Tag: pawnee

Get Ready to Remember How It Rained

It’s Almost Time to Remember How It Rained

January is coming and it’s almost time to . . . Remember How It Rained.

I’ve been hard at work to bring back Margaret Rose, Jack Hollingwood and Kuruk Sky Seeing to my readers, who have been so supportive and enthusiastic about Seven Kinds of Rain.

As a result, Seven Kinds of Rain‘s sequel is coming down the tracks, to be available for purchase January 27, 2017. Mark your calendar, please, for

Remember How It Rained, River Saga Book Two.

rhr-72dpi-front-cover-website

Remembering, where justice begins

Divided in childhood but children no more, Margaret Rose, Jack and Kuruk answer the echoes of childhood loves, memories and voices. Power is shifting in Darkwater Creek, old crimes cry out for justice and Nebraska’s deadliest floodwaters gather in the west.

Book Two of the River Saga, Remember How It Rained continues Seven Kinds of Rain’s voices of innocence, corruption, courage and justice on the Great Plains.

It sings of running away and coming home to find love, truth and justice in the places and people who won’t let you go.

If you haven’t yet read Seven Kinds of Rain, look for it here. At the time of this writing, Amazon and Barnes and Noble are offering crazy-good prices to set you up for the next book, if you or a friend aren’t ready. At these prices, Seven Kinds of Rain is a great Christmas gift, and with the sequel coming on so fast, the timing is right!

 

Nebraska, 1900: Where Are the Pawnee?

Sculpture near Naponee Nebraska

Driven From Home

In my upcoming novel, Seven Kinds of Rain, one of my main characters is Kuruk, a Kitkehahki Pawnee character born in Oklahoma around 1904. As a child, he runs away from different Indian schools to finally establish a tenuous existence in the heart of his ancestral homeland. Yet, in the early 1900s there were few, if any, Pawnee tribal members living in that part of Nebraska. For my writing, I set out, into libraries and on a trip through the Republican River Valley of Kansas and Nebraska to more deeply understand this change.

Looking back to Nebraska in 1900, where are the Pawnee?

For the following information, I draw heavily and cite page numbers from David Wishart’s powerful book, An Unspeakable Sadness: The Dispossession of the Nebraska Indians. I encourage you to consult it for more information on the course of Indian tribal histories in Nebraska. It was one of my most useful resources for understanding the devastations of regional history, and gave me insight to the injustices visited on Plains Indian tribes in the 1800s and 1900s.

The Pawnee’s Chaui, Skiri and Kitkehahki bands traditionally inhabited much of the region the U.S. divided into Nebraska and Kansas.

Pawnee territory map

They made their homes, circular, domed riverbank earth lodges, and raised some crops, living off native plants and hunting native animals.

model of Pawnee earth lodge

model of Pawnee earth lodge at Pawnee Historical Museum

They seasonally migrated west for buffalo hunts, utilizing portable hide-covered dwellings.

Pawnee Family Summer Home

I learned about Kitkehahki Pawnee band plains life, as it flourished in the 1700s and early 1800s, at the Pawnee Indian Museum near Republic, Kansas, where I saw this and other Pawnee portraits by George Catlin.

George Catlin painting of Man Chief, a Kitkehahki (Republican) Pawnee

George Catlin painting of Man Chief, a Kitkehahki (Republican) Pawnee

A series of government-engineered cessions of Pawnee lands during the 1800s (most of which occurred against a backdrop of tribal starvation and decimation by disease) drove the Pawnee into smaller and smaller spaces. By 1844, the meager Pawnee annuities expired, and in 1848, they lost rights to all lands south of the Platte River. (Wishart, 66) By 1858, all four Nebraska Indian societies had sold the last of their tribal lands, apart from small reservations. (69) Neglect by reservation agencies, conflicts with White settlers, and repeated intertribal conflicts further weakened the Pawnee, making Nebraska reservation life near the Loup River at best unstable, and at worst, untenable. (132)

An 1857 treaty required all Pawnee children between the ages of seven and eighteen to attend school. (179) The continuity of Pawnee culture was even more completely disrupted, as was that off all Indian tribes, by the American government’s Indian School policies of the 19th and 20th Centuries. One such Indian Industrial School was located at Genoa, Nebraska, and while some Genoa and other Indian school students reported being pleased with their American education and acculturation, for many others, their separation from family and the attempts at assimilation they suffered were devastating, sending trauma down through generations of Native families.

Genoa Indian Industrial School

Genoa Indian Industrial School photo from usgennet.org

After the Kansas-Nebraska act, and by the 1870s, the Pawnee in Nebraska suffered from White settlement and theft of Pawnee land and resources, including timber, along the Loup and Platte rivers. By 1873-1875, the Pawnee were squeezed out and relocated to Oklahoma Indian Territory. (188)

Nebraska, 1900: Where are the Pawnee?

On their allotted reservation lands in Oklahoma, the Pawnee and other Plains Indian tribes came together to embrace change, wrestling with the government for decades and adapting to survive legislated deprivations and broken promises. Some of the young people became outwardly modern, educated in White ways, even as their elders preserved traditions, as in this photo.

Pawnee father and son, 1912

Pawnee father and son, 1912

Long removed from their ancestral lands, the Pawnee have re-established a presence on their sacred land near the Loup River, an interesting development I’ll address in a later post. Both on and off the reservation, the Pawnee flourish and their population is on the rise. But in the early 1900s, a Pawnee character in Nebraska would seem to have been unlikely. Yet, from my authorial standpoint, one seemed necessary, to expose and explore the injustices of history.

So Kuruk Sky Seeing came to be. I hope I have done him some justice, by showing his dispossession, his fragility, and his tenacity in the place he insisted on calling home, against a world that insists he doesn’t belong off the reservation.

 

*All page numbers (in parentheses) refer to: Wishart, David J. An Unspeakable Sadness: the Dispossession of the Nebraska Indians. Lincoln, Neb.: U of Nebraska, 1994.

 

 

Magpie as Pawnee Presence

As I revisited (in research and in travel) the Republican River Valley of The Darkwater Liar’s Account for my next novels, I sought to learn about people of all races who lived and died in that region. My research led to the Pawnee tribe, with its Skidi, Kitkehahki and Chaui bands, who historically and currently call Nebraska and Kansas their ancestral home. Learning invoked my respect, which encouraged further study and blessed encounters with two Pawnee tribal members, who helped me see how the Pawnee people and culture remain vital today. In all of this, I learned about Magpie as Pawnee presence.

Magpie was a significant animal and spiritual figure to the Pawnee, as evident in stories recorded by George Amos Dorsey (1868-1931). G.A. Dorsey was an American ethnographer of North American Indigenous people and an anthropologist for the Field Columbian Museum. He is both a helpful and troublesome character for me in terms of research, as he documented a great deal of Native folklore, even as he desecrated and plundered Native graves and regarded Indigenous people and customs as relics of dead civilizations. Yet, I had to appreciate that several of Dorsey’s Pawnee stories, recorded in his The Pawnee: Mythology, feature Magpie as recounted by specific, named members of the three Pawnee bands in the waning years of the 19th Century.

A few of the traditional stories tell how Magpie stood out from other birds as a helper to humans, an intercessor and actor who would guide the lost and bring healing. Even though I was once-removed from the first storytellers, reading Dorsey’s translation from the Caddoan Pawnee language, I felt a quaver of the old voices through the pages, across time. My world view is far from theirs, but I treasure their meaningful accounts of Magpie and the other powerful animals and characters in their tradition, such as Coyote and Bear. So much so, that I wove a few into my next two novels.

In my next post, I’ll talk about Magpie as a character in my writing, and how I received my own blessing from this bird. (And thanks to Nanette Day, a writer, editor, publishing consultant and friend, for this post’s key illustration, which she designed with a quote from one of my previous posts.)

Magpie and Myth

The word “myth” in conversation is often used to label something untrue, but in many dictionaries, that definition is secondary. Merriam-Webster’s primary definition of myth is “a usually traditional story of ostensibly historical events that serves to unfold part of the world view of a people or explain a practice, belief, or natural phenomenon.” The word “ostensibly” raises doubts of factual truth, but doesn’t rule out aspects of truth in cultural myths, or their important purpose of explanation. Those who study Greek and Roman myths, for example, understand that while the more magical antics of gods and goddesses are likely not factual, they speak a sort of truth about our human foibles, while mentioned battles, conquests and heroes may originate in recorded events and real people.

Science poses questions, ventures hypotheses and seeks proofs to determine what is fact. I love science, and believe that anything true has nothing to fear from science. Yet, science has yet to develop measurements or proofs for every aspect of human experience. Therein remains the margin, the mystery and the role of myth, even in an age of science. Because of the space between fact and meaning, there lingers our human need for a good story, to enlighten and explain.

So the magpie remains, not only as genus and species, but also a meaningful figure. Sometimes heralds of disaster or bad weather, in other cases, magpies are considered good omens. Mixed human feelings about the noisy birds are evident in nursery rhymes, first noted in European print in 1780, in John Brand’s Observations on Popular Antiquities:

charhallmagpieptgOne for sorrow,
Two for mirth,
Three for a wedding,
And four for death.
This beautiful illustration, titled “One for Sorrow Two for Joy” was painted by Char Hall. (Prints are for sale here on Etsy.)

Combing world history and literature for magpie stories, I focused on Magpie as a figure in Native American, specifically Pawnee, tribal lore. Readers of my first novel, The Darkwater Liar’s Account, may recall what seemed like a throwaway line on page 257. While mowing her lawn, Bridget wonders who will take up that chore after she dies. She considers, “Maybe it will just go wild, back to tall prairie grass. Better yet, back to the Pawnee, who hunted here.” (I have since writing that line met a person who did exactly that—he returned his Nebraska land to the Pawnee tribe. More on that, later.)

In my next post, I’ll explore how the Pawnee and their mythic Magpie became central to my upcoming novels.

Greeting a Magpie

My first childhood experience of greeting a magpie was in Estes Park, Colorado, in a parking lot. When I held a cracker or cookie or some other object overhead, a magpie would swoop down and take it. This interaction with people impressed me, as did the rushing, iridescent black feathers and sizzling white belly feathers on that swooping bird. Reading about magpies since, I find they have a reputation as highly intelligent thieves of shiny objects, especially in captivity.

Magpies are members of the corvid, or crow family, as are rooks, jays and nutcrackers. There are different magpie varieties, with the most widespread American bird being the type I met in Estes Park, the black-billed magpie, Pica hudsonia. Another variety with a yellow bill, Pica nuttalli, inhabits only woodland regions of central and southern California. The non-corvid Australian magpie, Cracticus tibicen, is a piebald bird. There’s also an entire genus of blue-green magpies in the Orient, Urocissa, and the azure-winged Cyanopica. A distant Corvidae relative, the black magpie Platysmurus leucoptyrus, is in fact a treepie and not a magpie. Take note, and thank you Wikipedia for sorting that out for us. We wouldn’t want to confuse our magpies and treepies!

I became a voracious seeker of magpie lore while researching my upcoming novel. Throughout North America, England, Germany, China, Korea and ancient Rome, the magpie appears in traditional stories and proverbs. On A Letter from the Netherlands, an expat British writer muses on how the superstition-laden magpie carries a bad reputation and is most often a bad omen in her tradition and family experience.

Reading about mythical magpies led me to reflect on the power and durability of myth, and how myths hold value for us today. In my next post, I’ll address this and greet Magpie as a mythic figure.

(Thanks to Christophe Libert for use of his magpie photo!)

 

 

Sacred Bundles Our Children Carry

With permission, I drew this sketch of a sacred bundle on display at the Pawnee Indian Museum State Historic Site near Republic, Kansas. Because of the bundle’s ongoing sanctity to the Pawnee people, on-site photographs are prohibited. The bundle appears to be made of some sort of hide, and tied with ribbon-like bands. A long smoking pipe, fragments of arrows, a fork tipped with bone and small American flags adorn the outside. The pipe appears to be carved of stone, with a stem of wood. A Kansas Historical web site reports that this particular bundle was once x-rayed, and contains stuffed bird bundles, hawk bells, counting sticks and a leather strip decorated with glass beads.

Sacred bundles like this were integral to Pawnee medicine ceremonies. Only a woman could possess a bundle, which usually hung on the west wall of a home or above an altar, while only men could utilize it in ceremonies.

A sign near this bundle reports that it originated near Loup, Nebraska. A young Pawnee girl named Sadie carried it away on horseback from the famous battle at Massacre Canyon near Trenton, Nebraska, in 1873. On that day, a thousand Sioux surprised 350 Pawnee men, women and children on their summer buffalo hunt, and approximately seventy Pawnee were killed. This is recorded as the last major battle between two Indian tribes in U.S. history. Sadie’s father entrusted the bundle to her at the battle, binding it to her back. He died that day, without having an opportunity to explain its ritual use. Sadie kept it safe as her family’s spiritual legacy, and her daughter entrusted it to the Kansas State Historical Society.

As I consider this object, I think about the manual labor and arts of preparing the skins and the pipe. I consider the meaning, now obscure, assigned to the arrows, the fork and the pipe. Who decorated that leather strip with beads? What are its colors and designs? How did the men handle the counting sticks in their rituals? The bones in those bird bundles once bore feathers high above the earth, with bright eyes looking down on prairie grasses, earth lodges and the twisting Republican River.

Time and memory. Meaning and mystery. Tragedy and hope. So much human experience, rolled up in leather and tied with ribbons and flags. The hope of a family, a legacy caught up in a crisis. A sign of enduring faith for a struggling people, suspended behind glass for this writer to sketch and ponder. Among all of my questions, one endures.

If I had to send my child running for survival today, with only seconds to decide, what bundle of meaning would I thrust into those young hands, to inspire my future generations?