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Children of Earthmaker

(Outline for a Novel)

by Robert J. Shea

"I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just." Thomas Jefferson, Notes on Virginia

"Thou shalt not call up a spirit to do the work of animal or man." Saint Paul, Second Epistle to the Byzantines

Star Wing of the Sauk tribe sits atop a bluff overlooking the Platte River, struggling to persuade himself that he is not a worthless fool.

People say he's skinny and awkward. They say he talks too much. He acts without thinking and gets himself into trouble. Even though he was born, seventeen summers ago, with the power of brings far vision near, he's a poor shot with a rifle because the noise always makes him flinch.

Worst of all, the other day the women caught him using his enhanced vision to peep at them while they were bathing, and now the whole band is laughing at him. Chief Spotted Elk gave him a good beating. His father, the shaman Eagle Feather, merely said through tight lips that he deserved it for abusing a gift from the spirits.

In every band there is one person who is the butt of everyone's jokes. In Star Wing's band, he is that person. He wonders if he will be this miserable for the rest of his life.

Hoofbeats break in on his gloomy thoughts. He sees two riders pursuing a third across the rolling grassy plain below. He calls upon his brings far vision near. He sees that the two pursuers are People, judging by their bronze faces and long unbound hair, though one of them has dyed his hair an ugly red. They're armed with gleaming new Birmingham rifles.

He turns his intensified eyesight on the fugitive. Her skin is black as a crow's wing. She must be an escaped slave, her pursuers after her for a bounty.

Star Wing feels a rush of anger. Slavery is a white man's evil. This is his chance to show that worthy of respect. He abruptly decides to help the runaway.

He has his favorite hunting bow at his side. With his vision he can make each arrow count. He releases warning arrows. The two pursuers bring up their rifles. But Star Wing's next two arrows knock the rifles from their hands.

He scrambles down the side of the bluff, keeping them covered, takes their rifles, orders them to turn around and ride away.

The man with dyed red hair fixes him with a glare of hatred. "I am the Prophet Painted Crow of the Winnebago. A thousand spirits leap to do my will. Give us back our rifles and let us take the woman, unless you want to test my power." Star Wing feels intimidated; Painted Crow is an impressive man, lean, grim featured, probably a man of more than sixty winters.

The other man says, "I am High Horse. Six Sauk scalps hang before my lodge. The scalp of a scrawny bow hunter is hardly worth adding to them. Perhaps I'll just give yours to my children to play with."

The two Winnebago frighten Star Wing, but he stands his ground and tries to keep the tremor out of his voice. "You are on the territory of the Alliance of Twenty Tribes. Iron Hawk of the Yogonish is chief of all our chiefs, and he has forbidden slavery on our land. My father is the famous shaman Eagle Feather. He can call up a thousand spirits for every one of yours. If you harm me, you will deal with Iron Hawk and Eagle Feather. So turn around and begone before I shoot both of you down like dogs."

"You are a fool and you talk too much," says Painted Crow.

Uttering more threats, the Winnebago leave.

By this time the black woman has disappeared. He realizes she can't have ridden very far. He uses his talent to search out her hiding place.

She threatens him with a knife when he approaches her, but Star Wing is immediately attracted to the tall, fierce looking young woman. He's had many conversations with traders and missionaries, and he speaks passable English. He tells her she has no choice but to trust him, because he's a man of the Alliance, and the Alliance controls all the land many days' journey in every direction. To prove his good intentions he gives her one of the rifles.

She tells him she is looking for Eagle Feather, the Sauk shaman. "That's my father," Star Wing says, surprised. She says she was told about Eagle Feather by Star Wing's grandfather, White Bear.

As they ride to the Sauk camp, further west along the Platte, she thanks him for rescuing her and tells him her name is Annie. She fled from her owner, Colonel Andrew Greenglove, while accompanying him on a visit to Illinois.

"When the North and the South started fighting I was just a little girl," she says. "But I had such hopes for freedom. But then the war went on for ten years, and the North gave up. We was worse off than ever. So from then on all I thought about was escaping."

He tells her he's in training to be a shaman, as men and women in his family have been for many generations. She says that she, too, has dealings with spirits. She believes that spirits guided her to him. This thrills him, and he looks at her even more warmly.

Star Wing introduces Annie to his mother, Sings on the Mountain to his grandmother, Redbird, herself a noted medicine woman, and to his father, Eagle Feather. Annie is surprised to see that Eagle Feather has blue eyes, but then she remembers that his father was half white, half Sauk.

Eating buffalo steak with Star Wing's family, Annie explains that Eagle Feather's father, Auguste de Marion, owned property that Greenglove wanted to buy. De Marion helped Annie escape, telling her his Sauk name, White Bear. He gave her a letter for Eagle Feather. Eagle Feather points to a little pile of books in the corner of his lodge and affectionately explains that his father taught him to read English so they could communicate over long distances.

While Eagle Feather reads the letter, Star Wing proudly tells Annie that while chewing sacred peyote many winters ago, his father had a vision that all the tribes of the People would unite and stop the white man's westward advance. And already what Eagle Feather predicted is coming to pass. Iron Hawk, chief of the Yogonish, is forcing all the tribes west of the Mississippi to join his Alliance of Twenty Tribes, fulfilling Eagle Feather's vision.

Eagle Feather says White Bear's letter tells of a box with strange powers that Annie is carrying. She brings the box out from a secret pocket in her skirt. It's a small wooden cube with an elaborately carved exterior.

She calls it a munduhure, a spirit box. She says it belongs to her people, the Kuroba, and has been passed down from mother to eldest daughter in each generation of her family ever since her great great grandmother was kidnapped in Africa and sold into slavery.

Annie says long ago they knew how to open it, but the secret was lost when it was taken from Africa. But while holding the box in her hand and saying certain words in the language of her West African ancestors, Annie is able to talk with the spirit that lives in the box.

Eagle Feather says it's clear to him that their meeting was fated, and he asks her to find out what the spirits in the box have to say to them now. Annie closes her eyes and mutters phrases in the Kuroba tongue. After a time she says Eagle Feather should hold a peyote ritual with Iron Hawk, the chief of chiefs. Annie must be present at this ritual as well.

Eagle Feather, Annie and Star Wing set out on the five days' journey to Iron Hawk's camp.

#

Three days later, riding east, Painted Crow meets the Confederate gunboat Charleston sailing up the Missouri River. Aboard is his longtime ally, Confederate Colonel Andrew Jackson Greenglove. Greenglove, a tall, broad shouldered man with long blonde hair, beard and mustache, is seething.

While Painted Crow was chasing Annie, Andy Greenglove had been negotiating to buy the Illinois estate called Victoire from its war impoverished owner, Auguste de Marion. Andy wants Victoire because it once belonged to his father, Raoul de Marion, who was Auguste's uncle. Although Raoul never married Andy's mother, Clarissa Greenglove, Andy considers himself the rightful heir to Victoire. He believes Auguste used Indian magic to murder his father and take the estate from him.

Having enriched himself during the occupation of Illinois in the aftermath of the war, Andy made Auguste a handsome offer for the land, but Auguste refused. Leaving Victoire angrily, Andy told Auguste he believed Auguste helped Annie escape. He'll have revenge for that. And he'll find some way to get Victoire away from Auguste. Maybe arrange to have the taxes raised till Auguste can't pay.

Now Andy mercilessly chews out Painted Crow for failing to recapture Annie. Painted Crow reminds Andy that forty years ago he took him in and cared for him when he was kidnapped by Sauk raiders during the Black Hawk War. Andy retorts that Painted Crow did that, not out of kindness, but to get in good with the white authorities. And besides it was forty years ago.

When he hears that Iron Hawk of the Alliance of Twenty Tribes is claiming the right to ban slavery throughout his territory, Andy is angry. What those Indians need is the kind of lesson we gave the Yanks.

Even though Painted Crow helped him long ago, Andy hates Indians because he has never forgotten the sight of Sauk braves spearing his mother and chopping his brother to pieces. He orders Painted Crow to go back to Iron Hawk's camp to try to get Annie back and to find out what Iron Hawk's plans are.

His pride wounded, Painted Crow says Andy has no right to give him orders. He will go to Iron Hawk, but as his own man. Perhaps he will serve Iron Hawk from now on. The two men part, each angry and suspicious of the other.

#

On their way to Iron Hawk's camp, Star Wing takes Annie for a walk on the prairie and tries to make love to her. She firmly puts him off, saying that she's all alone with no family to protect her. She can't just give herself to the first attractive man who comes along. Star Wing is comforted that at least she says he is attractive.

They arrive at Iron Hawk's huge encampment in the Black Hills at midafternoon. Annie finds it an awesome place. Over twenty thousand people are living there. More than twenty tribes make up the alliance, though it keeps its original name. The Cherokee, who have learned most of the white man's ways, have allied themselves with Iron Hawk and have shown him how to provide feeding and sanitation for a large population living in one place.

Iron Hawk holds court before his lodge, set high on an earthen platform. He is a big man, sitting like a boulder in the midst of his civil chiefs and war chiefs. The points of his long mustache hang down past the corners of his mouth. He holds a ceremonial club wrapped in many colored yarn. Whenever he speaks his words are taken down by Cherokee scribes. His penetrating gaze frightens Annie.

He is very interested in Annie and questions her closely. Hundreds of escaped slaves are already living with the Twenty Tribes, but he wants the latest news from the white world. She says the Southerners are pushing railroads through Kentucky and Missouri. As Annie talks, Iron Hawk looks at her with burning eyes. Star Wing feels a twinge of fear that the great leader may be attracted to her.

Iron Hawk's adviser in dealing with white governments, a stooped, heavily bearded man named Abraham Lincoln, one of the few white men Iron Hawk trusts, also asks Annie some questions about treatment of slaves. Iron Hawk believes that because the ten year War Between the States devastated both sides, the People have a chance to hold the lands they now occupy. But they must grow strong enough to defend their territory against the next white onslaught. Iron Hawk hopes the spirits will give him guidance at the peyote ceremony Eagle Feather has proposed.

Eagle Feather, Iron Hawk, Star Wing, Annie and three Alliance chiefs form the circle in the sacred lodge for the peyote ritual. This is Annie's first experience chewing peyote, and she is very sick, but she insists on staying in the hut. Star Wing asks Annie to give him the spirit box, the munduhure. Binoroke, one of the guardian divinities of the Kuroba, tells Annie it is all right. Star Wing stands before the fire, his hands moving over the box in a strange way. It falls open.

Inside is something Annie has never seen before, even though she carried the munduhure and protected it ever since her dying mother gave it to her six years ago. The box contains an intricately carved crystal in a silver setting. Star Wing hands the two halves of the box back to Annie and stands holding the crystal with the fingertips of both hands. He speaks in a high pitched, sing song voice. He says he must place the crystal in the head of the owl statue carved fifty winters ago by his great grandfather, Owl Carver, a Sauk shaman. When this is done, the People will have magic great enough to overcome the rifles, cannon, railroads and steamships of the whites.

Iron Hawk shouts with joy.

In the morning, Annie wakens in a guest lodge, finding the box in her hands, closed. Star Wing, sitting beside her tells her the crystal is back in the box. Last night, he says, the Great Turtle, the most revered deity of the Sauk tribe, told him he must carry the box to the owl statue and put the crystal in place. She says the Kuroba have a Great Turtle, too, and she would betray her people if she let the box out of her sight. She must be the one to carry it. He says he's the only one who knows how to open and close the box. After an argument they agree that Annie will carry the munduhure, and that when they find the statue, Star Wing will open the box and put the crystal in place.

Eagle Feather tells Annie and Star Wing that the owl statue is in a cave on the west bank of the Mississippi. When the Sauk were forcibly removed westward after the Black Hawk War, they left their sacred cave intact because they believed the land was still rightfully theirs. The statues in the cave, of the owl and the white bear, and the ancestral skulls would keep watch for them.

But Eagle Feather doubts whether he could find the cave. He hasn't seen it since he was a small boy. Still less can he imagine how Annie and Star Wing could find it. Possibly his mother, Redbird, remembers the location.

Iron Hawk tells Star Wing and Annie that they must make the journey to the sacred cave at once, telling no one where they are going or why. Iron Hawk gives Star Wing a pair of six shooters and a gunbelt from his large weapons collection. Star Wing doubts that the revolvers will be much help to him, but he accepts with a speech of gratitude that goes on so long that Eagle Feather has to step on his foot. To Star Wing's distress, Iron Hawk's hand lingers on Annie's shoulder as he bids her farewell.

At the Sauk camp Star Wing is anguished to learn that Redbird, his beloved grandmother, died suddenly while they were gone and has already been buried on the prairie. Counting back, he realizes that she died the night of the peyote ritual.

Eagle Feather, Star Wing and Annie go to her grave to say goodbye to her spirit. While they're standing by the grave a cardinal keeps flying around them in circles. The little red bird flies a distance to the east and then flies back to them, repeating this until it's clear that it is asking them to follow.

"It is my mother," says Eagle Feather, tears running down his cheeks.

Star Wing and Annie make the journey by canoe, mostly downstream, from the Platte to the Missouri to the Mississippi. Annie has never paddled a canoe before, but Star Wing teaches her and she quickly picks up the skill. The cardinal flies along the riverbank, leading the way.

When they beach their canoe at night Star Wing tries to make love to Annie. She seems to like him, but she keeps pushing him away, saying, "Stop it, your grandmother's watching."

St. Louis, where the Missouri flows into the Mississippi, is nearly a ghost town, left desolate by the ten year war. From there they have to paddle up the Mississippi.

One night they're awakened by the cardinal frantically trilling. Never before has Star Wing heard a cardinal sing at night. Forewarned, he has his pistols out. His gift of vision includes the ability to see in the dark. Six men, Winnebago by the look of them, rush from the woods. He hears them shouting to one another to get the black woman. He starts shooting. He's a bad shot, but he's at point blank range and he can see his assailants. Two of the Winnebago have pistols and try to use them, but they can't see Star Wing.

A knife catches him in the side, but he kills one attacker and wounds three. They ride off. Star Wing discovers that he's badly wounded. He feels sure the attempt on them was Painted Crow's work, but how did he know where to find them?

Fortunately Star Wing and Annie are near the cave. Hurt as he is, he can't help, and Annie does the work of paddling upriver. Late the following afternoon they see the cardinal perched on a tree growing out of a limestone bluff. Beside the tree is a shadowy spot, the entrance to the cave.

In the cave they find the owl statue, dark with age, and see an indentation just between the owl's two round eyes. Though it doesn't seem deep enough to hold the crystal, Star Wing presses it into place. The jewel stays when he takes his hands away.

Serpents of light leap from the jewel and strike Annie and Star Wing. Both of them collapse. They enter the spirit world and meet the Great Turtle. Even though Star Wing's tribe, the Sauk, and Annie's people, the Kuroba, come from completely different parts of the world, the Turtle is the supreme spirit for both.

The Turtle says that Earthmaker, creator of all things, decreed their meeting and their journey to this cave. The blacks enslaved in the Confederacy and the copper skinned ones who call themselves the People are Earthmaker's children. Now the power of the tribal spirits, which was like many little brooks, will come together and grow as mighty as the Mississippi. Earthmaker's children will defeat the machines of the conquerors with the strength of the spirit.

This magic will work, the Turtle adds, as long as the owl and the crystal remain united.

Here their visions diverge. Star Wing meets Binoroke, the ancestral spirit of Annie's tribe, who tells him that the warriors of the Alliance should make special weapons for themselves bows and arrows, spears, tomahawks and stone knives. These must be the traditional weapons of the People; the magic will not work on any weapons made by whites. Binoroke gives detailed instructions on what rites to perform during the making. Then the warriors are to gather at Iron Hawk's camp for the Lightning Dance that will give the weapons their power.

At the same time Annie sees all the forests and prairies from sea to sea burned to ashes. In the midst of these ashes her own African people and the native People wander, homeless and haunted by the ghosts of millions of dead whites.

Star Wing wakes in great pain from the Winnebago knife wound. There's only one place Annie can think of to go to for help, the estate of Auguste de Marion, White Bear, further north on the other side of the Mississippi. She loads the semi conscious Star Wing into their canoe. It takes her all day to paddle north against the current and all night to get across to the riverbank village of Victor.

Men carry Star Wing into a house. When she sees him by daylight, pale and unconscious, she realizes that she loves him, and she feels a piercing regret that she never let him make love to her. She promises herself and him that if he lives she will love him always.

White Bear is stricken at the sight of his grandson with a knife wound. Long ago trained in both white medicine and native shamanism, he begins treating Star Wing. He gives Annie tea to help her sleep and urges her to rest. She sleeps for almost an entire day and night. After she awakens she tells White Bear the sad news that Redbird has died and that it was her spirit that led them to the sacred cave. White bear leaves her, and she looks out a window and sees him sitting under a huge maple tree, staring out at the river.

Later White Bear tells her that Redbird was one of two women he had married, and now both of them are dead. He had three sons by his white wife, Nancy, but all of them were killed in the War Between the States. He hopes to join his loved ones in the spirit world soon.

He takes her on a tour of his estate. In more than forty years since the Black Hawk War, he has built a flourishing agricultural community, where red people, whites and blacks live and work together. Their way of life is a mixture of the customs of all three groups. Annie likes what she sees.

In the evening, as they sit by the fire in Victoire's great hall, Annie prays that Star Wing will regain consciousness. White Bear asks her whether she has met Abe Lincoln. He tells her that it was through him that Lincoln became an advisor to the People. During the Black Hawk War, White Bear stopped Wolf Paw, Chief Black Hawk's son, from shooting Lincoln from ambush. They took Lincoln prisoner. After meeting Black Hawk, Lincoln volunteered to carry Black Hawk's offer of peace back to the white army. But the Federal generals wouldn't listen to Lincoln, and the war went on. Lincoln remained a firm friend of the Sauk, became a lawyer and spent many years fruitlessly trying to help the tribe get their lands in Illinois back from the U.S. government. Giving up at last in disgust, he went to live among the Indians and became Iron Hawk's adviser.

White Bear ends, "He might have risen high among the whites if he hadn't fought so hard on behalf of our people."

Star Wing heals rapidly. He suggests holding the first Lightning Dance here at Victoire. White Bear organizes the dance, calling in men of all three races from the length and breadth of his estate and instructing them in making the weapons.

Together White Bear and Star Wing build a blessing box, a hut sized copy of Annie's munduhure. The dance is held that night, and the men of Victoire put bows and arrows, spears, tomahawks and knives into the box. When it's filled, the men dance around the box and a huge fire built beside it. Star Wing leads the dance, wearing wings and an owl mask with a glass disk in the center of the forehead.

Annie stands between the box and the fire intoning Kuroba words. The men find it strange that a woman has to bless their weapons, but they see that as long as Annie is a key to the magic there is no way that the whites can steal the technique. After the dance Annie collapses, and Star Wing and White Bear carry her into the mansion. She whispers that she will always be drained of her strength after one of these ceremonies.

The men are eager to try out their new weapons. They're amazed at the results. Arrows have a range of a mile and can burn holes through wooden walls. Spears travel as far as cannon balls, blast their targets like bolts of lightning. A stone knife will sink right into a log, and a single swipe of a stone tomahawk will fell a tree.

The men of Victoire are jubilant as small boys. Quietly, White Bear says to Star Wing that he hopes his people will never have to use these weapons.

Three days after the dance Annie's strength is restored. She goes to Star Wing's bed. They spend most of the night making love. In the morning she tells him that the only other man she ever knew physically was her owner, Andrew Greenglove, who forced himself upon her regularly from the time she was thirteen. It was because she hated what he did to her that she was reluctant to go to bed with Star Wing. But what happened between her and Star Wing was beautiful and gave her great happiness.

Star Wing feels that because a real woman has loved him, he is a real man now, no longer an awkward, foolish boy. He wishes, though, that some day he may have an opportunity to avenge himself on the Southerner who violated Annie.

With an escort from Victoire armed with spirit blessed weapons, Annie and Star Wing make the long journey back to Iron Hawk's encampment in the Black Hills. Eagle Feather is there, overjoyed that they came back safely and happy to hear news of his father, White Bear. The Victoire men demonstrate the weapons for Iron Hawk, who goes into an impromptu dance of joy, his war chiefs falling in behind him. He orders the immediate building of a blessing box and has his Cherokee scribes record the instructions for making weapons so that messengers can take them to all the camps of the Alliance. He calls for a Lightning Dance to take place one moon hence.

In the crowd listening to Iron Hawk's proclamations, Star Wing is shocked to see the dyed red hair of the Winnebago prophet. Star Wing immediately denounces Painted Crow, saying that he was behind the attack on himself and Annie and that he came into the Alliance territory as a slave catcher. Star Wing goes on and on till Iron Hawk silences him. He says Painted Crow arrived only a day or two after Annie and Star Wing left for the sacred cave, and he's been here ever since, teaching about the spirits and about how people should live.

Painted Crow says he no longer has any friends among the whites. He'd have no reason to want to harm Annie and Star Wing. But then he goes on to declare that Star Wing's father, Eagle Feather, is a false prophet. Painted Crow claims he alone knows the true will of the spirits.

Iron Hawk says he believes Painted Crow had nothing to do with the attack on Star Wing and Annie. He adds that not only is Painted Crow offering his teachings to the encampment, but a Christian missionary has come here, too. He gestures, and Reverend Ed Hubbard, a frontier preacher, comes forward. Looking at the white minister with distaste, Iron Hawk proposes that when the warriors of the Alliance gather for the Lightning Dance, Eagle Feather, Painted Crow and Ed Hubbard entertain everyone by arguing about what they believe.

Star Wing guesses that Painted Crow, having failed as a slave catcher, is now challenging Eagle Feather for his place as prophet of the Alliance.

This work is released under a Creative Commons Attribution, Non-Commercial, No-Derivatives License. You are free to copy, distribute and perform this work as long as you do not do so for commercial purposes. You may not make derivative works without permission. For more information, contact Mike Shea at mike@mikeshea.net.