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The Christmas saddle

Since there are only two more issues of NSNT to be printed before Christmas, I‘ve got to do this one, for a copy of the printed column will be part of a very special Christmas gift for my two granddaughters, Caydee (10) and Kylee (8), telling the story of how a saddle came their way – just in time for Christmas after making a journey or many miles and years. Hopefully, they will remember this story, a butt written version of the story might serve as a reminder in later years.
The girls are horse crazy – especially about Wyoming and Amigo, their personal mounts, regular sized horses. Phoebe, the mean little white Shetland pony frustrates them, given to evil little hops to dislodge small riders, running off and even the occasional bite. They prefer their big horses: Wyoming, age 25, a kind old feller now retired from many careers (Indian relay, rodeo pickup, reenactment mount, barrel horse, Crow Fair parader and all-around cow horse) and Amigo, about 20 who also ran barrels, Paraded and worked cows. These two gentle veterans calmly pack the girls around, even nudged into a gentle lope, careful to stay under their small passengers, even stopping to wait should an unexpected dismount occur.
The problem for the small riders is getting on, re1uring a handy fence: the crafty old guys will sometimes sidestep just as the aspiring rider descends. So, once mounted, the girls don’t get off. “We need a saddle,” they proclaim. Their mother and I agree, yet as we are both of modest circumstances, this has not yet been possible. Until now and it came in the most unlikely way.
Years ago ( 2008 or 2009) when I had A Cheyenne Voice newspaper, Joan Hantz, then Head Librarian for Chief Dull Knife College was a wonderful friend and supporter. One day as I delivered the paper, she unloaded books from large boxes – an incredible variety. “Another gift from one of our benefactors, Ann Gallaspie, Washington,” Joan explained. “Over the years she has sent hundreds to us and other area libraries, to promote literacy.”
“Wonderful! Let’s write a story about her,” I suggested. And we did, me introduced to Ann via telephone. That started a long telephone friendship. She also became a benefactor of A Cheyenne Voice, sending small financial donations, stamps and unusual gifts collected during her world travels. By then, she couldn’t travel anymore, confined to her small country place in Washington State. Ann also sponsored annual essay contests for schools on and near the Northern Cheyenne Reservation, offering cash prizes and used the paper to promote that, the winners getting published.
Ann’s fascination with the Northern Cheyenne started in 1976, when a remarkable1 Cheyenne, the late Austin Two Moons conducted a Day of Prayer for World Peace in Busby, Montana, attracting hundreds of people from around the world. Ann was one. Although Austin wanted to hold the ceremony at the Little Big Horn Battle Field (then called Custer’s Last Stand) at that time, Indians were not welcome there for such purposes, so they settled for a nearby location. “We never want the world to experience such a terrible thing again,” Austin would say.
As an eloquent and compassionate ambassador for peace, Austin went on to travel the world, conducting similar ceremony, even invited to the Vatican in Rome. He was the kindest of souls and welcomed Ann’s friendship and support, even taking her as a sister. Thus, in later years, Ann, who did not have family, adopted one of Austin’s granddaughters, even paying her way through college.
At any rate, Ann, Joan and I became best of buddies, speaking every other day or so on the phone. (Be reminded again that old people, living alone, often like to keep in touch by phone). Thus, after a week or so, not hearing from Ann, Joan decided to investigate, calling the Sherriff where Ann lived. Once Joan had visited Ann, with a U-Haul trailer to pick up a load of books.
That is how we learned that Ann, near eighty, had perished. Her body had been lying on the kitchen floor for serval days, the coffee pot still on.
The faithful Cheyenne granddaughter went to Ann’s place (which she had inherited) to take care of the estate. In the process, she discovered a dale with my name on it. Youth-sized, it was in immaculate condition, carefully tended through the years. As a girls growing up back east, Ann had a horse and loved to ride, so it must have belonged to her, by my calculation, now at least 75 years old, if not more.
The granddaughter delivered the saddle, leaving it at CDKC for delivery to me. She also brought Ann’s ashes, directed to scatter them on the Reservation, among the Northern Cheyenne Ann loved so much.
Although Joan and I discussed what to do with it (way too small for me), we somehow never got around to that and as the years slipped by, the little saddle, resting comfortably in the archives, also faded from my mind. Until last week. I visited with the new CDKC librarian who said, “There is a saddle here that belongs to you.”
“Oh my gosh! I forgot about that.”
Uncle Leroy Whiteman will retrieve it and bring it to Sheridan, just in time for our Holiday celebration, like an Indian version of Santa Claus. Think of how many miles that old tack has traveled just in time to delight two little Cheyenne girls for Christmas. Problem is: there is one saddle, two little girls and one little brother, also a rider – good opportunity to practice sharing.
The girls will cherish the saddle and take very good care of it. Their Mother and I will see to that. And, I want them to know about Ann Gallaspie. Perhaps her spirit will hear their happy laughter as they use it to ride through the Cheyenne hills.

(Contact Clara Caufield can be reached at


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