It had happened just three months ago. Gunshots blared and cries of help echoed in the crisp air. Men of my tribe bared steel axes and shields, charging towards the herds of people spilling into our valley.
My father dashed out of a teepee, red and yellow war paint on his face, grasping the small dagger grandpa had given him as a gift when he went on his vision quest. I was to go on my own vision quest soon, as I had just reached the age of twelve, when native children are to be sent. I now may never find my guardian, Weyekin. I often imagined mine should be a horse with a striking ebony body.
My older brother had gone on his vision quest many years before. But that didn’t matter; not anymore. He was dead, father was dead, mother was dead; more than half of the tribe perished that day, leaving a small remnant of us. Most of the survivors were children who had hidden themselves among the crowds of dead bodies. I was the eldest of them. The others consisted of two old men of our tribe, and a young man, six years above my age. He had a broad red face with cheek bones so raised it looked as though sticks were propping them up and his eyes were such a dark brown they looked like black beads.
It took several hours for the infiltrators to leave. They tethered their horses to wooden posts while they looted the numerous teepees. We survivors dared not move from fear of being seen. One child had been pierced in the stomach; all we could do is calm him through his passing. More death came after that. When the men left, we scavenged about, searching for herbs to help the wounded, but to no avail; two of the other children died, leaving myself, my younger brother, and the three older men. With no time to mourn their passing, we took off towards the west seeking refuge.
Shortly, we came across a quaint settlement. There were large pillars of timber which acted as barriers to the outside world and inside the walls were many odd buildings. The man with the raised cheeks, who I had learned was named Dakota, gingerly led us inside the gate. As we entered, men with broad shoulders rushed around us holding rifles and shotguns. The six of us stood silent, listening to their foreign tongue.
“Now looky here,” a man sneered puffing a cigar.
“Seems we have a bit er’ a native infestation,” another chuckled.
The men circling us all wore blue and gold colored uniforms, had brown tufts of hair on their heads; and most of all, their faces resembled that of snow. A tall slender man approached my brother and I.
“What poor, little, dirty animals.” He scoffed as he took his gloved hands and gripped my jaw, whipping my body onto the mesa ground.
What followed was even worse. Dakota chose to sign a treaty with the settlement sheriff stating us natives were to work for the men for food and drink. They worked us hard in the following weeks, acting as if we were hardy draft horses, tasking us with thrashing wheat and barley, spitting on us cruelly if we stopped. Soon the two eldest men passed. How we all prayed when they died, afraid for our own fate.
It was a full moon and the west was to be lit by a ray of light spanning vast deserts and ravines, a perfect time to escape. I was only to take my brother, for Dakota was too true a man to abandon the treaty. I woke my brother up whispering his name, “Cowessess, please wake.” Sleep blanketed his eyes and when they opened they were soft and drooping, but he crawled out of his blankets, faithfully awaiting my instruction. I wrapped a fur skin around his shoulders and strapped a knapsack onto his back. At last, I kissed Dakota a goodbye as we started on our way.
It was nearing sunrise as we reached the gates; no guards were up yet so it was simple to walk out, but we had little time. We weren't six paces out when we heard the trumpet roar. “Hey! Look there!” A burly voice barked; soon we were being pursued. I pushed my brother forward, urging him into a run, the boom of boots pressing us on. “Run Angeni(Aenjhahn-iy- t)! Run Cowessess!” Dakota bellowed behind us.
It felt like an eon, but soon Cowessess and I were alone, hidden by the leaves of aspens. Shortly, we came across a clearing in the trees where there was a thick layer of smoke in the air. I poked my head out from the trees gazing into the clearing but quickly sprang down trying to make my breathing silent. I saw an ivory colored tent near a campfire but no one by the camp. My brother gasped. “Listen,” he whispered. I calmed myself enough to hear the environment. A light hum could be heard, coming from an old crippled man who looked to be digging something up. The man turned around, surprised to see us in front of him, having emerged from the brush.
“Hello young travelers, I am Rontu,” he introduced himself in a calm manner. He looked to be a medicine man as he had many bottles of herbs, lined up in uniform lines on an oak surface. “We are lost.” my brother peeped, running to the man- he thought the man resembled our grandfather. But he was not, he was a mere kind traveler that we happened to run into, but he had some sort of guile about, which was comforting. The way the man crafted his words, so clever but simple. My body collapsed, partly from exhaustion and partly from my thankfulness of having a safe place to rest my weary soul. Our journey was over, we were now safe.
© Angel Mason-Warren, Denver School of the Arts