"He sends the white buffalo? What does it mean?" Kiowa asks.
"A long time ago, a woman appeared in the form of a white buffalo. One man was disrespectful to her and she turned him into a pile of bones. Another was respectful, and she gave him a flute and taught him special music. She also taught him special rituals that would one day bring peace," Paw teaches, handing them buffalo hides.
"Peace – that would be nice." Kiowa imagines what that might look like.
"Won't they smell us and startle?" Makes Trouble asks, doubting Paw's plan.
"They will smell us, but they will not startle. Cover yourselves up in these hides and their eyes will tell them we are one of them, while their noses will tell a different story. Some will scatter. Most will be like people—they will accept what they see."
"I don't understand," Makes Trouble says, bewildered at Pa's last remark.
"My patience grows thin. I can't wait to kill a massive bull." Kiowa grins, painting his face black and applying streaks of green paint to camouflage amongst the grass. He then wraps the buffalo hide around his back, ties a rope around his waist to hold it in place, and then immediately feels the temperature rise. The combination of the buffalo blanket and the morning sun on this spring day makes him wonder how the buffalo manage to not catch on fire.
"We will not be killing the buffalo as long as their protector is with them," Paw updates the boys.
"Then why are we here?" Kiowa asks.
"Be patient. Be still. Observe. Plan. Attack when their guardian is not with them," Paw firmly responds, applying paint to his face.
Be patient? When the Sun God's gift is before us? All I have to do is capture that trophy and my family is guaranteed meat for the rest of our days. Every Indian knows that's the reward you get when you catch a pretty white magic buffalo coat. Why do we not seize this prize? Makes Trouble wonders.
The hunters lean over on all fours and act as buffalo.
"A great lake of brown meat stretches out as far as the eyes can see," Makes Trouble whispers to Kiowa. "I am getting hungry just looking at them."
Behind them, Paw whispers, "Makes Trouble, what is your plan?"
Makes Trouble sizes up the heard from largest to smallest and decides to focus on the calves. "We should attack and scatter the young. Then it will be three against one."
Paw turns to Kiowa. "And what is your plan?"
Unsure of what to say, because his friend stole his answer, Kiowa decides to say something different. "We separate part of the herd and take some of the bigger buffalo first and some of the smaller ones when they tire from being chased."
Paw slaps the back of their heads. The boys jolt from the impact and rub their sore spots.
"Your youth is like a well of foolishness. You think the Kiowa are the only people to hunt buffalo?"
Both Kiowa and Makes Trouble shake their heads in confusion.
"If we are not here to hunt, then why are we here?"
"What does a name mean?" Paw asks.
The boys look at each other in bewilderment.
"Without it you would wander far from your parents and make nothing but great trouble," Makes Trouble responds.
"I wasn't talking to you. I was talking to my brother's son. What do you say, my would-be son?"
"Now is not the time to ask us this. We have more food and blankets roaming the field than I have ever seen. It is time to hunt," Kiowa asserts, knowing he offers the wrong answer.
"It is time to hunt when I say it is time," Paw corrects his nephew. "Now think."
"A name changes, so it is nothing." Kiowa tries again, resisting his excitement to rush the buffalo.
"Yes! This is true. Let us think on this and see if you need to know more today or if you will need to know more later. Come, follow me."
Paw crouches down and leads their stalk. They get within a hundred yards of the herd.
Kiowa hears their unusual grunts and groans and wonders what they are saying. He watches the males roll around in the dust, then approach the females and communicate in a way he can't understand. It seems to him that their disguises do not deceive the buffalo by the way the buffalo stare at them.
A bull sprints after the adorning male and smashes his massive horned head into the newcomer's horns. The clacking skulls sound like painful thunder.
"What woman is worth all that?" Makes Trouble snickers.
"Not just one woman. All of the women," Paw answers.
Makes Trouble nods in admiration. "I would smash my brains out for that reward!"
Unlike with the deer, Kiowa feels no attachment to the buffalo. To him, they are big dumb animals that should be slaughtered. They have no art, no cunning, no grace, no beauty or appeal. Even the young are ugly. To him the buffalo seem to have no other purpose than to clip grass, litter the earth with fertilizer, grow large, feed the tribe with their meat, and warm their bodies with their hides. Even their mating ritual is brutal. Bulls bellow deep roars as they charge each other and fight for breeding rights. This is the most curious thing to Kiowa. All this effort and exhaustion for the ugliest face he has ever seen.
The buffalo are the life force that sustains our people, Kiowa thinks. He readies his bow, but Paw quickly stops him. He points to an approaching Cheyenne hunting party on horseback. Their brown-and-white spotted pinto mustangs are led by a speedy horse, whose rider wears a long black bear hide. Their swift motions stir the massive herd and scatter the buffalo, exactly as Makes Trouble had anticipated.
"Ah, this is what I had hoped for," Paw tells the boys as he watches the Cheyenne pursue the white buffalo off in the distance.
"Now I see why you have led us down here in disguise," Makes Trouble whispers to Pa. "You want us to wait for them to kill the buffalo and then steal its hide."
Paw signs for them to be quiet and use only their hand signs.
The thuds of the buffalo's hooves kick up dirt clods and shake the earth so violently they rattle Kiowa's jaw. He hums and chuckles at the vibrating sound his voice makes.
A man may change his name many times in one life, but it will usually be something he does that makes his name good. Long lasting, Kiowa thinks.
Paw nods at the boys. They nod back.
Be eager to earn a name that your sons will fight for! Paw signs, nodding at the Cheyenne.
The brown buffalo act as a buffer between the Cheyenne and the white buffalo. They let the ghostly beast lead the pack.
Paw points at the leader of the Cheyenne hunting party and signs, Him a man.
I agree, Kiowa confidently signs back.
Him also a bear, Paw signs, pointing at the man who wears the black bear hide.
Kiowa looks confused. How can a man be a bear? Kiowa signs.
Not just any bear, Chief Black Bear, Paw signs back.
Author's recap: I remember getting punched once when I was a boy. It was a terrible experience. I was so pissed, I got up to punch back, but the kid on the play ground was gone. For days I searched for him. When I finally found him, I ran up and punched him in the face. It was a strike that made me feel so good. Then bad. As it turned out, his hit was an accident, whereas mine was on purpose. I wonder what Kiowa will do when he finds Chief Black Bear?
I know you've probably already heard this somewhere, but the whole book is on Amazon. Just type in "Harvest Moon," by Zachary H. Lovelady. Or if you want to see Instagram bring the characters to life, check out harvestmoonofficial
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Kiowa and Anoki lock hands and stare into each other's eyes. They listen intently to Onendah, the medicine man, officiate their wedding. "Yours is a forbidden love. Because you are from a war tribe, Kiowa, your people will not let you marry this pea...