An old Indian celebrates the casinos, and ends up with more than casino interest.
Copyright 2008, Jerry W. Engler
Cyrus didn’t exactly look like the classic plains Indian that day--no eagle-feather bonnet blowing in a prairie wind--but he still looked Native American.
There’s always been a problem with recognition of American Indians anyway. Society has usually had them portrayed as strictly groups with a few outstanding villains or heroes in the movies when actually many of them turned out to be individuals with the blessings and problems common to humankind. Cyrus was an individual. There were even Pottawatomies hesitant to claim him at a given moment, which only goes to show that many among them were intelligent individuals.
His face was rounded, but he had the almond-brown eyes sunk into 60 years of wrinkles and a full shock of medium-cut black hair with a little white running in it.
His lips were set in a quiet, amused smile as he watched his friends, Horace and Lindsay, who had just arrived from the city, step up the sunken limestone walkway to his house.
“Have you heard the big news today?” he called to them.
“No, nothing out of the ordinary,” replied Horace.
“Well, we got you white boys now, we got you now. We got you where it’s really going to hurt. You are gonna be twistin’ in the wind.”
“How’s that?” asked Lindsay, brushing back his mop of light-brown medium length Beatles-cut hair and playing uncomfortably with the corner of his glasses because he didn’t like the cat rubbing against his leg.
“They gave final approval to the Pottawatomie casino. And now it’s payback time.
“You white boys got us drunk, and stole our land down at Happy Hollow. But now your people are going to be spending all their money for years and years in our casinos. Us Potts are gonna be the fat cats.”
He paused to wave one finger in the air at them-- “Got ya.”
“I’m glad I’ll know at least one rich guy to stay with when the system collapses,” Horace said.
“Ah, yes, Horace Richmond, I’ll take care of you and your poor bleeding fingers from playing our one-armed bandits. I like your curly short hair and your little spectacles and your little goatee. You can help me with my investments while I take care of you. It will be almost as fine as hanging your scalp in my living room.
“I would take care of you before I take care of my brother-in-law, Joseph. Joseph has just enough white-boy blood in him to make him sneaky, so you can’t fully trust him. While you, you are a really nasty white boy that takes care of paperwork for other people, but you take your fiduciary ethic seriously so you can be a parasite--you do right by people so you suck their blood only a little at a time. I can see exactly what you are.
“But you’re going to pay now by the holy spirit of God almighty--we got our casino.
“Sometimes I like to play like I could be a rich lying white boy, too. I go down to where the new Mexicans are working in the nursery fields, and say hola to them so they think I might just be a different looking one of them. But when they try to talk to me, I fire back with Pottawatomie with a few French words in it, just like you talk business off those papers so I can’t understand you. The Mexicans want to be white boys like you so bad that it’s good to have somebody making them wary.”
Lindsay was trying to keep the cat off his lap, but Horace was smiling as he said, “I thought you might like to ride with Lindsay and me up to Alice Beau’s place. I think she likes to see you come in with us. I’m helping with the federal loan on her cattle.”
“You think Alice Beau likes to see me, huh? I don’t know why you think so, and I don’t even know why you come by for me, Horace Richmond.
“I know you were best friends through high school with my son, Tom. He got enough white blood from my wife to be like you, too, only he’s a banker instead of an investment counselor, or whatever it is you call yourself now. But you don’t have to come by here because you miss him.”
“Why, Cyrus. I come by here because I enjoy you taking rides with us and getting your viewpoint on the world. We’re friends. I think you’ll enjoy this ride, too.”
“Maybe so, maybe so. But ouch, ouch, ouch, Horace Richmond LeClerc. Don’t you know you poor white boys got your black boys you have to learn to get along with? But us poor, poor Indians, we got our Kickapoos.
“The big crooked white father in Washington couldn’t have twisted the knife in us Pottawatomies better than to put us next to those Kickapoos. Most of them left, and now they’re coming back from all over the country to live next to us because the money’s coming here.
“God, how oh how am I going to learn to live with these Kickapoos, even when I’m rich from robbin’ the white boys like they ought to be robbed. Thank God the Sac and the Fox are here to moderate them a little.
“Don’t you know that Alice Beau is part Kickapoo? Plus that, she’s got a little white boy blood in her and a little black boy blood in her--just enough to stir around down there in her hell pit. She says her other part is Cherokee and Pottawatomie twisted together, but I don’t know. I was in Oklahoma once, and some of those Cherokees are lookers, so that could be why she don’t look half bad.
“But I don’t know at all if you ought to be rubbin’ me next to somethin’ that’s got Kickapoo, white boy blood and black boy blood all throwed into it. Shall we leave right away? She might be frying chicken today.”
“Sure, Cy. Lindsay and I are ready to head right out. Just thought you might want to have a drink or comb your hair or something before we go to Alice Beau’s.”
“No, no I’m fine the way I am for the likes of Alice Beau being visited with an about-to-be-rich good lookin’ Pott fellow. Just a minute while I put a little more shine on my hair.”
They took the highway north through the loess hills past fields of corn, sorghum and soybeans that were bright-green in the hot sun from the effect of timely rain.
Lindsay sat in the back seat, picking cat hair and stick-tights from his double-knit trousers while Horace and Cyrus sat in the front seat of the small station wagon with Cyrus rubbing his hands together in front of the air-conditioning vent.
“You got good air in this little red car, Horace,” said Cyrus. “I like red. Now, tell me, how many acres does Alice Beau own now?”
“She has an entire section, 640 acres, Cyrus, and it’s 80 percent tillable. It has good dairy barns on it and a modern three-bedroom house. Plus that, she has 50 good Holstein dairy cows.”
“Good night, I only have 40 acres. I knew she had some ground, but all of this? It must be her blood, uncommonly sneaky to get this rich on nothin’.”
“I helped her, Cyrus. I have paperwork for her to get another 160 acres in my briefcase today. It’s all federal loans with no down payment except what little ground she had to start with for equity. She’s a woman and a minority in the farming business, and that’s good enough for the government.”
“My God, so the white boys are so sneaky that when they run out of other people to rob, they rob themselves to keep the game going. Is that what you’re telling me, Horace Richmond?”
“Something like that, Cyrus.”
“Does she still have that old man, Jasper, living with her?”
“I hope so. He’s some kind of relative to her. She’s got another old fellow there sometimes, too. But I’m concerned about Jasper. Last winter when I was there he was out sitting against a building in the snow shaking like a leaf. I asked him if he didn’t want to go in to get warm, but he said Alice Beau told him he couldn’t come in anymore because he wasn’t any good.”
“Heck of a woman, that Alice Beau,” Cyrus nodded approvingly. “She has the nerve to make sure her relatives work. Maybe she isn’t so bad as I think.”
“Anyway, I took Jasper in the house with me, and Alice Beau asked what he’s doing there--that he’s no good. I made sure Jasper got something to eat, Cyrus. But if we don’t see him here today, I’m afraid I might find his body sometime out in Alice’s grain fields while I’m pheasant hunting in the fall.”
“No, don’t worry about that, Horace Richmond. The animals would carry most of him off, and I don’t think it would be any worse than finding a cow skull in a pasture. Besides, she was probably just disciplining him. Even Kickapoos with white-boy blood and black-boy blood honor the dead. She must be a tough woman.”
As they pulled into the long driveway with its equally long row of white chipped-paint dairy buildings with weeds growing around them, Horace looked out with puzzled raised eyebrows. “Look, Lindsay, do you see any Holstein cows, any black and whites?”
“No I don’t, Horace. The only cows I see out there look like black white faces and straight Herefords--grade range cows, wouldn’t you say?”
To Horace’s relief, Jasper was sitting on the front porch, looking well in blue jeans and a cotton shirt, his thick white hair shorn close on his brown scalp in a crew cut.
“Good to see you, Jasper,” Horace said.
“It looks like you’re staying healthy,” Lindsay noted while stamping his foot at an orange and white cat that was beginning to make its way toward him.
“I am staying as well as a man of 90 can, Horace Richmond LeClerc and Lindsay Loden. Who is the poor old feeble man with you? Would that be that old Pottawatomie, Cyrus Bonair?
“Good Lord, why do you put us poor Kickapoos next to such people as the Pottawatomies with all of that French blood in them that they don’t remember--too much white blood. But it’s good to see you anyway if that’s you, Cyrus, and not some vision come to lie to me. Or maybe you’ve come to lie to me anyway, to tell me how the casinos and throwing in with those Easterners could be good for us?”
“Of course I think the casinos will be good for us. And it’s good to see you again anyway, Jasper, although I know for a fact that you probably have enough white-boy blood and black-boy blood in you to be afraid of all the money you will lose sneaking around a casino.”
A stern-faced woman with lips set tightly threw open the door to look at all of them.
“Jasper,” she said, reaching back to check the knot of the red scarf tying back her bun of white streaked black hair. “Go kill another chicken. We will have company for dinner.”
“Yes, Alice Beau,” said Jasper.
“Alice,” said Horace. “Where are your good Holstein cows I helped you get? All we could see driving in was that beef herd.”
“Yes, Horace,” she replied, smiling and narrowing her eyes so they gleamed and glittered at him. “They were good, high-producing registered cows. They gave more milk than Jasper and I could contend with. They were worth a lot of money, so I sold them, and got these old common cows out here. Not a bad deal--eh?”
“But Alice, you had close to a 100 percent loan on those cows with the federal government. I don’t know that you paid them anything when you sold them, and I have no record of you buying these other cows.”
“Horace, what the government don’t know won’t hurt them. I haven’t cheated them any. They carry a note on 50 cows, and I still have 50 cows. I am still a good Native American woman, so I suit their purpose. You will figure something out. Now come inside, we will talk about you getting me some more land, and we will eat together.
“Even Cyrus can eat with us because he’s not too bad a man, most of the time, for a registered Pottawatomie. Hah, that’s a good joke. Maybe the government thinks he’s worth more money, too.”
“Hah, Alice Beau,” said Cyrus. “You are some person, even with all that bad blood in you, standing up to the government like that. I don’t think you are common or grade maybe, eh?”
Horace, Lindsay and Alice did her paperwork around the kitchen table while Cyrus sat in the next room pretending to watch a soap opera called “The Young and the Restless” on television while keeping an ear tuned to the tidbits of business he could hear.
When Jasper had the chicken cut up, Alice added it to the other one there, breaded it, and threw it in an iron skillet to fry in deep grease. She gave Cyrus a knife and a bowl to cut up potatoes at the other end of the table.
As they ate, Cyrus said, “You are a good cook, Alice Beau. Plus that, you are very sharp and almost rich even before the casinos come in. You shame me that I didn’t find a way to have so much before we got the white boys to gamble their lives away. But we got ‘em. We have them now, and all of us will be taken care of. You were just forward thinking.”
“I don’t know about that, Cyrus,” said Horace. “Alice has to quit this kind of stuff. She could be in trouble here. Nobody fools with Uncle Sam forever and gets away with it. Even though I want to try to get all I can get for her, she has to remember that there are those people who are trying to help her as one of our own. It isn’t war anymore.”
“Hmm, those would be good ideas, Horace,” said Cyrus. “I am trying to figure what the white boy lie could be in it. But I’m not worried for Alice either, because now that you have her in the money channel, you will work to keep her there. You are an excellent white boy, Horace Richmond.
“Now, I will have some private advice for Alice Beau, too, if she will step into the next room with me.”
“I think that would be safe for you, Cyrus,” said Alice.
“As soon as Cyrus and Alice are done in there, I think we better get him home, and us get back to the office, Horace,” said Lindsay, kicking at the cat that chewed a drumstick bone between his feet. “It’s going to be a longer day than we planned on with this. I think we need to get started right away.”
“I know what you mean, Lindsay. Cyrus, are you folks going to be much longer in there? Lindsay and I need to get back.”
“You guys go on ahead,” said Cyrus, raising a finger at them from the next room where he and Alice Beau had turned off the television, and sat down in chairs opposite each other.
“Alice Beau will drive me to the city this evening to see a Barbra Streisand movie, and then take me home. We like it when Streisand hits the high notes. She sings pretty good for a white girl, you know.
“Then we’re going to sit down over ice cream to discuss getting a Small Business Administration loan together to put a tax-free cigarette store near the casinos before the government turns tough again.
“Alice Beau knows a full-blood Kaw from Oklahoma--we might get to run it as a compromise.
“Maybe a Kaw could feel at home north of the Kaw River. What do you think, white boys?”
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|Reviewed by Richard Orey
|What a mixed up bunch. Seems the only focus is on skin color and federal money. Locally in San Diego (where we have more Native American casinos than anywhere in the U.S.) the federal money and state-shared revenues are big time. The Kumeyaay native who used to have holes in his shoes now gets over $7000 a month income while staying home watching his Plasma, more dollars if he actually takes a job in one of the casinos.
But locally, the Natives give back big to the community in charity programs, etc., all duly publicized, of course. But I hear no ethnic talk at all from them, other than their pride in telling us they've been living here locally for about 10,000 years.
Jerry, it's obvious you've got a great understanding of what goes on with some of the Native groups. I felt like I was right there listening in. (By the way, my wife is one-fourth Native from the Winnebagos in Eastern Nebraska, but no casino money comes with it. Maybe she could get an SBA loan to buy me a new suit.) Oh, if the Natives hear about your tax-free cigarette store, I'm sure they'll be opening up one here real soon.)
Thanks for letting me tune in on the in-crowd.
|Reviewed by Mr. Ed
|I agree with Jean, Jerry. And since I'm married to someone who is part Native American, I'm glad to see that many of them are now prospering with these casinos. And I love your ending here!|
|Reviewed by Jean Pike
|I don't have a problem with this story, Jerry. I do find your character to be most irascible, but I also find him rather charming in his way. I can see why some might be upset, but really, the characters and story line are true to life. We are truly a mixed bag of cultures -- black, white, Indian, you name it. We all have our axes to grind, and what is storytelling but exposing human nature, the good, bad, beautiful and ugly? It works for me.