pages fly away 14

From the Dalles, I took the 84 east to the 97, and traveled north towards the Yakama Reservation.  The Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama People is made up of seven tribes and occupies two-thousand square miles in Southern Washington, bordering the Cascade Mountains. 

The first city I came to after entering the reservation was Toppenish, known as the City of Murals.  The meaning behind that name was soon evident, but first I stopped at the visitor center.  The attendant there was friendly enough, retired from the highway patrol, and invited me to use the bathroom without my even asking.  I learned that the first mural was completed in 1989, intended to correspond to the state centennial, and that since that time seventy-eight more murals had been added.  If a town wants to draw attention, I can’t think of a better way to do it. 

Toppenish was full of history and art, a crash course in all things related to the Wild West.  One side of a building showed a group of long-horned cattle being driven down an unpaved main street by a few cowboys, past a Drugs and Sundries shop, and a young man reigning in two horses attached to a wagon.  Another depicted a cowboy in a rodeo, busting through the wall on his horse, waving a lasso over his head, on the heels of a frantic steer. 

According to the Treaty of 1855, fourteen tribes ceded eleven million acres to the United States.  In a mural depicting the meeting of the governor of Indian Affairs, Isaac I. Stevens, and the Yakama chief, Kamaiakun, an American flag stands next to an Indian spear, with calvary troops riding in one direction, and Native warriors riding in the other.  It appears as if an equitable agreement had been reached and both parties are departing in peace.

Not far from there was a marker indicating where Captain A.J. Hembree was killed by Indians in 1856.  Hembree was a volunteer from Oregon, who was shot in the gut during a skirmish with the Yakama.  Apparently, the other volunteers fled and Hembree was able to hold off his attackers a while longer, but finally he was killed and scalped.  His body was taken back to Oregon to be buried.

Walking further, I stopped outside the Post Office and read about the early days of mail delivery.  Apparently, in those days the postman had to supply his own horse and buggy and the route was twenty-three miles long.  He had to travel over rough roads and ford streams to get the mail delivered, and that’s when the weather was good.  In the wintertime, he was lucky not to freeze to death.

A few blocks later, I stopped outside the Yakama Nation Victim Resource Program.  The painted windows showed a powerful Thunderbird, a loving couple, and a happy balanced family, standing outside a tipi.  It seemed to be their mission statement.  Then I went over to read about Alex McCoy, from the Wishram and Wasco tribes, who became a cowboy and went on to invent bulldogging, a rodeo sport in which a steer is wrestled to the ground.  In the years that followed, he became a shaman and judge, and lived to be a hundred and four.

One mural with a caption told of Irish Dick, a sheepherder who once traded a bear cub for whiskey.  Upon his return to town, the now fully grown bear escaped from its chains and a tussle between the two of them ensued on Main Street.  Eventually, the bear was returned to the saloon and Irish Dick was taken to the hospital. 

There was a shop window with black and white photos of tribespeople in their ceremonial clothes, a group of women and girls in beaded dresses and headbands, a chief in full feathered headdress, a necklace of bear claws draped around his neck, holding a rifle at his side, other leaders in headdresses led a procession of horses down the street.  It was like I’d been transported back in time.

On my way out of town, I stopped at a 7-Eleven.  There were even murals outside of that, dancers demonstrating the Prairie Chicken Dance and the Owl Dance.  I got a hotdog and soft drink and pulled over at Pioneer Park to eat.  There I saw a news crew setting up.  They interviewed a man who came stumbling towards them with a bandana covering most of his face and a COVID mask covering the rest.  He was also wearing sunglasses, so it was almost like they were interviewing the Invisible Man. 

Maybe that’s how it felt to be landlocked in such a rich country, stripped of his way of life, and sleeping in the park.  And what about that COVID?  What would they think of next?

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