Monday, March 2, 2009

Gone to the Other Side Camp

I borrowed a book from a friend's library long ago and it made a lasting impression. In Two Leggings: The Making of a Crow Warrior, Ethnologist William Wildschut recorded the life story of a northern Plains native (Crow = Apsaroke, the Raven People) before his generation was no more--those who lived their Paleolithic lives before civilization overran them.
The transcript from 1919 - 1923 was later edited and published. It has been hard to find, but thanks to the internet and a reprint, anyone can get it now.
Born in 1844 in the Crow heartland of the Yellowstone and Bighorn River basins, and soon orphaned, the boy with the birth name Big Crane was full of ambition and courage and rose to war party chief; in fact he led the last Crow raid before the clans were sent to the reservation. He and his mates lived the free pirate life, stealing horses from the Piegans and Sioux, which is a dangerous business indeed. They lost friends frequently to bears and accidents. The seamlessness of that life, in which dreams, daily reality, religion and work are not separate from each other, is a wonder to us. His birth and then his adult names were not just chosen but were derived from dreams, memories and visions and those guided his people each day as well -- they lived in the dangerous, magical moment.
Inspired by this jewel of a story, I've researched and read about New World natives for decades. But I've always remembered how Two Leggings ended his story, so poignantly, at the point the purpose of life was over for him, when the raids and hunts ended with incarceration on the rez:
"Nothing happened after that. We just lived."
He passed over to what he called the Other Side Camp in 1923, just after concluding his story for the ethnologist. He endured those long dead years in order to accomplish that last deed.

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