Friday, April 3, 2015

Buckskin Brigades - Chapter 2 part 1 - Of Love and Meat

Let's meet our hero.

To Yellow Hair, farther down the stream, about six miles away, it was not the 27th of July, 1806, and the country about him was not part of the Louisiana Purchase.  The date, to Yellow Hair, was merely a late midday in the Thunder Moon

I've yet to find a nice website that lays out the Blackfoot calendar.  Native Net summarizes different American Indian calendars but doesn't specify whether the Niitsitapi referred to July as the Cherries Moon, Heat Moon, or Blood Moon.  It does list the Thunder Moon as one of the names for August, so maybe the Blackfoot calendar moves a little faster.

and the wide, vibrant country about him was indisputably the southern portion of the Pikuni country, owned, policed and governed by the Three Tribes.

The Blackfoot Confederacy, or Niitsitapi ("original people" says Wikipedia, another site translates an alternate spelling, Nizitapi, as "real people"), consists of several intermingling tribes: the Siksika ("Blackfeet"), Kainai ("Bloods"), and the northern and southern Piegan branches.  The latter are sometimes called the Pikuni, a slight corruption of their Blackfoot name, the Piik├íni.  Of these, only the Southern Piegan are still in Montana, the rest went to reservations in Alberta, Canada.  And now you know.

Yellow Hair is impatient, "as usual" - he and his companion White Fox are waiting to join a war party out to punish some Tushepaw raiders, unaware that their fellow warriors have gotten distracted by Meriwether Lewis.  Unbelievably, Wikipedia doesn't have a page for the Tushepaw.  As best I can tell it's another name for the Flatheads, who did not actually have flat heads.  Anyway, Yellow Hair is stamping and pacing, while White Fox is crouched next to the fire with some bison meat.

"Why don't they come?" demanded Yellow Hair.  "They know where we are."

"They will probably come in due time," said White Fox without moving his gray head.  "Of course you can never be certain, but they said they would come and we must wait."

"You told me that yesterday.  Find something new to tell me today.  Stop ogling that meat and take a glance at the sky.  Disgusting!  Motionless.  Not even a cloud moving.  Not a leaf!  Not a puff of dust to be seen.  And look at those herds.  Look at those herds!  They act as though they had never seen a hunter."

This is kinda like waiting for a phone call and getting mad at traffic.  Something tells me Yellow Hair may not be old enough to vote.

White Fox, "annoyed but a little," urges patience, causing Yellow Hair to rant about the Tushepaws being too blind or deaf to respect the Pikuni's territorial boundaries or laws, worry that if they don't retaliate the Pikuni will be their neighbors' punching bag, and speculate that Low Horns and the other warriors they're waiting on have stopped to hunt...

"That's the game for them.  Rabbits.  Big, fierce rabbits with long teeth."

I never thought I'd be able to make this reference in response to an L. Ron Hubbard novel.

"Maybe sweating would cure it," said White Fox mildly, seeming to address the meat instead of Yellow Hair.

"What?"

"Love," murmured White Fox thoughtfully.

"What about love?  I was talking about the Tushepaws and I've certainly no love for those wolverines."

White Fox had the ghost of a grin floating around his slightly cynical lips.  But he kept the joke to himself and slowly turned the buffalo strips, carefully tucking up the sleeves of his hunting shirt.

It takes another page for the author to spell it out, but that's really the heart of the issue: sweating the meat love.  White Fox knows that Yellow Hair has his blue, Aryan eyes on Bright Star, "A girl with a shapely face, stormy eyes and soft hands, a girl who could ride like a warrior."  And unless Yellow Hair makes a name for himself in battle and earns her father Running Elk's respect, he'll never feel those soft hands running through his glorious golden mane.

Until then, Yellow Hair continues to whine and threatens to leave White Fox to wait for the others until the Falling Leaf Moon (October by that Indian calendar source).

"Hyai, what I'll do to those Tushepaws," said Yellow Hair.

"Others of us will be there," commented White Fox. "At least, we might be there."

I have to say, the presence of White Fox in this chapter almost makes up for the presence of Yellow Hair.

The older man pushes Yellow Hair too far, however, when he compliments his white buckskin clothes and asks if he thinks the Tushepaws will be impressed by them, then reminds Yellow Hair that he isn't even a real warrior, and is only here to carry White Fox's robes, shield and "Thunder Medicine Pipe."  The last is overlooked by the book's Glossary, but I don't think it's Injun Speak for "gun" or anything, the narration uses no such mysticism when Yellow Hair checks his rifle.  According to everyculture.com, the Blackfoot have a specific tobacco-smoking ritual done after the year's first thunder is heard.  I'm not sure why White Fox needs this for a war party, though.

At any rate, Yellow Hair dramatically drops his saddle after White Fox disses his beaver cap, then stomps up to and looms over the old man.  Yellow Hair is of course tall even by his adopted people's standards and in the very best physical condition, so "it was easy to see that he could have eaten up White Fox in two gulps."  And White Fox does nothing but continue to turn his bison meat, hands not even trembling.

So of course we get the physical expression of platonic Man Love when Yellow Hair grins and slaps White Fox's back so hard he nearly pitches the guy into the fire.  Laughing, Yellow Hair grabs a strip of bison and admits that he might be distracted by the target of his affections.

"Love," said Yellow Hair, "might do a lot for a man's bravery, but it never did much for his reason. I think about Bright Star and then I think how Running Elk demands I show what kind of man I am and . . . well. . . ."

"Another piece of meat?" said White Fox. "It's roasted through now."

If the lines were worded just a little differently, we could've had White Fox subtly expressing his opinion on what kind of man Yellow Hair is.

Alas, for all the near-wit, Yellow Hair goes right back to boasting about tearing through the Tushepaws like a wildfire, and White Fox repeats his remark that "Some others of us will also be there."  And it's really disappointing, the book was actually off to a fairly solid start, but then some redundant dialogue comes along to remind us we're in a Hubbard novel.

In the middle of exclaiming that "The way I feel today, I could whip the whole Tushepaw nation all by myself" - good thing Yellow Hair isn't White Fox's rear gunner - our hero suddenly notices smoke signals that cut off before resuming.  And so we earn the chapter title of "Two Smokes for Trouble."  We'll finish Chapter 2 next time with a whole lot of talking, standing around and meaningful stares.

But that's our introduction to the hero.  And, well, you know what they say about first impressions.  Now I'm sure that later on we'll see Yellow Hair's gentle, loving side, how he appreciates Bright Star for more than her looks and horseback riding, and how he can express his deep affection for White Fox beyond slapping him.  But right now, he's kind of annoying.  And either White Fox is a bottomless well of patience, or he's gotten used to Yellow Hair being annoying like this.

And maybe we'll get an explanation for why these two were just kinda hanging out on a river bank.  What are Yellow Hair and White Fox doing?  Are they advance scouts?  Probably not, they haven't spotted their quarry that we know of, and have sat still since at least yesterday.  So why are they separate from the rest of the war party?


Back to Chapter 1

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