~I was an orphan. I had always been an orphan; in and out of various orphanages for 16 years. When I was 17, I ran away for the last time and started singing at every run-down saloon I came across. It kept clothes on my back and food in my stomach, but I got the feeling I wasn’t very good at the only thing I knew how to do. I would sing at one place for a few nights, get paid, then told to move on; they had found someone better to fill my place. I traveled for miles, looking for another weather-beaten old excuse for a place to eat. While I traveled I learned many things about the woods, the animals that lived there, and the signs they left behind. Once in a while I would strike up a conversation with an old-timer and they would teach me something I did not yet know. One time I even met an English-speaking Indian, Racing Deer, and learned how to track the bear, the cougar and the woodpecker. Or as he said; the meat for man, the killer of man, and the model for man. I was puzzled as to why the woodpecker, of all creatures, would be the model for man. I had always thought the model for man to be the ant. Racing Deer told me that the woodpecker was always at work. He worked for the land; ridding the forest of bug-infested trees, and he worked for his food; pounding hour after hour just so he could feed himself and his family. I pondered the moral of this and nodded in agreement. I knew what Racing Deer meant.
My traveling went on for quite some time before I decided that my purse was full enough and my mind sharp enough to explore the wilderness not often touched by man. So I left my life of singing, chose a direction, and started off, saying goodbye to the people I had come to know in that area.
Now almost 19, I am not sure how far I have gone, but I will never go back. For the farther North I’ve gone, the more beautiful the land has looked to me. I hope to one day have a home of my own, situated on a green hill, surrounded by tall pines, with a sparkling creek running through. A real home where I can stay, rule, and never have to leave. Now for the part that may or may not startle you, my reader… I am a girl.
I could tell the cougar was getting closer to me now. I could not see or hear him, but I had the feeling that he could see me and knew what I was doing. I sat and tried to come up with a plan. In front of me was the way I had just come, and I kept a close eye on this area so I would not be surprised by the cougar. Behind me was a large hill, dotted with grey rocks and gnarled tree stumps, and it made me think of Ireland. I had seen a book once with pictures of Ireland in it, and ever since then the beautiful country was always in the back of my mind. To my right all I could see was forest. Deep, dark forest getting darker by the moment as the sun started to set. To my left I knew that I would eventually run into other people; for a while now I had seen signs of this. The view from the last hill I climbed showed me a large clearing in that direction, though I could not see past the tall trees to see who it was that lived there. There were also frequently-used trails winding through the woods, and I could tell that they were not made by any four-footed creature. As I sat wondering where I would be safest, I reached into my sack for some jerky and found that it was gone. Now I was not only alone, but also hungry and being hunted by a fierce beast that almost always got what he wanted. For the first time since running away, my mind drifted back to the safety of the orphanages. But I quickly dismissed the thought, for there had been much hunger there as well. A slight rustle of leaves in front of me and to my right snapped me out of my thoughts and I picked a way in which to go. I started off to the left.
For hours I trudged on, my gun loaded and ready for any sign of trouble from man or beast. I could not be sure the cougar was still following me, but I still had the eerie feeling that something had it’s eyes on my every motion, listened to my every breath, and could feel that I was nervous. For in the dark I stumbled over hidden objects, my breaths became faster with every minute, and I was jumpy. Every noise, even those I made myself, caused me to stop and look around. I had to admit it to myself; I was terrified. When I felt that I could walk no longer, I looked around for a place to sleep for the remainder of the night. I find it very inconvenient that cougars can find their way into every place I looked at… I found a tree that could easily be climbed and had a large limb that might be good for sleeping on, but I would be easy pickings up there. As I was gathering wood for my fire and ferns for a mattress, I bumped into something hard. I moved the plants away and felt around… Why, it was a cave! I had bumped myself on the low roof at the entrance, and when I moved the ivy away, I found a small, round room inside. I built my fire directly outside the door, keeping my gun handy as I did not know how deep the cave went, or whether the cougar was still around, watching for the right moment to attack. While tending to the fire, I used some of the string that I had in my sack to tie ferns around the end of a large stick, and when the fire was blazing nicely, I lit the make-shift torch in the flames.
Torch in one hand and gun in the other, I carefully made my way inside the cave. I was fortunate enough to be a small girl for my age, and did not find it hard to move around inside. The width of the cave was about four feet across, and the length was not much more. The entrance at the front was the only way in, and I had been smart enough to build my fire there just in case. I went out to get the ferns that I had collected and laid them on the floor of the cave to make a bed for myself. Then I added more wood to my fire, and carefully pinned the hanging ivy above the cave entrance so that it would not catch on fire. When everything was done I curled up on my bed and made a mental note to wake up and check the fire in an hour or so. The next thing I knew it was morning. The birds were singing and I startled a deer when I poked my head out of the cave. My fire had died early in the night and did not pose a threat of wildfire, which was a good thing because all of the water left in my canteen I needed for myself. I stepped out of the cave, slung my sack up onto my shoulder, jammed my gun into my belt and started off in the direction of civilization. While walking I listened to the bird calls. I prided myself in knowing most of these songs by heart, and whistled an occasional “good morning!” to the chickadees. I did not worry about the cougar anymore, because of the deer outside my cave this morning.
At around noon I noticed moccasin tracks in the dirt trail. My heart jumped a little, for I never did learn how to tell what tribe of Indians left what signs. I knelt down to examine them; they were no older than this morning, and were headed in the same direction I was. I stood up and looked around, noticing that they emerged from the woods on my right. I took a deep breath and kept walking, knowing that I needed food, shelter and new clothes, and hoping with all my heart that I would find the people ahead of me pleasant and understanding.
Several un-eventful hours passed, and I rested along the side of the trail, sipping water and eating some wild blackberries I had found a short way back. Until I had sat for a few minutes, I did not realize how exhausted I was. Laying my head against a tree trunk, I closed my eyes.
20 minutes later…
My eyes flew open and I looked around me, knowing that something had awakened me but not knowing exactly what it was. I stood up and turned around to see something dart behind a bush. It did not look like an animal, and so I walked towards it, my hand on my gun, and almost screeched a “Hello.” A young face, belonging to an Indian boy of about 7, looked up at me with wide eyes and an open mouth. He looked scared of me. I immediately dropped my arm to my side, wishing the gun was not so visible, and reached out to shake his hand. He stared at my hand, then at my face and said, “Eyes of blue and face like moon when full and white. You white man?” “No,” I said, dropping my hand back down to my side. “I am a white lady.” The little boy flashed a wide grin and pointed to himself. “I Hopping Sparrow. What name of you?” “My name is Jane,” I replied. It was the first time I had talking to another person in weeks, and for some reason it really did feel good to tell someone my name… “Where do you live, Hopping Sparrow?” I asked, looking around. I thought it odd that a little boy should be exploring the woods by himself. He pointed down the path a ways. “Village there, behind vines. You come see?” I told him yes, I would love to come see where he lived. I was also curious as to how he spoke English so well. He led me down the path for about twenty feet or so, around a curve, thrust a thick mass of vines aside and led me in.
I stood on the edge of a perfectly round clearing in the middle of the woods. Tall pines surrounded the small village made up of tipis and crude cabins. It was a beehive of activity; there were half-naked children running everywhere, women tanning hides, making jerky, and standing over great kettles of food, and men and older boys racing ponies around the edge of the clearing. I suddenly felt very small, where before, alone in the woods, I had felt big and important. Hopping Sparrow led me to one of the crude cabins and tugged at the skirt of a middle-aged woman. “Mother, this white ma- lady name Jane and want see village.” For a moment I was afraid I was going to be scolded, or perhaps even thrown out, for her small black eyes narrowed as she looked at me from head to toe. By this time, the children had gathered around, pointing and staring, and the pony races had stopped. I knew I must look a sight, for my hair was a mess and my clothes torn and stained. My stomach growled in hunger and the woman looked shocked, then her face softened and she took a bowl from a shelf inside the cabin, poured a dark stew into it, and handed it to me saying, “Eat. I find clothes.” Then she walked away, leaving me to eat the stew with my fingers, which I found difficult because it was hot. I was so hungry, I hardly noticed after a few bites, and it was only a few hours later when I wondered what meat I had eaten…
It was evening when I had enough time to stop and think. After I had finished my stew, the children grabbed me by my hands and clothes and dragged me to the largest cabin of all. Here I saw a sort of store-house. These people were very smart; on one side were clothes of various sizes, on the other was bowls upon bowls of food and seeds, and at the back of the building were tools of every can and for every purpose. I found the woman holding a new deerskin skirt and skirt, fringed and beaded, and a new pair of beaded moccasins. I was honored to receive such a beautiful outfit, and told her so. She laughed a little laugh and said, “Beautiful outfit on beautiful girl. Change.” She placed it on my outstretched arms, walked out of cabin, and closed the door. I could hear her shouting to the children in their native language. I quickly changed, laid my old outfit on the nearby bench, and walked out into the fresh air. There was a young brave waiting for me. He motioned toward a large tipi and told me to follow him. Inside I found men, old and young, sitting around a large fire in the middle. Apparently it was the council, and I had the feeling that they had been discussing me.
The young brave who had escorted me to the tipi shook out a dusty buffalo hide and motioned for me to sit on it. I thanked him and sat down, noticing a smirk on the face of the oldest man there. He was all wrinkles and had the longest, whitest hair I had ever seen before. I timidly said hello and they all replied with gruff hellos and much nodding of their heads. Then one of the younger men started the meeting by asking, “What name? What you doing here? Why you alone?” I gave myself a moment to settle the nervous butterflies in my stomach. What were they going to do with me? “My name is Jane,” I replied timidly. “I am here because I ran away from home. And I am alone because I have no friends.” Here there was much whispering a hand gestures, then the old man with the white hair said, “Enough! We talk to girl, not to selves.” The members fell silent, and the young brave that had stood next to me sat down and crossed his legs in the same manner as his elders. I had a feeling that it meant the meeting would be a long one. One of the younger men now spoke “Chief Silver Moon, what we do with girl? We sell her?” I froze in my seat and looked pleadingly at the old man. “Chief Silver Moon, please do not sell me! I promise I will work hard to earn my keep here. I will wash clothes, tan hides, cook food, care for the children; anything!” He chuckled and replied, “Slow down talk. We not sell you.” This did comfort me some and so I sat silently while they talked among themselves. After what seemed a very long time, though it was only about ten minutes, Chief Silver Moon and the other members of the council stood. One of the middle-aged men spoke; “I Darting Horse, father of Hopping Sparrow who bring you here. You stay in my cabin. Be my daughter.” I was pleased that I had been accepted into not only the tribe, but a family. And I was to be Hopping Sparrow’s big sister!
A week passed and I grew accustomed to the different ways of living, the daily chores, and the people themselves. I loved it, and was always busy, so I was always content. At night, when the work was done I would lie under the great big sky and look at the stars, dreaming of the future. Darting Horse and his wife allowed me to call them Father and Mother, and Hopping Sparrow was always right at my heels all day long, showing me to all of the other children and saying I was his big sister, and his name for me would be Bright Star.