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At thirteen Little Running Deer felt invincible. And yet, fear clouded his journey. He had been riding for one sun and was sure tribal police from Pine Ridge Reservation were looking for him because he had been gone more than his usual few hours. He had decided to escape the reservation with his adored Medicine Hat Horse before the United States Army arrived and took the horse away from him. He had been plotting his escape for more than a year, waiting for the right time, or the time he felt most threatened. Having heard the army was headed to his reservation, he left a day ago with fear in his heart that he might lose his beloved horse. He believed he was as prepared as he could be to head out into the unknown world. He was hungry and believed his horse, Silver Moon Dancing, was hungry and thirsty as well. He saw a clear stream ahead with an open area so he could keep watch and run quickly if need be. The area was surrounded by a thick ring of Black Hills Pine trees. The day had passed quietly and surprisingly without incident .
"No rest tonight. I have to find a good path that keeps us out of sight so we can travel at night. In this warm weather and soft glowing moon, your white body is bright and almost shines as bright as the moon above, making you an easy target for the tribal police, possibly even soldiers." Little Running Deer spoke often and quietly to his horse, the one thing in his life that he cherished. Best friends, the two were attempting to escape from the U. S. Army which was in need of healthy horses. So they ran away together, in search of safety and a new life. He was also hoping to locate at least one of his brothers on this journey. They had left when Little Running Deer was younger.
Silver Moon Dancing was a special horse from the moment he was born. He bore the special markings that the Lakota Sioux admired and respected. He was white with a bonnet of red over his ears and the handprint of the Great Spirit on his side. He had been promised to Little Running Deer by his father and that promise was kept when Little Running Deer was just ten years old. In the three years since the birth of the long-legged colt, both boy and colt had grown much taller and stronger. At thirteen, Little Running Deer could easily approach and mount himself up on the sturdy back of Silver Moon Dancing. Both had filled out and were handsome youngsters. Both had matured from gangly child and colt into gentle inseparable kindred spirits. When Little Running Deer made his escape from Pine Ridge, he felt there was no alternative if he wanted to save the horse he loved.
So, the next day when Silver Moon Dancing was a bit on edge, prancing from side to side, looking back as if something was scaring him, Little Running Deer was in tune with Silver Moon's mood, and became cautious. The young escapees traveled non-stop for at least ten hours on the first day. Little Running Deer thought this was a fair distance, but they might not be able to keep it up each day. The two were exhausted. When Little Running Deer began to feel the anxiety of his mount, he was unable to ignore those feelings, which stayed with him the rest of the day.
Finally he decided to make camp on this second day's evening in a quiet Black Hills spruce grove with a strategic clearing where he could see from all sides; that would provide protection for himself and his horse. They settled in for the night, but did not graze peacefully. Little Running Deer found a thicket of blackberries and feasted on those and the flatbread his mother had packed, in preparation for his journey. He knew the flatbread would be gone in a few days and he planned on hunting rabbit or fish in the morning. He felt anxious again, as if he were being watched. He banked the fire and tried to settle down for the night keeping Silver Moon Dancing close by.
When Little Running Deer woke in the morning, the fire had died out; he noticed doglike foot prints around the fire. The prints were not that of a full grown dog and most likely not a dog at all. Until the wolf or coyote made its presence known, there was no point in worrying about it. Little Running Deer prepared a snare a reasonable distance from his camp and waited for some unsuspecting rabbit to trap itself. The snare was a simple contraption made with leather string and a leverage stick. He placed an inviting handful of berries in the center of the looped string and waited for a rabbit to eat and then trigger the stick, pulling the leather strap onto a rabbit foot.
Waiting was not difficult for boy or horse. They enjoyed every minute they had with each other. Their two days on the trail covered less than fifty miles; they still had a long distance to go. He didn't totally understand the white man's distance of 500 miles, but he knew it was a long way and would take weeks to cover. Little Running Deer built up the fire and sat quietly, while Silver Moon Dancing grazed. The boy snacked on more berries, his favorite of which were wild raspberries. In a short while the snare snapped and Little Running Deer hurried over to see what he caught. Much to his surprise it was not a rabbit or wild turkey or anything useful. It was a wolf pup, maybe three or four months old.
"Must be the one that made tracks the night before at the camp," he muttered to his horse. The pup was not harmed, but by now realized he was trapped by a leather strap and began to yelp and wail as if he were being seriously maimed. Little Running Deer laughed and approached the pup with caution, using his voice in an attempt to calm the pup. Even though the pup was young, those baby teeth were sharp and could do damage to an extended hand. Little Running Deer watched with a twinkle in his eye as the pup squirmed and squealed and tried to free itself of the hateful string. With just a few quick snaps of his powerful jaw, the leather was cut and the pup was free. He ran from captivity of the snare to the freedom of the forest and never looked back.
Not long after he moved and re-set his snare, the boy caught a rabbit. He broke its neck and skinned it out the way his mother had shown him. It was important not to let it suffer in death, nor to waste any part, so he stretched the skin over a small frame made of branches with the intention of drying it and carrying it with him. The rabbit fur was small enough to put on the back of Silver Moon Dancing without added weight. After Little Running Deer thanked the Great Spirit for its sacrifice, the rabbit provided a wonderful meal roasted over the open fire. There was even some for later. The bones could be taken along and when time allowed, he would make needles for repairing his deer hide clothing and other tools, like spears, or spoons that would be useful.
After skinning and cooking the rabbit, cleaning up and smothering the fire, the two were ready to head out for the day. These chores took a little longer than Little Running Deer anticipated because they were new to him. With practice, he would become quicker. As Little Running Deer mounted Silver Moon Dancing he noticed the pup in the clearing ahead of them. "That silly pup is very bold. He's coming near us." The pup cautiously stayed within view of the boy, ready to bolt at any moment. His body was rigid and he looked around suspiciously.
Little Running Deer had seen wolf tracks early in their journey, but gave little thought to them. Since the pup had followed for several hours the previous day, the boy thought out loud, "Perhaps he is hungry and not able to catch his own food. I wonder what happened to the rest of the pack and why such a young pup is out in the world on his own." Little Running Deer took one of the bones he was saving and threw it to the pup. It was crushed by strong young jaws and swallowed quickly. Pup began to follow, but kept a safe distance from Silver Moon's dancing heels. It was obvious that he was going to accompany the two on at least a part of their journey. Little Running Deer began to softly talk to the wolf pup in reassuring tones, not saying anything of any real importance, but just beginning a conversation like he did with Silver Moon Dancing.
By evening, the three wanderers were tired. The boy decided the pup must have thought it was beneficial to stay close to him and Silver Moon Dancing. Little Running Deer thought this unruly pup escaped whatever fate had befallen his pack and just happened upon the boy. He did not think it was possible for the pup to make a calculated decision to join up with a human. Their connection must be something of a coincidence. Little Running Deer saw him digging up dirt and trying to eat bugs, which gave him a dirty snout and kind of a silly look. With compassion, he spoke to the pup. "This small bone is for you, silly pup. I hope you enjoy it." As he tossed the bone in front of the pup, he knew he had the pup's attention and a small trust was beginning to develop in their tenuous relationship. Silver Moon Dancing tolerated the pup following along and even enjoyed the pup's company. Like a game, he occasionally threw a little hop toward the pup, just to demand respect. When this happened, Silver Moon Dancing would turn to see the reaction he got from the pup. Little Running Deer chuckled, but reprimanded Silver Moon.
Little Running Deer had little experience with wolves, but he knew certain things from the stories told around the village campfires at night. He knew cattle ranchers were beginning to move into the area. Because the ranchers killed off buffalo, there were now large areas of grazing lands available for cattle. He had also heard that full grown wolves could and did hunt down cattle and enjoy a feast. Of course, ranchers got upset and set about shooting wolves to rid the newly formed state known as South Dakota of the vermin. Little Running Deer suspected the wolf pup's family had been the victims of this elimination of wolves. There was much discussion around the campfires about the way the whites had come and taken all the land, the buffalo, the wolves, and everything the Lakota valued. Little Running Deer enjoyed these discussions and found he missed them now. He did his best to converse with Silver Moon Dancing, and now the pup, but it was not the same.
As he enjoyed his rabbit and thought about what he had given up, the wolf pup inched his way closer to the fire. His boldness paid off – Little Running Deer threw him not only a bone, but some meat still attached. Whenever he offered a morsel to the pup, he talked in low soothing tones and said things like, "Little pup, you must be hungry. Here is a small piece of rabbit for you." Little Running Deer noticed that the pup quieted down and appeared to sleep more peacefully after that.
Little Running Deer was not sure how much ground he covered each day. He knew the mountains were a distance for which he had no reference. He continuously watched the horizon for changes and by the fourth day could see what appeared to be a hazy fog off in the distance. Two days later the fog had cleared and revealed foothills. He had no idea how deep the foothills ran and no way of knowing where his brothers might be. He hadn't seen another person since he left the reservation almost a week before. His thoughts had been on survival and careful concealment of his precious horse. He hadn't even given much thought to his brothers since he had no clear plan to find them. He was hoping by joining other Lakota, he could learn of their where-a-bouts. When he left Pine Ridge, he had headed north to confuse the tribal police. He felt safe traveling through the Black Hills and then heading southwest.
Rabbits were abundant and Little Running Deer was becoming adept at setting snares and catching rabbits very quickly. One day he took time to catch a few fish, but that stray wolf pup ran off with half of them. In a stern voice he shouted after the pup, "No more stealing from me or I will not willingly offer you the precious food I work so hard for." But he was entertained by the pup and actually laughed out loud after his scolding.
The two fish he did get to roast on a stick over his open fire that evening were very tasty and filling. The pup seemed to have a little more energy, as well.
The pup was coming closer to the fire every evening, but still kept his distance during the day. It was obvious to Little Running Deer that the pup was here to stay, at least for now. After the initial contact, Silver Moon Dancing became more comfortable with the following pup, so the three now made quite a convoy across the plains and through the forests. The pup was beginning to hunt for itself, but had only been successful with mice, as far as Little Running Deer could see. He enjoyed the company of the pup and talked to the pup the way he talked to Silver. As long as pup stayed with him he would throw him a scrap of food now and then. He also decided he would work with the pup the same way he had worked with Silver, by using kindness and quiet, gentle commands.
The pup needed a name. Names were important to the Sioux and Little Running Deer had even begun to think about a naming ceremony for himself. This is a rather involved event and not to be taken lightly. Animal's names are not as important as a man's, and are usually named for some quality or physical feature. Dogs in the reservation had often just been called "Dog", or Wakan in his native language. Little Running Deer had more than "Dog" in mind for the wolf pup, but he wasn't in any rush. He watched carefully and waited for the appropriate name to come to him. Thinking about naming the pup gave his mind something to focus on besides his apprehension about leaving Pine Ridge.
The opportunity for the pup's naming came soon. Little Running Deer, Silver Moon Dancing and the pup were traveling at a pretty good pace one day in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains while Little Running Deer was looking for well-worn trails that might lead him to some of his people. The pup had been with him for a week now and they built up some trust between each other. The pup would now take food from his hand, but would not allow the boy to touch him. He stopped growling and raising the hackles on his back, which is the sign Little Running Deer had been looking for. When Little Running Deer tried to touch his fur, the pup simply turned and walked out of reach. When the pup followed he stayed behind the horse, with enough distance to make sure no stray kick might reach him. This day he came in front of Silver Moon Dancing and took the lead, keeping his nose to the ground and looking back to see how close the horse and boy were. "What are you up to now?" asked Little Running Deer, since this was a new behavior for the pup.
Whenever Little Running Deer and Silver Moon Dancing did not follow, the pup ran in front of the horse and then circled back. Little Running Deer thought this was strange behavior and didn't know what to make of it at first. After a few tries, he understood that the pup wanted him to follow. Once Little Running Deer stayed on the trail following the pup, all was fine. As they progressed through the day the trail became more obvious so that Silver Moon Dancing now knew it was there. Finally, the boy realized it also. Tracking is one of the lost skills his father could not show him, only tell him about and now the inexperienced boy began to understand. The pup was picking up the scent of something and following it.
Little Running Deer paid closer attention and saw the tracks that captured the pup's attention. Elk are prey that Little Running Deer knew little about and in fact, he did not recognize the tracks at first. He thought they were following some sort of deer, like those for which he is named. It was a small herd from the looks of the tracks and Little Running Deer thought how wonderful it would be to taste meat he had not tasted since he was a small child. However, he had no weapon with which to bring down a large source of food.
Before the threesome continued down the trail, Little Running Deer decided he needed to arm himself for a possible kill. He deftly chose a sturdy sapling, cut it to length and sharpened the end to a fine point. He was fortunate to have a few arrowheads, a parting gift from his father, but considered that he might lose them in his first efforts, so he decided to keep them for a smaller, handheld spear, not the one he planned on throwing. He set out carving a spear out of rabbit bone and lashing it to the wood spear with strips of rabbit skin. After constructing his new tool, he felt confident that he was prepared for a hunt and returned to the trail with the impatient pup and Silver Moon Dancing.
After a few hours of tracking, the trio came to a pleasant, grassy field, upon which a small band of elk were grazing. The elk were located across the field. Little Deer thought about how to best approach the herd. There was a slight breeze which favored the hunters and carried their scent away from the elk. If he could keep the pup and Silver Moon Dancing quiet, he might be able to circle the side of the field and sneak up on the herd.
Excerpted from "Medicine Hat Horse II"
Copyright © 2018 Betty Ann Miller.
Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse.
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