Western Fiction posted December 10, 2023

This work has reached the exceptional level
A tale of the old West

The Christmas Tree

by Terry Broxson

 "Hey, it's December. Are you ever going to get the Christmas spirit and put up the tree with decorations?" So said Holly, my cat. I had found her in a rescue shelter eight months ago. Who knew she could talk?
"Holly, you're a cat. What do you care?"
"Duh! My name is Holly." Holly licks her paws and smooths her whiskers.
"I know, but you weren't named after Christmas holly, but Holly Golightly in the movie Breakfast at Tiffany's, Audrey Hepburn's character." 
"Cat Daddy, Audrey Hepburn embodied beauty, grace, class, and wonderful wit. I have the same qualities as a blue point Siamese." 
"Holly, there is no question about that, but your name has nothing to do with Christmas."
"Au contraire mon cher, let me tell you a story."
"Wait, you know French?"
With a flick of her tail. "Oui, monsieur, now about my story."  
'Is this a Christmas story?"
"Yes. Get yourself some brandy, and let's sit by the fire."
I poured a generous portion of VSOP Cognac into a crystal Waterford snifter. I sat by the fire and recorded Holly's story on my new iPhone 15 Pro. The following is my transcription of the story.
This happened many years ago in the mountains of New Mexico, close to the community of Taos. Several Native American tribes inhabited the area for centuries, most notably the Taos Pueblo, from which the town derived its name.
Only a few white settlers and a handful of mountain men were in the territory. One man called Kit would become a legend. Kit learned to be a fur trapper from his father in Kentucky. He left home at age sixteen and headed West.
Kit joined another mountain man, Jim Bridger. They lived in crude cabins as they hunted in the Rocky Mountains for valuable furs. Life often required them to join other mountain men to battle hostile tribes like the Blackfeet, Apache, Commanche, and others. Kit developed a reputation as a highly skilled fighter.
On a frigid, snowy night in February of 1833, Kit encountered a band of Apache warriors in Northen, New Mexico. The warriors were planning a raid on an Arapaho village. As the attack began, Kit interceded and fought alongside the Arapahos. Kit hated the Apache. The feeling was mutual. 
Kit and the Arapahos successfully defeated the attack, but a knife wound to Kit's right shoulder caused him distress and pain.
The Arapaho Chief, Soaring Eagle, grateful for Kit's help, allowed him to stay in the village.
"Holly, I'm liking the story, but what does it have to do with Christmas?"
"Cat Daddy, have some more brandy, and bring me a small bowl of eggnog without the brandy." 
I added more VSOP to my glass and poured a small portion of Borden's eggnog into a Spode Christmas dessert dish. 
"Here you go, but you don't know what you are missing without brandy."
Soaring Eagle and Kit sat in the Chief's Teepee on a collection of red, black, and golden woven blankets. The Chief's daughter, Singing Grass, had prepared a meal of deer meat roasting over a fire as smoke swirled up and out the Teepee.
Soaring Eagle studied the man and watched his daughter as she removed his shirt and assessed his injury. "I have heard of a fierce white warrior named Kit. You have killed many enemies of the Arapaho people."
Kit grimaced as Singing Grass washed the wounded shoulder. "Honestly, Chief, I had little choice in the matter. I considered it self-defense. Kill or be killed."
The Arapaho Chief took his knife and cut the palm of his right hand. He placed his hand on Kit's wound.
Singing Grass looked annoyed. "Father, I just cleaned the wound. Now I have to do it again."
Ignoring his daughter's protests, "Kit, our blood joins, and we will be blood brothers. You are now welcomed as a member of the Arapaho Tribe."
Kit's face had a mischievous smile. He glanced at Singing Grass. "Does that mean I am a blood uncle to Singing Grass?"
The Indian Chief wrapped a cloth around his palm. "Oh, so you like my beautiful daughter? Many warriors have sought her, but none have proven worthy."
"How do I prove worthy?"
"You have to follow the Arapaho way. You must ask her how you become worthy."
Singing Grass handed pieces of the cooked meat to her father. As she gave some to Kit, she smiled, and her eyes never left his. 
Kit chewed on the deer meat and considered the Chief's daughter. "Singing Grass, you heard your father tell me I must ask you how I become worthy to be your husband. What must I do?"
Singing Grass thought for a moment. "Kit, even though you are not Arapaho, our people believe what matters is in one's heart, not one's origin of birth. The fire you have against some tribes must be diminished."
Kit shook his head. "I have lost good friends in fights with hostile tribes. I do feel revenge. Arapahos are an exception." 
"To be worthy, you must walk your enemy's path and understand their pain to free your soul."
Kit raised one eyebrow with a look of confusion. "Singing Grass, your people clash with other tribes."
"Yes, we do, but only to defend ourselves. We never attack another tribe. This is the way of our people for hundreds of years. Over time, friendships and understanding developed with former enemies. You must do the same." 
"Holly, it might be the brandy talking, but I don't think a skilled fighter like Kit could just up and change. He might talk the talk to win the Indian maiden. But I doubt he would walk the walk." 
"Cat Daddy, you don't know squat about mountain men. It turns out Singing Grass did think Kit to be worthy. Before the first full moon had passed, Kit and Singing Grass were married. I will pick up the story ten months later, on December 24, 1833."
A very tall holly tree had been placed in the middle of the Arapaho village. The decorations included red, green, yellow, turquoise, and blue strips of hand-woven cloth and beads.  Animal figurines carved from wood and white feathers were hung throughout the tree branches.
Fire pits surrounded the tree as the village members feasted on a bounty of beans, bread, meat, and fish.
Kit, his wife, and their newborn daughter sat on buffalo skins and warm fur pelts by a fire pit. "Singing Grass, please explain how the Arapaho came to have a Christmas tree tradition."
Singing Grass adjusted her baby in her arms. "When the first white men came to our lands many winters ago, a Holy Man told the story of the Creator and how his son had been sent to redeem humanity to prepare a way for the glory of the afterlife. The Holy Man called the son Jesus.
"He said the world celebrated the birth of Jesus with a Christmas tree during late winter. Our elders liked the words of the Holy Man.
"The elders decided we would never give up our beliefs, but we would also honor the birth of the Creator's son. Everyone in the tribe has fun decorating the tree."
Laughing, she added. "And we love a good party." 
Singing Grass handed their daughter to Kit. Kit held her tenderly."I know it may be a little hard to believe, but I was born this night twenty-four years ago next to our Christmas Tree in Kentucky."  
"Kit, tonight she is our gift from the Creator." 
"Singing Grass, she looks like you—beautiful. What will her name be?"  
"She will be called Small Cat."
"Really, where did you get that?"
"Do you see the small cat at the top of the Christmas tree?" 
"Well, dang, where did that cat come from?"
"Only the Creator knows." 
"Holly, that's a pretty good story. But how did you hear it?"
"Cat Daddy, I heard the story from a relative of mine. I may be a Siamese, but I am also Arapaho. The history of the people and my family of cats is an oral history handed down from generation to generation.
"Kit and Singing Grass had ten children. Kit helped to open up the West to settlement. His only fights after marrying were to defend the tribe. In later years, he became an Indian agent and sought rights for the lands of many tribes. Kit and his wife were revered peacemakers and are buried near Taos.
"Singing Grass named the cat Holly because she perched herself high in a holly tree. Twenty-seven cat generations later, I found you. I'm Holly, 27. Now, about those decorations."
"Okay, I'll get the tree and decorations on it. But one question: why did you choose me? "
"Cat Daddy, I needed someone to write down my story. Now, you go to work on the tree. I'll take a nap by the fire. Then I have a tree to climb."

Story of the Month contest entry



Kit Carson was born on December 24, 1809. He became a legend in the West as a guide, Indian fighter, Army scout, trapper, General in the Civil War, and a respected Indian Agent. He died in 1868 and is buried near Taos, New Mexico.

Ironically, when the first draft of this story was finished. I did a little research on Kit Carson to make sure my dates lined up. That was when I learned he was born on Christmas Eve.

Pays one point and 2 member cents.

Artwork by VMarguarite at FanArtReview.com

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