Heritage (Johnny Hunter #2) by Richard L. DuMont

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ALSO BY

Richard L. DuMont Johnny Hunter Hunkpapa Sioux




Edited by David M. Johnson Proofread by Jamie Rich

HERITAGE

Copyright Š 2020 Richard L. DuMont All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law. For permission requests, please write to the publisher. This book is a work of fiction. The characters, incidents, and dialogue are drawn from the author’s imagination and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

Published by BHC Press Library of Congress Control Number: 2019954378 ISBN: 978-1-64397-068-4 (Hardcover) ISBN: 978-1-64397-077-6 (Softcover) ISBN: 978-1-64397-078-3 (Ebook) For information, write: BHC Press 885 Penniman #5505 Plymouth, MI 48170

Visit the publisher: www.bhcpress.com


TABLE OF CONTENTS Chapter One

THOMAS BROWN BEAR.....................................13 Chapter Two

THOMAS’ FUNERAL...........................................23 Chapter Three

GAME DAY..........................................................35 Chapter Four

SIXTEENTH BIRTHDAY......................................44 Chapter Five

COYOTE DREAMS..............................................53 Chapter Six

THANKSGIVING.............................................64 Chapter Seven

NEW FRIENDS....................................................72 Chapter Eight

A BIG SURPRISE................................................82 Chapter Nine

A SNOWY DAY....................................................91 Chapter Ten

THE BUFFALO HUNT.........................................104 Chapter Eleven

HOME FOR THE HOLIDAYS................................123 Chapter Twelve

TRIBAL COUNCIL..............................................136 Chapter Thirteen

THE CROW GAME.............................................143 Chapter Fourteen

PARFLECHE.....................................................155


Chapter Fifteen

TSITSISTAS................................................165 Chapter Sixteen

RESCUE........................................................171 Chapter Seventeen

CLINIC........................................................181 Chapter Eighteen

GRACIE........................................................189 Chapter Nineteen

LITTLE SISTER..................................................196 Chapter Twenty

FEBRUARY..................................................203 Chapter Twenty-one

RICHARD.......................................................209 Chapter Twenty-two

TOURNAMENT TIME.........................................216 Chapter Twenty-three

THE WEEK BETWEEN......................................225 Chapter Twenty-four

THE SCOBEY GAME.........................................231 Chapter Twenty-five

BACK HOME.....................................................242


To Hannah, Emma, Anthony, and Noah



heritage



Chapter One

THOMAS BROWN BEAR

JOHNNY. HI, Richard,” Sarah Pretty Feather said as she walked “H I,down the bus aisle. She could see her breath and felt cold, de-

spite wearing a heavy sheepskin jacket. Stopping next to the boys, she nudged Richard. “Oh, sorry,” Richard said. He stood up and gave her his seat next to Johnny. “Thanks,” she said, sliding into the seat. She put her backpack under the seat and ran her hand through Johnny’s long black hair. “Did you grow overnight? How tall are you now?” “I’m six two,” he answered, smiling at her. He took her hand off his head and held it. “Are those new earrings?” Turquoise and silver earrings sparkled through the strands of her dark hair. “No, Johnny, I’ve worn them several times.” “I know,” he said smiling. “I was just teasing.” Sarah gave him a dubious look, her black eyes shining. 13


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The bus started and they sat quietly as they bounced with every pothole. “Are you ready for the geometry test?” “I think so. I worked problems until ten last night. I really do struggle with math but thanks to you, I’m sure I’ll pass this test today.” “Good,” Sarah said. “You are better at math than you think.” The old yellow school bus chugged along, heading toward St. Andrew High School. The two-story brick high school sat at the other end of the grade school parking lot. It had a small gym with stands on one side, where the Chiefs played their home games, usually on a Wednesday or Friday afternoon. Because St. Andrew was a small school, with around 120 students, Johnny had started on the basketball team as a freshman. Now a sophomore, his grade school friends played too, alongside a few juniors and one senior. The Chiefs had won their first three games for the first time in a long time. Excitement buzzed across the Northern Cheyenne Reservation. Johnny loved the morning ride to school. Holding hands and talking to Sarah felt like the best way to begin any day. She was bright, beautiful, and after almost two years as an item, he still felt eager with anticipation for their daily bus ride. During the basketball season, he rode home on a different bus with his teammates. Richard always reclaimed his seat next to Johnny. Still best friends, Johnny started for the varsity while Richard only played occasionally. When Richard got in the games, Johnny tried to get him the ball so he could score. Richard had always been slow, but his shortcomings showed up more at the high school level. Still, Richard played hard at practice and pushed the better players to be even better. The bus stopped next to the high school entrance and the students streamed down the steps and into the building. Johnny reluctantly let go of Sarah’s hand. She kissed him on the cheek and headed for her classroom, chatting with two of her friends.

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Father McGlothlin taught American history and was Johnny’s homeroom teacher. Thomas Brown Bear was the only grade school teammate in his homeroom and they always sat next to each other. The other grade school boys were spread throughout the school, but most of them played for the high school Chiefs. “Hi, Thomas,” he said as he slid into his school desk. “Hey, Johnny,” Thomas answered quietly. He didn’t look up from his history book. Thomas didn’t talk much, so Johnny opened his geometry book and began reviewing last week’s lessons. Johnny’s class schedule consisted of American history, Latin, plain geometry, English, religion, and American Indian history. He struggled with geometry but otherwise received As in all of his subjects. After worrying about the geometry test all through homeroom and Latin, he felt relief when he received the test. His confidence rose as he looked over the problems. He started on problem one and quickly worked through the ten questions. Johnny finished in ten minutes, confident that he had scored well, and smiled as he handed in the test. Sarah’s tutoring had helped immensely. The rest of the school day passed quickly. Basketball practice took place immediately after school, and Johnny looked forward to it every day. The high school coach, Daniel She Wolf, ran a much tighter practice than Coach Goodheart had in grade school. Any mistakes or lazy play resulted in running up and down the stands or doing push-ups. But the Chiefs had been on a three-game winning streak, and Johnny appreciated that all of the hard work paid off. Coach She Wolf blew his whistle to start practice and the Chiefs gathered around him. The boys knelt down in a small circle. Johnny wondered why Thomas wasn’t there. “Where’s Brown Bear?” the coach asked. “He’s not usually late for practice.” The team shook their heads. After a few seconds, Johnny raised his hand. “I don’t know, Coach. I saw him at homeroom but he 15


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wasn’t in the cafeteria for lunch. I didn’t think much of it. I thought maybe he brought a sandwich and was eating it outside. He does that sometimes.” “Okay, then. Let’s get started without him.” Coach She Wolf made a note on his clipboard. “Start with some layups.” He clapped his hands and the team immediately started the bunny line drill, as they did to start every warm-up. After ninety minutes of rebounding, dribbling, passing, running fast breaks, and plays with a lot of emphasis on defense, Coach She Wolf blew his whistle to end the practice. “See you tomorrow. That was a great practice.” Tired but exhilarated, Johnny showered, dressed, and went outside through the school doors with the rest of the team. The school bus waited for them. Coach Goodheart, the grade school coach, sat behind the black steering wheel. “Good practice?” “Yeah, great,” Richard said, walking past the coach and groaning as he sat next to Johnny. “I think this will be a quiet ride home,” Goodheart said. “Looks like She Wolf ran all the energy out of you boys.” Johnny looked at Richard and nodded in agreement. The bus slowly made its way over the Northern Cheyenne Reservation, dropping the players off at the gravel driveways that led to their homes. As usual, Johnny and Richard were the last ones on the bus. “Where is Thomas Brown Bear?” Goodheart shouted over the bus engine. “We don’t know,” Richard answered. “He was in homeroom this morning,” Johnny said. “I hope he’s all right.” “Strange,” Goodheart said. “It’s not like him to miss practice.” He stopped the bus at Johnny’s house and opened the creaking doors. “Bye, Coach. Bye, Richard,” he shouted as he walked down the steps and left the bus. 16


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Cold air greeted him. He tightened the sheepskin jacket collar around his neck and ran up the driveway to his house, past the old basketball backboard that waved back and forth from the strong winter wind. Johnny pushed open the wood door and warm air, smelling of rabbit stew, welcomed him. He quickly stepped inside and closed the door, dropping his backpack on the floor. “Hi, Johnny,” Minatare called out as he hung his coat on a peg. She stood over the wood stove, stirring a big black pot with a large wooden spoon. Her hair, black with silver streaks, hung in braids over her faded yellow sweater. She smiled at him, her eyes and face wrinkled from too many hours working in the garden each spring and summer. “Hi, Mom.” He walked across the room to her and she turned and hugged him. She smelled like hand soap mixed with rabbit stew. Their hugs lasted a little longer ever since Johnny’s father had died in a car accident two years ago. After washing his hands in the kitchen sink, he sat down at the table. Minatare picked up the black pot with a rag and brought it to the table, setting it down on another dishrag. She dipped out a large spoonful and filled Johnny’s bowl. Filling her own bowl, she tore a piece of fry bread in two, gave half to Johnny, and poured tea into her cup. They both put butter on their fry bread. They talked a little as they ate dinner. Johnny told her about his day at school, especially about doing well on the geometry test. And that Thomas had missed practice. Minatare mostly nodded her head as he talked. After dinner, Johnny washed and dried the dishes while his mom worked on her quilt. When he finished, he opened his backpack and put several books on the table. He opened the geometry book first, even though he disliked it more than any other subject. Johnny always did the geometry assignment first to get it over with before continuing onto the more enjoyable subjects.

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Minatare sat on the big stuffed chair; her Christmas quilt lay over her lap and dragged down to the floor. She would sell it at the upcoming Christmas craft show at St. Andrew. The black-and-white television played quietly in the background, even though she wasn’t watching it. The telephone next to the chair rang. “Hello,” Minatare said, holding the phone next to her ear. Johnny looked at her, wondering who was calling at suppertime. Suddenly, Minatare gasped and raised her hand to her face. Tears welled in her eyes. “Oh, no,” she said. A look of disbelief washed over her face. “Oh, no.” She wiped the sudden tears from her cheeks. Johnny stood up. “What is it, Mom?” He walked across the room and put his arms around his mother. “Okay. Thanks for calling,” she said. Hanging up the phone, she wrapped her arms around Johnny. She breathed a heavy sigh. “Johnny, I’m so sorry. Thomas Brown Bear has passed away. They found him this afternoon hanging from a tree behind the high school.” “No, Mom, that can’t be true. I just saw him this morning in homeroom.” “It’s true, Johnny. They think it happened during lunch today. He used a rope from the school maintenance shed.” Johnny let go of his mother. He stood still for a moment and then staggered back to his chair. Tears rolled down his cheeks and he put his head down on the table and cried. Minatare wiped her eyes with a kitchen towel and put her hands on his shoulders. “I’m so sorry. Thomas was a nice boy. Was he upset or sad about something?” Johnny raised his head. “No, not that I could tell. He’s always quiet so I didn’t think it unusual this morning when he didn’t say much. I find it so hard to believe he could do something like that.” A few moments passed in silence. “How about I make us some tea? A good cup of mint tea might help just a little bit,” Minatare said.

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“Sure, Mom.” Johnny wiped his eyes with a red handkerchief and stared at the table, his mind racing, trying to remember anything that might have been a warning from Thomas. When the teakettle whistled, Minatare poured the steaming water into two mugs with tea bags and set them on the table. She poured honey into both and slid one to Johnny. “Johnny,” she said, “do you ever have thoughts of hurting yourself or suicide?” He shook his head no. She took his hand in hers. “Reservation life can be so hard, especially for young people. Sometimes hope for any kind of a decent future looks bleak. That’s why your dad encouraged you to play basketball so you might win a scholarship and get a good education, and maybe you might have a better life.” “I know, Mom. But as hard as it is living on the rez, I love it. School, basketball, even working on Saturdays at Miles City Construction make me feel good. Grandfather, you, Sarah, my friends at school love me and I would never do anything like suicide to hurt any of you.” They both stood up and Johnny hugged his mother. Holding each other, they cried silently until Minatare spoke. “If you ever feel really sad, you can always see Father McGlothlin. He’ll listen and would be a big help. He was very good to us when your father died.” “I will, Mom. I promise.” “Good,” she said and kissed him on the cheek. “You better finish your homework. Gray Man should be home soon.” The next morning, news of Thomas’ suicide dominated the school bus ride and swept through the high school. Chatter filled Johnny’s homeroom; students expressed their disbelief and shock. The room went quiet when the door opened and Father McGlothlin walked into the room. Wearing his black cassock, the tall priest stopped at his desk, set his books down, and indicated with his hands that the students should take their seats. The room grew very quiet. “I assume that everyone knows about Thomas’ death yesterday,” he said. “I find, at times like 19


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this, that prayer can offer the most peace and understanding. So, let’s stand and pray the Our Father together.” Desks squeaked as the sixteen students stood up and put their hands together. Johnny joined in. “Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name…” While saying the familiar words, Johnny looked at Thomas’ empty seat. He sighed and pushed back tears. He gradually became calmer. As the prayer ended, Father McGlothlin walked up to the students and hugged each one of them. Most cried in his arms. Johnny did not but held on a bit longer, feeling comfort in the warmth of the priest’s arms. Father McGlothlin walked back to his desk and the students took their seats, chatting with each other. After a moment, he signaled for quiet. “I don’t know much more than you do about Thomas’ death. Mr. Shenz, our custodian, found him hanging from a tree on the edge of the woods. He had tied a rope around a branch, climbed up on an old stump, and jumped. “It’s sad to see someone so young die. There are just too many young people dying on this reservation. Thomas wasn’t the first young person to commit suicide or die from alcohol poisoning. If any one of you ever feels that sad or depressed, please come talk to Father Shannon or me. “Girls, if you are too shy to talk to a priest, please speak to one of the nuns. Sister Rita Francis loves every one of you. It’s important to talk to someone before your sadness overcomes you. Pray to God and He will give you grace and strength. Now, are there any questions that I can answer?” Except for some scattered coughing, the room remained quiet until Mary Buffalo Calf raised her hand. Overweight and shy, she was the least likely student to ask a question of the priest. Johnny turned around in his desk, surprised by Mary’s raised hand. “Yes, Mary,” Father McGlothlin said, turning his attention to her.

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She stood up. “Father, because Thomas committed suicide, is he going to hell? It’s a mortal sin, isn’t it?” Tears fell from her eyes and she sat back down. Father McGlothlin walked to her desk and put his hand on her shoulder. “That’s a good question, Mary, but I’m sure Thomas is with his heavenly Father. I like to think he changed his mind, but it was too late. God has infinite mercy and no one knows except God and Thomas what went through his mind at the last moment. God will surely consider the hardships of life for anyone living on the Northern Cheyenne Reservation.” Mary sniffled, wiping her nose with her hand. The priest handed her a handkerchief from the sleeve of his cassock. “I hope that’s true, Father. Thomas lost his dad when he was little and his mother has struggled to keep them from going hungry.” “Della Brown Bear is a strong woman and has overcome a lot, but Thomas’ death will be her most difficult hardship yet. We must all pray for her and Thomas.” “Thanks, Father,” Mary said. “Will there be a funeral Mass?” Rosie Mack asked. She was tall and thin, and her hair curled with reddish brown. She had a white father and a Cheyenne mother. “For sure. I’ve already spoken to Father Shannon about it. As soon as Della is ready, we’ll schedule it. I’m sure you’ll know the time and date from the Sunday bulletin or on the reservation’s underground telegraph.” Returning to his desk, the priest looked at the clock on the wall above the blackboard. “There’s just a few minutes left of homeroom. It will be a difficult day but try to concentrate on your classes as best you can.” He then turned to Johnny and said, “Johnny, I know you and your grandfather are deeply involved in Cheyenne traditions and religion. Would you share some of those beliefs with the class?” Johnny brushed the hair out of his eyes and stood up. He turned and looked at his classmates. “Well, Father, the traditional Cheyenne 21


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belief is that we exist on two levels: the physical self and the spiritual self. So, while Thomas has left us physically, he is still with us spiritually. We only need to allow him into our dreams and he will come visit us. I hope to see him again. I think that his mom has some strong traditional Cheyenne beliefs, and I’m sure those beliefs will comfort her in the days to come. Gray Man, my grandfather, is a shaman. He will visit Mrs. Brown Bear and they will pray to Maheo for a safe journey on the Hanging Road for Thomas. “While I’m sad today, I will try to be open to receiving Thomas’ spiritual self. I hope all of you will do the same.” Johnny sat down. “Thank you, Johnny. I think we can all take comfort in Johnny’s words and in the words of Our Lord.” The bell rang, ending homeroom, and the students pushed through the door and headed toward their next class. Mary tapped Johnny on the shoulder. “Thanks, Johnny. That was nice.” She smiled and headed down the hall.

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Chapter Two

THOMAS’ FUNERAL

O

UT OF RESPECT for Thomas’ death, Coach She Wolf canceled bas-

ketball practice that day. The two priests talked to as many students as possible, trying to offer what grief counseling they could. Many girls cried as they walked up and down the halls between classes, while the boys mostly kept quiet. Riding home on the school bus, Johnny sat with Sarah and held her hand. She cried openly and the only sounds on the bus were crying and muted conversations about Thomas. No one could understand why he took his life. Sarah put her head on Johnny’s shoulder, and while she cried, he soon felt the tears rolling down his own cheeks. “It’s so hard to believe,” she said quietly. “Why would he do that?” “I don’t know,” Johnny answered. “He never talked much, but I guess he was really hurting inside.” “So sad,” she said. “It’s just so sad.” “I wish he had talked to me or Father McGlothlin about his feelings. It might have helped. Father McGlothlin was great when my dad died.” He kissed her on the forehead. 23


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They rode silently until Sarah got off the bus. Richard moved back to the seat next to Johnny but neither spoke. Johnny could see that Richard had been crying too. Johnny soon got off the bus. He waved goodbye to Richard as the bus headed off to his friend’s house. Johnny walked up the driveway toward his home. At the top of the driveway, the two horses in the shed whinnied at him, hoping to be fed. “It’s okay, Wakah. I’ll be back out to feed you in a minute.” Thunder, Johnny’s horse, let out a loud whinny. Johnny smiled and opened the gate to the small shed where they kept their horses. His father’s horse, Little Girl, had died shortly after her owner died in a truck accident. “Okay, I won’t make you two wait.” The shed smelled like hay and horses, a smell Johnny cherished. Using a pitchfork, he put hay in the horses’ stalls and petted them. Thunder and Wakah immediately began crunching on the hay. Johnny gave both of them water and told them, “I’ll be out to brush you down later.” He closed the shed doors and hooked the gate shut. Johnny opened the door to the house to find Gray Man sitting at the kitchen table and drinking some fresh black coffee. “Hello, Grandfather,” he said as he dropped his books and backpack onto the floor underneath where he hung his jacket. “Hello, Johnny Hunter. How was school today?” “Okay, but everyone is sad and upset. Thomas’ suicide is about all anyone talked about.” He poured a mug of coffee from the metal coffeepot and sat down next to his grandfather. He took a swallow. “Grandfather, do you think Thomas will get to see our ancestors?” Gray Man took another sip of coffee before answering. “For the Cheyenne there is a good death and a bad death. Usually, suicide is a bad way to die.” “But Grandfather, Father McGlothlin said that no one knows what is in someone’s mind when they commit suicide. Maybe Thomas changed his mind at the last second.” Gray Man was quiet for a moment. “In the old days, Cheyenne people did not kill themselves often, though dying in battle was an 24


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honorable way to die. So, death was always part of our lives. Because our people were all a part of the same large family, the Northern Cheyenne. We took care of each other. Orphans were quickly adopted and treated like family. Widows often married the husband of their sister. There was really no reason for anyone to feel alone or deserted. “But times have changed. The white man desires money, sometimes even more than family. They become wealthy with their new cars and other material things, but they are still not happy. And many of our people try to live like that. Sadly, white people also produce bad things, like alcohol and suicide, which plague our people. Some Cheyenne, if they don’t have a lot of money or friends, kill themselves to escape the pain. Life as a Cheyenne is difficult enough, and for a fatherless boy like Thomas, I think he must have felt alone with no way out.” “We were friends, but he never talked to me about being sad or depressed.” “When was he happiest?” Gray Man asked. “I think when he danced. He was a very good dancer.” “Traditional dances?” “No, the jitterbug. He liked rock and roll, and all the girls wanted him for their dance partner. I think his mother taught him how to dance when they lived in Chicago.” “So, Thomas lived off the reservation for a while?” “Yes, for five years.” “That can make it even harder to live on the reservation. Some whites have become so greedy that they have forgotten what makes people truly happy. I’m afraid some of those beliefs have come to us. The Cheyenne have always been spiritual and close to our ancestors, and that offered us mental peace and calm.” Johnny drank from his cooling coffee. “So, what do you think will happen to Thomas when he meets our ancestors?” Gray Man pulled an old wool blanket around his shoulders. His braided dark hair was now streaked with gray. In spite of the coffee 25


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and a long-sleeve plaid shirt, he felt cold. “I cannot say with absolute certainty, but our ancestors know the dangers of our modern world. I’m sure they will welcome him on the Hanging Road. And like your priest said, no one really knows what someone is thinking in their last minutes in this world.” “So, you think he is in the Sky Country?” Gray Man hesitated before he spoke. “Yes, I do. Our ancestors have big hearts and they will show that by welcoming Thomas Brown Bear.” Johnny took a deep breath, holding back the tears that began to well up in his eyes. He stood up and bent over to hug his grandfather. Gray Man wrapped one arm around Johnny and awkwardly patted his back. “Thanks, Grandfather.” The front door opened and Minatare came in with a burst of cold air. “Brr, it’s cold outside,” she said, hanging her coat and scarf on the peg next to Johnny’s coat. “Hi, Mom.” “Hello, Daughter,” Gray Man added. She walked over to the kitchen table and Johnny stood up for a hug. She touched Gray Man lightly on the shoulder. “Anybody want tea?” Both held up their coffee mugs, which by now were lukewarm at best. “You could warm up this coffee, Minatare,” Gray Man said. Minatare slid her kettle onto the stovetop, picked up the coffee pot, walked over to the table, and filled their cups. She returned to the woodstove, waited for the water to boil, and poured the steaming water over a tea bag in her own mug. She swirled honey into the tea and returned to the table to sit. “How was work today in Miles City?” Johnny asked. Minatare took a sip of her tea and then broke into a huge grin. “Great!” she said. “Big Mike let me drive a forklift today. I loved it. So much more exciting than working on the account books.” 26


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“Way to go, Mom!” Johnny shouted. Gray Man said nothing but he wrinkled his face to show he was not pleased. “Is that a woman’s job?” “Yes, it is. Mike will train me, and if I’m good enough, he’ll recommend Mr. Pretty Feather to make me a forklift operator.” She smiled again, happy with herself. “You can do it,” Johnny said, reaching across the table and taking her hand. “I’m sure I can and it pays more money than I earn now. It would really help us out.” Gray Man mumbled. “We are doing okay. Our monthly allotment helps and the Tribal Council and St. Andrew both give us food each month. And Johnny and I bring home a lot of rabbits, occasionally a deer.” “I know and I appreciate everything you do, but we can always do better. Johnny needs new clothes and gym shoes. And his sixteenth birthday is coming up. I want it to be nice for him. I know he’s been driving our old truck already but soon he’ll be able to do it legally. He’s gonna need money for gas so he can drive to work on Saturdays.” “How’s the truck running?” Johnny asked. “Pretty good,” she answered. “Big Mike and Adam Goodheart have it purring like a new truck, even though it’s almost ten years old. It’s gotta lot of rust and some dents, but they fixed it up after your dad’s wreck. They keep its oil changed and they just put in some new spark plugs. It’s running just fine.” Gray Man started to speak but drank more coffee instead. He sometimes drove the truck but preferred riding a horse. Minatare took a sip from her tea and sat the mug on the table. “How you doing by now Johnny? I know it’s hard to lose a friend like Thomas. He was way too young to die.” “I’m okay but it’s hard. Right now, it seems like everything is just kinda stuck while waiting for the funeral. I wish they would set a date.” “They have, Johnny” Minatare said. “It’s this Friday.” 27


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The sun broke through the clouds the day of the funeral, but the November temperature hung in the low thirties and a cold breeze chilled the air. Johnny wore a dark navy-blue suit, left over from his father’s funeral two years earlier. Minatare had made both the pants and sleeves longer, but his hands and wrists hung out of the suit’s arms. He wore his father’s bolo tie. They pulled into the St. Andrew Church parking lot for the ten o’clock service, and Minatare parked the truck and walked inside the church. Johnny waited outside with the rest of the basketball team, who would be the pallbearers. Mrs. Brown Bear had requested the boys instead of adult Cheyenne men. She had told Father Shannon that Thomas was happiest when he was playing basketball and wanted him surrounded by his friends for the funeral. Johnny huddled with the other pallbearers: Richard Amos, Bobbie Whitehorse, Bill Pierce, George Washington Brown, and Devon Lodge Pole. They stuck their hands in their pockets to push back against the cold. The boys turned as one when the black hearse, followed by the funeral Cadillac, pulled into the church parking lot and stopped in front of the stone church. Father McGlothlin joined them. The funeral director helped Mrs. Brown Bear, who wore a black dress and coat and had a veil over her face, out of the Cadillac’s back seat and into the church. Minatare and some of the other tribeswomen waited for her and escorted her to the front. They sat down in the second pew and silently prayed. The funeral director, a tall, thin white man, returned to the hearse and opened the back doors. He signaled the boys to come to him. “As I slide the coffin out, two boys grab the side bars until it is all the way out.” The weight of the coffin surprised Johnny, but the six of them, led by Father McGlothlin, carried it into the church and set it on the funeral home’s dolly. The priest covered the casket in a white pall, which had a brilliant red cross down the middle. Following Father McGlothlin, the boys rolled the coffin down the center aisle and stopped short of the altar, and then took their seats in the pews. 28


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The church filled rapidly, almost to capacity. Walking down the aisle, Johnny saw his coaches, friends from school, and even some of the Cheyenne elders. Gray Man was not there. He smiled at Sarah, who sat with her mom and dad. Monsignor Shannon, the older priest, led the Mass for the Dead, with Father McGlothlin assisting. Two boys from the St. Andrew grade school were servers. The sermon, given by Father Shannon, dealt with Christ’s mercy and promise of eternal life. He hoped that Thomas was now happy in the Grace of God. Johnny held his mother’s hand during the Mass and was surprised by how quickly it was over. His mind had wandered to the happy days spent with Thomas playing basketball or swimming in the river in summer. Even though he had not paid close attention to Mass, it made him feel better about Thomas enjoying life after death. Still, he felt sad for Thomas and his mother, who sat alone in the first pew. When the Mass ended, Father Shannon walked between the altar gates, stopped by the first pew, and bent over to speak quietly with Mrs. Brown Bear. She stood up and hugged him. After a minute, he returned to the first step leading to the altar and one of the servers handed him a censer smoking with burning incense. He walked around the coffin, swinging the incense, sending the sweet-smelling smoke toward the church ceiling. He then took holy water and circled the coffin again, this time sprinkling it with the blessed water while praying and asking for God’s mercy for Thomas’ soul. After handing the holy water to a server, he resumed his position between the altar gates. “The Mass is ended. Go in peace,” he said loudly, making the sign of the cross. The congregation made the sign of the cross in response. Father McGlothlin held a golden crucifix high and led the way out of the church. The basketball players resumed their positions as pallbearers and rolled the coffin out of the church and into what was now bright sunshine. The funeral director quickly led them to the back of the hearse and they pushed the casket into the rear end. The funeral director closed the doors. 29


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The church emptied and people mulled around, waiting for a chance to express their sorrow about Thomas’ death to his mother. Mrs. Brown Bear hung on the arm of Father McGlothlin, weeping as she took the hand of each mourner or embraced those whom she knew better. The basketball team lined up behind their coach and hugged her one by one. “Thank you,” she said to each of them. “You were good friends to Thomas and he loved each one of you.” Johnny hugged her and held the hug until she let go. “Thanks, Johnny, for being his friend.” “I’m going to miss him,” he said. “Me too,” she answered. As the line dwindled, the funeral director went around putting little purple flags on the cars and trucks that were going to the Northern Cheyenne cemetery. He returned to the church entrance and led Mrs. Brown Bear to the funeral home’s Cadillac and opened the door. She slid into the back seat. Johnny found his mom talking to Delores Amos, Richard’s mother. “Hi, Mrs. Amos.” “Hello, Johnny. You doing okay?” “Yeah, I’m okay.” “I’m riding with Delores,” Minatare said. “Her car is much nicer and warmer than our truck. You can ride with the Pretty Feathers. I asked Mary and she said you were welcome. And you get to sit with Sarah.” She gave him a knowing smile. He hugged his mom and looked for the Pretty Feathers’ car, which was parked next to the side of the church. It was easy to find the late model silver and gray Oldsmobile. There weren’t many cars that new or expensive on the reservation. Sarah, wearing a dark green wool coat, stood next to the car. She waved at him and he ran to the car, sliding into the back seat behind her. She took his hand in hers and smiled sweetly. “I’m freezing,” Johnny said, while he snuggled close to Sarah. 30


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“You boys did a nice job at the Mass,” James Pretty Feather said, turning his head to face them. He looked like a Cheyenne, with black hair and dark eyes set over high cheekbones. “Yes, it was a nice ceremony,” Mary said. “Still, so sad though.” Tears filled her black eyes. “I can’t believe he’s gone,” Johnny said, as the tears started trickling down his cheeks. Soon Mary and Sarah joined him in weeping, patting each other’s hands and pressing tissues to their eyes. Mr. Pretty Feather slowly pulled the car into the line behind the hearse. The cortege consisted of a dozen pickup trucks and a few older model cars, all with their lights on and funeral flags blowing. The funeral director waited until everyone got into their vehicle. He pulled out of the church parking lot and onto the road, where Officer Joe Eagleclaw had parked his cruiser. The BIA policeman stood in the road, the car’s red and blue lights flashing, and stopped a few cars to allow the funeral procession to stay together. Father McGlothlin rode with Mrs. Brown Bear in the Cadillac limousine, which followed closely behind the hearse. He would conduct the graveside ceremony as Father Shannon, well past seventy, hated the cold Montana weather and had just recovered from the flu. After a few minutes, the BIA police car raced passed them and drove to the front of the funeral cortege to lead the procession to the cemetery. No one spoke inside the Pretty Feather car. They had stopped crying but the mood had not lightened. The funeral procession slowly drove across the reservation. A light snow covered the grasses and the gently rolling hills. An occasional Cheyenne individual or small family stood on the side of the road and waved as the cortege drove past. “Are you okay?” Sarah whispered. “Yeah, but just okay. This reminds me too much of my dad’s funeral.” 31


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She squeezed his hand and kissed him lightly on the cheek. “I’m sorry,” she said, leaning her head on his shoulder. After twenty minutes, they passed through the iron gate and under the Northern Cheyenne Cemetery sign. The hearse slowly crept along, passing many graves, including that of Billy Hunter. The cemetery was old, dating back to when the Northern Cheyenne were finally granted their own reservation. The hearse pulled over to the side of the road and stopped. The funeral entourage pulled up behind it. Looking for Thomas’ grave, Johnny was surprised to see Gray Man standing next to the freshly dug dirt. Gray Man wore jeans, a plaid shirt, and his sheepskin jacket, but also his ceremonial buffalo horns on his head. “Is that your grandfather?” James asked. “It sure is. I’m surprised to see him here. He didn’t say anything to me or my mom about coming.” They climbed out of the car and Johnny walked quickly to the hearse. All of the pallbearers gathered and pulled the plain wooden casket out of the hearse and carried it to the gravesite. Setting it down on the temporary base next to the grave, the boys returned to their families, except for Johnny. He walked over to Gray Man. “What are you doing here, Grandfather? I’m surprised.” “I hope you are happy to see me?” “Of course I am. I just didn’t expect to see you here.” “Your young priest, Father McGlothlin, asked me to come and say a few words.” “That’s great!” “Yes, he thought it might please the tribal elders and other young Cheyenne like you.” They turned as Father McGlothlin and Mrs. Brown Bear reached the gravesite. Gray Man shook hands with both of them. “I’d better get with Mom,” Johnny said. He found Minatare standing with the Pretty Feather family. Logan and Estelle Badger, 32


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Gray Man’s old friends, greeted him. Logan carried a small drum in one hand. The crowd circled around the coffin and grew quiet. Father McGlothlin cleared his throat. “Thanks everyone for coming. It’s nice to see so many of Thomas’ friends here. We are here to pray for the departed soul of Thomas Brown Bear. Please join me in the Our Father and Hail Mary.” The mourners joined in, reciting the ancient Christian prayers. Many of them held hands, including the basketball players. When they finished, the priest gave a brief homily, emphasizing God’s mercy and praying for God to give Thomas’ mom strength in the months ahead. He finished and pointed to Gray Man. “Now,” he said, “I’ve asked Gray Man to say a few words about Thomas’ spiritual journey according to traditional Cheyenne beliefs.” “Thank you, Father.” Gray Man took off his jacket and laid it on the ground. He took a rattle out of the jacket pocket and straightened his buffalo horns. Logan Badger left the mourners and stood next to him, holding the drum in his left hand. “Johnny Hunter,” Gray Man called, “would you join us?” “Um, sure Grandfather.” He let go of Sarah’s hand. She gave him a quizzical look. Johnny walked to the gravesite and stood between the two old Cheyenne men. Logan tapped the small drum with his hand while Gray Man shook the rattle and began chanting in the Cheyenne language. His voice sounded clear and loud and ancient. Johnny joined in the chant, singing the words in English, as best he knew their meaning. “Oh, Maheo, we pray to you for our friend Thomas Brown Bear. Please help him find the Hanging Road.” He waited while Gray Man continued chanting. The Cheyenne prayer entered his mind and body, lifting him up into a spiritual world where he saw his friend Thomas smiling. He continued his chant: “Thank you, Maheo. I can see Thomas has crossed into the Sky Country. His spirit lives on with our ancestors.” 33


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Johnny’s mind returned to the cemetery, surprised that his arms were raised in the air. Everyone at the gravesite was quiet, staring at him in surprise at his knowledge of the Cheyenne religion. Gray Man and Logan smiled at him, and when the three Cheyenne hugged, Thomas’ mother joined them. “Thank you for your prayers. You’ve given me hope for Thomas,” she said. Gray Man broke the hug and turned to Father McGlothlin. “Thank you, Father, for allowing us to participate in the funeral service.” “No, thank you, Gray Man. You, Logan, and Johnny have offered us hope at a very dark time. Faith in the afterlife is a wonderful part of being a believer.” Father McGlothlin shook hands with the three of them and joined Mrs. Brown Bear next to the coffin. Johnny returned to his mother. She hugged him tightly as tears ran down her cheeks. “For the first time, I truly see you have the gift of vision and power that your grandfather has. I’m so proud.” “Thanks, Mom.” “Well, Gray Man’s teaching lessons with you have paid off. It’s good to hear the old Cheyenne language, even if I don’t understand it.” Sarah walked over to him. “Wow,” she said. “I’m impressed. Everyone could feel your power and the hope you offered for Thomas.” They hugged and Johnny came a little closer to accepting Thomas’ death. The mourners walked past the coffin, saying a few words of comfort to Mrs. Brown Bear and dropping a rose on the casket. After saying their goodbyes, Johnny and Minatare, the Pretty Feathers, and the rest of the mourners slowly walked back toward their cars and trucks. Johnny looked back, one last time. Gray Man stood alone by the grave, his arms again raised to the sky.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR Richard has been fascinated by Native Americans and their history since he was a young boy. He enjoys researching Native American cultures and has visited the Pine Ridge and Northern Cheyenne reservations during trips to Yellowstone and Glacier National Parks. A Vietnam veteran and a graduate of Xavier University, he lives in Cincinnati near his children and grandchildren. His previously published works include Hunkpapa Sioux and the young adult series Johnny Hunter.