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Page 8

The people of the camp were rapidly gathering in the arena where the game was to be held. There was no changing of clothing. No special uniforms were needed for the game. The women played in their long dresses. The men wore their every day garb.

At this particular time, the leaders had chosen to admonish and teach the people through prayer.

"Great Spirit," Sam began as he looked toward the sky. "Great Spirit, Wah-Kahn-Dah.” He repeated. “Please. We plead. Please, look upon us now."

The strong pleading voice of prayer was marked by the use of the language of the chief. It was a more complete language with “jaw breaker” words. The folks laughed when they described this vocabulary. However, there was no laughter now. The crowd  was quiet and respectful as Sam prayed.

“Wah-Kahn-Dah, you have brought us through these many trials on our trip from the north. Many of us died and we buried our children, our brothers, our fathers, and our own mothers on the trail on our way to this place. Today, those of us who remain want to thank you in prayer. I am honored my people have asked me to speak to you for them. I am thankful they have trusted me to do so. It is at this time I must humble myself before you, Wah-Kahn-Dah. These many days and months are becoming years and yet, we are struggling to be exemplary among your creations. We want to do the things that will allow us to live without giving up the teachings as close to us as our own mother.”

“There are so many things today, hard for us to accept. Even this part about calling certain ones, “Chief.”  We never saw to it to set ourselves apart, one from the other, as these others do. We never called ourselves Chief, or President or King.”

“We that could cradle our people as a father was never far from them. People of our clans came to elders with their troubles. We cried with our family when they lost one of their own. We fought together, side by side, and we placed ourselves under your awesome power as a mediator for them. Never did we call ourselves "Chief." If we had any extra strength, then we were thankful to you, Wah-Kahn-Dah, and shared it with those we loved."

"Today, as I stand before you, Wah-Kahn-Dah, in the midst of my own. Let it be known I have signed away and have relinquished thousands of acres of land that was our mother to us. I had no choice but to sign the papers. In return, these warm lands were given to us. Few the acres, small the space, cramped it is. There are no sacred, mighty hills here to be able to come closer to you. There is no place to hide from our enemies. We are constantly and boldly watched by those who gaze upon us with rudeness in curiosity. We endeavor to continue living.

Respectfully, Sam's voice raised and lowered in his pleading cry to his maker and the modulation of it held everyone's attention. At places they would respond with their agreement and a soft spoken, "Ah."

"Let it be remembered," Sam continued, "I never wished to be called by this title the whites use, that of "Chief." I have a name, and it means something to me. Everyday, I come to you, Wah-Kahn-Dah, in a fearful way. I fear that I might step aside from the straight path you wish me to keep. I fear, in doing so, I cannot open my mind to you. I do not want a crooked path to rise up before me. This, I do not want to happen. My responsibility to my people to keep a clear mind I accept. I have a name, OO-Hah-Shingah, and I wish to be called by that name, not by a word, "Chief," which means nothing to me."

"We have worries, Great Spirit, Wah-Kahn-Dah. Even as I speak to you, in the hearts of our young women rests the desire to mix with the white men who live around us. I am afraid for this to happen. How will their children be raised? Will they be taught our ways? How can this be so, when their father is a white man. Will their mother be happy with a child that loses respect for her own?"

So, on and on went the long prayer.  It was to gently admonish, praise, teach and at the same time entreat his creator. Little could he know the outcome of these, his people, since his life was to be soon over. He could not see the future completely. His intuition told him there they would be a great intermarriage and it would weaken many things about the tribe. Still, he wouldn't know either what an imprint  their ways were to make on the white society. Many of their customs would be admired and used by the world around them. Even as the women married into the white race, the strength of the woman's traditions were not lost.  Instead, the white male who married her often was united with the tribe's ways.

Sam at the moment was simply worried the Anglos would never understand or respect their beliefs. He didn't know then, that the children of these mixed marriages would learn of the ways. This understanding caused them to retire in peaceful admiration of their ancestor's strengths.

Usually, these mixed blood children would not live according to the old ways.  The stronger of the Christian men taught the children their faith. Still, there was respect for the orderliness of the old ways.

Ending the accepted lengthy prayer, Sam called out, "On with the game!”

The people were in high spirits as they chose up sides to play.

"Now the women dashed back and forth.  Their sticks flailed  at the ball. The women's skirts were swinging freely about them as they played. There were the young women and the older ones. The grace of the young women and the smoothness of their movement was complimented by their clothing. Equally, the older women did not let the dress hamper their participation. The older women were not to be underestimated as they could whack a young man with their shinney stick to the delight and uproarious laughter of the on lookers. Men, young men, women and young women all played together.

The fact that the Poncas had been weavers made it easy to adapt to the wearing of the cloth dresses instead of their buckskin dresses which had served them in their colder, northern, Nebraska home.  The every day dress they now wore was one with a blouse having a band sewn around the bottom.  The fabric of the skirt was gathered around their waist.  The gathered skirt fit up under the blouse band. This new fabric was a more comfortable garb than the buckskin. Oklahoma warm country was not as cold as the Nebraska weather and they needed the cooler, cotton material. At this time, even though the dress was fuller in the skirt, the light weight fabric was better for the heated activity of this sport.

The game picked up in a fervor as they played on until dusk forced them to stop. The players stood about visiting and resting until the dark was so dense a path back to the camp could hardly be seen. Finding their way by focusing on the light Esther had placed on the table was what they did. By keeping their eyes on the flickering flame of the kerosene lantern they were able to make it to their own camp.

"Is there some fry bread left?" Creth and Fannie were coming into the circle of light the lantern cast.

"In the wagon, on top of the dishes, in that bundle," Annie told her sister.

Sam was busy with hooking up the horses to the wagon. They tossed their heads and the harnesses rattled, making a jingling sound. The animals stamped at the ground with their large heavy hooves and that made a soft clomp, clopping sound. Others returning from the arena were visiting in the dark and their quiet laughter and voices told the girls this was the ending of a pleasant day.

"Lizzie and David are asleep on the pallet I made for them in the bottom of the wagon."  Esther warned the girls as they started to climb into the wagon to keep their voices down so as not to wake the children.

The wagon moved slowly away from the campground. In a   little while the girls were asleep too. They slept soundly and only woke when their mother shook their feet to tell them they were home. That morning before they left Esther had seen to having tubs of water filled and left to heat in the sun.  Now,  the young women headed toward those tubs of what they knew would be warm water. Quickly they bathed, even shivering a bit in the coolness of the night. Crawling into clean beds their bodies were lent to relaxing one final time for the night.

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