about 1919 is when his story begins (told in 1971)...
"I was to go with John Glover to a fencing camp near Holy Rosary Mission. I stayed with the fence outfit for a week or two just digging post holes. Sometimes we would run into hardpan and had to use a crowbar. Everything was done by hand. Most of the crew were Indian boys who were kind to me, so I caught on fast how to do this kind of work. I think digging of postholes all day was about the best way for anyone to get a ravenous appetite. I believe the fencing was to enclose a lease of about 1000 sections and covered 212 miles in circumference. I went to Mass at the Holy Rosary Mission a couple of Sundays before the camp moved and I was impressed by the beauty of the hand-carved wood alter and other furnishings in the church. The church and buildings were made of hand-made bricks by the Jesuit brothers about 1888 I think.
After a couple of weeks I was taken to Porcupine and stayed overnight in the big log house. The next morning I was outfitted with a canvas tarp, blankets and quilts, a sheep-lined coat and some other stuff and then was taken to my first sheep camp up on Bartlett Creek, which is south of Wounded Knee. At the time there was no Wounded Knee town. Later on Roy Thomas moved the post office of Denby, at night, into a small building on 40 acres of deeded land on the place now called Wounded Knee. Then he also started a store there. He was postmaster of Denby and after the move was made, the site was called Brenan. Later on it was changed to Wounded Knee when the Gildersleeves bought the store from him.
In the fall of 1820 the Newcastle company closed down it's operations on the reservation and I had the chance to buy the store at Porcupine. About that time I became interested in the daughter of the blacksmith of Manderson (Chester Woodden), a plump young lady (Stella) with long hair braids and her mother (Tillie) was a very good cook, which is also attractive to a hungry sheepherder. So in the fall of 1920 I started to work in the store and on April 1, 1921, Frank Thaxton and I bought the store from the Newcastle Company. Frank came from his home in Tennessee at the invitation of Tom Comer who built the store and the big house (also known as the Cummings house), and he later sold to the Newcastle Company. Then Frank worked in the store for Tom for 12 years before Newcastle Company purchased it. We each put in $1500 and co-signed a note to the Livestock National Bank of Omaha for the balance due, which I believe was around $16,000. I believe we paid off the note in a couple of years. Frank was a great friend of the Indian people. He could talk Indian just like an Indian. Very often he would sit on a bench with them near the stove and listen to the local gossip and put in his share, and laugh and have a big time- all in the Indian language. Frank was on the stout order and was about 5 feet 5 inches tall, so stout that his belly would protrude over his pants belt. So the Indians called him "Nege-huska" which means "big belly", and they used this name entirely- never called him frank. he had a heart of gold and the Indian people loved him.
After we purchased the store, Frank and I boarded with Mr. and Mrs. John Glover who had a three room log house just south of the present Cummings residence. Then Frank boarded with us after I married Stella in 1922. Then about 1927 Frank became interested in an Arizona schoolteacher, married her, and then bought a store near Dallas, Texas. They returned for a visit afterward; seemed very happy and looked more tidy than in the bachelor days. But his wife still let him chew tobacco but now he was careful not to soil his shirt. He died a few years later with a brain tumor. He was about the last of the real old-time Indian traders and he was as honest as the day is long.
Now to get back to the store... On April 20, 1933 the store burned. Mom (Stella) got up in the middle of the night to take care of one of the children and she noticed sparks coming from the store and she came back and said "the store's on fire". So I told her to take the children and the most important things and put them outside because I didn't think we were going to be able to save the house. And I had a little fire extinguisher and if I had had another one I could have probably put it out but just didn't have one. There was an awful draft at the back door when I opened it up- the wind. So pretty soon Joe White Face and some of the Indian boys came- they saw the store was burning. There was a hand water pump outside the store, so we got hold of some buckets and I got on top of the roof of the house and the boys hauled me pails of water and I kept the roof wet and that was about the only thing that saved the house. Mama got the washing machine, and a lot of clothes that they needed and she took the kids over to the Mission (Our Lady of Lourdes) and stayed there until the fire calmed down. It was so darned hot on top of the roof of the house that the steam came after putting the buckets of water over it. The house was so hot that the house cracked, and the boards were so hot that the resin ran out of the boards and it was just ready to go. We were so lucky.
The store in those days was quite a meeting point for the whole district, which it served. So, at least once a week most everyone came to the store to see their neighbor and to talk things over and so forth. The Indians generally had on their large brown felt hats and everybody wore moccasins. The Indian men had their regular overalls and coats, and the Indian ladies their moccasins, and coat of course, and calico dresses with their belt and knife. (It took about 7 yards of calico to make a dress). And most everybody painted too (their faces). They, especially the old folks, would always paint their faces with red and dots of yellow and other colors, but the Indian women generally used plain red. There were a couple of benches along the side of the store and that was quite a place for the men to sit and one Indian would open up his peace pipe and they would get that going to hand to one another. All the while conversation would be going on. Finally when the peace pipe was burned out, they would return it to the man who had the pipe and he would load it up and they would start out again. The women folk would sit on the benches if there was room but most would generally stand up along the counters. I remember Hollace Pretty Fire, she was around 98 years old and was the mother of Eagle Bear. Hollace Pretty Fire, when she would come to the store, would always sit about the middle of the floor and put her cane down and take her sack of Bull Durham and roll a cigarette and be there just as comfortable as anyplace. There was the cast iron stove- not quite 4 feet long that burned wood. The Indians would bring the wood in by the cords and we would saw up a bunch of it to do the house and store too. An old feller by the name of Red Rock used to have the land in which our Lady of Lourdes Mission is now. And there was Jim Cedar and Black Horn. I never saw two men who could talk with their fingers as these two could. They'd be talking away and then all of a sudden they would laugh; and then use sign language again and so forth. And yet it seemed they would talk just as fast with their fingers as an ordinary person would with their tongue. And Black Horn was quite a fellow. He used to talk Indian to me all the time and I couldn't get all he would say. Finally he told me one day "Your head must be made of stone. I have been trying to penetrate it for some time with Indian words but somehow can't seem to get through."
Then there was Eagle Bear. He was a rather quiet man but he was considered sort of the chief. Whenever Eagle Bear talked they all listened. There there was Thomas Steals Horses. Thomas was some relative of Eagle Bear. He lived in Pine Ridge but he would come out to Porcupine once in awhile. I remember when I first came into the store. Here comes Thomas Steals Horses, all painted up and he was standing near the stove talking and every once in awhile he would look at me and it seemed like he was just as mad as he could be. I never saw more piercing eyes on any human beings than Thomas Steals Horses. But Tom was a kindly old fellow and that was just his way of speaking. It just seemed like he was mad at the whole world, and being painted up that way surely did make it look real.
The customers would often ask for advice either on account of some sickness or some social trouble at home. The storekeeper was generally looked on as someone who they could rely on for proper advice. Sometimes there would be misunderstandings in the family, other times it would be for fevers or headaches or things like that. I remember Jessie Pretty Hip came in one time and said her daughter had "kitten" trouble, so she wanted something for that. It took me a minute to figure out what that "kitten" trouble was, so I said "Jessie, you mean kidney trouble?" and she said yes, that was it. I gave her some Doan's Pills and it must have been all right because Jessie never said anything after that. Perhaps it would be interesting if I recalled some of the customers:
There was Tom Yellow Thunder- a great big man who weighed about 200 pounds and his wife was named Maggie. Then they came to the store to trade Maggie always trailed behind while coming and going. When they made their purchases, Maggie would put all the things in her shawl and throw the shawl over her shoulder and follow Tom out of the door. Tom would condescend to open the door but that was about as much attention as he would allow. So Maggie would carry all of this stuff in her shawl on her shoulder and after they got to the wagon, tom took care of the horses and got in the wagon seat and Maggie got her usual place there in the wagon box and off they would go home.
Then there was a man by the name of Big Nose. And Robert Pumpkin Seed. I believe these two were about the only ones who displayed a seeming dislike for the white man. They were the only two, and I don't know, probably something happened during their life that justified their being that way. So we had to handle them carefully. Robert Pumpkin Seed was a great big man and really a good wood chopper and so was his father Asa. You could always tell when Asa came in the store because you could smell that pipe of his a half mile away. he just smoked that pipe continually. Then there was nice and kindly Eagle Shield, a very kind man. And his brother Eagle Pipe. There were Peter and Mary Runs Close to the Edge, and Jim Locke. Jim was the Episcopal catechist and he caused me to take a trip to Pine Ridge one time. Seems as though we had sort of a punchboard in the store and you would punch a hole out of the board and it had a number on it. If you got the right number there was a prize- and we had lots of prizes. But Jim thought that was sort of gambling so we wrote to Jarmak, the superintendent about it. Jarmak wrote a pretty hot letter so I thought, well, I had better go to Pine Ridge and cool him down a little bit and just explain how it was. So I went in on the mail on a cold day- there was about a foot or two of snow on the ground. We went in by team and wagon. We got there about three o'clock in the afternoon and Jarmack was in his office so I opened the door and went in. He said "What the hell are you in here for". I explained about the letter Jim Locke wrote about the gambling and Jarmack said to finish the numbers but not to buy anymore. So going back the next day, the king-bolt broke on the doubletree of our rig. Robert held the horses held the horses so they didn't run away. We got an old belt and put in there, and got home ok.
Then there was Oscar Jealous of Him, and George Respects Nothing, and Sam Rock. Sam liked to get up around the stove and talk- a great big man. Then there was Eagle Tail Feather, and Mark Spider. Brave Heart, Tom Black Bull, James Black Bull, Louis Brown Eyes, White Elk, Richard Tail, White Bull #1 and White Bull #2 (neither of these were related), Robert Iron Cloud (the mail carrier) and his father who married sisters who were Red Necklace and Runs For Hill. Then there was Iron Bull, Long Soldier, Alex Mouseau (the Frenchman) and he was the one who owned the place where we live now. One day Alex brought in his jug (they had stone jugs in those days for vinegar and kerosene and so forth). So Jim Iron Cloud was working in the store and he thought that Alex wanted kerosene, so he put kerosene in the jug. When Alex went to get it after he made his purchase he noticed it was kerosene. "Now" he says, "you ruined my 'vinegar' jug." And then there was Bear Comes Out, and Joe Good Stone, John Bird Head, a sort of a rough sort of fellow just the same. Then there was Louis Plenty Holes, and Emil Afraid of Hawk over at the Manderson store. Emil was a very good interpreter. You needed a good interpreter in those days because a lot of them couldn't speak English. So we generally had a clerk in the store who could speak Indian. After work Emil would always hitch up his team and he and his wife would go visiting- that is summer times of course- a nice way to get out of the store and get some fresh air. Some of the finest people I know are Indian men and women and I cherish their memory. Their character was nice and strong and just as good as anyone you could find.
One of the outstanding people among the whites was Doctor McNeil who took care of the health of the people. Dr. McNeil at the time was about 50 years old, sort of stocky built man. His wife was named Phoebe and he had a boy named John. Very generous hearted- in fact so generous hearted that he had to give up private practice at Harrison, Nebraska because he just couldn't collect bills somehow. So, he thought he had just better get on the Indian Service where he could be on a salary. Dr. McNeil was a really dedicated man. He would come night or day. If he was needed badly it didn't matter what hour of the night. He always used to stop by the store and get something for his patients and on his way back he would stop again and get something for Phoebe. For his wife he would get maybe a bottle of catsup or a jar of pickles or some little thing that he would always bring home from his trips. He used to like pigs feet awfully well. In that time we used to get pigs feet in 3-gallon jars. John, his boy, also studied to be a doctor. I think Dr. McNeil was the son of a saloon keeper in Littlerock, Arkansas. And then he got his degree in Littlerock, and John followed in his footsteps. John was having an awful hard time with some of his studies. Of course he would ask his dad about some of his hard questions and his father could generally give him the right answers. So, one time John asked him "Dad, did you ever have a hard time in school? Did you get good marks?" His dad replied "Oh no, I had a hard time with books. I just barely got through school." Later on John told me that his mother was looking at some old books down in the basement in some trunks and came across some of the examination papers of Doc's. They all had A's on them, so he must have been a fine student. he died, you might say, with his boots on. He had been out to a meeting- out to somebody to tend them- and somehow he contracted pneumonia and died there in the hospital in Pine Ridge. Certainly a distinct loss for the community when a man like that was taken from us. Mrs. McNeil moved to Seargent, Nebraska where she kept house for a priest.
Another nice person I would like to recall to mind is Mike Condon. Mike was what you call a "lone ranger". He was about 60 years old or so, maybe 55- no one will ever know and he was supposed to be single. No one could ever get him to talk much about his past except that he had been a brakeman on the railroad at a time when they used a piece of wood to turn the wheel to tighten the brakes on top of a boxcar. And after the Newcastle Company sold out he moved in a rather small building at Porcupine (about 12 feet by 20 feet), right east of the store. He had a gas tank and sold gas to the Indian people. he formerly had been a trapper for the Newcastle people. He was quite handy at trapping coyotes. Then he put in ice cream and he and Margaret (George's daughter) got to be great friends on account of the ice cream. He lived in the house that the Glovers used to live in, just south of the Cummings house and he just used one room where he had his kitchen and bed and the other room was called the south room. He was a great babysitter. Mike was one of those characters who wasn't afraid of the devil himself. he was quite a Democrat and we used to get him on the fight once in awhile. Poor fellow died in Hot Springs with some sort of leg infection that seemed like it wouldn't heal. One time I went up to visit him and a nurse came in with a little jigger of whiskey and she says "Mike, I'll give you just 2 minutes to drink this and I'll be back to get it." He said that he told her "I'll just drink this when I get good and ready." So once she went out he says "I'll show her who's boss around here." And by George, the nurse came in after a couple of minutes and he hadn't drunk it so she took it out. So I told Mikey "I've known you a good many years but I never knew you to refuse a drink." Of course, it couldn't have been his inherited Irish stubbornness!
I'll say a word about the Holy Rosary Mission in those days. The brick of the buildings were made by the Brothers from clay that was around that country. They made their own bricks. The Brothers taught the trades of shoe repairing, blacksmithing, taking care of cattle, carpentry, and things like that. Then when they boys graduated they could do something with their hands. The Sisters taught sewing. But now it is all academic so when the boys and girls get out there, they don't know what to do with their hands. And the Brothers made bread. They sure could make fine bread. We used to call it Brother's Brown Bread. Brother Pratt was there and he used to run the movies at Porcupine. One time when he got up early to start the water wheel that runs the dynamo that gives electricity to the institution, his sweater got caught in a blot on the axle of the water wheel and just turned him around and hurt him so that he died later on. Most of the Fathers were German up until 1930 and then the Brothers too. Then the Irish moved in and they got quite a crop of Irish Fathers and Brothers. Mass was held about every 30 days at the Mission churches because the Fathers couldn't get around oftener to the different Mission churches. There were meeting houses with the churches where they (Indians) could go before like on Saturday evening. They'd bring their bedding and just go in the meeting house and have a dish of food. Their horses would be tethered outside. When Fathers left the Mission they would have their bed roll with them and enough food to carry them for at least a couple of weeks before they could get back to the Mission. They would usually stay in the Sanctuary of the different Missionary churches.
Father Mormon was rather new to horses, so he would tie up his reins and have about 50 feet of rope onto that. When he would come to a gate that would give him time to close the gate. The horses might get a little restless and he would get hold of that rope and gradually pull it in and stop his team. And Father Siam would be reading this brievery while his team would be walking along down the road. He used to always have a lot of this Swiss cheese because he was Swiss. Father Zimmerman was the kind of man that was everywhere, somehow. A wonderful missionary. Father Cunningham started all of the Mission of Our Lady of Lourdes, and his mother was a great help to him. he got the "blue" nuns from Cleveland for a while and then they were later withdrawn.
In the church, the men used to be on the right hand side and women on the left hand side. It seemed like that was sort of an unwritten rule. Father Zimmerman died alone in a chair up at St. John's Hospital in Rapid City. Father Collins had brought him there about midnight and the sisters got a bed for him but "no" he said, he didn't want to soil the liner of their bedding. He just stayed in a chair. About an hour later one of the sisters went in and they found him dead.
In the early 1920s the reservation was a peaceful place. There was no drinking. The Indian people took pride in their homes. They were always neat even though the floor was dirt. Their horses, their gardens were neat although a good many times the gardens got a bit weedy when there was some celebration to go to- a temptation that was hard to resist. The people had a good sense of responsibility in paying debts to each other and to the store. In other words, the "tranquility of order" pervaded the whole area until World War II. I often wonder if it will ever return. I am so grateful for the good Lord for sending me to South Dakota and particularly to the Porcupine Valley, with its hills, its pine trees, the clean air, the kind people- both white and red. Some of the finest people I have known were Indian men and women. I am grateful to the good Lord for sending me such a good wife and the fine kids He bestowed on us. He has surely been so good that I cannot thank Him enough for these wonderful blessings.