20 November 2009

Journey To Billings

III ) l Journey To Billings (19Nov09)

I'm so glad to be home. Last night this time, I was exhausted, looking longingly and baggy-eyed at a thick matress in Room 2213, Holiday Inn, Billings, Montana. I had no idea who'd slept there last, and I didn't want to think about it. My plan was to sleep fully clothed above the bedding. Like so many other aapi'maanistsi I've briefly inhabited, Room 2213 combined aestetic appeasement with brute functionality. There were two framed pieces of unintrusive art on the wall, some lamps with curls and softness, others with strong geometric lines. There was laminate furniture that looked eligant while hiding a pressboard foundation. The area near the door was most hideous, with its wall-hung ironing board and tacky white paper map of the fire escape plan that no guest would ever bother to study. The television, that remained silent throughout my stay, was a boxy monstrosity for anyone used to the now more commonplace thin plasma monitors. And while I was grateful for the appearance of cleanliness and order, I would've forfeited it all of that for a bedside jacuzzi. I like my late-night baths.

We drove to and from Billings, Ki'naksaapo'p ki niisto, along a route historically traveled by those with ambitions to raid the Crow. We could have taken the more expedient and boring freeway, but what would be the fun of that? Our course was beautiful. It began at Piina'pohkatoyiss, the highest non-mountainous site in North America, and from there wound south past Aamsskaapakaapioyi (Fort Benton) to the Judith Gap, and beyond. We saw yucca, which I knew to be indigenous to kitawahsinnon, but had never actually encountered before. They were on the coulee rim above Aamsskaapakaapioyi, and nowhere else. We passed herds of antelope, and mule deer, and even buffalo. In the valley between Harlowton and Lavina, we tried to spot each of the dozens of odd, wooden red-headed woodpeckers that someone had carefully mounted on the trunks of roadside trees. And then there were the stories Ki'naksaapo'p told to carry us through. He talked about Aamootsinotsskoyim, a horse that was raced around a butte in the coulee Fort Benton occupies. He recounted testimonies of the last buffalo hunt that took place between the Musselshell and Yellowstone rivers. Of course there were crazy tales of the infamous Peter Buggins. But my favorite story of the journey was about Ksikksinopaa, one of the last warriors to follow the very route we were traveling...

As Ki'naksaapo'p remembered having heard it, a bundle that had been placed on a tripod outside someone's lodge was stolen by a Crow Indian who snuck into camp. Ksikksinopaa decided immediately to travel south to Issapoiksaahko to reclaim the bundle and get revenge. There were a lot of young warriors who wanted to go along, but Ksikksinopaa reminded them, "You know I go alone."

So he set off south through what is now called the Judith Gap, and eventually came across a large encampment of the Crows. For several days, Ksikksinopaa kept himself hidden nearby, studying the people and their routines, searching for any sign of the bundle. Then late one night, he styled his hair like a Crow and walked in amongst the lodges. Most of the people were asleep and snoring. But in one of the tipis, there was a group of men visiting. They spoke in Issapoi'powahsin, but they were also using sign language, and by watching their fire-lit silhuettes against the lodge walls, Ksikksinopaa could make out every detail of what was being said. One of the men inside was recounting an expedition to raid a Blackfoot camp, and when he described the appearance of someone he'd killed, Ksikksinopaa recognized that this Crow was the murderer of one of his relatives. Wasting no time, Ksikksinopaa put the barrel of his rifle right up to the man's head and pulled the trigger. Hearing this shot, the whole camp was soon in an uproar. Amidst their panic, Ksikksinopaa calmly walked away until he was out of sight, and then hurried to put some distance between himself and the angry Crows.

Ksikksinopaa ran from his pursuers until daybreak, and then layed down to hide. Soon the Crows came passing right by his position. One of them was very close and seemed to be looking right at him, but then kept going.

By the time Ksikksinopaa got back home, word of what he'd done had already reached the mounted police by telegraph. Fearing arrest, Ksikksinopaa took some of his horses and went to stay with Jerry Potts. The mounties came looking for him, but Potts wouldn't give him up, so they took the horses instead. When Ksikksinopaa found out about this, he suggested that Potts go somewhere to create an alibi for himself. That night, Ksikksinopaa stole his horses back from the mounties and then disappeared. Years later, at a ceremony in Siksika, some visitors from Kainaa were asking the hosts if they'd known about Ksikksinopaa. An old man stood up near the door. It was the aged warrior, still alive, never having been apprehended.