Authors: James W. Bennett
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James W. Bennett
This book is dedicated to the memory of
Nancy Jeane Hansen, whose love for hung-out kids
was as big as the sea.
For the time being, you can call me Floyd.
Someday I will have my name legally changed to Charly Black Crow. You can do that, but it's a lot of hassle and it costs money, because you have to go to court and fill out lots of legal forms, and all that shit. Charly Black Crow is my chosen Sioux name and after it's legally changed, that's the only name I will answer to. Sometimes in school, especially in Mrs. Bluefish's class, I sign my papers
Charly Black Crow, AKA Floyd Rayfield.
Whenever I do it, Mrs. Bluefish comes unglued. This is not too unusual for her, because she is a very excitable type, and besides, she has this mistaken notion that I am a troublemaker.
The thing you need to know first is that everything in this story is true. I'm not making anything up, I'm reporting everything exactly as it happened. I thought about giving everybody fictitious names, like they usually do in stories. To protect the innocent is the way it's usually put, I think. But then I thought,
? There's already so much work that goes into writing a story, why put yourself through the extra hassle of thinking up a whole lot of fictitious names? Besides that, I never could quite figure out who were the innocent and who were the guilty. The real names just seemed a lot more on target than any names I could think up. If I ever get sued, it won't matter, because I will be living with the Indians and whatever happens in the white man's courts will not be any of my concern.
The second thing you need to understand is about my destiny to become an Indian. When I was a little kid, I didn't understand what a destiny was, and if you want the truth, I didn't understand much about Indians, either. All I knew was, I had a lot of admiration for Indians and I would always cheer for them to slaughter the cavalry whenever I watched a Western movie. What it came down to was, I wanted to be an Indian, the way other kids want to grow up to be a policeman or a fire fighter, or whatever.
Then one night last summer, I had this unbelievable experience where I saw a vision of myself as a Sioux warrior. The vision came to me in the usual way, in a dream. This is not the best time to go into the details, but to summarize the basics, the vision showed me that to become an Indian was not something for me to
: It was my destiny.
In some ways, life gets easier once you understand your true destiny. Most of the time you know what to do, and you don't waste a lot of time wondering and worrying about your future. I would recommend to anyone that they should get in touch with their destiny.
Because I hold the ways of the Indian in such high esteem, I dye my hair black about once a month to get the red out, so my appearance will be more in touch with my Indian identity. All you have to do is use this brown liquid when you shampoo your hair, so there isn't much to it.
A couple of years ago, when I was still pretty much of a kid, I used to try to make my skin darker, too. It was pretty childish, but I don't hold it against myself, because when you're a little kid, you just naturally end up doing a few childish things. I never did find a satisfactory way to get my skin dark. I tried this tanning cream you can get at the drugstore, which is supposed to tan your skin even if you never go outside, but it made me look all blotchy like I had some kind of a disease. I tried mixing walnut husks in water and then rubbing the walnut water all over myself, which was a nice idea because it is an Indian ideal to use natural products at all times and live in true harmony with nature. But the result was, my skin got all streaked and I just looked dirty. Looking dirty is not for me.
I even tried laying out in the sun by the hour, but is that a boring pastime or what? I know girls who do it all the time, but you just lie there and nothing happens, except you get all sweaty, which means you attract all kinds of insects, so you just lie there with all this sweat and all these bugs. I gave that up after about one day.
Anyway, to get on with it, what this is is the story of how I ran away from home and became an Indian. Not just
the Indians, you understand, but
an Indian. There's a big difference, which I intend to make clear eventually.
The hardest thing of all is knowing where to start. It always is. Think of any story about yourself that you might want to tell somebody, and you could practically start at the beginning of your whole life if you felt like it, because in a way, everything that ever happened to you has got something to do with what happens later on.
! Great Spirit.
Like I said, the hardest thing of all is knowing where to start â¦
It was the early part of the afternoon when I got to the Pine Ridge Reservation, exhausted from walking the motorcycle more than two miles and not getting much sleep for the past forty-eight hours. But I didn't pay much attention to the fatigue, because it was such a relief to finally be at my destination. I just went in through the main entrance.
Since it was the first part of June, there was lots of tourist activity. I was standing in the middle of a big, congested parking lot, surrounded by Delta 88s and Airstream campers and a whole lot of other barge-type vehicles favored by Mr. and Mrs. Tourist. I could see a lot of trailers and campers spread out like a settlement along the base of these very rugged foothills. There were a few Indians around, but more tourists.
This commercial part of the reservation was not likely to get me too excited. I happened to know from my research that the Pine Ridge Reservation covers many hundred square miles; this part was only the tip of the iceberg, and the tip was probably the least authentic part.
Besides that, it wasn't smart for me to just hang out in the public eye. As soon as I had my bearings, I walked the Kawasaki down a gravel path that led to a semiprimitive campground along the river. There were tipis you could rent and brick grills for cooking, and even a shower house made of cinder block. I found a private, wooded spot by the river where I could stash the bike and my backpack.
I felt so gritty from the trip I went up to the shower house and took a shower, even though I hadn't paid a camping fee and was probably a trespasser according to the letter of the law. I put on my clean clothes, which consisted of my spare T-shirt and blue jeans.
After that, I went back to my private spot by the river and mellowed out against the trunk of this big cottonwood tree. I was real hungry, but I was even more tired. There was no room in my head for the seized-up bike, or Carl Hartenbower's stolen car, or the cops, or Mrs. Bluefish, or Mr. Saberhagen, or Mrs. Grice, or anything that might be a problem. I didn't pay attention to my aches and pains.
The sky was bluer than you could imagine. It was the big sky, as the Indians called it. The river was sparkling like a crystal, and the rocky buttes on the other shore were like a picture frame. I felt like I had roots growing out of my body right into the ground. I was on the reservation, among the Dakota, and I had a peaceful, easy feeling, as that old song by The Eagles puts it. I was
And then I was sound asleep.
What woke me up was the noise made by this guy in a pickup truck. He was collecting trash from the campsites and replacing garbage can liners.
I sat up and rubbed my eyes and looked at the low sun. The pickup truck was an old green GMC junker with PRR painted on the door; the guy was clearly an Indian. Now that I was at the reservation I needed to make contact, so I went on over and introduced myself.
It turned out his name was Donny Thunderbird, age nineteen. He wasn't very tall, but he was wiry, which is the ideal Indian physique.
“Where are you staying?” he asked.
I took him over to my private spot in the woods to show him.
“You don't have to stay here,” he said. “A lot of the tipis are empty.”
“What I'd like to find is a more or less permanent place to stay on the reservation. I don't think I could afford one of the tipis because my money would run out. I only started out with forty bucks.”
“Are you on your own?”
“I'm on my own.”
He asked me how old I was. I told him, “Actually, I prefer to think of myself as sixteen.”
“Well, I haven't had my sixteenth birthday yet, but one time about a year ago, I read this story of these young German soldiers in World War One, and at the end of the book, the main character gets killed in battle. The way the author put it was, âHe fell, in the autumn of his twentieth year.' The thing was, he was really only nineteen, but if you think about it, once you've had your nineteenth birthday, you're living in your twentieth year, just like once you've had your first birthday, you're living in your second year. From the time I read that book, I got in the habit of thinking of myself as a year older.”
Donny Thunderbird said, “You're only fifteen but you're on your own? What about your parents and your family?”
“I don't have any parents or family. That's a big part of the total picture.” I could tell Donny was a guy I could trust, so I told him about taking off from the group home and coming 800 miles until I finally got here. I told him how I held the Indians in high esteem, especially the Dakota.
“You said you want a permanent place on the reservation,” said Donny. “I don't understand what you mean.”
“I'm hoping someone at the reservation will help me,” I answered. I decided I might as well just get down to it. “I want to be a Dakota,” I said. “As a matter of fact, it's my destiny to become one.”