RURAL BRYANT, SD, PRESENTS:
This rather cool reception and the way the tent flaps were slapped shut in their faces, was quite unexpected from blood kin. After all, they could claim better treatment if they stood on their rights. Both Mary and Joseph Little Soldier were of the lineage of the village's founder, the headman David Tall Chief. As descendants, they could have demanded the best tipi--but, then, everyone in the village claimed similar descent, so maybe it was wise to say nothing and depart, just as they did.
One old woman, going to throw something unmentionable from a cracked jar on the camp's edge, called out on seeing them turning away into the night. "Those desert country folk, those sheepmen out there, they'll have something for you! Go to them! We're just too tight already in this place already, even without you young strangers horning in!"
"Sheepmen from the desert country?" the bedraggled travelers wondered. Why would the high desert-dwelling Dinee be bringing their sheep so far north into the cold? The old woman's words did not make sense, so they turned from the village, without any assurance that there would be helping hands and open hearts out waiting for them in the chill dark beyond the village's campfires.
Just as Joseph thought, they found no such shepherds. Only the Plains stretched beyond as far as they could still see in the darkening air. But within earshot of the village, they were suddenly surprised when they stumbled upon a shepherd's lean-to in the man-tall Prairie grass. It was just big enough to break the wind, and with a fire it it could be made snug for a new life. Nothing was said, or needed to be said, between the expectant mother and the protecting husband. The wonderful, desperately needed gift of shelter was immediately seized with grateful hearts!
Joseph set busily to work, getting the lean-to ready for Mary. He had to make a bed for her, and put by a water skin, and get up a fire that would warm her and also keep off any wolves.
As soon as he had things in order, she came and lay on their two horse blankets, under which he had stuffed plenty of dry grasses. He soon had a good fire going too. For fuel there lay sheep droppings around, not to mention bison chips, though elsewhere the bison were thinning out rapidly, due to the coming of the white man's rifle, plow, fences, and, worst of all, the fiery, steam-blowing iron horse that rode iron logs laid end to end and brought in white settlers like swarms of locusts upon the lands of the Lakotas.
But the white-faced locusts seemed far away at this moment. The fire's glow was cheering. Its warmth radiated back against the lean-to, which trapped just enough heat to comfort them before the rest escaped into the starry night.
For it was night! Stars blazed above their upturned faces in the cloudless heavens. Not a breath of wind stirred, fortunately. The noisy, disorderly village had become quiet, the people retired to bed. Joseph could hear the slightest insect sounds--the clan of brother crickets under the horse blanket bed, for instance, that sang all the more loudly because they had found something to sing about that crickets only know.
But Joseph's forehead furrowed with grave concern. How Mary's cries in childbirth, which she tried to stop with a piece of the blanet clenched in her teeth, carried across the Plains! It made him extremely anxious that the villagers might complain and come and tell them to be quiet, or, worse, the shepherds might return to claim the lean-to, and how inconvenient that would be! They might be angry and force them out into the cold, despite Mary's great need of a sheltered place for the birth.
It is hard to know who suffered more, Joseph or Mary, in the crisis of childbearing. How Joseph sighed with relief when he heard it was over, the newborn's squalls telling him that the shepherds could come and grumble all they liked, it wouldn't matter so much now that the baby was safely born!
Joseph, just now wiping sweat from his brow that worry had put there, was not the father. Was he upset? Not at all. Having been told in a dream, he knew exactly Whose child this was. That is why he had done the right thing in the circumstances. He hadn't discarded her, but had stood by her, and then when the law of the white man came to them, ordering them to their place of birth to be counted and taxed by the head, he had brought her to their clan's ancestral camp, where the village now stood packed tipi-to-tipi along both sides of the creek's winding bed. Imagine! The proud and mighty nation of the Lakota having to submit to such a thing! But times had changed drastically from the times of his father and his father. The Lakota's hoop was broken, they had lost almost all power over their own destiny.
What then was this Child? And how had it been conceived?
The same shining sky-warrior that told him not to put Mary away from him, he explained that this child to be born was the Chief of chiefs, the Son of the Great All-Wise Creator-Spirit. The Spirit of the Creator himself had overshadowed Mary, before she married Joseph, and conceived the holy child. For what purpose was all this done? Joseph's next response showed it right then as he threw himself down before the baby, his hands outstretched toward the greatest Event and Being in his life!
But who would know that a Lakota man was worshipping the Son of the Creator of all things? The Plains were vast. The worshipper and the mother, also worshipping even as she cared for the newborn, they were alone in the tiny lean-to, the only people nearest them in the unfriendly village.
It didn't seem to matter that no one else seemed to know about the earth's grandest Event, for the moments passed, and the birth had tired Mary even more than the journey. She needed her rest. And Joseph was tired too, from the strain, mostly, of looking for a suitable place for the birth. This was all he had been able to find, but, admitedly, it had served, though it was most humble. A fine tipi in the village, he reasoned, would have been the proper place for the birth of the Creator's own Son, not a shepherd's lean-to!
Seeing that the Creator's only Begotten Son was sleeping like any ordinary child, and Mary Looks Twice seemingly asleep with Him, Joseph relaxed too, but not enough to forget his duties. He rose to sit by the fire, keeping watch while the two slept. It gave him time to think.
What would happen to the Lakota, for instance? They were sorely oppressed people. Would they have to wait until the child grew to a warrior before he conquered and drove away all the pale, intruding Wasichu?
But even if they had to wait years for that to happen, it would be wonderful.
Imagine! The Lakota lands all theirs once again--no iron horse charging across the Prairies, huffing and puffing steam and spewing cinders, the bison would come back, there would be peace and plenty again.
Or, if not peace exactly, there would be no white men lording it over every tribe! They were worse than two winters at once! A time back, when he was a boy, there had been two winters at once--it was a very hard time and many people died, mostly very old and very young, unable to keep warm in their shanties, tents, or dug-out dwellings in the sod.
Which reminded him--why hadn't the snow come, and the real cold? So far it wasn't true winter. The grasses had dried, but still no snow, and the harsh, wolf-fanged winds.
Suddenly, Joseph jerked wide awake. Footfalls, running fast, alerted him. He sprang to his feet, staring into the distance. Yes, people were coming! But not from the village. The shepherds? Or others?
Joseph caught the Lakota words mixed in, and one of them use the term for "sky-warriors." Rising and signing to him, they made themselves better understood. Joseph could hardly take in what they were trying to say.
The shepherds cried to him and the now awakened, startled Mary that they were camped quite some distance away, and everything was quiet, the sheep chewing the cud of their last meal of the day, when the sky seemed to pour out brightness beyond the sun, and from the brightness beings like none other on earth, yet like warriors in shining buckskins and stars for beads--cried to them, proclaiming peace and goodwill to all tribes! But this was not all. Not so pleasant, one warrior, greater than the others in height and star-beads, came striding toward them where they lay in the grass. That frightened them badly. The sheep panicked and ran away, scattering out of sight, and the shepherds would have followed them but their limbs refused to move, they were so terrified.
The great sky-warrior spoke to them! "Don't be afraid, for look! I bring good news, which will give great joy to all people, for this day there is born in the village of David Tall Chief..."
Finished, the shepherds gave the Chief of chiefs their Dinee blessings, and then went off to find their sheep, though they passed through the village ripping aside tipi flaps and shouting the good news to all within. All in all, it was quite a night for the village of David Tall Chief!
With the shepherds gone, Joseph sat still for a moment. Mary Looks Twice again rested, her eyes closed, as the baby clung to her breast. Joseph was bothered about something, come to think about it. Sky-warriors had come and proclaimed, "Glory to the Creator in the highest, peace, goodwill to all tribes"? Did that really mean ALL tribes, or just the Lakotas and the other tribes of the Seven Council Fires? After all, one could go too far with a good thing, giving blessings to undeserving people. What if the Gift weren't properly received? Unable to keep it to himself, he expressed his misgivings, different ways, both to himself and to his exhausted, resting wife.
"Do you think," he thought aloud to her, "that the Chief of chiefs has really come to save everybody, including our enemies, the treaty-breaking Wasichu and their allies the cunning and treacherous Crow people? After all, the Wasichu stole Lakota lands, broke treaty after treaty, sent government troops and attacked our villages without mercy, and then, without manly shame, made us drunk with their fire water and then proposed new treaties to our people, who didn't know what they signed as they couldn't read the Wasichu words! Surely, He doesn't intend to help our deadly foes! No, He will lead us in battle, and make us all invisible, and we shall shoot every Wasichu with an arrow, and rid the land of them forever! Isn't that what the sky-warriors meant?"
Mary Looks Twice, after hearing the shepherds' account, then Joseph's account (for she couldn't sleep until she felt less tired than she was), thought it over--just as she had pondered things before.
She looked the matter over twice, in fact, but said nothing in return to her husband, letting the silence speak. That was Mary's way, the result of having a grandmother's wise heart somehow set in the breast of a young woman well-named Looks Twice.
Joseph's questioning ways were not hers. Men could afford to think the way they did, women had to be more practical. The Chief of chiefs in her arms, drinking from her breast? What did He have to do with the problems men had created for themselves, probably by thinking too much about them as men will do? This was only a newborn. But later, later when he was grown to be a man and a warrior? What then?
Perhaps, Joseph's ways had touched her more than she would have wished. She considered this new question, and how the buffalo were nearly gone from the lands of her people. What would happen when they had all been slaughtered by the Wasichu? They took little of the meat, sometimes the hides and horns, but left everything else--wasting the animals, leaving them to rot, which meant fewer and fewer breeding pairs for the future herds. What then if this kept on as it was going? No buffalo? Starvation for her people?
Holding the Chief of chiefs, it came to her then with great force of conviction that she herself held the Answer in her arms.
As if to challenge her assurance, the buffalo rose up, pictured in her inner eye. How mighty they were, claiming the lands of the Lakota as their own, for they had come into first possession.
How their feet made her heart beat as they thundered in countless numbers, the multitudes of shaggy backs and flanks flowing like great rivers to the east and south.
Nothing could stop them from running whithersoever they wished--until the rifle-bearing, sharp-eyed Wasichu came from the east, riding the great, noisy iron horse.
Everywhere the buffalo fell and lay in rotting heaps!
The remainder scattered, the immense herds broken up into small bands. The buffalo retreated, fell back before the flying bullets and eagle-eyed Wasichu. It was truly the end of their people and their way of life!
Even now she was not allowed to rest. The visions, for such they were, kept coming to mind. She saw her Lakota people, hunger and fear creeping into their eyes, young and old, as their provision from the Creator-Spirit, the buffalo, vanished from off the plains like smoke into a clear sky.
Where the herds overflowed every hill and valley, there was only empty, waving grasses!
She saw her people's faces, and from the expressions on them she could tell their hearts had died.
Then she watched her people fall back, hungry and scattered into small bands, fleeing the Wasichu just like the buffalo had done before them. Only there was nowhere safe to flee. The Washichu always followed, to drive them out of whatever refuge they hid in!
Mary's visions faded, and she was left to ponder them.
She considered these things, all these things as she lay with the baby, but somehow she felt a renewed assurance flow warmly into her chilled heart. Somehow she knew that later, when the Chief of chiefs had grown to strength and manhood, He would put things right again for the Lakotas! Surely, they had no other Hope than this One she held to her breast.
Rejoicing, she felt a sudden check in her spirit. Why? she wondered. Had she thought forkedly? No, she knew she had not thought evilly of anyone or anything. What then was the meaning she had missed?
She pondered the matter for some time, and then it dawned in her heart like the brightness of the Morning Star. The Chief of chiefs himself was the Perfect Buffalo, come down from the sky-lodges of the Creator-Spirit. He would become the Lakota's provision. The Lakotas would eat of Him and never again grow hungry and fearful for their lives!
It was a most strange though wonderful thought. They did not need the buffalo herds any longer, they would be sustained entirely by the Great Buffalo born of God, the very One she held in her arms? She did not question the Mystery, for that it certainly was, but she had to wonder how this would work out when it came to fill the people's cooking pots. The Great Buffalo was, after all, a man in form. And the Lakota people did not eat men's flesh--that was abhorrent to them, even in the worst starving times of the past. Yet she knew in her heart that the Creator-Spirit, Whose Son she held, intended all Lakota to feast on His Great Buffalo--just how, that was up to the Creator-Spirit and His Son to show them.
Mary looked twice at the matter. She knew it was true and would always be true: this Chief of chiefs would somehow be the Provision of the Lakota for all time to come, taking the place of the herds the Wasichu had swept away from the plains.
Finally, she came to the end of the whole mystery, and how it would happen, how He would sustain the Lakota people and keep them from starving.
She thought, "Like the buffalo, He will sacrifice all of Himself for our sake, and in doing that the Creater-Spirit will become everything to us, since He will give all we need to us through His Buffalo-Son.
That will mean we will feed on His Spirit, not his flesh, and always be filled and not hungry and starving."
Sleeping at last, Mary Looks Twice rested for a while, and then she heard the dogs in the village waking up. She knew it would be a short time only before the sun rose and the women would be getting up to start the new day by preparing something to eat for their households.
It made her think something that she did not know had an answer: "Will my people eat the Great Buffalo, Son of the Creator-Spirit? Or will they spurn Him in their pride, turn away from him and starve and die? She wasn't sure what they would do. It remained to be seen. She could only hope they would see and accept their salvation had come to them, and not spit and turn away from him.
"Husband, can you bring me more water?" she called gently to the sleeping form sitting by the dead fire.
The Wasichu is the Lakota term for the white race, and is not pejorative or demeaning.
Lakota Indians have taken anglicized names in most or many cases, so "Mary" and "Joseph" would not be unknown to them and would very likely be recognized as common names.
The "Dinee" is the name the "Navahos" call themselves, simply meaning, "The People."
Ofcourse, it would not be likely that they would journey with their flocks north to the Dakotas unless they were seeking an Eastern buyer at a train depot, which the shepherds in this story must have been doing.
Journeys of hundreds of miles to sell horses and cattle and furs was nothing remarkable on the Plains and Prairies, however, in the early days.
Sign-language? Since the earliest traders appeared from the north country (coming down the rivers), it was universal among the tribes and was so well developed that there was no major problem with communication between the tribes and the many language groups.
Lastly, "sky-warriors" would be "angels," which in turn translates as "messengers", though the Bible indicates that these heavenly "messengers" are capable of warfare against God's enemies, making them quite unlike any human counterparts.
Lastly, there is no effort made here to interpret the Bible Nativity in terms of Native American religion. Some terms are similar, true, but that is what has to be to make the story believable, though the meaning is made clear that there is one Creator God (or the Father), the Spirit, and One Only Begotten Son--this Triune God was not known to native Indian religion. As for Christ being born of an Indian maid, that is not scriptural, as Christ was to be born of the Jews, and He certainly was, yet the Lakotan context here is still able to convey the wonderful fact that Christ was born of the Jews FOR ALL PEOPLES, TRIBES, AND NATIONS, AND TONGUES. After all the angels proclaimed on the night of Christ's nativity: "Glory to God in the Highest, and Peace on earth and good will to men with whom he is well pleased." John 3: 16 further says: "God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, that whosever believeth on him shall have everlasting life."
By this truth, we who are Gentiles (and that includes all Indian tribes) are blessed right along with the Jews.--Ed.
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