Daily Archives: December 15, 2010

120 Years Ago Today

SITTING BULL AND DANCING HORSE

 Reid Dickie

 December 15, 1890 

Sitting Bull’s Camp

Grand River, South Dakota 

            Commotion was his cue, his spur, his trigger. Gunfire, whoops, whistles and yells! Dancing Horse needed no other prompting. He began to perform his repertoire of tricks; the seven Bill Cody taught him and the two he learned by watching other horses. He was a smart horse who learned easily.

            Though it was the middle of a cold night and the years had slowed his gait, it all came back to Dancing Horse. As the air filled with noise and bullets whizzed around him, the horse pranced and danced, sat on his haunches and raised his front legs, waving, whinnying and shaking his mane. He cantered in a circle, stopped, backed up and cantered on, a curtsy, a bow and, his finale, a high wild buck accompanied by snorts and a long careening whinny. Then he started again.

            The horse was born to the circus. Bill Cody had gelded him himself and taught him tricks. Dancing Horse was the gift Buffalo Bill Cody gave Sitting Bull when Bull retired from the Wild West Show. He’d spent recent years on the quiet prairie with Sitting Bull, far from the cheering crowds.

            At the door of Sitting Bull’s log shack, melee built into frenzy. The holy man, now 60 summers old, lay propped half-naked against the doorframe, dying; his blood, loosened by two wounds, soaked into the snow. Sitting Bull’s spirit soared over the scene, its grief brief for the hard and desperate life just lived, now elated by the familiarity of death and the antics of Dancing Horse, moving like a white ghost in the snow below.

            Long after the fighting ended, as the prairie filled with mournful keening, Dancing Horse continued to perform, repeating his act over and over. The horse had danced through the mayhem without a single bullet hitting him.

            He did not perform for the incredulous and spooked Sioux who stared in awe. Dancing Horse had an audience of one. His old friend Sitting Bull watched long in delight, solely entertained by the horse’s show, then he turned and his spirit embraced The Light.

            As the first rays of dawn swept over the frozen land, Dancing Horse collapsed into the snow, exhausted. A little boy dressed in buckskin advanced toward him, extending a handful of sweetgrass.

September 6, 2002

 MESSENGER

Reid Dickie

December 15, 1890

Central Plains

                  Overhead Orion paused in mid hunt; half a moon lit the prairie snows. The Spirit, its message clear and urgent, rose from the shabby encampment on Grand River, the scene of the crime.

            Wearing only paint on his body, riding a horse with arrows and lightning bolts painted on its white flanks, the ghostly Messenger held a human skull on a stick. Half his face was red, half white, his heart was painted with a blue starburst and his body had wavy yellow lines running from foot to throat.

            Sailing through the clear cold air the Messenger traveled north over the rolling hills of Standing Rock Reservation to Cannonball River, the end of Hunkpapa land. Every tiny cluster of tipis with warm dreamers inside in the camps of Thunderhawk and John Grass got the news as they slept. Some awoke keening in grief.

            The Messenger turned south, crossed over the Grand River in a single bound and headed toward Cheyenne River Reservation, home to the Minneconjou. In his dream, Yellow Bird, the medicine man received the news with a jolt, grabbed his rattle and woke the camp. It was nearing dawn but still dark and cold as Kicking Bear, the high priest of the Ghost Dance, his wife Woodpecker Woman, and all the Minneconjou were informed.  Further on, the camps of White Swan, Bear Eagle and Hump were next to be grief stricken. Off the reservation, the camps of Touch the Clouds and Red Shirt received word.

            The ghost Messenger leapt the Cheyenne River and flew southwest toward Pine Ridge Reservation. Passing over Bad River, through the eerie Badlands past Castle Butte and a leap over White River got him to Pine Ridge and the camps at the headwaters of White River. Black Elk, the mystical shaman of the tribe, received the news and told the Oglala chiefs Red Cloud and American Horse. Ghost Dance priest Good Thunder immediately began to beat a hide drum and chant.

             Spirit Messenger turned eastward just as dawn was blemishing the blackness. A leap over Pass Creek, through coulees and around buttes and Two Strike’s camp was informed; the ghost dancers Short Bull, Mash-The-Kettle and Plenty Horses began to paint their bodies with grieving symbols.

            By the time the sun rose, the Great Plains was lit with grief. As far west as Tongue River Reservation in Montana, Wind River Reservation in Wyoming, and as far south as the Kiowa Reservation in central Oklahoma – they all knew what had happened. Even the people of Walker River Reservation in western Nevada, home to visionary Wovoka who brought the Ghost Dance to the people, knew.

            Except Orion, no one saw the ghostly figure riding the strange awkward horse but they all reported his message with sad accuracy:

“Sitting Bull is dead.”

 September 9/02

 

 

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12 SACRED PLACES

12 SACRED PLACES

DAY 2

TWO FEATHERS MEDICINE WHEEL

August 7, 1997

“Entering the awe”

                Overhead a red-tailed hawk cries and soars on the updrafts, “Every moment sacred” its constant message. Here on the ground I am hatless, shirtless, my entire being brought into the moment, present once again among the sacred.

                Situated on the highest hill around, about 25 km west of Leader, SK, Two Feathers Medicine Wheel rests almost exactly on the Saskatchewan/Alberta border just upstream from the confluence of Red Deer River and the South Saskatchewan River. Since I had never seen it referred to by any specific name, I called the site Two Feathers because on my first visit here in 1996, with the wind howling high, cold and fierce, I found two small feathers impossibly stuck in the grass, resisting the wind’s onslaught. Later I discovered people call it Roy Rivers Medicine Wheel because he first homesteaded here.

        

On the right the central cairn of Two Feathers/Roy Rivers Medicine Wheel looking west above the Red Deer River on the Saskatchewan-Alberta border

              When Linda and I traveled through here in 1994, I picked up a free local tourist guide. I always take any free stuff along my journeys. It said, “Visit our medicine wheel.” Okay, where is it? I asked around, found out the present landowner’s name, contacted them for permission and directions and easily found the place first try.

            What a place! The 360-degree panorama is breath taking. I can see for miles! Below the Red Deer River shines like a silver mirror, deep ravines cut the rolling prairie to the north and east, pasture and cultivated fields complete the landscape. Tiny Empress, Alberta sits below the site on the riverbank. The usual prairie flora cover the hillside; prickly pear and pincushion cacti abound making hiking boots essential. Tipi rings dot the surrounding hills.

Illustration of Two Feathers/Roy Rivers Medicine Wheel

             The medicine wheel consists of a tall central cairn, over four feet high, surrounded by a single ring of stones that features a double line opening to the south. The cairn, constructed of beautiful, lichened stones, has an indent in the centre of it. My intent is to seek personal guidance on my life purpose. My heart pounds from the arduous climb to the place and the excitement of the moment.

              Present and welcomed, I start my ritual. Walking the outer ring of stones singing my power song and rattling in reverent prayer, I feel higher and lighter with each cycle as I spiral toward the centre sunwise. Songs, which arise spontaneously from my lips, become mere whispers as I step inside the cairn and sit in its “nest.” Easy communing here. In a few moments, I am elated, bubbling over with laughter. The message is direct, clear and powerful. Laughing and crying with gratitude, I repeat over and over “I understand. I understand.”  I feel utterly cared-for and loved, directed and encouraged.

           Lying on my side in the central cairn my sobs and joyousness soon transform into perfect peace and complete humility. I hear laughing voices ripple up the hillside toward me, stone elementals chatter and in the distance, the cry of the red-tailed hawk, guardian of the sacred. All I am is a speck on the wind.

             When I feel able, I slowly stand and carefully step out of the cairn. I circle the stones again, singing my power song and thanking the local spirits and the Creator for this day. I float back down the hill in a haze of mosquitoes, weeping, yet feeling ecstatic, utterly at home in myself and in the world.

             I have visited Two Feathers Medicine Wheel three times and each time been given the gift of guidance and foresight. Two quotes from my notes after the visit suggest its significance: I felt as if I was “entering the awe” and, later, “blissful to tears.”  My intuition says this sacred place is over 2000 years old. Though no signs of recent medicine making were visible, the place resonates with wise and ancient wisdom, born from the shaman’s drum and the humility of the vision seeker, from the howl of the wolf and the shiver of the quail, from sun, moon, wind and Spirit.

DAY TRIPPING

RIDING MOUNTAIN NATIONAL PARK/MOUNTAIN ROAD 

May to October 2010

            Just a 45-minute drive from my hometown of Shoal Lake, Riding Mountain National Park, otherwise “The Park,” is familiar and comfortable. I worked in Clear Lake for a couple of summers in my youth; my parents had a trailer there for a while. It is part of my history.

            This summer I drove through The Park five times, always north to south and always in the morning. Untainted and beautifully preserved, despite having about a dozen new hiking trails, The Park still offers a pristine landscape that teems with wildlife. On my drives, I spotted moose, deer, coyotes and, elk.

Grayling Lake in Riding Mountain National Park,  summer 2009. One of the last pictures Linda took of me.

              If you start it just as you enter The Park and drive the 80 kms an hour speed limit, the first Deep Forest CD lasts all the way through the drive and ends just as you leave.

            South of The Park and just past Erickson is Mountain Road, Provincial Road 357, once renowned for Philip Ruh’s magnificent Catholic Church, which burned down some years back. The highway takes you across the rolling foothills of Riding Mountain then, step by step, delivers you off the Manitoba Escarpment back onto the floodplain at Highway #5. The descent clearly features the various beach ridges of Lake Agassiz as the lake filled and receded over millennia. Finally, the last mile is a glorious chute around a gentle bend that is a thrilling finale to the ride.

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12 MANITOBA CHURCHES

12 MANITOBA CHURCHES

DAY 2

Christ Church Anglican,  Roblin, MB

              This small wood frame church was built in 1928-29 and exemplifies basic Gothic design. There are the standard pointed lancet windows with simple tracery, a moderately steep gable roof and a tower with heavy dentil and battlement. The battlement gives the little church a well-fortified medieval appearance.

          The tower is somewhat unusual in that it is placed at the corner of the nave and serves as a belfry rather than part of the entrance. The louvered openings on the tower are arched rather than pointed but the light tracery restores the points.

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