The Injuns Acomin'
It was the day before the Indians came, my grandmother told me. The day when the lone brave came to warn them of the attack.
I suppose many families have stories like these, but my grandmother liked to tell our family’s tale because it was her grandmother’s experience as a child. And I liked to hear it. Over and over.
The brave came to warn them the marauding tribe would come. He warned them to hide somewhere, maybe in the root cellar under their sod-roof house, and leave some food or something the Indians could take. Then all would be okay. Maybe.
My great-great-great-grandfather hid his tools in the underground root cellar; he took the little clothing and quilts they had, as well as sacks of flour and sugar to the cellar. He put the goat in the cellar.
There was hardly any room for the family, but they all wedged in tight.
Great-great-great-grandmother had peeled and cooked potatoes in a huge kettle over the fireplace, then she set the kettle of potatoes to cool on the hard wood-slab table her husband had made her. She changed the baby’s clothes once more, picked up her baby and her Bible and the bundle of letters from her family in upstate New York, and she began the climb down the rough-hewn ladder to the cellar where her other children awaited her.
Two little boys and an older girl sat in a corner of the tiny earthen cellar. They held hands as their mother joined them and soon after, their father who had closed the door in the floor above his head, making sure that the thick, braided rug covered the gaps in the floor. They watched him reach his arm through the gap, wrestling the rug into the right place and struggling to pull the table with the potatoes onto the rug.
Then he let the door shut.
In the total darkness, the children whimpered and clutched whatever parent they could find. The smells of cold, dank earth, goat and salt pork filling their nostrils, their hands feeling only the warmth of each other.
And they waited.
It seemed like days and weeks had passed, but it was only a couple of hours before they heard the raiding Indians burst into their home above them. Great-great-great-grandfather hugged his three children to himself, barely breathing the soothing words to keep them silent. Great-great-great-grandmother pulled open the front of her bodice to nurse the baby to keep him silent during the raging turmoil above them.
They heard shouts and whoops and hollers and terrible crashing noises. They listened in fear to sounds that surely meant nothing was left untouched. They had little, but everything was important out here on the prairie.
The thundering went on for what seemed like hours, longer than the waiting, and then it ended with the last shout of the last Indian.
Then there was silence.
They were at first afraid to speak, lest someone had stayed behind to listen, but Great-great-great-grandfather reached for the eight-rung ladder and slowly, ever so slowly, pulled himself up, a rung at a time, until he reached the top. He gently placed his flat palm against the door above his head and pushed an inch. He waited for any sound but heard nothing. He pushed farther and noticed the door opened easily. The table was no longer above it.
He peeked into the room above him and saw no one about. He climbed up the ladder and into his home, surveyed the destruction of everything they had, including the battered tin plates and cups, and the broken windows. He peered into the distance in all directions before he called his family up.
They all cried at their ruined home, except for Great-great-great-grandfather and Great-great-great-grandmother.
For they were safe.
The pot of potatoes had been thrown across the room, water everywhere on the wooden floor, the pot itself stomped and dented. But no potatoes were seen anywhere.
They were safe. Their Indian friend, to whom they had given food from time to time, had saved their lives.
They never saw him again.
The short story, Prairie Attack, comes from a real event in my mother’s family history
that would have prevented my e-mailing you today had it been successful.
Many of the stories our families have passed down are often politically incorrect,
but they are nevertheless true and part of our history.
I grew up in the fifties and we had TV, but its use was severely limited in a “strict”
home. I loved hearing the stories from my grandmother. She had some pretty
good ones about her own life which began in 1879. She used to tell us how she had
seen more transportation changes than most people: horses to jets.
I am a native of the Washington, DC, area, and a graduate of Georgetown University’s
School of Business Administration. I have worked in the managed health care industry in a legal capacity for nearly ten years. For many years I wrote for community newsletters and magazines published by the Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts of America.