Grandmother’s Country

The Bull was taking his time, speaking a few words and then staring across the fire in long silence.

The smoke was terrible, but the old man did not seem to mind it. His granite countenance gave nothing away. Some of soldiers said it was Sitting Bull himself who killed Custer, but Maclester chalked that up to garrison malarkey. Nobody had survived that jackpot to tell the tale. Nobody white, anyway.

Maclester shifted his weight to ease the strain of sitting cross-legged for so long. He glanced at the Candanians and immediately felt better. The older Mountie was groaning while the younger one made faces like somebody was crushing his balls.

The intepreter turned to Maclester. “He says the buffalo are gone, and that the Mounties can no longer feed his people.”

“Tell him,” said Maclester, “if they come back to the United States there will be food enough for all of them.”

Dear God, he thought, let that be true for once.

What Pegman Saw: Sakatchewan

On July 10, 1881, more than five years after the fateful battle at the Little Big Horn, the great chief led his last surviving followers from their Canadian refuge to the United States. After a period of confinement, Sitting Bull was assigned to the Standing Rock reservation in South Dakota in 1883. Seven years later he was dead, killed by Indian police when he resisted their attempt to arrest him for his supposed participation in the Ghost Dance uprising.

12 thoughts on “Grandmother’s Country

  1. A great snippet of history there, Josh. Once saw a – supposed- Ghost Dance shirt for sale in an antique shop. Sadly, we didn’t have nearly enough money to buy it. A tragic slice of history

  2. I questioned the use of “Jackpot,” but my understanding it that it was cowboy slang for being in a tough spot.

    I found this citation from 1904,

    C. A. Boose, “letter”, in The Railway Conductor, volume XXI:

    “and if you are not next to the ways and customs, the first thing you know you are in a jackpot so big four one spots would not be openers. I don’t know what that last expression means, but I heard a fellow use it, and he was talking about a fellow that was in a very bad fix.”

  3. I didn’t realise Sitting Bull spent that time in Canada. Seems the Indians were doomed no matter where they ended up. Nice take on the story.

  4. I liked the sense of weariness you brought into the tale. As much as the indigenous people resisted, they were gradually worn down into conceding their homeland.

  5. I had no idea about this bit of history either! You’ve brought it to life beautifully. My favorite part is the subtext and voice in this passage: “Some of soldiers said it was Sitting Bull himself who killed Custer, but Maclester chalked that up to garrison malarkey. Nobody had survived that jackpot to tell the tale. Nobody white, anyway.”

  6. Interesting bit of history, The details you imagine really bring out the discomfort of negotiations like this, both physical and interpersonal. I can see how people not used to sitting cross-legged would have a problem with it, especially if their pants are too tight!

  7. Dear Josh,

    Thank you for putting a face and feeling to yet another obscure bit of history. Well done.

    Shalom,

    Rochelle

    PS I sit cross-legged a lot…even in chairs. I’m sure I’m a sight at restaurants. ;)

  8. Not the happiest period of white man’s history. If we weren’t wiping out indigenous populations, we were taking them into slavery. Ah, but Rome had done it all before us. Just watch us follow in Rome’s footsteps.

  9. Your Sitting Bull is very dignified, by contrast with the white men who are fidgeting and distracted. We treated Native Americans scandalously badly. I was glad to read in Wikipedia that Saskatchewan has been working to make meaningful reparations to the First Nations.

Don't just stand there.