Late Afternoon, Spring, 1778
Nation of the Paiute
Ne-Zhoni sat atop Bison Mesa drinking in the fresh spring grass swaying across the valley 375 feet below the towering pillar of stone.
“Finally, the treasure is hidden…the duty done.”
Her gaze then settled on the baby nestled in her lap. She put him to her shoulder, patted his broad back and secured the front of the leather wrap over her creamy skin. A lone hawk circled in the warm updraft and squawked in surprise at the intruder invading his realm.
“The many years of hiding secrets from the man I love are behind me, and my heavy heart can lie still.”
The cavern had been cool for most of the work, but now after the steep climb to the mouth of the hidden shaft, she was hot and the red dirt dusted her hair and filled her ears. She finished the task by cleverly arranging rocks, planting cactus and sifting fine dirt into the seams to conceal the heavy capstone she pushed over the opening.
When the plump baby in her arms gazed up with the same unusual green eyes that matched her own, she thought upon the purpose of her secret.
“Que nin͂o, all is in place to follow the guide I’ve preserved for them. Only you and I know of this legacy left to those who come after us, for I shall never see this land again nor will you.”
For ten springs, NeZhoni put on the Paiute ceremonial robe and told her father that she needed to come to Bison Mesa for meditation. There had been a firm agreement when she left her father’s hearth to go with the stranger. The man promised to bring her back to their valley whenever his travels brought him near, and he kept his pledge. “This will be the last time I will see my childhood home.”
When the strangely dressed traveling men came to winter camp she was afraid, but the tribal council had long before learned they could fight the men with shining hats, lose many braves. end up with nothing—or they could barter, trade and gain new tools and weapons for their people.
On that day long ago, as she peeked out from behind her father she was noticed by one of the men. He longingly admired her fair skin, and emerald eyes. Several weeks later as the caravan of horses and wagons prepared to leave, the bargain was made.
“NeZhoni, you will go with these men as payment for the mustangs of wind we will gain for the hunt. One man has promised to care for you, serve him well and he will return to us that you may see your family.”
There was no choice. NeZhoni knew she had to go. She walked slowly over to the man called Diego and stood behind him. He from that day had treated her well, and after a while, made her his woman. He was kind, taught her his language and his ways of worship, also to read and to write, and in return, she taught him the medicine of plants and bore him many sons. During their travels she saw lands—amazing and precious things that she had never seen before.
As she went quietly about her duties, the men of the quest ignored her as if she were the air and gradually, not realizing she had learned their language, NeZhoni discovered the secret of Conquistador gold. She only took and hid away a few coins to cut into trinkets for her hair adornments at first, but soon after began to take larger amounts and hid it among her belongings. There was so much. No one ever missed what she took.
As the days and weeks became years she forgot many of the ways of her people, so, making the trips of renewal to her home land became important, for many a purpose. Along with women’s learning and ceremony, each year as she returned, she deposited the growing golden load in the hiding place she discovered. Always silent to Diego and others, telling no one of her theft—ever firm in resolution yet never knowing why she felt so compelled to carry out such a deception. Today was the last of her trickery, and she was glad she no longer had to fear discovery.
Gently she placed her fifth son on the carrying board and wrapped the soft straps around the bundle to secure him. His eyes were closing as she put the sun cover above his head and lifted him upon her back. Shielding her eyes from the brightness, she took one last look at the mountains across the valley to ensure she had all the proper signs precisely written on the underside of her gown.
She began her way down the treacherous rock face. Anxious to further wash the dirt and stench of death from her hands, she hurried to the basin floor. NeZhoni had used the cleaning sopa root after her labors, but she liked the sweet smelling bars Diego bought for her during their travels. The setting sun had turned the hills blood red and the sky violet by the time she reached the encampment.
Her man was patiently waiting with their sons at spring camp on the prairie meadow.
“Here, hold our son and I will say a leave-taking to my father”
She gave him his sleeping small one, and gestured she was going to the structure across the clearing. Her father, Chief Toohoo-Bagootsoo, was in the wiki-up cross-legged on the dirt floor. He was much thinner than she remembered and no longer resembled his namesake of the broad chested black bison. His breath came with a difficult rattling sound. He was suffering from the slow death of the bloody tooth cough.
In the corner of the enclosure, she changed back into the woven cloth dress and bonnet that made her look like the other women traveling in the wagon train. She laid out her ceremonial gown across the stone used to grind grain, took out a knife, and carefully cut around the part of the soft leather where she had written the guide.
On the day of her vision, six years ago in the women’s sweathouse, she had eaten the ‘Flesh of the Gods’ mushroom, and asked the spirits to help her suffering people. In her waking dream, she saw a future where people traveled in metal boxes, and black roads were made tall on stilts. Homes were shut from the sky and everyone sat before boxes of flickering lights and a spider spun it’s web across the land.
“Do this,” she heard the ghost voice say, “Or, your people will fade to nothing from illness and greed. You can save them from this suffering with a great gift from the
She saw the way to prepare a guide and asked faithful ones to assist in following the plan she was given. None of them could understand the reasons for the peculiar work, but trusted in the spirits to ensure the hidden treasure would be found at the right time. They were saving their hope-dream for children unborn.
Now the task was finished. And only she and her infant son knew the final secrets. She twisted the hide into a roll, positioned it within a Bagootsoo horn and gave it to her father.
“Honored father, I have done as the spirits wish.” She placed the carved type and a tattered book in his hands
“These things will show the way to the gift for those who seek. But who so ever attempts the quest must do so with a pure heart and give warning to follow only when the time is right and the sign is true or tragedy will be at journeys’ end. And Father, have not sorrow in your heart, for my life of exile has become a blessing to our people, and to me.”
She reached out to touch her father’s hand and stroke his sunken cheek. They both knew their next meeting would be in the clouds. The parting was heavy and silent.
Overhead was a sliver of moon and so few stars she could barely see the children in the wagon entwined in the rhythmic unity of sleep. Roberto saw her coming, rose quickly from the ground where he sat, and with one motion was in the wagon seat with the reins in his hands. NeZhoni lithely climbed up the wheel and slid across the smooth board to be at his side. She felt the warmth of him and looked up at the wide shoulders and strong profile of the man she had learned to love dearly. He urged on the horses and the wagon pulled free of the muddy ruts with a jolt. They had many miles of travel to join the others for their journey across the rolling waters. NeZhoni did not look back. There was no need—her world was with her in the wagon.