Just a few days ago my brother friend, Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell shared sad news. Another of our brother friends, Mike Her Many Horses, of the Oglala Sioux Tribe has “gone on”, to the “Last Camp” as the Cheyenne would say. This is a great and painful loss to many of us. He was only about 70, a very young age to some of us.
Many years ago, I first noticed Mike Her Many Horses, then a very fancy “Fancy” dancer, when I also competed in the powwow circuit, though not as nearly as successful as him. At that time, he had long black braids, very shiny, perfect and beautifully beaded regalia and the quickest feet and graceful athletic moves you could imagine. That is when he started being called by just the name of “Horses”. We all knew him as a champion. Maybe then is when he got used to being in the spotlight, moving around in so many arenas.
He was born, raised and spent most of his life at Wounded Knee, except when he went to school, including college, earning a Master’s degree, a student of history, then learning to be a very good writer and eloquent spokesman. Later, he was elected several times to the Oglala Sioux Tribal Council (Pine Ridge), representing the Wounded Knee district. He was intimately and personally familiar with the history of that area, perfectly willing and proud to share that knowledge with others, a personal and favorable perspective, which I’m sure he did as an occasional instructor at the Tribal College. He lived in a small modest house out in that raw remote area and loved it, thinking it to be the best place on the planet. Yet, as Senator Campbell said, Mike could move with ease in New York City or Washington, DC, hobnobbing with the elite to gain some advantage for his people. But, Wounded Knee was his spiritual home, giving him strength and renewal.
Some years later, as a staffer for then Senator John Melcher, (MT), who was Chairman of the Indian Affairs Committee, I was one day sitting in my cubicle, battling with paperwork up to my eyeballs. The receptionist buzzed me. “There are two Indian guys, Sioux, out here. They want to see John, but say they won’t leave until they talk to somebody.”
Washington, DC works by appointments and John’s frenetic schedule would not or could not accommodate two Indian guys who just showed up out of the blue, even if they rightfully claimed relationship to Sitting Bull and other famous warriors. Thus, it fell to me, getting paid to deal with “skins” who always had legitimate needs.
With notebook and pen in hand, I met them in the conference room. He extended a firm hand. “I am Mike Her Many Horses, but you can just call me “Horses.” Most of my friends do. “This” he said, pointing to Duane, a red-headed looking white-guy “is also a councilman,” Duane was quiet, leaving Mike to speak. (sorry but I don’t recall Duane’s last name.) “I know who you are,” I responded. “Do you still fancy dance?” “Yep,” he chuckled in a hearty way, “but now, it is the two-step or jitterbug.” They had a heart-wrenching list of requests and I pledged to relay them to the good Senator and appropriations committee, while urging John’s support. John always tried to get “earmarks” in the budget for the tribal requests, and his favorites were the Northern Cheyenne and Sioux. At the end of our interview, Mike announced “There is just one more request.”
“What is that?”
“Do you prefer lunch or supper? As our guest. We get per diem, you know.” I had to laugh. “Probably supper, because I am so busy during the daytime,”
That was the beginning of a long friendship with “Horses”, not a romantic one, but just a genuine friendship which provided the opportunity to learn some things – first hand about the Oglala, from a true scholar on the subject. We often discussed the commonalities between our people. After John lost an election, I also lost my job, becoming a lobbyist, largely due to Mike, representing the Oglala Sioux. Mike, Duane, then Tribal President Paul Iron Cloud and I haunted the halls of Congress, somehow yanking several extra million out of the federal coffers for the Oglala Sioux Tribe. By then, Mike had managed to befriend Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell, who was of enormous help. Also, he became a “brother-friend” to Dennis Limberhand, a cousin to me who is also my major “brotherfriend”, related in the same way to Senator Campbell. I’m still not too clear how that happened, but it gave all of us an even closer connection. After I went home to Montana which in my view is also a very special place on the planet, we kept in touch for some time. But, eventually, due to my proclivity for losing cell phones and going on adventures to wilderness locations, we lost touch.
But, about six years ago, I was in a remote location near Busby, Montana, home of the White River Cheyenne (who had historically lived for some time with the Sioux), taking pictures for a newspaper story. Finished, I was walking back to my vehicle. A strong confident voice hailed me “Spotted Elk!” Surprised, I turned for I had not had that name for some time.
There, leaning against the front of a car was a pudgy gray-headed fellow. “It’s me! Horses,” he announced. “Damn, girl sometimes you are hard to track.”
“What are you doing here?”
“Was in Billings for meetings, so came for a visit.” “Let’s go to the cabin,” I laughed. “We’ll have a hot tea.” He had gifts: a rare book for me; an Oglala Sioux pin and eagle feather for Dennis and something for Senator Campbell. “I don’t see those guys too much anymore,” he explained. “Can you deliver these at some time?”
That was an honor for me. Then, he explained that he was going to retire from tribal politics, tired of fighting with the tribal administration, demanding accountability about tribal finances and other goings on. He talked at length about his daughter, Danelle Her Many Horses, doing well, working with the Indian National Gaming Association and his grandchildren, (both natural and adopted) and other relatives whom he dearly loved. “It’s my time to become a rock for them,” he said. And of all things was thinking about studying film making in New York. Before departure, he invited me to come to Wounded Knee for a visit. “If you ever need a place to stay, you’ve got one with me. It is peaceful there and will be good for you. You could be helpful by doing the laundry and hanging it on the line,” he joked.
Of course, I agreed to do that. But, circumstances never seemed permit that time.
So, I never did and now never will. Farewell, my good friend and thank you for the marvelous opportunity of your unique friendship. “Sta-Vahsah whoms” which means in the Cheyenne language “, I will see you again.”
(Clara Caufield can be reached @ firstname.lastname@example.org)
Leave a Reply