Reading, Writing, And History

PrintPrintEmailEmail When we receive a medicine our sacred helper gives us certain instructions. Sometimes we must not do certain things, like eating certain foods. If we disobey we may have bad luck or sickness or suffer a wound in battle. If we keep disobeying our sacred helper he will grow angry and place the life of his child as a stake against some powerful opponent who always wins. The souls of people who die this way are of a lower kind, but they are allowed to enter the Other Side Camp. However, the souls of suicides and murderers must roam the earth as ghosts.

Both ends, in short, worked against the middle, and even with the most steadfast faith and the most scrupulous care for observance of the proper ceremonies the Indian never quite knew where he was coming out. As we do today, he lived by prestige. If he could become a bureau chief, a branch manager, or a best-selling novelist—if, in other words, he could become a pipeholder—he had it made; except that to stand on the summit is to stand on a very slippery place. Even with the best medicine in the world, your war party could fail if your own skill and bravery were inadequate; on the other hand, the most brave and skillful man could fail if his medicine failed him. It was hard to figure.

The innocent and uncomplicated savage, thus, lived as we live, in a world he had never made. Life was infernally complicated and anything could happen. Man’s biggest problem was to figure out the rules by which the world worked and then abide by them, and if things eventually went wrong it could only mean that the Without Fires party to whom he had entrusted his destiny had played a losing game with some other supernatural. Or, as a man might say nowadays, he was a good man who just did not get the breaks. The savage was singularly modern in his outlook. He just used a different language.

The point is that this particular Indian, Two Leggings, spent more than the first half of a long and active life trying to understand the complexities of the universe in which his lot had been cast, and at last he supposed that he had caught on. So he abided by the rules, made a substantial success, was entitled to call himself a sort of war chief—and then he found that the rules of the game had been changed while he was looking the other way. Then there was nothing left. As Two Leggings put it: “Nothing happened after that. … There is nothing more to tell.”

Nothing more, except for the glimpse of a wild poetry by which these highly complicated men lived; the poetry, with its glimpse of the Other Side Camp and the Without Fires peoole, and the little puff-clouds of dancing dust shimmering across the endless plains.

We regret that in our June, 1967, issue the article “Down to the Sea,” featuring the thirteen marine paintings by Edward Moran, did not give full credit to the United States Naval Academy Museum at Annapolis. We wish in particular to thank the curator, Captain Dale Mayberry, U.S.N. (Ret.), for making them available to us.