He was one hundred and eighty-six winters and did not understand why he was still here. He was not really alive, or at least that is what he thought. He was sure that he must have died many years ago, on this hillside, but yet he wasn’t sure. Runs-With-Fire believed he was dead and still waiting to pass over, over to the next life in the spirit world. He had spent his time as a warrior knowing that when he died he would wake up in the spirit world, a world of friends and family. But every day he woke up in this same place, on this same hillside, alone.
Today the sun was bright and the breeze was cool but it was not a good day for Runs-With-Fire, to him there were no good days. His ancient features reflected a hard life but he no longer worried about how he looked, whether he had food and water or if he was alive or dead. He could not remember the last time he built a fire, it had been so many years but he never bothered because he no longer ate and was never really cold. Today he would talk, as he did most days, with Grandfather, the Great Spirit in the sky and ask to pass over, over into the after life of the spirits. He spent much of his time, each day, thinking about the after life and a chance to see his old friends again. Many of them had been gone for a hundred and fifty years but he still remembered. He remembered because he was all alone, and the memories were all he had. Since the days when the people were moved to the reservation he had been alone. He grieved that there were no longer people to tell his stories; he grieved that he no longer needed to hunt, he grieved that he no longer was a warrior and most of all he grieved because he could not join his people in the land of the spirits. He was all alone and he grieved.
Runs-With-Fire was a proud Shoshoni, a Shoshoni of a great warrior’s tribe, Chief Washakie. But after the second treaty of Fort Bridger, so many winters ago, in 1868, he left. He left because his Shoshoni went quietly to the Reservation. He left to ride with the Sioux, and those years were the ones he remembered now. It seemed like it was only a few moons ago when he was with Sitting Bull and the young war chief the Sioux called Crazy Horse.
Runs-With-Fire was considered an old man when they fought Custer, older even than Sitting Bull but he had fought, fought proudly against the white solders who would take their land. Today with the sun warming his face he remembered it well. Custer was not a smart leader, brave but one who risked too much for too little. He could have turned back or waited but instead he led his men to their death and his too.
Today the ancient man bent at the waist reaching out to rub his hands across his ankle, the ankle where he took the soldiers bullet, just minutes before all the whites died. The Great Spirit had not meant for him to die that day. Crazy Horse had called out as the fight started, “Today is a good day to die,” but it was not the day for Runs-With-Fire, and now he waited, waited for, “a good day to die.”,
It had been such a long story, such a long story how he got to this place on the North Fork of the Shoshone River so many years ago. After the battle with Custer the Indians had broken into many smaller bands, trying to avoid capture, and went west or south. He had gone south and then broke off from the group of twenty or so warriors with four others, all Shoshoni. The five of them had lived on this hillside through two new moons. Then the others left, gave up hiding to go back to the reservation, home they called it. But it was not his home and he would never go back, no, he would wait, soon others would join him here on the river away from government interference. But they never came and he was alone. Never once had he thought about joining his family and friends on the reservation, never once, and he lived here alone for all these years. All these years waiting, first for others to join him and then to die. When he died he did not know, it may have been only years ago or it might have been generations ago, he was not sure. He only knew that dieing was never complete until his spirit had passed through to the land as it used to be. A spirit world land full of people he knew and buffalo, many buffalo.
Today sitting in the sun he understood what he must do to pass over. For the first time he understood and for the first time he knew that today he would enter the spirit world. He would go to the top of the high bank overlooking the river, the same place he went each day and there he would pray. But today his prayer would not be the same as it had been for so many years. Today he would pass over, over to the other side, after all these years he would finally go.
It was a tough climb from the river up the steep cliff to the top of the hill where he could look down on the river. He made it but it took most of the day. Once on top, he rested and then prepared for prayer. First he sprinkled the sweet grass, the grass he collected each fall, the grass he had collected each year for more than a century. He gave thanks to the four great directions and then to the mother earth and the spirit sky. Then, as he did every day in prayer, he would ask to be brought into the spirit world. The world of everyone he had ever known. And each day he would be disappointed, only to return the next day to pray and try again to pass over.
Today, with the sun starting to lower itself in the west he would go to join his people in the spirit world. He’d found the glass when the hunters left. The glass he would use to make fire, the fire he needed to leave this valley. Runs-With-Fire had watched the hunters every fall and every fall they left things behind. Most he had no use for or did not understand what there purpose was. But this glass, a glass that made everything bigger when he looked through it, he had seen before. The white traders had given them away and many in his tribe used them to make fire and today he would make fire. The fire he needed to pass over. Every year the hunters made more noise with their small wagons on the soft wheels, he had no idea if they ever found the animals they hunted. Maybe the whites did not need to hunt or gather in the summer anymore. He did not know, but he knew how to use their glass.
With the prayers completed he used the glass to start a small fire, the first in many years the first since he had died. He tossed sage leaves on top of the small flaming pine needles and twigs. The smoke from the leaves turned a deep green and then purple as the fingers of smoke rose higher and higher into the sky. Runs-With-Fire let a smile, the first in many years; purse his lips as he held his hands over the flames, warming them as he had done so many times when he was living. He stepped back and removed his clothes, for he would leave this world as he came in, he stepped into the smoke, raised his ancient arms and disappeared.
Living in Wyoming, I love everything about the West, including very old and brand new western stories. I have published nine books, all of which are available online as soft covers, or eBooks. In addition to my books, I am an avid blogger and short story writer and have published more than a dozen historical articles, both online and in print. In addition to writing I am an avid reader, photographer, hiker and master gardener. When not reading or writing, I can be found playing golf or with camera in hand snapping photos.