The Clikmaw Tribe must change to survive, but doing so is the begining to their end.
|The Brown-paw Massacre
By Christopher L. Vaughn
Chief Brown-paw could sense that winter was upon his people; the air grew cold and crisp, the great flocks of geese had started their journey to the south, and many trees stood bare. He had been Chief of the Clikmaw Tribe for ten winters before now, but this winter was unlike the others. White man had ventured into their land and with them they brought famine and death. The bear, deer, and elk that Brown-paw’s people hunted ran thin because of the white man’s ways. Harvesting the land had become tough as well; many times his people came under attack while foraging near the river and in the fields; his tribe being forced to move elsewhere.
The people of the Clikmaw Tribe were known throughout the land as great hunters, but peaceful in nature. Resourcefulness and respect of the land had proved them well over the years, and they had hunted the same areas for hundreds of years because of it. But, times had changed. The Clikmaw Tribe had been forced to seek other means of food and supplies to survive the winter. Today, the day of the first snow, would also be the first day of Brown-paw’s war on the white man; a war that he knew they could never win.
Brown-paw was awake before most of his tribe and stood at the bank of lake Wone-Pa’ah, meaning Moon Lake, named after its ability to reflect full moons and give light to the hills. Brown-paw was a strong man and stood taller than most, his dark hair was long and braided, his muscles were as strong as granite, and he was an expert shot with his arrow. His only imperfection was a birthmark that covered his right hand, which was what gave him his name.
He had been standing alone watching the water’s reflection for over an hour before his wife Awinita joined him, “first snow, this brings you good luck.” She said to him in a gentle voice.
“Yes, but we must not underestimate them, they fight like warriors.” Brown-paw answered to his wife with a smile.
“The hunters have gathered around the fire, they look ready.”
“They’ll do well today; they’ve hunted dangerous animals before.”
“Yes, but I worry about the younger hunters, they’ve never killed a man before.”
Brown-paw nodded his head as he turned and started to walk towards the camp with his wife, “I wish I could keep it that way Awinita… times have changed, we must change with it.”
A group of twenty hunters stood around the camp’s center fire wearing their hunting furs and bows. Becoming a hunter was an honor among the Clikmaw’s members; it meant being in the best physical shape and having the wits of a wolf. Each hunter made his own bow, arrows, hunting furs, and trained constantly for the next hunt. So skilled were the tribe’s hunters that a single arrow could kill a large bear from a long distance.
Awinita returned to her Teepee so Brown-paw could speak to the hunters alone, as it was their custom before hunts. Brown-paw’s best friend, Honon, stepped aside to give the chief room to stand. Honon, meaning Bear, was a large and strong man who wore the fur of his first kill, the black bear. Since childhood Honon and Brown-paw had hunted together and Honon often acted as his adviser for hunting strategies. His planning skills would be put to the test to day, it was their last hope of surviving the winter and the attack had to go as planned.
Brown-paw looked around the circle of hunters proudly before speaking, “Today’s hunt will be different than any other we’ve done before. White man is a furious fighter and they are very smart. This will be our only chance and we cannot fail, with the first snow here, they will send no more wagons after today. If we fail…they will come for us before the melting when we are weak. But, the first snow will be our blessing. They will over load this wagon with supplies and we are strong in the snow.”
Honon took his turn to speak after Brown-paw was finished, “We will attack them were we hunt the great Elk, in the valley before the granite wall. We will wait until they pass us, then from behind we will attack and force them into the passage. From there, we will attack from the rear, front, and from above were they cannot hide. It will be quick, it must be quick.”
The hunters all nodded in understanding and looked around at each other. They then took a couple of minutes to say goodbye to their wives and children before regrouping and starting their hike. The area that had been chosen for the ambush was called Salishma, The Great Trap, and it had been use by the Clikmaw Tribe for many years in hunting Elk. Salishma was a small valley that led into a narrow opening through large granite cliffs. It was the only path to the mountain’s pass for over a hundred miles, a fact that Brown-paw and Honon knew would prove to be deadly for the coming wagon party.
They made their way to Salishma in good time, and easily got into position before the wagon party could be seen in the distance. A small convoy compared to those in the spring and summer; it consisted of two wagons heavy with supplies, six Calvary soldiers, and a family of four; father, wife, and two children. As they approached, Brown-paw and his group of hunters could see that the wagon party was relaxed and unaware of the danger they were entering. After all, the Clikmaw territory had been peaceful for the white man; they saw the Clikmaw Indians as cowards since they would retreat when attacked.
The snow was falling heavily now, adding to the hunter’s concealment. The wife and two children of the convoy hunkered down to get out of the wind and snow. The Cavalrymen likewise, leaned into the weather in an attempt to stay warm. Brown-paw seated his arrow and took aim at the rear escort; Honon took aim at the soldier in the front with the most decorated uniform. They breathed in, and then out, then in, then out.
There was a look of pure shock on both soldiers as they instantly reached for their chest and saw the end of an arrow protruding out. As the commanding officer slumped off of his horse the woman in the wagon party screamed in horror, then the children began to scream as well. Arrows darted at them from all directions. Confusion set in quickly and the horses of the escorting soldiers stammered about wildly. One soldiers yelled as he upholstered his weapon, “through the gap, mov……” his life ending in mid sentence.
The wagon party lurched forward as they pushed toward the opening in the granite cliffs. The father of the two children in the wagon party leaped to cover them only to die trying as three arrows struck his back. “PA!” a boy cried out. He too was silenced by a wild arrow that was meant for his father. A brave soldier showed his warrior spirit as he charged forward yelling obscenities and taking aim with his rifle. He issued a single shot, then an arrow struck his leg and pinned him to his horse. The soldier screamed in agony then his right arm felt as if it were on fire; an arrow had struck him just above the elbow. He tossed his rifle to his left hand and fired again, narrowly missing Honon. Honon seated another arrow and fired a true shot, killing the heroic soldier; his horse panicked and ran off with the man still pinned to it.
The wagons and escorts rushed into the opening of the granite cliffs to escape the attack; just as planned. Suddenly, large rocks and a down poor of arrows rained on them from above; there was no where to hide. The woman and the remaining child were crushed under several rocks; another soldier was struck in the head by a large rock and fell off his horse. Only three soldiers remained and they huddled near each other firing hopelessly in every direction. Two of them fell dead in seconds as the on slot of arrows concentrated on them. The last soldier fell off of his horse as it reared up. He jumped to his feet and ran in the direction they had entered, directly toward Brown-paw. Brown-paw pulled his tomahawk out and flung it at the soldier; it struck dead center and the man fell backward.
The attack had only lasted a couple of minutes; and in those couple of minutes the Clikmaw hunters had proved that they were not the cowards once believed. The air fell silent once more and the snow was stained red. The bodies of the wagon party steamed in the cold of the first snow. Brown-paw stepped out of his position and retrieved his tomahawk, his hunters followed suit and began to secure the wagons and horses. “Leave the bodies; we will take the wagons, weapons, and horses.” Brown-paw ordered.
It was nearly dark when the hunting party returned to their camp, and the tribe greeted them with excitement. A huge bonfire was made in the center of the camp and the hunters danced and told the story of the attack. The celebration was energetic and boisterous; the entire tribe whooped and hollered at their victory over the white man. Brown-paw sat emotionless and watched the hypnotic movements of the fire as his people danced in celebration. Awinita sat down next to him and threw her arm around him, “you should smile my dear; today you led the Clikmaw out of famine.”
“Sorry, Awinita, I was just deep in thought. Go and celebrate with the others, enjoy yourself.”
“I love you Brown-paw.” She said as she kissed his cheek and returned to the celebration.
He watched her walk away and then turned his attention on the group of young children dancing and playing with the hunters around the fire, and he could see that every thing had changed. While the attack had been a beginning to the end of famine for his people; Brown-paw knew it was also a beginning to the end of the Clikmaw Tribe.
And in the end, Brown-paw was right. News of the attack spread to the nearby towns and started a large movement against the area’s tribes. Chief Brown-paw and his band of hunters continued to win several battles, but over time the people of the Clikmaw Tribe slowly transformed from the hunters to the hunted. All that was left of Chief Brown-paw’s people by 1863 were the ancient cliff drawings left by his ancestors; a grim reminder that even we humans, must surrender to Mother Nature’s “survival of the fittest.”