The Old Indian
With his head cocked to one side, Johnny Blue river, tried to imagine the
totem pole standing upright. The carved masterpiece from Indian
folklore was leaning against his Granddad's rusting tin shed. Most of
the sculptured scenes along the pole had been ravaged by time and the
weather. Except the top, where there was a garish carving of an
Indian chief. It looked untouched. The jet‑black hair, blazing
eyes and high-pronounced cheekbones were an awe-inspiring sight.
Especially for a nine‑year‑old boy, visiting his
Grandfather on the reservation, for the first time.
The week before, Johnny's heart had skipped a beat, when his mum told him
about the telegram from Great Falls, Montana.
"We're going to see to see Granddad Blue river," she'd said.
"That's great mum," Then he'd run up the stairs to his bedroom, whooping
like an old Indian, while his mum read the telegram again and wiped a
small tear from her cheek.
"Go and play in the yard," his mum had said when they'd arrived at
the scruffy little wooden shack. Johnny was disappointed. He'd
expected a huge white tepee with long eagles’ feathers flying from
"Mum...where's Granddad's Tepee? There's nothing here except wooden sheds like we
have at the bottom of the garden at home." His mother, her
coffee‑coloured skin glinting with small beads of perspiration,
dropped the brown suitcase she was carrying onto the dusty boards of
"Stop asking questions Johnny...go play."
Johnny shrugged his shoulders and run around the back and that's when he
first saw the totem pole. At first he'd wondered whether it belonged
to his granddad because it seemed miles away from the shack. But,
looking around, he couldn't see any fences to show whose yard was
whose. There was an old Ford pick‑up truck without any front
wheels abandoned next to the shed. He decided the totem belonged to
Johnny stared at the Indian relic. He saw the stark black shadow from the
pole snake amongst the broken rocks and scrub and finish inches from
his feet. He stepped bravely into the dark shape and imagined he was
in the middle of an Indian village, waiting for the chief to give the
order to attack the paleface. With his face painted and two feathers
stuck securely into his headband. He cocked his stolen rifle to fire
in the air as the medicine man screamed and pointed his spear at the
blue cloudless sky. Johnny looked up at the grotesque head at the top
of the totem. Its features had become obscured by the afternoon sun
blazing fiercely behind it. He threw his arms in the air and shouted,
"Death to the white soldiers." He was breathing hard and sweat began to
trickle down his temples. Then he began to think, the reservation,
the totem. Granddad might have been a warrior when he was younger. He
turned and ran back toward the shack.
Inside it was very dark considering how bright the early afternoon sun was.
Johnny could see dust twinkling in the shafts of light that shone
through cracks in the wooden walls. Everywhere seemed strange, old
and dirty. He guessed his mother would be in the back room with his
As he entered the room, he could smell candle grease and menthol
vapours. On a scruffy bed, beyond the familiar figure of his mother,
he saw an old man with long grey hair. He was lying under a bright
patchwork blanket. As he inched closer the old man turned his head to
look at Johnny.
"Is that him?" he said.
Johnny's mother moved to one side, and putting an arm around Johnny's
"Yes.This is young Johnny." She urged the youngster to move closer.
"Come on, say hello to your granddad."
The old man extended a scrawny, wizened hand out towards Johnny.
"I've waited many summers to meet you." He said. Johnny examined the
purple veins protruding through the feeble‑looking skin. He
held on to a bony finger for a second before drawing hid hand away.
"I'll leave you two to get to know one another then," Johnny's mother
"OK," Johnny said. He turned to stare at his granddad again. For a few
seconds neither of them spoke, then Johnny's eyes widened.
"Are you a chief?" he asked.
The old man smiled and shook his head.
"No. But my Grandfather was."
"Was he...really? Did he have a bow and arrow and a painted face? Could he
ride his horse without a saddle? What was his name? Was he brave?"
"Hold on. Hold on. One thing at a time. If you come and sit on the edge of
the bed, I'll tell you about him."
Johnny didn't hesitate, with all his worries vanished; he clambered on the
bed and sat cross‑legged facing the old man.
"His name was Crazy Horse and he was the chief of our tribe, the Sioux. He
lived here in Montana and he had the biggest tepee in the village. He
wore buffalo robes and a huge bonnet of eagle feathers. He was tall
and strong. When he was a young brave, he was tied to the sacred
totem by ropes. The other braves pushed wooden skewers into his skin.
When the skin was broken, power from his ancestors seeped in, making
him fearless and powerful."
Johnny's mouth dropped open as the old man's dark mahogany eyes seemed to
"Is that his totem out in the yard?"
"Yes that's his. Sometimes a young brave would challenge him. They would
both be tied to the Totem and he would order the wooden skewers to be
pushed into their bodies. The first one to cry out would lose. Crazy
Horse never cried out." The old man looked at the closed boards
where the window was. "His spirit is out there
somewhere...waiting for me."
Johnny followed his granddad's gaze towards the window. His voice dropped to
"Will I see him when he comes granddad?" He paused waiting for an
answer. "Will I?"
But there was no reply. The old man's eyes were closed. He looked
Johnny shivered. He thought he heard the sound of horse’s hooves outside.