A fictionalized account of the history of the Navajo imprisonment at Bosque Redondo in the mid 1800s with emphasis on the role of the two spirit (berdache) medicineman.
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Two Spirits: A Story of Life With the Navajo
Set in the Civil War era of the 1860s, this novel tells the story of a feckless Virginian who finds himself captivated by a Two-Spirit male highly respected among the Navajo. It is a story of tragedy, oppression, and discrimination, but also an enlightening story of love, discovery, and beauty.
Two Spirits illuminates the truth of what the United States did to the largest indigenous people of this nation. Full of suspense, plot twists, and endearing romance, this novel will captivate readers.
New Mexico Territory
“Fort Sumner comin’ up,” the driver called out, and banged his fist against the side of the stagecoach to make sure his sole passenger understood they’d arrived at their final destination.
This is the most arid and desolate place I’ve ever seen, thought Will Lee, the bewildered and increasingly more disappointed young passenger. How could Indians live in this god-forsaken desert? This isn’t what I expected.
The clay soil all around was red; what stunted crops or grass struggled to grow through the caked, cracked surface looked pale and desiccated. The sun was so hot ripples of heat radiated from the ground, and so bright just looking out dazzled the eye. As the coach passed by, Will had to squint to make out the series of low-slung buildings of the fort on his left. They appeared to be constructed of rough bricks made from that very red clay. Some of the buildings had overhanging roofs; most were square featureless blocks with few windows. There were trees growing here and there among the buildings, but the leaves were dry and dusty with the same red color.
On the other side of the road, obscured by a screen of brush and sparse-leafed trees—all also dusted with the red clay—was a wide and deeply washed riverbed. Through the trees, Will could occasionally see into the eroded terrain. The land looked dry and hot. There was no river, only a sluggish, shallow creek that wound back and forth across the floor of the riverbed, with a band of pale shrubbery along the water’s edge. On the other side there were figures moving around what looked like primitive mud huts. The Navajo. Will’s heart pounded.
He thought despondently about his dreams of escaping war-ravaged Virginia to find a heaven of peace and loving comradeship in the wide world out West.
Today was May 4, 1867, just two days after Will’s twenty-first birthday. He still had the delicate features of an adolescent, his face thin with high cheekbones and naturally pale skin. He had black curly hair and deep emerald-green eyes. The color was said to have come from his father’s father whose portrait hung over the homestead hearth. The unusually vivid color of Will’s eyes sometimes caused passersby to do a double take. Will never knew how to understand the attention. He wanted to think he was comely. His father, stern and stiff-necked, had once scolded him mercilessly for looking too long at his own reflection in a mirror. “Vain and self-willed,” his father, the Reverend Joshua Lee, had called him.
Though slender, Will’s physique was solid, his muscles well-defined, his shoulders square and strong from working the family farm. But his father, never satisfied, had always insisted that he slunk from the really hard work. He’d told him this every time he pulled out his whip and beat him on the backside. “To teach you the fear of God,” his father would say.
The handsome, but shy and easily intimidated-looking, young man was happy to have escaped his father’s authority, though now as he looked out of the stagecoach his idea of starting a fresh new life here seemed to be evaporating in front of his eyes like a pail of water sitting in this blazing sun. This sure doesn’t look like the Promised Land. It’s more like the back wasteland of hell.
He’d been remembering his preacher-father tell the story—with that grand oratorical pomposity Rev. Lee was famous for throughout Lynchburg and the surrounding counties—of Moses and the Israelites in the desert for forty years. Moses never found his own way into the Promised Land. I don’t guess I have any business comparing myself to Moses, but how am I ever going to make it to any promised land anywhere, much less lead anybody else to freedom?
Will reminded himself he wasn’t going to think about his father’s religion anymore or judge his own life according to that man’s way of thinking. I burned those bridges behind me. Now he would see his life the way that poet described in the book Harry Burnside had given him to read on the train. Mr. Burnside had told him to go discover the “wide world out there.” He’d said it’d be an adventure. He’d said there’d be loving comrades out there for Will to meet. He’d made it sound so simple.
“Wide world.” Those had been the same words his friend Michael used. “Let’s escape,” Michael had said. “There’s a wide world just a’waitin’ out there for us.” Will’s heart ached at the recollection of Michael.
They were going to go on that adventure together. Now Will wondered where Michael was. Had he made it to Norfolk harbor? Was he a seaman now, out sailing the ocean blue, on his way to ports exotic and unknown with comrades by his side? Or had his journey taken as unexpected a turn as Will’s?
Will felt as lonesome as he ever had in his life.
This isn’t much of a wide world. Has there been a mistake? Mr. Burnside’s friend in Washington said Fort Sumner was built to protect the Navajos and give them a home. Who’d want to live in this desolation? What kind of protection could a place like this offer? And from what?
As the stagecoach had approached Fort Sumner and the Bosque Redondo Reservation, in the distance Will had seen Indians tilling the desiccated soil under the supervision of armed soldiers. Closer by, he’d noticed another group making mud bricks, also under the close watch of blue uniforms. That’s what had got him thinking of the story of Moses. Moses freed slaves who were making mud bricks, hadn’t he? That’s what the blue uniforms are supposed to stand for: freeing slaves. Will thought contemptuously about the war that had dominated his life back home. Blue vs. Gray. What a hornswoggle! These Union bluebellies look just like slave overseers.
The coach pulled up in front of a building that bore a sign in military stenciling: “Sutler’s Store.” Standing in the shade of the overhanging roof were blue-uniformed soldiers surrounded by a crowd of brown-skinned men and women dressed in rawhide or else in tattered cotton clothes that looked like white men’s hand-me-downs.
The young Virginian had expected the Indians to appear fierce and threatening, but these poor wretches who toiled under the soldier’s watch or stood around the store looked beaten down and dispirited, less like recipients of the government’s altruism and largesse and more like its slaves—though brown-skinned now, not black. Could this be a prison and not the reservation, after all? Will had imagined lush mountains and babbling brooks with encampments of clean white tepees that glistened in the sun. That was how his childhood picture books had shown Indian villages. Maybe the reservation is somewhere else.
The air was dry and dusty, full of gnats and insects that swarmed in his eyes and nose as he climbed down out of the stagecoach. He wondered where he was supposed to go. Is this the right place?
Will’s confusion—and hope for some alternative—ended when a uniformed soldier approached. “You the new Injun Agent?”
“Good afternoon. I’m William Lee. I’ve been appointed apprentice to the Agent at Fort Sumner.” He extended his hand. Though wind-beaten and sunburned, this soldier reminded him of the draft officer for the Virginia Militia whom he’d served under back in Lynchburg. That man had been a good soldier, a handsome gentleman and a kindly benefactor to Will. He hoped this fellow would prove to be of the same caliber.
“Sergeant J.F. Peak, aide to General James Carleton.” The soldier looked at his hand with disdain and gave a cursory salute. “Welcome to Fort Sumner and the beautiful Bosque Redondo Reservation,” he added with obvious sarcasm.
“Is this really the reservation?”
“You got any complaints?”
“I just meant I thought maybe there might be someplace else, well, more hospitable for the Indians.”
“Jezzuz,” Peak sighed. “Look, Gen’rl Carleton wants to meet you right away. C’mon. Where’s your baggage?”
“This is all I’ve got.” Will held out his single carpetbag.
“I ain’t no bellboy,” Peak sneered. “You want a redskin to carry y’r damn bag?” He turned away without waiting for an answer and headed toward the main group of buildings which Will could see on the other side of a low wall.
“By the way,” Peak called over his shoulder, “the last Agent’s gone, ain’t nobody here for you to apprentice to. You’re Agent now. I hope you’re gonna be a damn sight better than that last.” He said only partly to Will, “You Injun Agents’re just a nuisance ’round here,” as he walked on.