The Kettle

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Historical Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic

Submitted: October 06, 2019

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Submitted: October 06, 2019



The Kettle

Copyright Canita M. Prough (Pro) 2019


I think I was two years old when we moved into Kootenge House.  My Da, Jaco Finlay, an Irishman, from Cork had built it.  He was a strong man with loud voice. Da seemed tall to me and had bright red hair which he wore long, but it always curled up into his blue wool or beaver skin hat.  He wore buckskin shirts, pants and moccasins.  Ma would say he looked like a true fur trader.

Da sailed from Cork when he was twenty-one years old or so, saying he wanted to be a fur trader.  He said, “beaver skin hats were worn by all in Ireland.”For two years he trapped around this area, before he met my Ma.  Ma was from the Ktunaxa (K-too-nah ha’) clan, and it seemed the clans and Da decided to travel together since they were both in the business of trapping beaver.  Da was kind of lonely, that was what really what decided him and Ma, of course.  After migrating for most of their lives, Da and Ma settled down when I came along.

Da met Mr. Thompson who was from the North West Company, who traded furs and set up trading posts. Mr. Thompson wanted to put a trading post here on the northwest shore of Windermere Lake, in the Columbia Valley in a place called, Canada, where we lived. So, Da, decided to take on the chore of building and running the Kootenge House.

This was one beautiful place to build a trading post and raise a girl.  The valley was surrounded by the villages of the tall Ktunaxa clans which wintered here,  the clan, my Ma was born into.  We lived there in the valley for fifteen years surrounded by the mountains trading with whoever would trade.  Occasionally, a fur trader would come through that would refuse to trade for they would not do business with a “squaw man.”  Seems some people do not like people who do business with the Indians. Otherwise, life was good.

Ma spent a lot of time teaching me things, like how to read and count, which Pa had taught her, but mostly how to cook and serve the travelers.  If they seemed fair and reasonable, she would allow me to serve them food and drinks.  It gave me something different to do.  It wasn’t hard just carrying the bowl and cups to the tables and putting them in the front of them.  Sometime, Ma would even set the table before the travelers arrived and they would serve themselves.  Ma, taught me more and more especially when my baby brother arrived.  One of my chores was to bring in a bucket of water from the well, in the evenings, so Ma would have it to start the coffee, in the morning.

Watching Da and Ma together, I would often daydream about finding a man to settle down with and having a quiver of children.  I loved my Da, and of course Ma loved my fur trading Pa, but having only been around fur traders and Indians, I always dreamed of finding an Indian man to provide and care for me.

Winter was closing in on us when two fur traders pulled their donkeys into the valley.  One of the them wore this funny hat made of metal.  It was round, fit to  his head, but had extra metal that ran over the top and down onto his nose.  He looked quite funny. It seems they had a rough season. They were hungry when they arrived and they did not have many furs to trade.  Da was always saying, “that there were less and less beavers.”  From the look of these two, it was true.  We soon realized they were angry and itching for trouble.  They stayed for two days, complaining about Ma’s cooking, and having only hay to sleep on in the barn. They were not happy mostly because they had not collected enough hides, but they took it out on us. Da, tried trading with them, but they said his prices were not fair. Da said that they may not know how to catch beaver and did not seem the type to listen to advice.  After two days, we were beginning to think they would never go.  But the third morning, thankfully, we woke to their back sides headed out of our valley.

It was a full moon the night they left, Da, Ma, my baby brother, and I had all stepped outside to watch the moon rise into the sky.  The baby was fussy because it was after his bed time, but Da wanted Ma, to see the sky, so the baby had to wait.  Ma had just taken the baby into the house, when Da reminded me of my chore.  So off I went to the well, which was beyond the barn.  The moon was gloomy with blue and black clouds stretching out like feathers.  Maybe, there was a storm brewing.  It was a night when everything seemed to itch and you just couldn’t get comfortable.

It took a while to pump the bucket full of water.  That’s when I hear Da yelling! At first, I thought he was yelling for me.  Then there was a bang! The noise hit me like I had been shot. The tears had already begun to run down my cheeks as I started to run toward the house.  Then there was another bang! This one hit me like a rock in the stomach, I doubled over, and began to run again. Then the baby cried from all the noise, then another bang and the crying stopped!  I stopped dead in my tracks.  Da and Ma had taught me to count. So, we could count supplies. Da wasn’t yelling anymore! The baby wasn’t crying! and there had been three bangs! Maybe, the house was not the place to go.  I turned and ran toward the corral, behind the barn.  I climbed through the poles of the corral and walked quietly through the horses and cows. I was headed for the tree line to hide in the trees. Darkness was spreading and if they knew about me, they would come looking.

Once, I made the trees I turn back to see what I could see.  I could just barely make out two men.  One man had on a funny shaped head.  That is when I knew that it was those unhappy traders.  One was carrying things out of the house and one was keeping watch. I watched for a while since they didn’t seem to be hunting me.  They loaded their donkeys  and  then set the house on fire. With tears running down my face, I clamped my hands over my scream.  I could just make out their shadow, from the fire, as they headed to the east.  The cedar was wafting strongly as the house burned.  The hot, dry summer had made the wood of the house ripe for burning.  When the traders had cleared the area.  I ran to see if I could help Da, Ma and the baby.  Da was in the front of the house on the ground, face down.  I turned him over, with tears clouding my eyes, as I tried to listen for his heart, but he was dead. I let out a scream and continued to cry.  Having spent time with the Ktunaxa clans, and watching  Da and Ma when something bad happened, I knew I had to keep my head.  We lived alone in a vast rough land, the clans were a long way off, or I would have ridden for help.  Since, the Ktunaxa clans were a migrating people who follow the water, each of us had to care for our own.  I knew then that, I needed to see about Ma and baby because they were still in the house.  Angry red flames were leaping from the windows and the front door.  As I ran to the back and the back door was still closed.  It was closer to Da and Ma’s room, where Ma and the baby would be.  I pushed the door open, black smoke rolled out.  When it cleared enough, I ran to the room where Ma was laying on top of baby.  It looked like she had tried to cover him with her body.  She was shot in the head and so was the baby.  I knew then there was no hope of them being alive.  I had a split second to think, should I pull them out and bury them or let them burn.  Da I would bury.  Ma and baby would need to burn, I did not have time drag them out.  

I returned to Da, and pulled him further away from the House.  Then I went to the barn to see if it was burning too.  They had not set the barn on fire, only the house. Knowing there was nothing I could do to help my family, I went into the barn where I felt safe, curled into a ball, pulled hay over myself and cried till I fell asleep.  When my mind became awake, I laid there trying to remember how I came be in the hay.  Then I remembered, Da, Ma and the baby. Tears returned to my eyes and I cried again.  I could smell burning cedar and it made me sick to my stomach.  I wanted to check and see if perhaps things had changed, that it had just been a bad dream and, somehow, Da, Ma and the baby had made it out. I left the barn, checking that no one was around.  I could see the house was still burning. There were hides and other things stored there that would burn for a long time.  I could see Ma and baby on the floor where the bed had burned.  Nothing, but bones remained. I stood there for the longest time just crying, I would stand for a while, then fall to the ground and, roll on down into the dirt and ashes.  Then I would calm only to hear a sound.  I would rise to see if things had changed.  Then I would start to cry again.  It began to rain, but, only for a few minutes, I wish it would rain longer but, with the cold, I soon stirred.  Da was where I had drug him.  His skins had started to sag.  He was all white, which made his red hair really red. He was covered with ashes from the fire.  He was cold so, I covered him with a horse blanket from the barn.  I returned to the barn, to once again curl into a ball, bury myself under the hay and cry.  I stayed curled up until hunger became a friend or an enemy, I was not sure which.  I knew several days had passed, but I was unsure how many.  Hunger would not be ignored, and I was very thirsty. I was SCARED, and unsure if I should I just allow myself to die.  I knew Da stored some things in the barn like coffee and beans for those travelers who got hungry in the night or wanted to leave in the early mornings.  I knew I could survive for a while on those supplies.  Da had said often, “We are survivors.” I knew Da would want me to survive.  Here I was, seventeen year old, alone, scared, and with no family.  My thought was to stay in the barn until the Ktunaxa returned from the south and join them.

It took me two days to dig a hole big enough to bury Da between crying, digging in the dry, hard dirt, and freezing.  I put the remains of Ma and baby in the same hole. Because I didn’t have the strength to dig separate graves for them. 

It was early one morning some time later, when I heard voices, that I couldn’t understand.  I decided to stay hidden in the hay.  I had a knife in my hand that I hid behind my back.  I heard them walking around, I knew when they found Da’s grave, I heard them checking out the cows and horses.  Eventually, they came to the barn.  There were two men.  They called out, for they considered someone was around or had been around, because of the grave and horses being fed.  Soon the barn door squeaked open, they checked the stalls, then the hay loft.  It wasn’t long till they started poking the hay with a stick.  I knew when they poked me, they would know, but should I jump out or just allow them to dig me out.  I chose to let them dig me out.  And they did, I just laid there looking at them.  One of them reached out and took my upper arm and dragged me to my feet.  That is when I jerked the knife around, I had come to the conclusion I could only get one of them.  I jabbed it at the one that was closest, he just slapped my hand and the knife when flying.  It surprised me that they didn’t go after the knife.  They left it laying there.  They stood there looking at me, saying something to me, but it wasn’t English or Kuenai.  I just did not understand. They started giving me a signal that they were hungry.  So, I got the coffee pot, kettle, beans, and started to made coffee and beans.  I knew they were Indians, but they weren’t from around here.  I knew all the clans from here.  Also, it was too early in the season for the Ktunaxa and other clans to be around. 

They only stayed for one day.  I had picked up the knife while I was fixing the food and put it in my apron pocket.  They slept with me in the barn. I curled up in a stall next to the wall with my hand, in my apron, on the knife, and tried to sleep.  Next morning, they drove off the cows, and rounded up the horses.  They put me, a blanket, and a bed roll on one horse and the coffee pot, kettle, and bags of beans on another horse and off we road to the south. Two Indians, me, the supplies, and a string of horses.  We rode and walked our horses for twenty-seven days. Some evenings we would have coffee and beans, some days they would bring a rabbit or bird to add to the beans, sometimes we had pemmican or jerky. It was a lot of long, sore days of riding, and although I knew how to ride, I had not ridden horses for so many days at a time.

The night before we arrived at their camp, they built three fires and waited. They lived in matted teepees.  The first night they put me to sleep with the elderly mothers.  For several days I just roamed around the camp and did nothing.  I think, they were waiting to see if I would run off.  They then transferred me to a teepee with a single elderly mother.  The following day she began to teach me things.  Grinding seeds and pine nuts into flour, making bread and cooking it.  My bread at first was hard as rocks and not edible.  Later, after many tries my bread became edible and, it was flat and golden brown.  She brought the coffee pot, kettle and beans to me and signaled for me to make them.From that day on I was to make beans, coffee and bread. That was for as long as the beans lasted.

Cooking with the Numa was easy to me.  For Ma had taught me to cook on an open fire, as well as on a wood stove.  Ma preferred to cook on the open fire, because that was how she had learned.  She taught me how to bury the meat with corn and potatoes, how to use large stones near the fire to cook the fish, to put small heated stones into a basket to boil water and cook nuts.  Since, they brought the kettle with me most of my cooking was heating water over the fire and boiling the meats.

Feeding these people was much different from Kootenge House.  There were no tables, no chairs, few bowls or spoons for eating.  The people would wait for the food to be cooked by dancing.  Then they would line up by the fires waiting for the food.  They would bring their stones, planks, sticks, or bowls if they had them.  Most arrived at your fire without anything in which to put the food.  They showed me to add a small amount of juice to the bread, then add some beans, and put a chunk of meat on the top of the bread, and that was their plate.  It was satisfying to me to have a purpose in the clan.  I was beginning to feeling safe and happy in my new home.  These people were not so different from my Ma’s people.  Some of the food was different, but many of their ways were the same.

Or so I thought, things started changing when spring came.  They would bring me meats that I cooked with the beans.  Other times, they would bring fish which mother taught me how to cook and I would make fish soup. People who had always eaten my food wouldn’t eat it. Warriors would wave my offer of food away.  Almost like they decided they did not like my food.  At first, I thought it was that they wanted bear meat instead of rabbit meat.  Then I would get birds and not rabbit, still the same reaction. Then deer meat would be brought and everyone would eat.  I couldn’t understand what made the difference.  Everyone would take my offering of bread, so I knew it wasn’t my bread.  It must have been pride that kept me from asking what was happening.  Instead I got hurt feelings.

I also noticed that when a young maiden was serving the people, a man would grab her arm instead of the food she offered.  Some of the maidens would jerk their arm away, others would smile and say something to the man.

Since food was my territory these changes made me uncomfortable.  I wanted everyone to eat my food and I didn’t want a man to touch me.  Just when I was about to give up on figuring out the change, everything went back to normal.  Everyone would eat my food.

I had begun to learn some of their language.  I knew that they were the Numa.  That they followed the food trail where my mother’s people followed the water trail.  They did not look that different from me.  I was perhaps a little taller than most women and my hair had a lot of red from my Da.  My hair was straight and many of the woman with longer hair had waves or curls.  Our noses were the same shape, our chin and our cheeks were the same round, even our faces were the same round shape.  Someone looking at us would not know that I was not a Numa.

During the summer I had learned to pick berries, collect and cook pine nuts, collect tules, roots and ants with a stick.  I learned to make the gruel with some success.  I never learned to cook the agave.  It cooked overnight and only certain people could do it.  As always there were nuts and seeds to grind and bread to make.

One day, after an antelope hunt, everyone was gathering to get their food.  I filled the bowl of the Chief’s son, Star, then he grabbed my arm instead of taking the bowl.  I gave him a quizzical look and tried to move away.  He then explained that he would like to take a walk and talk with me later.  We went on many walks and talks over time we became great friends.

I was coming up on my nineteenth winter.  I was lonely and was beginning to think I would like to have my own teepee and family, as I dreamed of so long ago, watching Da and Ma. There were a few of the braves and warriors I thought would make good providers for me.  It was then I asked the mothers how do you let a man know that you are interested in him.  There was much advice.  Some of it I would never be able to follow for I was too shy.  I could smile at the one I was interested in and I could offer them food.  That seemed like safe things to do.  They then went on to explain that when the man grabs your wrist that it was a sign to the female that the male was interested.  It meant that he was more interested in her than in food.  If the female jerks away she is not interested.  If she takes his hand and re-gives the food then the interest is mutual.  I remembered then that Star had grabbed my arm instead of food when he has first asked me to go walking.

Thinking back on some of my hurt feelings, I decided to asked why in the spring did the people quit eating my food.  They said, we gave you the food that the young bucks had brought into camp.  The braves, their families, and relatives cannot eat their food until the shooting ceremony.  After the shooting ceremonies then everyone can enjoy their bounty.  If he or any of his family eats his food, he will be weak and a poor hunter.We do not want to waste food for the elderly and other families can still eat the food.

I also asked about the Agave, why only some people were allowed to cook it.  It seems you had to have been born in the summer to be allowed to cook agave.

I put the new knowledge about courting to use on Sun and the following spring. I, Kaslo, was living in my own teepee with my very own warrior, Sun.  It seems that all those horses brought from, the Koontenge House, were my bride price.  It seems that with the bride price and liking my cooking I was to have my very own Chief’s son.

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