A Long Way From The Buffalo Road

PrintPrintEmailEmail

Brinton Darlington came to the agency as our friend and helper, and we liked him. He brought assistants there, many of them Quakers like himself, who built good buildings and started schools and opened trading posts and laid out farms. He planted an orchard and a garden, so that our people might learn how fruits and vegetables grew. He was patient and kind; he managed like a chief; he prayed to the Man-Above when he was thankful and when lie needed power. So although he was a white man and did not speak our language, we could understand him. He died in iSja, some years before I was born, and when he was buried in the cemetery on the hill near the road that ran between the agency and Caddo Spring, there were Cheyenne and Arapaho chiefs, as well as white men, who wept over his grave. Later the agency was named Darlington, in his honor.

We had everything to learn about the white man’s road. We had come tu a country that was new to us, where wind and rain and rivers and heat and cold and even some of the plants and animals were dillerent from what we had always known. We had to learn to live by farming instead of by hunting and trading; we had to learn from people who did not speak our language or try to learn it, except for a few words, though they expected us to learn theirs. We had to learn to cut our hair short, and to wear close-fitting clothes made of dull-colored cloth, and to live in houses, though we knew that our long braids of hair and embroidered robes and moccasins and tall, round lodges were more beautiful.

Every white man seemed to have a great concern about time. We had our own names for the seasons and for the months that made up the year, but they were not the same as those the white man used. And we did not know how lie counted time, by minutes and hours and days of the week, or why he divided the day into such small parts.

We had never made brick or sawed lumber or had a wooden door to open and shut. Although some of us had visited the forts and the trading posts before we came to the reservation, and a few of us had seen the while man’s towns and cities, hardly any of us had been in houses where families lived. We thought windows were put in the walls so that we might look in to see how white people did their work and ate their meals and visited with each other. We pulled up some of the first little trees that were planted at Darlington, to see why the white people had put sticks in the ground in rows. There is a story that one of our men, given a little pig to raise so that when it grew up lie could have pork and bacon, returned it to the agency to be kept for him until it grew too big to get through the holes in his fence. He did not realize that he could repair the fence to suit the size of his pig.

We knew nothing about how to harness a work horse or turn a furrow in a field. Our women did not know how to build a fire in a cookstove or wash clothes in a tub of water. It was a long time before we knew what the figures on the face of a clock meant, or why people looked at them before they ate their meals or started oil to church. We had to learn that clocks had something to do with the hours and minutes that the white people mentioned so often. Hours, minutes, and seconds were such small divisions of time that we had never thought of them. When the sun rose, when it was high in the sky, and when it set were all the divisions of the day that we had ever found necessary when we followed the old Arapaho road. When we went on a hunting trip or to a sun dance, we counted time by sleeps.

My people had everything to learn about the white man’s road, but they often had a good time learning it. How they laughed when a war pony, not understanding what it was supposed to do when it was hitched to a plow or a wagon, hinged and jumped away and threw them Hat on the ground, with the plow or the wagon riding high in the air. Stairsteps, built to take people tip to a house built on top of another house, amused them. How pu/yled they were when they found that old men and women, among the white people, had teeth they could take out of their mouths and put back in again. They gave Brinton Darlington the name Tosimeea —“he who takes out his teeth,”—when he showed them that he could do this, and they wondered how he had come by that strange power. But when Mr. Miles, our second agent, came, he could do the same thing. It must be, they thought, something all agents had the power to do; so the movement of taking out and putting back a set of teeth became the word for agent in our sign language.

We knew nothing about cutting and storing hay, either. We had always moved our horses from one place to another, summer and winter, for good grazing; now we learned to move the grass to the horses and store it in stacks or in bales. This was new to us, but we saw how it worked. Our ponies no longer grew weak and lean in winter when snow and ice covered the dried grass. If there were good rains, the prairies and the hay fields could be cut not once but several times during the season. It was something we could hardly believe.