Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Elk Dogs in WHEN LEAVES CHANGE COLOR by John Bradford Branney!



CLICK to ORDER When Leaves Change Color
The passage in blue is from my new book WHEN LEAVES CHANGE COLOR. In this passage, you will meet Ouray, a young warrior from a tribe called the Snakes. Ouray was hunting when he discovered something so unusual his life would never be the same. The time was the late 1600s, pre-horse times for most tribes, including Ouray's. Here is what happened.    

Ouray picked up his bow and a half-full quiver of arrows and left his family’s dwelling. Outside, he extended the bow out in front of him and pulled the sinew bowstring with his bottom three fingers, checking the bowstring for fraying or damage. The bow creaked under the strain of bending. Ouray slowly released the bowstring and the bow returned to its original shape. He looped the quiver of arrows around his neck and left the village, hiking west.

Ouray picked up his bow and a half-full quiver of arrows and left his family’s dwelling. Outside, he extended the bow out in front of him and pulled the sinew bowstring with his bottom three fingers, checking the bowstring for fraying or damage. The bow creaked under the strain of bending. Ouray slowly released the bowstring and the bow returned to its original shape. He looped the quiver of arrows around his neck and left the village, hiking west.

As he searched the nearby hills and canyons, Ouray found animal tracks, but no animals accompanying the tracks. He finally reached the rocky slope of a small plateau. He noticed a grove of juniper trees at the base of the plateau, a good place to catch a deer napping in the shade. Ouray snuck down toward the juniper trees. Before he reached the trees, he stopped to study the lay of the land. If he came upon an animal, he wanted to know the possible escape routes of his prey.

Photograph of Shoshone Indians in 1871.
Photo by William H. Jackson.    
Then, he saw it. He was too surprised to move. His heart raced and his hands tingled. He caught himself holding his breath. He forced himself to breathe. He focused on slowly inhaling and exhaling, inhaling and exhaling, trying to slow his racing heart. An elk was on the opposite side of the grove of trees, grazing on the sun-shriveled grass on the rocky ground. He had not seen an elk in a long time. It had been so long he had even forgotten what to do. He was not expecting to find an elk anywhere near the village and he was not even sure if the elk was real. He shut his eyes tight and then reopened them, making sure the animal was just not his imagination. The elk remained. Ouray quickly ducked behind a tree while he thought through his plan of attack.  

The animal’s sharp eyes spotted Ouray’s movement against the backdrop of juniper trees. It Turned its head and stared at the spot where it had last seen the movement, pricking its ears in that direction. Its tail twitched as its instincts processed the possible threat. The animal watched the same spot for a very long time, taking a few steps forward to get a better angle. Finally, the call of a meadowlark distracted the animal and it swiveled its head around in another direction, forgetting all about the first potential threat. Once the bird’s melody ended, the animal stretched its long neck and raised its head high, sniffing at the air and searching for any airborne sign of predators. Convinced that there were no threats, the animal finally returned to grazing on the sparse grass.   

Crawling over to the trunk of a nearby juniper tree, Ouray poked his head out to get a better look at the elk. The animal was still there. It had not spotted him. Ouray rolled back behind the tree and thought about how he could get closer for a better shot. With the strong wind, he might hit the elk with an arrow from this distance, but he was not going to take the chance.

After thinking about his dilemma, Ouray peeked out from behind the tree. The elk was looking directly at him. Ouray studied it. There was something strange about this elk. It had been a long time since Ouray had seen an elk, but this animal did not look like any elk he had ever seen. This animal had that same long, bushy tail as the other animal that he and Haiwee had spotted. He did not remember elk having long, bushy tails. The tail was not right for a deer, either, and the animal was much too large to be a deer.





What was this animal?





In their book, The Shoshones: Sentinels of the Rockies, Trenholm and Carley wrote about a mid-eighteenth century story about Shoshone warriors showing up in Blackfoot country riding strange animals as 'swift as deer'. During the ongoing battle with the Shoshone, the Blackfoot warriors were able to isolate and kill a Shoshone warrior and the animal he rode. The Blackfoot warriors were astonished at the animal's great size and named it a 'big dog', after the only domesticated animal they were familiar with. Later, the Blackfoot tribe referred to these animals as 'stags that lost their horns' or 'elk dogs'.





Peter Faris wrote in Southwestern Lore in 2002 about a Blackfoot warrior named Shaved Head who

Julia Tuell took this photograph on the Northern
Cheyenne reservation in 1906.
saw his first horse in the a camp of an enemy in the early 1700s. Shaved Head referred to these animals as 'big dogs' or 'elk that have lost their horns'. Shaved Head and some other Blackfoot warriors captured a few of these animals and took them back to their village. At first, no one in the tribe knew what to do with the animals until one ingenious soul hooked up a travois to one of the horses and the rest is history.


Read WHEN LEAVES CHANGE COLOR and find out what happens to Ouray.