Printed from https://www.writing.com/main/view_item/item_id/2306018-Chapter-Two-Indian-Territory
by SSpark
Rated: E · Non-fiction · Family · #2306018
I knew I could feel Indian spirits. Scott thought I was crazy.
Ranch Notes: Indian Territory

In 1927 a fellow by the name of Herman Lehmann wrote a book recounting the story of his captivity among the Apaches. Lehmann and the tribe into which he was forced, roamed Texas as if she was their personal playground. With them, he hunted buffalo and other wild beasts, as well as the paleface and other Indians who wished to claim the land as their own. He furnished vivid details about how the Indians of this area lived, how they provided for their families, and fought to hold onto the territory they believed had been gifted to them alone.

I was particularly interested in Lehmann’s story because he and his family were living in Central Texas, not far from our ranch, when he was captured at the age of eleven. It is the same area he roamed as an Indian and was returned to after being found among them by Army soldiers. I can see him and the rest as they gallop up and down the hills that surround us, searching for deer, rabbits and squirrels-–animal ancestors of those who still make our land their home. The thunder of thousands of buffalo hooves roars in my ears as I bathe in the silence from our porch. At times I can even imagine myself as an Indian squaw, cheering along with the others as the hunters make their way into camp.

My DNA test results indicate that a small percentage of the otherwise European strands come from “Indigenous Americans”. It is those strands I believe speak to me from time to time. I’d often felt an affinity for the Indians I knew roamed this part of the world, but the esprit de corps started in earnest after we signed our names on the closing documents that made the ranch ours.

November 20, 2012

The night came in clear and crisp as Scott and I rumbled over the cattle guard at our new place. Closing took longer than we expected, and we were eager to get settled. I was quiet during the twenty-mile drive from the title company office to our very own patch of heaven, reflecting on the obstacles we had conquered to get us to that point. In the twenty-three years that Scott and I had been married, we had trudged through life from broke honeymooners, to broke business-owners, to broke parents with college-bound kids. It had only been a few years that we’d been able to unfasten a couple of hooks on the corset that had tightly bound us for all that time. And we had just rehooked them.

Still, with every mile we drove, exhilaration replaced concern.

As truck headlights flashed along the limestone walls of our new house, tears unexpectedly pricked my eyes, the sting screaming “We did it!” After close to sixty years of dreaming, I could finally grab that little girl away from the station wagon window and present her with the key to her heart’s desire.

Kids and grandkids were joining us the next day, and the house was completely empty, so we had hauled everything we needed. Mattresses, linens, towels, dishes, pots, pans, and food packed both the truck bed and trailer and although we were tired, we needed to transfer it all into the house.

After traipsing in and back out again, I noticed the wide expanse of glittering heavenly bodies above me. A cloudless swath of midnight blue velvet swaddled the sky, pinholes of light peeking through like a monolithic kaleidoscope. I leaned my head back and twirled under its cover.

“I’ve never seen so many stars,” I yelled to Scott, who was in the house unloading his arms. “And listen! Do you hear those coyotes?”

“I hear all the crap in the trailer, screaming to be moved,” he said. He was grumpy because he was tired. And hungry. He had driven the four and a half hours from Midland to Hamilton, where we closed on the ranch, while I napped.

“Where’s your sense of adventure?” I laughed.

“In here with that peanut butter and jelly sandwich you said you’re going to make me once the trailer is unloaded.”

“Party pooper.”

Scott and I passed each other like ants moving different directions on a one-way trail. Back and forth, back and forth we went, carrying our loads. We were nearing the end of the pile when a powerful sensation floated over me, circling my head before draping itself over my shoulders. Tiny hairs on the back of my neck stood at attention as the coyotes’ yips turned to trumpets.

“Do you feel that, Honey?” I whisper-yelled to him, knowing he couldn’t hear me. But I didn’t want to walk into the house. I didn’t want to break the spell that had gripped me.

“What? I can’t hear you,” he yelled back.

I stood perfectly still, each muscle on alert. Along with the shawl that caressed my shoulders and back, I felt as if an icy finger had brushed my heart, traveling along arteries and veins like a cold front moving inside me. While my imagination’s ability to hatch wild ideas was certainly not new, the accompanying physical sensations were.

“What did you say?” Scott moved to the doorway, hands on hips.

“Do you hear that?” I asked, peering toward the pasture. “Can you feel it?”

“What the hell are you talking about?”

“I don’t know. I just have this overwhelming feeling that the coyotes are trying to tell us something.”

“The coyotes don’t even know we’re here.”

“No. Seriously.” Whatever had overtaken me maintained its grip, and I chose to ignore the negativity Scott was adding to the mix. There were plenty of times he thought me crazy. “I feel as if they’re talking to us. It’s almost as if they’re warning us, like they’re Indian ghosts telling us this is an ancient burial ground or something.”

I went on listening in awe.

Scott rolled his eyes and turned away. “Don’t ever tell anyone else about this. You sound like a crazy woman,” he shouted on his way back into the house.

I followed him in, arms packed with the last load. “I’m serious, Scott.”

“So am I.”



That first night wasn’t the last time I had a feeling about the early inhabitants of our land. I’d felt them often, sensed ancient eyes on us as we made the land our own. And sometimes they made their presence known.

We were down at the lake four years later, as Scott was trying out a new drone. His idea had been to launch the thing just prior to sunset so he could capture some good shots of the purple, pink, and orange colors bouncing off the water’s surface. I had my plain ol’ camera with me, determined to do the same thing.

The ranch house sits atop a hill with the lake stretching out a couple of hundred yards away, across the bottom to the south. It’s a bowl-shaped haven for fish and birds, spring-fed and rimmed on two sides by ridges where the land starts back up another hill. That hill is splattered with mountain cedars, parasitic pariahs that multiply like roaches and strangle the natives by slurping up life-giving water and nutrients before they can reach deeper roots.

When we first bought the ranch, I believed all green trees were good trees. Cedars and mesquites are both green, and come to find out they’re also soul-sucking demons. I’m convinced J. K. Rowling used them to model the Dementors, demons whose mouths covered their victims’, dragging out their spirits. All that was left after the Dementors were finished were dry shells with hollow eyes and voiceless holes where their mouths used to be. That’s exactly what the cadgers do to their oak victims—leave them standing, dry, useless limbs spread wide like lifeless cicada husks once their hosts have moved on.

Thankfully, not all the oaks had been slaughtered. Some still dotted the landscape as well, especially along creek beds, and there’s a particularly thick area rising out of a valley close to the lake.

As I watched Scott on the pier setting up for takeoff, my nose started itching and I noticed a familiar smell.

“Honey? Do you smell that smoke?” I yelled. He wasn’t paying attention to me. “Scott! Do you smell that smoke?” Eyes searching the rim south of the lake, I saw a wisp of smoke curling its way to the clouds from the tops of the oaks in that valley.

“There’s smoke coming from that grove! Do you see it?”

Scott’s head whipped around, then followed my outstretched index finger to the horizon. “Damn!” he hollered as he ran up the pier, headed for the Ranger, our Utility Terrain Vehicle.

The wisp had grown thicker, and the smell of smoke was stronger as we roared toward the sight. We had a fire extinguisher with us, but I knew it wouldn’t be enough to put out the fire generating the smoke column. An uncontrollable energy coursed through me as I prepared for the worst: standing by helplessly as we watched the valley succumb to flames.

One minute Scott was pushing the Ranger, urging it to its highest speed, me directing him to the source of the smoke.

The next minute, there was no smoke.

Scott stopped the Ranger at what should have been the burning woods and neither of us spoke. We just stared.

At green trees.

No smoke.

No fire.

Then, our eyes turned toward each other.

“You saw that smoke, right Scott?” His eyes mirrored the question marks in mine and the wheels in his head were whirling. Just like mine.

He nodded.

“And you smelled the smoke, right? I’m not just being crazy. Right?” I remembered our first night at the ranch with the coyote warnings and I wondered if he remembered them, too.

Scott’s brows closed in on each other, and his mouth screwed up as if he had taken a bite out of something he found disgusting. I had to fight with myself to keep from sharing the feeling that had once again overtaken my senses. While I could see nothing in front of me but a grove of tall, healthy oak trees, my spirit felt theirs. In my mind, the sky was dark, a bonfire lighting up the faces of figures dancing around it. Some had tomahawks in hand, some strings of wooden beads. Their shadows flickered on teepees.

Scott got out from behind the wheel and walked around a bit, searching. “What the hell just happened?”

I kept my mouth shut. He didn’t want to hear my theory.


By 2023, we had paid off the ranch and purchased additional land. We were still not ranching per se, but we were landowners. Covid had provided me with the perfect excuse to move to the ranch full time, and Scott joined me for half of the week. He spent the other half in Midland, where he was working himself into retirement.

I used the dining room as my office, gazing out the large windows, eyes following the curves of hills and valleys as far as I could see. They’re not all ours, but they’re all beautiful. In the mornings and evenings, I’d watch as deer ambled to the feeder and made themselves at home. Their spirits calmed mine.

Although the house was no worse for the wear, after ten years and lots of family, it needed a few adjustments. So we hired John, a local handyman, to make some minor repairs.

And I was vindicated at last.

John is a seasoned Indian artifact hunter. He’d spent decades, first with his father and then on his own, learning about life among the ancient Indians of this area. Through him I’ve learned that arrowheads, swords, and spears people search for tell only a small portion of the Indians’ story. That made sense, but was something I’d never really thought about.

We’d been told by others that our part of Texas still holds an abundance of arrowheads and the like, but we’d never found any. Evidently, the treasures were mined long before we ever showed up. Then again, those artifacts are crafty little devils; they’re experts in camouflage. I could be staring right at one and never know it, but John could sniff them out.

We were standing in the driveway one afternoon when he asked for permission to scout our land. I told him I was happy for him to find anything he could. “We’ve searched for ten years and never found a thing,” I said.

Just then, John’s eye caught hold of something I could tell was dragging him in. “Really?” he said. Bending over, he grabbed an ugly rock not two feet away. The rock was round, about the size of a man’s fist, and I knew it to be chert from a Google search I had conducted one time. They often have bits of tiny crystals covering chunks of their crust, and I was hoping they were indicators of gold nearby. Or diamonds, or oil. They aren’t.

“Well, this is a tool Indians used for skinning,” he said.

I recognized the rock. It was the one I had kicked into the driveway a couple of days before, angry because I had stumbled over it on my way to the barn.

“What? What do you mean?” I asked, grabbing it from his hand to inspect it.

He snatched it back.

“See this?” John pointed to a place on the edge of the rounded back where the crust was worn off. It was about the size of a quarter but was elongated. Then he placed his right thumb into the groove and closed his other fingers over the top, into smaller patches I had not noticed.
The rock fit perfectly into his hand. When he turned it upside down, I could make out a thin edge on the other side, formed into a sharp ridge. John twisted his wrist downward and my imagination conjured an Indian brave, slicing the hide away from a side of meat. Buffalo, venison, rabbit, size didn’t matter.

My jaw dropped, and I felt a little tingle at the back of my brain.

“So you don’t mind if I spend some time up here looking around?” His voice brought me back to reality.

“No, of course not. I can’t wait to see what else you find. I’ve always known this was Indian territory.”

The next morning, John came in with several additional rocks. “Man! This place is a treasure trove of Indian tools,” he blurted as he emptied them onto the counter. “Come here, let me show you something!”

I followed him into the dining room and he moved toward the window I stared out every day. His eyes scanned the scene and he said, “You see how the hill rolls downward, toward that creek? And how another hill rises beyond the slight valley?” I could feel my imagination kicking up.

With his left arm, he motioned from left to right. “Imagine teepees spread out over this hill, where the house and barn stand. Indians are all over the place, spending their time making tools and weapons. They’re waiting for a buffalo herd to make its way through the valley on the way to the water. The Indians have done the same thing for years, decades, and probably more. Their tools are rocks and they’re heavy, so once they’re finished, they move on, leaving them behind.”

Imaginary fingers flicked my brain, and the scene came clearly into view. There they were, hundreds of Indians, some sitting, some standing, some leaning over campfires. Indian children were running throughout, giggling and chiding each other as they played tag, not dwelling on the majestic rituals that would take place once darkness chased away the sun. This was serious business. The buffaloes their fathers would hunt a few days hence would feed the entire tribe, their heavy furs used as shields against the cold.

“There are all kinds of tools spread out over the top of this hill.” John’s voice grabbed me again. “The weapons seem to have been picked over, but I guess the folks who came before you didn’t know the rest of the story.”

“Just like the paleface,” I spat. I had turned Indian, my soul mixing with theirs.

“Huh?” That’s when I realized John could think like an Indian but had never become one. Strands of their essence were speaking to me.

“Just like the paleface,” I repeated. “They came in here and killed off the buffalo, without knowing their real value. Those who carried off Indian weapons did not know the value of the tools they left behind, either.”

“Riiight,” John said, sarcasm puncturing the word. “Okay. Well, I need to get to work. I just wanted to share.”

“And I’m so glad you did,” I said, grabbing my phone. “I need to call Scott.”

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