Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Native American Languages in the Shadows on the Trail Trilogy

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As the author of Shadows on the Trail Trilogy, one of my most frequent questions is 'what are the languages used for the three Paleoindian tribes in the books?' Since it is impossible for anyone to know the languages Paleoindians spoke 11,000 years ago, I decided that I would use three historical Native American languages for the Shadows on the Trail Trilogy.

The first tribe I introduced in the book was the Folsom People. I interlaced the language of the Lakota Sioux with English for their personal names, places, and common phrases. For example, the name of our main character, Chayton, means Falcon in the language of the Lakota Sioux.

For the River People, I employed the language of the Cheyenne Indians for personal names, places, and some common phrases. For example, the name of the heroine of the River People, Namid, means Star Dancer in the language of the Cheyenne Indians.    

Finally, for the aggressive and hostile Mountain People I employed the language of the Comanche Indians for their personal names and places. For example, the warrior Tosarre's name in Comanche means Dog.

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Do I believe any of these historical Native American languages existed 11,000 years ago when Paleoindians roamed the plains and mountains and these books took place? My answer is no! During an 11,000 year span of time, there is a high probability that the languages used by the Paleoindians were significantly different than the languages spoken by the historical Native American tribes of the Lakota Sioux, Cheyenne, and Comanche. But, I am sure there are linguists out there who have a much better answer to that question than me.  

One of the more memorable scenes in Chapter 10 of the first book Shadows on the Trail was when Keya of the Folsom People tribe (designated boy in the dialogue) finds Honiahaka from the River People tribe spying on the Folsom People's camp along the river. In the dialogue below, Keya only speaks the Lakota Sioux tongue while Honiahaka only understands the Cheyenne tongue. What happened with the conversation was a perfect example of a 'failure to communicate'.

Hidden behind scrub oak bushes along the river, Honiahaka watched the camp. It had been two suns since he had nearly drowned in the river. He smelled the roasting meat coming from the camp and his shrinking stomach growled in protest. Since he had eaten the frog legs at the marsh, his diet had consisted of grasshoppers, a small fish, and several more frog legs. He was famished.  
            Honiahaka wondered if these people were the same enemies who burned the village and killed his mother. Before he walked into this camp, he had to know it was safe. He needed to move closer to see who these people were. He carefully crept forward to another bush and then plopped down behind it. Honiahaka watched the people’s movements, but to him, they looked the same as any other people. He would have to get even closer to see if he recognized any of their faces from his village. He snuck forward, crouching down behind yet another bush.          
            Honiahaka now had a much better view of the village. He could now see the people’s faces. SMACK! An object whacked Honiahaka in the back of the head, knocking him flat. Before he could react, someone jumped on his back and shoved his face into the dirt. The attacker then grabbed one of
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Honiahaka’s shoulders and flipped him over onto his back, plopping down in the middle of his chest. Before Honiahaka could even twitch a muscle, a stone knife blade was at his throat. Honiahaka looked up and the attacker was young and much bigger. Honiahaka laid still, a knife blade creasing the skin on his throat.  

"Nitúktetanhan hwo?–Where are you from?” the boy asked Honiahaka.
            Honiahaka did not understand.

"Táku eníciyapi hwo?–What is your name?” the boy asked, pushing the knife blade into Honiahaka’s neck.
            Honiahaka stared in bewilderment at the boy.   

Oh ya lay hey?-Who are you looking for?” 
            Again, Honiahaka did not understand this strange language.

"Waniyetu nitóna hwo?–How old are you?”       
            Noxa'e!–Wait!” screamed Honiahaka.    

"Táku eníciyapi hwo?–What is your name?the boy asked again.
             Honiahaka had no idea what the boy was saying, but he started screaming out his own name anyway, “Honiahaka! Honiahaka!”

“What kind of name is that?” the boy asked and then punched Honiahaka in the jaw. Before Honiahaka could recover, the boy was standing over him with a fluted spear point brushing up against Honiahaka’s chest.
            Inánjinyo!-Stand up!” the boy screamed, motioning him to stand with his spear. Honiahaka crawled slowly to his feet.

“Walk!” the boy ordered, pointing his spear in the direction of the camp.

My primary reason for using Native American languages in the Shadows on the Trail Trilogy was to make the dialogue between characters appear more authentic than merely speaking English or even using broken English. I wanted to present the Paleoindian characters as intelligent and insightful without resorting to the stereotype of  'dull witted cavemen who grunt and groan'. Based on skeletal remains and archeaological evidence, we can assume that the Paleoindians were intelligent hunters and gatherers with the same brain capacity as modern day humans.They could plan, create, and solve problems, as well as we can. A Paleoindian would probably not survive very well in our modern world, but I can guarantee that most modern humans could not survive in the Pleistocene filled with predatory animals and no cell phone to dial 911.

So far, I have received mostly positive reviews for using authentic Native American languages in the Shadows on the Trail Trilogy. Some readers have to told me that the use of these languages brings a higher level of authenticity to the book while other readers have found it a distraction. You be the judge! Read the Shadows on the Trail Trilogy and then give me your opinion!         

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Sunday, April 14, 2013

Shadows on the Trail - A Prehistoric Adventure Novel

Shadows on the Trail takes place at the end of the last Ice Age on the plains and mountains of Texas and Colorado. The end of the Ice Age was a dramatic time of global warming, rising air temperatures and melting ice caps and glaciers. It was a time when many large mammal species went extinct and small bands of humans roamed the land attempting to survive in an unforgiving and violent world.  This is a tale of three prehistoric tribes whose paths collide, culminating into an emotional thriller filled with predatory animals, natural disasters, good and evil people.        
Chayton, our hero, is an orphan and hunter in a tribe called the Folsom People. Forced to deal with a catastrophic drought, Chayton and the Folsom People abandon their peaceful canyon home and make their way north to an idyllic land called the North Country. While the Folsom People make their way across a desolate prairie, a barbaric tribe called the Mountain People brutally attack a peaceful tribe called the River People. A fortunate encounter between a young boy from the River People and the Folsom People, pull the three tribes into the same whirlwind conflict.

The plot of the book takes a surprising turn when the surviving members of the River People convince the Folsom People to help them free part of their tribe from the fortified mountain village of the Mountain People. Together, the two good tribes devise an intricate plan to trap the lethal Mountain People and rescue the River People captives.        
Chayton’s lonely life takes a joyous turn when he rescues a beautiful young woman named Namid. While the independence of both Chayton and Namid keep their relationship at arm’s length in the near term, their attraction for each other break down their independence and true love blossoms.

Just when the reader is lulled into believing that ‘good will triumph over evil’ in this book, an unexpected and diabolical twist causes the River People and the Folsom People to scramble for survival against one of the deadliest forces of nature. 

Shadows on the Trail by John Bradford Branney is available at,, and 

Thursday, April 4, 2013

The Adventure SHADOWS ON THE TRAIL and Folsom Points!

SHADOWS ON THE TRAIL is a historical-based, fictional adventure about a mystical group of people called Folsom who  actually roamed North America from approximately 10,900 to 10,200 years ago at the end of the last Ice Age. How do we know the Folsom People existed? They left behind an exquisitely made fluted projectile point type that was ultimately named Folsom after its in situ discovery with an extinct bison at an archaeological site near Folsom, New Mexico in 1926. The longitudinal flutes and the phenomenal workmanship differentiated the Folsom point from other types of projectile points used around the same time-period.
Figure 1
Figure 1 is an 1.36-inch long Folsom projectile point found in northern Colorado. The author found this Folsom point, made from a localized rock called Flat Top Chalcedony, near the Alibates Chert discoidal biface which would become the inspiration for the story behind SHADOWS ON THE TRAIL (see other blog postings).  

Creating longitudinal flutes from the base of the projectile point to its tip was an extremely difficult process for the Folsom people. For the projectile point to survive, the fluting process had to be in tune and under control. Even with modern science and the various mechanical gizmos that people have utilized to replicate fluting of Folsom points in modern times, it is still a difficult and time-consuming process. No one seems to agree on the process that the Folsom people used to flute their projectile points, but we can all agree it was a remarkable achievement for over 10,000 years ago.   

The chipping debris found at excavated Folsom complex sites such as Lindenmeier in northern Colorado demonstrate the high failure rate in making fluted projectile points (Wilmsen and Roberts 1978). Even if the projectile point survived the intricate process of fluting, the completed Folsom projectile point often ended up thin and fragile, which ultimately translated to very few complete Folsom points surviving in the archaeological record. For someone like me, who regularly searches for prehistoric artifacts, finding a Folsom point is a rare and exceptional event.
Figure 2

Figure 2 is a photograph of an artifact from my collection that I believe was a preform of a fluted projectile point (either a Clovis or Folsom projectile point at its very earliest stage). The prehistoric human created a nipple on this 2.25 inch long piece of petrified wood early in the process of making a projectile point (see where mechanical pencil tip is pointing). This nipple would have been used as a striking platform for driving flutes longitudinally up through the rock. This preform was found at the same site as the Alibates Chert discoidal biface and Figure 1.

The short scene below takes place in the first chapter of Shadows on the Trail. Our hero Chayton visits a tribal elder named Tarca Sapa to get assistance in fluting projectile points needed for the tribe’s journey to the North Country. Chayton was nervous about fluting the projectile points for two reasons: Fluting projectile points was a difficult process with a high probability of failure and he was performing this activity in front of his mentor and his mentor’s granddaughter, Tonkala, who just happened to be the love of Chayton’s young life.      

With his hands shaking, Chayton opened up his leather pouch and pulled out two thick pads made from buffalo hide and two elk antler hammers. He sat down on a nearby rock and covered his legs with the thick pads. He placed a spear point, tip down, along the inside of his left thigh and then placed an elk antler hammer horizontally on top of the platform at the base of the projectile point. He braced the other end of the elk antler hammer against the inside of his right thigh. When Chayton had the hammer precisely lined up with the small square platform, he took the second elk antler hammer in his right hand and swung down hard on top of the first elk hammer. Nothing happened. 

Flustered, Chayton looked over at Tonkala hoping that she was not watching him. Chayton then looked at Tarca Sapa hoping for some words of encouragement, but Tarca Sapa only stared straight ahead at the spear point still resting in Chayton’s lap. Chayton nervously realigned the spear point, this time swinging the hammer even harder, striking the spear point with much more force. A solid cracking sound came from the spear point and Chayton looked down and saw the long thin flake that had detached from the spear point. To Chayton’s delight, the spear point had a beautiful flute channel running its entire length. 

Bravo! Let’s give Chayton a round of applause! He was either lucky or perhaps he was skilled at the art of fluting projectile points. For a Paleoindian at the end of the Ice Age, fluting a projectile point was an extra step in creating a projectile point. The author is unaware of any archaeological or scientific evidence that demonstrates that Folsom projectile points were any more effective at bringing down a deer or a bison than other projectile points during that same time-period.

Figure 3

Figure 3 is a photograph of two 1.65 inch long Folsom points from the author’s collection. Both Folsom points exhibit evidence of the nipple or striking platform at their bases (see mechanical pencil tip). The striking platform was used as a place to direct a blow for driving flutes longitudinally from the base to the tip of the projectile point.              

So, why did Folsom People go through the painstaking process of adding flutes to their projectile points? No one knows the answer. We can only speculate. Perhaps, they believed the flutes allowed better blood flow from animal wounds or that the fluting made it easier to haft the projectile points on to their spear and dart shafts. Perhaps, they did it as a ritual or making these beautiful points was a spiritual thing. Maybe, it was a combination of several factors. We will never know. What are your thoughts?   

Wilmsen, Edwin N. and Frank H. H. Roberts, Jr.

1978    Lindenmeier, 1934-1974 – Concluding Report on Investigations. Smithsonian Institute Press. Washington D.C.