39 – Among Indians (1)

Friday, February 24, 2006

(8:40 a.m.) Getting harder and harder to tell who is acting in response to prompting from whom. As I have heard the question reverberating since last evening, I will oblige and ask it. Joseph, tell me about life with your family.

[Jos. Smallwood] All the work done these past few weeks of your time has been aimed at more than one thing at a time, you know. The information gets out, and other people get encouraged to try to see where their limits and abilities are, and you get expanded access by so much concentrated practice – and, don’t think this occurred to you till pretty recently – this whole process is giving you questions and thoughts on the nature of guidance, and how it works through, and all that. So you might say we’re answering your calls for help before you think to send ‘em.

Back among the Indians

(10:40 a.m.) Now – what is it that you want to say about life with your family?

[Jos. Smallwood] You got, some time ago, that when I talk about my family I mean the part of the tribe I was living with. In a tribal situation it’s all one family, in a way. Oh, it has its divisions – some of ‘em can be pretty bitter, just like any family – but as against the rest of the world, it’s all one family. You should understand this!

Remember I’d come back from Oregon. Out in Oregon I’d been living two or three lives, two or three kinds of lives I mean, that didn’t much touch each other. I was the store employee, dealing with white men, living among white men. I was the trader to the Indians, living for stretches at a time with the Indians, learning their languages and whatever I could pick up. And I was the shuttlecock between the two, half in one world while living in the other.

It was a lonely kind of life, and I got used to it and after a while I took it as normal. So when I drifted back to Missouri, and then up to Iowa (and yes, we did say I-o-way) I expected things to continue in the way I was used to. You know how it is, at any time in your life you sort of take that for natural, and either you think change is going to be sudden and spectacular, like the gold-rush fellows thought – or like the soldiers in the war thought, in a different way – or you pretty much expect things to just keep rocking along. It’s funny, too, that we do that, being as most everybody’s life is a slow river of change and you’d think we’d know better.

Well, anyway, I went trading up in Minnesota and I spent the winter up there and by the time spring rolled around, there I was. I had gone up there because I remembered ‘em fondly from my time there a few years earlier, and I thought I’d just pay ‘em a call, swap some goods on ‘em, and enjoy myself among people but outside of a city. You got to say this, Indians know better than to stay in a city unless they had a mighty damn good reason – and unless it was a mighty big city so they couldn’t camp outside it a ways.

Indian girls grow up fast, you know. Well, next to your time, we all grew up fast! We did things at 10 and less that you wouldn’t be allowed to do – and wouldn’t be able to do, either – into your twenties.

Well, Pretty Slipper. Also Yellow Slipper, and sometimes Pretty Yellow Slipper. I mostly called her Slipper, which sounds sort of cold in English but not in her lingo, which is what we spoke. She was a little kid when I went there first, and me and the little kids got to be great pals once they stopped being afraid of me. Just like you are silly next to what I’m used to, they thought I was silly next to what they was used to. But they liked it, and we had a lot of fun together. Well, when I went back there, she wasn’t a kid no more, and for some reason she had eyes for me. Who can ever figure out what makes one person say “that’s the one for me,” but she said it, and of course I could stay or I could go but if I stayed I had about as much chance of staying free as jumping to the moon. And anyway, why would I want to?


So, we was married, in the way they have, and they knew that maybe I’d stay forever and maybe I wouldn’t, but for now that is how it was. And if you think about it, how different is it ever, except if there’s a lot of property involved.

Well, you know, you think you’re marrying a girl and you’re marrying a family. Only in this case the word “family” meant a whole lot more than it would in the white world, where maybe it could mean if she has brothers or sisters in visiting range, you know.

Did I mind it? No sir, I didn’t. I’d had plenty of alone time, and it’s as overrated as married bliss. When you come right down to it, we’re all alone – or, we’re all family. Depends on how you want to look at it, but looking at it don’t change it one way or the other. So if now I was surrounded by shirttail relatives, as you’d say, well, that was all right with me. I already was used to no privacy, you just didn’t have any, living with the Indians. You wanted privacy, best you find a hotel in the city somewhere or a farm house in the middle of nowhere, not seeing people from one weekend to the next. Try that for a while and you wouldn’t worry so much about your privacy.

You saw “Dances With Wolves,” and you heard my reaction to it – felt it, I mean. Now, sure, that was a prettied-up picture, but it wasn’t wrong either. It didn’t show you people at their worst – especially people who disliked each other, living at close quarters – but that could be true anywhere. What it did get over was the way we lived together like a pile of puppies on a bed. You might get plenty exasperated sometimes, but by God you knew you were a human being among human beings. I would have said “a man among men” and in my time it would have meant the same, but I know times change, and what is accepted changes, like saying nigger and meaning nothing by it, or calling Indians savages. It’s all just manner and custom – what matters is intent, of course. What else?

Living between two worlds

I lived with them – how many years? More than ten, a dozen maybe, till the war took me away, and the longer I lived among ‘em the more the white world sort of faded away. Of course I’d go down into Iowa every spring with junk we’d made, and furs and things – not pelts, but worked items, because the price was better – and I’d trade for things we could use. Just as an example, you can’t imagine how useful a steel knife or a hatchet is unless you have tried to do the same job without ‘em. The white man thought they were getting a good deal – taking advantage of us, you know – by trading a knife or a hatchet or something ordinary and not all that expensive – for worked goods they could sell east. But it weren’t nothing but economics like you learned in school. We each one traded what came easiest to us for things we didn’t have a lot of, and everybody was happy. It wouldn’t take much to make this a happy world, if that’s what people wanted.

Got off track again. I was saying, I’d go down into Iowa to trade, and I’d spend some time there, and living with white folks would fill a place in me that living with the Indians didn’t, and then I’d go back home and living there filled a place the white folks couldn’t. It wasn’t exactly that I didn’t fit in either place, more like I didn’t quite fit in either one, but didn’t not fit in either. If you don’t understand I can’t think how else to tell you, but I think you do.

But even though I kept a foot in both worlds, like I say the white world was fading on me. Every time I’d go back, the things they were all hot and bothered about didn’t seem to me to be real. And I didn’t like the life all that much. Next to living with my family, living in the white world seemed like it was all these rules. And that was before the army!

And it was sure-God before your times, that look like nothing but rules, til you couldn’t turn around, seems to me.

Anyway, Pretty Slipper died and I stayed with the family a good while and then little by little I found myself spending more time in the white world. Well, that ain’t quite the way to put it. The whole slavery thing got me more and more worried, because that could wind up changing everything, if slavery went national, like it seemed likely to do. And then Pretty Slipper died somewhere in that time and I got tired of being there and I wound up spending more time in Iowa. But I expect I would have stayed with my family til I died or something pushed me some way or another, if the war hadn’t come.

That’s enough about all that.

Don’t want to talk about Pretty Slipper?

No, nor about her dying young.

All right. Do you want me not to ask about it?

If you ask something and I don’t want to talk about it, how are you going to make me? And if you want to know something and don’t ask, how are you going to find out?

In other words, free will either way.

That’s how it works. (11:40)



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