An Adventure Story of Native America

By Bill Copeland


National Writers Association

Novel Contest

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Desert People’s Trilogy is set in a distant millennium, where in the harsh, demanding terrain of the Sonoran Desert dwells a peaceful, resilient people who live with the land and flourish like the blooms of the giant saguaro cactus. With generosity and love they help their fellow men and allow none to suffer hunger or thirst, always willing to share.

But an alien race comes among them, not to share, but to steal the foods, women, children, and the clouds that insure the survival of the people. These evil ones bring violence to the desert, a trait little known among gentle tribes, but one comes from among them, Black Mountain, a warrior, a war chief who leads them against the invaders.

This leader gives to his people his daughter, a child of great power, one who communicates with the great spirits. This is Little-Hand-With-a-Strong-Grip, a medicine woman gifted with the songs of healing and the memories of the old ones. But Little Hand struggles with her destiny as a healer and her desires for a mate and children. Her wishes are granted to her in Black Bear, a young warrior of promise, who accepts her and her powers, as they are rewarded with the birth of a son.

But the aliens come again, destroying villages and killing those in their way, forcing Little Hand to escape with her son, leaving her mate to battle the enemy. In her ordeal, she is given the gift of dreams and shown the path to the Great Spirit, which she shares with all the people.

But the struggle against the strange ones continues, defending villages and townships, always on guard should they be next. There is despair among the Desert People as they give chase to the enemy to regain the clouds, but the desert fails to bloom as the rains fail to heed the songs of the drums and fires beseeching them to come, as drought strikes to the heart of the desert.

In the height of their conflicts comes a young man, born of another people, but brought to live in the desert. He struggles with his identity and his loyalty to his adoptive family, killing and distancing himself from all people. It is he that walks in the desert and is known as Lone Desert Walker, and sings the song of the night hawk, oo-roo, oo-roo, that brings the clouds and rains. And it is to him they come seeking a war chief to lead them against the mountain stronghold of the strange ones.


Gray Wing spread a mat on the ground near the fire and motioned for their guest to sit. Night Bird watched Standing Deer lower himself slowly to the mat, stretching his injured leg in front of him. She knelt and felt with her fingers as Gray Wing had taught her. She confirmed the findings and pictured the position of the bones in her mind. She and the makai would now be able to discuss and plan their approach to breaking the leg.

As she stood, Spotted Bird and Little Sheep neared the lodge carrying a jar and basket. “Greetings, sister. Greetings, husband. Greetings, friend.” Spotted Bird knelt opposite her husband and placed some bowls on a stone next to the fire. “We have brought you a meal.” She looked at the makais and smiled. “We welcome you to our village. And if you can fix my husband’s leg and help me become a grandmother, then as long as I live, neither of you will ever be hungry.”

Little Sheep placed the jar beside the basket as her mate’s mother spooned fresh venison stew into the bowls. Tortillas were set in a small basket for the makais and their patient, as they sat back watching them quietly, both anxious to learn when the treatments would begin.

Gray Wing accepted the stew thanking the women with a nod of his head. He took a tortilla and dipped it in the stew and placed it into his mouth, biting and chewing methodically. He continued to look at Standing Deer’s leg, his face etched with lines of concern.

Night Bird watched both of the men, studying the deformed leg and looking at her teacher, observing the concern in his eyes. She knew his confidence wasn’t what it was before his mate’s death, a death he felt he should’ve been able to prevent. Even though they both had sung the songs and waved the talismans over the body, she had not improved and finally fell asleep, not to awaken. She knew, too, the teacher needed to succeed at making Standing Deer walk again, for failure would mean his skills would be lost to the people.

She looked at the women in front of her, noticing the distress on their faces borne of the eagerness of their desires. She wanted to break the tension, to ease the turmoil brewing in each of them. “Shortly, Gray Wing and I’ll begin the songs and ceremonies for the cures we all seek.”

They all turned to face her, relief on the faces of the women, but deep anguish in the lines of Gray Wing’s dark face. She saw the look of fear in his eyes and felt the need to be bold and bolster his confidence. “My teacher has spoken to me about the break in the bone.” She looked at Standing Deer with a smile, softening her expression and encouraging the patient. “It’ll be difficult to obtain a clean break, but once it’s achieved, if you listen to him, you’ll mend nicely and be able to walk more comfortably.”

The lines in Standing Deer’s face relaxed as his apprehension seemed to ease with her words. He looked at the medicine man. “I’ll forever be indebted to you, brother. The pain means nothing, and, even if I’m not able to do all I used to do, any improvement will be better than this.” He pointed to his leg and the stick he used to help him walk.  

Night Bird stood and went into the lodge, returning shortly with a rawhide sack and a small clay cup. She knelt beside the water jar and dipped the cup into it,  filling it. She placed the cup on the ground in front of her, then, taking the sack, untied it and poured a small amount of powder into the water. She removed a small stick from her hair, rubbing her fingers along it to remove any particles of dirt. She stirred gently, dissolving the powder completely and coloring the water.

No one spoke as they watched her prepare the mixture. It seemed to take a very long time as Night Bird stirred slowly, occasionally tapping the stick on the side of the cup, only to continue stirring. Finally, she tapped the side of the cup and rubbed her fingers along the stick, drying it, and put it back in her hair. She rose with the cup and turned to look into the anxious eyes before her.

Night Bird knelt in front of Little Sheep and offered the cup to her. “You’ll find this very bitter and foul smelling, but it’ll help reduce the thickness inside you.”

Little Sheep took the cup and put it to her lips, her eyes wide, first looking at the mixture and then her sister. She pursed her lips and drew in a little of the liquid, stopping quickly at the harshness of the taste.

“Drink it all, little sister, leave nothing in the cup.”

Little Sheep again drew in the liquid, closing her eyes tight against the bitterness in her mouth. She continued drinking, tilting her head backwards, draining the cup. She kept her eyes closed as she lowered it, swallowing the last of the medicine.

“Good.” Night Bird took the cup from the young woman and rose to move to the water jar. Dipping water with the gourd, she rinsed the medicine cup, using her finger to move the water around and throwing the liquid onto the ground. “You’ll need to take this every morning, little sister, but, soon, perhaps by early summer, you won’t have to take it anymore.”

Night Bird then indicated she and Gray Wing would make the preparations for Standing Deer’s leg, telling them it would be performed at his wickieup so he wouldn’t have to move about.

Gray Wing gathered stones, examining each carefully to see if it was appropriate for his use. He gathered rabbit skins, deer hide, cords, and pieces of wood he’d need in resetting the bones. Once he was satisfied the preparations were complete, he sat before his wickieup using several stones to make the wood pieces smooth. He put the staves in the fire charring the wood, then scraped with one stone, then another, strengthening and smoothing it. As he methodically worked the splints, he went over in his mind the whole operation, striking the stone sharply to make a clean break in the bone.

As the sun moved closer to the rim, the makais gathered their instruments, medicines, personal belongings, and walked towards the encampment of the Little Mesa people. Here they would reside from this evening forth, as the women were already building a wickieup for the new members.

ml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags" />Black Mountain and others of the village returned to watch the makai’s medicine, and the young hunt chief was surprised to find Night Bird and Gray Wing already preparing his father for the procedure. Black Mountain was sent to find a large, flat stone which would be used as a platform, as Gray Wing moved quietly setting the other stones and supplies where he could get to them quickly.

When everything seemed to be in place, the makai knelt on the mat, placed his hands on the stones, and began his song. “Hear me stones, heed my words. Break the bone clean, so it can be set.” Gray Wing straightened and held the staves and cords in his hands. “Wood and cord,/ bone and skin,/ together you shall work,/ to mend this leg.” Gray Wing placed the slats and cord back on the mat, untangling the cords and setting the wooden pieces side-by-side. He again straightened and let a deep breath escape his lungs.

He remained motionless for many beats of the heart, his head tilted forward, almost as if asleep. He raised his head and took in a deep, slow breath of air, as he brought his hands before his face. “Oh hands, hold the stones tightly./  Strike sharply, the healing blow.” Holding his hands before him, he wiggled his fingers and continued his song. “Let fingers guide the broken ends,/ to join together, and be one.”

He rose and looked at Night Bird, who picked up a cup of tea, warmed with heating rocks, and handed it to Standing Deer. “Drink this, brother, it’ll ease your pain.” She picked up another cup, one in which she had prepared the salve and rubbed the greasy mixture on both sides of the break. Gray Wing watched as the patient drained the cup given him, and allowed Night Bird to finish, then motioned for Standing Deer to move to the mat.

“Lie down, brother.” The makai looked at Black Mountain and motioned for him to take position at his father’s head. “You, hunt chief, will hold onto your father. Grab him under the arms, and, when I tell you, pull.”

As the patient stretched the injured leg before the makai, Gray Wing placed the large, flat stone beneath the calf at the site of the broken bone. He looked at Night Bird and motioned for her to take position at the foot of the man’s leg. “You’ll grab here,” he pointed to the ankle, “and pull when I tell you.”

The makai looked at the patient and spoke quietly. “Your son will pull as Night Bird also pulls. This will help stretch the skin and bone and will make for a clean break.”

He picked up a stick as long as his hand, white, cleaned of its bark. He handed it to Standing Deer. “Put this between your teeth. It’ll help you withstand the pain.”

The sun had disappeared behind the mountain, yet there was still lingering light. Nevertheless, Gray Wing motioned for two torches to be brought near, as he draped a thin section of deer hide over the injured leg, forming it to fit the contours of the break. He grasped a long, narrow stone with a blunt end and placed it against the leg of the upper part of the bone. He looked at Spotted Bird and Little Sheep, motioning for the younger to kneel across from him. “Hold this stone, daughter. Don’t let it move.”

Gray Wing grasped a second instrument, another narrow, blunt-ended stone. It was a little wider than the injured bone and was placed against the deer hide, covering the skin and lower portion of the bone. He held the stone so it was on the same level as the first and picked up his hammer stone, nodding to both Black Mountain and Night Bird. As the two pulled the patient the makai rapped stone against stone, forcing the lower bone away from the upper.

Quickly, he pulled the deer hide away, revealing the bone protruding against the skin which had lightened with the force of the bone against the flesh. The makai grasped the two ends of the bone and pulled them together, but they didn’t fit. He looked at Night Bird, sweat beading his face. “Pull, daughter, pull hard.” He held the bones with his hands as the woman leaned back pulling the leg towards her.

Standing Deer bit into the stick, sinking his teeth into the soft, water-soaked wood, grunts and unvoiced screams dying in his throat. Sweat poured from his face and upper body, and tears escaped his tightly closed eyes, as pain shot through his leg. The pain seemed to rack his whole body, and he lost consciousness.

As Night Bird pulled, Gray Wing guided the bones together, fitting them against each other, in a straight line. He motioned for the pulling to stop, but the bones came apart, again bulging against the skin. He again motioned for Night Bird to pull, as he again guided the bones back together, holding them as he looked up at Spotted Bird. “Sister, hand me the wood strips.” Without looking at Night Bird, he spoke gently. “Keep the pressure on the leg and don’t let go until I tell you.”

Holding with one hand, he picked up a rabbit skin and draped it over the leg, the fur against the skin. He accepted the first strip and slid it under his hand, alternately loosening fingers to admit the stave without relaxing his grip. He repeated the process with the second strip adjusting the slats along the bone. Holding the splints, he picked up the first of the cords and wrapped it around the leg, gently lifting the leg with Spotted Bird’s help. He tied the cord tightly and put a second and third cord to hold the strips against the leg. He looked at Black Mountain and Night Bird, nodding, and they released their grips.

He watched the leg silently, holding his breath, fearful the bones would come apart. The light of the torches flickered and cast shadows around the camp, but the bones stayed in place. Gray Wing sat back on his legs and breathed deeply.

He raised his head and looked at Spotted Bird, as she continued to look anxiously at him. He retrieved the deer hide and motioned to the leg. “Help me, woman, to wrap this around the leg. We must tie it off so the leg will stay warm.” She lifted her husband’s leg as the skin was wrapped around the broken area and tied off with cords. “The bones are now straight, Spotted Bird, and if he mends well he should be able to walk and hunt again. We’ll know for certain in two or three moons.”

Standing Deer came around as his leg was propped up on stones cushioned with firs and hides. His face was covered with sweat and his forehead was furrowed as he looked first at his wrapped leg and then at those around him, settling his gaze upon the medicine man.

Gray Wing returned the gaze of his patient and smiled with more confidence than had been seen in many seasons. Without waiting for the questions, he spoke softly. “The break was clean, my friend, and went back together well. You should be able to walk and hunt again, but we’ll have to wait and see.”

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