In response to a comment from “Joanne,” I did some looking into Joseph Robidoux (III, founder of St. Joseph, MO), who, she said, had an Indian wife named Otter, possibly in between white wives. This was my comment answering hers:
Further research revealed quotes about Robidoux having children by many “Indian” women. Either he (aka Joseph Robidoux III) or his son (Joseph Robidoux IV — there are also nephews and cousins named Joseph Robidoux, making things even more confusing) is said to have married an “Otoe” woman ca. 1840. Possible confusion with tribe/nation “Otoe” and individual named Otter? Maybe. Probably.

Otter Woman apparently plays a role in the novel “Sacajawea” which I haven’t read because first, if the author couldn’t even get the woman’s NAME right, what else is wrong? And second, she proposes a romantic relationship — or at least feelings of romance, and this is what I’m told, I repeat I haven’t read the novel — between Sacagawea and Wm. Clark. I think Clark liked and respected Sacagawea — especially in comparison with her useless husband — but I doubt that he viewed her as a romantic partner. Who knows? He clearly wouldn’t have put that in his journal, nor would the men (although possibly in later gossipy lurid memoirs?), but it’s possible that he really missed his family, and the presence of a young woman and a baby brought back warm and happy memories for him. At this point I’m not thinking that Robidoux and Otter Woman are connected, at least not without a lot more evidence.

One other possibility arises; the Wind River Shoshone have a grave they marked (and still honor) as Sacagawea’s; they claim she came back after the expedition, and raised her orphaned nephew Bazel (spelling uncertain), and died at the advanced age of 106. If they’re right (although Anderson and Schroer, 1999, call it a “regrettable circumstance” resulting from oral histories, misunderstandings, and confused memories — in other words, they are so not right, according to these two), is it possible that Otter Woman was the “wife of Charbonneau, a Snake [Shoshone] squaw” who “died of a putrid fever” at Fort Manuel in 1812? Leaving the “fine infant girl?” (who later arrived with Jean-Baptiste at St. Louis; both were taken into the guardianship of Clark… so it seems more likely the one who died in 1812 truly was Sacagawea.) It does get confusing; so long ago and so few written records, especially about women, and more especially about Native women. But Otter Woman still deserves to have her history told!


The Historic (Haunted?) Adams House in Deadwood SD

In April, I survived a 5-day trip through the Black Hills with my sister. I say survived because I was exhausted by the end of the first day, and my fatigue level just got worse from there; the day we drove south from Deadwood to Hot Springs it decided to rain (why do we always say “it’s raining?” What is “it” that can do such things?) and fog came up (or down) (or maybe it was clouds; we were much higher than usual), and it got very windy. So I have many photos with raindrops on the camera lens (I need some sort of thingy to put on the end of the lens to protect it, although since some of the rain was blowing at us, I’m not sure that would help) and my photo of the famed Crazy Horse Memorial-in-progress looks like a photo of fog, with a black blur behind it. Not book-worthy, I fear.

I did wonder, as I looked at the mountain being shredded, what Crazy Horse himself would have thought about the monument/memorial. Remember that the Black Hills were sacred to the Lakota, even more sacred than the rest of Mother Earth. I can’t imagine a Lakota leader and spiritual man, which is how he is described by his people, would appreciate having a mountain blasted and carved into his image, or any other for that matter. But maybe it’s just me. The fact that there are no known photos of him makes it even worse, at least to these white eyes. The Lakota name for us, “wasichu” (meaning both fat or greasy, and greedy) seems even more appropriate when you enter the visitor center after paying the $20 to get close enough to see the monument. When it isn’t raining and foggy.

Hot Springs was a wonderful break for my sister and me. We stayed at an old hotel across from the railroad station, the River Rock Resort and Spa? I apologize to the owners; I was exhausted and looked like a drowned rat when they welcomed us in and led us to our room. The owners have been remodeling it, trying to keep to the spirit of the original hotel (ca. 1890?), but modernizing the bathrooms for our modern tastes, and of course including televisions! The high-ceilinged rooms, hardwood floors, and vintage furniture were a delight, and the restaurant, open only for dinner, was amazing. (Blue Vervaine, it’s called, if my sieve-memory is working.) And the spa — oh my, we were ready for that. If you’re a hotel guest, you’re welcome to use all the amenities — sauna, hot tub, hot sand room, and hot granite room. Hot sand room? you may ask, like I did. Yes, a room with six or so inches of sand on the floor, covered with canvas and then topped with a layer of sheets and rimmed with pillows. Heated from the bottom, and the light had a dimmer. I spent half an hour in there, in the spa robe they gave each of us for the duration of our stay, lying in the hot sand that I shaped to accomodate the needs of my aching body. And oh, it was heaven. The heat soaked into muscles and joints, and put me right to sleep. I spent another half hour there right before bed.

Mostly I spent that last half hour there because Shari hadn’t mentioned anything about hot tub and bathing suits, and the name “HOT SPRINGS” apparently didn’t register in my brain. So she was in the hot tub, joined by the couple who had been sitting next to us in the restaurant. She told them why we were there, of course, and as so often happens when our mission is made public, stories appeared. I spoke with the woman myself the next morning, since they’d gone to bed by the time I emerged from the hot sand room (Oh, I want one in my HOUSE!), and she told me two stories that aren’t in any source I’ve ever found. Wonderful stories! I also got a story from a woman in a coffee place in Lead, with the wonderful name “Sacred Grounds” (the coffee place, not the woman…), where we also stopped to get out of the wind and light rain the previous day.

Sometimes I am told ghost stories, and sometimes I eavesdrop on other people’s conversations (those times when you can’t help it, when they’re in a booth behind you, for example, and speaking LOUDLY), and get ideas that become seeds for stories. One such seed came to me at a coffee and muffin place in Carson City, NV, where I wrote much of the first draft of my novel-in-progress, currently in its a hundred-and-eleventy-second revision. Behind me one morning were three elderly women, speaking very LOUDLY. They were talking about funerals, of all things, and one of the women was very concerned that the funeral home might steal the gold teeth from her body when her time came. She told her friends that she had decided to leave them to her nephew in her will. I’m not sure what story that will be, but what a detail! (And of all the things I may leave my nephews, my teeth will not be among them!)

You just never know where a story will start. A casual conversation, someone else’s conversation, or a dropped remark about the fastest gun in the west, who briefly worked for Ambrose Bierce as a coach guard, and who never got the kind of fame, or infamy, of other fast guns like Wild Bill Hickock, or Billy the Kid. Keep your eyes and ears open all the time, and stories will come right up and sit in your lap!

Spring Tulips

It seems that, May snowstorm aside, spring has finally come to my little corner of the world. My tulips are almost finished blooming, my ornamental cherry is in bloom, one of my 9 lilac bushes is blooming, and my lilies-of-the-valley seem to be spreading into the lawn, having already spread from the north side of the house to the south side (why and how they managed that is beyond me!).

One other sign that doesn’t happen every year is the new family on my property. Actually they’re not quite on my property. In Bismarck, that space between the sidewalk and the street is called the “boulevard” (doesn’t that mean street?) and the city owns it, while the property owner must care for it. On the “boulevard” on the south side of my house is a large and reasonably healthy old elm tree. The elm tree has a — knot? hollow? I’m losing words again, somebody help me! Anyway, there’s a round space that is just the right size for little birds like wrens, chickadees, and one year, beautifully, goldfinches.

This year I’m pretty sure it’s wrens. One of the parents was sitting on a branch next to the opening of the perfect home yesterday, and gave me quite a scolding for looking at him (her?) before diving inside. The days are finally warm, and I hope that finding food is easier. There’s plenty of water around, thanks to all the rain. I keep an eye on the tree, and every once in a while I think I see a tiny head peeking out. Soon the babies will fledge, and leave the nest. Will I ever see them again? Will their parents ever see them again? I don’t know, but I wish them well. And I thank them for bringing new life to this aging woman.