a.k.a. Journey in Shadow, Journey in Light
“A young Lakota asked his grandfather why life had to be so difficult sometimes. This was the old man’s reply. ‘Grandfather says this: In life there is sadness as well as joy, losing as well as winning, falling as well as standing, hunger as well as plenty, bad as well as good. Grandfather does not say this to make you despair but to teach you reality. To teacher you that life is a journey sometimes walked in light, sometimes in shadow.’”*
Part One * Journey in Shadow
Buck was alone. Of that, he was certain even before he opened his eyes to the early morning darkness. He sensed the vast emptiness surrounding him-spreading out onto the prairie. Awareness sent panic through his body causing his heart to pound loudly in his chest. His breath came in short gasps. He wrapped his blanket tightly around his shoulders as he slowly sat up, shivering in the lingering cold of the night. He pulled his knees to his chest and put his head down trying to slow his breathing. When he did, he hesitantly raised his head to look across the remains of last night’s campfire dreading what he knew he would see. The last embers had died along with any warmth. The ground on the other side was empty. Ike was gone. He was alone.
Buck stood. He scanned the eastern horizon where the first light of dawn was imperceptibly emerging low in the sky. The distant shadows were vague. He walked into the high grasses that swayed gently in the morning breeze. His eyes filled with tears as he desperately looked around. Ike had disappeared into the darkness like he had in his dreams. Although it was too dark to track, Buck knew he’d be able to find Ike’s trail as soon as the sun came up. But Ike probably didn’t want him to follow. In fact, Ike probably never wanted to see him again.
As Buck stood gazing out onto the prairie, the night sky began its metamorphosis to day. The horizon brightened turning shades of gray to pink, orange, and blue. A large ball of red slowly rose out of the earth beginning its ascent. As the day slowly took hold, the colors in the sky intensified before disappearing into the blue expanse. Billowing clouds drifted overhead, carried by the strong breeze. Buck watched motionless. Mother Earth and Father Sky-he knew he should be praying in the presence of the rising sun. He clutched his medicine pouch trying to find words but the emptiness was overwhelming. He closed his eyes to stop tears from escaping. Overcome with hopelessness, he slowly sank to the ground, unaware of the blanket falling from his shoulders. He sat crossed legged with his head in his hands no longer fighting for control. He muttered softly, “I’m sorry, Ike. Please come back. Please don’t leave me alone.”
Lost in grief, Buck slowly rocked back and forth. The golden prairie grasses rolled in waves around him, spreading out across the plains. They surrounded him, engulfed him. He felt as if he were sinking into the earth. As the sun rose higher, it began to warm the morning but he was oblivious to it. He shivered. He was cold deep inside. Sooner or later everyone left him. He failed at everything he did. Ike was gone. He was alone.
Ike yawned as he sat up. The campfire had gone out during the cold night. Although the sun was already high in the sky, its warmth hadn’t reached the earth. He would have to gather more wood for the morning fire. He looked over at Buck sleeping on the ground. He had kicked off his blanket during the night and now he was shivering in his sleep. Ike picked up Buck’s discarded blanket. He gently placed it back over his friend, deciding to let Buck sleep a little longer while he gathered wood. When he returned, Buck was still asleep. He started the fire and heated water for herbal tea. The chill was beginning to burn off in the brilliant morning sun. He sat down with a steaming cup and watched Buck sleep. He was worried. Buck always woke before dawn to pray but he had been sleeping late recently.
Buck finally began to stir. When he opened his eyes and saw Ike across the fire, he mumbled, “Morning.” Ike poured another cup. He handed it to Buck as he sat up. Buck accepted it with a small smile.
Ike signed, **You’re getting lazy. The spirits won’t be pleased with you.**
Buck’s grin quickly faded as he clutched his medicine pouch. Ike immediately regretted what he had said. He should have known better than to tease Buck about his beliefs. The Kiowa believed that waking early to greet the sunrise showed that you were worthy of the blessings of the Great Spirit. Ike tapped his cup to get Buck’s attention and then quickly signed, **I’m sorry. I was teasing.**
Buck’s face told Ike that he was upset. Still holding his medicine pouch tightly, Buck closed his eyes. His lips moved in silent prayer. When he finally opened his eyes, Ike tried to talk to him. **Stop worrying. The spirits won’t think you’re lazy because you slept late. Yesterday was a long day. It’s okay to need a little extra sleep. You didn’t do anything wrong.**
Buck finally nodded without conviction or comment. Ike could have kicked himself. What was he thinking? He certainly didn’t want to add to Buck’s dark mood. The last month had been hard enough. They hadn’t been able to find jobs. More often than not, they were turned away because of Buck. A bald mute was unusual but at least he was white. No one wanted to hire an Indian.
After breakfast, Buck was in a better mood. As they stood with their few belongings ready to move on, he asked Ike, “So, which way do we go today?”
Ike signed with determination. **Sweetwater.**
Buck shook his head. “You still don’t have that crazy idea, do you?”
**It isn’t crazy. The poster said they were hiring riders for the Pony Express. It’s the perfect job for us.**
“They won’t hire us.”
Ike tried not to show his impatience. **You don’t know that.**
“I do know it.”
Ike threw his hands up in exasperation. **You don’t. Stop being negative. They might hire us.**
“They might hire you but they’ll never hire me.”
**You don’t know that. We are doing this. We’ve got nothing to lose.**
“Nothing but our pride,” Buck mumbled.
Ike glared at Buck before he turned and stomped away. He stood with his hands on his hips at the edge of the prairie grasses trying to control his temper. Buck could be exasperating. There were times like these when Ike would have liked to shake sense into him.
Buck knew that Ike’s patience was at an end. He didn’t like being on the receiving end of his friend’s anger-it scared him. He was afraid of losing the only friend he ever had. He knew Ike was determined to do this. He walked up to him and stood by his side. Cautiously, he tapped Ike’s shoulder. When Ike finally turned, he hesitantly said, “Okay….okay…you win. We’ll go to Sweetwater and we’ll try to get jobs with the Pony Express but don’t blame me when we get turned away-again.”
Ike looked into Buck’s dark, sad eyes. He knew Buck was giving into his anger-he always did. It made Ike feel guilty. He was emotionally bullying his friend but this was the right thing to do. A small smile appeared on his face. **Let’s go then.** He turned and started walking in the direction of Sweetwater. He didn’t bother to look back to see if Buck was following him. He knew he was.
Sighing with defeat, Buck followed. Ike slowed his pace waiting for him to catch up. When they were walking side by side, Ike draped his arm around Buck’s shoulder. **You’ll see that I’m right.**
Buck tried to smile in return but it was forced. He replied, “I hope so.” The two walked together towards Sweetwater.
By the time Ike and Buck arrived in Sweetwater, it was past noon. They received a few stares as they walked the busy street but were mostly ignored. Ike was relieved that they’d made it this far without incident. He easily read Buck’s apprehension. He said a silent pray that all would go well. They needed a break. He pointed across the street. **I think we should go the marshal’s office. He’ll know where we have to go to apply.**
Buck reluctantly agreed, “I suppose, if you’re sure you want to do this.”
**Don’t start. We’re here and we are doing this.** Ike practically dared Buck to disagree.
Giving Ike a contrite smile, Buck answered, “I was making sure.”
The two crossed the street and stood outside the marshal’s office. Ike knocked on the door before slowly entering the office. Buck followed. Marshal Sam Cain looked up from behind his desk where he was reading. “What can I do for you?” he asked as he closely studied the two boys standing in front of him, making them uncomfortable under his scrutiny.
Buck removed his hat as he quietly explained. “We’d like to get jobs with the Pony Express, sir. Could you tell us where we need to go?”
“You have the right place, boys, but you’re a day early. The man you want to see is Teaspoon Hunter but he’s out of town until tomorrow. You’ll need to go to Miss Emma Shannon’s house. Just follow the south road out of town. You can’t miss it. It’s a white house with a picket fence. You should be there by noon tomorrow if you want jobs.”
Ike was disappointed, but Buck was relieved. He replied, “Thank you, sir.”
As the two boys headed for the door, Sam added, “Good luck.”
Ike nodded his thanks. Once outside, he signed, **He was nice. Maybe it’s a good omen.**
Buck shrugged. He understood omens.
Ike looked around until he spotted a small restaurant down the street. Pointing to it, he signed, **I’m hungry. We still have a little money left for emergencies. Let’s get something to eat.**
Buck laughed, “I don’t think this counts as an emergency.”
Happy to hear Buck’s genuine laugh, Ike signed, **Maybe not for you but I’m really hungry. We’ll have jobs tomorrow. We can afford lunch.**
“That remains to be seen,” Buck grumbled. When he saw Ike’s eyes narrow, he quickly added, “It sounds good to me, too.”
They headed down the boardwalk to the small restaurant. Once inside, they waited for the waitress to seat them in the nearly empty room. With a scowl, she looked in their direction before disappearing through a door in the back of the room. Shortly afterwards a stout, balding man came through the same door and quickly walked over to them. He bluntly came to the point. Looking at Ike, he said, “You can stay but we don’t serve his kind here.” He looked distastefully at Buck before adding, “This is a respectable establishment.”
Buck had heard the same bigoted comments many times. Whenever he fought back, the results were catastrophic. There were always more men ready to join the attack. Customers seated at the tables coldly stared at him. He knew he couldn’t risk a fight. Ike glared angrily at the man. Buck grabbed his arm and pulled him towards the door. He said quietly, “Ike, please, let’s go.”
Ike allowed himself to be led out the door when he saw the desperation in Buck’s eyes. Once outside, Buck walked away. He stopped by the steps as he took a few deep breaths to calm himself. After giving him a moment, Ike put his hand on Buck’s slumped shoulder.
Buck looked into Ike’s blue eyes. “I’m sorry.”
Ike shook his head vigorously. **You have nothing to be sorry about. I wouldn’t eat there even if I were starving. I saw a store. We can buy something to eat there.** Ike smiled reassuringly as he took Buck’s arm and started to head down the boardwalk.
Buck allowed Ike to lead him away, “Okay, but after we buy something to eat, let’s get out of here. I don’t like Sweetwater.”
**You haven’t given it a chance. I’m sure everyone isn’t like that man,** Ike signed.
Buck looked doubtful, “Let’s get something from the store and then get out of here.”
Ike stopped on the boardwalk. **Please give it a chance. Try.**
Sighing, Buck said, “I’ll try.”
Ike smiled. **That’s all I can ask. Come on.** He started walking again. After a moment’s pause, Buck followed.
The owner of the general store, Bill Tompkins, stood behind the counter assisting Emma Shannon with her lengthy list of supplies. As he checked off another item, he commented, “You certainly are buying a lot today.”
Emma pushed a stray curl of red hair off her face. “The Pony Express station will be opening tomorrow. I expect to have six hungry boys to feed.”
Tompkins smiled at Emma. “Miss Shannon, I appreciate the business. I’ll be more than happy to keep you and your boys supplied with everything you need.”
“Thank you, Mr. Tompkins. I’m sure we’ll be keeping you very busy.”
Buck came to a sudden stop outside the door to the store. Ike bumped into him. **What’s wrong**
Embarrassed, Buck said, “Sorry. Maybe I should wait for you out here.”
Shaking his head, Ike signed, **Come on. We’ll buy something and be on our way.** He stood aside, holding the door open for Buck. After hesitating, Buck finally stepped through. Ike followed. He began to look around while Buck stood by the door trying to be inconspicuous.
Emma picked up an over-loaded package. She headed towards the door as Tompkins went into the back room to finish the order. Looking back, she called, “The buckboard’s right outside for the rest of the packages.” She didn’t see Buck as she turned and collided with him sending her package to the floor.
Startled, Buck met Emma’s eyes. He saw surprise but not anger. He quickly averted his eyes as he whispered, “I’m sorry, Ma’am.” He squatted to retrieve the containers. Emma saw the distress in his eyes. She bent down beside him. She placed her hand on his arm. “It’s alright. It was my fault. I wasn’t looking where I was going. I’m sorry.”
Buck looked up surprised by Emma’s kindness. He blushed. “I’ll get these things for you.”
Tompkins came out of the storage room. When he saw Emma kneeling on the floor, he rushed over and took her by the arm to help her up. “Miss, Shannon, are you alright?” he asked anxiously.
“Yes, I’m fine.” Before Emma could say anything else, Tompkins stepped in front of her. He glared at Buck who was still kneeling on the floor. “What’s wrong with you, boy?”
Buck looked up at Tompkins, dreading the scene he knew would follow. When he didn’t move, Tompkins grabbed his arm and pulled him to his feet causing him to drop the containers. Buck tried to step back but Tompkins held him firmly. “You could’ve hurt Miss Shannon.”
“It was an accident. I’m sorry.”
Emma quickly said, “Mr. Tompkins, let go of the boy. It wasn’t his fault. I’m afraid I wasn’t looking where I was going. I ran into him.”
Tompkins’ expression darkened as he looked more closely at Buck. “What are you doing in here? I don’t allow savages in my store. Get out and don’t come back.”
When Tompkins pushed Buck towards the door, Ike quickly came to his friend’s side. Tompkins angrily looked at Ike, “If you’re with him, you can get out, too.”
Emma tried to calm the storeowner as the situation escalated. “Please, Mr. Tompkins, these boys didn’t do anything wrong. I told you, it was my fault.”
“I don’t care whose fault it was. I don’t want a thievin’ Indian in here. He’s probably trying to steal me blind while his friend here distracts me,” Tompkins ranted.
“I didn’t take anything,” Buck said quietly.
“That’s only because you didn’t have time to,” Tompkins shouted. “Get out of here. I’ll help Miss Shannon. She doesn’t want your filthy savage hands touching her things.”
Exasperated, Emma said loudly, “Mr. Tompkins, that’s enough. How many times do I have to tell you that the boy didn’t do anything wrong?”
Tompkins pushed Buck towards the door causing him to stumble. “Get out,” he demanded.
Ike caught Buck. **Are you all right?** he signed.
**Yes, let’s go.** Buck signed back.
Tompkins looked quickly from Buck to Ike. “What’s that? Some kind of secret message to help him steal from me?”
Seeing how upset Buck was Ike nodded. Before leaving, Buck turned towards Emma. “I’m sorry, Ma’am.”
“Thank you but I’m the one who’s sorry.”
Buck left. Ike glared at Tompkins before nodding to Emma. She gave him a small smile. Outside, Ike saw Buck standing on the edge of the boardwalk looking blankly across the street. Buck’s response worried Ike. He accepted the insults and accusations with little protest. He looked defeated standing alone. Ike placed his hand on Buck’s shoulder but Buck shook it off. He walked away.
Buck kept a brisk pace as he headed out of Sweetwater without waiting for Ike. Ike knew that Buck needed space-he always did after these incidents. He would stop when he was ready. After an hour, Ike was finally walking beside him. He signed for Buck to stop. When Buck didn’t, Ike grabbed his arm and signed more forcefully, **Stop. Take a rest.**
Reluctantly, Buck finally stood still. He looked at Ike. “I’m not going back tomorrow.”
**We are going back. We didn’t give it a chance.**
“No,” Buck stated flatly. He turned away and started walking again. After a moment, Ike followed.
Buck finally stopped. He stood watching the tall prairie grasses roll in waves out to the horizon. The golden shafts sparkled in the late afternoon sun as they swayed in a gentle rhythm. Ike stood beside him thankful that Buck didn’t move away. When Buck failed to acknowledge his presence, he gently touched his arm. Buck met Ike’s concern with a blank expression. Ike would have preferred to see anger. He could deal with anger, sorrow or any other emotion more easily than this. Pointing to a small clearing, Ike signed, **This looks like a good place to camp for the night. We’re still close enough to Sweetwater to walk back tomorrow morning.**
“We ain’t going back.”
**Yes, we are.**
“I don’t want to argue with you.”
**Then don’t. But we are going back.**
Ike stood his ground. Buck took a step back from Ike’s intense, angry stare. He said sarcastically, “We ain’t got nothing to eat thanks to the nice people of Sweetwater. You can set up camp while I go see what I can find.”
Ike watched Buck disappear into the tall grasses. He didn’t know how, but he would have to change Buck’s mind. He would do whatever it took. When Buck returned an hour later, Ike had a fire going and poles set up in the hope of a meal. Buck handed him a small prairie chicken. “It isn’t much, but it’s the best I could do.”
Ike was surprised. He knew the Kiowa didn’t eat birds. He looked at Buck questioningly. Buck explained. “I set a snare and that’s what I caught.”
**What will you eat?**
Buck pulled a few prairie turnips from his shirt, “I found these. We can roast them. They’ll be fine for me.”
**It isn’t much of a meal.**
Buck shrugged. “It’ll do.” He took a small satchel out of his pocket and handed it to Ike. “I found some moss to make that tea you like. And I found berries.” Buck showed Ike his full hat. When Ike didn’t respond, Buck mumbled, “At least we won’t starve tonight.”
Ike turned away to prepare their meal, leaving Buck standing alone. Buck sighed knowing that Ike was still annoyed at him. He would have to make Ike understand that they had to move on. He sat cross-legged on the ground, staring into the fire. The flames danced in the gentle breeze. The late afternoon golden sunlight intensified the hues in the grasses surrounding them. Nature was beautiful even in its harshness. Why did life have to be so difficult? There had to be some place he could belong. It wasn’t Sweetwater. He was certain of that. He would have to make Ike understand.
Ike knew that Buck was trying hard to make peace. Buck hated when Ike was angry with him and it seemed that Ike was always angry lately. Ike knew his anger scared Buck because he was afraid of losing Ike’s friendship. No matter how much he told Buck that he would never leave him, he knew that deep inside, Buck still didn’t believe him. He hoped that complete trust would come with time but for now, Ike couldn’t back down. He had to convince Buck to go back to Sweetwater. Ike was sure that was where their future was.
The light was slowly fading. The sky turned brilliant shades of orange and purple. Clouds appeared to be lit from inside as they slowly drifted across the plains. Stars appeared in the heavens as the day vanished into night. Buck tried unsuccessfully to enjoy the unfolding scene. He nervously began to draw lines in the dirt with a stick. Ike watched him, empathizing with his obvious turmoil. He desperately wanted the old Buck back. Buck wasn’t fighting anymore. He absorbed the hateful words instead of letting them pass through him. He believed in the power of words. They were taking their toll on him.
Ike sat deep in thought until Buck tried to break the uncomfortable silence between them. He asked, “Was everything okay?”
After a moment, Buck tried again. “Do you think it’ll get cold tonight?”
“I guess we should gather some extra wood for the fire.”
Once again, Ike just nodded. Buck was becoming tenser as his attempts to start a conversation failed. He knew that Ike was still angry. He didn’t know how to make this right besides agreeing to go back to Sweetwater. He definitely didn’t want to do that. He didn’t want to be where he wasn’t wanted. The problem was, there wasn’t anywhere he was wanted.
Ike glanced at Buck. He quickly looked away before Buck saw him. More than anything else, Buck looked sad. How was he going to convince Buck to keep trying? Maybe he had been knocked down one time too many. Ike understood that. He had watched Buck struggle for the acceptance that never came. Ike supposed Buck was tired of fighting but he wasn’t about to let him give up on life.
Across from Ike, Buck stared into the fire. Why couldn’t Ike understand? Sweetwater wasn’t a good place. It didn’t hold their future. Looking up at Ike, he softly said, “Ike, please.”
When Ike didn’t respond, Buck looked back into the fire. His eyes filled with tears. Ike couldn’t continue his planned silence when he saw Buck’s distress. He decided to try one more time to get through to Buck. He came around the fire and sat next to his friend. Buck turned to face Ike, relieved that Ike was finally acknowledging him. He anxiously looked at Ike. His dark eyes glistened in the firelight. Ike could easily read the plea for understanding. His resolve began to falter.
Buck nodded, afraid to say anything. Ike began, **We need those jobs. We won’t find anything better. Trust me.**
“I don’t want to go back to Sweetwater. I don’t want to live there even if we do get jobs. It’s a bad place, Ike,” Buck said with equal determination.
**That lady in the store was nice. And so was the marshal.**
Buck admitted, “She was kind but she’s probably the only one.”
**And the marshal.**
“He didn’t throw us out but he probably told us to come back tomorrow to get ride of us.”
Ike was quickly losing his patience. **He told us to come back tomorrow so we could get jobs.**
Shaking his head, Buck answered, “They’ll never hire us.”
“Maybe they’ll hire you but they won’t hire me. There’s no way they’re going to hire an Indian,” Buck said with a mixture of defeat and anger.
Ike threw his hands up. **Why do you have to be so negative? I know life has been hard for you. It’s been hard for me, too. I’ve lost a lot but you don’t see me giving up. I don’t care how hard life has been. It doesn’t give you the right to give up. You’re making excuses so you don’t even have to try. You’re running away.** He paused before adding emphatically, ** Only cowards run away from life.**
Buck tried unsuccessfully to suppress his anger. Ike was entering a hurtful place deep inside him. He measured his words carefully as he fought for control. “That’s easy for you to say, Ike. You fit in just fine as soon as people get to know you and they see you ain’t no dummy. At least you’re white and that’s all that matters. You can go anywhere you want and no one will stop you. It doesn’t matter that you can’t talk and that you ain’t got no hair. You still fit in because you’re white. I’ll never fit in. I’ll never be white enough.”
Exasperated Ike signed, **You could fit in if you wanted to but you don’t try. You’d rather feel sorry for yourself.**
“I don’t feel sorry for myself. I can’t make my skin whiter!”
**Maybe not, but you could look more acceptable. You’ve chosen to live in the white world. You could cut your hair and take off that earring. And if you have to wear that medicine pouch, you could at least hide it under your shirt. You could make things a lot easier for yourself.** Ike paused before adding emphatically, **And for me.**
Taken aback, Buck defended himself. “I am Kiowa. You’re asking me to deny who I am-to hide it like I should be ashamed. I won’t do that.”
Refusing to back down, Ike signed, **You’re half white, too. You’re living here and not in a Kiowa village where they don’t want you anyway.** Ike saw Buck flinch but he couldn’t stop himself. **Most of the time we get turned away from jobs it’s because of you. A haircut won’t hurt you and it might help us.**
The truth of what Ike said cut through Buck, intensifying his anger. He stepped firmly in front of Ike. “Cutting my hair would hurt me. I won’t do it.”
**Hair isn’t important.**
Buck’s black eyes flashed with an anger he didn’t even know he possessed. “Maybe not to you. You don’t have a choice but I do. It was bad enough when the nuns cut my hair at the Mission. I won’t be forced to do that again.”
Ike’s anger was building. Pushing Buck, he signed, **Fine. Don’t cut your hair but at least take off your earring and medicine pouch.**
“No. I won’t deny that I’m Kiowa.”
**Don’t deny you’re white, either. You’re father was white just like mine.**
Ike shoved Buck to punctuate his words, causing Buck to stumble. When Buck regained his balance, Ike stepped in front of him again. Buck pushed Ike’s hands away as his anger erupted. “Quit it, Ike! My father was worthless. He didn’t do me any favor giving me life. Thanks to him, I’m not accepted anywhere. Maybe the only place I’ll ever be accepted is in the spirit world. My father took what he wanted and never looked back. He was a coward like all white men.”
Ike shook his head vigorously. **All white men aren’t cowards.**
“Yes, they are.” Buck glared at Ike. “My father was a coward. He attacked a defenseless woman and then ran away. Your father was a coward, too. He didn’t do anything to save himself and protect his family. He let those men kill your mother and sister. They would’ve killed you, too, if they’d found you. He didn’t protect you. He left you just like my father left me. They were both lowlife bastards.” Buck’s words came tumbling out before he could stop them.
In a flash, Ike’s fist smashed into Buck’s jaw sending him sprawling on the ground. He pushed himself up as he felt his bruised jaw. Ike stood over him. He wanted to hurt Buck for saying those terrible things about his father. **You’re the one who’s a bastard,** he signed furiously.
Buck finally lost his struggle for control. He charged Ike, grabbing him around the waist, tackling him to the ground. The wind was knocked out of Ike. When he finally caught his breath, he found himself pinned to the ground by Buck. As he struggled to free himself, Buck loosened his grip. Ike took advantage of the moment, freeing his right arm. Forming a fist, he swung hard at Buck connecting with the side of his face. Buck fell backwards from the force of the blow. He hit his head hard on the ground.
Ike quickly jumped to his feet. He stood over Buck with his fists clenched. The blow stunned Buck. He shuddered when he saw the expression of hate on Ike’s face as he loomed over him. He slowly sat up, feeling the back of his head. When Ike realized that Buck wasn’t going to continue the fight, he signed quickly, **Get up.**
Buck voice was barely audible. “I won’t fight you.”
**Get up,** Ike repeated.
When Buck didn’t move, Ike signed with disgust, **You’re the coward.** His words slammed into Buck harder than his fists. **My family loved me. Maybe it’s your fault that no one ever loved you. Maybe you take after your father. No one wants to be around you-including me. I’m going to Sweetwater tomorrow. I don’t care what you do.**
Ike stormed away towards the campfire. He lay down on his blanket with his back to the fire-and Buck. Buck’s world collapsed as he watched Ike walk away. Ike didn’t mean what he said-he couldn’t mean it. Ike said terrible things. Maybe he was right. No one cared about him-not even Ike. But he wasn’t like his father. Ike had reached deep inside him and touched his deepest fear-the fear that there must be some part of his father inside him.
Unable to move, Buck sat on the ground. His eyes stung with unshed tears as the word “bastard” echoed in his head. He saw Ike’s hands furiously signing it over and over again. He had been called that terrible name many times in his life but never by Ike. They had made a pact to stay together. He desperately wanted to believe that Ike would never leave but eventually everyone he loved in his life left.
Buck walked over to the campfire. He sat on the ground close to its warmth. He wrapped his blanket around his shoulders in an attempt to ward off the coldness he felt in his heart. Neither the blanket nor the fire helped as he sat shivering. His was filled with regret. He shouldn’t have said all those things about Ike’s father. He knew it would hurt Ike. He knew how much Ike loved his family and protected their memory. Words couldn’t be taken back once they were spoken. They traveled on the wind. Ike would probably never forgive him. He lay down on the cold ground lost in misery.
When he heard Buck settle on the other side of the fire, Ike kept his back turned. He was still furious. Buck had no right to say what he did about his father. He wasn’t a coward. He would have protected his family but he was taken by surprise and out numbered. If anyone was a coward, it was Ike, himself. The thought filled him with shame as it always did. He had stayed hidden throughout the attack. He didn’t do anything to help his family. Buck was wrong about his father. He angrily repeated to himself, **I am going to Sweetwater tomorrow. I don’t need Buck.**
Every time Buck closed his eyes, he saw Ike’s fist coming at him. They had argued but they had never come to blows. It terrified him. What would he do if Ike really left? He had never had a friend before Ike. He didn’t think he would ever have another one. He couldn’t lose him. He couldn’t survive alone-he wouldn’t want to. He had to fix this. After a while, he gathered enough courage to whisper, “Ike.”
Ike heard the desperation in the soft whisper but didn’t answer.
Buck tried again, a little louder. “Ike, please.”
When Ike still didn’t respond, Buck pulled his blanket tighter around his shoulders. He felt heaviness in his chest. Ike just needed time to calm down. He would make things right in the morning. As he closed his eyes, he heard a mournful sound. With horror he realized that it was an owl. Owls were bad medicine-they wore the faces of the dead and foretold disaster. Buck shuddered. He quickly sat up and moved closer to the fire, closer to Ike.
“Ike,” he whispered.
Ike heard the tremble in his voice. He had heard the owl and he knew that it frightened Buck but he didn’t care. He wanted Buck to pay for all the terrible things he said about his father. Buck desperately wanted to move alongside Ike but he knew that Ike didn’t want him near. He was afraid that Ike would hit him if he got too close. When the owl hooted again, he began to shake. It was a very bad omen. The back of his head pounded and his face hurt where Ike had hit him. His best friend had hit him. He stammered, “I…Ike…p..please. I’m so…sorry.”
Buck looked at Ike’s back-as solid and cold as a stone wall. He lay down on the hard ground burying his face in his arms as he gave in to despair. Ike heard the quiet, muffled crying but he didn’t care. Buck deserved to suffer for what he’d said.
When Buck finally did fall asleep, he was haunted by dreams of Ike standing over him, angrily staring down. Buck reached out his hand but Ike turned his back and walked away. Buck called out but he kept walking until he slowly faded into the surrounding darkness, leaving Buck alone on the prairie. Each time Buck woke, he looked over to make sure that Ike was still sleeping on the other side of the fire. He reached over once and softly touched Ike’s shoulder to make sure that he was real and hadn’t disappeared into the darkness of the night. Buck believed in the power of dreams and visions-they added to his foreboding. He couldn’t escape them. They came back each time he closed his eyes. And each time, Ike walked away from him without looking back.
***Ike was in the shed hiding from his mother. He heard her voice calling him but he was afraid to come out. She was angry. He crouched in the darkest corner listening to the rhythmic swing of his father’s axe striking hard wood. Gathering his courage, he peeked out the window ready to meet his fate. He stopped when he saw the riders come into the yard and watched from the window. The voices were muffled. As the voices became louder, Ike became apprehensive. Suddenly his world exploded in gunfire. ***
Ike woke with a start, looking frantically into the darkness for his family until he realized that they were gone. The feeling of loss was overwhelming every time he had this dream. The years hadn’t eased his pain. He could see their faces clearly. He could hear the screams of his mother and sister. His father never had a chance to protect them. It happened too fast.
When he looked over at Buck sleeping on the ground, Ike’s anger returned. How could Buck say that his father was a coward? It wasn’t true. He wouldn’t let Buck take away his memories of his family or make him doubt his father. He gathered his possessions together before quietly getting to his feet. He knew what he had to do. The sun wouldn’t be rising for almost an hour-plenty of time to put some distance between him and Buck. He was going to Sweetwater.
Ike took a few steps before hesitating. He looked at Buck. The morning was cold. Buck had kicked off his blanket again. Ike reached down to pick up the old blanket. He spread it over Buck before putting the last sticks on the fire. When the fire brightened, Ike saw the bruises on Buck’s face that his fist had caused. He felt a twinge of guilt, but the fight had been coming for a long time. Ike supposed that it was inevitable. He hoped that Buck wouldn’t wake for a while and discover that he was gone. He needed time. He took a few steps before hesitating again and looking back one last time. This was the right thing to do. He had to do what was right for him. With determination, he walked away. He didn’t look back.
Ike kept a steady, determined pace. He occasionally looked back expecting to see Buck. He was still angry. He kept telling himself that he didn’t need Buck to hold him back. He would have more opportunities without him. He wanted the Pony Express job. It was his best opportunity for the future. He didn’t need Buck’s moodiness and negativity. He was better off without him.
The terrible things Buck said about his father haunted him, causing him doubts. He hated Buck for that. His father would have protected them if he could have. He was the one who should have done something to help his mother and sister. He shouldn’t have hid in the shed. He was the coward. He watched them die.
Buck had no right to call his father a coward and a bastard. Ike cringed when he remembered that he had called Buck the very same names. He could still see the betrayal on Buck’s face. He knew it was a low blow. It was more than an insult. It was essentially the truth. And it was a very painful truth. He couldn’t have hurt Buck more. He began to regret what he said as he turned around again to see if Buck was following him.
Scanning the horizon, Ike saw a lone tree. He needed to rest. He needed to think. When he reached the tree, he sat in the shade and leaned back against the solid trunk. He felt alone. He realized that he had expected Buck to follow him-maybe he had counted on. Why wasn’t Buck following? He remembered the bruises on Buck’s face-bruises he had caused. Buck hit his head hard on the ground. Ike began to worry. He prayed that he hadn’t hurt him too badly.
Ike couldn’t stop thinking about Buck. His life hadn’t been easy, but he thought that Buck’s had been harder. At least he had had a loving family. They taught him how to trust. He knew how to give and accept in return. Those years gave him inner strength and hope for the future. It was a devastating loss when his family was murdered but he was able to keep them alive in his heart. He had cherished memories and mementos to carry with him forever. No one could take them away.
Buck shared little of his past. Ike thought that it was probably for the best that Buck never knew his father considering the man was a rapist who didn’t know, and wouldn’t have cared anyway, that he had left a son behind. Ike didn’t know when Buck’s mother had died or what their relationship had been like. The Kiowa didn’t speak the names of the dead believing that it would disturb their spirits. He wondered if she hadn’t resented the son who reminded her daily of the assault.
Until Buck came to the Mission School, Ike had no way to share his memories. Buck taught him Indian sign language. It was a priceless gift that brought Ike out of isolation. It gave him a voice. Talking about his family kept them alive. Buck always listened quietly but never asked questions. Ike knew that Buck had never experienced that kind of love. He wondered if Buck had ever experienced gentleness. He was astonished how stoically Buck could withstand pain while pulling away from a gentle touch.
Ike quickly gave Buck his friendship. The other children taunted Buck at best and physically abused him at worst. The nuns weren’t particularly kind in their attempt to purge him of his heathen ways. They expected him to capitulate and accept their faith but Buck was always true to his sacred beliefs. The consequences were severe and administered often. Ike cringed when he thought of the struggle that Buck put up each time his hair was cut. Although Ike believed strongly in his faith, he thought that Buck was entitled to his beliefs. He regretted telling Buck that he should hide the symbols of his religion. He knew it wasn’t right. No one should have to do that because someone else was offended by what they believed.
Ike’s anger was gone, replaced by worry and regret. Buck had been more moody lately. The hateful prejudice of the white world was wearing him down. It really was no mystery where Buck’s poor opinion of white men came from. He hadn’t met one who treated him decently. He had always fought hard to prove himself but that had changed. He wasn’t trying anymore. What did Buck mean when he said that the only place he would truly be accepted was in the spirit world? Ike shuddered at the thought. Could Buck do something to harm himself? His ways were Kiowa. Ike didn’t always understand them. Could he do something desperate? Ike’s heart began to beat faster. He should never have left Buck alone. How could he have left him crying last night? How could he have struck him? He stood. He quickly started walking back towards the west-back to Buck.
Buck sat with his legs pulled up to his chest and his arms folded over his knees, cradling his head. His long, dark hair tumbled around his face. The tears had stopped long ago, leaving him empty. He had been sitting on the ground since sunrise. The image of Ike standing over him signing, **Maybe it’s your fault that no one ever loved you,** was trapped in his mind. He couldn’t make it go away no matter how hard he tried.
Lost in sorrow, Buck slowly rocked back and forth in rhythm with the wind swept prairie grasses. Gradually, he became aware of a soft scratching and high-pitched chirping. When he finally lifted his head, he was surprised to see a prairie dog cautiously poking its head out of a burrow in front of him. When it emerged, it sat up on its hind legs looking at him.
Gazing back, Buck whispered, “What do you want?” The prairie dog began to playfully dance. As the wind drifted by, he heard faint humming in the distance that was vaguely familiar. He listened intently as the humming came closer, forming words. The soft whispery voice was instantly recognizable although he thought that it had faded from his memory long ago.
**…go ahead and dance little puppy, your tail’s just a waggin, but this is as far as you’re gonna jump…**
Buck’s eyes filled with tears at the sweetness of the memory. He quickly stood to search the prairie for the source of the voice although he knew that it was beyond his reach. It wasn’t coming from any one direction but rather filled the space around him-embracing him. He closed his eyes and listened to the Kiowa lullaby. After a few minutes, the soft melody began to fade away on the wind. “Please, please don’t go. I need you here,” Buck whispered. But all he could hear was the rustling of the wind in the grasses. The song was gone. His mother was gone.
When he heard the soft chirping again, he looked down at the prairie dog now sitting near him. He sat down, letting the memory from long ago take form. He saw himself as a small child sitting on his mother’s knees. He could see her more clearly than he had in years. Features that had grayed over time were once again brilliant as if she were there beside him. He could almost reach out and touch her. He saw her long, silky black hair falling over her slender shoulders as she bent closer to whisper soothingly in his ear. He saw her deep brown eyes with flecks of gold that always held sadness. He knew he was the reason for her sorrow. He’d always known. He often caught her looking at him with an expression that he was sure was grief. Even more frightening, sometimes he thought he saw anger on her face. He didn’t remember her smiling often but, when she did, she was radiant. He would do anything to be the recipient of that smile.
The glow of the fire inside their tipi cast a soft golden light on her face. He gently ran his fingers through her hair. He asked her why his hair was brown instead of black and why his skin was so light, but her only answer was that it was just the way he was. But he knew he was different. The other children knew it, too. Some older boys had called him hurtful names and said things about his father that he didn’t understand. They said that his father was a white man so he wasn’t truly Kiowa. He didn’t know what it meant. He asked his mother but he knew it was a terrible mistake when he saw the disappointment in her eyes. He felt the tension in her body as she held him stiffly. She put him down and turned away from him refusing to answer his questions. He was sorry he asked. He vowed never to ask about his father again. He was afraid her anger was directed at him. He wept quietly.
Her heart softened when she realized that he was crying. She gently pulled him into an embrace as she began to hum an old lullaby. She sat down on the buffalo hides holding him closely to her chest. She tried to ease him to sleep by telling him a fanciful story about a prairie dog family. And then she sang the lullaby about the mother prairie dog and her pup. When she finished singing, she kissed the top of his head and held him tightly. As she softly hummed the melody, he finally fell asleep in the comfort of her arms.
Buck looked at the prairie dog still sitting beside him. He softly said, “Ike was wrong. He was wrong about no one ever loving me. She did love me the best she could. It wasn’t easy for her but she did love me.”
The prairie dog chirped understandingly before disappearing into the burrow. After a moment, it poked its head out one last time. Buck smiled with gratitude. “Thank you for coming to me.” The small animal looked at him and then vanished.
Buck felt the sun on his shoulders. At first it was barely perceptible but gradually the warmth felt like a cozy old blanket gently wrapped around him. It clung to his shoulders, taking away the cold. A soft breeze gently pushed his hair away from his face. He could hear the buzzing of insects and the songs of birds. A white butterfly fluttered within his reach settling on a stalk of grass. He became conscious of the strong, aromatic scent of prairie sage. He searched the grasses encircling him finally locating a small bunch of gray sage entangled with lavender meadow blazing stars. The scent drifted in the breeze settling on him. Taking a deep breath, he inhaled the sacred, purifying sage.
As Buck looked around, he realized that he was sitting in the center of a small clearing in the grass. It was a perfect prayer circle created by Mother Earth. He tightly grasped his medicine pouch drawing strength from it. As he looked more closely into the golden grasses, he noticed a myriad of colors scattered haphazardly around him-the pink petals of climbing prairie roses, the brown and yellow coneflower leaves bent towards the Earth, and the purple sunburst of meadow blazing stars. And miraculously, there was the cluster of gray sage reaching out to purify him. He waved his hands towards himself and over his head to gather the scent closer. He wanted it to envelop him. He needed it to cleanse his spirit.
Buck absorbed all that was around him-the gentle touch of Mother Earth and the lingering presence of his mother’s spirit. He was ready to pray. He beseeched the four quarters. Turning towards the North, he prayed for endurance and strength to be truthful-truthful with himself and truthful with Ike. He turned towards the East and looked up into the sky-Father Sky. He prayed for knowledge, understanding and openness to learn. He prayed for wisdom to know what was right. Turning towards the South, he prayed for growth and warmth. Turning towards the West, he thanked the Creator for the life sustaining rains and for giving him life. Finally, he thanked Mother Earth for holding him and caring for him.
When Buck finished his prayers to the six powers, he felt at peace. He lay back on the ground feeling the softness of the earth beneath him. Closing his eyes, he felt the warmth of the sun on his face. He was in the embrace of Mother Earth and Father Sky. He knew what he had to do. He had to go after Ike whether Ike wanted him to or not. He would beg Ike’s forgiveness for the terrible things he had said. He would ask forgiveness for losing his will to keep going no matter what obstacles life put in his way. He would beg him for another chance to make things right. It was a new day-a chance to start again. He had to fix all that he had broken. He hoped that Ike would give him that chance. He knew it wouldn’t be easy. Maybe his life would never be easy but he had to try.
Buck opened his eyes when he felt shadows fall across his face. He watched large white clouds drift across the sky causing the sun to appear and disappear. He stood to look out on the prairie. He was able to see beauty and life within the vast space that stretched out for miles-the gifts of Mother Earth. With lingering resignation and renewed determination, he went back to gather his few belongings. He searched inside his bag until he found a long strip of leather. He ran his fingers through his hair to smooth it before tying it into a ponytail with the leather strip. He gently caressed his medicine pouch before tucking it inside his shirt. At least it was still close to his heart. Finally, he put his earring in his pocket. He was ready-as ready as he would ever be.
Ike’s path was easy to find. Buck walked swiftly in an attempt to close the distance between them-the physical distance at least. It would take more to close the distance that separated their spirits. Ike was his family-not by any blood connection but they had found and chosen each other. The ties that bound them were as strong as any. He couldn’t lose Ike. He had lost enough in his life. When he noticed movement ahead, he quickly hid in the tall grasses. Experience had taught him caution. He quietly waited to get a better view of who or what was coming towards him. A small, crooked smile came to his face when he realized that it was Ike. Ike was coming back. He would have a chance to make things right between them. He took a deep breath before heading towards Ike.
Ike was startled when Buck suddenly appeared ahead of him. After briefly pausing, Ike walked towards him. Buck slowed his pace as fear and doubt began to replace his determination. Both boys stopped when a few feet separated them-neither one sure how to begin. Ike tried to look into Buck’s dark eyes but Buck was looking at the ground. It was easy to see the pain on Buck’s face. Ike cringed with regret when he saw the black and blue bruises he had put there. Buck was going to have to look at him if he was going to be able to talk to him. Ike touched Buck’s arm. When he finally looked up, Buck’s eyes were brimming with tears, making Ike feel worse. Pointing to Buck’s face, Ike asked, **Does it hurt much?**
Buck shook his head before beginning uncertainly, “I’m…I’m sorry for what I said and…and did. Please, Ike, please forgive me. I was wrong. It was all my fault.”
As he spoke, a tear fell. Buck flinched when Ike reached towards him. Ike signed, **I won’t hurt you.** He brushed away the tear with his thumb.
Surprised by the gentle touch, Buck whispered, “I don’t blame you if you hate me. I said terrible things. Please forgive me.”
**I forgive you. Can you forgive me?**
“Forgive you? For what?”
**I said terrible things to you, too. I’m very sorry. And I did worse. I hit you.**
“I deserved it,” Buck answered miserably.
Ike shook his head. **No, you didn’t. Does you’re head hurt?**
Buck carefully felt the bump on the back of his head before answering with a slight smile. “It’s okay. I have a hard head.”
Ike smiled. **Like a rock. We need to talk. Let’s sit.**
“Okay, Ike.” Buck was uneasy. He was afraid that Ike was going to tell him that it was time that they went their separate ways-not that he could blame Ike. He knew he was a burden. He followed Ike into a small clearing. They both sat on the ground cross-legged, silently facing each other. Buck felt a chill as the sun disappeared behind clouds, casting shadows across the prairie. He took off his hat and nervously began to turn it in his hands. He could feel Ike’s intense gaze on him but he couldn’t bring himself to look up. He was afraid of what he would see. Ike reached forward and placed a comforting hand on Buck’s knee. Buck slowly looked up relieved to see understanding rather than hate in Ike’s eyes.
“Please give me another chance,” he whispered.
Confused, Ike asked, **Another chance?**
“Please don’t leave,” Buck voice was barely audible. Looking at the ground again, he added, “I’ll do better. I promise.”
Ike regretted the pain he had caused his friend. He had been angry but he never wanted to hurt Buck like this. He tapped his chest to get Buck to look at him, **I’m sorry. I was mad when I left, but I came back. I never would have left for good.**
“I wouldn’t blame you if you kept going and never looked back. I haven’t exactly been a joy to be around lately,” Buck added sadly.
Ike smiled. **Maybe not.**
Buck was relieved to see the familiar teasing expression on Ike’s face. He tried to explain. “Nothing has gone right. No one will give me a chance. They look at me like I’m worth nothing. I guess I started to believe it. I took my anger and frustration out on you. I’m sorry.”
Ike shrugged. **It’s okay.**
“No, it’s not. I said bad things about your father, Ike. I’m sorry. I really am. I had no right.” Buck tried to explain, “I think I said those awful things because I’m jealous of you.”
Dumbfounded, Ike finally signed, **Jealous of me? Why?**
Buck tried to explain. “You had a father who loved you. The things I said were true about my father, not yours. I would give anything to have a father who loved me even a little.”
Ike rubbed Buck’s knee trying to give comfort. His touch helped Buck continue, “I’m sorry, Ike. I think I wanted you to be like me. I didn’t want you to have the family that I never had. I know that was wrong.”
“How can you understand when I don’t?”
**You thought we’d be closer if we were the same. But it doesn’t matter. I accept you as you are-both halves.**
Buck sighed. “I’m trying to understand my white half but it’s hard when the white world won’t accept me.” He hesitated before revealing his deepest fear. “I’m afraid that I might be like my father. I’m half-white but I don’t know anything about that part of me except that my father was a pathetic excuse for a man. What if what you said is true? What if I’m like him?”
**I’m sorry I said that. You’re not your father.**
“No, but the father is always in the son,” Buck insisted.
**I think it has more to do with how you’re raised. Maybe it’s better that you didn’t know him.**
The truth of Ike’s words hurt. Looking into Ike’s eyes, Buck finally said, “I guess I don’t want my father. I want your father.”
**I want that, too.**
Buck placed his hand on Ike’s shoulder. “I guess we both want what we can’t have. It’s something I’ll never have but you still have your memories. No one can ever take them away from you-not even me. Your father will always live in your heart. You honor him by the way you live your life.”
Ike nodded. His hands trembled with emotion. **He was a good father and a good man. And you’re wrong. He was brave. I’m the one who was a coward. I should have done something to help him and my mother and sister.**
When Ike looked away, Buck reached over and rubbed his shoulder. “You were just a little kid, Ike. You couldn’t have done anything to help them. Those men would have killed you, too. From what you’ve told me, I know your family loved you too much to want you dead with them. I’m sure that they’re happy in the spirit world knowing that you survived. It wasn’t your time, Ike.”
Ike took comfort in Buck’s words-they made sense. He always found Buck’s soft voice soothing. He knew without a doubt that his family did love him and, deep down, he knew they would be happy knowing that he survived. And Buck was right about his memories. He would always have them. Ike signed, **Thank you for being my friend.**
Buck blushed. “I haven’t been doing such a good job at that lately. I know I’m a burden. You’d be better off without me.”
**You’re not a burden. It isn’t your fault that people have blind hatred.**
“No, but I haven’t been trying. I’ve forgotten everything I’ve been taught. Being born wasn’t my choice. I didn’t choose my father. But I’m here and what I do with my life is my choice. I can face life or run away from it. You have to keep going no matter how difficult life is and no matter what trials are put before you. They can either make you stronger or destroy you. It’s your choice. Life is a journey sometimes walked in shadow and sometimes in light. We’ve been in the shadows long enough. Maybe it’s time we walked in the light.”
Ike smiled, **Each sunrise brings a new day and a chance to start again.**
Buck warmly returned the smile. “You’ve been listening to me. It’s too bad I haven’t been listening to myself, huh?”
Ike’s smile broadened. **Life is a journey that you don’t have to walk alone.**
“I’m not saying that I’ll never get down again but I’ll try not to give up.”
**That’s all I can ask.**
Hesitating, Buck said, “Ike, you were wrong about no one ever loving me. My mother loved me the best she could.”
Ike waited for Buck to tell him more, but Buck silently stared at the ground, lost in his memories. He decided not to ask any questions. Buck would tell him about his mother when he was ready.
Tapping Buck’s shoulder, Ike asked, **So, where should we go?**
**Are you sure?**
Buck shrugged. “We’ve got nothing to lose.”
Ike looked closely at his friend. **Not even our pride?**
“No one can take anything from us that we don’t give them.”
Ike smiled at Buck’s renewed spirit. **Let’s go then.**
They both stood up, brushing the dirt from their pants. When Buck began to put his hat on, Ike grabbed his arm stopping him. Buck looked at Ike quizzically. Ike reached behind Buck’s neck and pulled the leather binding from his hair, letting it fall loose around his shoulders. **You don’t have to hide who you are.**
Ike reached inside Buck’s shirt and gently pulled out his medicine pouch, **And you don’t have to hide your beliefs. I’m sorry. I was very wrong. Where’s your earring?**
Buck pulled the earring out of his pocket. Ike signed, **Put it on. They’ll take us as we are or not at all.**
“More than likely, they won’t take us at all.” When Ike frowned, Buck quickly added, “Sorry-old habits are hard to break. It’ll be their loss if they don’t hire us. We’re perfect for the job,” he added confidently as his put on the earring.
Ike smiled. **Let’s go.**
The sun reappeared from behind the clouds, spreading brilliant light across the prairie. Feeling the warmth on their faces, Ike and Buck both hoped that this would be the beginning of their journey in light. They headed towards Sweetwater.
*“Legend of the Warrior/Keep Going” by Joseph Fire Crow and Joseph Marshall III