Montana Sky

by Rick Beck

Chapter 8

Spirit Moves You

Before Taz reached the top of the hill he heard the war whoops and yells. He stopped at the top to watch a band of seemingly wild Indians charging down on the shack a hundred yards below the ridge. The cowboys sat watching the entertainment, ready to move in if there was any serious resistance.

Before the Indians reached the shack, five men scattered in all directions, looking a bit like cockroaches reacting to the kitchen light being turned on. Without horses they didn't get far. Taz was feeling amused until he spotted the man who hit him with the wire cutters. Without so much as an 'excuse me' or a 'by your leave,' he charged down the hill toward the running man with whom he had a score to settle.

With an Indian on either side of him, trying to corral him, Taz rode between them, throwing his body off Cyclone and onto the back of the rustler, riding him to the ground before he could take another step.

It took a second for Taz to regain his senses and he found a fist in his face as he stood up to face the man, wanting him to see who he was and why he was there. In a few seconds, after a half dozen punches, Taz had him on the ground as he punched the man senseless.

"Taz, we don't beat prisoners in my army," the general said as he sat above the two men. "Besides, he only out-weighs you by forty pounds. It hardly seems fair."

The general was amused by the mismatch and Taz's ferocity.

"He ain't no prisoner 'til I'm done with his ass. He's the one that gave me this," Taz said, pointing at the bandage on his head.

"One more punch, Taz, and let him up," the General agreed. "We want something to turn over to the sheriff."

"Yes, sir," Taz grunted, taking one more very good punch at the man's chin.

"You do take your job seriously," the general said, admiring Taz's spirit.

"Yes, sir," Taz said, picking up his hat and dropping it back on his head. "I feel better now. Sorry I let them get away with your cows."

"All's well that ends well, son. Now we'll find out where these birds come from and pay a visit to the brains behind this operation. I want to take a punch at him."

Within the hour they'd delivered the rustlers to the nearby highway, where the truck driver was already in the hands of the sheriff. At the same time the cattle were being driven back onto the mesa, the fence was repaired, and Taz went down to the house to have a local doctor drop by to look at the damage done to his head.

The verdict was light duty for a week, and if he had recurring headaches or dizziness he should go to the hospital.

There was dinner at the house, with twenty men eating and two cooks cooking. It was a bit on the noisy side, and there were no bashful cowboys at the general's table. It had been a good day's work and a good meal was in order.

While Taz enjoyed the food and didn't mind the company or the doctor prodding him, there was something else on his mind. It began as something indefinite, as he took the ride back to the mesa for a good night's sleep after a rough day.

He found himself amused by his thoughts of Jeremy. Taz hadn't laughed in a long time but his thoughts of Jeremy made him smile. The meeting was a bit unclear but the guy had taken him in and made sure he was okay.

He was no drugstore Indian, but what was he? Why would a psychiatrist choose to go sleep out in a teepee for vacation? Most things that didn't concern Taz, he left alone, but for some reason this was different. Jeremy was different. He seemed like a nice guy.

The following morning, after sleeping long past dawn, he rode out toward the Indian encampment, having a yearning for some dried venison and some conversation.

" Good Morning," Jeremy said, as he watched Taz's horse mosey up to his teepee. "Come on in. The coffee's fresh. I sure do miss my electric coffee maker though. Don't know where Indians learned to make coffee, but it leaves something to be desired, and not a donut shop in sight."

" I've got a coffee grinder at the shack. I grind beans the general brings me. I should have brought it along."

Taz kicked one leg up over the saddle horn and slid off the saddle onto the ground. The horse moved only slightly, having become accustomed to Taz's unorthodox horsemanship. Cyclone immediately went to work on the grass beside the teepee.

"I figured you'd be back," Jeremy said, pouring a rounded metal cup full of coffee. "Black, right?"

"Yeah, it's cool this morning. This'll taste good. I didn't bother to fix a pot. I was a little late getting going. Decided I'd come over and see how my neighbors were doing this morning."

"Looks like a nice day brewing," Jeremy said in his best English. "Glad the rain stopped. Everything is soggy."

"Yeah, don't you get cold dressed like that?" Taz asked, considering the thin leggings and shirt Jeremy wore.

"I've been sitting by the fire. I was warmed by it. The air outdoors is refreshing. I don't feel the cold so much. Most mornings I get up and have breakfast and get in my car to drive to work. I feel the cold a lot more then, but not out here. It's part of where I am and the idea I'm merely in it. There is no cold or heat. You are. It is."

"You have a romantic notion about it all, but what are you doing standing out here if you can sit next to a nice fire?"

"I came out to meet you."

"You couldn't have heard us. It's all grass the way we came."

"No, it isn't about hearing. I was waiting for you to return. When I went out, there you were. It's part of this place. When a person is near, I feel the change they create."

"I didn't even know I'd be coming back, until this morning," Taz explained.

" You didn't think about it until this morning and I knew you'd return before you left. Curiosity isn't easy to satisfy from a distance. You have questions and I recognize your search for identity. You are direct and uncomplicated, and I'm a shrink."

" In other words I got an itch needs scratching?" Taz said.

" Exactly. My English isn't as good as yours. Once you've been to college, using more words where fewer words will do is expected."

" You're a comedian. I didn't finish high school and even when I went I wasn't there," Taz revealed.

" No, perhaps not, but intelligence isn't taught from a book. Facts and figures come from books. I can tell you about that but about this… there aren't words to describe what you're in search of."

"My curiosity is about why you do this. I know what you said, one drop rule and all that. It doesn't answer the real question. Why come out here to the middle of nowhere if your life is elsewhere? I live here. I work here. That's why I'm here. Why are you out here? I mean really, why are you out here?"

"You'd call it a vacation. We think of it as connecting to who we are as a people. It's a new idea, but there was a risk we'd lose our culture entirely a couple of years ago.

" Even the reservation Indian has little connection with our past, except that we are Indians by virtue of our heritage. It means nothing when you live in a shanty and have no job and no hope.

" My father is a chief, a Shaman. I'm supposed to follow in his footsteps, according to our culture. Well, being a shrink is like being a Shaman, I suppose. Faced with that prospect, this was all going to be lost. The history of Indians ruling the plains for thousands of years would be lost with it. Once you ponder that, you've got to do something about it.

" It's not written in a history book. We had to face extinction or do something to salvage our culture."

" At least you have a culture, a heritage. I got a broken down house, a broken down old man, and nothing to go on."

" Exactly, and you've come home. We were cut off from mother earth, the center of our culture. We haven't been at it all that long but you're welcome to join us. Find your Indian roots and you may find yourself."

" I know where I am," Taz said. "You seem to be the one who has lost his way."

" What we search for isn't found in anything we can have or own. Our search is for meaning and peace."

" I've never lost anything because I never had anything. Maybe if I know how you do what you're doing, I'll figure something out. I probably shouldn't have come back. What you're looking for doesn't exist. I know who I am."

" I'm Jeremy Goodstar, son of Medicine Band. He married a white woman. While it is acceptable, I was half white and unacceptable to my people. It made a life on the reservation difficult. I didn't want to be there.

" I was half the enemy and hate was killing my tribe. I was unwelcome in my own home. My father lost none of his stature but I had none, because I was white skinned."

"But you're half Indian. Your father couldn't reject you."

"To an Indian, until recently, an Indian with white blood was a traitor. I had nothing to do with how my blood got that way. I couldn't come to the reservation without conflict, after I went to live with my mother. My separation from my father had him arguing that our tribe would soon die out if we kept hating our own."

"…And it changed?"

"Yes, it was apparent to those of us out in the world that we were the key not to simply saving our culture but to molding it in a way to help it thrive culturally. We needed to stop clashing with each other over who was Indian enough to be an Indian."

"Fascinating," Taz said. "So I'm not a white man at all? Go figure. I've always looked so… so… white."

"Oh, I wouldn't say that. You're plenty white. Not as white as I am, but white. You're working from a disadvantage though," Jeremy revealed.

"Because I don't know anything about being an Indian?"

"No, many of our people have never seen a teepee until they come to rendezvous."

"I'd qualify there. Yesterday was my first teepee," Taz confessed. "I wasn't sure where I was at first."

"You recovered pretty fast. Most men, once knocked senseless, take some time to recover. You wasted no time at all going after those rustlers."

"I was responsible for those cows. I wasn't going to let them get away with that. The general depends on me to do my job."

"I was there. I saw you go after that guy. There is responsibility and then there is responsibility. You tore that dude up."

"He hit me in the head," Taz complained.

"Yes, and he was six two and outweighed you by fifty pounds."

"If you're going to call me short, I'd reconsider," Taz said sternly.

"Most guys would think twice about charging in to tangle with a dude that size."

"I'm not most guys," Taz said.

"No, you're certainly not most guys. You have a keen sense of honor."

"I got a job to do and I do it. Besides, you guys rounded them up. I just jumped on one. The one I owed something to."

"Fighting cowboys never went well for us," Jeremy said.

"You did all right with Custer."

"For that little victory the Cavalry was sent to destroy us. History books say we retired willingly and peaceably to a reservation of our choosing to live happily ever after. It fell a little short of the truth, but it reads nice for the people who stole our land."

"You make it sound like your people couldn't fight," Taz said from a soldier's perspective.

"Geronimo and a few dozen Apache ran 5,000 cavalry soldiers all over the southwest for two years, but what you hear in the white history of that event is he surrendered after being a bad, bad man. He refused to be penned up like an animal, until he realized it was inevitable. Geronimo fought for his people and his land. He fought the people who threatened the life he knew.

"Ira Hays was one of our brothers who helped raise the flag over Iwo Jima, after thousands died taking that island from the Japanese. The Navajo Code Talkers drove the Japanese crazy by using a language never written down to communicate, which made it impossible for the Japanese to decipher allied radio transmissions.

"The Indian has always been a valiant warrior, Taz. We held our own until the odds against us were overwhelming. Then, Chief Joseph said it best, "We will fight no more forever." It was that or eradication. The white eyes didn't care which.

"Mostly we let the white man sucker us out of our land with treaties we couldn't read and didn't understand. We honored them, hoping it would satisfy them, but nothing did. They intended to have our land no matter the cost to the people on it. President Jefferson referred to it as 'Removal' in letters to William Henry Harrison. That was his plan, to remove the Indian to places no one else wanted.

"We met the Pilgrims when they came ashore on the American continent. The Wampanoag showed them how to farm and what to grow. The Pilgrims wouldn't have lasted a second winter without the Indians. We should have turned their asses around and told them they were trespassing. How could we know a hundred illegal aliens would lay claim to the entire continent before it was all over?

"We believed in sharing, helping our neighbor, and we didn't think anyone could own Mother Earth. It was the source of all life and belonged to everyone. How can anyone own the birthright of all men?"

"I never heard that stuff in school," Taz said.

"No, the white man writes history the way he likes to read it. If you consult white history about which war was longest, they'll say the American Revolution, now rivaled by Vietnam, both lasting over eight years.

"The truth is, the longest war began when the Pilgrims slaughtered the Pequot Indians of the Algonquian Confederation, because the Pilgrims needed more land. This was an early 17 th century massacre. In 1890 the cavalry, numbering in the neighborhood of a thousand men, massacred a little over two hundred Lakota men, women, and children at Wounded Knee, thus ending the Indian Wars. "Between the destruction of the Pequot and the massacre of the Lakota at Wounded Knee, the Indian Wars lasted over 250 years. That's America's longest war, no matter how inconvenient the holocaust the white eyes committed against the people who lived here when he arrived is. It doesn't make for good reading if you're white.

"Sorry, Taz, didn't mean to go off like that. What I started to say was in Massachusetts, when the Pilgrims arrived, we were there. We showed them how to survive."

"My grandmother was the only one who ever gave me an even break as a kid. She was Cherokee and I guess that makes me one, but I never thought of it until you said it. I never knew any of that stuff about Indians, or how the white men treated them."

"Being the son of a Shaman, I'm supposed to recruit the vulnerable souls who fall under the one drop rule. It's my job. For that they feed me and make me drink this coffee."

"I'm getting better at making coffee. Come on by my place one morning and try mine, when you're out riding," Taz offered. "I miss Kodak's coffee. He makes good coffee."

"Kodak?" Jeremy inquired.

"Just thinking out loud."

Jeremy nodded and listened, sipping from a cup marked with the words, 'Doctor's In.'

"If you're looking for something, spend a little time with us, and you may find it."

"What I'm looking for I won't find here."

"You seem very sad. Tough, but sad. Sometimes you can be surprised by what you find when you open your mind to the possibilities."

"I suppose," Taz said. "I've already got a lot on my mind."

"Accept my offer of hospitality. We can do you no harm. You may be surprised by the good it might do you."

"My Indian part?"

"No, your spiritual part; your heart. It's peaceful. Listen to what's inside of you instead of expending so much energy on what's outside."

"That's the Indian way?" Taz asked.

"No, that's the psychiatric way. I can't help myself. It's in your voice. It's in your posture. You're in search of something but you move too fast to find the answers you seek. It's a common malady. It's what keeps me in business."

"Yeah, well, I didn't know I was coming back. Maybe I'll hang around for a few days. I'm supposed to avoid being hit in the head for a few days."

"That sounds like good medical advice," Jeremy said.

"Being an Indian is something. I've never been much of anything, until I was a soldier. Being a cowboy is more like how I feel about myself. It suits me."

"Well, we've got to get you something to wear, so you can dress the part of an Indian. My buckskin won't fit you but I'll send Morning Cloud around to see Sally Two Shirt. She's head of our wardrobe department and she keeps us in clean clothes.

"You're just in time for our first sweat lodge this evening. You'll need less to wear for that. You can sleep right where we put you yesterday."

"Sweat lodge?" Taz asked.

"Think of it as a poor man's sauna. We heat the rocks and pour water over them to heat the air. I think of it as a cleansing ceremony. I'm told it can be quite spiritual. Not for me yet, but I have trouble letting go. Medicine Band tells me to keep trying."

"Spiritual? I don't know I'm spiritual."

"A connection to places and people you might not understand; other worldly. They say it is life altering. I wouldn't know."

"What's it do for you?"

"My experience is physical. As spiritual connections go, I can't get there from here. My father says I'm not ready to let go of my white man's ways. My mind is too cluttered. Like yours, it moves too fast for discovery. It's hard to explain."

"I don't get the point," Taz said, wanting to hear more.

"Not easily explained. I'm going by what I'm told. It's invigorating and relaxing if other worldly isn't your bag. You'll feel the cleansing it provides. Try it. You'll like it. I rather enjoy it."

For Taz, being alone in the cabin was fine, but the Indian encampment intrigued him. His grandmother's Cherokee part was part of him. If he was Indian he wanted to know what that meant.

Up until yesterday when he woke up in Jeremy's teepee, his Cherokee part had remained invisible. When you spend your time just surviving as a child, the minor facts and details are lost on you.

Taz had never questioned why his life had gone the way it had. He didn't have time for that either. He took it a day at a time, an hour at a time, one clash at a time, as he grew older, made tougher by the experience of living. As a kid, he also learned when to duck and when to become invisible fast.

He'd never dared to raise a hand to his father, not that he didn't consider it. Life was hard enough for him, creating combat would end in his death or maiming. He had thoughts of taking retribution on his father, but he decided to join the army instead.

He wasn't opposed to the idea of having a better understanding of who he was. He was too young to understand himself as a boy. He was too busy to think about it since leaving home. He didn't know why he was the way he was, and maybe the Indian deal might help him figure it out.

After being a boy, he became a soldier. He volunteered for Vietnam. He had little control other than that, until his sergeant was shot. Then Taz took charge of the 'big rifle' the sergeant brought from World War II.

The rifle was a B.A.R. (Browning Automatic Rifle), and in that rifle Taz found himself for the first time. He finally had an identity. He wasn't a soldier any longer. He had become a cowboy without knowing how it happened.

Settling into his spot inside Jeremy's teepee, Taz didn't feel out of place. He was brought some buckskin. They were a snug fit, but felt nice against his skin. He sat across from Jeremy, eating venison that was brought earlier in the day. Taz enjoyed the flavor of the meat.

" You look comfortable," Jeremy said.

" Oh, I'm fine. The bruise hurts some but nothing major. The doctor said it would be sore for a few days."

" Yes, I'm sure. I meant comfortable as in at home. I can't say I was immediately at home, even after coming home to my people. I'd visited my father often. Coming back home to be Indian felt odd. I'd always been an outsider, and then I wasn't."

" In the army you are put in with guys you don't know all the time. It doesn't bother me. I've never had a home. I've never belonged anywhere. Not until I got here. I belong here, on the general's place. I like being there."

" No, it's not that. You have no resistance to it. It's like you are in search of something and you feel you might locate it here."

" I don't know about that. I am part Indian. It's not something I know anything about. I've got nothing better to do right now. I want to see if it means anything."

" Yes, indeed. Why not?" Jeremy agreed.

Taz enjoyed the venison more the second time. There was bread and coffee, which Jeremy drank liberally. The conversation was uncomplicated and mostly Taz spoke of the mesa, his journey there, and the general's fondness for him.

" That won't be what you want to wear to the sweat lodge. I assume you want to attend. It's the closest thing to ceremony we do out here. We have a wicked rain dance you'd like, but it hasn't stopped raining since we got here. Even Indians know not to do a rain dance in the rain. No challenge in it. We just think about the rain dance and it rains. We are powerful people, but not doing the rain dance means everyone thinks it is just a rainy day."

" You're funny, Jeremy."

" What makes you say that?" Jeremy asked, with an analytical tone in his voice.

Taz laughed pleasantly at his host. It felt good to laugh. It felt good being away from the cabin. He was comfortable.

The loin cloth for the sweat lodge was of similar deerskin construction to the shirt and leggings. It covered only the crotch and was just enough to keep the personal goods out of the way of the steaming hot rocks. Jeremy explained that the heated rocks were brought in periodically. Water was poured over the hot rocks to keep the inside of the sweat lodge hot enough for sweating.

As the two men became better acquainted, Jeremy christened Taz 'War Eagle'; a name not given lightly, but a name well earned. By this time the younger Indians knew of Taz's fame from the same war many of them fought. Seeing a wounded Taz in action the day before told them all they needed to know.

Taz found the sweat lodge uncomfortable. After a few minutes, he went outside to allow the early evening air to cool him. The sweat lodge was small, and most of the braves as well as the elders of the tribe were seated inside.

Once cooled off, he tried it again. His place was reserved and he sat back down. He wasn't the only one that left and returned. Most stayed without needing to go out. They seemed to breathe deeply, with some keeping eyes closed and others keeping eyes wide open. Taz tried both and found the heat less oppressive with his eyes open. He tried taking deep even breaths, and lasted longer each time he came back into the sweat lodge.

He focused on not allowing the heat to beat him. What other purpose came from the ordeal remained a mystery. He was aware of the other participants, but except for some labored breathing there was silence.

The elders never moved once they took their place at the middle of the circle. These men wore blank facial expressions and kept wide open eyes that looked at nothing. Taz tried to figure out what it was all about but couldn't. One thing was for certain, the elders were impervious to the heat that drove him outdoors more often than anyone.

"What's he staring at?" Taz asked Jeremy in a whisper. "He keeps looking at me."

"No, he's seeing beyond the sweat lodge. The smoke carries his spirit into a land beyond the beyond. He is Medicine Band, a chief and a Shaman. This world can not hold such men. He moves in the spirit world and knows many things."

As Taz became determined to endure the heat, Medicine Band fascinated him more and more. The blank stare was always directed at him, as if there was a connection between them. While he was told he didn't see Taz, Taz wasn't buying it. Not only was the old man staring at him, but he made Taz feel naked. It wasn't the kind of nakedness that comes from a lack of clothes. Taz felt the old man peering inside him, and he didn't like the way it made him feel.

Each sat quietly as if he were alone. No one spoke, and there was no interaction between them. Taz refused to get up again, though his discomfort grew.

Medicine Band did not blink or move.

The heat built and Taz sat silent, struggling to get enough of the hot air in his lungs.

Gen. Walker told Taz to take as much time as he wanted, now that the rustlers were under lock and key. Most of the cattle on the mesa were moved down into the meadows and with Taz not 100%, he got a pass on the routine tasks.

Two of the Vietnam vets came calling the following morning. Standing Buck and Tom Kelly were both in different parts of Vietnam from Taz's company. They compared notes, the discussion moving away from the war in a few minutes.

Of the four Indians in Jeremy's teepee Taz was closest to the color of the full blooded Indians, but he was no more than a shade or two darker than Jeremy or Standing Buck. Tom was the lightest skinned and was reluctant to make the journey to Montana because of it. He wasn't sure if it was a good idea but he and Standing Buck knew one another from the army, and it kept Tom from feeling out of place. After a day they forgot who was more Indian and who was less. The gathering was more about brotherhood, men coming together in an activity to celebrate life and the joining of spirits.

Jeremy claimed that white men often had far too little contact with other men outside of competitive and somewhat unhealthy environments, such as bars. Every once in a while his psychiatric identity slipped out in the middle of a conversation.

Morning Cloud brought coffee and something that resembled bread, along with more dried deer strips for the new arrivals. Once her ceremonial duties finished, she sat across from the four men.

"You are a warrior?" she asked, looking at Taz.

"Some say," Taz said, admiring the pretty girl's ability to pull up a piece of Montana and sit down with the guys without hesitating.

"My brother was there. Vietnam. He didn't come back," she said, already knowing everyone but Taz.

"I'm sorry," Taz said.

"I'm glad you did. I'm glad you all did. I try not to think of my brother as gone. Medicine Band says he's only a little way from here."

"Wise old Indian," Jeremy said.

"Yes, he is. He knows things I can't possibly process. I've looked forward to this gathering so I could see him again. Whenever I see the darkness more than the light, I know I need to come home. I may stay with my people this time. I'm not sure yet."

"You weren't raised here?" Taz asked.

"No, but my people are here. I get lost in the other world now. People don't care much if I'm there or not. At first I thought that was why I was there, because it required so little of me. I could live up to that with no difficulty.

"Once I came home, back here, after my brother died, I've been increasingly more interested in living with my people. It is not as glamorous, but once you get past the glitz and glitter, I have no reason to stay there. When you come down to it, there is nothing in that world to keep me there."

"You really like living out here like this?" Taz asked, not realizing it is where he lived, except his cabin was a hard structure.

"I like it here. Here I am part of these people and they are part of me. I think of them when I'm in the other world. I'd say I belong here. I don't miss anything from the other world when I'm here. But I miss this when I'm there."

"Not much different than in the Nam," Standing Buck observed. "Camp out and chase the bad guys. Never thought we'd be playing cowboys and Indians out here. Pretty awesome. Just like old times, when we chased Charlie through the bush."

"Except it was Charlie's bush," Tom Kelly observed.

Taz needed to rest in the afternoon. As much as he felt like he was okay, he tired out without notice, and having people around didn't stop him from leaning back and drifting off. This wasn't the best place he'd ever been, but it was far from the worst, and he rested easily.

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