Sioux Chief - Wyoming. 1898
Chief stands as still as the falcon totem that stands beside him. The horse does not. The black raven's feathers on his looming headdress shake in the wind with no more resistance than the long grass. His hands do not. His feet do not shuffle the dust beneath him and his knees remain loose but still. His lip does not quiver. His eyes stay as steady as ever, though he is frightened.
A wagon pulls up at the exact moment that the two men had agreed to meet. A lone man jumps down from the wagon, pulled by a lone horse. The brokered rendezvous was to be of mutual benefit to both parties. The man shows his wears to be bartered. He throws the package, wrapped in cloth and tied with twine, on the ground half way between them. Inside is a large lump of cheese, some small chisels and a collection of beads and iron bells. The chief does not check them. The man does not offer to show them.
His face is painted. One black line runs dead straight from one cheekbone to the other, intersecting the bridge of his nose. Five shorter, thinner lines run from his bottom lip to his chin like drueling tar. Above each eyebrow sits an arc of three dots. His skin is arid and uniquely engraved with patterns, more intricate that the trails cut through the hills and valleys, with deep recesses that resemble the rock faces. He watches the man heave the apparatus from the wagon, behind his unpainted horse. His mule. It offends Chief that his horse is called by the same name as this thing. Surely there should have been another name when the difference between them is so stark. They are as much both horse as a cat and a mouse are both cats. His ears are pierced multiple times with long pieces of bone, feather and decorative woven lengths hanging from him, blending in with the headdress. The man sets up his contraption in front of Chief, leaving a distance of twenty paces between them. He never turns his back on him; savages being savage.
It is staring at him with its singular square eye. Chief stares back at it. He is not afraid of the man or the horse, the wagon or anything, except for the box on legs, with one square eye. The man's tailored suit, silk neck scarf and bowler hat could not be further from the cut animal pelt, sewn together with strands of leather. The man's six shooter, nickel plated guns glint opposite the Chief's chipped tomahawk, hanging on his hip and primitive bow, slung over his shoulder. "I wanna thank you for 'lowing me to take this here picture." The man's thick greying mustache tousles as he speaks. Chief's stare does not waver. "I… uh... Thank you!" he says louder and slower. He bows three different ways, manifesting itself as a bastard of a curtsy, geneflect and what he calls a China man bow. He tips his hat for good measure, unsure which one is right, wrong on all counts. Chief only blinks.
He wonders if part of his soul will become trapped in the image of himself. He then worries of what piece of his soul it will likely be. An eagle glides overhead and he looks up. One feather makes all the difference. One part of the soul could too. He wonders if the pipe will still bring him closer to the white buffalo.
Chief's hair has a thick braid down one side and the other is left as it falls. Around his neck there are beads and stone necklaces, with a carved medicine wheel and dreamcatcher dominating his chest. Each quarter of the medicine wheel is a different colour. Red, black yellow and white.
The man had claimed he wanted the photograph to learn about the "Injins", as he called them. The man did not want to partake in a ghost dance. He did not want to ride with them on a hunt. He did not want to sit around the fire, beneath the blanket of stars, and pass firewater with them. Therefore he did not want to learn about them, merely look at them, without fear for as long as he wanted to. And show people. A deer emerges over the rocky ridge and stops to survey its surroundings. Normally the Chief would have had an arrow drawn on it as soon as it was in sight, but both men watch it as it meanders, cautiously. It sees them and springs off over the far side of a nearby ridge.
Chief shifts his stance.
The man shifts his bowels.
There is an extended beat, where anything within feels possible.
"I have to be elsewhere shortly," says the man, summoning whatever courage he has left to get what he came for and not make for his horse.
He waddles to the wagon, and hidden from sight, shakes calamity out from his trouser legs. Underneath the body of the wagon, a single brown entity rolls by the wheel. He kicks it off to the side. He takes the last piece of equipment out and makes his way back to the photographic device, smiling and nodding with forced enthusiasm.
He throws his head under a black cloth and holds a flash bar over his head, while operating the camera with the other. Chief is not happy with what he sees. He wonders why the man feels the need to either hide, or cover himself with the black hood. Is he hiding from the spirits? Are those who come for the soul near? Had he shown Chief or warned him about the gunfire like eruption that the flash produced, then things might have happened differently. The magnesium powder ignited with sparks and a puff of smoke lifted from the flash bar. The photograph was slightly blurred by movement. Before the smoke dispersed, the man behind the cloth dropped. Chief's tomahawk was gone from his hip.