Silvester J. Brito (Ph.D., Folklore, Indiana U) is descended from Comanche and Tarascan people with roots in Mexico. He has published several books of poetry, Man From a Rainbow, Looking Through A Squared Off Circle, and Red Cedar Warrior, and an ethnography, The Way of A Peyote Roadman. Most recently, his poetry appeared in CALLALOO and the American Indian anthology, Studies In American Indian Literature: Returning The Gift (University of Arizona Press). At present he is an Associate Professor in the English Department at the University of Wyoming.
—The basic elements of this narrative come from fragmented oral history accounts which have been reorganized by the imagination.
Sometimes it pays us western educated Native Americans to know about the old, white man's stereotypes of our people.
There was this memorable time when two Anglo-American college friends and I were attending an American Folklore Society meeting in Austin, Texas. Being a bit bored with the academic theories that were being proposed—about the lives of savages—now transferred into folk-like people. So, we went out looking for a bit of western adventure. And can you just imagine, it was our good luck, or else a fine coyote trick, that in the same UT convention center there was this wealthy fraternity having its annual gala. So I says to my folk lore friends, I got a proposal for you all. How about it, if we crash that fine party. I'll bet they have some outstanding beverages and good food. "I could go for that" said Billy. "I wouldn't mind a cool bottle of beer" added Berry Lee. "But how are we going to pull this one off," exclaimed my two side kicks.
Look here fellows, I got a plan. It may be a little far out, but because of that, it just might work. I have my fine Navajo, going out vest, which Marcels gave me awhile back. He said it had special magic woven into its colors. I will put it on and with a nice turquoise inlaid bolo tie and western style trousers, cut just right for these fancy cowboy boots I'm wearing, I believe I can look the part of a wealthy Oklahoma Indian. You fellows look fine—with your worn Herringbone sport coats and western jeans. You could pass as my lawyers. Wait, one of you should be my body guard. I think that would appear more impressive.
By way of affirmation, Berry Lee says, "right on my man. I'll venture to say—we can pull this caper off. Are you sure you aren't related to `old man coyote,' the trickster you were telling me about?"
OK, fellows, remember you are going to present me as a rich oil baron, from Tulsa, Oklahoma. Berry Lee, you will be my attorney. Your name has the ring of a wise counselor. And you, Billy, with that wrestler looking build, you will be my body guard.
So, there we go—to formally crash an upper class social event.
Berry says to the door man "Excuse me, sir. My boss, here, would like to join your party. He is a very wealthy Indian from Oklahoma; owns several oil wells. It would make him very happy, and take a bit of weight off of `my shoulders,' if you would be gracious enough to allow us to join in on your celebration. He might even be interested enough to donate to your cause."
"Hey, no problem," says the door man. "Welcome—brothers."
Acer, so there we go, the three neo-musketeers—being given the best VIP treatment, all for this rich Indian and his faithful aids.
"What will it be, gentlemen?" says the party host. "Make your self at home, boys. It's alright to call you `boys?'" "Sure," says Billy, "we are very understanding. Just don't call our boss, chief. That would really upset him. It's worse than giving him an over dose of bad `fire water.' You know what I mean."
Stepin' up to the bar, Berry says to this brown eyed, redhead bartender woman "whiskey for us, if you please. Make it Black Label Jack Daniels. Thank you. You had better, however, give our boss a light drink."
"Would you happen to have a nice young lady, for the boss's company? You know. Keep him happy while we have a few snorts of your fine liquor. Then we will all be ready to eat."
"No problem , no problem at all. I know just the girl for him. My friend, she has always wanted to know a real Indian, especially one who is well heeled. You know what I mean. A real love machine." Berry says, "Yes ma'am. I get the drift."
"Just one minute, boys while I get your drinks, and I'll give her a holler," says this fine looking, radiant, redhead.
"About your boss, there. No offense, but haven't those people (Indians) learned how to deal with fire water; not that the white man does any better—now days."
"No offense taken," says Berry. "But you had better ask the boss for the answer to your question."
I was tired of those kinds of queries, so I says to her "What kind of rattle snake piss are you giving my boys, young lady?"
Hearing my voice taking on a rather irritated tone, the host comes running "what's the matter. Is every thing alright, boys? What is the trouble? Chief. Aren't the drinks strong enough?"
"Who you calling chief, kimosabe?" "Oh, God—no offense, boss. Just a stupid slip of the tongue."
"That's alright, pal. Just get me a double shot of Wild Turkey. I am a little dry, pard'. Don't worry your little head.
After all, I have been educated at U.C.L.A.—OK."
"Right away, chief. Shit. I mean right away, boss man. Anything you say. We just want to make you happy. We don't often have the privilege to host some one of your stature. It is a right down pleasure to serve you. All of you," saying this as my body guard, Billy pushes his way over to where we are standing and looking like he is ready to tear our host in two.
"That's OK, sonny. We Red Skins have a good sense of humor. We have had years of practicing it. Haven't you seen that wild, bizarre smile on the woodlands like warrior on the Atlanta Braves costumes. He looks like he's had a little too much `fire water,' eh, boys?" Berry and Billy nod their heads. "Giving out all those war hoops," says Berry. I chime in, "Ya, giving that chop chop tomahawk chant that you white brethren have learned so well."
At that point, I think that we have pushed this mock scene far enough.
"Let us all have a few more shots of that Wild Turkey. After all, we are all friends here."
My boys (Berry and Billy) and I feast like kings, after which Berry says to our host, "we had better get the boss home. I mean back to his hotel room. He has an early flight tomorrow morning."
On our way out the door our host says, "Come back and see us again. You are always welcome here."
"How," says the lady bartender. "Is that right? You know what I mean. Is everything A'-OK?"
You got it ma'am. And how.
Stop the Fairy Tales
The West is old enough to stop telling fairy tales. The homesteaders and other first comers were a lot like us: people who left behind know-how and wealth and a colorful history, but who also left busted economies, rivers that run red with acid mine waste, devastated forests, and a legacy of social oppression. We should find it encouraging that we are not walking in the footprints of giants. We can do as well. If we can bring ourselves to look at and learn from the experiences of those who came before us, we can do better. — Ed Marston, "Truth Telling in the West," High Country News, Writers on the Range, http://www.hcn.org\