Thursday, May 5, 2016

Chapter Five
When the trapper had returned from this year's rendezvous, Nest's little brother would not stop badgering him, begging him to tell the stories he always came home with . 

"Wait 'till I tell them around the fire tonight.  Many want to hear the news from beyond, my son," then he winked,  "and the stories."
"Your father is weary from his long journey, but you act like a horsefly.  Shoo."  Nest waved her brother away, but said to the trapper,  "I will make us a good dinner tonight."  She wanted to show her appreciation to him.
These mountain men who gathered at the rendezvous were adventurers who met with danger, wild animals,  the elements, and warring Indians, any one of which could take their lives.  Their combined knowledge and experience was beyond the reach of the emerging nation.  The French, the Spanish, and the English all were waging a war of control over the fur trade in the unchartered interior of the Indian Territory.  These men were the soldiers on the front lines who wore no uniform, who preferred the wilderness over civilization, whose loyalty was to their rifle more than country.  Their lives depended on making friends with the tribes on whose land they trespassed.
There were some of the French and Spanish traders who furnished weapons and ammunition to tribes and tried to foment violence toward the colonists in order to keep the power of the fur trade in their own hands.  The sugar, flour, scarlet cloth, and iron cooking utensils they brought up the Mississippi also kept them as friends,while the colonists on the frontier rarely had access to such good.  Even a British Indian Agent, Cameron, who lived with the Cherokee had kept them fighting against the colonists until the final defeat of the British.
Nest too had anticipated he trader's return hoping to hear news of her people.  He did not disappoint.  She stacked plenty of wood to feed the fire so it would burn brightly this night.  Most of the village gathered to hear the news and the trader's tales whether tall or truthful.  Nancy came.  Another Scottish trader, John Walker who married into the tribe was there with his son, and the chiefs o the council sat with many of their clan.  Nest sat on one side, and her brother reclined on the trapper on the other anxiously waiting for him to speak.  Dog circled three times and lay at his feet.  As the stars came out, he began.  He warmed up with a much-loved story of Daniel Boone.
"Once a trapper asked ol' Daniel Boone if he ever got lost.  The backwoodsman answered, "No, I can't say I was ever lost, but I was bewildered once for three days."
His listeners laughed easily.  Many remembered the mountain man who had traipsed across these parts.  There was another story of an officer in the British Army who made friends with a northern tribe who put a lot of stock in their dreams, sure they would always come true.  One chief came into their army post and spied a pile of coats with nice brass buttons and said, "I had a dream last night that you gave me a coat just like that."  So the officer gave the old chief the coat, of course.  But the next time he saw him, the officer told the chief, "I had a dream that you ceded me 3,000  acres of land."  The chief agreed, but never told him of another dream."
The, listeners howled with laughter, but Nest anticipated stories form those who had been with the Mandan tribe.  The trapper did began the telling that she longed to hear. 
"We have all heard the story of the young Moravian minister who came by himself to talk to our chief about a mission here.  Well, there was this John Evans who came from Wales, a young Methodist who heard about the Welsh Indians.  He had sailed to America across the Great Waters to America, then set off over the Appalachian Mountains by himself with hardly two coins to rub together in his pocket.  He headed deep into Indian Territory to be a missionary to this long lost tribe of the Welsh Indians.  Somehow, he made it down to St. Louis where the Mississippi spills into the Great Waters.  The Spaniards arrested him as an Englishman in Spain's territory.  Fortunately, he had made a friend who helped to convince them that he only wanted to go up the Missouri River in order to find the Mandan.  So Spain freed him and even hired him instead to become second in command under James McKay who was to lead an expedition to find a route to the Northwest."
The trapper continued after stretching his gnarled hands out to warm over the fire.  Nest was holding her breath waiting for him to continue.  He lit his pipe, blew some smoke, then continued. 
"Before winter, he met a French trader who et up a trading post and flew his country's flag.  John Evans took it down replacing it with the flag of Spain after the trapper left for the winter months.  When the Frenchman returned, they almost came to deadly blows, but Evans was no match for the trader who was the rendezvous with his story.  The French flag remained."  He paused to put a log on the fire.  The flames lit up the spell-bound faces circled around the storyteller.
"This Evans eventually made it to the Mandan tribe.  He stayed there and upon his return reported to Spain that there were no Welsh Indians.  However, he did meet Chief Big White Man and Chief Black Cat.  The fact is he fell in so well with them that they convinced him to hide their existence from his Spanish sponsors so they would not be harassed by them.  If Spain thought that England might have a foothold in the territory they wanted to claim by way of these Welsh Indians, it would spell trouble."
The men looked around and nodded their heads knowing the way the tribes had been used by the men serving kings over the Great Waters. 
"His time there proved the blue-eyed tall tribe with bearded men and fair skinned women were descendants of Madag.  He was able to speak Welsh with them.  In fact, Evans was able to get a letter out by ship in St. Louis to his family in Wales stating that he indeed had found them, was adopted as a son, contrary to what he told his Spanish supporters.
"Da, so he found my mother's people who live with the Mandans? Are they still there?"  Nest's little brother forgot himself and asked this question.  She was proud that he was understanding that he was a Welsh Indian too. 
Yes, son.  Now let me finish," he said rubbing his hand over his sons curls.  "Not being able to find the desired route to the Pacific, the Great Waters over those far mountains, he was not treated fairly upon his return to St. Louis.  His health became broken.  The poor man is destroyed by the scourge of St. Louis, the liquor.  He is not faring well though his maps will provide many who follow him with excellent knowledge."
"This French fella at the rendezvous said that trappers who had met the Welsh Indians in earlier years reported them to Canada.  The Governor of Canada determined the tribe was a threat as Englishmen to France's claim to the fur trade so they were going to send troops down.  However, the French and Indian War redirected their soldiers to fight elsewhere.  After that, the Mandan tribe became even more hesitant to trust outsiders.  They have no love for the French," the trapper said.
"They tricked us into hostilities with their promises.  Now look how our numbers have decrease," lamented Attakullakulla.  "As did the English gaining our loyalty by taking us chiefs to meet the King in London.  Yet it is the backwoodsmen and American soldiers who have conquered us."  The old chief was lost in thought after saying this.  The whole trapper and the whole gathering were respectfully quiet. 
Finally the Little Carpenter, as he was known, spoke again.  "Our old chiefs have told us the story of these Welsh Indians when our ancients drove them away from their forts on our land. Our people warred against them for years.  When it was reported that they were building great boats, we went down to ambush them at the muscle shoals. It was a fierce battle.  Finally, the whites proposed a prisoner exchange if we would cease hostilities, and they promised to leave our country never to return.  They went down the Tennessee to the big river then up to the muddy river where they are today.  Their bones are scattered in a huge grave yard near the place of the last battle."
When it was quiet, and he was sure the great chief was done, the trapper continued.  "Many of the rendezvous told of the likes of Remington, Jack Hughes, Gibson, a Maurice Griffith, and Benjamin Sutton who were either trappers who traded with them or were one time prisoners of the Mandan.  Some of these me saved their necks by either speaking in the Welsh tongue orhaving someone in their party who did.  The Welsh Indians were mighty warriors, but had traveled far to be able to lead a peaceful way of life.  They hunt with bow and arrow, have horses, but cultivate the land like us.  They have great cities with buildings of stone.  Their guns are old and are of no use now.  Many have seen their holy book, but none can read it."
"We had one who had a piece of that holy Book, but lost it in a fire when our villages were burned by white raiders," Nancy added.  "It was given to her by a Mandan from the Missouri."
He went on with news of other tribes, but Nest mulled over what he had said of her people.  Her mind went back to her early years with her mother and father, and older brothers.  Her heart ached with thoughts of those happier times.
She looked over and watched her brother soaking up everything the trapper said.  He had missed his father while he was at the rendezvous.  Just looking at the boy made her heart melt.  Her mother had left her with a good gift, her little brother.
The people sat attentive to the storyteller, all eyes on him.  All eyes, that is, except Walker's son.  Their eyes met.  Nest quickly looked away, but could feel his remaining gaze upon her.  Instead she watched the trapper's face as he indulged their ears.
He was more weathered and bent than the hardy man she and her mother followed as he led them away from the Sioux when she was a young girl.  The years were beginning o take their toll.  His hair and beard were unkept and raged from his travels, turning gray even.  Life had not been easy for the man, but he had not lost the yearning to keep pushing into the wilderness.  Yet, he humbled himself to become a free trapper instead of a hunter so that he could stay closer to his family.  The rendezvous was his last connection to the life in the wild.  The man was usually quiet except for these times of storytelling around the campfire when his eyes sparked in the firelight.  He talked on rolling his Scottish brogue until the last dog died and went to bed.
All the talk of the Mandan had brought back some memories.  The next night it was Nest who told the stories.  Her brother was anxious to hear more of his mother's people.  She was pleased.
"We lived in a village with large houses around a center big enough to break horse sin or forus to play games.  Our houses were large enough to bring the horses in during the coldest winter nights.  I remember my father's beautiful headdress handing form a pole inside the house.  It was made of ermine with eagle feathers.  The celebration I remember is waking up once a year to a loud commotion, and a man would come walking into the village covered with white clay.  He would go from house to house telling the story saying, 'I am Noah, the only man who was saved on the ark when the great deluge came.'  He had a willow bough with leaves which he said was brought by the turtle dove.  According to his story, the ark was left by the receding waters on the summit of one of the great mountains west of the Big River.  Each lodge gave him a cutting with which to build the ark and throw in the water.  In the center of the village would be a great big canoe.  Then the bull dance would follow.  This was special to our people, a great time of celebration."
"Were you scared of the man covered in white clay, Nest?" her brother asked.
"Of course, we were in awe, even though we really knew he was one chosen by the village to play the part."
"What else do you remember?"
"Our people also told the story of the Son of God born of virgin birth who grew up to perform miracles.  One time He fed a big crowd with a small amount of food with more fragments left over than He began with.  They taught us that there is a devil who tries to get us to fall.   With these teachings, I remember our people were pleasant.  There were no drunkards, or beggars."   Nest smiled with a memory adding, "Welsh Indians were great swimmers.  Our village was built up above the river bank.  The women would go bathe and swim apart from the men.  A guard would be posed for our privacy.  We were always clean.  Inside our home we sang, told stories and laughed."  Nest grew quiet trying to pry the happy scenes from her faintest memories.  She looked over.  Her brother was asleep.  She pulled the buffalo robe up over dog and her brother.

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