Johnny Hunter

Johnny Hunter

by Richard L. DuMont


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Johnny Hunter is a Cheyenne boy growing up on a Montana Reservation in the 1970s. An eighth grader at the local Catholic school, he dreams of winning a college basketball scholarship. But trouble begins when his grandfather, Gray Man, insists Johnny be raised with traditional tribal beliefs.

Now Johnny must find the best path in the modern world for himself and his family, without losing himself or his heritage in the process.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781947727250
Publisher: BHC Press
Publication date: 05/17/2018
Pages: 184
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.42(d)
Age Range: 14 - 18 Years

About the Author

Richard has a life-long interest in Native Americans and their culture. As a boy, he always played the Indian in cowboys and Indians. He has been writing since high school, producing short stories, poems and novels. He is a graduate of Xavier University and took creative writing courses at the University of Cincinnati. His desire to publish a novel led to Hunkpapa Sioux, in which he combined two passions of his life.

A Vietnam veteran, he resides in Cincinnati. He is currently working on his next young adult novel about Native Americans.

Read an Excerpt



Johnny hunter would never forget that cold day in early November when he learned the truth about the secret ceremonies. He had often heard the tribal elders speak of these ceremonial dances, usually in whispers. The old men used strange-sounding words like Maheo and Vosta, words that held a magical appeal for the fourteen-year-old Cheyenne.

Once he had asked his father about the secret ceremonies.

"That's just a bunch of bull," his father told him, a hint of anger in his voice. "The only secret dancin' going on around here is in the minds of those crazy old men. You forget about Cheyenne dancin' and magic and work on gettin' good grades and playing basketball. I don't want to hear you talkin' about it anymore."

He hadn't asked his father again. When dealing with Billy Hunter, it was best not to rock the boat.

That day had been much like any other on the Cheyenne reservation for Johnny. After classes at St. Andrew Indian School, he had practiced basketball with the eighth grade team, the Chiefs. Like every day after practice, he rode home over rough roads on the ancient yellow school bus, sitting next to his best friend, Richard Amos, as they drove past the other boys' homes. The homes were much like his: small, made out of concrete blocks or wood, and in a desperate need of paint. Some had broken windows covered with plywood or a sheet of plastic. Most had broken-down cars or pickup trucks rusting away in their yards.

The bus stopped by his house and he climbed down the steps, carrying his backpack on one shoulder. He waved goodbye to his friends on the bus, watching it pull away. As he walked up the driveway to his home, taking large strides with his long legs, he heard shouting coming from inside the faded whitewashed concrete block house. The voices belonged to his father and grandfather, and they were arguing again.

Johnny laid his backpack on the ground, found his basketball under the bushes near the gravel driveway, and wiped off the mud on his faded jeans. He dribbled the leather ball on the packed dirt under the basket rim. There wasn't a net on the hoop and the backboard was warped from the rain, but it worked fine for the young Cheyenne. He faked to one side, jumped in the air, and flipped the basketball cleanly through the rim. Johnny chased after the ball, the wind whipping cold against his neck, lifting his long black hair off his shoulders. He pulled up the collar of his sheepskin jacket and blew on his hands for warmth as he picked up the smooth leather ball. Looking up at the Montana sky with his deep black eyes, he saw dark, heavy clouds, which would probably bring the first real snow of the season to the Northern Cheyenne Reservation. Johnny felt cold and wanted to go into his house, but he could hear the argument still going on inside. He would wait.

Dribbling with his left hand, he bounced the ball into his right hand, fell back, and fired toward the rim; the basketball again dropped through the hoop. As he grabbed the ball, the front door flew open and his grandfather stomped out.

Gray Man was over seventy years old, but still as strong as most Cheyenne half his age. He slammed the door shut behind him. Just as quickly, the wooden door flew open and Johnny's father, Billy "Walking Bear" Hunter, stepped outside into the frigid evening air. He was wearing jeans and a faded yellow T-shirt. His black hair was cut short in a flattop. He held the remains of a pint whiskey bottle in his hands.

Johnny ran to step between them. Although he was only fourteen, Johnny, at just under six feet tall, was already taller than his father. This time he thought they might actually come to blows. "Don't hit him, Dad!" Johnny shouted.

"Get out of the way," his father said. Billy's voice sounded harsh, rough. "I ain't goin' to hit the old buzzard. He's just got to me today with his bull crap about the old days. I'm sick of hearing it."

Gray Man stepped forward until just six inches separated the two. He raised his hand and brushed back his long, gray hair. "You act like there were never days when our people lived free and wild on these plains. Before the white man came, we were a great ..." "Before the white man," Billy interrupted. "Hell, that's ancient history. It's the 1970s, not the 1870s. All we got is now, today, and that means dealing with the white man." Billy took a drink from the bottle and wiped his mouth on his arm.

"If we don't believe in our ancestors, we'll end up just like the whites," Gray Man said. His dark eyes burned. He was a big man with a full face and a large nose surrounded by leather-like skin. "The white people have money and fancy houses, but they are not happy."

"I'd like to be unhappy like they are," Billy said. "Things ain't like they used to be and there ain't no way to stop the wind from blowin'. We've got to act like the whites to make it in the world today."

"You are wrong," the old man said, his voice deep and firm. "The Cheyenne can control their own destiny. Maheo has always helped us in the past, and he will help us to survive as a proud people in the future.

"This boy," Gray Man continued, pointing to Johnny, "this boy is the future of the Cheyenne. He must be taught the ancient ways and beliefs."

Billy stuck his finger in Gray Man's chest. "You better never teach my son that ancient mumbo-jumbo. He's goin' to make good in the white world. If he gets good grades and works hard enough on his basketball, he'll win a scholarship and get away from this damn reservation forever."

"Dad, please," Johnny said, pulling his father's arm. "Don't yell anymore. It just makes you madder."

But it was Gray Man who stepped back. "Johnny may leave here, Billy, and make a lot of money in the white world, but he won't be happy. Money is a white man's invention, and the Cheyenne don't need it. All a Cheyenne needs is this land to be happy."

Gray Man turned and marched around the low house to the stable. He entered the small, wood building, quickly led a brown mare out of her stall, and climbed on the horse's back. Without a saddle, his long legs hung nearly to the ground. Kneeing the mare, Wakah, in the sides, he raced past Johnny and Billy.

"Aiee! Hahu!" he shouted. "I am Cheyenne!"

In spite of himself, Johnny smiled. It upset him when his father argued with Gray Man, but he couldn't help admiring the old man for sticking to his guns. Gray Man would not change.

"What're you smiling at?" his father asked, his voice raspy.

Johnny felt the hair on the back of his neck pop up. "Nothing, Dad, just smiling." He looked at the ground.

"Don't you be taking that old man's side. He's all wet about the Cheyenne ways, and you stay out of his way when he's talking about the old days. Ya hear me?"

"Sure, I hear you." His voice cracked as he spoke.

The cabin door opened. "Johnny, come in now. Supper's getting cold," his mother said. She stood in the doorway, holding it halfway open.

"What about me?" Billy asked. "Is my supper ready?"

Mrs. Hunter glared at her husband and disappeared inside, hastily pulling the door shut behind her.

Johnny picked up his backpack and followed his father into the house, which was warm and smelled of rabbit stew and whiskey. Billy sat down at the plain wooden table, lit only by a single light bulb hanging above them. He poured another drink into his tin cup and slid the bourbon bottle under his chair. Billy was heavyset, his once-hard stomach now hanging over his belt. His face was pockmarked, distinguished by a hawk-like nose. He had never been a handsome man, but the years and whiskey were making him old before his time. His short black hair was speckled with gray.

Johnny hung his coat on a hook above the cot that served as his bed. The room was small and crowded by the fact that Gray Man slept on another bunk. Gray Man had lived there since his wife, Johnny's grandmother, died while Johnny was still a small boy. There was a single chest of drawers and a small desk with a lamp where he did his homework. He walked back to the kitchen, washed his hands in the sink, and sat down.

Mrs. Hunter picked up the steaming black kettle with a gingham rag and set it down on the table. "There," she said, glaring at Billy, "serve yourself."

She returned to the wood burning stove and stuffed small branches into it. When it was filled, she banged the iron door shut.

"Come on, Minatare, don't stay mad at me. Come and eat. I didn't start the fight with the old man tonight."

When Minatare did not answer, Billy swallowed the rest of his whiskey. "Go on, Hunter. Go talk to her. She'll listen to you."

Whenever his father called him Hunter, the boy knew it was a serious favor he asked. Although his grandfather always called him Hunter, his father usually stuck with his Christian name of Johnny.

"Can I get you some firewood, Mom?" Johnny asked her.

"No, I don't need any more just now. Sit down and eat your supper before it gets cold," she said. Her eyes looked very tired to him. She was not yet forty, but she looked much older; her skin wrinkled from too many hours gardening in the sun, and her hair was streaked with white. She washed a few dishes in the sink.

"I can't eat when you two are mad at each other," he said.

She dried her hands and patted his face. "You're a good boy, Johnny. Why don't you go after your grandfather and I'll keep supper warm for the both of you? By the time you return, we'll have made up."

Johnny smiled. "Sure, Mom. I haven't had a chance to ride my pony all week."

The boy slid on his sheepskin jacket and wrapped a blue scarf around his neck. He hugged his mother and said, "So long, Dad."

Without looking up from the table, his father waved. As Johnny went out the door, he saw his father reach below his chair and pull out the whiskey bottle. It made him feel sad.

As he walked to the small corral, Johnny's horse greeted him with a mighty trot. Thunder was a mustang, small in size but a beautiful brown and white pinto. The horse stretched his neck over the fence rail and nuzzled his face in the boy's chest.

"Hey, Thunder, you glad to see me? Come on, get out of there. We've got to go find grandfather again." Johnny stroked the horse's face and rubbed his ears. Billy's horse, Little Girl, raised her ears and pushed against the stall rail.

"Sorry, Girl. Not this time. I know Dad doesn't ride you much anymore. I'll try to take you out sometime later this week." He patted her head.

Johnny opened the door, slipped the old leather reins over Thunder's head, and climbed on the horse's bare back. The pony danced to one side and then galloped through the gate and down the driveway toward the Badgers' place. Gray Man usually went there to talk to his friend, Logan, whenever he was angry or upset.

The Badgers, both well into their eighties, were a childless couple who lived about a mile from the Hunters in a wooden one-room house that was built by Logan Badger for his bride long ago. They eked out a meager living by raising a small garden, some chickens, and by trapping muskrats in the reservation streams. Johnny's family often shared their food with them.

Mrs. Badger was in the yard, feeding her chickens when Johnny rode in. She was wearing a faded red scarf, a black coat, and a pair of black rubber boots. "Hello, Johnny," she waved to him. She tossed another handful of corn on the ground where several white chickens pecked away. "Can you come in for some mint tea? You look cold sitting up there."

"Not today, Mrs. Badger. I have to find my grandfather and bring him home. Is he with Logan?"

"Sure is. They rode off together into Spirit Canyon to do the old dances." She pointed a bony finger toward the canyon.

Johnny sat on his horse and watched the old woman. Surely she was kidding him. "C'mon, Mrs. Badger, no one does the old dances except when the tourists come in the summer."

She grinned a nearly toothless grin. "I've said all that I wish to say. What you believe is your business. It's getting cold out here. Are you sure you won't come in for tea?" She pulled her big wool coat tighter around her thin neck.

"Can't do it. And I'm really not cold. I gotta go find Gray Man and get him home for supper."

"Okay, maybe next time." She smiled again, her face wrinkled deeply but her eyes bright. "When you reach the canyon, go in quietly. You may just get a big surprise." She walked across the porch into the shack, pulling the old door closed behind her. An orange cat tried to get in with her, but she pushed it out with her foot.

Johnny leaned forward and rubbed his horse's neck. "What do you think Mrs. Badger is trying to tell us?" he asked. "Do you think she really knows something?"

He gently tapped the mustang with his knees. "C'mon, Thunder, we better get to Spirit Canyon quickly. It'll be dark soon and then we might never find those two old men."



Many years ago, when the Cheyenne were still free to roam wherever they wanted, a large rockslide had blocked the natural entrance to Spirit Canyon. The only way into the hidden canyon was a twisting, narrow trail that was barely wide enough for a man on a horse. The trail cut its way through many layers of rock as the colors changed from a dull gray to a dark red near the bottom of the valley. A river long ago had worn the canyon walls deep and smooth, and the Cheyenne had come to this sacred place for many winters to fast and worship their gods.

Johnny let Thunder find his way along the trail, a trail they had been on before. He felt uneasy whenever he rode into Spirit Canyon, even in broad daylight. There were so many bends and twists on the path that it was impossible to see ten yards ahead, and the wind howled constantly as it whipped through the pines.

"I'll be glad when we get there," he said to his horse. "This place is creepy. Gray Man always says that the wind carries the voices of all the murdered Cheyenne, calling for revenge against the white man."

They came round a huge boulder into the bottom of the canyon. Under the sheer wall on the east side, Johnny saw smoke and light from a big fire. He heard drums and singing, but the rocks formed a natural wall in a half circle from the cliffs and prevented him from seeing his grandfather.

"Maybe Mrs. Badger knows what she's talking about," he whispered to Thunder. He slid easily off the pinto horse and dropped the reins. "You stay here while I sneak over there and see what's going on."

The horse wandered off and began cropping the brown grass. Johnny crouched down and ran across the field to the rocks, quickly climbing over the cold boulders. He crawled to the top and stopped. His eyes opened wide when he looked below him.

Dancing in a great circle around a roaring fire were over fifty Cheyenne men and women, most of them dressed in fringed sheepskin shirts. Their faces were painted red and white, and everyone wore feathers or beads. Three drummers pounded the primitive beat while they chanted the ancient songs of the Cheyenne. The fire leapt higher and higher as the dancers swirled around in the circle, waving hatchets and spears to Maheo. There were faces that were familiar to Johnny, yet they looked different in paint and feathers. He didn't understand the meaning of the dance, but the drum beating and the chanting filled him with a strange feeling that united him with the Cheyenne dancers. It was as if he had always been a part of these ceremonies. His people danced as they had for a thousand years.

The drums pounded faster, building speed like a racing locomotive, until they suddenly stopped. The dancers sat down as if they had received a silent command from their leader.

Gray Man stood alone by the fire. The old man wore a white buffalo robe and a fur hat with two great buffalo horns sticking out on both sides. He spread his hands to the night sky.

"Thank you, Maheo, for bringing all these Cheyenne people to our campfire on this cold night," he called out in a loud chant, his voice echoing down the canyon. "Our numbers grow with the passing of each moon. The young people are coming more and more. I am old, a son of yesterday, but these young ones are our future. They are the sons of tomorrow. Someday they will be the leaders of the tribe. We pray to you, Maheo, the Great Spirit, and to the people in the Star Country to guide us through these difficult times." Gray Man dropped his arms to his side.

Logan Badger slowly walked through the crowd. In spite of the cold, Logan was not wearing a shirt as he approached Gray Man. "Are you ready?" "Yes, Logan, bring the child to me," Gray Man said.

Logan waved his hand to the back of the crowd and two Cheyenne men, wearing their hair in braids, strode forward, carrying a small girl with black hair on a stretcher. Her brother walked next to the litter, holding the girl's hand. Setting the stretcher beside the fire, the two braves retreated into the crowd.


Excerpted from "Johnny Hunter"
by .
Copyright © 2018 Richard L. DuMont.
Excerpted by permission of BHC Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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