Little Big Man

Little Big Man by Thomas Berger Read Free Book Online

Book: Little Big Man by Thomas Berger Read Free Book Online
Authors: Thomas Berger
Tags: Fiction, Literary, Classics, Westerns
them at it. Even after I lived among redskins for some years I couldn’t explain how they know when other people are in the neighborhood. Oh, they drive a knife blade into the earth and listen at the haft, but you can’t generally hear your prey unless it’s galloping. Or they might pile up a little cairn of stones at the top of a divide, and with that as cover for their head, spy around it down the valley. But the plains is one swell after another, like ocean waves frozen in position, and since all you can see from one rise is the intervening stretch to the top of the next, you will miss whatever is beyond it. And the Indians don’t pick every divide; just certain ones; yet when they do look, they generally see something.
    Troy’s idea about serving the whiskey from the rolling wagons was a bust before it was tried. A moving wagon of that era was about as steady as a sleigh being drug across a field of dry boulders, and the bumping was enough to shake a piece of bread to pieces before it reached your mouth, let alone a drink of any description. Besides, the Cheyenne were in a formal mood and dismounted soon as they reached us, coming over to shake hands first, so we surely had to stop.
    The fellow in the plug hat was their leader. He wore one of those silver medals that the Government give out to principal men at treaty signings; I think his showed the image of President Fillmore. He was older than the others and he carried an ancient musket with a barrel four foot long.
    Now I haven’t referred to her before, but my eldest sister was six foot tall and, being very strong of feature, she was still unmarried at more than twenty years of age: a great big rawboned girl with a head of flaming orange hair. She used to spell Pa in driving the ox team and could throw a whip better than any of the men except Edward Walsh, who was an Irishman out of Boston weighing two hundred pounds and as a Catholic never cared for Pa’s preaching but was tolerant about it since other than his family there wasn’t any more of his own kind along; the others tolerated him because he was so big.
    This sister’s name was Caroline, and on account of her size and doing a man’s work, she wore men’s clothing on the trail—boots, pants, shirt, and flop hat—although there were those who thought the worse of her for it.
    A very athletic person and a stranger to fear, she hopped from the box to the ground on the Indians’ approach, and Plug Hat marched up to her, sticking out his brown right hand while the left held the old musket across his front and also kept his red blanket from falling off.
    “Right pleased to make your acquaintance,” says Caroline, who is a deal bigger than the old chief, and gives him a grip so hard you can see the pain travel up through his hat and down the other arm. He almost lost his blanket. His chest was naked underneath, and that’s how I saw his medal and also a scar across his belly that looked like a weld on a piece of iron. That provided the name he was known by among the whites, Scar Belly, though among the Cheyenne he was called Old Lodge Skins, Mohk-se-a-nis, and also Painted Thunder, Wohk-pe-nu-numa, and I never did know his real name, which among Indians is a secret; and if you find it out and call him by it he will at the least be terrible insulted and at the worst have ten years of bad luck.
    Old Lodge Skins (at present he didn’t identify himself, which always seems irrelevant to an Indian, but I was to see a lot of him in afterdays), when he recovered from Caroline’s shake, give a speech in Cheyenne, which was one phase of his courtesy and the other wasthat in between sentences he said the English words he knew, “goddam” and “Jesus Christ,” which he had been taught for a joke by earlier immigrants and the soldiers at Laramie, and didn’t of course understand was cursing and wouldn’t have known if it was explained, on account of Indians don’t have swearing in their languages though

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