The MoccasinsStar could feel the heat of her racing heart as she ran faster than her breath allowed. The air was crisp and choked her some with its pureness; still she engulfed it and kept running. Though she was moving her lips in prayer she kept pace with the young boy that would lead her the way to the open field near Mankato the site where the mass hanging would take place. She could feel the edge of one of her leather shoes begin to loosen and slow her, but she could not stop to fasten it. The little Ojibwe boy would not wait for her out of fear that he would be seen. He had earlier warned her that he would run with her the four miles to the make shift platform and the outside jail that would contain her tribes people, but that he could not be caught, he was his mothers only son left, his two older brothers were there in the prison the soldiers were guarding. Star ran as fast as she could but she could not catch up to the boy. Soon they came upon a ridge near the prison and the boy fiercely pointed towards it and fell back running away from her, back to his waiting mother. As Star waited in the cold, she knelt down and tied her leather moccasin, hoping Timber would make her a better pair one day as he said.She remembered it was just after her sixteenth birthday in August when he gave her the moccasins as a gift and then Timber told her that he would marry her one day, but not then, it would be after he received his Warrior mission. Timber would soon be seventeen; they hadn’t known then that he would not see his birthday as a free young man.They were of the Santee Sioux tribe from South Dakota and had come to Minnesota to fish and hunt the deer that were plentiful that year. There were many of them that travelled, at least five hundred of their people; fearlessly they walked together braving the elements believing that the western part of Minnesota could be their new home. They were aware that the white man would not embrace them with an out stretched hand, inviting friendship, but they would not allow that to thwart their new beginning. Star met Timber just after his older brother Laken received his “Warrior Mission” and his parents proudly announced their son to the tribe as a man warrior, a high honor that was surrounded by festive dance and song. Timber took Stars hands and gently swirled her with him as he danced to the consistent drum beat and voice of the old Indian woman singing the melodic song of praise to Laken. Star was memorized by Timber’s presence and taken with his dark, inviting eyes and his deep copper skin. He was far more handsome than his elder brother and much braver too. Before the ceremony all of the young women sought the attention of Laken hoping he would find them worthy of marriage, instead he pressed on with his father training daily to ride and fall off his horse and then to jump on his running horse with his weapon in hand .He trained to jump from tall trees and land lightly on his feet and to swim in the roughest of water. He was not looking for a bride, but to succeed in all the areas that would ensure survival for him and his people. Star watched as Timber did everything his brother had to work at, but Timber did with ease and with a naturalness that his brother didn’t. She hoped that it was only her that noticed that Timber, her young love was already a warrior and a fearless hunter. She knew if the elder men of the tribe could see what she did in Timber he would get his mission soon after his brother had and that would be too soon for her. He would leave her; leave her in Minnesota the land where they found each other. It was a rite of passage and in some cases for the newly anointed “man warrior” to leave his tribe to find his bride if he chose, usually that meant travelling and sometimes intermixing with another tribe. It pained her to think of the day he too would receive the high honor, and she hoped that day was far off.Star had been in the warm tent with her mother and brothers, her sister Cheyenne was cuddled close to their father near the opening just outside of the tent. They had fallen asleep watching the stars high in the November sky. Before night fall their father had prayed with them for more food, he prayed the agreements that had been made with the U.S. Military would stand and soon they would get the food that was owed to them. Week after week and month after month the tribes people hoped for the food and rations that they had traded for, they never came.The Indian men gathered earlier that day and faced the reality of what had been done, they were lied to, and the military never intended to hold up their half of the promise or treaty. The tribe was growing hungry and their elderly were weakened from starvation. Running Elk called his immediate family together and tried to console them after telling them that his great aunt had died. He found her flushed and too hot for her aging skin and held her until she slipped in to unconsciousness. Star’s mother let out a cry of bereft and then her little sister too. Star could see the concern and worry in her father’s face as he sat with his family and attempted to clear his countenance of the anguish he now felt. Her mother made soup from the potatoes that were dwindling each day, but her soup was not filling enough. And the more the Indian men hunted they were met with resistance from the soldiers that they ran into just over the ridge near Mankato. It was as if the soldiers were trying to starve them out and make them leave their home. It was unusually warm the night before when Timber asked Star to meet him near the rock garden that she and her sister created and loved to spend time at, dreaming of a time they would make their own homes and care for their warrior men. Timber stood where the rocks were neatly placed near the parsley, thyme and dill had grown, the garden that Star planted for their family and shared with the other Natives in their Village. He held Stars hand and they sat near the garden and he began to tell her that while he was happy that she accepted his proposal to one day wed, it was not a peaceful time to be there in Minnesota. Timber told her that his father and some of the elders of the tribe held a meeting away from the women and children. At the meeting Brave- horse, the chief told them that the U.S. Military had used trickery to get his tribe and others to surrender to them. Timber told her that their chief was now planning to escape with his finest warriors and get past the watchful eye of the solders and go for food. They would have to steal the food that was promised to them, Star inhaled a breath of disbelief, because stealing is not what her people practiced. Timber told her that they would first go to the Military barracks to gather the food that was being stored and locked away from them. If it was not there the Indian warriors would have to search the military base in the cover of darkness and it would be risky and possibly lead to their death. Immediately Star began to allow tears to fall as she told Timber she was very afraid for him and her father too. He became uncomfortable to see her so sad and he promised her that her father and uncles would be the lookouts and that they would not get too close to the base and that is where he would be also. Star pleaded with him and begged him not to go, she didn’t understand why his father Lakota Running boy would commission him to go along, after all Timber hadn’t received his warrior mission, and he was barely seventeen. Timber held her close to him for the first time and Star felt a sense of relief under his strong arms and she held him too. Then he pointed at the half moon and told her to look long at it and envision if she could that one day they would have a home together and they would live near the cold streams of Canada where fish were plentiful. They would with their children be proud and peaceful and appreciate their ancestors dedication of land to them. They would dance with their own family under the moon and it would be bright just as it was then. Then Timber kissed Stars soft lips and left her near her vacant garden as he ran to his family’s tent. Star stood motionless as if she was soaking in the tender moment that she shared with her courageous lover.The following morning she helped her mother stir the dark paint that the warriors would put along their faces for the siege upon the solders. The warriors donned their fighter garb and some, the very brave ones that had fought in many battles wore their feather bands and when they were done they all stood fierce in the middle of the village. It was dusk now and Stars eyes found Laken, he was stoic and his eyes were piercing. Next to him was Timber, he was willing, prepared to go and chance his life for the welfare of their tribe. A small part of Star was proud of her greatest friend and a larger part ached at the thought of losing him. As the Native men prepared for the night raid, the women and children retreated into their tents and remained there quiet.Star had fallen to sleep holding her mother tightly, she felt safe and less afraid next to her mother who had been a pillar of strength during the times her father hunted and left for days, sometimes a week at time. Star was dreaming and her worries were gone when suddenly she was awaken by the sound of gunfire and an Englishman’s voice demanding that the women the old and the young stand outside of the tents in the cold, frigid air. Raven- blood quickly stood and though she was groggy she put the covering that she and Star had over them on her daughter, she put all of the buckskin coverings over her oldest daughters face and motioned her to be very still. Then she kissed her other children who were breathing softly and went outside to face the stranger. As soon as the entrance flap was closed by Raven -blood, the stranger pulled it back and looked at the still sleeping young children and left. He spoke a language that Star could not understand, and the louder he spoke her brothers and sisters began to stir, she could not move though to settle them. Her mother had in that brief moment saved Star from having to leave the safety of the tent to go with the soldiers.It became quiet in the Village; Star could only hear the muffled cry of the older women in their darkened tents. She crawled to the entrance and looked out and just then she saw the Soldier high above two young women seated on his horse, hit them with the butt of his rifle. Star put her hand over her trembling mouth and held her breath. There were five, six, ten solder men on horses and they demanded that the elderly women and men that were standing before them walk in a straight line. Some of her people had warm clothes on and some did not, some showed fear and some did not. Star watched her tribe’s people walk far away until she could no longer see them through the haze and then she fell to her knee’s and wept. Her mother was captured and her father, her uncle and all the Warrior men and her love Timber was surely taken. The young Indian boy was not more than ten or eleven when he was sent by his mother to send word to the women of the Dakota, he spoke quickly telling Star that the solders separated the men from the women and there were some children too that had to go before the five-man tribunal. The boy said there were over 300 condemned men to death by hanging and sixteen would remain in prison forever. The boy began to step out of the tent and Star grabbed him in desperation and begged him to take her to the prison. He told her that it would do her no good; she could not see her family. He told her that it was too far to walk and that they would be seen on horseback. He told her that he heard that all the Natives would be brought to Mankato for the mass hanging, when that happened he would help her get there. Star knew the boy was right, Star would have to be wise and stay behind and protect her siblings and the elderly that had been hurt. The boy said something in another language that sounded like the Englishmen’s as he trudged through the snow quickly. Star could not understand, she could only make out the word hanging.Star made her way out of the tent just as the sun went down too afraid to move before then. She told her sister about the tragic events and made her promise to withhold the information about their parents from their younger brothers. She tried to carry on her daily routine, but felt lost and crushed by her parent’s absence.Days went by and the young Indian boy did not return and Star began to become anxious with worry, she paced near her garden that was now scarce and barren from the winter season. Star counted each day that the boy did not come and it was on the 23rd day she heard his voice call from far off and said that he was coming with news. This time he had with him a half-breed man that was sympathetic to the Dakota people and had befriended them when they helped his mother’s tribe, the Gros Ventre of Montana. His name was Odell and he spoke English and could understand and speak some of the dialect of the Dakota. Odell shook Stars hand and told her that he would speak slowly and try to tell her everything she needed to know. Odell fixed his eyes firmly on Star and Cheyenne and spoke clearly. He began, the soldiers forced the condemned men into wagons and they were sent to Fort Snelling to wait the execution orders made by the president. Then the remaining Dakota people, mostly women, children and elderly were forced brutal conditions as they were marched at bayonet and gunpoint to Fort Snelling, where they will be kept in a concentration camp all winter. Odell went on, the white soldiers paraded the groups through Minnesota towns on their way to the concentration camps, as white towns people lined the streets and taunted the defenseless Dakota even assaulting them. Some of the white town’s people threw rotten food, sticks, rocks and even boiling water at the warrior men.” Cheyenne threw her arms around her sister and told her that the man must leave, he was on the white man’s side and he was not to be believed. Star stroked her sister’s hair and asked her to go to the tent of their grandmother and wait for her there. Then she nodded for Odell to continue with his terrible news. Odell said that he knew for sure that her father Running Elk and his brothers were among those to be hung. He said that Lakota was beaten and was put in an infirmary where he laid in a coma. Star broke down in tears and began to wail and shake. Through her crying she asked about her mother Raven blood. Odell said that he believed that she would be sold into slavery because of her cooking and basket making skills. After hearing this, the Ojibwa boy became uncomfortable and left the tent.Star pulled her thoughts together and stopped crying and asked Odell if he knew any young men that were to be hung. He named six, Lame horse 16, Fast deer 14, Tomah Foxtail 17White deer14, Blue dove 18, and Laken Running Boy 18 . Star fainted. When she sat up Odell and her grandmother were offering her water and soothing words. Timber, Timber, where is my Timber she asked. Odell told her that he hadn’t heard that name and that could only mean two things, either he was killed during the raid or he would be sent to another concentration camp further away, south. Odell told her that it was the White man’s Christmas the following day and they would celebrate and perhaps let their guard down some and that is when he would visit the prison and ask for Timber Running Boy. He was sure that they planned for the hanging the day after their Christmas, giving him two days to visit the prison. Odell told Star that he would not come back but, would give the young Indian boy the directions to the hanging and that he would take her there, but, she would have to blend in with the crowd of people that would surely gather there. If she were lucky, someone from President Lincoln’s office would be there to hear any last minute pleas; if it was allowed then she could show herself and ask for mercy for her family members. Odell said that if there was no mercy given to her Dakota family she would have to tell the soldiers that she would take her younger siblings far away and never return to Minnesota, if they let her stay free than she would have to flee, if not she would seal her own fate. Star fed her young siblings that night and prayed with them and put all of the buckskin blankets on them and fell asleep holding them.It was two days later and Star told her grandmother and the rest of the women in the tribe that she was going to Mankato, to be at the hanging and to beg for mercy for her father and uncles and for the Running Boys. Her elderly grandmother rocked her aged body back and forth in distress and wailed a song of the warrior women from long ago. She placed her warm, wrinkled hands on Star’s face and the old woman kissed her and made her promise to return unharmed. Star waited for the Ojibwa boy near her rock garden and tied the moccasins that Timber gave her as she waited. Again the boy called out to her from a distance and this time she ran to meet him. He told her that he would run and she would have to run fast enough to see him and if she lost sight of him, she would be on her own. The two of them ran for what seemed like miles only stopping for brief intervals to catch their breath. Then the boy stopped on the highest part of the ridge and pointed toward the platform that had ropes hanging from it. There were many ropes. The town’s people were standing in front of the platform waiting patiently together. As Star walked closer she pulled the bonnet over her hair that Odell had sent with the boy for her. With each step she became more terrorized and startled with fear. She was taken aback by the crowd’s mood and behavior, as they acted as if they were waiting for something pleasant to occur, a marriage or perhaps a christening. Star stood between two women that were giggling and pointing to the platform and one of the women asked the other if she believed they could see from where they stood. Then a man that was very close to the platform motioned to the woman nearest to Star and told her he had the best view from where he stood. Star was locked in horror at their excitement to watch the lives of her people being taken from them. She cried softly and skimmed the blood thirsty crowd looking for Odell. She could not see him and she became more frightened. Then a burly white man pushed against her smelling of a strong odor that reminded her of the whiskey the white settlers tried to give to her tribe as a trade for their fast horses. Star turned away from his putrid breath and covered her mouth and nose with her warm shawl. Just then she felt a firm arm wrap around the small of her back and hold her close, she jumped but, welcoming the embrace hoping it was Timber. The man held her tighter and told her to not speak; she looked at his mouth, his lips trying to understand his command. Then she saw the lighter skin tone the lighter hair and realize it was not her beloved Timber, it was Odell. Just as he raised his index finger to his lips to silence her, someone anxiously told the crowd to look at the group of Indian men being taken to the ladder. The crowd jeered and clapped and as the first man of the tribunal began to speak he was drowned out by the roar of the crowd. They chanted Kill them, Kill them, Kill them over and over. Star began to topple in Odell’s arms and became very ill. Odell spoke to her quietly and told her that he would have to take her to the back of the crowd for fear someone would discover her crying. She stood at the back of the crowd and leaned on a fencepost and watched as the soldiers pushed the Indian men one by one to their death by hanging. Odell held his hand over Stars mouth as she muffled her cries in his coat. Stars eyes filled with tears when she saw her father being led to the ladder and Odell told her to look away. There would be no mercy and Star would not have the chance to speak to the Presidents official telling him about how needed her father, uncles and Laken were to her and their tribe. Star remained standing near the fence post as the crowd clapped and cheered until they tired and left. Just feet away from the hanging of the 38 men, the town’s people danced in the lodge that was filled with food and whiskey. There was a fiddle playing and Star could hear the thumping of the white men’s boots moving quickly to the fiddle music. Then Odell guided Star closer and closer to the fiddle music and as he did Star pleaded with him to release her from his tight grip. She wondered if her sister was right, was Odell on the side of the killers? She tugged and tugged and still Odell hung onto her arm forcing her into the celebration. Star was weak and could not pull away from the man she had thought wanted to help her and her people. Finally, she let go of the struggle and went where the strong arm guided her. Odell walked her past women and men dancing and drinking, they were full of celebration and caught up with their pride for the U.S. military that they hadn’t seen that Star was a Dakota woman, with a tear streaked face. They did not look at her and Star wondered why Odell had her there in their company. Soon Odell had her walk toward where the food was being prepared; there was just one woman there serving the turkey meat and potatoes onto large wooden slabs. Odell stood Star directly behind the woman who was covered in a long cloth over her head. He poked at the woman’s back and made her turn toward Star and lift her head covering. That is when Star‘s eyes opened at their widest as she saw her mother Raven blood before her. The women held each other and Star rubbed her mother’s face and cried. Her mother winced in pain as she told Star that she had been beaten and her arm was broken. Odell stood at the door looking to see if someone would come to the food and want more. The women embraced again and lovingly kissed each other until Odell said Star would have to go. Again Odell took Stars arm guiding her out of the lodge and once outside Star kissed his hands and held him warmly. He had taken her to her dear mother, whom she believed had been sold or dead. Odell walked Star to where she could safely go to her Village and told her that he heard that Timber Running Boy was sent to a concentration camp in the south. Timber was alive and he told Odell that he would escape from the camp and find his way back to his people if he could. Star hugged Odell tightly and as they let each other go, Odell handed her something wrapped in a Native designed scarf and left her. She gingerly opened the gift and once it was opened it revealed the new moccasins that Timber had sewn her while in captivity. They were sturdy and pretty and Star was pleased to have a piece of Timber at such a treacherous time. She returned to her grandmother and told her about the savage killings of their people and tucked the moccasins under her soft pillow and they wept all night together.Less than three months later the remaining condemned men were forcibly removed from the homeland, they were placed on boats and sent far away. They were shipped down the Mississippi river, most to St Louis. Odell came to the Dakota camp and told Star and her village that soon after the mass hangings, a few of the Native men had escaped and they attacked the unsuspecting murderers that were now drunk and bragging about what they had done for the president and for the country. Odell said the Native Warriors tortured the white solders, scalping them and piercing their eyes. They drug them through the town of Mankato as the town people looked on in terror. Governor Ramsey called for an all out decimation of the Dakota tribe and said that he would not rest until each member was dead. Star stood stunned listening to Odell and she tried to muster up the strength to ask about her beloved Timber, but she was overcome with too much grief. Odell told her that Timber was not with the native warriors that killed the white soldiers, but, he doubted that she would see him again. He told her to pack her families things and head west, far away from Minnesota and if she could forget about Timber Running Elk. He said that Governor Ramsey now had a bounty on the rest of her tribe’s heads. It was time to run for their lives.
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