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Pretty Shield was my mother's mother. She was with me when I was born.At that time my father was working for the government, and my familylived in a large home in Crow Agency, near the Little Bighorn River. Iwas the seventh child born to Little Woman Goes Ahead and GeorgeWashington Hogan. I guess in all those births, my mother was prettywell undernourished. She had a hard labor with me — a very hard labor. Ihappened to be a big baby, ten pounds when I was born, and she couldn't,she absolutely couldn't have me, they thought. My grandmother, beinga midwife, had always taken care of my mother's births, but this one wasoverwhelming to her. She had to call on another midwife, an old ladyfrom the neighborhood.
My brother Georgie told me that the old lady came. She came. She hada little porcelain bowl. It was tiny. She gave that bowl to my brother andasked him to go to the river. She told him to put a little fish in the bowlwith some water. He went down there, broke up the ice near the river'sedge (it was January), and caught this little fish. Somehow, he got it intothe bowl with the water in it. He came as fast as he could to the old lady."Hurry!" she said. She agitated the water with her finger, teased the fishso that it swam around desperately. Then she took the fish out, gave it tomy brother, simultaneously pouring the water into my mother's mouth.As soon as she drank that water, my mother had me. I was born. My father,who was in the next room, praying, heard my first cry. Then the old ladytold mybrother to take the little fish back to the river, "Release it. Watchit. Come back and tell me what it does." He came back and reported,"The fish wobbled on its side for a little bit and then swam swiftly away."The old lady said, "They'll be all right. The baby will live." I've always hada way with water. I love the water.
I don't remember my mother. Within a year and a half after I was born,she injured her ankle, and tuberculosis set in the bone. She wouldn't goto a doctor or to a clinic or to a hospital. She just got worse. Finally, myfather persuaded her to get on the train to go to a healer — I think it wasAimee Semple McPherson — in California. When my mother got on thattrain, she saw some men wearing heavy overcoats and hats way down ontheir brows. She was afraid because she thought they were gangsters. Shewas so afraid, she got off the train and didn't go to California. She finallydied. My grandmother then took over raising me and my brother andsisters, as well as another grandson, Johnny Wilson, who was my brotherin the Crow way.
I have always liked to imagine how my mother might have been. Iimagine that she was very attentive to her kids, very loving, very patient.On the other hand, I imagine she sort of relied on Grandma to help herif she needed advice. They worked together really well. My grandmotherwould ask her daughters to do something, and they would do it for her.She, in turn, did thinks for them, sent things to their families, somethingto eat or something to wear, always something useful.
I imagine my mother as a woman who loved to sing. My father told meone time when I was singing for him, "Your mother sang like a canarythrough the house. I loved to hear her sing." She sang Christian hymns."Nearer My God to Thee" and "Pass Me Not, O, Gentle Saviour" were herfavorites. That's what my father told me. He said that my mother sang thehymns in English, but my grandmother sang in Crow. She'd sing Indianhymns like
Creator, thank you
Creator, thank you
Look for Him
Look for Him
He's looking down
Thank you, thank you
Then she'd repeat it, and she'd reach upward, toward the sky, with herhands.
My father told me that his father's name was Long Ago Bear. His motherwas Emma Duchien or Shane. She was half Crow and half French. Hermother was a Crow woman named Stays in the Woods, and her fatherwas Pierre Duchien, a fur trapper. My father had two older half-sisterswhose father was a Scotsman named Frazee. One was Liz (Lizzie, wecalled her), who married a Crow named Hawk with the Yellow Tail. Twoof their sons, Robert and Tom, became well-known Crows. The othersister was Mary, who married Takes the Gun. We called her "GrandmaBeans" because her Crow name was Awaasásh, meaning Beans. When herhusband passed away she had a little tent house built in Crow Agency.The floor was boarded, but the top was tent. She wanted to be near myfather, so she was there. I remember Lizzie would come often and visit hersister, and they'd go over to my father's place. They loved to be together,those three. They just enjoyed each other's company because they lovedeach other very much. My father always said, "Don't ever do anything tohurt my sisters. Don't ever hurt their feelings." My grandmother, PrettyShield, always gave those sisters many gifts. She treated them well for thesake of her daughter Little Woman.
I don't know anything about Long Ago Bear except what Amy WhiteMan told me. She said that he was a very kindly man, a tall man and verygood-looking. He loved my grandmother and my father very much, verymuch. One time when my father was a little toddler, he cried for butter.He liked butter, the churned butter that the farmers had. He loved itthick on his bread, and he cried for butter. The family didn't have anyat that time. My grandmother told him, "There's no butter, now. Youquit crying." He turned to his dad and said, "I want some butter." Andhis tears — the man looked at the little boy (he looked so much like hismother), and he said, "Come. I'll get you some butter." He took one ofhis good horses, and he went to the farmer and traded that horse for apound of butter so he could see his little boy happy.
My father's name was Sitting Bull, but I didn't know that until I wasa young lady. I had always known him as Isáahkachiash, which might betranslated "Old White Headed Man." They called him that because whenhe was small his hair was very white, and they wanted him to live a longtime. I have been told that he received his English name at Carlisle IndianSchool. He was taken to Carlisle when he was about seven years old. Whenthe children got to the school, the officials lined them up and gave themnew names. They gave the boys presidential names like Abraham Lincolnor Thomas Jefferson. When they got to my father, they said, "GeorgeWashington." A young army officer who was standing nearby said, "I likethis little boy. He has blue eyes like me. Give him my last name; it's Hogan."My father remained at Carlisle for thirteen years until he graduated. Henever got to come home, not even when his father died.
My first memory of my father is of a praying father. I saw him prayingall the time. I saw him poring over his Bible. I saw him checking up on usto see that we went to Sunday School. Even if he was working somewhereelse or living with his second family, he'd always come over there wherewe were with Pretty Shield and make sure that we went to Sunday School.Pretty Shield caught on: "This must be what my son-in-law wants." So,always, she got us ready to go to Sunday School.
Before my mother died, my father sold land and built a magnificent housefor her in the Benteen area. It had everything up to date for that time,even to Persian rugs and hardwood floors. They had big fancy beds anda Victrola that had to be cranked up. These are some of the things mysisters told me about. When I came along, there was nothing in thereexcept emptiness, it seemed. There was a big stove, a table with benchesand chairs, a china closet where we kept our dishes and our staples.Going into the living room, there was a bed there and my grandfather'sold rocking chair — Goes Ahead's rocking chair. Grandma wanted thatrocking chair, so they left it there. Sometimes that chair moved, eventhough no one was sitting in it. Grandma would say, "That's Grandpa."She wasn't afraid; she just thought it was Grandpa. In the other bedroomsthere were beds, but that's all. There were no rugs, nothing. According tocustom, everything was given away when Mother died. People even tookher dishes. To me that's a bad custom, one I wouldn't wish to hang onto. Sometimes they even gave away their chickens and other things thatwere for sustenance.
During my very early years we lived in the Benteen house, there in theLittle Bighorn valley. That valley was always a pretty place to me. Andthe river was so pretty. Our house was very near where Nest Creek raninto the river. That's just about the place, where it's all beachy and rocky,where my grandma used to wash clothes. The beaches looked sandy closeto the water, but about five yards from shore the rocks started to form.The small rocks were all over the bottom of the river, but the water wasclear. You could see through it to the bottom, except where it went toodeep to see. Upstream maybe six hundred yards were tall banks that meta whirlpool, a deep, deep place. My father had made steps in the hardclay dirt of the bank there. Those steps were strong, but when they werewet, they got slick. We used to get our water there. They tried to dig a wellnear our house, but it didn't work out, so we got water from the river.We'd tie a rope onto a bucket and throw it out to where the water wouldbe more pure; then after we pulled our bucket in, we took the rope offand left it on the bank. We hauled the water to a huge reservoir on theside of our big stove in the kitchen. It held about two buckets, and thatwas the hot water we used. We'd have to go back and get more water fordrinking and cooking.
At another place along the river my grandma had a large hole straightdown below the bank. She had put rocks down there and a platformof boards. She put butter and milk and her mixtures like rose hips andtallow in that hole, put a heavy rock over it, and that was her little cooler.About a quarter-mile away was the place where she butchered. The riverwas very pleasant there; it was beautiful. Its slope was not harsh. It justgradually went down to a rocky place, then to the beach and the river.That was our crossing. I can still feel that sandy road under my feet.
We had just a wagon path to take us to the gravel road that led to CrowAgency. Of course, we didn't have a car. Very few Crow people had carswhen I was small, so almost everybody rode in wagons. When we went toCrow Agency, we'd go past hills with pines on the left-hand side of us. Onthe right was the fiver with all its cottonwood trees and box elders andberry bushes. And grapes — lots of grapevines grew there. Sometimes Iate grapes until my mouth just itched. Peopled liked to hunt in throughthere. Boys liked to hunt through that valley. There were a lot of deerin there.
I didn't go to Lodge Grass too much. I may have gone to church servicesthere a time or two, a special thing at the Baptist church, like a revival or apicnic. People would put their tarps out and sit on them and eat and talk.It was just a good social time. We also went past Lodge Grass and into thecanyon to camp. That canyon — now you're getting into mountainousarea, foothills of the Big Horn Mountains. We'd have to go through aravine to a place where there was a spring. It had pine trees all around — abeautiful place where you could see the larger mountains all around you.We camped in the Wolf Mountains too, to the northeast of the Benteenarea. The Wolf Mountains were always a beautiful place to me.
When we lived in the Benteen house, it seems like we were hard upmore times than when there was plenty. When I was about eight yearsold, I remember that we had a little more to eat than before. Even then,when the garden dwindled down, we would collect dry peas, dried oldpeas on the ground. We'd collect enough for a bowl of soup, and myfather knew how to prepare it. He would boil it, boil the peas, and hewould put little pieces of carrots and onions with them and make a kindof gravy of it — soup, soupy gravy. We loved it. We were so hungry, I guess.It tasted like nothing else.
I remember my dad singing lullabies to put me to sleep. He liked tosing "East Side, West Side, All Around the Town."
I became what the Crows call káalisbaapite — a "grandmother's grandchild."That means that I was always with my grandma, and I learnedfrom her. I learned how to do things in the old ways. While the mothersof my friends changed to modern ways of preparing things, Pretty Shieldstuck to her old ways. Nowadays, we change in a few years with technology,and it was the same when I was growing up, just at a slower pace. While mygrandmother was teaching me her ways of the past, how they survived andtheir traditional and cultural values, mothers of other girls were teachingthem to adapt and the purpose of advancing. There are two differentthings here. A grandmother's grandchild and a mother's child were twodifferent things — two different girls, you might say, if they were girls. Agrandmother's grandchild did what her grandma did because there wasnothing else to do. A mother would say, "Go play. Go play with the littleones over there, or go play with your dishes," or whatever it was. But agrandmother's grandchild never got that. A grandma always took hergranddaughter with her so that the little girl could learn to survive. Themother, however — she was going to live long enough to take care of herchild, so the mother didn't show the child ways of surviving; she did it forher. She did it for her.
A grandmother's grandchild did things with her, and when the grandmothergrew older and was unable to do some things effectively, thegrandchild was old enough to help. If the grandma wanted to lift something,the grandchild helped her. The mother did it herself — lifted orworked; the child was out playing or doing something else. I liked to play.I liked to play with the neighborhood kids, and I did when we had a quiettime, but otherwise I was forever helping my grandma and learning fromher and doing with her. She was helping me, and I was helping her. Thoseare the differences, differences between a grandmother's grandchild anda mother's child.
Because I was always with Grandma, I was always with the old ladies.That's the security I knew. "This is where I belong, right in this realm."To me, they were always there and they will always be there. I didn't seea conclusion to them at all. Grandma and her ways built a fringe aroundme. It kept me in that circle. That's where I wanted to be. I always thought,"I'll do what Grandma says." It was almost as if I thought I might offendher and she would go away.
I wish I could remember everything she taught me. She said, "Theearth is like our mother because it gives us food like a mother providesfood from her breast." She respected it. I remember she'd say that whenthe farmers first came, they "cut into the face" of the earth — iisáduukaxik.It's like a wound there, and it hurt her.
When I was with Grandma and all the old ladies that used to go anddig turnips, I'd watch them, and I noticed that they did care. They all didthe same thing. They had a routine about it. They didn't just go carelesslyaround; they did these things patiently and correctly, and they were justright at home there. They would dig the roots with their sticks; then theywould replace the soil and tamp it down just like nobody had botheredit. They always said Aho (thank you) to the Creator, and if there were anywild seeds, they would scatter them about for more turnips to grow inanother year. So I always do that now. I feel like the earth is happy whenwe do that. I feel like it's comforted.
In between their digging the old ladies rested and ate their lunches.When they rested, they told stories. I loved it when Grandma took outour lunch. She would tell me to sit behind her on the ground and restmy back against hers. I just leaned against her back, and she loved that.I know she loved it. Sometimes she said, "Move, move yourself a little tothe left." So I did, and she worked her back and let me sit there. Thenshe would talk to me.
Sometimes she told me about a time when she was in the hills, mourningthe death of a child, a little girl. She went into a visionary trance, andlittle ants came to her and took her into their lodge. In the back of thelodge, at the center in the place of honor, sat a golden eagle. The eagledid not speak, but the ants told Grandma that they were her friends andsaid, "No obstacle is too great. Keep working, keep doing what you aredoing, and you will have what you need." So she always told us not to belazy. "Look at the ants" is what she said. She told us how the ant peopletalked to her, and she said, "Don't step on them. Don't step on themif you can help it. Wherever you are, there will always be ants aroundyour home."
When we went out into the hills to dig these roots, turnips, and shecame to an ant pile, she would take out some beads from her pouchand sprinkle them on the pile. Some of them were kind of large beads.Then she'd tell the ants, "I brought you some little beads. I thought youwould like them because they're so pretty. I brought them for you asa gift, and I want you to have them." Those little ants would take thebeads, even the big ones. They'd take them to that hole on top of the antpile. They would disappear with them, and I would just keep watchingthem. I sat there and just wished with all my might that I could see wherethey were going with those beads. In my child mind I thought, "My, theymust have pretty rooms with dance halls and things like that." I usedto imagine such things when Grandma gave beads to the ants. After somany years (I don't know how many years later) a ranch woman saw antsbringing beads out of their holes. She took them. She says she has ahandful of them.
I know they're Pretty Shield's.
Once, over at Benteen, this little boy sat on an ant pile, great big antpile. There were big black and red ants crawling all over him. Thoseare large ants; they bite hard. He was plumb naked. Little boy, he was,and he went over there to play with them. They just crawled all over hisbody. I got scared. I ran over to my grandma, and I said, "Junior, JuniorBoy — we called him Junior Boy — he's in the ant pile, and they're all overhis body. He's going to be screaming pretty soon from the bites." PrettyShield said, "I know. They won't hurt him. They will not do anything tohim. Let him play with them." He sat there and played with them, raisedup their little hills for them. After quite a while he left, none the worse.Grandma didn't get after him or anything. She said, "They'll be good tohim. Don't worry."
A long time after that, when I went to school in Flandreau, SouthDakota in 1940, I took up home ec, of course; the girls had to take homeeconomics. I baked the devil's food cake and the biscuits. That was myduty. I was working in a tea room that was a project to help fund theschool, and at the same time I was learning how to prepare differentthings. Anyway, one morning when I was cleaning the glass containersfor the cakes and cookies that we sold, I heard the teacher say, "We'regoing to have to do something about those ants. They're coming in here,and people will come in and see them in our cake showcase. Something'sgot to be done. We'll put out some poison tonight, in different corners.We'll put it there tonight and see if we can get rid of those ants." When Iheard this, I thought of Grandma and her ants. I went back into a closetwhere there were a few ants, and I warned them: "You little ants, they'regoing to kill you. Tonight they're going to put something out to kill you.So you better move and get away from here." Then I left. The little antswere just there. They didn't talk to me, didn't say, "Yes, we heard you," oranything else. I just told them, and I left.
Excerpted from Grandmother's Grandchild by ALMA HOGAN SNELL. Copyright © 2000 by Alma Hogan Snell. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
|List of Photographs and Maps||x|
|Foreword by Peter Nabokov||xi|
|Acknowledgments by Becky Matthews||xv|
|Introduction by Becky Matthews||1|
|1 Grandmother's Grandchild||27|
|2 Pretty Shield and Goes Ahead||43|
|3 My Camp Is in a Different Place||55|
|4 Turning the Storm||76|
|6 Loneliness and the Night Sky||107|
|7 Assiniboines Have Strong Medicine||117|
|8 A Bad Time in My Life||127|
|9 I Have Crossed Three Rivers||143|
|10 Many Roads||158|
|11 Old Songs, New Fruit||173|
|Appendix 1 Time Line of the Life of Alma Snell||184|
|Appendix 2 Genealogical Charts||188|
Posted April 13, 2000
Already I have given this book to many friends and acquaintances because it is both scholarly and heart-touching; a combination not found together very often. It's pages inspire wonder and joy. Alma Snell's voice speaks courage, kindness, endurance and great faith in the midst of great struggle. Becky Matthews has truly brought us a voice well worth hearing, in a book well worth reading. Hope to 'hear' more from her in the future.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.