Friday, April 10, 2015

Buckskin Brigades - Chapter 4, part 1 - Too Much Talk of Talk

The author warps time in a chapter's introduction again, when he tells us that "The two trails which had almost met diverged, never again to even closely approach," that Captain Lewis returned home safely and was commended for his work.  Lewis of course ended up as governor of the Louisiana Purchase,

an immense land which had been "sold" by a power six thousand miles across land and the Atlantic to another land which immediately accepted "sovereign" rights to "colonize and exploit."

Ugh, if you're going to call powers lands, don't mention the land between those lands/powers.

The actual owners, not important enough to be consulted, were for the moment left alone.

They didn't have a flag.

After telling us how Lewis' story ends, we immediately rewind to the story of Yellow Hair, already in progress.  Why couldn't the note about Lewis' fate be in the book's epilogue or afterword or something?  Why interrupt the narrative to mention something that happens much later and doesn't affect the story?  I assume at the end of this we'll be told about how the legend of Yellow Hair echoed through the generations like that gunshot, and that would've been a better place to put these few sentences.

Anyway, our hero and some other guys are going back to the Pikuni's seat of government, an orderly lines of lodges along the main branch of the Marias River, the town of... well, what's in a name?  They don't so much as stop to sleep along the way because they're so distraught, which strikes me as unfair to the horses.  Hopefully they brought along enough to swap out for fresh mounts.  Sure hate to think they rode their animals to death because of Sadness.

When they had left, the lodges had poured forth gay crowds to wish them luck.  The keeper of the sacred Beaver Roll had gone galloping down the streets shouting out their names and glorifying them.

When they had left, the sun had been daunted by the dazzling whiteness of their hunting shirts and the blazing colors of their plumed war bonnets.

And now, to creep back at dawn, defeated, carrying their dead, shorn of their shields and weapons . . . it was bitter but it had to be done.

I mean what else are you gonna do, not go home?  That's where your stuff is.

Again, the problem with all this is that it's years too early.  This is supposed to be some great betrayal, proof of the white man's untrustworthy and vicious nature.  Problem is, the broken treaties and settlement of the Wild West are still decades away.  In this case, the "betrayal" is that the Blackfoot remembered that the white men talked peace with a tribe that got attacked by a neighbor, and decided they were justified in stealing some guns.  They got caught, and lost two men.  Sad, but that's what happens when you try to rob people without taking all of their muskets.

If they hadn't encountered Lewis, and met up with Yellow Hair and White Fox as planned, and if their raid on the Tushepaw had been foiled by Yellow Hair doing something impulsive and stupid, they could've ended with the same result, the same defeated return home.  But the author is using hindsight to magnify this defeat into some grand tragedy, the beginning of the decline of the Blackfoot and the United States' callous domination of the Native Americans.

During the final approach, Yellow Hair falls back a bit to ride alongside and talk with White Fox.

"We should not be here," said Yellow Hair.  "We were not with the party."

"Not anxious to meet Bright Star?" replied White Fox.  "You were eager enough for the kill.  It is a sorry warrior who cannot take defeat and victory alike."

"I don't mean that.  I wasn't with the party, but Bright Star will think I was.  She will be angry with them and I don't want her to associate Running Elk's death with me."

"You are wise," said White Fox.  "Cut down this coulee before they come up.  You still have time."

"No.  I'm staying.  I just don't like it, that's all."

"One glance is worth a year of explanation," shrugged White Fox.

The only benefits of having this exchange out loud, as opposed to the narration letting us hear Yellow Hair's misgivings, is to 1) have White Fox re-establish his wisdom by dropping an aphorism, and 2) praise Yellow-Hair.  I for one would be willing to miss out on the former if it meant not having to hear the latter.

A crowd gathers, and Bear Claws, the guy who keeps the sacred Beaver Roll bundle, rides out to meet them.  When he sees the two laden horses he turns his mount around to face the rest of the village.

Yellow Hair squirmed in his saddle and the creak of the tight leather was as loud as a pistol shot.

It might be running the "echoes of the gunshot" angle into the ground, but I think I approve of this sentence.

Bright Star rides out, her head "thrown back and her silky black hair danced behind her in the wind," and there's just a moment of pain on her face before she too turns her back.  Yellow Hair sees the questions in her eyes in that brief moment, but says and does nothing, and if he has any mental reaction the narration doesn't share it.  So the war party ends up entering the village in silence, until Running Elk and Wolf Plume's bodies are sent to their lodges.  And then the wailing of the women begins.

Not Bright Star, though, she needs to be strong and awesome enough to fit our hero.  Instead she's out front, "her face buried in the mane of Running Elk's favorite pony."  Yellow Hair wants to comfort her, but alas, you just don't do that.  So he goes to White Fox's lodge and strips naked in front of a child.

Uh, see, there's this Tushepaw kid named Magpie who was "taken into the lodge after a raid the year before" - it'd be rude to say kidnapped - and now lives there "in comfort but as a sort of servant" - it'd be rude to say slave.  So when Yellow Hair gets out of his hunting outfit, Magpie brings some white elkskin clothes to replace them, "White clothes for sorrow."  ...Except Yellow Hair's buckskins were also white, right?  White Fox needled him about it, didn't he?  Guess he was a sad warrior.

Yellow Hair puts on a robe, walks down to the river, and has a bath before changing into the sorrowful white clothes and returning to the lodge for his bison bow.  White Fox is there, getting ready to smoke some "Indian tobacco," causing me to wonder what other kind they would possibly be smoking

"You've had no sleep," said White Fox. "You need it."

"Sleep with that ringing in my ears?" snapped Yellow Hair. "For every wail there I have an ache here." He touched his breast and looked hard at the painted inner-lining of the lodge as though he could see through it and outside.

This line would be more effective if it was clear whether the women's wailing had stopped or not.  If they have and Yellow Hair can still hear them, it's poignant.  If they haven't and their caterwauling is keeping the whole village awake, it's darkly hilarious.

White Fox tries to calm our hero, pointing out "Later on you will have many responsibilities.  There is no need to borrow them now."  He reminds Yellow Hair that Low Horns forbade him from chasing after Running Elk's killers, and plans on saying as such when the Grand Council meets to discuss this tragedy.

But Yellow Hair's hearing none of it - he's tired of talking instead of pursuing vengeance, and not happy now that there's "talk of more talk."  White Fox reminds them that he isn't Running Elk's son-in-law yet and can't claim a proper vendetta, but again, Yellow Hair and deafness.

"You didn't see the way she looked at me."

"I did see it. Women have short memories, Yellow Hair."

I'm sure in another day or two she'll have forgotten that you couldn't save her father.  Give it a week, tops.

"Bright Star," said Yellow Hair with heat, "is not just another woman."

"Of course not.  You love her."

More specifically, she's the romantic partner of the protagonist, so she has to be something special.

At this point Magpie sticks his head in the tent to announce that Yellow Hair's horse is waiting.  And by that I mean that the narration tells us as such, he doesn't get an actual line.  Huh.

"Running away?" said White Fox.

"I'm going out to kill an antelope."

"Peace offering?"


Have to say, I don't mind this sort of snappy, quick conversation.  No long-winded sentences, no paragraph-long statements.  It's a subtle way of making clear that White Fox and Yellow Hair are good and familiar with each other at this point, and don't need a lot of words to communicate - which incidentally makes the times when White Fox has a lot to say more meaningful.

Or perhaps I'm overthinking things and Hubbard meant for everyone to be too distracted by events to say much right now.

White Fox pleads for Yellow Hair to settle down, and again assures him that he'll explain things at the Council.  Yellow Hair is still fed up with all this talk of talking, and tells White Fox "don't try to get me to come to the Grand Council.  I won't!"

Which of course means that

Statement to the contrary, he was there, four days later when it was held.

Now, as much as I love the Gilligan Cut, I can't help but feel that it's somewhat out of place here, in this scene of mourning and angry guilt.

Tune in next time for the Grand Council meeting, when the chapter will live up to its title of "Yellow Hair Receives Orders."  Will they have anything to say to Yellow Hair?  Only one way to find out!

Back to Chapter 3

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