The Vanishing American - Zane Grey - ebook

The Vanishing American ebook

Zane Grey



Here is the great romance of the American Indian, revealing in the swift march of its events the tragedy and the glory of a whole race, and the true essence of the West, as only Zane Grey can express it. It tells the story of the love between Nophaie, a young Native American (or American Indian) man and his love for and with a woman by the name of Marian Warner. Also Indian warrior Nophaie strives to maintain ancient and honorable customs among his people in the face of abuse and exploitation by whites in the early 20th century. „The Vanishing American” is about Nophaie’s struggle to find a place in society. On a larger scale it is about all Native Americans and their future in America.

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At sunrise Nophaie drove his flock of sheep and goats out upon the sage slopes of the desert. The April air was cold and keen, fragrant with the dry tang of the uplands. Taddy and Tinny, his shepherd dogs, had wary eye and warning bark for the careless stragglers of the flock. Gray gaunt forms of wolf and tawny shape of wild cat moved like shadows through the sage.

Nophaie faced the east, where, over a great rugged wall of stone, the sky grew from rose to gold, and a splendor of light seemed about to break upon the world. Nophaie’s instinct was to stand a moment, watching and waiting without thought. The door of each hogan of his people opened to the rising sun. They worshiped the sun, the elements, all in nature.

Motionless he stood, an Indian lad of seven years, slim and tall, with his dark face turned to the east, his dark eyes fixed solemnly upon that quarter whence the light and warmth always came. One thin brown hand held a blanket round his shoulders, and the other clasped his bow and arrows.

While he gazed a wondrous change came over the desert. The upstanding gloomy wall of rock far to the fore suddenly burned with a line of flame; and from that height down upon the gray lowlands shone the light of the risen sun. For Nophaie sunrise was a beginning–a fulfillment of promise–an answer to prayer.

When that blazing circle of liquid gold had cleared the rampart of the desert, too fiery and intense for the gaze of man, Nophaie looked no more, and passed on down the aisles of sage behind his flock. Every day this task was his. For two years he had been the trusted shepherd of his father’s sheep. At five years of age Nophaie had won his first distinction. With other children he was out in charge of the accumulated flocks of the tribe. A sandstorm suddenly swooped down upon the desert, enveloping them in a thick yellow pall. Except Nophaie, all the little shepherds grew frightened and fled back to find their hogans. But Nophaie stayed with the sheep. They could not be driven in the face of the storm. They wandered on and on and became lost. Nophaie became lost with them. Three days later Nophaie’s father found him, hungry and fearful, but true to his charge. He was praised. He was taught. He was trusted. Legend and lore, seldom told so young a boy, were his to ponder and dream over.

Nophaie’s shepherding task was lonely and leisurely. He had but to drive the flock from grassy flat to sage slope, slowly on and on, and back again by sunset to the home corral, always alert for the prowling beasts of prey.

He seemed a part of that red and purple desert land. It was home. He had been born under the shadow of the wonderful mountain wall which zigzagged from east to west across the wasteland. The niches were canyons. Its broken segments were pinnacles and monuments, shafts of red stone lifted to the skies, bold, stark, and mighty, chiseled by wind and sand and frost. Between these walls and monuments spread the sandy floor of desert, always gray-spotted with sage, always gray-green with patches of grass and weed, purple in the distance.

That spring the lambs had come early–too early, considering the frosty breath of the dawns. A few lambs had succumbed to the cold. Many a pink-and- white little lamb had been tenderly folded in Nophaie’s blanket, and warmed, and cared for until the heat of the sun made safe its return to its mother. The lambs and kids were all several days old now, fleecy and woolly, grown sturdy enough to gambol in the sage. A few were solid black, and many were all white, and some had beautiful markings, spots of black on white, and four black feet, and two black ears. One was pure white with a black face; another was all black except for a white tail. The dead stillness of the desert dawn was often pierced by the sweet, high-pitched bleat of these lambs and kids. Nophaie wandered on with them, finding a stone seat from time to time, always watching, listening, feeling. He loved the flock, but did not know that. His task was lonely, but he did not realize it.

The flock leisurely traveled on, a white-dotted moving mass against the background of gray, tearing at the sage, nipping the weeds. Taddy and Tinny trotted to and fro and around, important and morose, Indian dogs that knew their work, and they seldom had to bark a warning. Nophaie leisurely plodded along behind, intent and absorbed. An eagle pitched from his lofty perch on one of the red towers, and shot like a thunderbolt down and over the flock, until he saw the Indian boy on guard, and then he swooped up and up, wide-winged and free, to soar away across the skies, a dark bowed shape against the blue. A coyote wailed his desolate note of hunger. From the cliff a canyon swift trilled his strange, sweet, wild song.

The sun rose higher. The golden belt of sunlight along the tops of walls and mesas and monuments widened downward, encroaching upon the shadow and shade. Dawn with its icy edge paled and melted before the warming day. And the desert changed again. Shadow and color and freshness seemed swallowed by an intense and all-absorbing light.

Nophaie was no different from other Indian lads, except that the dominant traits of his tribe and his race seemed to be intensified in him. His was the heritage of a chieftain. His mother had died at his birth, whispering strange and mystic prophecies. The old medicine men, the sages of the tribe, had gathered round him during the one illness of his infancy, and had spread their sand-paintings on a flat rock, and had marveled at his quick recovery, predicting for him unknown and great feats. He was named Nophaie, the Warrior.

Through song and story and dance the traditions of his tribe were forever impressed upon his sensitive mind. The valor of Indian braves in war was a memory of the past, but the spirit lived. The boy was taught to understand the nature of a warrior, and to revere his father and the long line of chiefs from which he had descended. Before Nophaie could walk he had begun to learn the secrets of the life of the open. Birds, lizards, snakes, horned toads, scorpions, pack-rats and kangaroo-rats, prairie-dogs and rabbits–these and all the little wild creatures of the desert were brought to him to tame, to play with, to study and learn to love. Thus the brilliant and intense color of desert life were early stamped upon his brain. The love of natural beauty, born in him, had early opportunity for evolution. The habits and ways of all desert creatures became a part of his childhood training. Likewise the green covering of the earth, in all its beauty and meaning, soon occupied its place of supreme importance in his understanding–the grasses, green in the spring, bearded and seeding in the late summer, bleached white in the fall; the sages with their bitter-sweet fragrance and everlasting gray; the cacti, venomous yet fruitful, with their colors of vermilion and magenta; the paint-brush with its carmine; the weeds of the desert, not without their use and worthiness; the flowers of the deep canyons; the mosses on the wet stones by the cliff-shaded brook; the ferns and lichens; the purple-berried cedars and the nut-bearing pinons of the uplands; and on the mountains the great brown-barked pines, stately and noble, lords of the heights.

Next in order Nophaie learned the need and thrill and love of the hunt. By his own prowess as a hunter he must some day survive. The tracks and signs and sounds and smells of all denizens of his desert environment became as familiar to him as those of his hogan.

Nophaie wandered on with his sheep, over the sage and sand, under the silent lofty towers of rock. He was unconsciously and unutterably happy because he was in perfect harmony with the reality and spirit of the nature that encompassed him. He wandered in an enchanted land of mystery, upon which the Great Spirit looked with love. He had no cares, no needs, no selfishness. Only vaguely had he heard of the menace of the white race encroaching upon the lands of the Indian. Only a few white men had he ever seen.

So Nophaie wandered on with his flock through the sage, content and absorbed, watching, listening, feeling, his mind full of dreams and longings, of song and legend, of the infinite beauty and poetry of his life.

How lonely the vast sweep of purple sage-land that opened out from the red battlements of rock! How silent and dead the gleaming, beetling walls! How austere and solemn the day! But Nophaie was never lonely. He did not understand loneliness. The soft, sweet air he breathed was rich with the whispers of spirits. Above the red wall to the west loomed up a black-and-white dome–a mountain height, pure with snow, fringed by pine–and this was Nothsis Ahn, the home of Utsay, the god of the Indians. He dwelt there with Utsay Asthon, his woman, and together they had made the sun out of fire–they had made all. Utsay was the Great Spirit, and sometimes he communed with the medicine men through their sand-paintings. Nophaie that morning, as he turned from the sunrise to the looming mountain, had breathed a prayer to his Great Spirit.

“High chief of the mountain, the beautiful mountain, To me tell your secrets that it may be well before me as I go, Behind me tell me it may be well, Beneath me tell me it may be well, Above me tell me it may be well, Tell me let all that I see be well, Tell me that the Everlasting will be merciful toward me– Like the Chief of the Good, tell me that it is well with me. That the God of the medicine will let me talk well, tell me Now all is well, now all is well, Now all is well, now all is well.” And Nophaie believed all was well with him, that his prayer had been answered. The rustling of the sage was a voice; the cool touch of the breeze on his cheek was a kiss of an invisible and kindly spirit, watching over him; the rock he leaned a hand upon left a clinging response, from the soul therein. When a hawk sailed low over Nophaie’s head he heard the swish of wings driven by the power he trusted in. The all-enveloping sunlight was the smile of Utsay, satisfied with his people. Nophaie stepped aside to avoid crushing the desert primroses, thriving in the shade of the sage. Through those wide white blossoms looked the eyes of the departed relatives, who watched him from the Happy Hunting Grounds below. Would he walk straight? Would he talk straight? Their love lived on and was eternal. There was no death of spirit for Nophaie and his kind. There was no evil except what he thought, and to think evil of himself, of anyone, was a sin. To think evil made it true.

So Nophaie wandered on and on over the sage trails, proud and fierce as a young eagle, aloof and strange, dreaming the dreams conjured up by the wise men of his tribe. At seven years of age he had begun to realize the meaning of a chief, and that a chief must some day save his people. What he loved most was to be alone, out in the desert, listening to the real sounds of the open and to the silent whisperings of his soul. In the shadow of the hogans, among the boys and girls there, he was only Nophaie. They were jealous. They resented his importance. But out on the desert, in the cold, rosy dawns and the solemn, hot noontides and the golden sunsets, when the twilight stole down softly and white stars smiled at him from the velvet blue–then Nophaie could be himself, could listen and feel, and know how the four winds of heaven whispered of his future, of how he would make the medicine to save his people.

Nophaie did not walk alone. Innumerable spirits kept pace with his light steps. The sage was a carpet of purple, fragrant and sweet, through which breathed the low soft sigh of the wind. The shallow streams of water, murmuring and meandering in the red sandy wash below, lined white along its margins, spoke to Nophaie of winter snows now melting on the heights, of water for the sheep all summer, of Utsay’s good will. To east and west and south heaved up the red gods of rock that seemed to move with Nophaie as he moved, shadow and loom over him as he halted, watch him with vast impassive faces. Though they were far away they seemed close. In their secret stony cells abided the souls of Indians–many as the white pebbles along the stream. The flash of a swift- winged canyon bird was a message. The gleams of melted frost, sparkling and pure, were the teardrops of his mother, who forever hovered near him, wandered with him along the sage trails, in spirit with his steps. The sun, the moon, the crag with its human face, the black raven croaking his dismal note, the basking rattlesnake, the spider that shut his little door above him, the mocking-bird, singer of all songs–these held communion with Nophaie, were his messengers. And all around him and above him, in the great silence, in the towering barriers of stone, in the vast flare of intense sunlight, there seemed to be life in harmony with him, a voiceless and eternal life that he felt but could not see.

Towards sunset Nophaie was far out on the open desert, with many of the monuments and mesas and masses of rim-rock between him and the golden purple glory of the west. Homeward bound with his flock, Nophaie had intent eyes for the colorful panorama of sinking sun and transfigured clouds. A pageant somehow in affinity with his visions crowned the dome of old Nothsis Ahn and shone down behind the great shafts and pillars of rock that speared the horizon light. The sun was going down behind broken masses of soft clouds, creamy and silver where the rays struck, golden in the center of the west, and shading to purple where the thick, mushrooming, billowy rolls reached to the blue zenith.

While Nophaie gazed in the rapture of his wandering, eager heart there came a moment of marvelous transformation. The sun dipped its lower segment from under a white-rimmed cloud, firing the whole magnificent panorama with blaze of gold and rose and opal. A light that seemed beacon of the universe burned across the heavens, clear to the east, where the violet and lilac haze took on a sheen of gold. Against the effulgence of the western sky stood up the monuments, silhouetted on that burnished brightness of sunset, black and clear- cut, weird and colossal, motionless and speaking gods of stone.

A warning bark from one of the shepherd dogs drew Nophaie’s attention from the sunset. A band of white men had ridden down upon him. Several of them galloped ahead and came round between the Indian lad and his home. The others rode up. They had extra horses, wild and dusty and caked with froth, and pack mules heavily loaded. Both men and beasts were jaded.

Nophaie had seen but few white men. None had ever tendered violence. But here he instinctively recognized danger.

“We gotta hev meat,” one dark-visaged man called out.

“Wal, we’d better find the squaw who owns this bunch an’ buy our meat,” suggested another.

“Moze, you know it all,” growled another. “Why squaw?”

“Because squaws always own the sheep,” replied the other.

These men of the desert were tired and hungry, perhaps not honestly so, judging from the extra saddle horses they were driving. More than one furtive glance roved across the sage to the east. Sullen heat and impatience manifested their signs in the red faces.

“We hevn’t time for thet,” spoke up the dark-faced one.

“Wal, we don’t want Indians trailin’ us. I say take time an’ buy meat.”

“Aw, you’ll say next let’s eat hoss meat,” returned the man called Moze. “Knock the kid on the head, grab some sheep, an’ ride on. Thet’s me!”

Moze’s idea seemed to find favor with some of the band. The dominating spirit was to hurry on.

Nophaie could not understand their language, but he sensed peril to himself. Suddenly he darted out between the horses and, swift as a deer, flashed away through the sage.

“Ketch that kid, somebody,” called out the voice of authority.

One of the riders touched spurs to his horse and, running Nophaie down, reached a strong hand to haul him across in front of the saddle. Nophaie hung there limp.

“Bill,” called the leader, “thar ain’t no sense in hurtin’ the kid. Now you- all wait.”

This man was tall, gaunt, gray- haired, and lean, with the eyes of a hawk. He scanned the sage flats clear to the pillars of stone. Neither Indian nor hogan was in sight. Presently he spoke. “Bill, hang on to the kid. An’ some of you drive the sheep ahead of us. Thar’s water over hyar somewheres. We’ll find it an’ make camp.”

“Huh!” ejaculated the man Bill, in disgust. “Talkin’ about sense, what’s the idee, cap, packin’ this heavy kid along?”

“Wal, it ain’t decent to kill him, jest fer nothin’, an’ it is sense to keep him from gettin’ back home to- night.”

“All right, you’re the boss. But I’ll eat sage if them Indians don’t track us, jest the same.”

“Bill, you’re a bright fellar,” retorted the other. “Mebbe this kid’s family will find our tracks by to-morrow, but I’m gamblin’ they won’t.”

Nophaie hung limp over that horse for several miles before he was tumbled off like an empty sack. The band had come to a halt for the night. Nophaie’s hands and feet were bound with a lasso. He heard the bleating of the sheep, and then the trampling low roar of their hoofs as they were driven off into the desert. One of the men gave him food and drink; another covered him with a blanket. Nophaie’s fear eased, but there was birth of a dark heritage of hate in his heart. He did not sleep.

At daylight the band was off, riding hard to the southward, and Nophaie had no choice but to go with them. Toward nightfall of that long day the spirits of the men appeared to rise. They ceased to look back over the rolling ridges of purple sage, or down the leagues of cedar aisles. They avoided the Indian hogans and sheered off well-trodden trails. Next day some of the band were in favor of letting Nophaie go free. But again the leader ruled against them.

“Reckon it’s tolerable lonely along hyar. We don’t want the kid to be lost an’ starve.”

About noontime one day later they let Nophaie go free, and pointed down a road toward an Indian encampment. Then in a cloud of dust they trotted on. Rough but kind they had used him, unconscious of their hand in his destiny. But Nophaie never reached the Indian hogans. Another party of white people, of different look and voice, happened upon him. They were travelers of leisure, seeing the West, riding across the reservation. They had wagons and saddle horses, and Western men to care for them. Again Nophaie ran, only to be caught by one of the riders and hauled before the women of the party.

“What a handsome Indian lad!” exclaimed one.

“Let us take him along,” said another.

An older woman of the group, with something more than curiosity in her face, studied Nophaie for a moment. She, too, was kind. She imagined she was about to do a noble thing.

“Indian boy, I will take you and put you in a school.”

They took Nophaie with them by force. They took him out of the desert and far to the east.

And Nophaie lived and studied in the white man’s school and college for eighteen years.

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