A Few Memories

Indulge me in memories for a moment, before I tell you all about the National Museum of the American Indian.

I grew up in a place rich with possibilities for the imagination. In northeastern Wyoming, in the sacred Black Hills, just past the shadow of Devils Tower.

I ventured up the highway from our house, where archaeologists worked to unearth Lakota campsites (they camped there, on their way to what is now Montana, trailed all the way by Custer and his soldiers). I watched as the biggest buffalo jump in the country was excavated on land belonging to Uncle D's family.

Cowboys and Indians weren’t so far from reality. I regularly rode my trusty horses, first Rose and later Gypsy, through the trees behind my house, on the lookout for enemy soldiers, stopping occasionally to dig in the soft soil for arrowheads.

As a child, I didn’t play the superhero or the princess unless called on to do so by my friends. Rather, I played Little House On the Prairie. I made the old well house by the corral my house on the windblown plain and worked away, sweeping the dirt floor smooth and gathering food to eat and even making a fire in my brick oven (in Wyoming, in the heat of a dry summer, which got me grounded when the half-burnt newspapers blew out of my “house” and into the yard, where my father discovered them).

Where others might have preferred shooting Nerf bow and arrows at one another, I was the Native American chipping away at obsidian to make an arrowhead, then carefully crafting a bow from items I found (in the forest behind our house, yes, but also in the garage). I was trying to play a wooden flute rather than a recorder. (Had I ever learned how to do it well, it would have produced the sweet, mournful music I heard played at powwows.) I was saving pretty, perfect leaves between the pages of my books and staring up at the starry night sky so long and so hard I practically went cross-eyed, just because I thought I had to memorize every detail in case the stars were gone the next night.

In school, art class activities involved emulating native artwork—baskets and dolls and gleaming black pottery. On field trips, my classmates and I visited old forts, the site of famous skirmishes between the original inhabitants of the lands we now inhabited and those who came to claim it as their own, tiny museums tucked in nowhere towns filled with the most striking artifacts you could imagine.

This was my childhood. Living history.

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