Saturday, June 19, 2010
Augusta Johnson by Wayne R. Johnson This story was introduced to me by Augusta’s grand son Robb Johnson
It happened in late summer, probably in 1886, her first year on the plains.
It was midafternoon. Augusta was baking bread. Her husband, John, had hitched the team to the wagon and gone into town. Augusta's two youngest babies were napping. The eldest, Aaron, was somewhere in the sod house, toddling about. Suddenly Augusta's scalp prickled. Her stomach knotted. Aaron! Where was Aaron? She looked for him. He was right there, behind her. He was looking at the doorway.
In the doorway stood an Indian. He was rather tall, lean, and almost naked. His hair was long, loose, blowing in the wind, sweeping his shoulders. It was stringy hair, matted with dirt and dried blood. There was dirt and dried blood allover his arms, chest, ribs and legs. Scrapes and deep scratches were clotted, starting to scab.
The Indian stepped through the doorway. He indicated, without speaking, that he was hungry. His squinting black eyes were hot with little fires.A savage. He had to be pacified.
Struggling to control her paralyzing fear, Augusta turned to the table, where loaves of bread were cooling. She tried to cut a slice of bread. The knife would not work. She was trembling too much. And the bread was too fresh to cut. She tore off a chunk, started to hand it to the Indian, then threw it. The Indian caught it, crammed it into his mouth, and gestured for more. While chewing the bread, some of the nervous tension seemed to leave him. He squatted on his heels, near the doorway, with his back to the wall, waiting for more bread.
The familiar domestic act of wielding the knife against the bread had helped Augusta. Her mind began to work again. Here was a hungry man. Nothing but a hungry man, she told herself. What did she have on hand, to fix quickly for a hungr man? Eggs. She put the skillet on the hot stove and fried three eggs.
As she worked, she kept glancing at the Indian. His eyes were fixed on Aaron, who was clinging to her skirt. Did the Indian want Aaron? Her fear rose again. She picked up the baby and propped him on her hip while she worked. She would be dead before the Indian·got his hands on Aaron. But maybe if she fed the Indian well, he would be happy, maybe he would not take Aaron.
Augusta dumped the eggs on a plate, added a chunk of fresh bread, and gave the plate with a fork to the Indian. Disdaining the fork, the Indian disposed of the eggs and the bread in a few gulps and wanted more. He ate all the eggs she had in the house, and also a loaf of bread.
Hunger appeased, the Indian came out of his squat. He stretched, stood tall and straight. He stepped toward Augusta and slowly extended his right hand. Paralysis again gripped her. This was it. Now the Indian was going to take Aaron. She watched the Indian's hand coming. It was a filthy hand, stained with grease and egg yolk as well as with soil and old blood.
Aaron's hair was baby-fair and typically Scandanavian, softly shining. The Indian put his hand on the hair. Then he turned quickly and was gone.
By the time Augusta recovered and went to the doorway to look, the Indian was passing out of sight, over the low rise west of the house. He was running northwestward, in a beeline toward plum Creek canyon.
When John came home and was told about the Indian, he stripped the harness from one of his horses, mounted bare-back and went galloping to alert the neighbors. A posse was assembled immediately, but the fall of night soon ended the search.
For several days afterward, the men carried guns as they worked in the fields, and there was a lot of talk about Indians. Augusta thought her guest had been in a fight, but no one had heard of any Indian fights anywhere in the region, and all of the Indians were supposed to be safely policed on reservations. It was decided that Augusta's Indian had strayed from a reservation and had become the victim of an accident of some kind. Perhaps he had been riding in the canyons. Perhaps his horse had fallen with him, down a canyon bank. Such a thing might account for all the bloody scrapes and scratches. Thus the men talked themselves back into complacency. They soon stopped carrying guns.
Sometime during the following year, John looked up from his plowing one day and saw a strange procession on the trail: Three horses, evenly spaced, coming in file, from the west, from the direction of Plum Creek canyon. Three horses, five riders. Indians.
John unhitched, took his team to the house and unharnessed, all the while gauging the slow approach of the Indians. What were they up to? vJherewere they headed? They reached the corner and turned south, on the road that led to John's driveway. Should he get a gun? No, one Indian brave, accompanied by two squaws and two small children, could not be very hostile.
The brave rode in the lead. Trailing him were the squaws, one young, the other rather old. Behind each squaw, a child rode. It looked like a family outing, Ma, Pa, Grandma and the two kids.
The procession came straight to the house and stopped. John stood his ground. The brave looked at him but said nothing. Augusta stood in the doorway of the house, with Aaron on her hip.
The rave was clad in white man's clothing: trousers, a suit coat and a felt hat. The squaws, wrapped in blankets, grinned. The little Indians were somber.
The brave dismounted, untied the saddle strings that had been holding a dead antelope, and dropped the gutted carcass at the doorway, at Augusta's feet.
Augusta was astounded. A dead animal? He was dumping dead things on her doorstep? Ish!
Then the Indian raised his right hand and laid it lightly on Aaron's hair. It was like a blessing: a dirty red hand upon light, sunny hair, a blessing upon the new American, upon
this small, white inheritor of the Plains.
Then Augusta recognized the Indian. This was her Indian, the one who had eaten all of her eggs.
NOw, evidently, he was paying for the lunch, by bringing meat to her lodging.
The brave climbed back on his horse. The procession moved away, going north, toward the Platte River.
No one ever knew where the Indian had come from, or where he had gone. And he never returned.