Concerning My Recent Encounter With the Chief of the Eagle People
Edited by Jeff Baker
(NOTE: The following MS was found in the author’s paper’s at the University. It was doubtless intended to be published with the rest of the book in 1872, but was not included, for reasons unknown. It may have been lost or the author may not have considered it suitable. It is here reproduced in its entirety.—jsb.)
In the Summer of 1861 I followed my brother Orion west, to the Nevada Territory. We travelled through the Great Plains and the Rocky Mountains, mainly by stage, at which point I acknowledged that actually riding on the mountains, like a horse would have been less painful. It was while we were camping out between the plains and the mountains that I decided to take a horse and do some rudimentary exploring, despite warnings that the local Natives tended to get irritated. I responded that my Brother had campaigned for Lincoln in the recent election and that I was not unfamiliar with irritated natives and I considered the ones in the East to be far more savage than the ones in the West. So, I set out upon my borrowed horse, confident in my knowledge and skill.
I promptly got lost.
The sun was setting when I saw what looked like campfires ahead. I rode cautiously, realizing that whoever was ahead I was probably in a predicament; if I was returning to the stage line, late and in my haggard condition I was bound to be lectured by the driver but If I fell among the natives, they might decide to take out on me the indignities they had suffered at the hand of my well-meaning brethren during the last two centuries. While I was percolating over my options, suddenly two large young braves appeared at my sides so swiftly and silently that I had not heard or seen their approach. They indicated that I should dismount and I marched with them leading my horse by the bridle on foot toward their camp. I observed them and tried to discern what tribe (from my little experience) they might belong to. They wore long pants, shoes of the same material and instead of shirts, their shoulders were covered with cloaks that I at first thought were fur but I quickly realized were feathers. Eagle feathers. Most astonishing to me was the fact that they were unmounted and had swiftly approached me on foot without the aid of horses.
We arrived at the camp as it was getting dark, apparently in the middle of some form of trial or ceremony. What I imagined to be the whole tribe was seated around a large fire. This was some thirty men or women. Standing in the middle were three young men, like all of them draped in the same feathered cloak, the one in feathers darker than the others.
As we approached, a tall, white-haired man stood up and held a hand out, indicating quiet. Then he spoke, to my surprise, in English. He told me that I was at a gathering of the Eagle People, the day on which these three were to “ascend to manhood.” He introduced himself as the Chieftain and wise man of the tribe, and said a name I couldn’t pronounce; full of A’s and K’s. I would have written it down but I hadn’t brought a pencil. Then he said something that took me by surprise: that I was here because I was destined to be a wise man and that I should sit and watch.
The ceremony (I assumed it to be such) was quick and I did not understand the language, but I got the basic meaning; Each of the three young men was questioned by the Wise Man and at the end of the questioning, took off the necklaces they had been wearing and handed them to the Wise Man who, at the end, tossed the necklaces into the fire. This was followed by a rousing cry from all of the assembled and I caught a slight smile on the face of one of the three young men, and one of the others seemed to thrust his chest out. In another moment, the Wise Man sat down beside me and the three young men stepped to the edges of the circle and (wonder of wonders!) what I had assumed to be feathered cloaks unfurled from their shoulders and revealed themselves as wings, not unlike those of birds. Then they left the ground and soared into the darkened sky where the stars were beginning to be visible, and I was torn between staring upward, slack-jawed at the sight and looking around at the other members of the tribe closely examining them and realizing their feathered cloaks were indeed wings.
“We are the Eagle People,” the Wise Man said to me. “Our ancestors were the eagles of the heavens, and we walk the earth as men and soar in the skies.”
I was thinking to myself that the dark-winged boy must have had some crow in him, maybe a catbird, when I suddenly thought of a question and turned to ask the Wise Man. He must have known what I was thinking for he smiled, and
(Here the manuscript ends.)