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Chapter XXIII My Marriage

IN the crowd at the race-track was Colonel Clayton, commanding officer of Fort Gibson. He wanted to see the boy and the queer-looking animal that had won the race against some of the best horses in the southwest, so I was introduced to him.

After I had told him something of my life, he induced me to go with him to his house at the post Here he told me of the advantages which would come to me and the service I might render by connecting myself with the army. But just then I had far more important business on hand. Promising the officer to return and enlist, I went back to Muskogee to find that my people had gone. They had packed up the booty won on Buckskin, and headed westward.

It was several days before I located them. I found their camp at night and they were having a feast celebrating my little broncho's victory.

They were overjoyed at my safe return. They thought I had been arrested, when they saw me start to Fort Gibson with the officer, and not knowing how to find me or to give me help, had hastily decamped.

While they sang a song in my honour, I looked for Nacoomee. She was taking no part in the festivities.

I found she was in her father’s tepee, and before it a Mexican was sitting.

I gave him a quick glance of contempt, then grabbed his scalp-lock and jerked it fiercely. Like the coyote that he was, he sneaked into the darkness.

“Ee-e-mah, Nacoomee!” I called.

She came and followed me to the feast

The next day I lost no time in giving her father the costliest trophies I had won in the race. They won. Nacoomee was mine.

I was ready. Gose at hand stood a mule with a large pack on his back, and Buckskin and another horse beside him.

Nacoomee and I mounted and started on the old trail marked out by the first man and woman—a trail just wide enough for us two. According to the custom of the tribe, we needed no wedding ceremony.

That evening we stopped in a sequestered spot beside a little stream. We were in an unfriendly part of the country, but we gave the matter little thought The future was held captive in the now. The present was all.

My bride pitched our tepee. When she was busy within, I went to loosen the rawhide ropes that bound our food-pack to the mule.

Nacoomee called to me.

“What are you doing, Tahan?”

She ran to me and pushed me away.

“Have you forgotten so soon you have a wife to do that?” she pouted.

Confused, I replied somewhat sheepishly,

“There's no one but you to see me do it”

She burst into a ripple of teasing laughter.

I took my gun and scouted around our camp.

In a short time I came back with a fat young buck on my shoulders.

I skinned it and Nacoomee helped me cut up the meat.

She chattered gaily as she worked.

“I am glad you got this fresh meat, Tahan. The tenderest piece we shall give to the Spirit of the place. I am sure it will please better than the dried meat we brought.”

I gave her the piece.

She laid it carefully aside, and went to look for the sticks to hold it. She chose three about the size of my wrist, and cut them some longer than my length. Tying their tops together, she fixed the meat on them and set it up at the back of the tepee.

This was our offering to make the Life of the place our friend.

Her sacrifice was a string of beads placed on a little bush beside the brook.

Mine was a beautiful buckskin bag filled with tobacco. After I had scattered part of the contents to the Four Ways, I laid the bag on a stone on the hillside. I chose this spot because the stone was shaped like a bear.

The days that followed were dream days.

Birds, like flowers made alive by the breath of the prairie, darted about in the sunshine and among the yellowing leaves; or swung in the tops of the tall cottonwoods to sing their feast-songs and chirrup to us their welcome from the Everywhere.

Great eagles stretched their arms and swam in the blue, far overhead.

And over all came floating now and then a snow-white feather-cloud from the Spirit of Peace.

The nights came and brought cool breezes, but no darkness.

Owls called and answered one another in stately voice through the starlight. Our brother-wolves sat on the hills and sang us their night-songs. The horses cropped the rich pasture. And all was contentment.

Each day I left Nacoomee alone with her bead-work, while I scoured the prairie to see what food it held for us.

Afoot, one day, I wounded an antelope. It gave me a weary chase before I downed it, and it was no light burden to carry homeward.

I was late, but the fire burned bright in the tepee, and savoury odours met me.

Over the coals hung broiling meat on the skewers, and in the ashes yam-like roots were roasting.

The roots Nacoomee had found on the flat near the creek.

How good that supper tasted, as we sat on the robes and ate it in the bright light of our tepee fire.

So—came and went away again and again the nights with their voices and their stars and their thin-bent moon in the west

We changed camp many times—just to be doing it, seemingly. But often I believed it was because of some dream or some warning of bird or of beast that had come to Nacoomee.

For it was in the constant presence of Intelligent Life we were living, and to us everything around us was interested in our welfare.

One day, while on the move with all our belongings, we idled about on the prairie. Our shadows began to grow long before we thought of a camping-place. But we found one not far away.

It was beside a little stream of sweet water, where grew good grass and tall trees.

When the tepee was pitched and the horses hobbled, I stepped across the little stream and stood listening to the whisperings in the tree-tops.

From the other edge of the stream spoke Nacoomee: “How pleasant this place is! Always and always I could stay here.”

“Every place is pleasant,” I replied. “Come to this side.”

I stretched out my hand toward her. She took it but did not cross. Her face was bent down towards the water.

“Look!” she exclaimed joyfully, “both of our faces are there close to a flower. It must mean that always and always we shall be together.”

She had hardly finished speaking. A brown and withered leaf floated down between us, fell into the ripple, and drifted away.

With a startled look on her face, Nacoomee raised her eyes to mine. Our hands fell apart.

A squirrel whisked up a nearby tree, where he sat chattering.

A red bird—like a spray of blood—dashed out of the bushes with a plaintive cry.

I leaped across the stream. Silently, and together, we hurried to the tepee.

Something, we both knew, had startled the wild things.

I took up my gun.

A short distance up the stream, a trail crossed it. I went cautiously towards it, until I saw coming a small party of warriors. At first I took them for enemies, but I soon learned they were of our own people—the Estizeddelebe—and were headed for Zakatoh’s camp.

Back in the tepee I found my woman waiting—her gaiety changed to sadness. I asked her nothing. She told me nothing.

So I can only guess at the message the brown leaf brought to Nacoomee.

She asked to go back to Zakatoh’s camp. We went bade the next day.

In the winter that followed the white hunters had a big buffalo kill.

We came upon the signs of it—a wide, level stretch of prairie covered with the bones.

We could have walked across the littered space, almost without setting foot on the bare ground.

The white men wanted only the skins. They left the meat for the wolves.

This made us feel much as cattlemen would have felt if their herds had been treated in this way.

And this was not the only slaughter-ground we came upon that winter.

This caused much serious talk among our people.

If such work went on, we knew that starvation lay in wait for us. Even then, at times, our meat-poles were bare for days.

That winter and another passed.

Our lodges became fewer and fewer in number. By ones and by twos and by families our people went away and did not come back.

The prairies were empty of game. Not even a jackrabbif could be found. And the children cried from hunger.

Came the First Green Grass. And one day I came into camp with a lean antelope behind my saddle.

I dismounted in front of my tepee. The flap was closed, and two sticks were crossed before it. This meant I must not enter.

No one ever thought of going into a tepee if crossed sticks were before the door.

As I stood deep in thought, a woman passed me.

She didn't speak. She simply looked at me. But I knew from the look why the sticks were crossed before my door.

I went a little way off to cut up the antelope meat. But my eyes didn’t leave the sticks very long at a time.

Not until the next day were they taken away.

Then I entered my tepee.

Nacoomee was sitting on a robe, with a limp little creature in her arms.

I made the fire brighter so I could see it better. And I looked at it a long time.

Nacoomee broke the silence.

“Is he not wonderful, Tahan?” she exclaimed joyously.

“He is wonderful,” I agreed, “the most wonderful child in all the world!”

A little later while I was broiling strips of the antelope meat, Nacoomee suddenly cried out:

“Oh! now I have it! His name shall be Tapah-yeete.”

So our child was given his name—Big Boy Antelope.

I had often thought of the promise I had made Colonel Clayton to return to Fort Gibson. I felt the time had come for me to keep it. But it was not until the leaves began to fall that I started, with my little family, in the direction of the fort.

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