True Montana Stories



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FINDING HER WAY HOME

A True Montana Story

She gazed at the scratches her husband had added in the ledger book. Could he be going upriver with the American soldiers? Startled by the notion, she raised her finger tips to her mouth. Going up river to her home!  Was this her chance to go home? She walked to the sleeping robes and stroked the soft buffalo fur with her toes. Quickly before she changed her mind, she bundled the hides.  She'd make a gift of her work to the Captains.  They'd see she could be a valuable worker.

Months later, Sacagawea  and her infant sat in a boat.  For weeks now, places along the river reminded her of happy, carefree days.   Frightening memories loomed but she denied them power now that they lived in the past. There was the time when her husband nearly capsized the boat, when a flash flood almost ripped baby Pomp from her arms and when a raging fever nearly ended her journey. But now, home was near.

The day warmed as the boatmen polled past tall cliffs. Flies buzzed around. She rubbed bear grease on Pomp’s fat cheeks. A snap startled her. When she looked up, a fear like no other gripped her. Instinctively, she pressed her son to her so he’d stay quiet. Nearly frantic now, she looked for her husband. He wasn't in sight. 

She saw nothing that hinted of danger.  Why would this place made her feel weak with fear? Then she knew. This was the place of her first night as a Mandan slave.  All the horror suppressed for five years now swept over her. .

The last time Sacagawea saw her people they were picking berries along the river.  A war party crashed out of the bushes. Her people fought and died bravely to give the young ones time to run.

Sacagawea stopped to help her dear friend who had a bloody gash over her eye. The enemy spotted them and ripped the two apart tying each to a  horse. She bit and squirmed but could not get free. Then she  silently begged the Great Spirit to save her friend. Just then the friend's rope, lubricated with blood, let her friend slip free and slide beneath thick bushes.

Sacagawea howled a death keen to make the raiders think her friend was not worth retrieving. Her captor  slapped her to stop her wailing.  As they rode off, she vowed to return to her friend and family.

Pomp grew tired of his mother’s tight hug. He was hungry. Soon the joy of him pushed away her fearful memories. She gave thanks for being released from this haunted place. She too was hungry and longed to walk on shore to pick the ripe berries that weighed down the bushes. She would dry them for Pomp to suck on during the Starving Moon.

Finally the travelers left the boats for a twenty-day walk into her homeland. They saw no one and she feared her people had gone buffalo hunting. When she'd nearly given up hope, a song of welcome rang out. A group of her people appeared and a familiar woman ran to her. It was her friend, badly scared, but with two shy sons who proved she was loved. They hugged, laughed and cried then stood back to admire their handsome sons.

Her people urged her to hurry toward the cluster of wikiups in a distant stand of cottonwoods. Her heart thumped with joy as  the welcoming party led her to the chief’s lodge. She entered, eyes down, as befit the presence of a great man. But when she heard the welcoming voice, she jumped up in a rush to embrace her brother. When she was able to speak, she presented a new nephew to the chief.

CHEKA

A True Montana Story

A pathetic whimper pulls me awake before dawn. Where am I? My head tries to clear.  I'm in a tent below Granite Peak (just waiting to be climbed).  Half-asleep, I can't fathom the whining.

"Cheka, here boy." I called into the inky blackness. An agonized gasp answers my call. NOW FULLY AWAKE, I scramble from the tent. "What's wrong?"

I sense rather than see him as he slinks away from me. Or, is it Cheka? I dive back into the tent. Where's the flashlight? Where's my dog?

The narrow beam finds him cowering in the bushes. Mighty malamute, maw on paws, face full of quills. My heart thumps wildly but I soothe him with a promise that come daylight I'll fix him good.

First light, we trudge miles back to the car. Cheka is prancing, pain forgotten. Suddenly he's stalking. Now he chases a vole into a hole, thrusting in his nose. I wince and cry out in his pain.

He yanks out his head--vole skewered on quills; flings it into the air and devours it whole. He's beside himself with canine glee as I savor yanking the lethal quills.

I've only 25 pounds on him and a pair of pliers, so I invite him into the car's back seat. Wrestlers, we tumble one over the other until I wedge him into a headlock with his body pushed behind mine.

Adrenaline pumping, his only hope is to jerk his head about and scream into the wilderness. One by one, I pluck them. Nineteen out and two exhausted. Cheka snoozes in the front seat, I in the back. No mountain climbing today.

THE SLAM

A True Montana Story

Love puts a damper on enjoying bridge. My partner and I could play competitively. Really, we are that good. But to please my tender-hearted Chris, we only spar with friends.

I do enjoy our games. Once a week, we clean the house and make a luscious dessert. I check the wine cabinet and inevitably run to the store for a better vintage.

Last night, the phone rang at six. It was Ginger. Her husband had been called back to work. I was so disappointed. They are both such good players. She sensed my gloom and asked. “Can we play anyway? I’ll bring a shark.”

I looked around making sure I was alone, shielded the phone with my hand and whispered. “As in card shark?”

Instead of answering, Ginger giggled.

“Okay, but I’m innocent.” I clicked off and knew I was in trouble. My sweet partner hated confrontation. Chris always bid to a dummy hand refusing to take the lead. It made me stretch as a player and our friends didn’t mind. Would Ginger make her “shark” understand? Would she make sure her shark would not attack?

I was a nervous wreck as I showered, dried my hair and fretted about what clothes to wear. Finally, I was ready but kept going back to the mirror. Anything on my teeth? Nose hairs?  My heart pounded.

The doorbell rang. When I opened it, I was so stunned all I did was sweep my arm to indicate they should enter. The shark was Frank Stein, a notorious sore head and the Queen City’s Bridge Champion. I tried to stay calm. There’s no chance he’d lose tonight. Was there?

Chris didn’t recognize him. Once we relaxed with our wine, I enjoyed the game. We were losing but not by much. Ginger dealt the last hand and we all perked up. I bid first and everyone nudged the bid higher. Frank twisted the button on his cuff. Ginger hesitated and then taped her finger gently three times. I looked at Chris. My smart little dummy saw it. Chris hated a fraud.

Frank announced, “Six No Trump -- Small Slam.”

Ginger laid her cards on the table. Frank’s neck muscles instantly tensed. Nervously, I led the king of hearts asking Chris for reassurance. Chris put down the queen of hearts and I happily took the trick. The cards that distressed Frank had to be in Chris’ hand. Frank needed every trick now and we could easily lose by a lead to his strength. I was in agony.

Across the table I saw a poker face. I didn’t know Chris had a poker face. The queen must be a signal. I took a deep breath and led a low heart.

Chris took the trick. Then with surgical precision, my partner slit open Frank’s slam and only relented by letting him take the last trick. We made his bid and tallied up the winning points. Frank looked ill and retreated to the bathroom.

Chris and Ginger cleared the table and brought out the desserts. A stubborn cork needed all my attention. Frank returned, downed the dessert and even complemented us.

Thankfully, our guests didn’t linger. I closed the door and turned to Chris who still wore that same poker face.

“Did you hear?” Chris wanted to know and I shrugged. He told me. “It’s what I get for playing with amateurs.”

I braced myself then led Chris to the bedroom. The full lips of that poker face began to quiver. Surely tears would follow. Remorse hit me hard and must have distorted my face. Chris squeezed my cheeks and laughed.

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