Wednesday, July 1, 2015

The Peace Pipe

The PeacePipe

Short Story – 1910 Mostly-fiction

The old chief had been walking east for days, crossing many rivers along the way, including the mighty Mississippi. At Berry’s Ferry, he crossed the Ohio River into Kentucky, following the trail his village was forced to walk many years before. He wanted to retrieve the village treasure his father, the village chief, had buried when the solders came and quickly took them away.

On his second day of walking through western Kentucky, he climbed a bluff above the Green River valley to gain the advantage of higher ground. In the distance he noticed a fierce storm blowing in from the southwest. He would have to find shelter soon. Looking around, he spotted a farmhouse upon a distant hill ahead.

He approached the house cautiously, walking across the long sloping yard and past the smokehouse just as dark clouds rolled in and thunder clapped nearby. The farmer sat on the front porch, smoking his pipe as if taking a break from the approaching storm.

“Come in and get out of the rain,” he called. “You look like you need a rest.”

“Thank you, yes. I have been traveling from Oklahoma. Everything is so much different now, the landmarks and roads. It’s harder to find the old trail.”

“Why such a long journey?”

“I wanted to visit our old village one more time before I die. It has been such a long time since the soldiers came and took us to Oklahoma.”

“Come in and have supper with us. You are welcome to spend the night.”

“My name is Whitefox,” he said, holding his hand out.

“My name is Luther, and this is my wife, Nellie,” he said as he shook Whitefox’s hand. Luther was known for being one of the kindest men in the county, always willing to help anyone, whether friend or stranger.

After supper they sat by the fireplace. Luther talked about farming, and Whitefox talked about hunting trips in Kentucky and Tennessee.

“There are many trails for the wagons and horses through these rolling hills and deep valleys,” said Whitefox.

 “Every now and then we see loud horseless carriages,” said Luther. “They get stuck in the mud, and we have to hitch up the mules to pull them out, especially on the road from the river since it is so steep.”

A hard blast of wind hit the house, and the building groaned from the force.

“You have such strong houses to withstand the storms.”

“We do get damage sometimes. Last year we lost a barn. Some of the chickens never turned up again.”

“What kind of crops do you grow?”

“Corn and hay in the large fields, and potatoes in the small garden. A lot of the farmers grow tobacco as a cash crop.”

Luther and Whitefox talked late into the night. The relaxing sound of rain on the tin roof lulled Nellie into a nap, her knitting falling to the floor. 

They listened to the storm for a few minutes, then Luther asked, “Will you be coming back this way?”

“Yes, I want to visit my father’s grave one more time before crossing the big rivers.”

“I can loan you a horse and saddle if you would like. You can drop them off on your return trip home.”

Whitefox thanked him for his generosity, and headed to bed not long after.

The next morning they arose early and saddled up the young black mare. Luther cut some meat off the ham hanging in the smokehouse and salted it down for the trip.

Whitefox was very thankful to be riding instead of walking thanks to the generosity of his new friend. Whitefox was in his late seventies, and the old mare had a smooth stride.

Riding into Hopkinsville, he asked several people if they knew where the Indian chiefs were buried.

“Why do you want to see those old graves? They were just Indians,” one person remarked.

Finally an older man remembered the Indians coming through town many years before. “Follow Little River south to the fork and watch for Latham Cemetery. There were a bunch of Indians buried there.”

As Whitefox followed the river, the journey brought back memories of all his family and friends that died during the trip west in the midst of a hard winter. Chief Whitepath and Chief Fly Smith both died on the trail while camped near Hopkinsville, Kentucky and were buried under a pile of stones and poles.

When he finally found the cemetery, it was overgrown with weeds. A familiar tree line along a slight rise caught his eye. He followed it, searching for grave markers until he found one marked Chief Fly Smith. Nearby he found his father’s grave, Chief Whitepath. He spent the evening pulling weeds and cleaning up the site. It was a clear night as he studied the stars, picking out one for his father at the end of the little dipper. Now he would always look at that star and remember his father.

He thought about the village treasure they had buried together in northern Georgia. He prayed that the chest would still be there. He wanted to return some of the items to his tribe in Oklahoma.

He spent several more days riding through Tennessee, journeying around Nashville and then across the Cumberland plateau before heading down the valley into north Georgia to the town of Ellijay. He tried to avoid the cities and as many people as possible for fear they would discover that he was an Indian and steal his horse.

On the north side of town near Turnip Town, he found his family’s old homesite, now covered with vines and about to fall down. In the backyard he found the rock marking the treasure site. Making sure that no one was around, he dug up the chest.

The large leather bag of gold in the chest was still there, along with spearheads and a clay pipe used around the council fires. At last he found it, a special book, the written history of their tribe. This was the reason he return. The gold was left behind for fear of being taken by the solders and the history was left for fear of being lost or destroyed on the long wet cold journey they were being forced to take in the middle of winter. He carefully wrapped up the special items and placed them in his saddlebags. The chest still contained some larger items that he could not carry, so he just reburied the chest, so that no one would know that he had been there.

Fearful of being discovered, he did not rest for the night but immediately rode off on his long journey home.

Three days later, back in Hopkinsville, he spent another night at his father’s gravesite. During the night he carved out a hole in a large sand stone boulder nearby. He placed the largest gold nugget from his pouch in the hole, refilled it with mud, and carved the words in Cherokee, “Remember Chief Whitepath.”

Late the next day, he rode up the hill to Luther’s home.

Luther waved from the front porch. “How was your trip?”

“It went well. I cleaned my father’s gravesite and found the old homesite in Georgia.”

“Did the black mare take good care of you?”

“Yes, this is a very good horse. If you would part with her, I would like to purchase her. I can pay you in gold.”

“I think we can make out without her. Whatever you think is a fair price will be fine.”

Whitefox paid him with several gold nuggets and then pulled out a leather case.

“For your kindness to an old Indian whom you did not even know, I would like to give you this peace pipe that was used many times by our tribe to seal bargains and to settle disputes.”

Luther accepted the case and slowly opened the little latch. The pipe was nestled in green felt padding perfectly molded to its contours. The pipe’s carving featured two deer leaping over a log while looking back at the person smoking the pipe. The details of the antlers and eyes of the deer were perfect, and the carving accurately portrayed the rough bark of the log. The bowl of the pipe was dark inside from hundreds of tobacco smokes. There was no stem since the pipe was designed to slip over the user’s own smoke stem.

Luther displayed the open case with the pipe on the mantle alongside the large clock. “Thank you,” he said. “I will remember your visit every time I check the time and see this fine pipe here beside the clock.”

 It was 1954 before the graves of Chief Whitepath and Fly Smith were rediscovered and a statue of Chief Whitepath was cast and placed in the Latham Cemetery by the US Government as well as a park established to honor all those who died on The Trail Of Tears. About that same time Luther gave the pipe to his grandson and told him about the Indian that gave it to him. When his grandson was older, he left home, catching rides to the West Coast. On one long ride that lasted for weeks and which ended near the shores of the Pacific Ocean, he rode with a wonderful and loving Indian couple, who read their bible and prayed each night. He gave the peace pipe to the them as a gift, thanking them for being so kind and for giving him transportation and shelter on his journey. He also shared the story of how he obtain the pipe, from another lonely traveler who was shown kindness.         


Copyright © 2015 Hubert Clark Crowell
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