ADOBE WALLS, TEXAS MARCH, 1927
The ghosts of Charles and William Bent spoke to me last night. The spirit of Kit Carson came to me in the same vision. This was not a dream, but a vision. I know the difference.
Kit said, "Come on, Plenty Man, I've marked the trail."
William said, "It's alright, Kid."
Charles added, "Better hurry, Mr. Greenwood, before you do something stupid and take the low road."
As I woke, the echoes of their voices faded and became raindrops tapping the windowpane. The pale light of dawn illuminated my one-room sod house. I got up and went out in the weather in my nightshirt. I say, "Bah!" to anyone who suggests that a man of ninety-nine years should not be trudging around in the cold rain. The rain won't hurt you. And if you breathe a smudge of fir needles, it will ward off attacks from the Thunderbird. The Comanche medicine man, Burnt Belly, taught me that decades ago, and I have never been struck by lightning.
The smudge? Simple. Place the fir needles on a hot coal, and breathe the pungent smoke. You will need a forked stick of chokecherry to lift the coal from the fire. Chokecherry is dense and hard and resists burning. A live chokecherry tree will tell you all this and more if you listen hard enough.
Anyway, this morning, I went out into the drizzle and walked through the orchard and up the gentle grade of the prairie, letting the raindrops fall on my bare head, and feeling the mud ooze between my toes. I stood over the vestigesof the last few sunbaked bricks--all that remain now of Fort Adobe.
The casual observer would not even recognize these as adobe bricks. They now resemble a mere bump rising from the prairie. Grasses have taken root upon them. It looks as if someone dumped a wheelbarrow full of dirt here and left it. Yet, I know what lofty dreams and desperate struggles those few decaying adobes represent.
"Ta'a ko'oitu," I said in Comanche. We are dying.
I was not really sad. I got over my sorrow long ago. I remembered things I had done here. The children I had ransomed out of captivity. The battles I had fought. The demons I had slain. Here I rode with trappers and traders legendary in their own time. Jim Bridger, John "Freckled Hand" Hatcher, Thomas "Broken Hand" Fitzpatrick. Old Gabe. And, of course, William Bent and Ceran St. Vrain. Here Kit Carson would become my friend. The Comanche chief, Shaved Head, would adopt me. The warrior, Kills Something, would become my brother. The shaman, Burnt Belly, would show me how to make medicine and listen to plants and animals talk.
But now you think you are listening to the fanciful ramblings of a senile old fool, for I have tried to tell too much at once. Bear with me. Hear my tale. It is strange, and so am I. Yet, my story is like yours--or his--or hers--or theirs. I have lived and seen and done the strange, the unusual. Haven't you? Think. Could you not amaze me with some memory of your own? Of course you could. Perhaps you shall. Let me share with you what I have experienced. My peculiar fate. My singular destiny. Give me time. I will try not to disappoint.
Shall I make you laugh? I hope I will. I welcome your laughter. My ego can withstand even your ridicule. Will you make me laugh? You can. Think. You can make me laugh. And I will. I will laugh well. I have earned it. You need to know my laughter as much as I need to know yours.
But that is only the beginning. After we have laughed together, with genuine mirth and tearful eyes, then we willhave only started, each to know the other. As I tell you these things about my life that will test your utmost credulity, you must stop and think. I will wait, even though you may ponder silently at length. I will wait. Think. You possess the selfsame humanity as do I. With what true tale from your own experience could you arouse my suspicion and disbelief? My story, though strange to you, is no stranger than yours. Only different. I will begin at the beginning. But first, I want to tell you about the adobes. The ones I watched this morning in the rain.
I made these last remaining bricks by hand, eighty-two years ago, when I was a lad of seventeen. These were the first I used in building the fort. They have lasted the longest. They possess parts of my soul. When the grass roots finally split them, and when the rain melts the last of the old mud bricks back into the earth, and when the wind turns them to dust, I will die; for my life intertwines with all that is left of Fort Adobe. But this morning, standing there in the rain, I saw that there were still a few adobes left. There is time yet, and I will make it precious. If you wish, I will spend some of my remaining moments with you, telling my tale. That would please me.
Anyway, when the rain began to chill me this morning, I turned away from the crumbling adobes and hiked back toward my sod house. On the way, an airplane flew over me. It flew lower than usual. Because of the rain, I suppose. Some fellow carries the mail in that airplane, I have been told, and apparently likes to follow the Canadian River as a landmark. He always flies right over my sod house. The noise doesn't last long, but it irritates me. One day, having calculated his schedule through observation, I waited for him to fly over. I sent a warning shot across his propeller with my old Sharps buffalo gun. I don't suppose he ever knew.
This morning, I watched him fly over and disappear into the mist, and said to him, "Godspeed, lad," for I harbor no real resentment toward him. I read in the newspapers that men are attempting to fly the Atlantic in one of those machines.I crossed the ocean on a square-rigger once. A man would need to possess courage in amplitude to fly where I sailed.
After the drone of the airplane faded up the river valley, I went into my sod house and made a good fire in the woodstove. It was forty-nine degrees outside. Oh, pshaw! I won't catch cold! That doesn't happen. Germs cause colds. The Indians knew this generations before anyone knew what a germ was. Comanches make themselves go out in the cold. They swim in icy streams. I am part Comanche. Not by blood, by heart. A good walk in the cold rain braces the body and the spirit.
So, I dried off, got dressed, warmed up, and played a bit of Chopin's trio on my left-handed Stradivarius violin. I ate some pemmican I prepared just last week from dried venison and tallow and fruit from the native plum trees over on Bent's Creek. Now I am cozy and content and since you have come to visit I want to tell you the things I have seen here in this place that called my name far across the ocean a lifetime ago. I want to tell you about the buffalo. About the Indians. About Snakehead Jackson, the whiskey trader. The black-powder days. I want to tell you about the wilderness.
First, I must tell you about myself. Have I mentioned that I am a genius? The question is rhetorical. I know I haven't mentioned it because my memory is and always has been perfect. I'm not boasting. I simply am a genius. It's nothing to brag about, really.
I am also a liar, but I'm not lying about being a genius. I am also a murderer and a thief. That is the truth. But now I have tried to tell too much at once again. Allow me to begin at the beginning. If you don't mind, I will wash and cut some dogbane root while we talk. I keep it on hand to chew. It helps me sleep and wards off night terrors. I am afflicted with an almost intolerable sense of efficiency. I can't just sit here and talk. I have to be doing something with my hands while I talk lest I should toss and turn all night over the time I have wasted.
There. Now I can begin. Let me tell you a story. This is the truth, so you will find it difficult to swallow. Should I lie, you should believe every word, but I will suffer your incredulity and hold to the truth. The Gospel, as they say. Yes, I knew Kit Carson, but I cannot just start there. I will begin ... well, at the beginning ... .