Shoots Plenty looked at Esben and said, “My eyes are growing dim – I am old. A few more passing suns will see us here no more, and our dust and bones will mingle with the same prairies. I spoke to you of many things so you will better know the Lakota way.” He turned and bumped his heel against his horse’s side and continued to ride.
“Where do you go now, mi lita cola?”
Esben twisted in his saddle, trying to locate a more comfortable spot to sit, “I think I am going to Laramie. I got a letter…”
Before he could finish Shoots Plenty interjected, “I love this land and the buffalo and will not part with it. This is sacred ground. It is the dust and blood of my ancestors.”
They rode in silence for awhile before Shoots Plenty started up their conversation again, “The white man fears silence like he fears the dark and death.”
Esben pulled up and leaned into his saddle, looking off into the distance.“I think it is you, my friend, who fears silence. That is why you talk constantly. Sometimes I think you are a squaw, not a warrior.”
Shoots Plenty looked up at the sky for a long moment before continuing, “The sun, the darkness, the winds are all listening to what my people have to say. I want you to understand well what I tell you. I was born on the prairies where the wind blew free and there was nothing to break the light of the sun. I was born where there were no enclosures. I don’t want any of the medicine lodges, your schools, and churches, within my country. I want our children raised as I was raised.
I had a vision. I saw the dying spark of our council fires, the ashes were cold and white. I no longer saw the curling smoke rising from our lodge poles. I no longer heard the songs of the women as they prepared the meal.
Now the antelope have gone; the buffalo wallows are empty. Only the wail of the coyote is heard. The white man’s medicine is stronger than ours; his iron horse rushes over the buffalo trail. He talks to us through his whispering spirit what you call the telegraph.”
“It’s called progress, Shoots Plenty.”
“How does your progress benefit my people? My people are poor because we are honest. We are like birds with a broken wing. Our hearts are cold within us. When the buffalo went away the hearts of my people fell to the ground, and they could not lift them up again. There was little singing anywhere.
We built our tipis upon the earth and our alters are made of earth. The birds that fly in the air come to rest upon the earth, which is the final abiding place of all things that live and grow. The soil is soothing, strengthening, cleansing, and healing. This is why I sit on the earth instead of propping myself up and away from its life-giving forces. For me, to sit or lie upon the ground is to be able to think more deeply and to feel more keenly; I can see more clearly into the mysteries of life and come closer in kinship to other lives about me.
You must know for the Lakota, the mountains, and lakes, the rivers, and the woods are all in finished beauty. The winds, and rain, the snow and sunshine, the day, the night, and the change of seasons are endlessly fascinating. The birds, insects, and animals fill the world with the knowledge that defies the comprehension of man.
You are a good man, Wasichus, when we die all we have is our soul and your soul is good. We have ridden together for many sleeps, but I will leave you now. It is time for me to be with my people. We are old. Soon I will go to Paha Sapa, my people’s holy ground, what you Wasichus call the Black Hills. It is there that I want my bones to rest.”
“Well, I’m going to Laramie. That letter I received was from Major Frank Walcott. He asked me to meet him there, that he had work for me.”
“That is good, mi lita cola.”
The two men grasped forearms in a show of friendship.
“Go in peace, Wasichus.” Shoots Plenty turned and kicked his horse into a trot as he rode away. After a short distance he stopped and turned to look back at Esben and said, “We should have shot that one-eyed mule. We could have had a fine feast.”
Esben watched as his friend turned and rode off into the vast prairie.