The Long Walk of the Navajo, also called the Long Walk to Bosque Redondo (Navajo: Hwéeldi), refers to the 1864 deportation and attempted ethnic cleansing of the Navajo people by the government of the United States of America. Navajos were forced to walk from their land in what is now Arizona to eastern New Mexico. Some 53 different forced marches occurred between August 1864 and the end of 1866. Some anthropologists claim that the "collective trauma of the Long Walk...is critical to contemporary Navajos' sense of identity as a people".
|“||This story is about the long walk to Fort Sumner. There are two points of view regarding it—the White man's and the Navajo's.||”|
The traditional Navajo homeland spans from Arizona through western New Mexico, where the Navajo had houses, planted crops and raised livestock. There was a long historical pattern in the Southwest of groups or bands raiding and trading with each other, with treaties being made and broken. This included interactions between Navajo, Spanish, Mexican, Pueblos, Apache, Comanche, Ute, and later the "Americans". Individual civilians and Native Americans could be victims of these conflicts and also instigate conflicts to serve their special interests.
Hostilities escalated between the Americans and Navajos following the scalping of the respected Navajo leader Narbona in 1849. In August 1851, Colonel Edwin Vose Sumner established Fort Defiance for the U.S. government (near present-day Window Rock, Arizona) and Fort Wingate (originally Fort Fauntleroy near Gallup, New Mexico). Prior to the Long Walk, there were a series of treaties signed in 1849, 1858 and 1861.[note 1]
Navajo-US Army Conflicts before Long Walk
There are many examples of friction between Americans and Navajo groups between 1846 and 1863. Manuelito and Barboncito reminded the Navajo that the Army was bringing in troops to wage war, it had flogged a Navajo messenger, and opened fire on tribal headsman Agua Chiquito, during talks for peace. They argued that the army had refused to bring in feed for their many animals at Ft. Defiance, took over the prime grazing land, and killed Manuelito's livestock that was there. On April 30, 1860, Manuelito and Barboncito with 1,000 Navajo warriors attacked the fort and almost took control.
Typical truces and treaties said the army would protect the Navajo. However, the army allowed other Native American tribes and Mexicans to steal livestock and capture Navajo to be used as slaves. A truce between the army and Navajo was signed on February 15, 1861. They were again given in protection, but two of their four sacred mountains were lost to them, as well as about one third of their traditionally held land. In March, a company of 52 citizens led by Jose Manuel Sanchez drove off a bunch of Navajo horses, but Captain Wingate followed the trail and recovered the horses for the Navajo, who had killed Sanchez. Another group of citizens ravaged Navajo rancherias in the vicinity of Beautiful Mountain. Also during this time, a party of Mexicans and Pueblo Indians captured 12 Navajo in a raid, and three were brought in.
On August 9, 1861, Lt. Col. Manuel Antonio Chaves of the New Mexico Volunteer Militia took command of a garrison of three companies numbering 8 officers and 206 men at Fort Fauntleroy. Chaves was later accused of being frugal in dispensing his post's supplies to the 1,000 or more Navajos that had remained close to the fort, and was maintaining remarkably lax discipline. Horse races began on September 10 and continued into the late afternoon of September 13. Col. Chaves permitted Post Sutler A. W. Kavanaugh to supply liquor freely to the Navajos. There was a dispute about which horse won a race. A shot rang out, followed by a fusillade. Almost immediately 200 Navajo, well-armed and mounted, advanced towards the Guard, shooting at the men. They were fired upon by the soldiers, and scattered leaving 12 dead bodies and forty prisoners. On hearing this, Gen. Canby demanded a full report from Chaves, who did not comply. Col. Canby sent Captain Andrew W. Evans to the fort, named Fort Lyon since September 25, and he took command. Manuel Chaves, suspended from command, was confined to the limits of Albuquerque pending court martial. (The charges were dismissed after two months.) In February 1861, Manuel Chaves took the field with 400 militia and ransacked Navajo land, basically without federal authority.
Civil War and Kit Carson
With Confederate troops moving into southern New Mexico, Col. Canby sent Agent John Ward into Navajo lands to persuade any who might be friendly to move to a central encampment near the village of Cubero where they would be offered the protection of the government. Ward was also instructed to warn all Navajos who refused to come in that they would be treated as enemies; he was partly successful. Captain Evans was overseeing the abandonment of Fort Lyon and had been told that the new policy would be that the Navajo had to colonize in settlements or pueblos, mentioning the region of the Little Colorado west of Zuni as possibly an ideal place. In November, some Navajo were raiding again. On December 1, Col. Canby wrote to his superior in St. Louis that "recent occurrences in the Navajo country have so demoralized and broken up [the Navajo] nation that there is now no choice between their absolute extermination or their removal and colonization at points so remote...as to isolate them entirely from the inhabitants of the Territory. Aside from all considerations of humanity the extermination of such a people will be the work of the greatest difficulty".
By 1862, the Union Army had pushed the Confederates down the Rio Grande. The United States government again turned its attention to the Navajos, determined to eliminate Navajo raiding and raids on the Navajo. James H. Carleton was ordered to relieve Canby as the Commander for the New Mexico Military Department in September 1862. Carleton gave the orders to Kit Carson to proceed to Navajo territory and to receive the Navajo surrender on July 20, 1863. When no Navajos showed up, Carson and another officer entered Navajo territory in an attempt to persuade Navajos to surrender, and used a scorched earth policy to starve the Navajo out of their traditional homeland and force them to surrender. He was partly successful by early 1864, when thousands of Navajo began surrendering to the Army. Some Navajos evaded and refused to surrender to the U.S. Army. These groups scattered to Navajo Mountain, the Grand Canyon, the territory of the Chiricahua Apache, and to parts of Utah.
The Long Walk
Major General James H. Carleton would be assigned to the New Mexico Territory in the fall of 1862, it is then that he would subdue the Navajos of the region and force them on the long walk to Bosque Redondo. Upon being assigned the territory Carleton set boundaries in which the Navajos would not engage in any sort of conflict. They were prohibited from trespassing onto lands, raiding neighboring tribes, and engaging in warfare with both the Spaniards and Americans. A majority of the Navajos were abiding by these requirements but it was a band of Navajo freelancing raiding parties that would break these rules, for which the entire tribe would soon be penalized. In the eyes of Carleton, he was unsuccessful and would enlist outside resources for aid. General James Carleton would enlist famous Indian Fighter Colonel Christopher "Kit" Carson. Carson would be responsible for rounding up the Navajos and organizing the Long Walk that would ensue shortly.
Carson had made a name for himself as a distinguished individual when handling manners with the indigenous population. He enlisted the neighboring tribes in aiding his campaign to capture as many Navajos as he could. One tribe that proved to be most useful were the Utes. The Utes were very knowledgeable of the lands of the Navajos, and were very familiar with Navajo strongholds as well. Carson would launch his full-scale assault on the Navajo population in January 1864. He would destroy everything in his path, eradicating the way of life of the Navajo people. Hogans were burned to the ground, livestock was killed off, and irrigated fields would be destroyed. Navajos who surrendered were taken to Fort Canby and those who resisted were killed. Navajos would be able to escape Carson's campaign but were soon forced to surrender due to starvation and the freezing temperature of the winter months.
The "Long Walk" started in the beginning of spring in 1864. Bands of Navajo led by the Army were relocated from their traditional lands in eastern Arizona Territory and western New Mexico Territory to Fort Sumner (in an area called the Bosque Redondo or Hwéeldi by the Navajo) in the Pecos River valley. (Bosque Redondo is Spanish for "round forest"—in New Mexican Spanish a bosque means a river-bottom forest usually containing cottonwood trees.) The march was one that was very difficult and pushed many Navajos to their breaking point, including death. The distance itself was cruel, but the fact that they did not receive any aid from the soldiers was devastating. Not every single person was in prime condition to trek 300 miles, many began the walk exhausted and malnourished, others were not properly clothed and were not in the least prepared for such a long journey. Neither sympathy nor remorse were given to the Navajos. They were never informed as to where they were going, why they were being relocated, and how long it would take to get there. One account passed through generations within the Navajos shows the attitude of the U.S. Army as follows:
It was said that those ancestors were on the Long Walk with their daughter, who was pregnant and about to give birth [...] the daughter got tired and weak and couldn't keep up with the others or go further because of her condition. So my ancestors asked the Army to hold up for a while and to let the woman give birth, but the soldiers wouldn't do it. They forced my people to move on, saying that they were getting behind the others. The soldier told the parents that they had to leave their daughters behind. "Your daughter is not going to survive, anyway; sooner or later she is going to die," they said in their own language. "Go ahead," the daughter said to her parents, "things might come out all right with me," But the poor thing was mistaken, my grandparents used to say. Not long after they had moved on, they heard a gunshot from where they had been a short time ago.
At least 200 died during the 18-day, 300-mile (500-km) trek. Between 8,000 and 9,000 people were settled on an area of 40 square miles (104 km²), with a peak population of 9,022 by the spring of 1865.
There were actually as many as 50 groups, taking one of seven known routes. They each took a different path but were on the same trail and when returning to the Navajo lands they reformed their group to become one, this group was ten miles (16 km) long. Some of these Navajos escaped and hid out with Apaches that were running from Gen. Crook on what is known as Cimmaron Mesa southeast of present-day NM Highway 6 and I-40 ; later they relocated to Alamo Springs northwest of Magdalena,NM and are known as the Alamo Band of the Diné (Navajos). Nelson Anthony Field who had a trading post made a trip to DC to lobby for a reservation for this Band and it was granted. This Band is part Navajo and part Apache.
The campaign to subdue the Navajo by the Army was supplemented by raids by New Mexican and Ute slavers who fell on isolated bands of Navajo killing the men and taking the women and children captive and capturing horses and livestock. During the army campaign the Ute scouts attached to the army unit engaged in this activity and left destruction of Navajo infrastructure to the main army unit. Following the surrender of the Navajo, the Utes continued to raid the Navajo as did New Mexican slavers. A large number of slaves were taken and sold throughout the region.
Like some internment camps involving several tribes, the Bosque Redondo had serious problems. About 400 MescaleroApaches were placed there before the Navajos. The Mescaleros and the Navajo had a long tradition of raiding each other; the two tribes had many disputes during their encampment. Furthermore, the initial plan was for around 5,000 people, certainly not 10,000 men, women, and children. Water and firewood were major issues from the start; the water was brackish and the round grove of trees was quite small. Nature and humans both caused crop failures every year. The corn crop was infested with army worms and failed repeatedly. The Pecos River flooded and washed out the head gates of the irrigation system. In 1865 Navajo began leaving. By 1867 the remaining Navajo refused to plant a crop.Comanches raided them frequently, and they raided the Comanche, once stealing over 1,000 horses. The non-Indian settlers also suffered from the raiding parties who were trying to feed their starving people on the Bosque Redondo. And there was inept management of what supplies were purchased for the reservation. The army spent as much as $1.5 million a year to feed the Indians. In 1868 the experiment—meant to be the first Indian reservation west of Indian Territory—was abandoned.
Treaty of Bosque Redondo
The Treaty of Bosque Redondo between the United States and many of the Navajo leaders was concluded at Fort Sumner on June 1, 1868. Some of the provisions included establishing a reservation, restrictions on raiding, a resident Indian Agent and agency, compulsory education for children, the supply of seeds, agricultural implements and other provisions, rights of the Navajos to be protected, establishment of railroads and forts, compensation to tribal members, and arrangements for the return of Navajos to the reservation established by the treaty. The Navajo agreed for ten years to send their children to school and the U.S. government agreed to establish schools with teachers for every thirty Navajo children. The U.S. government also promised for ten years to give to the Navajos annually: clothing, goods, and other raw materials, not exceeding the value of five dollars per person, that the Navajos could not manufacture for themselves.
The signers of the document were: W. T. Sherman (Lt. General), S. F. Tappan (Indian Peace Commissioner), Navajos Barboncito (Chief), Armijo, Delgado, Manuelito, Largo, Herrero, Chiquito, Muerte de Hombre, Hombro, Narbono, Narbono Segundo and Ganado Mucho. Those who attested the document included Theo H. Dodd (Indian Agent) and B. S. Roberts (General 3rd Cav).
Return and end of Long Walk
On June 18, 1868, the once-scattered bands of people who call themselves Diné, set off together on the return journey, the "Long Walk" home. This is one of the few instances where the U.S. government permitted a tribe to return to their traditional boundaries. The Navajo were granted 3.5 million acres (14,000 km²) of land inside their four sacred mountains. The Navajo also became a more cohesive tribe after the Long Walk and were able to successfully increase the size of their reservation since then, to over 16 million acres (70,000 km²).
After relating 20 pages of material concerning the Long Walk, Howard Gorman, age 73 at the time, concluded:
- "As I have said, our ancestors were taken captive and driven to Hwéeldi for no reason at all. They were harmless people, and, even to date, we are the same, holding no harm for anybody...Many Navajos who know our history and the story of Hwéeldi say the same." (Navajo Stories of the Long Walk Period)
Some speculated that the battles between U.S. troops and the Navajo and factors such as disease and famine reduced the Navajo population of approximately 25,000 to somewhere in the neighborhood of 2,000 Navajo of reproductive age, creating a genetic bottleneck. This produced the consequence of certain otherwise rare genetic diseases, for example Xeroderma pigmentosum, stemming from recessive genes to present with greater dominance. An alternative put forth by some Navajo is that the sudden rise in the Xeroderma pigmentosum is directly related to wide spread uranium contamination.
A supposed remnant of the Long Walk from Bosque Redondo, a rug called Woven Sorrow, figures prominently as a valuable antique in the plot of The Shape Shifter by Tony Hillerman, published in 2006.
The story of the forced relocation is the setting of the youth fiction novel The Girl Who Chased Away Sorrow written in 1999 by Ann Turner.
Another novel depicting the Long Walk from Bosque Redondo is the Welsh novel I Ble'r aeth Haul y Bore? by Eurig Wyn. This Welsh language novel follows a number of characters (some historic, others created by the writer), and focuses not only on the Navajos, but also the Apache.
In the 1979 Stephen King novel The Long Walk (written under the pen name Richard Bachman) two Hopis are among one hundred teenage boys who participate in a competitive and voluntary death march which serves as a macabre annual spectacle in a totalitarian re-imagining of America.
Other Indian displacements
See also: Population transfer § Native American relocations
The Trail of Tears is the name given to the forced movement of the peoples of the Cherokee, Muscogee, Seminole, Chickasaw, and Choctaw nations out of their home, walking to the Indian Territory under President Andrew Jackson to make their homelands available to settlers. This was a comparable experience of rejection from long time homelands, with the difference that these tribes never returned home, but were given reservations, ever-shrinking, in a place and climate unlike their historic lands.
The Yavapai, who were considered Apache in the 1860s, but have a different culture, after Yavapai Wars, were moved from Camp Verde Reservation to San Carlos Apache Indian Reservation, both within Arizona, on February 27, 1875. Many died in this wintertime walk.
References and Notes
- ^Anderson, Gary C. Ethnic Cleansing and the Indian: The Crime that Should Haunt America. University of Oklahoma Press. Oklahoma City, 2014.
- ^Lee, Lloyd ed. Navajo Sovereignty. Understandings and visions of the Diné People. University of Arizona Press: Tucson, 2017.
- ^Csordas, Thomas J. (February 1999). "Ritual Healing and the Politics of Identity in Contemporary Navajo Society". American Ethnologist. Blackwell Publishing on behalf of the American Anthropological Association. 26 (1): 3–23. doi:10.1525/ae.1922.214.171.124. JSTOR 10.2307/647496.
- ^Burnett, John (14 June 2005). "The Navajo Nation's Own 'Trail Of Tears'". NPR All Things Considered. Retrieved 30 July 2012.
- ^Forbes, Jack D. (1960). Apache, Navajo and Spaniard. Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press. LCCN 60-13480.
- ^Calhoon to Medill, October 1 1849, from National Archives for Navajo Land Claims Case, at Navajo Tribal Museum, Window Rock AZ
- ^Thompson, Gerald (1976). The Army and the Navajo: The Bosque Redondo Reservation Experiment 1863-1868. Tucson, Arizona: The University of Arizona Press. ISBN 0-8165-0495-4.
- ^McNitt, Frank (1972). Navajo Wars; Military Campaigns, Slave Raids, and Reprisals. Tucson, Arizona: University of New Mexico Press. ISBN 0-8263-1226-8.
- ^Thompson, Jerry D. (2015). A Civil War History of the New Mexico Volunteers and Militia. Albuquerque, New Mexico: University of New Mexico Press. ISBN 978-0-8263-5568-3.
- ^McNitt, Frank (1990). Navajo Wars: Military Campaigns, Slave Raids, and Reprisals. University of New Mexico Press. pp. 428–429. ISBN 9780826312266.
- ^ ab*Cheek, Lawrence W. (2004). The Navajo Long Walk. Tucson: Rio Nuevo Pub.
- ^ abIverson, Peter (2002). Diné: A History of the Navajos. Albuquerque: Univ. New Mexico Press.
- ^Roessel, Ruth, ed. (1973). Navajo Stories of the Long Walk Period. Tsaile, Arizona: Navajo Community College Press. ISBN 0-912586-16-8.
- ^Source: Fred "Dutch" Knoblock who was married to Alice Field.
- ^Reséndez, Andrés. The Other Slavery: The Uncovered Story of Indian Enslavement in America (p. 286). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Kindle Edition.
- ^Reséndez, Andrés. The Other Slavery: The Uncovered Story of Indian Enslavement in America (p. 287). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Kindle Edition.
- ^"Navajos  were captured en route and sold off throughout New Mexico, Colorado, and northern Mexico." Reséndez, Andrés. The Other Slavery: The Uncovered Story of Indian Enslavement in America (p. 293). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Kindle Edition.
- ^Page 168, Kelly, Navajo Roundup
- ^ ab"U.S.-Navajo Treaty of 1868". reta.nmsu.edu. Retrieved 2015-09-01.
- ^Gorman, Howard (1973). "1864: The Navajo begin 'Long Walk' to imprisonment". Native Voices. U.S. National Library of Medicine. Retrieved 28 January 2013.
- ^"A Rare Genetic Disorder Is Stalking the Children of the Navajo Nation In POV's 'Sun Kissed,' Premiering Thursday, Oct. 18, 2012, on PBS". POV Documentaries with a Point of View. PBS. Retrieved 2014-11-06.
- ^http://www.peoplesworld.org/article/rare-disease-suddenly-arises-on-navajo-reservation/ review of Sun Kissed
- Bailey, Lynn R. (1970). Bosque Redondo: An American Concentration Camp. Pasadena, California: Socio-Technical Books.
- Bial, Raymond (2003). Great Journeys: The Long Walk—The Story of Navajo Captivity. New York: Benchmark Books. ISBN 0-7614-1322-7.
- Brown, Dee (1970). Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee. ISBN 0-330-23219-3.
- Kelly, Lawrence (1970). Navajo Roundup: Selected Correspondence of Kit Carson's expedition Against the Navajo, 1863-1865. Colorado: Pruett Publishing Company. ISBN 0-87108-042-7.
- McNitt, Frank (1972). Navajo Wars. Colorado: Univ. New Mexico Press. ISBN 0-8263-0051-0.
- Roberts, Susan A. & Calvin A. Roberts (1988). New Mexico. Albuquerque: Univ. New Mexico Press. ISBN 0-8263-1145-8.
- Simmons, Marc (1973). The Little Lion of the Southwest: a life of Manuel Antonio Chaves. Chicago: The Swallow Press. ISBN 978-0-8040-0633-0.
- Thompson, Gerald (1976). The Army and the Navajo: The Bosque Redondo Reservation Experiment 1863-1868. Tucson, Arizona: The University of Arizona Press. ISBN 0-8165-0495-4.
- Roessel, Ruth, ed. (1973). Navajo Stories of the Long Walk Period. Tsaile, Arizona: Navajo Community College Press. ISBN 0-912586-16-8.
- Iverson, Peter (2002). Diné: A History of the Navajos. Albuquerque: Univ. New Mexico Press.
- Cheek, Lawrence W. (2004). The Navajo Long Walk. Tucson: Rio Nuevo Pub.
- The Diné of the Eastern Region of the Navajo Reservation (1990). Oral Stories of the Long Walk. Crownpoint: Lake Valley Navajo School.
- ^Often truces, ceasefires and armistices are mistakenly called treaties. Treaties in the United States have been ratified by the US Senate. A truce or armistice are agreements between combatants but not ratified by the US Congress. For example, The Bonnville Treaty of 1858 was agreed to by Navajo and the US Military but it was never ratified by the US Senate.
The Long Walk
- Length: 1833 words (5.2 double-spaced pages)
- Rating: Excellent
Walking, there is no end in sight: stranded on a narrow country road for all eternity. It is almost dark now. The clouds having moved in secretively. When did that happen? I am so far away from all that is familiar. The trees are groaning against the wind’s fury: when did the wind start blowing? Have I been walking for so long that time hysterically slipped away! The leaves are rustling about swirling through the air like discarded post-it notes smashing, slapping against the trees and blacktop, “splat-snap”. Where did the sun go? It gave the impression only an instant ago, or had it been longer; that it was going to be a still and peaceful sunny day; has panic from hunger and walking so long finally crept in? Waking up this morning, had I been warned of the impending day, the highs and lows that I would soon face, and the unexpected twist of fate that awaited me, I would have stayed in bed.
It was a sunny day. The leftovers of last week’s snowstorm still blanketed most of the surrounding area. I decided, after straggling about the house for nearly two hours, lethargy slowly creeping in, that I would go for a drive. I leaped in my trusty old Maverick and roared away. The Maverick, which I bought in 1975, was dark blue, (my favorite color). It was a steal and only ten years past its prime. It was a good, trustworthy car and until today, I had not had any problems with it. This was a spontaneous kind of getaway, so nothing was planned, no basket of food prepared, nor did I make any other preparations. Living in the city can be depressing so getting away from the concrete jungle for a few hours was a welcomed escape. I have not lived in this city for very long, although I knew the names of the adjoining towns, there were a few that I did not know. However, being the adventurer that I am, I drove off in a direction that I have never been. I do not know why I did not think to look at the gas gauge before I left perhaps I was too preoccupied with the thought of fleeing that I did not care.
After two and a half hours of Driving, on an old narrow country road, maneuvering the Maverick to its full potential I began to sense the problem with my car even before it actually happened.
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:: 6 Works Cited
As if telepathically connection to the machine, enjoined. I started to feel the thrashing and lurching, almost as soon as the thought burst into my consciousness. I did not worry, at least not right away. Since over the last twenty years, I have become proficient at troubleshooting mechanical problems with my car. If it can be fixed, I can fix it, at least the basic things anyway. However, this situation was different, because I was out of gas. I knew that because the car sputtered along until the very end. Luckily, I was on a long stretch of road and not beside a curve. I parked the car, and exited (being careful of oncoming traffic) and went to the trunk to get the spare gallon of gas that I always kept there. I opened the trunk and instantly realized that while cleaning the car out the other day I forgot to fill and put the gas back in afterwards.
Hence, there I was, stranded on this narrow country road, with my broken down Maverick, imprisoned by the exploding foliage. At my best recollection It was two hours drive from my, “Welcome Home” mat. I reached for my wallet only to find that I too, had left that at home. Although, I did not really know what I was going to do with money. I mean, after all, I was in the country; it is not likely that a McDonald’s was nearby. Being sure to lock up my car before I left, I started walking. Almost instantly, It started to get cold and a happening of dark clouds began to form through the thick canopy of trees, I assumed that my heading was correct, but I had no way of knowing it for sure. Minutes passed, turning into quarter hours, then half hours as I shuffled forward. The day had been nice when I started out late this morning, however, now, it was spinning out of control. “Stumbling forward”, a vision from times past is signaling the child, knocking on the awareness of ancient times, asking for a minute. I give in. I had been bad one day (had screwed-up), and as punishment was halfhazardly escorted into the cellar, or basement if you will to spend the night. I was afraid. It was night and I was only six years old. I remember it so clearly. There was not much in the way of comfort in our cellar. A rusted old water heater, which clanked and banged to life, (every hour on the hour), sat in one corner surrounded by cotton candy cobwebs thick as rope. It nested in its own spot, perhaps planted a thousand years ago, bolted to the very core of the planet. On the other side of our dungeon sat an old worn workbench dusty from lack of care standing there, emotionless, with canning jars placed indiscriminately here and there. In the middle of the subterranean crypt was the play area where us kids usually had to play during cold winter days. Here sat a rectangle crib framed squarely by steel padded poles with fish-netting walls hanging three feet from the floor. This familiar wretched playpen suddenly did not seem so inviting; after all, it was soon to be my overnight quarters. Entering the confine, after having been told that this was home for the night, I took little solace in the stuffed animals that filled the corral. As my make-believe parent left, I settled in for a long night ahead.
(Walking now, floating in and out of reality, pitch as black not a car in sight. Have I slipped into a different dimension? Has the cheese finally slipped off my cracker? Trapped in a time warp? It seems like days have passed. Why has no one given me a ride?)
I awoke to a crashing sound, awkwardly sensing the dense cellar air, my coconsciousness screaming to go back to road. As I slowly became aware of my right mind, I suddenly realized, I was not alone. Fear swept through me like a sandstorm through a chain link fence. I did not know what to think. Was it someone playing a cruel joke or was it something else; some demons come to get me. I was huddled right next to the thin fishnet walls trying to steal the security of that flimsy backing, but alas, I did not. All of a sudden, a slight gust of air splashed my forehead, instantly, my eyes wide, but seeing nothing, my mouth opened to scream, yet I heard nothing; vocal cords frozen. I wanted to get up and run…. run as fast as I could, but where? There was nowhere to go. My heart, now doing the drum solo, “Wipe Out”, felt like it would soon split open and feed the furnace. I was frozen. I did not know what to do. Slowly, I crept towards the center of the pen and covered myself with the stuffed animals that encircled me. I knew that at any moment the thing in the cellar would soon get me. I shut my eyes.
(The light was blinding. Where was it coming from? Slowly, I realized where I was, on the dark country road).
The road, being so narrow, forced me to walk on the asphalt shoulder which was also the main part of the road, consequently, this put me in harms way from the passing motorists. Having vanished now, in and out of consciousness’ for what seemed like days, I looked at my watch, seven hours had passed since I started this endeavor. Walking, slouched over, cold, hungry, alone. I can only imagine what the passing motorists thought as they overtook me on that wild road. No wonder I am still walking. As I approached a sharp curve that was barely visible through the peeking moonlight, the lights advanced on me, and for a moment, I thought I was road kill. As the rumbling automobile slowed down, I stepped off the asphalt onto the soft, 45º shoulder. It was slushy and muddy from the winter’s weather; I was almost swallowed by the thick menacing bushes, never to be heard from again. The farm truck slowly came to a halt and the passenger side window began to roll down. I could see the escaping, wonderful heat as it waved out. A elderly voice spoke out through the darkness of the cab, “ Are you all right there young feller”, for an instant and only an instant I was afraid, but as soon as I heard the calm tone in the mans voice I relaxed. “Yes”, I said, as I started towards opened window. Following our short introduction, I told the man that I had run out of gas several hours ago. After a few minutes of talking to each other, he too seemed more relaxed. Then, he offered to help, I did not refuse. I stepped into the warmth and off we drove towards my lifeless Maverick. As we arrived, some thirty minutes later, I could see the well-known silhouette: my sleeping car. He had some spare gas on hand and offered it to me. I told him that I would pay him back if he gave me his address. He said, “Not to bother, just help someone out, if they should be in a pinch”, I told him that I would if I was in a position to do so. Later, as the caring gentleman looked on in the darkness of his cab and seeing that my car started up, with his last voice, “good luck sonny”, he was gone.
Even now, as the pen recalls this long ago event, having many times since fulfilled the ancient promise, I am that man. It has been thirty years: that Maverick long since gone retired perhaps at some distant farm. This has been a recurring learning experience for me. I have never again gone for a “spur of the moment drive”, without knowing that my truck is equipped with a gallon of water, an emergency first aid kit, and more importantly a full, two and a half gallon can of gasoline. The place where my mind went, on that old country road, the tremendous aloneness that I felt has put into perspective for me that no matter what kind of dark, cold, and deserted circumstances I might find myself in, a power greater than me always intervenes. Furthermore, I am proud to have continued spread the kindness that was so freely given to me.