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WHITE BEAR

NOTE: A big thanks to the Sioux Heritage website at www.Lakhota.com for words and phrases in Lakhotan (Lakotan), and information on the culture. I chose to put this in my story because my parents live in western South Dakota. There is still much Lakhotan influence in the Black Hills, and I hope in this way I can help preserve that. For more websites on Native American culture, legends, and languages, I recommend that you start by searching the link database at StudyWeb. To learn a few words in basic Native American sign language, visit "Ike said..." at Vaya Con Dios, Ike! -- Kristin's website for Ike McSwain (Travis Fine).


Prologue

The sun was already halfway down when the young man found a creek in the woods and decided to stay there for the night. A dog in the back of the wagon stretched as it awoke from a nap. The dog was more of a wolf, actually; its father was a wolf who had mated with a half-dog, half-wolf from one of the Lakhota Sioux villages in north-central Nebraska Territory. Justin Brady's Lakhota friend owned the wolf-dog, and a week after her litter was born, his son Matthew begged for a puppy.

"Please, Pa?" Eight-year-old Matthew knew better than to ask, but he wanted it more than anything.

"Matthew James Brady!" exclaimed his mother, who was busy kneading bread dough.

Justin stood up and hugged his wife, seven months pregnant. "It's alright, Sarah," he said gently. "Matt needs to learn responsibility for something other than horses and vegetables. Besides, Red Eagle already offered to trade one for some ammunition and corn."

Sarah stopped kneading. She looked into Justin's twinkling blue eyes, then Matthew's expectant brown eyes. She sighed, knowing that further objections would be useless. Setting the dough aside to rise, she looked back at Justin. "Mind you, that doesn't excuse him from the rest of his chores."

"Of course not," Justin assured her, smiling at his son. Matthew grinned back. The next day, Justin and Matthew went to the village. All four pups were black, gray, and white. Matthew chose an energetic male he named Bandit, because it had a little white raccoon-like mask on its face.


Three months later, scarlet fever set in. The Bradys were no exception. Matthew was sent to the next Indian camp while Red Eagle's tribe helped care for the family. About a week had passed when Storm Cloud, Red Eagle's nephew, came to bring Matthew home. In spite of everything Red Eagle's tribe had done, the other Bradys and a few Indians had died anyway.

Five of the men helped dig a grave site next to the vegetable garden and built a small fence around it. Storm Cloud gave Matthew some paint, which he used for the names. There were two large mounds and a small one in the middle. Matthew carefully painted the crosses:

JUSTIN PATRICK BRADY - 30
JONAS PETER BRADY - 1 MONTH
SARAH ANNE BRADY - 28

Matthew took one large piece of wood and nailed it to the fence. On this he inscribed with his hunting knife:

SCARLET FEVER - 1850
SURVIVOR: MATTHEW JAMES BRADY - 8

Everyone except Storm Cloud went back to the village to let Matthew have some time alone. Until now, Bandit sat silently watching his master. Matthew struggled to push back a tear. Bandit lay on the grass with his head between his paws and whimpered.

Storm Cloud was standing next to Matthew, and he quietly said, "Remember, Matthew. They aren't here, but the Great Spirit is still watching over them." Matthew just nodded. He slowly turned away from the graves and gazed at the spot where the house had been. Two days ago, the Indians had already taken out what could be saved before burning the house and the other contents, to prevent the fever from spreading. They had also built a teepee in the village for Matthew to sleep. The barn, corral, and chicken coop were far enough away from the house, so the animals weren't in any danger of the fever. Matthew didn't mind knowing he'd have to continue taking care of them; it would help keep him busy, that was for sure.

Matthew lived with the tribe for another ten years. Together they'd made the vegetable garden big enough to help provide for the village. The Indians--usually Storm Cloud and a few other boys--taught him to hunt and fish, and Matthew himself had killed and skinned the bucks for his jacket and moccasins. Sometimes the boys would watch the warriors hunt; they'd make their way to the edge of a small cliff and watch the others below. Then the boys would race back to camp and announce what the warriors had caught. Because Matthew was white, the chief had named him White Bear, or "ska mato" in Lakhotan.

One afternoon upon returning from harvesting the corn, Matthew requested to talk to the chief privately. Yellow Feather invited Matthew into his teepee. All was quiet until the chief decided to speak first. "I know what has been troubling you, White Bear."

"Jonas would be ten years old now," Matthew replied, not letting himself look into the eyes of the wise old chief.

"No, White Bear. You want to leave, to return to your people."

Matthew was startled at that. "No! My home is here, with you and Red Eagle and Storm Cloud..."

Yellow Feather continued, "White Bear, you are not willing to listen to your heart. Your heart tells us you want to explore, to learn white man's culture, and to know if you have any relatives where the sun rises."

Matthew neither acknowledged nor denied this. He glanced at the teepee entrance, wanting an interruption.

"Look at me, Matthew Brady."

Matthew slowly turned and looked at him. It had been a long time since he'd heard his birth name.

"The elders discussed this two moons ago. We understand and accept your desire, if you choose to leave."

Matthew shook his head. "I don't know anymore what I want."

Yellow Feather stood up. "Remember, you will always have a home with us, but we cannot decide your life for you. Think carefully. But for now, come. It's time to eat."

Matthew got up and followed him out of the teepee.


He had given in and finally admitted what Yellow Feather knew. Two Indians fixed the old uncovered wagon, and Storm Cloud helped Matthew put all his belongings into it. He put his father's hat on, letting it fall onto his back. He carefully laid his father's rifle and a small box of ammunition near the wagon seat, along with his own spear, bow, and a quiver of arrows. Storm Cloud himself had given the quiver to Matthew as a parting gift. Bandit jumped into the wagon and sniffed at the bags of food. Midnight, Matthew's Indian pony, pranced at the front of the wagon, already hitched up and wanting to go. Midnight was a colt of Red Eagle's pony. Red Eagle knew Matthew liked Midnight, so he'd traded her in exchange for the work horses in the barn.

Matthew climbed down from the wagon.

"Be careful, White Bear," Red Eagle said solemnly.

"Let the Creator guide you," added Yellow Feather.

"I will," replied Matthew, embracing each of them. He climbed into the wagon seat, where Bandit was waiting. Matthew lightly flicked the reins, waved once, and didn't look back after that. If he did, he knew he'd either cry or turn around and abandon his journey.


One week ago, but still as fresh as if it happened yesterday, Matthew thought. By now he'd unpacked his bedroll and started a small fire to make some coffee. His food supply was getting low, so he only took half the remaining dried venison from his pack. Bandit wagged his tail, eager for a piece of the meat.

"Here, Bandit," said Matthew, tossing one to him. "Tomorrow we'll catch some fish for our breakfast."

Matthew shared the meat with Bandit, finished his coffee, then settled into his bedroll. He rested his father's hat over his eyes and went to sleep, with the rifle and Bandit next to him.

CHAPTER 1 ...