April 15, 2016
@ CYNTHIA ADINA KIRKWOOD
"Catching the Wild Horse" (1845) by George Caitlin
From the New York Public Library
Morning Star strode through the village of seventy lodges with the gait of a large, proud cat. While
inside his home, he primped with the care of a young girl about to meet her suitor. His long hair, his
skin, his nails shined with the glisten of good health and animal oils. Before the Sparrowhawks had
embraced him, Morning Star already had proved himself a brave warrior against the tribe’s enemies.
He could afford some time to strut, to pose and to be admired.
However, not all his moments were spent frivolously. He concentrated on the Siouan language and
the customs of his adopted people. Morning Star was a keen observer of people and his
surroundings. He immersed himself in Absaroka. One of his first lessons was the meaning of the word
‘birupxe’ for father. He learned to call not only his father ‘father’ but also his uncles on both sides and
his father’s sister’s son. It was easy enough for Morning Star to place all these relatives under the
same title because James Beckwourth never had more than his immediate family. For him, there was
no such thing as uncle or cousin. Once on a hunting trip, Jennings had mentioned that Jim’s middle
name, Pierson, had been the first name of a cousin he missed. However, Jennings refused to divulge
any more details about Pierson such as whether he was his brother or sister’s son, older or younger
than him, living in England or in another country. Jennings promoted his family in Missouri as the
only family they had.
‘Birupxe’ created a close bond among several men that was easy to feign in the beginning and then, in
time, feel. The heavy, chained link between one father and one son would have been difficult to walk
with. Morning Star already was weighed down with Jennings.
After three months of Morning Star’s leisurely life, he and Big Bowl sat smoking in the lodge one
winter morning. People moved around attending to the work of the day but there was privacy
enough for father and son to have a heart-to-heart talk. Big Bowl demanded that his son act like a
man, ‘batse’, a good and valiant, ‘tse’, man. ‘Batse tse’ means chief. Big Bowl was telling his son to take
to the battlefield and commit the four military exploits that would reach him that high note of male
To become a chief, a man had to strike a coup, that is, he had to brush, touch or hit one of the enemy;
he had to return from battle with a foe’s weapon; he had to free the opposition’s picketed horses; and
he had to organize a victorious fighting campaign.
“Morning Star, you’ve been taking very good care of your body, eating well and sleeping long. It’s
time you proved yourself a man,” Big Bowl said, in his even tone unaltered by the topic of
conversation. “I want you to go on a fighting expedition with our male relatives. There are twelve old
enough to accompany you on this mission. I want you to lead them.”
“But birupxe, I haven’t had a vision in which I’ve led warriors. How can I do this? Won’t I offend
people by appearing too pushy?”
Morning Star was panicking at the threat of his respite.
“Although it is traditional for expedition leaders to have visions beforehand, it is not always so,” Big
Bowl said. “I feel that this is the right thing for you to do. I know that you will be successful.”
“What if I’m not,” Morning Star asked. “What if we lose the battle? What if we’re all killed? It will be
the end of the family.”
“But not the end of the tribe, Morning Star,” Big Bowl said. “Now you must go and make us proud of
Morning Star knew that Big Bowl could be as resolute as his blood father. There was no escaping it.
War was the price he would have to pay for this shelter from his life as Jim Beckwourth. Morning
Star did not mind fighting. He loved it. But he had needed a break from it. He had become ensnarled
in the steady, seductive rhythm of war. The flurry of men fighting against death, sometimes to the
death, on bloodstained ground had begun to look commonplace to Morning Star. The earthiness of
fraternity among the warriors comforted him. War’s brutality and sacredness, its vulgarity and
euphoria had washed over Morning Star. He had thought during many a sleepless night that if he had
not fought so many Indian battles, he might not have murdered his first wife. By not fighting and
killing, Morning Star was atoning for his crime. Now three months later, his lenten period was over.
Lots of Trees was not surprised by her father-in-law’s dictum.
“I’m surprised he waited this long,” she said, when she and her husband lay down to sleep that night.
“When do you leave?”
“In a few days,” Morning Star said.
“Good. I will wait for your victory, he ha,” Lots of Trees said to him, using the endearing term for
“I will hurry to bring it to you, he ha,” he said, grateful to have her as his wife.
Two days later, the war party made a grand departure for triumph. Morning Star led the procession
looking like a warrior king. He wore many strands of beaded necklaces, feathered pieces in his hair
which flew loose in the air, and fringed leather shirt and pants. From the back, the repetitive
triangular design on his buffalo robe dizzied the viewer. His horse was draped with a mountain lion
skin. He held in his right hand a six-foot-long pole supporting a bright red pennant.
Morning Star’s dozen men galloped behind him yelling war whoops on their daylong journey to the
targeted Blackhawk camp. Laughing Coyote, a towering man, rode directly behind Morning Star.
One month after Jim had become Morning Star, the shy Laughing Coyote approached him to go
trapping. They enjoyed each other’s conversation the evening they set out the traps. Both were
intelligent men who loved to explore differences. They shared a similar sophistication that was
natural, not learned. The next day before dawn, they met to collect from their traps. Morning Star
caught nothing; Laughing Coyote trapped eight beavers. The gentle man offered Morning Star four
skins. Then he confided to him what everyone else knew which was that he was alone in the world
without family. Would Morning Star, he asked hesitatingly, become his brother? Morning Star
thought to himself that he was a stranger among Laughing Coyote’s people. He had not lived among
them long enough to grow accustomed to his new name. Laughing Coyote would be a help in learning
the language and ways of the Sparrowhawks. His neediness reminded Morning Star of Baptiste.
Besides, Morning Star also wanted a male friend of his own outside of his new family. He agreed.
Laughing Coyote and Morning Star exchanged their traps, their guns, their horses, their clothing,
their shields, their tomahawks, and their bows and arrows. Now they were one, closer than brothers,
and there could be no secrets between them. They vowed to tell each other things that they would
tell no one else. Morning Star’s success in his first expedition also would be Laughing Coyote’s
success. On their last stop before reaching the Blackfoot camp, the two men sat and talked.
“I can’t believe, Morning Star, that soon you will be one of our chiefs,” he said. “Was it so long ago
that you stumbled into my way?”
“No. It’s been only three moons,” Morning Star said, stoutly. “Only three months and I’m leading
“Are you frightened?”
“I am frightened for my men. We’re all family. If any of us is killed, I will feel tremendous sadness.
Big Bowl has shown such faith in me.”
“Is it deserved?”
“Yes. Yes, it’s deserved,” Morning Star said, shoring up his determination. “We shall win this one and
all return with our faces painted black for victory.”
Morning Star stood and shouted:
“We shall win, my brothers and fathers! We shall win!”
Later, his men leaped to their feet and screeched war cries. Morning Star joined them in a
spontaneous dance accompanied by their own singing. Their backs nearly parallel with the ground,
their feet hopping, these men danced danced danced for victory. After a few minutes of exhilaration,
Morning Star ordered them to follow him to the camp on foot. They were ready to fight.
The earth was frozen hard in February, which made the hiking easier. The men walked without
speaking, but they were unable to stop the crunching sound their feet made on the ground. Soon
after starting out, they synchronized their steps so that they would sound like one wild animal as
opposed to thirteen men. “Win, win. Win, win. Win, win,” they chanted silently on their march. Two
hours later, they came upon broken twigs on the ground. Then they smelled the scent of men and
discovered fresh horse droppings.
Morning Star signaled his men to stop. They froze onto place. Then their leader crouched into the
form of a squirrel snooping around the bushes shorn of leaves. The others underwent the same
transfiguration. They all moved forward and within ten steps, they spotted the Blackhawks moving
about their camp slowly in the twilight no more than ten steps away. They were about twenty men.
Morning Star paused. So did everyone else. Then he gestured by jutting his bottom lip in the
direction of the camp and leaped toward it like a panther on two legs. The others also rushed in for
what was going to be a surprise attack.
In seconds, the Sparrowhawks were tangled with the Blackfeet. They got coups and wrestled away
weapons. These men were not seeking to kill. Their stakes were far different from Morning Star’s
who did not understand a bloodless confrontation or the glory of dying in battle. More than
anything, Morning Star wanted to live. He would not risk his life to score a coup.
Morning Star fought with one man his size, swinging punches into his gut until he collapsed. Then he
led his warriors out of the camp after three minutes had passed. They had stayed long enough to
proclaim a success. More time than that and the scene would have to turn to bloody red.
The Blackhawks limped behind them in anger, but not for long. They stopped at the camp boundary,
accepting that short distance as a respectable chase. Morning Star and his men shouted like jackals in
the evening. They had escaped unscathed and victorious. Surprise was the secret weapon that
Morning Star had incorporated into their attack. It was unorthodox but it had served them well.
They made their way over familiar ground back to their horses, happy to see that they had not been
stolen. Then they set up camp for the night, telling the same stories of battle they had recounted on
the hike back.
“You should have seen the man I fought,” said one. “His eyes bulged open with shock when suddenly
I was on top of him, taking the knife out of his pocket. He must be so embarrassed. It was so easy for
“The man I wrestled,” said another, never recovered from the surprise of the attack. It was like
fighting a small boy. Coups were plentiful this day.”
“Morning Star,” Laughing Coyote said, “You have been a brilliant leader today. You introduced
another way of battle.”
“I guess I did,” Morning Star said. “The good thing is that we’re all here to laugh about it. None of the
enemy went down either.”
“No,” Laughing Coyote said. “To their shame, they are still alive to talk about it.”
They all laughed and congratulated each other on their brief, but colourful, performances. Morning
Star slept peacefully that night. The anticipation of the fight, more than the battle itself, had worn
him and his men out.
The next day, the group paraded home into the arms of their wives, mothers, grandmothers, sisters.
And, of course, the tribe. Their black faces announced the good news. Morning Star’s first trial was
over. He felt a deeper acceptance from Big Bowl as he turned over the knife he had captured and
talked about the three coups he had achieved in battle. Morning Star had integrated himself into the
military life of the clan and acted like a leader.
After that, he fought frequently and won most times. He incorporated a ritual analysis of the battles
before the celebrations while the memory of the adventure was fresh and not yet embellished. He
was impressed that the Sparrowhawks traditionally did not scalp their victims. However, he harped
on the element of surprise because the Sparrowhawks had not been using it. While Morning Star was
with these people, he intended to survive, and he also wanted them to survive as a people. More and
more traders and settlers were moving into the Far West. Hunger for more land would follow. White
Americans from the East came from a country where they had left reinforcements. The
Sparrowhawks needed their numbers for the battles they had yet to fight. And they needed their
strength and presence of mind to preserve their existence. Morning Star knew that. The
Sparrowhawks had accepted him, loved him and lauded him. He truly had become a man among
them and felt indebted to them. And he began to love them.
Morning Star began preaching that liquor slides down into the imbiber’s soul and soaks up his
medicine, his power, imprisoning him in dependency. As the warrior’s prestige soared, he acquired
new names like Bloody Arm and Medicine Calf to reflect its height. And he gained influence until, in a
few years, the Sparrowhawks had gained a reputation as the Indian tribe that shunned alcohol.
The prestigious Tobacco Society inducted Morning Star into its ranks as a member of his father’s
clan. It planted sacred tobacco responsible for attracting good fortune to the tribe. One winter, one
of its members taught him four of its nurturing songs about plentiful rains for good harvests and
sharp eyes and ears for good hunting. Morning Star recognized the honor of the fraternity. He
absorbed its mystique. The man had found his way back into the womb by living among people who
moved by primeval impulse. As much as he imitated Jennings, Winifred’s beliefs were buried deeply
within him. He thought he understood many of the rituals and symbols and ways of the
Sparrowhawks without explanation. He paid homage to his mother’s life philosophy which spanned
the supernatural and unseen worlds.
Other women of all sizes, shapes and miens clamored for his attention when he returned from war.
He rejected many marriage proposals but one person was undaunted by his refusals. She was a young
girl with dark skin and bright eyes. Swift Fish insisted that she would be his wife. Finally, after she
outgrew the perkiness of a child, Morning Star took her as his little wife and kept her in a separate
lodge. She and Lots of Trees became like sisters. Both wore the clothing of victors. Morning Star
gave them gifts of soft, calfskin dresses, gem jewelry and scarlet cloth. He gained access to such
finery after he revealed his presence among the Sparrowhawks to traders at Fort Union who knew
him to be Jim Beckwourth, the mountain man. Because Fort Union was nine days’ journey from the
Sparrowhawks, the traders engaged Morning Star to supervise the construction of Fort Cass nearer
the village. The trading company contracted him as a liaison with the village a year at a time which
kept his wives dressed fashionably and his secret cache for his future in Missouri full.
Morning Star missed the Beckwourths. He thought often of his sister, Mattie, who he believed must
have become an admirable woman. Tonight in camp after a close battle with the Cheyennes, he
thought that she was talented and, yet, so giving. She was like their mother. What was living in St.
Louis like for her, Morning Star wondered. How could she stand living in that provincial, stifling
atmosphere? Home. Wasn’t that why he had left it?
"Open Place in an Old Town" (1882-1888) by Maxime Lalanne
From the New York Public Library
A continent away in a house on the Seine in Paris, Matilda thought of her brother, Jim. She lifted her
head from a letter written by Randolph and stared at the memory of him leaving St. Louis for the
wild West the last time she saw him. He was so determined, so brave, like her father. At least there
was solace in knowing Jim was alive and living the life he wanted. But now, her father had lost his life.
A friend of the family had just hand delivered the letter bearing the sad news two months after his
death at the old homestead in Fredericksburg, Virginia. His heart, diagnosed the doctor who also had
delivered Randolph, Mattie, Jim, Caswell, Benjamin, Jocelyn and Evangeline into the world.
As it was, Jennings was a lion of a man who would not have wanted to live past his vigor. He already
had begun to age years before moving back to Virginia where he returned with little money because
one of his friends could not repay a large loan. Jennings forgave Howard Cates the debt because the
borrower had fallen on hard times and had a wife and five children to feed and clothe. Then Jennings
overheard Cates ridiculing his kindness and his “nigger slave wife” in a tavern one evening. Jennings
walked over to him, punched him once in the mouth and left without watching him drop to the
ground. Then he brought charges against Cates for defaulting on the loan and had him thrown into
Soon after, Jennings packed his clothes and left for Virginia. If people wanted to say something
about his wife, let them say it to his face. There was no longer any reason to escape verbal barbs. He
had protected his family when it was young. Now his children were grown and his wife was dead. It
was time for Jennings to go home. Randolph wrote that he had died two months later with his
Revolutionary War compatriots at his side. He had not been ailing. Quite the contrary. He was telling
a war story at their weekly get-together when he sank back in his chair with a loud gasp.
Mattie cried. First, her mother and now, Father, gone. She felt more alone than she ever had even
with her husband and her writing.
As Mattie mourned her aloneness, Morning Star finally fell asleep under a starless sky. He would go
home sometime, he reasoned, but not tomorrow. There was no need to agonize over it now.
"Crow Girls, With a View of Tents, Wagons and Bluffs in the Background" (1865 and 1900) by Frank A. Rinehart
(From the New York Public Library)
A serene, uninterrupted passage of time was flowing on its course. Morning Star had formed habits and seemed to become predictable.
Many a time, Lots of Trees and Swift Fish would lay down to sleep alone, Morning Star away at battle, only to be awakened by his stubbly
beard exploring their naked body.
One night when Morning Star and Lots of Trees slept together, she again tried to coax him into having the dream of the warrior
orchestrating a fighting campaign. She stroked his brow with deft fingers and held his face with sure hands as she tenderly kissed her
sleeping husband. She wanted him to become a chief because it would make him happy, and she would share in the honor. The next
morning, her thought had taken root in Morning Star’s mind.
“Lots of Trees, I dreamt that I was leading our men into battle against the Blackfeet. We got many horses from them. We won so many
that we let many go and still brought enough back to think that we had done well for ourselves. When all of us returned, there was much
feasting and dancing. And you, Lots of Trees, carried my tomahawk and shield in the procession. And after the march ended inside the
lodge, you sat down behind me with them in your lap.
“You looked radiant, the most beautiful I have ever seen you. You were wearing the buffalo skin I brought for you from the trading post
not so long ago. You had made it into a dress. Your hair was loose around your shoulders like a dark, cascading waterfall. You were so
lovely that I don’t know if you were real.”
“He ha, are you sure that you had that dream? Or did you imagine that you had it?”
Lots of Trees knew how much Morning Star wanted it. She did not want him to fool himself into thinking he was prepared to undertake
such a charge. Most men had such a dream after they had gone into the forest or the mountains alone, fasting and praying for it to come.
Or they had the vision inside the sacredness of a Tobacco Society ceremony. However, Lots of Trees’ doubts were allayed by Morning
Star’s vivid description of the ceremony after the procession.
“I dreamt it,” he answered. “I wore a robe trimmed with ermine and carried a long staff in my right hand. I led the way, but you were
always close behind. Lots of Trees, you were right there with me. I am so excited! Having this dream was the one thing left for me to do
so that I could become a chief. And now I’ve had it. After the expedition, I’ll be a chief!”
They embraced on their sensuous bed on the ground covered with animal skins and softened with furs. Then Morning Star kissed her and
promised to return quickly. She was not afraid because she believed her husband’s prophecy. He ran out of the lodge to tell Smoking
Cloud, a head chief. A band of thirty men volunteered to carry out Morning Star’s dream. The group left on foot in the darkness of the
With the instinct of a hunter and the inspiration of the vision, Morning Star led the party all night directly to the place where a smaller band
of Blackfeet were camped. The Sparrowhawks climbed to the top of a hill and spied on their enemy preparing an afternoon meal and
relaxing. They would wait until after the Blackfeet ate and fell asleep. Then they would sneak into their camp, release their horses and
Morning Star sat contentedly at the bottom of the other side of the hill. He patiently waited because he knew victory was his. When the
Blackfeet’s camp stopped smelling of roasted meat, Morning Star raised his right hand in a signal to his men. They crept to the top of the
hill, looked down with ferocity and at Morning Star’s second command, a silent nod of the head, flew down on the camp to the sound of
war whoops and the firing of their rifles in the air. The rush of swooping down on the enemy, yelling with all their strength and shooting
away, created a sensation of unified might. Morning Star quivered inside. He struck the first coup. He freed ten horses that were tied to
trees. He moved like a whirlwind realizing his dream.
It was over in thirty minutes. The Blackfeet disengaged camp speedily. Morning Star and his men jeered them as they dashed away. No
one on either side lost their life. The Sparrowhawks claimed the victory. Some of them trotted on their new horses; others walked
spiritedly back toward the village. What they had shared wove a web over them. It tightened the bond of brotherhood among them and,
especially, with Morning Star whose mission this was. While they traveled together, they joked and laughed and hailed each other’s
performance. They breathed in the same joy and slowed their pace. Once they returned home, the intensity of their special feeling would
lessen in the midst of the others.
“Let’s camp here tonight,” Morning Star suggested to the group, so that they could expand their time together.
Everyone was in agreement. They tied up their horses. A few men went out hunting for the evening meal. They came back with deer and
birds. The warriors ate heartily.
The night sounds were loud—the crackle of the leaves under the paws of prowling creatures, the howling of the restless coyotes, the
hooting of the wide-eyed owls. Night hawks circled low overhead in a graceful rhythm.
“It’s the fire that attracts the hawks,” Laughing Coyote said. “It’s the only light since there is no moon tonight, and the stars are hidden by
one huge cloud.”
“Yes,” Morning Star said. “They are a strange bird. Why do they fly at night alone and away from the other birds?”
“Why are you living away from your people,” asked Morning Star’s avowed brother.
“I have no people,” Morning Star said. “How can I live away from that which I do not have?”
“You have a family, Jim Beckwourth,” he said. “A father, brothers and sisters who raised and love you.”
“And I have my family here. Wives who care about me. I have parents and brothers and sisters who adore me. And I have a people who
“Yes, yes, my friend. You do. It’s just that sometimes I am concerned about you cutting off a part of your life.”
“No, Laughing Coyote,” Morning Star said. “Don’t you worry. When I have to go I will go. But that time isn’t now or near.”
The mention of leaving stunned Laughing Coyote who did not know Morning Star had it in his mind to depart for St. Louis. He had not
expected his probing to lead to this. He was looking for reassurance. He had hoped his friend would pledge a lifetime of loyalty to the
Sparrowhawks. He had, after all, committed himself in brotherhood to him. But Morning Star had never let go of the Beckwourths, and
he did not intend to let go. Why should he? He loved them. Truly, he did not know when he would leave, although he realized that the
longer he waited the more difficult it would become. But he knew that he had to do it. The accolades that he won endeared the
Sparrowhawks to him. But they were not his people. He still clung to his family for an ethnic identity, the Beckwourth tribe. Besides,
leaving was easier than staying for Morning Star.
“I didn’t know, Morning Star, that you thought about leaving,” said the dismayed man. “I thought you were happy with us.”
“I am happy,” Morning Star said, slowly.
“What about your wives,” asked Laughing Coyote, who was thinking about himself as much as about Lots of Trees and Swift Fish.
“I don’t know,” he said. “I don’t know. I love them so much. And I love you, too. You are a good brother. But I am confused again
about my life. Do you know how I feel? The way I did at Mr. Niel’s Academy when I got good grades. I’m doing well here but I’m out
of place. Laughing Coyote, I don’t know what to do. I just don’t know. Maybe there is no such thing as belonging. Maybe my father had
the same feeling of being an outsider and that’s what drove him to leave England for the States—first to Virginia and then to Missouri.
Maybe we’re all outsiders.
“I have good wives. I have friends. I have success here. What makes me even think about leaving? I don’t know. Sometimes at night I
wake up and look at Lots of Trees or Swift Fish sleeping. They are so beautiful and so at peace that it scares me. Much of their peace is
because of me and I have never been at peace. How much longer can I make them feel this way?”
“Morning Star, there is nothing wrong with you. You are ambitious. To be restless is your nature. It’s not necessary to throw away a new
life in order to revisit an old one. You can have both. But let’s keep quiet on this right now. Let’s enjoy our feeling of winning and dream
of the celebration waiting for us and your days to come as a chief.”
The celebration in the village was exactly as Morning Star had dreamed it.
Chief Morning Star thought himself less of a fraud now. If he could dream of himself as a Sparrowhawk warrior, then he must be one.
One day, Swift Fish kissed Morning Star good morning. The village made no sound yet. Families were still resting, dogs were still
sleeping, even the birds were silent. But Swift Fish could not be quiet. She could not sleep. There was life inside her belly and she
wanted to tell her husband at that pristine time.
“Hello, Morning Star. What a beautiful day it’s going to be,” she said.
“Once day breaks, it will be,” said her husband grumpily, and with his eyes still closed.
“Wake up, Morning Star. It’s not that early. And I want to talk with you.”
“Talk with me at this time? Swift Fish, what can you possibly want to talk about,” he said, in exasperation while rubbing sleep out of his
Swift Fish thought that perhaps she had made a mistake in waking him. But she quickly dismissed her doubt. He would not be angry
when he heard her reason.
“What is it, Swift Fish,” Morning Star asked again.
In a proud and sure voice, she said, “I am having our baby.”
Morning Star opened his mouth to speak but nothing came out.
“Yes,” she said. “It’s true.”
Her smile widened to where it could widen no more. It was clear that her news delighted her. Morning Star jumped up and howled like a
wild animal, lifted his wife gently around her waist and hugged her. Then this chief of the Sparrowhawks ran out of the lodge yelling the
news that his wife was with child. People talked for years about waking up to Morning Star’s cries, finally discerning his words and then
rushing to congratulate Morning Star and Swift Fish in their home. This was big news. Morning Star had been with the Sparrowhawks for
seven years. Everyone said that their child was destined to be special because it was so late in coming. Morning Star was completely
happy. The day that he found out he was going to be a father was perfect. And because his wife had awakened him so early, he had that
much more time to revel.
Laughing Coyote hoped that a child would usher in the settling influence that Morning Star had not yet found. He and his wife, Yellow
Falls, already had two sons and two daughters. Morning Star’s brother had become an able, loving father although he still kept the
personality of a loner, sometimes retreating inside himself when around other people. Laughing Coyote reasoned that fathering would
come easier to his gregarious brother.
Morning Star, however, was an entertainer, an actor, a storyteller. He did not have the patience nor the selflessness needed to make a good
parent. When Swift Fish told him that he was going to be a father, he celebrated the manliness of siring a baby, not the responsibility of
rearing a person. Besides, he thought, his child probably would be better off raised by one of Swift Fish’s one hundred percent
Sparrowhawk people. Laughing Coyote would be a better father. A child would show off Morning Star’s lack of knowledge and
experience. There would be questions about Sparrowhawk life that he would not be able to answer. In a sense, he was like a child himself
learning the ways of these people. News of his wife’s pregnancy did the opposite of keeping Morning Star still. It strengthened his
resolve to leave, though not quite yet.
Many of the women in the village had no doubt that they wanted Morning Star as their Sparrowhawk husband. As a chief, he had become
even more attractive to them.
There was one woman, however, who did not seek him called Red Cherry. She carried voluptuous curves on her compact body. Her skin
was tinged olive, her nose was long and straight, and her eyes were big and round. Red Cherry was sought after by every man with two
good eyes in his head. Morning Star liked and loved his wives but they were acquisitions to him. He dressed them up and showed them
off as pretty and talented. He wanted this woman more than any other because she was a challenge to possess. She was also married.
“Why must you pursue this woman,” asked his sister, Slim Woman, in her lodge one afternoon.
“She’ll be an asset to the family,” Morning Star said.
“And a difficult one,” she said.
Morning Star did not understand the meaning of his sister’s words but because of the taboo against brothers and sisters speaking deeply,
the conversation ended there. After Slim Woman served him a meal of roasted buffalo meat, he sent her to Red Cherry with a message to
rendezvous with him for a war campaign the next day. He also sent a basket of sweet potatoes and dried serviceberries. Slim Woman
returned with an extra pair of Red Cherry’s moccasins as he had requested. Now he knew that she was interested. He tied it with a pair of
his onto his pack dog.
Red Cherry met him for the expedition of thirty-four. The couple traveled six days on the way to the successful battle and seven coming
back. The expedition captured one hundred and seventeen horses. The warriors gave forty-nine to Morning Star and his new lady.
Morning Star cooed over her beauty. She softened with his compliments.
“Red Cherry, I like you and I want you for my wife,” Morning Star said as they took a walk in the woods away from the others at the
By traveling with him, Red Cherry already had become his mistress and in her married state, conceivably, his wife because her husband
might decide against her and she would be shamed for committing adultery. Morning Star knew this but he insisted on the formality of
“Are you the son of Noisy Owl,” Red Cherry asked in the spirit of ceremony.
“Yes, I am,” Morning Star answered.
“When I look at you, I am heartened. Yes, I consent. I consented days ago. But something must be worked out with my husband, Big
They spoke as stoically as blocks of wood. Morning Star expected a fight from Big Rain, a prominent man of the tribe. Morning Star’s
father, Big Bowl, already had given valuable property to relatives until the fight ended. Sure enough, Big Rain and his six sisters waited
for the stealthy couple’s return at the village’s center. After the crowd finished singing a song of victory for the warriors, Big Rain ordered
that they gather around Morning Star and Red Cherry. Then Big Rain and his sisters dragged Morning Star from his horse and angrily
whipped him. Morning Star writhed in silent pain, stifling his cries. If he had resisted, the avengers would have been justified in killing
him. If they had drawn blood, he would have been justified in killing them. Neither instance occurred. After the five-minute whipping,
Big Rain demanded all of Big Bowl and Morning Star’s horses. Big Bowl lost five hundred and Morning Star eighty.
Red Cherry was quite dear.
Friends gave the deprived men horses as gifts. Swift Fish gave Morning Star a verbal lashing for chasing a married woman when there
were many single woman from whom to choose another wife.
“You’re giving up horses and risking your life for her,” Swift Fish said that night at the celebration dances. “Big Rain is a strapping man.
Don’t you want to see your baby born?”
Swift Fish whimpered these last words. She sensed that he was uncertain about the baby now that it was due to leave her large belly any
“Of course, I’ll see my baby,” Morning Star assured her, placing his arms around her neck.
Morning Star shuddered at the thought of soon becoming a father. Whether or not he raised the child, it would be his. He did not want a
child. Not at all. It was pushing him into making decisions.
However, Morning Star’s personal anguish was also political. He agonized over the aggressive stance of the United States against native
Americans. He had lived in both places with both people as both people. He saw that although they both entertained the diversion of sex,
the vicissitudes of love and the certainty of death, their cultures did not even touch. It was clear that the United States would keep
expanding its borders. Morning Star knew that when thrown together, there would be clashes between these two strong peoples. But for
now, Morning Star encouraged the Sparrowhawks to leave the whites alone which they always had done. He also ensured fair trading
deals for them as an agent for the American Fur Company earning three thousand dollars annually.
Morning Star feared that a life of bondage might await his baby. Look at how many years it had taken him to win his freedom from his
own father! It angered him that his progeny would have to fight for respect because of his skin color and ethnicity. Would there be no end
to his grappling with prejudice, first in his life and soon in his offspring’s? No haven?
That night, Morning Star spent with Swift Fish. He dreamt of natural catastrophes—of mountains falling into rivers and rivers drying up.
He did not want to have a child! He was not ready for it! His country was not ready for it!
Morning Star woke up sweating and breathing hard as though he were being chased. This man, now thirty-five, felt that he could shore up
the courage to leave now and let his child grow up without his presence or influence. But he knew that he could not do that.
Morning Star looked down at Swift Fish sleeping. He coveted her equanimity; she was so whole with child. If only life were nature
alone. Morning Star had thought that Lots of Trees and Swift Fish would settle his mind. That had not happened.
The next day, Morning Star sent Slim Woman to Red Cherry again with word to meet him that night for another expedition. Red Cherry
was another diversion. Morning Star thought that having her as a wife might give him the wholeness he still had not found.
Red Cherry agreed to the second rendezvous. The two lovers and sixteen warriors set out on a two-day march to meet a small party of
Cheyennes. As Morning Star showed off his prowess as a fighter, his child pressed against his mother’s womb in a demand for birth.
Swift Fish laid in the center of the house talking with her mother, two sisters, Lots of Trees and Noisy Owl. She clenched her fists and let
out a stifled moan every once in a while. Two sticks on either side of her head had been planted into the ground. As the pains quickened,
she turned over, kneeled with her legs apart and her elbows on the fur beneath her, grabbing the sticks with all her might.
Hours later, a baby’s cry pierced the early morning.
Lots of Trees handed Swift Fish her child. Swift Fish held it weakly, mumbled how much it looked like its father and then handed the
precious armful back to Lots of Trees. The mother’s hair tousled and tangled, sweat now dried into her skin, she sank into a deep, much
While she rested, Morning Star marched home after a battle in which six of the nine Cheyennes escaped and six of the seventeen
Sparrowhawk warriors lost their lives. The Sparrowhawks hurt from their defeat. But Red Cherry’s company helped comfort Morning
Star because she still found him desirable after seeing him fail.
When they tottered into the village, Morning Star steeled himself for the flailing which Big Rain and his sisters again administered in a
maddened glee. Again, Morning Star forced a stoic response to it. He picked himself up and began walking toward Swift Fish’s lodge
when Lots of Trees caught up with him. She took his arm, looked into his bruised face and proudly said:
“She’s had the baby! It’s a boy.”
Morning Star pulled away and mustered the strength that he should not have had to run to Swift Fish. He reached the lodge with urgent
speed. Inside, Swift Fish was sleeping. Carefully, he picked up the baby, swaddled in a regal red and purple blanket, and kissed his tiny,
golden face many times. Slowly, he laid him back down beside his wife. Then he sweetly kissed Swift Fish on her forehead. She drifted
out of a dream.
“Do you like him,” she asked.
“Do I like him? Do I like him? Why, he ha, I love him! He is ours.”
Infused with the joy of creation at that moment, Morning Star could think of nothing more compelling than his son born in April, or Moon
When the Geese Lay Eggs. A calm enveloped the lodge where Morning Star spent that night and the next one.