I reach the summit of the holy butte but it is not the mountain that I was climbing. The Chief is waiting for me, cross-legged. I sit in front of him and take a long, sweet drag from the water pipe that is placed an arm’s-length away on a mid-morning balcony.  As I replace the hose onto the balcony my arm crosses into sunshine and the speckled shade of bougainvillea then back into the twilight. The Chief begins.

“On this land, we followed the bison and sought the shelter of the mountainside when it was cold. The white men gold hunters had been crossing our land for many years. We had signed a treaty to give them safe passage and they agreed to settle outside of the lands that we lived on. I had known them since I was a child and I spoke to them in their language. We traded with them and we were at peace. Then they began to cross with increasing frequency and occupying places that were not their own. The chiefs of our brother and enemy tribes were also faced with white-gold men and sometimes they made peace with them and sometimes they tried to make war. Then it was my turn to decide what to do.

“The white-gold men came here and built a camp on the place where water collected by the mountains runs into these plains. I knew that if those men decided to stay in this valley both the land and The People would be in danger. I told them that they should leave; I declared the possibility of war; I told them the curse of our place: ‘When men will see the beauty of this valley they will want to stay and their staying will be the destruction of its beauty.’ They did not care about our place, its curse or The People, and so we prepared for war.

“We prepared for two days for the disastrous fight that was approaching and then on the third day one of our Bundle Keepers had a dream—a message from God. I rode to the white-gold men’s camp and told them what she had seen:

‘A flood rushed over the earth and all The People were drowned, but you, the white men, survived. We know that this land will be flooded by the white man; we will make peace with you so that we will not be swept away.’

“The prospectors stayed and many more joined them. They tore up the earth and drove away the bison. They took more and more land, but we had no choice, we had made a treaty and they were too powerful to fight. Our peaceful coexistence remained for six years then the flood came, but it was not water that drowned us.” 

Snow begins to fall from the sky. The sky is thick and opaque and I can barely see the Chief even though he is standing next to me. The ground begins to shake and I turn around to see a stampede of bison charging through the white behind us. The snow is deep and their legs disappear as though they are drowning in a churning sea. Clumps of snow are hanging from the fur around their faces and their eyes look panicked and terrified. They are being charged off the side of the mesa by men disguised in wolf and bison furs. “That is how we used to hunt them before—” the Chief extends his left index finger and straddles it with his right index and middle fingers. The bison are all gone and the flurry around us begins to slow into a gentle fall. I catch some of it in my hand and realize that the flurry is not snow but ash falling from the sky.

“As for me,” the Chief says, “I was shot; not in battle but during a massacre and in the chest. The first bullet punctured my lung and I could not keep the air inside my body. The second, third, fourth, the scalping, the removal of my left hand, my ear and my scrotum—those happened after I stopped breathing.”

I see his body twisted in a queer position on the ground beside me. “It was pulled in different directions by members of the First and Third Colorado Cavalries,” he says. “They hacked off the souvenirs to decorate their guns and belts, and later they strung them together into a garland and hung it in a hero-worshipping saloon.”

I am standing in the camp where the massacre has taken place. All around me are the bodies of other mutilated men, women and children. The men have been lined up and shot and their bodies are lying in neat rows in the order that they were assassinated. The women’s skirts are hiked up to their waists and their legs are spread apart. A pregnant woman has had her stomach chopped open and her unborn child has been thrown as far as a man can throw it while holding an AK-47 in his other hand; the umbilical cord stretched as far as it could before breaking and a spray of blood reconnects the emptied mother and her unborn son. There are corpses of infants and children everywhere: bloating, caked in blood, lying in various positions of fitful sleep. The rising stink and escaping gases make them look like they are almost breathing. Some of them even look like they are dreaming until I see a missing limb or a small, decapitated bedmate. I look up from the ground and notice that the bodies have been arranged into patterns. Fleurettes of hands, zigzags of arms and legs, mountains and valleys of bodies, forests of bushy heads, and rivers and rivers of blood.   

The Chief tells me that he cannot remember what happened to his soul. I watch him as he tries to remember and I notice that his body is whole despite what happened to him. His skin is silver and unpunctured and even the scars from his Sun Dance are gone though he has redrawn them with paint as precisely as he could remember.