Western Fiction posted February 17, 2018 Chapters:  ...21 22 -23- 24... 

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The Traveler enters Apache territory.

A chapter in the book The West


by Thomas Bowling


The Traveler and Inga spend nine years together before Inga dies.

Chapter 23

After Inga's death, there was nothing holding me in Texas, so I decided to move on. I traveled to Arizona. Arizona was the land of scorpions, Apache, and Wyatt Earp.

I never met Wyatt Earp. All I knew of him was that he was arrested and fined three times for keeping and being found in a house of ill-fame. The Daily Transcript referred to him as an old offender and nicknamed him the Peoria Bummer, another name for tramp.

Wyatt Earp was another cowboy whose reputation was embellished. If it hadn't of been for the incident at the OK Corral, I doubt that anyone would have heard of him.

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By now, my feeling toward the Apache had mellowed. I even got over thinking they were thieves. Indians had no concept of ownership. It stood to reason that if you had something, it was there for everyone. If they needed a blanket or a horse, they took it. If you needed something, they expected you to do the same.

In some ways, they were like the early Christians. They had all things common. I guess the Indians understood the scriptures better than me. I began to see their reasoning. Ownership led to greed and greed led to war.

I even understood their need to kill. The white man was an intruder. It was an Indian's duty to do whatever he could to slow his progress. If the situation was reversed, I would be meaner than an Apache.

Native Americans were being forced off their land and onto reservations. The east had zoos for animals. The west had reservations for Indians. Neither did well in captivity. It wasn't their natural habitat.

I decided that if I were an Indian, I would be an Apache. In fact, I never met an Indian that didn't want to be an Apache. A lot of tribes used the Apache language and had adopted Apache customs.

One thing about the Apache, they loved their children. I never saw anybody, Indian or white that doted over their children like the Apache. Children were their future and were treated as such. They said, “The ones that matter most are the children. They are the true human beings.”

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Believe it or not, the Apache were for the most part peaceful. Some Indians would fight over anything. The Apache needed a good reason to fight. Those that said the Apache fought with all the other tribes didn't know them.

They certainly went to war with others who had hurt them, and they fought with rare ferocity and skill, but by and large, the Apache avoided conflict. Often, they would come to the aid of other tribes who needed it.

The Apache had a saying, “Always assume your guest is tired, cold, and hungry, and act accordingly.”

I came to think that the Apache had things figured out better than anyone. They didn't bother you unless you bothered them. If you bothered them, they made sure you wouldn't do it again. This is about all we can hope for. It made good sense to me. I can live with a man like that.

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In Arizona, I met Bear Who Cries, a Shawnee, who had been forced to leave Kansas. Rather than go to the reservation in Oklahoma, he went to Arizona.

I never knew why they called him Bear Who Cries, but it seemed to fit him. He probably got his name the way most Indians did, during some ritual, it was revealed to him, and it carried a message that was his alone.

I couldn't tell you how old Bear Who Cries was. He was older than me and younger than death. Some Indians look old when they’re young. Some look young when they’re old. Bear Who Cries was an old Indian that looked as old as the mountains in the distance, and he had the wisdom that comes from living a long time. He said, “Always teach someone who seeks truth, but never trust someone who says he has found it.”

Bear Who Cries had long, gray hair that framed his face and came almost to his waist. He had wrinkles as deep as the canyons, and like all Indians, he had coal black eyes. His eyes could burn a hole in you like embers. He wore tan trousers and a shirt with fringe. I used to think the fringe on Bear Who Cries' clothes was just a decoration, but he told me that it wicked the water away when it rained. Indians were smart that way.

He carried the staff of an elder and was not above swatting children with it when they got in his way. He was spry and often danced for no apparent reason, other than to entertain himself. He would beat on a small drum as he danced. He played a heartbeat rhythm. It was the sound of the earth, the sound of nature, the sound of your mother when you were in the womb. It was sound that put you in touch with all things.

After I met him, I sometimes danced. Even though I wasn't very good at it, I understood why he did it. It put you at peace with nature. More people should dance. Bear Who Cries would watch me and shake his head. For the second time in my life, an Indian told me I didn't have the spirit of dance, but I still tried.

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He always had a buffalo hide wrapped around him. Naturally, he had a story to go with it. Indians didn't just have anything. Bear Who Cries got his hide when he was a young brave.

“One day, The Great Spirit led me to a vast herd of buffalo,” he said. “They stretched across the land, and one day, they decided to cross the sea to the white man's land. When they arrived in this new world, they saw nothing but evil. They decided this was not a fit place to live, so they returned. When they got back to their homeland, they were upset by what they had seen. Fat Calf, their leader, said that never again would a buffalo leave the land of the Indians. But Dog Wolf, a young buffalo, had seen many things on the other side of the sea and wanted to return. Fat Calf told him it was forbidden, but Dog Wolf rebelled. He crossed the plains alone, determined to go back to the world they had discovered.

“Fat Calf asked me to go after him and stop him. When I caught up with Dog Wolf, he refused to go back to the herd with me. I jumped on his back and stabbed him with my knife. I rode Dog Wolf until we came to the edge of the earth. Finally, he fell.” Bear Who Cries tugged at his buffalo robe. “This is his hide.”

When Bear Who Cries finished his story, he smiled. I never let him know that I didn't believe him. I knew that trying to kill a buffalo with a knife was like trying to wrestle a bobcat into a flour sack.

To be continued . . .

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