Published on Thursday, March 23, 2012
Chesetopah the Sword Bearer
By Gary Every
While Chesetopah screamed, the summer sun hung high in the sky; a blazing ball of fiery glory, shining brighter than it had ever shone before. The sharpened bone points cut into Chesetopah's flesh as he hung from the ceiling of the lodge, his head tilted back as he screamed. Chesetopah's head was slumped back over his shoulders, exposing his throat to the heavens, forcing his eyes to stare through the hole in the top of the lodge, gazing right into the heart of the sun. The smoke forced itself through the tiny hole in the ceiling, billowing clouds rising from the roaring bonfire in miniature cyclones of ash, smoke, and burning cinders - glittering sparks dancing madly.
The drums beat like monotonous thunder. The drums had been beating for days, the same steady percussive drone pounding away until the earth itself began to shake. The drummers beat down, arms swinging forward to strike the surface of the drum skin - Boom! The earth shook resonating with the beat of ancient ceremonies; booming like the footsteps of giants. The drums sounded, making the lodge poles quiver so the buffalo hides draped shook until the whole lodge vibrated like a giant drum. Chesetopah could feel the beating drums as they shook the ceiling beams and the rhythms telegraphed down the rawhide cords attached to the sharpened bone points stabbing into Chesetopah's chest until it resonated deep inside. Chesetopah's heart had been beating along with the steady rhythm of the drums for days. He tilted back his head, stared straight into the sun, and screamed.
There were other voices in the lodge too. Men were chanting, their voices rising in the air, following the billowing smoke through the hole in the ceiling. Chesetopah did not understand the language of the sacred songs. Chesetopah was enduring great pain in front of many strangers. The elders whispered to each other, words which Chesetopah did not understand. Chesetopah's brother watched in silence. His childhood friends winced as they watched him endure unthinkable tortures but they dared not speak a word. Someone was screaming in a voice that needed no language. It was Chesetopah.
It was quite an honor for a Crow warrior to be invited to participate in a Cheyenne Sun Dance Ceremony. It was quite an honor for a man as young as Chesetopah to be invited. Clearly, Chesetopah was a charismatic young warrior. He hung from the ceiling while the weight of his body pulled the sharpened bone points deeper into his flesh. Chesetopah endured, hour after hour, showing stamina and incredible courage in the face of such great torture. The drummers beat, and the singers chanted while Chesetopah tilted back his head and screamed, staring directly into the heart of the sun; dreaming of the future.
Eventually the pain caused Chesetopah to drift in and out of consciousness. He was barely awake when the Cheyenne elders ordered him cut down from the ceiling. He barely remembered the chief Cheyenne shaman rising up to make a speech. Chesetopah only understood a few of the words.
What Chesetopah did remember, what he would never forget, was the moment when the Cheyenne shaman rewarded the extraordinary bravery the young Crow warrior had demonstrated during the Sun Dance ceremony by presenting him with a ceremonial sword.
The weight of the metal blade felt good in Chesetopah's hands. The steel refracted in the sunlight. It was covered in blood red war paint which caught and held the darker richer colors of the shadows. Chesetopah smiled, shifting the handle within his palm; struggling for a better grasp. The sacred sword was quite a prize. It was a cavalry saber; war booty looted from a fallen US soldier. Such a hard earned prized was a valuable treasure. The Cheyenne shaman had painted the blade of the cavalry saber a bright blood red.
The next day, Chesetopah the Sword Bearer, his brother, and a small handful of childhood companions left the Cheyenne encampment and headed towards home to their native Crow lands. As they rode they sang Crow songs loudly, their horses running swiftly as the wind. Chesetopah the Sword Bearer raced atop his painted pony, parting the sea of prairie grass before him. He held his red medicine saber above his head as he rode, the blade glinting; reflecting the summer sun. The summer sun hung high in the sky; a blazing ball of fiery glory which was shining brighter than the heavens themselves.
Chesetopah the Sword Bearer and his small band of friends discovered their village of Crow in a temporary camp along the banks of a swift moving creek. The villagers were amazed by the red medicine saber. Each of the elders asked to hold it in turn; afterwards gazing into the eyes of Chesetopah questioningly.
That night, Chesetopah refused to sleep inside any of the tipis, preferring to dream beneath the stars. During the night, little wisps of clouds raced across the sky, obscuring and revealing the heavens. Chesetopah felt that his experiences at the Cheyenne Sun Dance ceremony had changed him. In the morning, Chesetopah awakened and searched out a grinding stone. Chesetopah worked the metal of the steel blade against the cold impersonal wrath of the grinding stone until sparks began to fly. Chesetopah sharpened the blade of the medicine blade until it began to glow red from the friction, until the edge was razor sharp. One of the Crow elders approached and asked Chesetopah what he was up to.
"Waiting for a storm," Chesetopah replied.
Chesetopah was not certain when it was that he first realized he could control the weather but his experiences at the Sun Dance had made him into a powerful sorcerer.
He would ride his painted pony to high hilltops, cresting the open expanses of prairie and survey the wide horizon. He could watch the weather for miles. From atop his equine perch Chesetopah could watch the last days of summer slip away. The shadows began to lengthen and sometimes the wind would rage. Listening carefully a man could hear the clouds bluster, the whispers of distant thunders, and watch as the seasons approached and faded. Chesetopah the Sword Bearer would hold his red medicine saber above his head and wave it, hoping to attract a storm.
His pony wore eagle feathers tied to his mane, feathers which rustled loudly as he ran. High atop the hill, the pony pranced and reared; agitated. Chesetopah rode bare back, both hands tightly gripping the horse's mane. Chesetopah laughed, tilting back his head so the long feathered war bonnet atop his head tumbled back and lay along the horses mane reaching all the way to the tail until it was hard to tell which feathers belonged to whom. With his head tilted back Chesetopah could stare into the sky where the sun was disappearing and reappearing behind the clouds. When the wind would gust, Chesetopah would wheel about atop his painted pony and feel the breeze catch the feathers on his bonnet. The feathers tied to his horses mane would rise up and tickle his thighs and forearms. Chesetopah flattened his torso along the horse's spine, slapping his hand on his war ponies flanks right where the hand prints had been painted in bright red colors. His knees dug into the flanks and his war stallion reared up. The war pony waved his front hooves and neighed. Chesetopah leaned way back and screamed, anger erupting from beneath the stripes of his war paint as his feathered war bonnet trailed far behind. Chesetopah the Sword Bearer waved his red medicine saber across the valley to the next row of hilltops.
A small crowd of cavalry soldiers had gathered across the valley, investigating the rumors of a disturbance among the Crow. The commanding officer, General Ruger, was a West Point graduate and Civil War veteran but the soldiers beneath him were a motley mixed bunch consisting of European immigrants, teenage runaways, and men battling the bottle. For many of them, these were among the first Indians they had ever seen. Most of the soldiers were frightened. Atop the small mesa, the chill wind blew into their faces, harsh and cold. When the dark clouds rolling across the sky covered the sun the temperature dropped so that some of the soldiers shivered.
"Sons of bitches!" Chesetopah shouted out the only English words he knew.
Chesetopah wheeled about and turned to face the band of Crow warriors who had gathered behind him. Young men who had followed him here to this tiny prairie mesa, on this blustery day to wait for the soldiers. The soldiers had at last arrived and Chesetopah could see; even from across the valley, that they were afraid. He searched the faces of his Crow comrades. The war paint had been painted on their faces with great ceremony and lots of dancing but most of them were very young men. Chesetopah could see that the Crow warriors were as afraid as the Cavalry soldiers. There were some warriors, like his brother and those childhood companions who had accompanied him to the Sun Dance ceremony who believed. Men who wore stern faces and were eagerly appreciating the battle but most of the very young men were afraid.
The time had come to reveal the strength of his powers.
"My name is Chesetopah the Sword Bearer," he waved his red medicine saber as he spoke to his warriors, "And I have a become a sorcerer who can change the weather. When I ride into battle with my red medicine saber there is no one who can harm me. I am invulnerable to bullets, fist or blade. Those warriors who ride behind me with pure hearts and good intent will not die."
Then Chesetopah wheeled his horse about and tossed brightly painted sword into the air, the blade twirling and twirling in the air like a miniature cyclone of steel. Chesetopah stabbed a hand out into the air, reaching into the wind, and snatched his red medicine saber from the sky.
Chesetopah kicked the flanks of his painted war pony, steed racing down from the hilltop, kicking up stones and clouds of dust from beneath the charging hooves. At just that moment the thunder boomed on the distant horizon. The young Crow soldiers gasped.
Across the valley the inexperienced Cavalry soldiers gasped. Chesetopah raced across the grassy valley, his medicine saber held high above his head. He shouted out insults to the soldiers in English and Crow. As his war pony went airborne, leaping above a tiny creek, he looked up directly into their eyes and let out a blood curdling war cry. As his pony began to charge up the slope leading to the soldier's hilltop, Chesetopah began to shout out incantations to the weather.
One of the immigrant soldiers raised his rifle to his shoulder, and took aim on the approaching warrior.
His commanding officer placed his hand upon the rifle barrel, gently lowering the muzzle. "We are only here to investigate trouble not instigate it." The soldier lowered his rifle.
Chesetopah laughed. He had bewitched the soldiers with his magic and now he would curse them with the weather. He rode two complete circles around the soldiers. The horse whinnied and even Chesetopah's war pony seemed to be taunting the white men. Chesetopah spurred his heels and turned his steed home.
While he rode across the shallow valley lightning flashed.
Thunder boomed so loud it sounded like cannon fire, the ground trembling for a split second.
Then the rain fell like rapid machine gun fire, striking the ground repeatedly. They were great big raindrops which stung when they landed on the back, head, or arms. The horses pranced and protested. The rain fell in buckets; drenching both sides.
"Today," General Ruger announced to his second in command, "Is a useless day to try and hold a parley or peace conference. Let us go home."
Chesetopah reached the hilltop filled with Crow warriors just as the soldiers began to flank and leave, departing from the muddy field in formation. Chesetopah tossed his sword into the air and caught it by the handle as it spun and twirled in the storm winds.
A boom of thunder interrupted his words.
"The rain I have called forth has melted the hearts of the soldiers like water and now they ride back home in a cowardly little stream."
The Crow warriors cheered. Some of the youngest braves were so happy they were weeping, tears running down the war paint which was sliding off their faces beneath the onslaught of rain.
When the lightning flashed, the eagle feather's tied to the horse's mane shimmered.
The old warriors were skeptical of the new wizard's claim but nearly all the young men had followed Chesetopah into battle believing that the Cheyenne Sun Dance Ceremony had made the Sword Bearer invincible. The war paint had been applied boldly.
Once again the two opposing forces of soldiers and warriors faced each other from neighboring hilltops. It was hard to be certain of the hour. The sun was hidden far behind a wall of black clouds. In the dark heavens, the storm clouds broiled, lightning flashed, and thunder boomed; the storm rolling across the prairie grass like the hooves of a thousand war ponies. The wind howled as it raced.
General Ruger was under orders to find peace if possible. His mission was to negotiate and convince the Crow warriors that it was better to stay on the reservation. He had ordered the soldiers under his command to hold their fire unless they received a direct command to shoot.
The wind gusted as the clouds lowered, dropping the ceiling of the sky until the heavens closed down, feeding a claustrophobia of the soul. The flashes of lightning revealed funnel clouds dropping from the clouds, whirlwinds of destruction not quite touching the ground.
Chesetopah spurred his war pony and charged from the hilltop. The bravest of the Crow warriors followed him, whooping and hollering as their war ponies kicked up dust. Chesetopah chanted as he rode, calling for the forces of nature to strike down his foes. Lightning struck the nearby hilltops and Chesetopah laughed; certain that the spirits were only adjusting their aim.
The soldiers looked to their commanding officer for direction but General Ruger only held a steady gaze as the scene unfolded before him.
Chesetopah crested the hilltop as one of the Crow riders following him who raised his rifle. It was this unnamed Crow warrior who took aim at General Ruger. His face filled with fierce war paint, the Crow warrior pulled the trigger and fired an ill-advised shot at the general.
Perhaps the lightning blinded his eyes.
"Fire!" General Ruger gave the command at last.
The Cavalry soldiers let loose with volley after volley, unleashing a hailstorm of bullets. The boom was tremendous; as loud as thunder and much more deadly.
Chesetopah was not invincible after all. Bullets riddled his body and the Sword Bearer tumbled from his horse.
The Crow warriors retreated; their hearts filled with confusion, shame, and sorrow. The soldiers turned silently and returned to Fort Union. Chesetopah lay on the battlefield, his blood melting like water; courage left behind in tiny pools which stained the prairie grass red, and the handle of his sword just beyond his grasp.
Gary Every is a prolific and diverse writer. A compilation of his award winning journalism stories was released in The Shadow of the OhshaD. OhshaD is an O'odham word for jaguar. This books includes pieces such as The Apache naichee ceremony, stagecoach bandits such as El Tejano and Pearl Hart, and Losing Geronimo's Language. A native Arizonan he has spent a lifetime exploring and researching the southwest. As a poet, Mr. Every has been nominated for both Pushcart Prizes and the Rhysling award for the years best science fiction poem. Mr. Every has two science fiction novellas available, Inca Butterflies and The Saint and the Robot, a retelling of a medievla legend concerning Thomas Aquinas.