Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Bones Untangled

There is a story I might tell, a yarn perhaps, a legend some say. It is about the day two became one and how the heat of burning truth set a field ablaze from that day forward.

In the spring of 1868, Henry Flockheart, his wife Amanda, son Christopher and daughter Brie were busy in their homestead’s fields, tearing at the northern Nebraska sod so as to make furrows in which to plant a saleable crop of corn. Proud they’d survived the harsh winter and re-energized by longer days and warmer nights, the family bent to their task with a cheerful determination rarely seen in the faces of true pioneers.

A year earlier Henry had been an importer, a Bostonian businessman, fairly well-heeled and quite comfortable within his particular layer of New England’s social strata. And then he’d discovered his partner had embezzled the entirety of the company’s wealth and vanished into the jungles of South America. An honorable man, Henry had sold everything he owned in order to satisfy his debts, right down to his bifocals and straight razor. It was only happenstance that he should spot a notice printed above the fold of the Boston Globe, a newspaper he’d never bothered to read. As he was passing a newsstand located on Drake Street, the day’s paper seemed to call out its header. “Unlucky Breaks? Need a New Start? Land for the asking!”

It had been Brie’s dream originally, to live deep within the country, or the Wild West she’d read about. She loved the outdoors, had learned what a child could of the science of plant biology and propagation procedures and before she’d reached the age of 13 she’d created a middling forest of terra cotta potted plants in the Flockheart den.

Mrs. Flockheart was a librarian, and at the request of her husband had gathered a mountain of books written on agriculture, wilderness survival and home construction; all skills the family would need if they were to attempt a complete change of direction. Henry and Amanda had met while racing sailboats off the shoals of Nantucket Island, adventure was in their blood; and while they’d not have wished themselves into their predicament, it seemed almost a sign from God that they should tear free of the past and create a new legacy. Their children would learn the value of keeping an open and powerful imagination, the skill of seeing opportunity in even those things that seem impossible.

In the beginning the group was daily fighting off the weight of discouragement. Growing accustomed to transportation by covered wagon and practicing the care and feeding of livestock were easy enough cultural adjustments. But going days without bathing in the dust and scorch, fending off black flies and mosquitoes, laboring through sickness and oppressive weather and rationing foodstuffs and drinking water made their march westward seem a fool’s errand most often.

But all that was behind them now. They’d suffered the trek, claimed their parcel and had arrived well before winter. The land they’d been granted was barren in part, save the tall foxtail and sedge of the Nebraska plains. But one boundary of their hundred acres was marked by the river Brule, and within the shadow of its flow grew hundreds of elm and oak, poplar and buckeye. And so with plenty of building material at hand, the house was begun and one room made weather tight before the snows and westerly winds howled out of the Rocky Mountains and buried the central grasslands.

A long day was spent by all four Flockhearts that late April. The earth was still veined with thin layers of ice just below the surface, it was early yet but only by a few days. Henry thought the weather too spectacular to miss a chance to plant slightly ahead of schedule, to not risk being rained out of the fields on the day when a book said it was “the right moment”.

As the family gathered at the crest of a small hill between four fields and turned to walk home while arm in arm, they said a prayer of thanks, grateful that they’d been blessed with another chance at success.

An arrow through Henry’s throat stopped the prayer before it had been finished. The group had no weapons. At the age of 11, Christopher had barely begun learning about the art of fisticuffs. Though Amanda had absorbed a great deal of the printed information she’d pulled together dealing with survival and defense, the sight of her husband dropping to the ground, his life’s blood showering their two children, his eyes wide and vacant, made her forget every word she’d read. The mother rushed her attackers, screaming sailor’s curse, and was wrestled to the ground by three Sioux men who had now dismounted and moved toward the group.

All three were dragged downhill to the edge of a swamp where atrocities were committed too foul to recount here. Their bodies, and Henry’s as well were mutilated beyond recognition and left in the shallow waters to rot along with the vegetation.

In the summer of 1872, a Lakota warrior named Redhawk stopped alongside a small Nebraska watershed, giving his wife Migizi, his son Hek-ta-ena and his daughter Silver Feather a chance to dismount and rest near the cool, stagnant pool. It had been a good day. He’d seen no soldiers in nearly a week’s time, the mountains he longed for were only another week to the sunset. It would be good to be home in the sacred Black Hills. It would be safe there, he could stop running and his family could exist in a shallow peace.

Surely it would only be a matter of time before the whites covered the dark green hills, infecting every inch of land between the two great mountain ranges. The Lakota were already being slaughtered, and those who were captured or surrendered were being shipped to small parcels of worthless ground, to be fenced like cattle, left to starve, left to bleed out broken hearts.

But for this moment, Redhawk was free and would do as he pleased. His children would be fed, his woman would be warmed and his spirit would fly as foretold in his naming. All this would be true so long as he had one breath left within his chest. The clan of Redhawk would never be slaves to white man’s greed.

He never heard the shot that killed him; the rifle was too powerful, the aim too true, the sniper too far off. Within the hour the mate and offspring of the great Lakota Redhawk were captured and killed, their mangled, bloodied bodies tossed into the pond where they’d stopped to simply catch their breath in the midst of a long journey.

When the Redhawk clan and the Flockhearts met above the brackish waters, their bones entangled, their souls adrift, no words were needed to understand that they were kindred. They were two families, men brave and generous, women dedicated and strong, children honest and respectful. They were free spirits, in search of simple lives, hoping to be left in peace and offering the same in return. They were wary, but harbored no hatred; they wanted little, took less and gave back more. And yet through the ignorance of their fellow animals, they were executed for no more a crime than existence.

They understood that it was neither the white or red man to blame for their demise, but the fool; That the shadow of man’s inhumanity crossed all nationalities, all races, all genders. And they knew that there is no more unbelievable sorrow, than is seen in the blood of children being shed without remorse, always without reason, forever without conscience.

It is said that the waters of a certain small Nebraska wetland run red in the spring and summer, that the blood of the world’s innocent children rises through the stems of cattail and rush, sage and scrub, trying to escape the liquid grave in which it was poured; trying to rise above the evil that conspires to extinguish the very soul of mankind. It’s rumored that the wind whispers through the grass and seed fluff of Flockheart swamp, and if one listens very closely, one will hear voices speaking in both English and Lakota. “May the fire burn bright until every man understands the horror. May we live to see the day that the well runs dry.”

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