Rose Kingsley sat cross-legged on the damp ground staring at the setting moon and chanting to the Great Creator. But she did not think of herself as Kate Kingsley any longer. She was Prairie Rose. Alone on the ledge,
she looked down into the chasm of darkness below. Silence hung heavy in the air,
broken only by the occasional sound of a small night creature scurrying in the forest.
This was her final hour of a Vision Quest. Weak from hunger and on the edge of the dream world, she continued her chant. So far, her Spirit Guide
had not come to her. She swayed back and forth to the monotone of her song and watched the moon disappear behind a ridge of
pines. It became as black as the inside of a deep cave. She chanted louder. Dawn would come quickly now, and it would
be time for her to return to the Cheyenne village.
The sky turned gray along the eastern ridge of the world, and light seeped onto the land around her. She was able to make out large black clouds silhouetted against the dark gray of the western sky. They boiled upwards rolling and swirling upon themselves. A blinding bolt of lightning followed by rolling thunder split the low clouds.
At first, a soft breeze played with the errant strands of hair that escaped from her braids. She felt the Spirit Wind caress her cheek and then grow stronger.
Standing, she backed away from the ledge, turned to the east, and noticed a dark speck flying in her direction. When it drew near, she heard the cry of the black eagle. It circled above her three times then turned west. Lighting flamed across the heavens, thunder crashed
over head, and her surroundings were lit by a brilliant light. Suddenly, a small
flock of sparrows, led by a dove, lifted into the air to follow the eagle. While
she watched, they disappeared into the boiling clouds.
She lifted her face in a prayer of thanksgiving; the Great Spirit had given her a vision. She did not understand
its meaning, but Sacred Badger, the medicine man, would explain when she returned to the village.
The sky opened and released its power. She closed her eyes against
the lashing rain and wind that tore at her calico shirt and buckskin leggings. Then,
as suddenly as it had begun, the howling wind died away, and the rain softened to a gentle mist. She opened her eyes to the sun breaking through the clouds. A
rainbow arched across the heavens and ended beyond the hills to the west where the village was located.
Small pebbles slipped under her moccasins as she slowly made her way down the embankment. A sigh of relief escaped her lips when at the bottom of the hill she felt solid earth.
Prairie Rose had not yet acquired her own horse and was making her journey, a day’s walk back to camp,
on foot. She lived with a small band of thirty Cheyenne, her mother’s people. They were on
their way to join others for a buffalo hunt. Grandfather Gray Fox was their leader and had allowed the tribe to stop in the
sacred hills for several days while Prairie Rose made her vision quest, for he knew how torn she was between the white man’s
world and that of the “Beautiful People.”
She picked up her pace. Her half brother Brave Wolf would be impatient
to be on their way. When she asked him if she could borrow one of his horses to go on the quest, he refused. He considered his ponies to valuable to be ridden by a woman, especially one that was half white.
The day grew hotter, and her stomach rumbled with hunger. Stopping
at the edge of a cold mountain stream, Prairie Rose watched a doe come out of the trees and drop its head to drink. Slowly, as not to make a noise, the girl removed an arrow from her quiver and readied her bow to shoot. Drawing the string taunt, she lined up the target.
The doe brought her head up and looked directly at Prairie Rose with liquid brown eyes.
Prairie Rose could not bring herself to shoot the defenseless animal and relaxed the bow string. In the blink of an
eye, the woodland creature dove into the trees and out of sight. With a sigh,
the mixed-blood returned her arrow to the quiver. She would ration the pemmican, a mix of dried buffalo meat and berries, her grandmother had given her.
It was nutritious and remained eatable for a long time. And she would
find berries along the way.
Crouching down along the banks of a small stream, she cupped her hands and brought the cool water to her lips. Then she sat cross-legged on the grass to eat the mixture which was the food eaten
by all Indians who were on a journey.
Since her return to the Cheyenne, the sun had darkened her skin and given her a more Indian look, but it had also put highlights
of gold and copper into her dark chestnut hair. While she was back east, she
had no problem passing as a white woman. But now that she was with her mother’s people, she wanted so much to be recognized
as one of the “Beautiful People.”
It was hot and humid, and the walk had sapped much of her energy. However,
after taking food and water and a short rest in the shade, she was ready to resume her journey. She slapped at a flying insect and jumped to her feet. If
she did not hurry, even her easy-going young friend Red Squirrel would grow impatient while waiting for her. Although he had seen seventeen summers, his mind remained that of a boy of seven summers and would not
go much beyond that. Grandmother Turtle Woman said that he was blessed by the
spirits. Prairie Rose had a special place in her heart for the boy.
Her mother and father expected her to join them in Monterey Valley, California. They would be disappointed when they received the message she sent had from the train station in Cheyenne, Wyoming. Instead
of continuing on to California, she left the train and sent a telegram that she intended to remain with her maternal
Her father told her she would need a white man’s education to live in this changing world and lead a
good life, and so when she was twelve, her parents sent her east to Virginia to be with her father’s
parents. While her mother and father went on to California, she
spent four years in the white man’s world, learned to read and write, and was baptized a Catholic.
However, living in her father’s world confused her. Was the
God of Christians the same as the Great Spirit? If not, would the Great Spirit
think she deserted him? Would he no longer listen to her? She had to know. That is why Grandfather Gray Fox allowed
her to go on the vision quest. The Great Sprit had spoken to her, but she still
did not know if both Gods were one. Nor did she understand her vision.
She missed the life of her childhood and now only wanted to live as an Indian.
She loved the feel of a horse under her and the free life of her mother’s people.
Time in the white man’s world was so controlled. She preferred natural time; eating when hungry, sleeping when
tired. She missed watching the birds, enjoying nature, and searching the hills
and valleys for healing herbs with Grandmother Turtle Woman.
By late afternoon Prairie Rose’s legs were failing her. She had been accustomed to walking long distances,
but her time back east had softened her. Her lungs had been dealing well with
the high altitude, but when they began to ache, she slowed to catch her breath.
Finally, she stopped, sank down, and sat on a fallen tree to rest.
While a slight breeze cooled her, she closed her eyes and listened to the birds calling to each other. Suddenly
their songs ceased. She heard the snap of a twig near-by, jumped up, and swung
around to face three white men leering at her. Each carried a gun on his hip. With the agility of a deer, she raced away from them only to run blindly into a fourth
man who grabbed her wrist in a vice-like grip.
“Looks like this little lady will provide some fun for us this evening, eh, guys?”
She turned her head to see one of the other men closing in on her. The
man holding her wrist drew her against his chest.
“And a pretty one, I might add.”
The smell of his whisky-laden breath gagged her. Mustering all
of her strength, she raised her knee and thrust it upward as hard as she could. She
felt sudden freedom as he released her and bent over in pain. She dove behind
a tree as a gun went off. The bullet missed her head by inches and tore into
the tree trunk next to her. A Cheyenne war cry rang out in the distance. Prairie Rose grabbed the bow slung on her back and placed the notch of the arrow in
the bowstring. Peaking around the tree trunk, she saw the man she had kneed still
on the ground, but he was not alone. One of his companions lay in a heap nearby
with an arrow in his chest. She did not see the third or fourth man, nor did
she see who used the bow. A loud crack turned her attention to a man crashing
out of the trees. He stopped, looked at her with wild eyes, and lifted his gun
to shoot. In a heartbeat, she released her arrow.
The point caught the man in the hollow of his throat and the shaft buried itself deep into his neck. The man who had been kneed was recovering and swept his gun up from the ground. Before he could pull the
trigger, a tall Cheyenne warrior broke out of the underbrush and rammed his wooden lance into the man’s stomach. The mortally-wounded man flopped like a skewered fish several times and then lay still. His sightless eyes stared at Prairie Rose.
“You’re left on your own for two days and look at the trouble you’ve found,” the warrior
said with an amused look on his face.
“Strong Lance, what are you doing here?”
“Your grandmother had one of her ‘feelings’ and asked me to look for you.”
Prairie Rose looked around at the bodies on the ground. “It
is good that you heeded her warning. There was one other man.”
“Yes, I saw him high tailing it out of the area, but I let him go.”
Strong Lance reached out and took her hand. “Come, Camp is only
two hours away. We should be there by sundown if we hurry. Did they hurt you?”
“No. I’m fine. But if you had been any later, I don’t
know what would have happened.”
“You should know better then to travel alone. Since the
white man found shiny yellow rocks on our sacred grounds, it is no longer safe. They
desecrate our holy places, and the Big Chief in Washington does nothing.”
Strong Lance was right. Since the white men had discovered gold
in the Black Hills they dug holes in the sacred ground and destroyed sacred shrines. The
last treaty the white men had promised that the Black Hills would remain with the Indians forever. But
now it was infested with greedy white men. No wonder she preferred the life of
“Why didn’t grandmother send my brother Brave Wolf?”
“She asked him first, but he ignored her, gathered a hunting party, and left camp before my arrival there.”
Both annoyance and disappointment tugged at Prairie Rose’s heart.
Since her return, her brother was no longer the happy, carefree boy of her childhood, and his attitude toward her was
Strong Lance seemed to be aware of her thoughts. “It isn’t
that he does not care for you. His mind has been occupied. There have been many conflicts with the white man since your departure four years ago. It has hardened his heart.”
Prairie Rose looked up at him and saw the compassion on his face. She had known Strong Lance all her life. His
clan joined hers each year to travel to the buffalo hunt. He and Brave Wolf were
closer than brothers. She always worshiped her brother’s friend, and before
she left to go to school in Virginia, she thought herself in love with him. It
was another reason she decided to return to this life. He always looked at her
as Brave Wolf’s little sister. Did he still feel that way?
“Has your camp joined ours?” she inquired.
“They are two suns away.
I have a new buffalo pony and wanted to show him to Brave Wolf, so I came ahead.”
“Where is your pony now?”
“He is at your camp.
I did not want him to become injured on the steep, rocky trails.”
Several hours later, at sunset, Prairie Rose and Strong Lance broke
out of the forest into a clearing along the river. The camp was over a low rise,
but something was not right. Smoke filled the air with the scent of burning wood. When the two travelers reached the knoll and looked down on the camp, they saw the
skeletons of several teepees and a pile of smoldering rubble. Prairie Rose sprinted
down the hill almost falling with the pull of gravity. Behind a pile of smoking
timbers, she found a group of elderly people huddled together on the ground listening to her grandfather speak.