Devil’s Tower But The Sioux Know it By Another Name

 

Sioux Warrior

The two men sat their horses facing west. One was a white man who came from Sweden to the western states to hunt beaver pelts many years ago when beaver hats were all the rage in Europe. The other an Indian, an old Lakota Sioux warrior whose people had hunted the land for many years, ever since the Anishinabe, the First People, forced them from the Minnesota Territory. The two had been friends a long time. They met a few moons after the great victory of ’73, when the Sioux along with their brothers the Cheyenne, defeated Yellow Hair Custer and his men at the Little Big Horn. Neither man had liked General Custer. The white man had worked as a scout out of Fort Laramie under the command of General Crook when Custer was under Crooks command as well. He rode with Custer a few times and considered him incompetent as well as arrogant. He felt Custer got his due. The years since then had passed quickly and they saw many people arrive and a change come over the land. They knew people like them would soon be forced to flee or die.
They were watching the sun fade in the west behind a tall rock jutting out over the Wyoming plains.
“Do you see that rock?” The old warrior asked his friend.
“Of course I see that rock. I ain’t blind. It’s Devil’s Tower.”
“That is the white man’s name. We have no devil in our beliefs. We got along well all these many centuries without him. You people invented the devil and, as far as I am concerned, you can keep him. But everybody these days knows that towering rock by this name, so Devil’s Tower it is.”
“So, what about it?”
“My people have another name for it. We know it as Bear Rock and there is a story to that.”
“Ain’t there always with you Indians?”
“I suppose. When you get close you will see on its sides there are many, many streaks and gashes running straight up and down, like scratches made by giant claws, bear claws.
Well, long, long ago, two young Indian boys found themselves lost in the prairie. You know how it is. You Wasichas get lost all the time. The boys shot their toy bows out into the sagebrush and went to retrieve them. They heard a small animal make a noise and went to investigate.
They came to a stream with many colorful pebbles and followed that for a while. Then they came to a hill and wanted to see what was on the other side. You know how that is, you Wasichus are always curious. Well, on the other side they saw a herd of antelope and, of course, they had to track them for a while.”
“Is there a purpose to this story, or are you just having fun at my expense?”
“That too. When the boys got hungry they knew it was time to go home but found they did not know where they were. They started off in the direction they thought their village was but ended up farther away from it. At last, being very tired from all that walking, they curled up beneath a tree and went to sleep.
The next morning they rose and walked some more, still headed the wrong way. They ate some wild berries and dug up wild turnips, found some chokecherries, and drank water from streams. For three days they walked toward the west.
On the fourth day, the boys had a feeling that they were being followed. They looked around and in the distance saw Mato, the bear. This was no ordinary bear, but a giant grizzly so huge that the two boys would only make a small mouthful for him, but he had smelled the boys and wanted that mouthful. The earth trembled as he gathered speed and got closer to the boys.
The boys started running, looking for a place to hide, but there was no such place and Mato was much faster than they were. They stumbled, and the bear was about to pounce upon them. They could see his enormous, wicked teeth. They could smell his hot, evil breath. The boys were old enough to have learned to pray, and they called upon Wakan Tanka, the Creator:
“Tunkashila, Grandfather, have pity, save us,” they prayed.
“All at once the earth shook and began to rise. The boys rose with it. Out of the earth came a cone of rock going up, up until it was more than a thousand feet high. And the boys were on top of it. Mato the bear was disappointed to see his meal disappearing into the clouds.
Have I said he was a giant bear? This grizzly was so huge that he could almost reach to the top of the rock, trying to get up, trying to get those boys. As he did so, he made big scratches on the sides of the towering rock. But the stone was too slippery; Mato could not get up. He tried every side. He scratched up the rock all around, but it was no use. The boys watched him wearing himself out, getting tired and finally giving up. Soon Mato left, growling, and grunting as he disappeared over the horizon.
The boys were saved.”
“How did they get down, old man? They were not birds. They could not fly. I suppose you are going to tell me that father Coyote came to save the day again?”
“No, not this time, Washichus, it was Wanblee, the eagle, he has always been a friend to our people. So it must have been the eagle that let the boys grab hold of him and he carried them safely back to their village.”
“Yeah? So why are you telling me this?”
“To let you know that the Sioux have been to the top of that rock and back down again. Wakan Tanka made it so. No white man has been there.”

My First And Last Ride

 

 

bucking-broncI was about to enter my first competition in the Tri-Cities Rodeo Classic in Wisconsin Rapids, Wisconsin. The announcer introduced me to the crowd of nearly 90 fans who packed the Wood County Fair Arena that night.
“Next on his maiden ride, we have David Hesse, from Brookfield, Wisconsin. He’ll be riding #12, outta’ Wheatland, Wyoming, a bronc named Peaceful, but I can assure you, that little bronc is anything but peaceful.”
A shiver ran down my spine, was I really going to do this? I looked at Juan Guitterez, my coach and noticed he was smiling.
Nearly all the spectators were either standing or perched on the edge of their seats. Suddenly, the crowd grew eerily silent as they released my bronc into the chute, but it wasn’t the bronc I had drawn the night before. It was a big black stud named Black Smoke.
“Hey, what’s this? I drew number 12, the little buckskin bronc.”
“Yeah,” the handler said, “but he kicked out the side of his stall last night and cut up his leg. We had to pull him. This here fella is his replacement. I know he looks pretty mean, but he was rode last night by Ferrell Bannister who pretty much rode the buck outta him. You’ll be fine, pardner.”
“Joo sure joo want to do this, gringo?” Juan asked. “Joo might geet hurt, reel bad.”
“No, but I’ve come this far and can’t see myself backing out now,” I replied.
Juan spent the past six months teaching me how to ride saddle broncs and now I was ready to try it out.
“The first time eez alweez dee hardest, gringo.It geets“ better, I promeese,” Juan laughed.
I stared at him and couldn’t think of anything to say, so I just shook my head.
“Joo ain’t got nothing under joo hat but hair, gringo. You see how beegs that flathead eez? Heez goin’ to keel you, gringo. If joo” die, can I have joo saddle?”
I looked over at Juan as I climbed the chute and said, “Sure, it’s your’s Juan. I appreciate your vote of confidence. Coming from my instructor it gives me a positive feeling.”
“Ha, ha, joo crazy, gringo. Thanks for jour saddle.”
As I stood on the fence, I looked down at this big flathead horse wishing I had the little bronc I had drawn the night before.
I eased down into the saddle, holding the buck rein in my riding hand and bracing myself with the other hand on the chute. I put one foot in the stirrup that was easiest to get to. Then I gently moved Black Smoke over so I could get my other foot in the stirrup. He looked up at me as I eased my feet up to the front of his neck, and I could see the whites of his eyes and knew you could hurt your eyes trying to find any compassion in that face. I was careful not to touch him with my spurs as that might have caused him to rear over backward.
I didn’t make any noise or quick jerking motions, remembering what Juan had told me, “Don’t joo speek out loud joo sceer your horse in the chute.” So I kept my mouth shut, for once.
When my feet and riding hands were in position, I leaned back and down in the saddle and tucked my chin to my chest. If Black Smoke reared out, I could still keep my balance. Juan told me if I didn’t keep my chin tucked and the horse throws his head back, I would be thrown off balance, lose his swells, and miss spurring the horse on the way out of the chute. How well you spurred your mount was part of your overall score.
When I was finally sitting on Black Smoke, I looked down on his head knowing a horse had to follow his head; if he rears, his head gives you the clue first. If he ducks you’ll be able to determine it earlier than if you aren’t looking at his head.
Finally, I was ready and nodded at Juan to open the chute gate. The big ol’ horse was watching me,
Everyone thought I was gonna get bucked, and Black Smoke wouldn’t just buck you. If you didn’t get out of the arena, he’d camp onto you something fierce. Then he’d go wipe out the barrel. Both Juan and I were scared.
Then Juan flung the chute open. The ride started out well. Black Smoke bolted from the chute with four straight high kicks and I stuck like glue. Then the bronc lunged to the left and jerked the rope out of my hands. I hung on with the tail of the rope, shifting to the left with each whipping turn.
I was doing real good, raking his neck with my rowels; then right before the whistle blew, I found myself too far to the inside. He caught me off balance and turned me a flip and while still soaring through the air, I heard the eight-second whistle. My final thought before I landed all wadded up on my back, breaking my collar bone was, “You almost made it Hesse.”

Sheriff of Cheyenne

 

 

 

 

cowboys

 

White clouds streaked against the blue sky. From this elevation, I could see the whole valley sweeping below and to the ridgeline beyond.
It was the edge of dark when I finally rode into the fairgrounds on the outskirts of Cheyenne.
I recalled how this place was nothin’ but one street with a hotel and a saloon and occasional gunfire. Now we got us a church, a store and a place to bury people properly. Even the ladies in the saloon are darn good at singin’ them songs they know and I swore to fight anyone I had to so to keep it good.
My body ached as I climbed the rail to watch as a horse finished up bucking in a tight circle in front of the catch pen. Old age is a cruel thing. It lays waste to body and mind and I damn well felt it after riding all day.
The whistle blew, so the rider grabbed his rein with his free hand and looked for the pickup men. Just another day at the office, I guess, or so I thought.
I heard a shot ring out in the crowd. The horse was still bucking his ass off in a circle. The pickup men were having trouble riding in to get him.
I looked around as I jumped off the rail and ran over to where Old Waco Thompson, one of my deputies who served mostly as the jailer, stood slouching. He was one of those men, born with nothing, who had spent his life proving he could be less than that. He was in his work clothes, a denim shirt and denim pants that were hitched low and a corral-stained western hat cocked on his head. He was in his late thirties, pushing six feet tall. He was tough and stubborn, but not very ambitious, a combination that could make you someone’s lackey or, at the very least, dead. The Wyoming wind and a few well-placed fists had hardened his face. His nose was slanted from an old break .
He was studying the cartridges in his hand before he inserted them in the loops in his belt.
He looked up at me and stood, fingering out a cigarette and lighting it with a kitchen match.
“Didn’t you hear that?” I shouted.
“Yep, sure did, Sheriff.”
“You know what happened here?”
“The son of a bitch was shot,” he said, pointing to a small patch of gravel and grass, and a body stained and coated with what I knew wasn’t rust.
“Who is he?”
“Don’t know, Sheriff; don’t think I never seen him before.”
I walked up and turned the body over. It was Juan Guitterez.
“Do you know who shot him?”
“Kid over there. Killed ‘cause he draw’d down on him, so’s he said, Sheriff. Here’s the gun that did it.”
He handed over the gun and I sniffed the chamber and sighted down the barrel for burned powder. It had been fired. I looked at the young man sitting on a bale of hay. I could see his face was written on by the wind and sun and he had a body shaped by working in the outdoors. The boy definitely belonged in the open.
“This gun’s in bad shape, Waco. Looks like it was used hard at one time.”
“I guess, but it still shoots purty good. Just look at ol’ Tex-Mex over there.”
“He’s dead all right. What was he doing?”
“He and another one was breakin’ in that trailer over there and running out with a bunch of stuff and throwing it on their burros. When that boy told ‘em to stop. Guess they didn’t, so he dropped ‘im.
“Where’s the other one?”
“Got away, I guess. He rode off on one of the damn burros with a bunch of the boy’s stuff. The boy said he woulda got him too if that damn old Colt hadn’t a misfired. One thing I would bet on. He ain’t dead, damn your eyes. The boy said he climbed that ridge,” nodding his head in the direction of the Grand Tetons far off in the distance. Wish’d I’d had my horse. I woulda got ‘im, that’s for sure.”
His eyes were streaked with red and his face was swollen, most likely from crying.
I did feel sorry for him.
“What’s your name son?”
“Ryan, Ryan Jackson, from Meeteetse”

“Long way from home, ain’t you. Can you tell me what happened?”
“I was down watchin’ the boys work the horses when I noticed some goin’ ons up here that just din’t look natural. So I mosied on over and caught this beaner and one of his friends stealin’ my stuff outta my trailer here. I dropped that son of a bitch, but his compadre got away with all my belongings. Now I ain’t got nuthin’ but what’s on me. Took what little money I had too. Damn, wisht I woulda plugged the other one too.”
“Aha, that so?”
“Yep, good thing I had that ol’ Colt with me or I’d a be lying where that beaner is lying now.”
“Waco?”
“Yes, boss?”
“Cuff this boy and take him to the jail and book him for murder?”
“What?”
“You heard me. I’ll be along shortly.”
The boy stared at me with hate filled eyes and said, “The hell you will,” and reached behind his back and brought out a small revolver, pointing it at my face.
Damn Waco, I thought, he should have made sure this boy was disarmed.
“Now listen to me, Ryan Jackson from Meeteetse, put that gun down before someone gets hurt.”
“It’s gonna be you, Sheriff,” he said cocking back the hammer.
My hand went down to my sidearm and I was clearing leather before young Ryan could blink. My .44 caliber round pierced his neck and he dropped to the ground, bleeding out next to Juan.
“Why’d you have to go and do that, Sheriff?” Waco asked.
“Waco, if you’d a been a little more alert, you’d a known that Juan is blind. Has been all his life. No way he could have drawed down on that boy. That little burro of his carried his entire life possessions and lead him around Cheyenne like a seeing eye dog. I have known Juan his whole life and he was the nicest young man I knew and he wouldn’t steal from anybody. I’d stake my life on it.”
“But what about the other beaner?”
“There wasn’t another beaner, Waco. Ryan said he took off in the direction I had just ridden in from. If there was someone heading out that way, I would have passed him. I was the only soul on that ridge today.”