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I was nine years old the first time I saw the Cheyenne warrior who would one day be known as Two Hawks Flying. Of course, he wasn’t a warrior that day near the old river crossing—just a boy a few years older than I. And since he had yet to earn his proud warrior’s name, he still was called by the name his mother had given him at birth: Shadow.
I had been gathering wildflowers that lazy Sunday afternoon. Overhead, the sky was a vivid azure blue, so bright and clear it almost hurt your eyes to look at it. The grass was thick and green, wondrously cool beneath my bare feet. Birds warbled high in the tree-tops, their cheerful melodies occasionally interrupted by the fierce screech of a blue jay, or the wild, raucous cawing of a crow.
Lacy ferns of emerald green and flowers in pastel colors grew abundantly in the rich black earth. Bright yellow butterflies flitted lightly from one aromatic blossom to another, while the gentle hum of winged insects made soft music in the air.
A pine tree forest bordered this side of the river, and as I skipped along my favorite path into its sun-dappled heart, I pretended the forest was an enchanted fairyland and I was the fairy queen. The fat brown frog croaking on the riverbank was a handsome prince under an evil spell, and the masked raccoon washing its hands was a wicked witch in disguise. The distant snow-capped mountains were really a crystal palace filled with riches.
Humming softly, I penetrated deeper into the woods, my footsteps muffled by the thick layer of pine needles that carpeted the forest floor. At every turn a new bunch of daisies or a mustard yellow dandelion tempted me on, until I had wandered much further than I had intended.
It wasn’t until I glanced up and saw the big, old boulder rearing up at the end of the forest path that I realized just how far from home I had roamed. It was an unusual hunk of rock, gray in color and shaped like the head of a jack rabbit with its ears laid back. I had been warned time and time again never to venture past it. Stretching beyond Rabbit’s Head Rock lay a vast sea of yellow grass, in many places taller than I was. Somewhere out there lived the Cheyenne. And beyond the Cheyenne, the Sioux.
I was about to turn and head for home when I caught sight of a dazzling red flower, the likes of which I had never seen, shining like a beacon in a yellow sea. I glanced thoughtfully at my bouquet of pale-colored flowers, and it seemed to cry out for a bright splash of color. Surely it wouldn’t hurt if I went just a few feet out past the old rock! It would take less than no time at all to run out, grab the flower, and run back. And so, knowing I’d never be happy until I possessed that gorgeous crimson bloom, I darted across the few yards of dusty ground that separated the forest from the grassland and quickly, but carefully, picked the coveted red bud.
Smiling happily, I placed it in my bedraggled bouquet. It added just the right touch, and as I glanced around, hoping to find another, I heard a horse blow softly behind me.
Startled, I whirled around and felt a quick surge of fear as I found myself staring up at a half-naked savage mounted on a prancing, bald-faced bay mare. My carefully picked bouquet cascaded from my hands in a profusion of color as every lurid tale of redskin treachery tumbled through my mind, grisly tales of trappers who had been skinned alive, pioneers who had been covered with honey and staked out over ant hills, women and children carried off by painted warriors, never to be seen again.
Horrible visions of being tortured and scalped flooded my mind, and my knees went weak as I imagined my father finding my mutilated body lying face down in a pool of blood. Why had I come out here? I had been warned to stay close to home. Why, oh why, hadn’t I listened to Pa?
The Indian was looking at me strangely, as if I were some kind of rare oddity. Somewhat surprised that he hadn’t killed me immediately, or even made so much as a threatening gesture in my direction, I decided to take what might be my first, and last, opportunity to study a “wild” Indian up close. And as I took a good long look at him, I realized he was not a warrior at all. Relief gushed through me like water through a sieve.
“You scared me!” I accused, suddenly angry because he had frightened me so. “What’s the big idea, creeping up on a body like that? What are you doing sneaking around on our land, anyway?”
“I am not sneaking around,” he replied haughtily and in surprisingly good English. “I am hunting old Pte.”
I didn’t know who old Pte was, and in an effort to hide my ignorance, I said rather imperiously, “Well, you’ve no business hunting on our property.”
“This is not your property,” he remarked coldly. One brown-skinned hand went out in a broad gesture that encompassed all of Bear Valley and our homestead as well. “This is the land of the Tsi-tsi-tsis. And it is you who are trespassing.”