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at Night
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Fireside Stories

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Fireside Stories by Faith Pyle


Old Finger Bone

My Grandmother Victoria was a tall thin woman of dark complexion hair and eyes. She definitely showed her Indian parentage though it was like squeezing blood out of a lizard’s eye to get her to tell us kids anything about it.

One time when she was visiting us at Tahoe City we were all gathered around the Campfire in my other grandparents’ camp. We had been singing and telling stories when she did answer a question someone ask her about when she was born. She had a husky voice but it was pretty, as she was. She began speaking to us in her storyteller voice, slow with precise enunciation and long meaningful pauses that left you breathless sometimes. She had a wonderful way with her stories.

“I know it was long ago and far away just like in a story book, that it all happened. The people of the Arroyo were moving all their possessions because the rains were long in coming and the food supply was nearly gone. The people were just about to cross the river known as the “crazy water” then, but now is called the Red River

In those days, the land was not divided into names, put on maps, and numbered by squares, acres, or townships. It was just the land, the people were guests upon the face of Mother earth, lived under Father sky and loved and worshipped Grandmother sun. All the people and animals were relatives.

The river was called Crazy Water because it would be there in a trickle, then a few minutes later water would be roaring down the gulch 10 ft high carrying sticks and debris of all kinds in a red muddy churning flash flood.. It was dangerous to be caught there so the people were very cautious as they looked for a crossing.

A small boy and girl were playing in the muddy water with stones they found. The little girl pulled a long white stone out of the water and ran to her father to see if he knew what it was. Father looked down and his eyes grew big with wonder.” What ever in the world is a finger bone doing here?”

The Grandfather of the people came over to see the finger bone. He showed the white finger bone all around. All the people exclaimed “OH, My gosh,” and some called out “OH For Heavens Sake,” and some sucked in their breath, umffff, in fear.   As he held it he said, “Look here the knuckle still works and how delicate it is. It is to long for a child; to delicate for a man, so I think it is a young lady. I wish coyote would come I would ask him what he thinks.” Instead, a crow came and landed just beyond grandfathers bundle.

“Oh, Mr. Crow what do you think this is?”

“It is just as you said, grandfather, it is a young woman’s finger bone. The young woman must have drowned in the water. No telling where the rest of her is. Now there is nothing to do but bury the finger bone in a proper burial and say ritual prayers so she can walk the good blue road in peace.”

Gathering around grandfather the people were murmuring that yes. Yes, crow was right. A proper burial was needed. Father and Mother were sad to think of a young woman drown in the crazy water. Mother took the finger bone and cradled it and began humming and telling the lost young woman some mother secrets when Mother gave a yell and flung the hand of a young woman off into the bushes. Father said, “ By golly what did you say to make a hand out of a finger bone.”

“I have no idea,” said the mother, “ but maybe, just maybe the women should all come with me while I go look for the hand.”

All the women walked over into the bushes and opened their secret medicine bags. Mother lead the group and they each took something from themselves or from their bag and then waited their turn.

Mother took some of her own long black hair and laid it on the hand. She sang,” I share with you my hair, be one with me.”

Another pulled an eyelash and laid it on the hand and sang,” I share with you my black eyes, be one with me.”

Another pulled a tiny bit of skin from her lip and sang,” I share with you my pink lips, be one with me.”

Someone had white willow bark, she called,” I share with you my arms and legs, be one with me.”

Each woman of the people gave something of herself, a bead, a prized stone, a desiccated cord from a newborn, ah, all things of women.

Then they shared their voices and their love in a group song. Mother took all, wrapped it in a pretty piece of rabbit fur, and tied it with some rawhide. The woman dug a shallow hole in the sandy ground by the bushes, laid the bundle in, and covered it up. . They found tiny little flowers in the damp by the river and placed these over the bundle.

They all closed their little bags and went back to the men and the children who had fires going and were waiting for “She Who Cooks” to come and feed them. 

While they were sitting by the Crazy Water, they heard the brrrrrring of a rattlesnake. They though it was anyway. Then some one saw a tall young girl just entering womanhood step out from the bushes. She had long black hair and black eyes. She had on a rabbit fur robe. Some one said, “Oh, Who are you?”

“I am Old Finger Bone. I wish to thank you for saving me and returning me to life. Taking me from that Crazy Water. In return I will take you to a fine Village down the river a ways and we can all settle there with some friendly people.”

“Now,” said Grandmother Victoria, “do not ask me again as this is the true story of how I was born down on the Red River in Texas once known as the Crazy Water.”

The End 


Notes:  1. A flash flood is common in the arroyos in Texas.. 2.She Who Cooks  (for me is implied) generic word in Cherokee meaning either wife or consort. .

Faith Pyle©2000

Campfire Tales Two
Faith Pyle © 2000





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