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Saturday, February 26, 2011


Magnificent mountain. It is the mountain you see at the far end of town driving through Sparta on 21 going from Twin Oaks toward Cherry Lane. It is the landmark of SE Alleghany County. Many years ago with Don Smith I walked deer trails along Bullhead's ridge from the Parkway on out to the second peak. It was a great deal longer walk than we'd anticipated. First and only real problem was we didn't think to take water. On our other walks we always came up on springs and creeks. No springs along the ridge of the mountain. There was a period of time when it got to us pretty bad, but we chose to walk on. It's a long ways there and it's a long ways back. Either way, we're thirsty all the way. We chose to get used to it and we did. Remembering the walk, the thirst isn't even involved in the memory except remembering it for itself. Walking Bullhead's deer trails was a kind of happiness in itself. The trees on top of the peak that rises above Hwy 21 are broken and twisted by the wind current through there. Big tree trunks with shattered edges. Not a lot, just a few. All the trees lean with the wind, so it looks like the wind is blowing up there when it's not, like the flag on the moon.
Several generations back a man named Woodruff owned Bullhead Mountain. The story I got from his granddaughter was that he found the skulls of 2 bulls with long horns locked together where they'd died. They had long horns in that time. Everything was very different from how it is now. Better or worse is not the issue, too relative. Also, a Lakota Indian working with the US Army named Bullhead was sent with another Indian Red Tomahawk to arrest Sitting Bull from the cabin his family was staying in outside the fort. They meant to take him in and kill him like they did Crazy Horse, a bayonet in the back, but one of the Indians in the settlement shot Bullhead, who pulled the trigger in reaction on his gun pointed at Sitting Bull's heart. Red Tomahawk shot Sitting Bull in the back of the head simultaneously. A few days before, a meadowlark had told him some of his own people would kill him. He must have fallen like holding a towel up by one corner and letting go.
It's all bad enough as it is, but immediately after killing the man of the house, a man with a box camera comes along and lines up Sitting Bull's wife and daughters along the side of the cabin, after soldiers killed Sitting Bull's boy who was 14, immediately after they'd killed Sitting Bull. Mayhem, gunshots, Sitting Bull dead, the boy killed and the women lined up to be photographed. Their picture haunts my mind, the blank far-away look the Indians gave the white man, refusal to make eye contact. The absence of emotion in their faces and eyes looks like they could have been photographed by somebody getting pictures of Indian families. Learning from biography and history the story behind the moment the picture was taken, I get a creepy feeling when I see it. I know the grief, the fear, the immensity of their sorrow, alone, helpless in the hands of the white Army that killed their way of life and nearly everyone they knew. They'd been on the run for years in Montana and Canada, getting through cold winters with little provisions and heat. They surely imagined next thing after the picture taking would be a firing squad.
Sitting Bull's name in his language was Tatanka Iyotake. His great-grandson, Ernie LaPointe, is the grandson of Sitting Bull's daughter, Standing Holy, by his wife, Seen By Her Nation, the two women on the right side of the picture. The other two are Sitting Bull's second wife, sister to his other wife, Four Robes, and their daughter Lodge In Sight. They are the picture of hopeless desperation, lined up to get their pictures taken by people who thought nothing and cared nothing for their humanity. Ernie LaPointe wrote his stories he'd been told down through the generations in the family of Sitting Bull's life. It's called SITTING BULL: His Life And Legacy. I had the good fortune to hear him talk on a Sunday afternoon NPR radio program On Being. This show has a website and the piece about Ernie LaPointe is in the easy access archives, if it's of any interest to you.

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