Also highly recommended (as orientation) is The Fighting Cheyennes by George Bird Grinnell, who was born in 1849 and who wrote the book in 1915 (it’s still in print). It is a non-patronizing, non-romantic look at the battles the Cheyenne fought in, as much as possible, their own words.
The Cheyenne are Human Beings. They call themselves that because they are and were, and because they act and acted just like human beings everywhere, including those white and black versions with which they had and have many strange interactions. Little Big Man was born white and named Jack Crabbe, but through a series of curious incidents was raised by the Cheyenne during the time in which that great nation was going into eclipse.
Berger wrote Little Big Man at a time (1964) when white boys still wanted to run off and be Indians. (Nearly twenty years later, Grizzly Adams fulfilled the same function.) Some call Berger’s work “comic”, which is the most inapt description which could be imagined.
Old Lodge Skins was Little Big Man’s adoptive grandfather. The scene takes place shortly after the Battle of Little Big Horn slash Battle at the Greasy Grass. There is much in this prayer that still works.
Then he commenced to pray to the Everywhere Spirit in the same stentorian voice, never sniveling but bold and free.
“Thank you for making me a Human Being! Thank you for helping me become a warrior! Thank you for all my victories and for all my defeats. Thank you for my vision, and for the blindness in which I saw further.
“I have killed many men and loved many women and eaten much meat. I have also been hungry, and I thank you for that and for the added sweetness that food has when you receive it after such a time.
“You make all things and direct them in their ways, O Grandfather, and now you have decided that the Human Beings will soon have to walk a new road. Thank you for letting us win once before that happened. Even if my people must eventually pass from the face of the earth, they will live on in whatever men are fierce and strong. So that when women see a man who is proud and brave and vengeful, even if he has a white face, they will cry: ‘That is a Human Being!’…”
I stood there in awe and Old Lodge Skins started to sing, and when the cloud arrived overhead, the rain started to patter across his uplifted face, mixing with the tears of joy there.
It might have been ten minutes or an hour, and when it stopped and the sun’s setting rays cut through, he give his final thanks and last request.
“Take care of my son here,” he says, “and see that he does not go crazy.”
He laid down then on the damp rocks and died right away. I descended to the treeline, fetched back some poles, and built him a scaffold. Wrapped him in the red blanket and laid him thereon. Then after a while I started down the mountain in the fading light.