squeezing a hand gripper to strengthen my hands even isolating each finger to strengthen them much more than other folks would consider doing. 

My dad not only helped shape my athletic life but supported it in every way. From Pee Wee up through Pony League, Dad even had my team mates come to ball fields and helped us practice as a team. He helped all of them develop their skills at their positions and in batting too. He bought equipment for all of us and we kept it at our house. This way we could fully equip a practice game anytime we wanted to.

During the times I was back in Florida with my mom I would continue to practice. Living in Ocala, I even had the opportunity learn from all the pro baseball players who were there for spring training. These guys were awesome and they always took time to speak and help any kid who wanted to learn or talk to them. Yeah, I was very fortunate to have the opportunity to do these things. My step-dad owned a garage and several of these professional baseball players were his customers so I really was lucky to get to meet them one-on-one. When I went to the spring practice fields they would invite me in to meet their team players and here I was actually learning from some of baseball’s greatest hall of fame players.

I could go on and on about who they were but what is important is that these men had hearts of gold to teach kids like me to really become something special like they were. Just so you know, my skills and abilities did not go unnoticed. Even while I was in junior high school, I was highly sought after by colleges and pro team recruiters. Once I was playing at high school level and still performing beyond their understanding or expectations of someone my age, the recruiters really were wanting me to commit to each of them and what they wanted. My dad was my buffer. I would just tell them they needed to talk to him not me.

Now most folks don’t push themselves to truly train but I understood even then that it really takes a strong will, dedication and discipline to work out and train to become the best you can be. So with that in mind remember that I dedicated my life to being a true warrior and athlete to be the best I could be. Training and working out came easy to me. I was born athletic and my body responded naturally to all these things. Genetics and being from a big, strong-bodied people with a strong commitment to compete in almost anything helped a whole lot. I was so fortunate to have had people in my life’s walk that helped shape, guide and influence me. 

After I quit school in the tenth grade and set out on my own I worked a regular job but also had a side handy man business for folks who needed something repaired, built, painted, and doing all types of cleanup, landscaping and lawn care. Once I was doing a job for a man whose brother was the assistant defensive coordinator coach for the New Orleans Saints football team. This man was at his brother’s house and they kept watching me work. Finally the two of them came over and he asked if I had ever played football. I told him yes, I played football in junior high and high school. He said he had been watching me and could see that I was very strong, I moved fast and had good balance. As it turned out, his brother had seen me play in school games and called him about me. That was why he was there.

Now at that age I was already 6′ 6” and weighed about 205 lbs., all lean hard muscle. He asked me if I would be interested in going to try out for the New Orleans Saints? What could I say? Yes I would love to do that. He never even asked me my age and yeah, I was under aged, but most folks would never know that. Anyway I went to training camp and actually made the team; they were very excited about having me playing defense for them. Then they called me into the office to talk business and asked if I had an agent and would I sign a contract. But there was a caveat; they said there would be conditions. I would have to cut my hair and I  must lose the Native American persona. I always wore my Native regalia – jewelry, and buckskin clothing and moccasins or beaded Native designed shirts. They said that the NFL rules did not allow these things. (Boy, funny how the league has changed over the years isn’t it LOL!) So, I told them thank you but I could not agree or do any of that. I walked out the door and never looked back or contacted them again. Basically the same thing was said and done in baseball as well.

Later on I did play against many NFL All-Stars and Hall of Fame players. This was in the 70s in what was called the “Pig Bowl” in Alabama – the Cops versus the Cons. This was back when I was first incarcerated in the State of Alabama. Every year our Cons team always beat the Cops. They couldn’t have us continuously embarrassing them; it tarnished their image and hurt their propaganda reflections of all prisoners. So they found a way to get around the problem. They would have college and pro football players come in during the off season and for $25 they could become auxiliary police officers. This allowed them to be eligible to play in the game. Didn’t matter, we still beat the pro players.  

This game was actually played in Hamilton, Alabama and as far as I know it is still being played every year for charity. I remember one game being filmed and broadcast by ESPN from Las Vegas in the 80’s. Yeah there was lots of gambling involved on this game. You might remember Burt Reynolds in “The Longest Yard.” That movie was based on the Pig Bowl in Alabama though the movie was actually filmed in Reidsville, Ga. at a prison there. 

Throughout my 42 years in prison, playing and coaching sports would always be a big part of my life.

  Ghost


 

All For the Right to Pray (4)

Part One – Walking in Three Worlds

Chapter 4 – Growing Up in the Alabama Mountains

By James Johnson

Ghost and his Dad James Johnson 2014

My father, James Johnson, lost his own father when he was fourteen years old. One of a large farm family, he had to work to help his family survive so he never had much opportunity for a formal education. Dad was a hustler though and a worker. He was an astute trader and always had a good sense of business, not trying to get rich, but to do better. As I was growing up, my dad and I didn’t always see eye to eye. We had our conflicts, but it didn’t stop us from having our good times and learning together.

When I was young and went to stay with my dad in Alabama, all my dad’s family wanted me to learn my heritage from his side, and of course, this was intriguing to me. Dad was proud of his Muscogee Creek heritage, and always tried to help me understand the importance of who I was. He told me some about his father, but I wanted to learn much more, so he made sure I had the chance to meet my great aunts, great uncles as well as my Grandmother, of course. I loved learning what they had to tell me, walking on the old lands, going to places that most people have never even heard of.

Mary Clemence Doty Johnson

My Grandma Mary Clemence Doty Johnson was a big part of my life. She was a very tall, large woman for back then. She was considerably younger than my Grandfather, Elish Hedley Johnson, and was still a young woman when he crossed over, leaving her with young children to raise on the family homeplace.

Grandma Johnson was always ready to talk with me, and I loved when she told about my Grandpa. She wanted me to know my Creek heritage on his side of the family and the stories of my people. She told me how a family had taken in his grandpa and adopted him as one of their own and hid him from the militias from Georgia and Alabama. My dad and his sisters, Inez and Mary always told me these stories about my great-great grandfather too, so I would never forget. Grandma and my aunt, Inez could write all the names in the old language. I remember Grandma telling my dad how important it was for him to take me to see all my relatives and all these places. 

What I most want to relay about my grandma is that she was all about us all knowing our Native blood, history, and our family ties. She was doing exactly what a clan mother would do in the old days. She made sure I knew my Grandpa Johnson and who all his family were and her side of the family as well. She reminded us all that we are Native and our roots are here in the land. Our ancestors and their blood are still deeply centered right here in Alabama. Grandma instilled in me the honor and respect we must keep flowing throughout each generation.

I vowed to her as I vowed to my Grandpa Beavers that never would I forget; never would I stop learning, so I could bring all these old ways back to our people and all my family as well. Why she picked me out of all her grandkids I have no clue. All my cousins and everyone else were just as capable as me, but maybe she also saw what my Grandpa Beavers did, someone who truly was mule-headed enough not to quit no matter what. I always rebelled when someone told me I couldn’t do something. I don’t know why, I’m just that way. I love to learn and I love pushing myself to always do better.  Been a wolf all my life. Love my freedom, more at home in a wilderness than in any home. Would rather sleep on the ground than any bed and I can adjust to any environment. My grandparents both told me that is what our people do – adjust and survive, make use of what is available.

I was in prison when my grandmother passed in 1978. My family members all gave the law their word that I would not be a problem if they brought me to the funeral and I gave my word too. They had me chained head to toe; surrounded by police with guns. I came dressed in a black denim shirt and pants, boots, hair long, and all those shiny chains everywhere. I thanked the police for all the jewelry. When I asked them about taking the chains off – I had given my word – they said no way. Some of the new kids didn’t know who I was, but they were told. Everyone hugged me at the funeral. That was the last time I saw so many of them. Most are gone now. That night, I saw Grandma in my dream walks and we had a long talk.

Great Aunt Leathe

Dad took me to see my Grandma Johnson’s sister, Great Aunt Leathee, Lethia Emley Doty Horton. Boy, what a joy this was for me. Here was another tall, large woman who lived the old way and knew so many stories and history of our family and our people. She was always loving and took time to make sure that I remembered our history as it was passed down to her. She lived with her husband, Oscar Horton, near Sugar Creek in Blount Co. Alabama. Aunt Leathee, my dad and Uncle Oscar took me to my grandparent’s old homestead.

The chimney and fireplace, and a few other stone walls were still standing. The peaches, plums, pears, and apple trees were all still growing. From the homestead we walked down the mountain side to the Mulberry River, walking through all the corn fields and then down through the cane thicket. As cane cutter rabbits took off in front of us, my dad and Great Aunt told me all the stories they knew of this area. We spent the day fishing while I learned all about my Grandfather and our people’s history. As we walked back, Great Aunt Leathee thanked my dad for bringing me and said she wanted him to leave me there for a couple of weeks because we had lots to talk about, and he did.

Great Uncle Oscar was short and slender, but a strong man. My great aunt was twice his size in height and bone structure, but they were a pair. Up before 4:00 AM every morning, there was work to be done, teaching me different things, such as how to catch those cane-cutter rabbits which she loved cooking. She made gravy and biscuits to go with it. Aunt Leathee also wanted me to meet others of my family, so Uncle Oscar took us around introducing me. Many were very distant related, but to us, as Aunt Leathee said, family is family no matter how distant.

Like my dad and many of my family, Aunt Leathee strongly cautioned me that I must hide what I was. The fear and prejudice was still strong as it had been in the southern states since the removal. Laws were still on the books that made it illegal for a Native American to own land, have a job or anything else. She warned me that it would be really easy to wind up dead because of who I was; practicing Native religion or just being Native at all, was putting a target on my back since there were still laws that make it legal to kill an Indian in some places. My problem was, and still is, I don’t like bullies and I refuse to let them scare me.

Great Uncle Warren Doty

Great Uncle Warren Doty was a peach farmer. He lived on a beautiful farm and grew some mighty tasty peaches. He had a garden in the back of the house, but huge orchards spread out all around. He loved for my dad and me to come visit. We all hunted together. He sure loved to rabbit hunt. I asked him once why so much rabbit hunting. He said because they are so much harder to see and hit. Then he laughed. That laugh was a joy to hear. Like several of my great uncles, he loved to whittle and he had a favorite spot up under a big oak tree near the barn. Uncle Warren didn’t talk a whole lot; he expected you to watch him if you wanted to learn something. He said the only true way to learn something was to jump right in and do it. I asked, what if I make a mistake or did something bad wrong? He answered, “Well you learned from that didn’t you? And I know you won’t make that mistake again.”

Uncle Warren had a way of looking at you to let you know that you weren’t thinking straight. One day he asked me if I had ever sneaked up on a deer and touched it before it knew I was there. I told him I knew how to kill one with a knife. He looked at me sideways then; said he had never seen or known how to do that. I said, well we are even, because I haven’t been able yet to pet the deer before it knew I was there. I had come close, but not actually touched the deer while it was standing there. I had touched one while it was sleeping, but that doesn’t count.

Then I explained to Uncle Warren: See if you pet a deer while it is feeding, it will be so surprised it will jump straight up in the air, and like the road runner, when its hooves hit the ground it is gone. The only reason I don’t tell you how to kill the deer with a knife is that I don’t want people trying this without knowing exactly what they are doing. Deer can tear you up pretty bad if you don’t do this right. But this is the old way a young warrior proved their skill and patience at hunting. This was the deer whose heart and a choice piece of meat would be offered to the fire for a good hunting season and bring honor to the deer people. During certain moons, the whole deer would be offered.

Uncle warren asked who had taught me those old ways. I looked down because I didn’t know if he would understand that I had been shown these things in my spirit traveling. He reached out and smiled saying, “I know, don’t worry, it is okay. Some may not understand this about us and many of our own family do not have these gifts, only because it is buried too deep inside of them. They have taken on new beliefs. Never be ashamed of your gifts and how you believe.”

Uncle went on to tell me that I honor all the family by being myself. He said that even though he didn’t live or believe as I did, he respected that in me. He said my dad had talked to him and explained how headstrong I was. Then he asked me to listen to him and gave me the same warning, that there are many who would hurt or even kill me if I openly say things about my beliefs or the abilities I had – up here in the mountains, or in this whole state. His advice was for me to do what I believe, follow my path, but don’t broadcast this out to others. He told me that many of our family still practice the old ways, but none of their neighbors would ever even know it. We keep these things private. He looked at me and asked if I understood why. I told him, yes, I knew why. Then he said he thought it is wonderful to be so proud and loving all our ancestral ways, and he encouraged me to always do so. And I always have. Uncle Warren’s words were wise and I have tried to do just that.

Maw-Maw Jaybird

I have been blessed with many people who have helped shape and guide my life. None as much as Alma Jacobs, known to everyone as Maw-Maw Jaybird. When I first met her, she was already ancient – at least in my young eyes – and yet so full of life still. I have no clue as to her age, but she was blind and had been for years. She was a widow and lived in the mountains of northern Alabama. Two of her daughters were still living at home with her, but some of her children were married and gone.

One of her daughters, Jewel, was my stepmother. She had married my dad and they spent a lot of time at her family home place, so this mountain-top farm became my second Alabama home when I was with my dad. I will always remember the first time my dad took me to Maw-Maw’s old homestead. There was no road so to speak; we drove there in a pickup and it was still rough getting there. When I first saw Maw-Maw, I couldn’t believe it. Here was a woman I was told was already old and blind, but she was out working in the gardens and I could see no sign that she could not see. She was working and pulling weeds with her hands faster than the two ladies also working in the garden.

When I got out of the back of the pickup, they waved at me. I waved back and they all started coming up the hill towards us. I didn’t know what to expect, but I surely wasn’t ready for what I saw. Here was a woman still limber, and walking like a panther – fluid, effortlessly – and without help where she was going. She was a very small woman; no more than maybe 4′ 8” or so. I was a boy and was already taller than she was. Her hair was braided and wrapped around her waist several times.

Maw-Maw Jay Bird walked up to me and said, “Let me see you child!” She reached out her hands to touch my face. She saw me through her touch. She felt across my shoulders, chest, back and arms. She held my hands and she just glowed in my eyes. When she finished, she introduced me to her daughters, and this began a learning time, a truly amazing life and meaningful experience for me.

Maw-Maw loved having me there. She taught me all kinds of things, and I was all eyes and ears. The garden was made in tiers around one side of the mountain; the other side was all planted in corn. At the top, the homestead was all flat. She had guineas, pheasants, peacocks, and all kinds of chickens on her property. She had a mule, hogs, a milk cow, and some beef cows. Working with animals and birds came natural to me and all of them knew it too, because I loved them all.

The chickens roamed free and ate a lot of bugs.  They served as our pest control in the gardens around both sides of the mountain. We raised them for the eggs and for more chicks. My dad also raised gamecocks, fighting roosters, for selling or trading.

There were all kinds of wildlife too: deer, turkey, mink, raccoons, and groundhogs all over that mountain. Poke salad grew everywhere, and we had apple trees, muscodines, peaches, plums and pear trees.

Maw-Maw had the meanest, biggest dog I have ever seen in my life. That dog guarded the chicken house and the smoke house, and never left that area unless she called him. No one could go near that dog but her, and it was bigger than the black bears that roamed around the area. Every animal and bird knew her. She loved them all and they all loved her too.

We had no electricity, no plumbing, no modern anything. Everything was like in the old days – a wood stove, outhouse and water well. We climbed down in the well to place our butter and such to stay cool beside the spring water. There was a crank with a rope to bring water up from the well. Our clothes were cooked and scrubbed clean in a big iron kettle in the yard. Then they were rinsed in a wash tub and run through a wringer that we turned by hand.

We had a wagon, corn crib, tack shed, and plenty of hard work to go around. Protecting the garden became my responsibility. My job was to make sure the rabbits, deer, bears, or anything else didn’t eat the garden up. There was good fishing in a creek and a small spring-fed lake on the backside of the mountain, so we had everything we needed to live.  It wasn’t just the work or responsibilities or knowledge about these things that was so special.

What I loved most were the stories and all the things Maw-Maw taught me about the old ways. I learned about all the different plants she made poultices and medicines from, how to prepare them and when to gather them. Her nose was like a radar; she could smell plants and roots. She would test me, asking what I could see and had me describe them to her. Then she would tell me what each was good for. She also taught me about the moons and how they affect all things. With the help of her daughters, Maw-Maw was a college of knowledge for me to learn from.

Going to town in the wagon was a journey, and I learned to never think that because she was blind she didn’t know everything around her. The only time I knew she was nervous was if a bunch of people were around and she had to move through them. I asked her about it and she said, “I don’t have a problem moving through, I know where I’m going; problem is they don’t know where they are going!”  I laughed till I cried.

Night time was story-telling time when Maw-Maw and her daughters schooled me in the old stories and ways. In bad weather, we stayed in and did things that needed being done, and my schooling continued. They loved me as if I were their own.

Even when I was grown up, they still lived that same way. I will cherish their love, teaching, and all the knowledge they gave me. I pray I can always live up to what they believed in me and all that was given for me to do.

Jewel

Like all her family, my stepmother, Jewel was very much a country girl. She loved all the animals and birds on the farm, and I loved her. I remember she would go fishing with Dad and me, walking all day long down in the creeks and rivers fishing, and cat-fishing at night and her having a thrill of excitement every time she caught a fish. 

Jewel always made me laugh, never intentionally, it was just her way. She was Doris Day and Lucy combined. Jewel was always very watchful over me; trying to keep me tamed down and civilized. Yes, she tried. I remember one evening about midnight, I was outside the house in town, talking with three young ladies. Now, I admit we weren’t talking about any school work, but Jewel didn’t even ask. She came out with a broom and went to chasing those girls around calling them young hussies. Then she grabbed me by the ear saying, you are way too young to be seeing those type of “young ladies.” I didn’t think so, but my ear needed saving, so I followed where she led me; back inside the house.

Jewel loved to cook, and we always had plenty to eat from the farm and vegetables from our big garden. Jewel loved all of us as if we were her own. My mom loved Jewel too. She knew Jewel would do all she could to look after us.

Later, when I was in jail, each week, no matter what kind of weather, Jewel used to walk to come see me on visiting day. Like her mother, Maw-Maw Jaybird, and so many others, Jewel was a big part of my life. Her laughter, her innocence, and her incredible will power made a big difference in teaching me about life. No matter what, Jewel was always willing to believe in me. She never let what the government or police said ever sway her. I remember, she always said, “I believe in you because I know you and your heart.”

~ ~ ~

My dad most loved raising hunting dogs which he kept at Maw Maw’s homeplace. We had all types, and we worked together to train them to be their best. Mostly he had 18-inch and 24-inch beagles, but also, he had blue tick, redbone, walker and feist. Now, the beagles we trained for rabbit, squirrel, and deer. The blue tick and walker we trained for deer and raccoons. The redbone and feist, mostly for squirrels. I never helped him train dogs for hunting birds, though. When I was very small I had a dream about the birds who were led by the eagle. In my dream I was told they would always be my helpers; they would protect and teach me, but I must never hurt a bird or eat any of its flesh. As long as I listened to them and honored them, they would always be my helpers. To this day I have kept that covenant.

Mostly we trained the hunting dogs during the spring, starting them as pups, and then later during the hunting season. When training dogs, it is important to always make sure you get the pups to understand what you want then to do or what to hunt for. Usually we used an older dog to help them along when we worked them.

When Dad had a serious buyer for some of his young dogs, he would usually take them along on a hunt to see how they performed. I remember one time when I was about ten, we had some young coon dogs my dad was selling to some people out of state. We took the dogs out at night to show the buyers what they could do. My uncles, Ellie and Curly came with us to hunt coon on my Great Uncle Oscar’s and Great Aunt Leathee’s place in Blount county. Uncle Oscar went with us too. We hadn’t turned the dogs loose more than five minutes when Blue, our old lead dog, caught a scent and bawled out and we sent the other young dogs to him. After a good run and hunt, the old boar coon had made it to the river and was in a tree out over the river. The dogs were in a frenzy, and the buyers were very happy.

My uncle Ellie told me, “Go up that there tree and shake that coon out.” I looked at my dad and he nodded for me to do just that. So up that tree I went like a squirrel. The coon just kept getting farther and farther out over the river on that limb. I started shaking the limb and then stomping on it with my feet. That old boar got tired of that and he came at me like a true warrior. He jumped straight at me and we went to fighting. Out of the tree I fell with coon biting and clawing me right into the river and the dogs just going crazy. The dogs jumped in the water and started biting my clothes and pulling me in all directions while the coon sat on my head hissing at the dogs and scratching my head with his claws.  I went under to get the coon and the dogs to let go. The coon did and swam away, but the dogs didn’t. They had me stretched out in every direction.

I could hear my uncles encouraging, calling the dogs to hang on and my dad hollering, “Don’t let the coon get away!” The buyers were all laughing, and I was just trying to keep from hurting any of the dogs and not get them drowned.  Finally, I pulled all the dogs under with me and went to the bottom. Most of the dogs let go except old Blue. He had his teeth locked into my shirt, so I surfaced and pulled him to shore with me.

Soon as the dogs spotted me, here they came again. I had had enough of this, so I let out a real loud panther scream. That stopped them dead in their tracks and they went to whimpering. Most folks don’t know this anymore, but a panther’s scream is quite awesome, and will send chills up grown folk’s spines even. 

Old Blue went limp. So, I had to help him. Everybody was busy gathering the dogs up and all laughing, not even knowing poor old Blue was half drowned. I blew my breath slowly into his nose and began pushing on his stomach to get the water out. Kept this up for a minute or two till he puked up all the water he had swallowed. He laid there all tuckered out for a few minutes, getting his breath back before he got up and began walking around. My dad came over and asked me was I okay. Told him I’m alright, just these clothes are pretty tore up and soaked. He laughed and said, “Hey it was a good fight; I knew you could take him, I just didn’t think the dogs would take his side and jump on you too.” He was laughing and so were my uncles. The buyers bought all the dogs except old Blue. He wasn’t for sale.

Dad always made sure I learned as much as I could about living off the land. He taught me how to hunt; how to use a rifle, shotgun, and pistol; how to respect these weapons; to carry and handle them carefully.  He also taught me about fishing, farming, preparing meats, preserving meats and vegetables and many other skills. He loved baseball and understood the intrigues of the game and from the time I very young he was teaching me to pitch like a pro. We listened to games at night on the radio and the play by play descriptions given by the announcer. My dad really wanted me to become a professional player, but that was never my goal.

My dad was proud that he was Native, but kept it hidden from anyone outside of family. Like all my relatives, he told me we were not supposed to still be alive and living here; that it was illegal for a Native to work or own property, so they all kept it quiet. As I got older and more vocal, he tried very hard to keep me quiet. He was frightened and always told me what they would do to me, but I was hardheaded and determined to make it known who and what I was. I would surely be tested for this and would pay dearly. I wish I could hug my dad and tell him I love him.

%d bloggers like this: