The Peace Chief

The Peace Chief

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by Robert J. Conley

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In The Peace Chief, one young Cherokee must be reborn to lead his people through the difficult early days of sixteenth-century European expansion into America. Conley tells the story of Young Puppy, a member of the Long Hair Clan who mistakenly kills his best friend, Asquani. To avoid being killed—the usual remedy for restoring balance between the two


In The Peace Chief, one young Cherokee must be reborn to lead his people through the difficult early days of sixteenth-century European expansion into America. Conley tells the story of Young Puppy, a member of the Long Hair Clan who mistakenly kills his best friend, Asquani. To avoid being killed—the usual remedy for restoring balance between the two clans—Young Puppy flees to the sanctuary of Kituwah, where, after a year in exile, his offense will be forgiven. Spiritually reborn as Comes Back to Life, he becomes the ceremonial leader of his people: the Peace Chief.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Robert J. Conley is in the ranks of N.Scott Momaday, Louise Erdich, James Welch, and W.P. Kinsella as an interpreter of many facets of the Native American experience." —Joseph C. Porter, Fort Worth Star-Telegram

"Robert J. Conley's Mountain Windsong deserves to become an American classic. Conley takes the grim facts of our 'Manifest Destiny' and makes them come alive in a novel that is beautiful and heartwarming as well as tragic." —Tony Hillerman

"As the tragic tale unfolds, the novel acquires power and resonance and the reader cannot fail to be moved by Conley's insights into Cherokee history and culture." —Publishers Weekly on Mountain Windsong

"An unforgettable adventure of love, death, and nature that entices you with each page." —Max Evans, author of The Rounders, on War Woman

"The Cherokee Nation was never more vividly brought to life than in this outstanding novel." —Jory Sherman author of The South Platte, on Nickajack

"Conley has shaped a touching powerful vision of Indian life past and present, of abiding love, and and of a national disgrace." —Kirkus Reviews on Mountain Windsong

"A gripping, convincingly imagined historical...War Woman's life is told with page-turning verve, as Conley uses his extensive historical knowledge of Cherokee life and culture to spin a lively, informed piece of speculative history." —Publishers Weekly on War Woman

Product Details

University of Oklahoma Press
Publication date:
Real People Series
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.40(w) x 8.20(h) x 0.70(d)

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The New Life


Young Puppy of the town of Stikoyi of Ani-yun-wiya, the Real People, had killed another Real Person. That was just about the worst thing a Real Person could possibly do. A member of Ani-Gilahi, the Long Hair Clan, he had killed a man of Ani-Waya, the Wolf Clan. The victim, Asquani, or Spaniard, had been an adopted Wolf, and he had been a good friend to Young Puppy. The killing had been done by accident, or by mistake. Young Puppy, thinking that he alone was fighting several enemy Ofos, had turned and struck when he sensed that someone had come up behind him. He did not know until it was too late that it was his friend, Asquani, coming to his aid.

The blow had been struck. Asquani was dead. And in the end that was all that mattered. It made no difference whatsoever that Asquani had not been born into the Wolf Clan, that neither of his parents had even been born Real People. The fact that Asquani had been Young Puppy’s friend, and that Young Puppy grieved for him as much as any other did not count either. Nor was it of any concern that the killing had been an accident. Only one thing really mattered.

A man of the Long Hair Clan had killed a man of the Wolf Clan. That meant that things were out of balance between the two clans, and balance was everything to the Real People. The crucial balance had to be restored, and the usual way of restoring balance upset by a killing was for members of the injured clan to retaliate in kind. A Wolf should kill Young Puppy. Or a Wolf should kill a Long Hair. Any Long Hair. It really didn’t matter all that much. With the death of a Long Hair, the balance would be restored. All would be well. That was the usual way.

But the leaders of the Wolf Clan were not unreasonable, and since this particular killing had not been deliberate, the Wolves had not chosen to act on that clan prerogative. Still, they would have killed Young Puppy out of a sense of obligation to their notions of balance. They would have done that. They would have killed him immediately, without giving it a second thought, just as soon as they found out what he had done, but for one thing.

When the discovery had been made, Young Puppy was already inside the protective walls of the town of Kituwah, and no one could be killed in Kituwah. There were no exceptions to that rule. Kituwah was a Mother Town and it was a sanctuary town. Everyone among the Real People respected its special and sacred status.

So the Wolves could only wait and watch for their opportunity. When Young Puppy came out of Kituwah, if he should come out, they could kill him. On the other hand, if he could manage to stay inside Kituwah until the time of the new year, the problem would no longer exist, for at that time, among the Real People, all grudges, all faults, all offenses, all crimes, all animosities of any kind from the entire year just past—were erased from memory. That was a time of cleansing, a time of purification, a time of renewal.

So Young Puppy was safe in Kituwah, and it seemed at least for the time being, that his brothers in the Long Hair Clan were also safe from any retaliation. It seemed that the Wolves had chosen not to kill a substitute. If they had decided to do that, Young Puppy would have given himself up to them. He would not think of letting another die in his place. He was not that kind of coward.

But it did seem that the Wolves were not even seriously considering the possibility of killing a substitute, so all Young Puppy had to do was bide his time and wait for the arrival of the new year. That was all, and it sounded so easy. But the beginning of a new year had only just been celebrated, and so Young Puppy would have an entire year to survive, an entire year to wait out within the confines of Kituwah, if he wanted to secure his life in that manner. It would be a long wait for anyone, especially long for a young man full of energy and hungry for excitement in his life.

And though Young Puppy was not afraid of death, he had no desire to rush into it needlessly and prematurely. He had many reasons to live. He was a young man, who had not yet earned a man’s name for himself. Death would not be so bad, he thought, if one had already done something with one’s life, if one knew that after he had gone on to the spirit world in the Darkening Land on the other side of the great Sky Vault, others would tell tales about his bravery, and his memory would live on in the hearts and minds of the Real People. He wanted to accomplish things yet with his life.

Then, of course, there was the beautiful Guwisti. He loved her. He had planned to marry her, and she was willing. He believed both clans, his Long Hair People and her Bird People, Ani-Tsisqua, would be willing as well, had not his life suddenly taken on this new and ponderous burden.

And there had been the strange, unwelcome prediction of Uyona, the Horn, the old woman to whom Diguhsgi, the mother of Guwisti, had gone for advice, just as the Real People always did before a marriage. When Diguhsgi had told the old woman of the marriage which was under consideration, Uyona had told her that it was too soon. She had said that they must wait. They must wait for an entire year. They must wait for Young Puppy to die and be reborn.

Young Puppy had been furious at the old woman and at his future mother-in-law for having consulted her. He did not want to wait. He could see no reason for waiting. He especially did not want to wait to be reborn, a concept that made no sense to him whatever. Reborn? How could he be reborn? Would he then be an infant? How then could he marry Guwisti? He had left Kituwah in a rage.

Then he had killed Asquani. Then he had found himself in Kituwah with a year to wait through to keep from being killed in retaliation. Uyona had told them to wait for a year before the marriage. That much of what she had said had suddenly made perverse sense. Had she known that he would kill Asquani ? Young Puppy wondered if the rest of her prediction would eventually prove to make as much sense, but he didn’t see how it could. How could he be reborn? Such a thing was not easy to believe. It was not even easy to imagine.

It had not taken Young Puppy much time at all to become terribly bored with his dreary life in the sanctuary town. Almost immediately after he had made his decision to remain there for his own safety, he felt not so much like he was being protected, but more like he was a captive, held against his will. Each day was just like every other day. Everything stayed the same. Suddenly he could think of all kinds of places he wanted to go, all manner of things he needed to be doing, and all of them were somewhere outside the walls of Kituwah, out in the vast world beyond his reach.

It did not make his enforced idleness any easier to endure, knowing that he was the once proud owner of one of the few sogwilis among the Real People, knowing that he could climb onto the back of the big animal brought to his country by white men and ride fast and free like the wind. No. Thinking about his sogwili did not make his waiting any easier.

High on a rocky, tree-covered ridge overlooking a mountain pass that led into the country of the Real People from the east, a group of Wolf People sat in solemn conference. They had met there on the ridge because of their sworn duty to guard the mountain passes and keep out any outsiders who might attempt to enter their country uninvited.

The Real People had made that almost unprecedented decision, following news of the bloody invasion of the monstrous Spaniard de Soto. They had decided to keep all foreigners out of their country—all foreigners of any kind—and the Wolf Clan had taken on full responsibility for putting that decision into actual practice. From their positions on the mountain passes, they would first warn strangers away. If the strangers persisted, they would kill them.

Ordinarily three or four men watched the pass, but on this occasion there were seven. They were not all there to watch. They were conducting a meeting, and they had chosen to meet on top of the ridge because Trotting Wolf was there taking his turn at the watch. They could not meet on any important matter without Trotting Wolf’s presence.

“I thought this had all been decided already,” Trotting Wolf was saying. “Why do you want to discuss this matter again?”

“Perhaps it was, but I don’t think that it was a right decision we made that time,” said one known as the Howler. “Young Puppy killed a Wolf, and now he’s lurking around down there in Kituwah, so we can’t touch him. I think that we should kill another one from his clan, if he won’t come out of there.”

“That’s the law,” said Trotting Wolf. “We all know that, but we know some other things as well. The law does not tell us that we have to kill in a case like this. It tells us that we may.”

“But I think that we should,” said the Howler.

“Then who should we kill?” asked Trotting Wolf. “Who would you select?”

“Anyone from the Long Hair Clan,” said the Howler. “It doesn’t matter.”

“It doesn’t matter if we kill a good man who has done no harm? If we kill a man who might do great things for the Real People sometime in the future?”

“We have to restore the balance,” said the Howler. “I would kill the first Long Hair that I see.”

Some of the other men murmured and nodded as if in agreement with the Howler.

“There are other things to think about,” Trotting Wolf went on, as if the Howler had not interrupted him. “Young Puppy did not intentionally kill Asquani. It was in the heat of battle, and he thought an Ofo had come up behind him.”

“That’s true. He was as sad about it as are we,” said Dangerous Man, “probably more than we. They were very close, those two. Asquani had become like an older brother to Young Puppy.”

“And,” said Trotting Wolf, “we wouldn’t even know what had happened if Young Puppy had not told the tale. No one was there to see what happened. He could have kept quiet about it. He could have told a lie.

“But he chose to tell the truth, even though he knew that the telling would put his own life in danger. He’s a young man, and he can yet do much with his life. He’s honest, he’s brave, and he’s becoming a good fighter. He’ll likely prove to be a valuable person in the future. It would be a shame to waste his life.”

“Then take another Long Hair,” said the Howler, “like I said before. I have no objection to that course of action. Take someone else.”

“I would argue against that,” said Trotting Wolf, “for this reason. Though we adopted him, and he was a Wolf, Asquani was not born into our clan. His mother was not even a Real Person until we adopted her, and his father was an unknown ’Squani. We should weigh all that against the life of a Real Person, no matter what his clan and no matter what has happened.”

“When we adopted Asquani and his mother,” said the Howler, “they became Real People, and they became Wolf People.”

“There is yet another thing to consider,” said Trotting Wolf. “If Young Puppy had run away or was hiding from us, then perhaps we could take another member of his clan. But he has not done either of those things. He told us what he did, and we know where he is. He’s in Kituwah, the sanctuary town. Under those circumstances, would it be right for us to take another in his place? If we should do so, would we violate the sanctuary? That’s something to think about.”

“I don’t need to think about that,” said the Howler. “No one outside Kituwah has the benefit of its sanctuary. There’s no reason we can’t kill another of his clan.”

“I think,” said Dangerous Man, “that if we were to let it be known that we intended to kill another, Young Puppy would come out and give himself to us.”

“I think so, too,” said Trotting Wolf. “I don’t believe that he would let another die in his place. And so, we don’t really have that option. We either kill Young Puppy, or we kill no one.”

When the Howler realized that he was the only one arguing for the killing of a substitute, he decided that it was time for him to back down. It was not good form to keep arguing alone.

“Howa,” he said. “I concede. No substitute will be killed, but if Young Puppy dares one time to step outside the walls of Kituwah, I’ll be waiting there to kill him. I won’t ask anyone what he thinks. I have that right. I have that obligation. It’s the law.”

Grudgingly, the others nodded their assent. There was no way to argue with him on that. Without the protection of the walls of Kituwah, Young Puppy was certainly fair game for the retaliation of any Wolf. The matter having been more or less resolved, the Howler, feeling somehow more defeated than otherwise, got up and stalked away without another word.

“He’s quick to anger,” said Trotting Wolf.

“Yes,” said Dangerous Man. “I think he wants to kill someone, and he doesn’t really care who it might be.”

“Perhaps you’re right,” said Trotting Wolf, and he took out his pipe and tobacco pouch to have a smoke.

The Howler walked back along the ridge to a spot overlooking the walled town of Kituwah, and he looked down upon it with a scowl. Never before had he felt anger toward the town itself, but now he did. What right had it, a town built by the hands of Real People, to keep him from doing what needed to be done? He felt like tearing down its walls. Short of that, he felt like walking boldly into town and killing Young Puppy.

What would happen to him, he asked himself, if he should do such a thing? There was no way to know, for never had the sanctity of Kituwah been so violated. No one would even think of doing such a thing. And, of course, he knew that he would not really be the one to do it. He felt foolish, being angry at a town, and he felt guilty even thinking about violating the sanctity of Kituwah.

Gradually his anger returned to its original object, Young Puppy, the killer of Asquani. A coward, to hide within the sanctuary walls, he thought. But the Ripe Corn Feast was nearly a year away, he realized, and to go free and be forgiven for his deed, Young Puppy would have to stay patiently inside the walls until that time was up.

The Howler had never heard of any man who had managed to stay inside Kituwah for such a long time. Any normal man, he thought, would grow restless and impatient. When other men went out to hunt, would not he want to go? When war parties went out to venture into the country of the enemies of the Real People, would he want to sit at home with the women and old men to be mocked and laughed at? How could any man endure such an existence?

After thinking it over, the Howler decided that Young Puppy would be almost certain to come out before the time was up. No man could stay confined inside the walls of a town for that long. And so the Howler would simply have to wait and watch and be there when Young Puppy had taken all that he could stand and at last came rushing out to seek his freedom. When that time at last came around, the Howler told himself, Young Puppy would find his death instead. A smirk twisted itself across his lips.

But then, he realized, he was condemning himself to the same fate as that of Young Puppy. To be sure to catch him, the Howler would have to stay just hidden outside the town and watch until Young Puppy came out and Young Puppy could decide to come out at any time of day or night, at any time within the span of the entire year ahead.

The Howler would have to find some like-minded friends to help him keep watch. He knew already that he couldn’t count on Trotting Wolf or Dangerous Man or the others who had attended the meeting on the ridge. He would have to find someone else. Well, he thought, there must be someone somewhere.

But then he had another unpleasant thought. He realized there was another problem. What if, he asked himself, the man should prove himself to be such a coward that he actually would stay cooped up inside Kituwah’s walls until the year is up? What then? He’s free, of course. Everything must be forgiven.

Trotting Wolf and the others had already smugly decided that there would be no killing of a substitute, and so, if the killing of Asquani was to be balanced, it must be by the death of Young Puppy. Young Puppy must be gotten out of Kituwah some way.

Might there, the Howler asked himself, be some way of luring him out? That would be his second task. He would find some allies to help him watch the town in case Young Puppy should come out, but he would also try to think of some way to draw his intended victim out. That would be the thing to do.

Copyright © 1998 by Robert J. Conley. Published by the University of Oklahoma Press, Norman, Publishing Division of the University, by arrangement with St. Martin’s Press, LLC. All rights reserved. Manufactured in the U.S.A. First printing of the Red River Books edition, 2001.

Meet the Author

Robert J. Conley (1940-2014) was the author of the Real People series, The Witch of Goingsnake and Other Stories, and Mountain Windsong. A three-time winner of the Spur Award and Oklahoma Writer of the Year in 1999, Conley was inducted into the Oklahoma Professional Writers Hall of Fame in 1996. He was named Writer of the Year by the Wordcraft Circle of Native Writers & Storytellers in 2000 for Cherokee Dragon.

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