On the reservation when I was a little girl, my mother put me in charge of a flock of sheep. I didn’t like it. At school, they teased and called me Bo Peep and pulled my hair. I don’t even want to think of it
My mother would shake me in the morning and say, “Wake up! Wake up! You have one hour.” I had to get the sheep out to graze before school. It was tough because the sheep knew I was just a little girl with a willow switch. I would cry because often they refused to cooperate.
One morning the sheep went straight out to field, no problem at all. So I sat down in the soft grass and took a little rest. Suddenly I woke. I sat up and looked around. The sun was high. I was late for school. I jumped. And the sheep were gone.
I ran home crying and told my father. He jumped in the truck with my brothers. And they went to go search for them. My mother whipped and beat me.
After three days they still couldn’t find the sheep. It was said we should ask the tribal medicine man for help. We were so poor and had very little we could offer him. So, my mother whipped and beat me again.
Later that night, I was brought into a tepee where my grandmother sat by a fire. They left us alone and drove away. Grandmother smiled at me. I always liked her wrinkled old face, so full of kindness. She laid some sticks on the fire and motioned for me to come closer and sit down. There was a cup beside her and a jug of water.
On a woolen strip were several small things laid out. She handed me one. Motioning to her mouth, she showed me to chew the thing very slowly. It was bitter. She warned me I might feel sick, but with a pat of her hand on the dirt floor in front of me said, there is always this.
But I never did get sick. They say it was because I was so young and innocent.
Time passed. I heard the coyotes call to each other across the mesa. There was the distant highway humming and an owl out there trying to scare me. I prayed with my grandmother. Soon we began to sing.
A sudden breeze shook the tepee, and the door flap lifted and fell. The Medicine Man appeared. Grandmother put a hand on mine. He had paint over his face and on his chest. Feathers were tied into his long hair. His eyes I can’t tell you, but they glittered like stars just over the mountain tops.
He moved closer and raked the embers of our fire into the shape of an eagle. I sang louder and prayed until my throat was dry. Grandmother gave me water. I noticed then the Medicine Man was gone.
Soon after, in the fire embers, I began to see a mountain. Grazing on a flat shoulder below the mountain were our sheep. I gasped and told grandmother I could see them all alive and well. Very happy she got up and kissed me, stepped out to send for the men.
We waited. When their truck lights finally shone on the tepee, I came out and told the men all I had seen. My father knew where it was, and so they left us. Two days later, they drove in all the sheep, safe and sound.
Well, there you are.
Later, when I graduated, I came back as a caseworker for children’s welfare. I was still new to the work when I met with the parents of a thin, sickly boy at their home.
This family I visited prepared peyote for a tribal affair as I visited. They grudged me my questions and getting to know each other better. For conversation, I told them of my experience with the fire eagle and our lost sheep.
They looked at each other and sat down on the couch. “So,” they said. “So, you are that little girl—the one with the sheep.”
I suppose it does help sometimes when people have heard about you. “Yes,” I said. “That one. The girl with the sheep.”