Friday, July 18, 2014

Native American Sprituality and the Shadows on the Trail Trilogy

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Shadows on the Trail -
the first book of the trilogy.
The seed for the Shadows on the Trail Trilogy sprouted on an early summer morning in 2010 on a northern Colorado ranch where I found a man-made prehistoric tool made from a red and gray striped rock from a prehistoric rock quarry in Texas. As I admired the prehistoric tool that a Paleoindian had made over 10,700 years ago, several questions raced through my mind. How did this tool end up in a prehistoric campsite in northern Colorado, five hundred miles to the north of the prehistoric rock quarry? Who made it? What was he or she like? What happened on its journey from Texas to northern Colorado? Since it was impossible for me to ask the prehistoric person who made the tool, I wrote my own version of the journey in a book called Shadows on the Trail.      

Due to the popularity of the book Shadows on the Trail, it has now grown into a Trilogy that encompasses the life of a Paleoindian hunter named Chayton who belonged to a culture of people who actually existed, the Folsom People. 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 time of global warming, rising air temperatures and melting ice caps and glaciers. It was a time when several large mammal species went extinct and when small bands of humans roamed the mountains and plains attempting to survive in an unforgiving and violent world. During that time, the Folsom People lived under a cloud of unknowns. The science behind such things as tornadoes, earthquakes, weather and even death, were not yet known or understood. It does not take too much of an imagination to assume that the Folsom People had to associate some or all of these phenomena to a spiritual power that controlled their lives and environment. We know that when the Europeans showed up on the North American continent thousands of years later, historical Indian tribes had well-developed religious and spiritual beliefs.

Ghosts of the Heart -
the second book of the trilogy.
Since prehistoric religion and spirituality in North America was undocumented, I used the religion and spirituality of the historic Lakota Sioux and Cheyenne Indian tribes in the Shadows on the Trail Trilogy. Of course, using the religion and spirituality from two historic Indian tribes thousands of years after the Folsom People lived, is a stretch. However, there is archaeological evidence that a portion of the religious and spiritual traditions of the Lakota Sioux and Cheyenne were around at the time of the Folsom People and Paleoindians, especially the traditions related to mortuary practices.

At an archaeological burial site in Texas called Horn Shelter No. 2, the investigators found two Paleoindians buried and associated with animal effigies, probable evidence that a spiritual connection existed between these people and animals. The male skeleton was found associated with selected portions of a hawk, badger, turtles and coyotes while the adolescent girl skeleton was touching three turtle shells. Investigators believed that this represented some kind of spiritual connection with these specific bird and animal species.

At another Paleoindian burial site in Montana called Anzick, the investigators found beautiful Clovis projectile points and bifaces buried with a small Clovis child. A red powder called red ochre covered both the artifacts and the child. Many cultures in past millennia have used red ochre in burials. There has also been widespread use of red ochre associated with prehistoric open camps, burials and tool caches across North America.

In Oklahoma, archaeologists discovered another piece of evidence of the rituality of Paleoindians. Investigators found a painted bison skull in association with diagnostic Folsom artifacts at a Paleoindian bison kill site named Cooper. The painted bison skull probably had significance to the spirituality associated with the hunt.  

Folsom projectile point - spiritual
connection, art, or overkill?
            I will add another Paleoindian connection to their spirituality, projectile points. Some of the finest projectile points ever made were Folsom projectile points. The craftsmanship and quality of the Folsom projectile points went far beyond any reasonable or functional requirement. Why would the Folsom People exert so much effort and energy in making and maintaining these exquisite fluted projectile points unless they believed these projectile points carried power or spirituality into the hunt? We know that the failure rate in making Folsom points was high and the Folsom People could have gotten by with much more primitive stone projectile points and still been successful in the hunt. Why did they create these beautiful projectile points? Was there something spiritual tied to the weapons they used or was it merely art?    

The belief in spirituality most likely developed from the Paleoindians’ level of understanding of natural phenomena, hunting, animals, belief in ghosts and spirits, and shamanism. Paleoindian traditions passed word-to-mouth from generation to generation until the Europeans helped document the beliefs of the historical Indian tribes. How much the religion and spirituality of the Paleoindians changed over several millennia is anyone’s guess, but we do know what the Lakota Sioux and Cheyenne spiritually believed. We know that they believed in a Great Spirit, just like most of us. We know that they had a deep connection to animals and nature. We also know that these historical Indian tribes believed strongly in the circle of life. 

To summarize, my first book in the trilogy called Shadows on the Trail is loaded with action and adventure with some Paleoindian spiritual undertones. In my second book of the trilogy called Ghosts of the Heart, action and adventure still dominate, but there is much more spirituality than in the first book. In my third and final book of the trilogy called Winds of Eden, there is still action and adventure, but there is an overriding theme of Native American beliefs and spirituality throughout the book. Shadows on the Trail, Ghosts of the Heart, and Winds of Eden  are available at, Barnes and, and other better booksellers.