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My summer with Santa Ysabel Indians

2022 Writing Contest Winner: Fiction

“My father, when I was little, he told it to me like this: Black Arrow had been out on a buffalo hunt, and the snow was falling. He and his hunting party had seen no buffalo, and they were becoming discouraged.”
“My father, when I was little, he told it to me like this: Black Arrow had been out on a buffalo hunt, and the snow was falling. He and his hunting party had seen no buffalo, and they were becoming discouraged.”

The first time I ever saw Arlo Two Moons, I was seven. Except that I didn’t know it was him. My father was driving his black ‘67 Chevy truck on the Santa Ysabel Indian Reservation one August evening when we turned a corner on the rock-strewn dirt road. On a hillside above the road, a man and a woman were getting up quickly from the leaves. Both were pulling up their pants, and they turned around as our truck rumbled by, leaving a glimmer of dust in the fading summer sunlight. My father stuck out his hand in a wave, staring ahead at the road.

The two figures turned around again as we passed, and I recognized Susie Night Horse — she was 18, had long black hair and always wore a feather on the right side. The man — I didn’t know him. But I noticed his hair was long, just like Susie Night Horse.

Author Gary P. Taylor

“Who is that man?” I asked my father.

“That looked like Arlo Two Moons,” my father said evenly.

“What was he doing up there with Susie Night Horse?” I said. I had turned around and was on my knees on the Chevy’s ripped front seat, staring out the back window, trying to see this man named Arlo Two Moons.

“I think they were going to the bathroom,” said my father, looking at me with a crooked smile.

“At the same time?!” I practically shrieked. “No boy goes to the bathroom in front of a girl!”

My father nodded at me and drove the Chevy around a tree-studded corner.

I wouldn’t see Arlo Two Moons again for another seven years.

In the summer of 1979, I was working for $4 an hour on the Santa Ysabel Indian Reservation. I was part of a four-man summer crew — me, my cousins Clyde, Paul and Thomas Night Horse — the youngest brother of Susie Night Horse. Clyde was the oldest — he was 16. I was 14, and Paul and Thomas Night Horse were 15. None of us much cared for the job. Half of June and most of July were spent clearing weeds and cleaning the overgrown yards of tribal elders. But we liked making nearly $30 a day.

The only fun we’d had all summer was when the government unexpectedly sent one of its commodity trucks to the reservation, loaded with hundreds of pounds of butter. The butter was pale white, with yellow coloring included in a side packet. And it came in rectangular five-pound blocks, stuffed inside thin cardboard boxes marked “United States Department of Agriculture.” It didn’t make any sense to send that much butter, but we were used to things not making any sense on the reservation. So Clyde, Paul, Thomas Night Horse and I loaded up box after box of butter onto the flatbed of Charlie White Thunder’s beat-up pickup truck. He was a tribal elder who was nearly 70. He’d owned his white GMC flatbed with rusted-out sides forever. He drove it off the reservation only three times a week, to go to the local store four miles away. Any trip always took Charlie White Thunder a long time, because he wouldn’t drive over 35 miles an hour. We stacked the boxes in the flatbed, and Charlie White Thunder drove us to every house on the reservation, including those without electricity. We dropped off as much butter as we could. Some Indians took five pounds, others 10 pounds. Lila Standing Bear took 25 pounds — she was an elder who baked a lot of things for her grandchildren. We stuffed the dark gray boxes into refrigerators, ice boxes, plastic containers — any place even slightly cold.

By the end of the day, we had delivered several hundred pounds of butter. It seemed like every Indian on the reservation had butter. But there were still dozens of boxes at the reservation tribal hall. So we loaded the rest in Charlie White Thunder’s truck and he backed it into an old metal Quonset hut across from the hall. We hurriedly stacked the boxes in a Great Pyramid of Butter. When we came to work after the weekend, the Great Pyramid of Butter had become the Great River of Butter. Hundreds of pounds of butter had become hundreds of gallons of liquid. It took us two full days to mop it all out of the sun-drenched hut. Thomas Night Horse came to work on the second morning, carrying a loaf of bread to make some toast. We all laughed. That was the only fun we’d had all summer. And then Arlo Two Moons came to work with us.

We knew Arlo Two Moons. Everyone on the reservation knew him, or knew stories about him. One story was that he had done time in an Arizona prison. He had left California once, and didn’t come back for nearly four years. Arlo Two Moons told everyone he had been staying with family near Flagstaff, but Susie Night Horse had told her brother that wasn’t true. What happened was that Arlo Two Moons had beaten some urban cowboy in a drunken rage outside a bar. He broke the guy’s jaw, split open his skull and kicked his bleeding body into a side street. It took three Coconino County sheriff’s deputies to wrestle him down, Susie Night Horse said. The only thing that bothered him, Arlo Two Moons had told her, was that he didn’t kill the guy.

Another time, Arlo Two Moons was thrown from a speeding car late at night on the highway right in front of the reservation. He had a broken arm, a busted ankle and some knife cuts across both hands, but he crawled from the highway to the main reservation road and collapsed. He was found lying there in his own blood, but he refused to say what had happened. He didn’t even want to go to the hospital, so one of his cousins drove him to the Indian Health Clinic. No one really asked any questions there. There were other stories, but it didn’t matter. All we knew was that Arlo Two Moons was coming to work with us.

It was the last day of July. Clyde, Paul, Thomas Night Horse and I stood outside the tribal hall, waiting for Arlo Two Moons. Then we saw him coming out of the dilapidated white building, waving a piece of paper in his hand. He had long black hair, braided, and wore dark sunglasses to cover up his permanently bloodshot eyes. He wore a flimsy black vest, unbuttoned and without a shirt, revealing at least half a dozen tattoos across his chest and arms. He wore torn blue jeans and his cowboy boots were black. He wore one large hoop earring on his right ear. He was thin, about six feet tall. And he walked with a slight limp. He couldn’t have been 35. But he looked a lot older than that.

As far as I could see, the only thing missing was a bottle of whiskey. Every Indian on the reservation knew that Arlo Two Moons always had a bottle of whiskey with him. Usually he carried it between his belt and his pants — a fifth of Jack Daniels if he had any money, some other cheap bottle if he was broke. But now, since he was working with us, the whiskey was missing. Cassie Rollins was our supervisor – she was in her mid-thirties, married with one son — and Arlo Two Moon’s cousin. She had hired him, even though no one else really trusted him. Cassie Rollins called all of us together — me, Clyde, Paul and Thomas Night Horse.

“You’re going to work with Arlo for the next two weeks,” she said, eyeing us closely for any reaction. “You’re going to work on the road and install some culverts at the top of the reservation on Volcan Mountain. You guys will work the shovels.” Arlo Two Moons would work the tribe’s Caterpillar bulldozer, a hulking relic from the ‘60s. “He’s good on heavy equipment – he’ll tell you what to do,” she said.

We all looked at each other. None of us wanted out. Cassie Rollins looked relieved. Arlo Two Moons was called over.

“This is your crew,” she said. “All yours.”

He looked at us warily. “Cass, did you get me any Indians who can actually work?” he said with a grimace. Then he suddenly broke into a wide smile — his upper lip was split and two bottom teeth were missing. “Indians — we’re going to fix some damn roads on this reservation! When we’re done, Charlie White Thunder will be cruising at 70 miles an hour. He’ll be ripping up the damn road!” We all laughed.

“Be here at eight sharp tomorrow morning,” Cassie Rollins told us. She turned to Arlo Two Moons. “And don’t bring any whiskey — you’re gone if you do.”

He shrugged. “Cousin,” he said, shaking his head, “I don’t have a damn penny.”

The next morning, we all showed up before eight. Arlo Two Moons was already there, inspecting the rusting cab of the Caterpillar. “Get on the damn Cat!” he shouted when he saw us. “Indians, I’m gonna work your asses off!” Clyde, Paul, Thomas Night Horse and I climbed onboard the faded yellow-and-black Cat. I jumped up near the cab, holding on as Arlo Two Moons shifted the piece of heavy equipment into gear. Black smoke rose as the bulldozer began its lumbering three-mile ascent to Volcan. I looked inside the cab. On the floor, glistening in the sun, was a full bottle of whiskey.

For the first week, the routine was the same. Arlo Two Moons would drive the big dozer to Volcan, drop the big blade of the scraper and begin grading the hard dirt and rocky mess that was the existing reservation road. While he smoothed the road and moved massive piles of fresh dirt from a surrounding ravine, the four of us worked furiously with the shovels, spreading dirt along the side and creating gutters and berms. Arlo Two Moons was good with the dozer — he spun it around like it was a car he had driven a thousand times, scraping dirt, moving rocks and creating gentle slopes alongside the newly-graded road. We worked hard, too — until 11 every morning. Then Arlo Two Moons would shut down the Cat’s engine, wipe his brow and lean back in the cab’s swivel chair. He’d lock it into place — and then start guzzling a bottle of whiskey. Sometimes, he had two bottles. By noon, usually, he was passed out.

We got used to it. It became part of our routine — we’d work hard for a couple of hours, and then Arlo Two Moons would start drinking. By the beginning of the second week, Clyde brought some cards and Paul had a transistor radio. Thomas Night Horse and I would lug some old cans and bottles so we could hit them with rocks. We were just killing time until Arlo Two Moons woke up from his whiskey daze at around three every afternoon. He’d look around, wave us onboard and then start up the dozer for the long rumble down the mountain.

One day in August, he shut the Cat down earlier than usual and jumped onto the freshly-graded dirt. He had a half-empty whiskey bottle in his scarred right hand. He swung his braided hair and looked at Thomas Night Horse.

“You want a drink?” Arlo Two Moons said, holding the bottle in his slightly shaking fingers. He walked over to Thomas Night Horse and stuck it in his face. Thomas Night Horse glanced at the black label: Jack Daniels Old No. 7 Tennessee Whiskey.

“Not my brand,” he said.

Arlo Two Moons howled with laughter. “Not my brand!” he yelled. “Shit, Indian, the only brand you can handle is Kool-Aid.” We all laughed.

Then he walked over to Clyde and offered him the bottle. “Can’t drink on the job, man,” Clyde said, waving him off.

“Indian – I do more work passed out than you do all damn day!” said Arlo Two Moons.

Paul didn’t want any whiskey, either. “I’d take a swig and then probably drive the dozer off the road,” he said, laughing nervously.

“Which is damn better driving than you’d do if I put your ass in the cab right now!” Arlo Two Moons shouted.

Finally he turned to me, bringing the thin bottle to my chest. Then he thumped it against me. “Let’s see if we got at least one Indian who can handle some whiskey,” he said, pretending to pour the golden liquid into an imaginary glass. “Drink up, Indian.” He pushed the bottle under my nose. My eyes burned for just a moment.

Clyde, Paul and Thomas Night Horse all stared at me intently. I looked at the bottle, then stepped back. “I don’t drink,” I said, looking directly at Arlo Two Moons. “No whiskey. Nothing.”

Arlo Two Moons stumbled towards me. His black eyes were in a rage. He came face to face with me, his eyes darting back and forth. His cracked lower lip trembled slightly as he lifted the bottle between our faces. Suddenly Arlo Two Moons broke into a broad smile. “Indians — shit, you might as well be little white boys,” he said. Then he raised the whiskey to his lips. “Little white boys — look at this!” he said, pointing to the bottle. “Whiskey, whiskey, everywhere — and not a drop you’ll drink!” Arlo Two Moons laughed uproariously. Then we all watched him finish the rest of the bottle in five swallows. He drank it like it was soda. He licked his lips and tossed the bottle aside. “Indians — back to work!” he shouted, and hopped on the Cat.

A week later, we had completed nearly one full mile of road. We had smoothed some sections, graded over others, and put in two small culverts near some dips. Not bad, considering Arlo Two Moons was the only one who knew what he was doing. On the eighth day, Arlo Two Moons started up the dozer and waved us all aboard as usual. I took my usual spot, hanging on a side handle for the long ride up. I glanced at the floor of the cab. No whiskey bottles.

Thomas Night Horse noticed it, too. “Hey,” he shouted to Arlo Two Moons, “how you gonna work without whiskey?” Arlo Two Moons smiled, and slowly raised his crooked left middle finger to Thomas Night Horse.

When we got to Volcan, we finished up the rest of the grading in less than a couple of hours. That was it, said Arlo Two Moons, shutting down the Cat. We were done. All four of us were standing around, drenched in sweat and leaning on our shovels. Arlo Two Moons called me up to the cab. “Think you could drive this piece of shit down the hill?” he said, handing me a key.

“At five miles an hour — yeah, who couldn’t?” I said. I wasn’t serious.

Arlo Two Moons was. “I’ll put it in gear – all you have to do, Indian, is steer.” He put his hand in his pocket.

“Shit! I gave you the wrong damn key,” he said. “Give me the one in your hand.”

As I handed it back to him, I noticed the key was attached to a small piece of something ragged. “What is this – cowhide?” I said.

“Shit, you call yourself an Indian?” said Arlo Two Moons. “That’s buffalo. Ever heard of buffalo, Indian?”

“Where’d you get it?” I asked, handing him the key.

“Where did I get it? I’ll tell you where I got it.” Arlo Two Moons lifted a bent cigarette from his ripped vest and lit it with a grimy silver lighter he pulled out of his pocket. “Bad habit,” he said, lighting the cigarette. “My only one.” He inhaled deeply, and then blew out a long, grey plume of smoke. “This buffalo skin was given to my grandfather by my great-grandfather, Black Arrow, the old Shoshone Indian Chief. My grandfather gave it to my father, and my father gave it to me. White people would call it a friggin’ family heirloom.” Arlo Two Moons was rubbing the tattered skin in his hands, his eyes closed tight. “My father, when I was little, he told it to me like this: Black Arrow had been out on a buffalo hunt, and the snow was falling. He and his hunting party had seen no buffalo, and they were becoming discouraged. Then his horse, In The Sky, reared up suddenly, and Black Arrow saw a large brown hump on a ridge. He rode over to the large brown hump and saw that it was a buffalo, just lying there. Black Arrow declared, ‘It is not a fair hunt, but we must kill this buffalo. We will take her hide and her meat will be good.’ So they slaughtered the buffalo, and as they did, Black Arrow saw that she had a calf inside her, and now they were both dead. My great-grandfather waved off the hunting party. ‘We cannot eat of this buffalo,’ he said. ‘The meat will be sour in our stomach and in the stomach of our children. But we will take the hide, and her fur will keep us warm.’”

Arlo Two Moons rubbed some sweat from his eyes. He was gripping the skin tightly. “That night, Black Arrow went to sleep, and the slaughtered buffalo came to him in a vision. The buffalo said, ‘Black Arrow, it is true it was not a fair hunt — but your heart must not be sad. My spirit was nearly gone when you came upon me, and my calf would have died with me, half-buried in the snow. It is true my meat would have been bitter, but you were right to take my skin. It will warm you, and your son, and his son, and his son. And then it will end.’ Black Arrow awoke, and the next morning he brought my grandfather next to him, and he said, ‘As it was told to me in a vision, the skin of the buffalo in the snow will remain with us, and I will give it to you, and you to your son, and he to his son. We will warm our bodies and our spirit with this buffalo skin.’”

Arlo Two Moons ran his hands through his hair. He opened his eyes, looked away from the sun and then at the withered piece of skin in his hand. “This is all that’s left of that buffalo,” he said, his voice raspy. “One little piece. I’ll keep it until I die.”

“Where’s the rest of it?” I asked.

Arlo Two Moons shook his head. “Gave it away one night a long time ago,” he said, a twisted smile crossing his face. “Needed a drink. So I gave it away — the whole damn thing — for some whiskey. Took it out of my closet, put it on my shoulder, cut off a piece to keep. Then I just handed it to some son of a bitch for a bottle.” He turned to me and shook his head. “You know what, Indian?” he said, dropping his cigarette and crushing it in the dirt.

“What?”

“That day you didn’t take a drink — Indian, that was the only good thing you did all damn summer.”

Arlo Two Moons walked back to the cab of the Cat and stuck in the key. The loud diesel engine sputtered to life. He motioned for all of us to get on. “Indians — road’s done. We’re done.” He turned to me as he sat down behind the wheel. “This shitty thing is even too slow for Charlie White Thunder,” he grumbled. Then he let out a loud, screeching howl — he’d done it before, but this one was louder and longer. “Indians — hang on — I’m shit-ass sober!” We all laughed. Arlo Two Moons drove us down Volcan Mountain and back to the tribal hall.

When we showed up for work the next day, Arlo Two Moons wasn’t there.

Seven years later, I was in my college dorm room when the phone rang. I recognized my mother’s voice immediately. She just wanted to talk. She said my father was spending most of his days in the lilac fields. We had planted five acres of the scented purple flowers a few years ago, before I left home — and now it was turning into a cash crop. My sisters were fine — all three in high school — two already had boyfriends, my mother said, disappointment in her voice. That reminded her — did I remember my old girlfriend Katie Standing Bear? She was 20 now and just had her third baby in December. Three different fathers — and only one of them was an Indian, my mother remarked.

Oh — one more thing — did I remember Arlo Two Moons?

I hadn’t heard that name in a long, long time.

“Yeah – I remember Arlo Two Moons,” I replied.

“Well – he drank a lot,” my mother said, her voice rising. “A lot.”

“I’ve heard that.”

“Anyway – he had this drinking problem — it was whiskey. He was always drinking — like a fifth every day, I think, sometimes more.”

“Something like that,” I replied.

“Anyway — about a month ago they found him dead.”

I remained silent.

“Some of his cousins found him. They said they were all drinking one Friday night on the reservation, and it was cold and a storm was coming in. Arlo Two Moons said he was going to walk home before the snow came. He was drunk of course, but no one thought anything of it.”

“No one ever does,” I said.

“Especially with Arlo Two Moons,” my mother continued. “Anyway – he never made it home. The next night, his cousins – Man, I think, and Pretty Boy — they’re walking along the road and they see two stiff legs sticking out of a ditch. They pull on the legs – and it’s Arlo Two Moons! He froze to death. Pretty Boy said he was face-down, half-buried in the snow.”

Half-buried in the snow.

“Thanks for calling, Mom,” I said. “It was nice to talk to you.”

I hung up the phone.

I did not attend the funeral of Arlo Two Moons, so I do not know if he was buried with his buffalo skin.

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San Diego painter with 40 years experience finally falls

2022 Writing Contest Winner: Non-Fiction
“My father, when I was little, he told it to me like this: Black Arrow had been out on a buffalo hunt, and the snow was falling. He and his hunting party had seen no buffalo, and they were becoming discouraged.”
“My father, when I was little, he told it to me like this: Black Arrow had been out on a buffalo hunt, and the snow was falling. He and his hunting party had seen no buffalo, and they were becoming discouraged.”

The first time I ever saw Arlo Two Moons, I was seven. Except that I didn’t know it was him. My father was driving his black ‘67 Chevy truck on the Santa Ysabel Indian Reservation one August evening when we turned a corner on the rock-strewn dirt road. On a hillside above the road, a man and a woman were getting up quickly from the leaves. Both were pulling up their pants, and they turned around as our truck rumbled by, leaving a glimmer of dust in the fading summer sunlight. My father stuck out his hand in a wave, staring ahead at the road.

The two figures turned around again as we passed, and I recognized Susie Night Horse — she was 18, had long black hair and always wore a feather on the right side. The man — I didn’t know him. But I noticed his hair was long, just like Susie Night Horse.

Author Gary P. Taylor

“Who is that man?” I asked my father.

“That looked like Arlo Two Moons,” my father said evenly.

“What was he doing up there with Susie Night Horse?” I said. I had turned around and was on my knees on the Chevy’s ripped front seat, staring out the back window, trying to see this man named Arlo Two Moons.

“I think they were going to the bathroom,” said my father, looking at me with a crooked smile.

“At the same time?!” I practically shrieked. “No boy goes to the bathroom in front of a girl!”

My father nodded at me and drove the Chevy around a tree-studded corner.

I wouldn’t see Arlo Two Moons again for another seven years.

In the summer of 1979, I was working for $4 an hour on the Santa Ysabel Indian Reservation. I was part of a four-man summer crew — me, my cousins Clyde, Paul and Thomas Night Horse — the youngest brother of Susie Night Horse. Clyde was the oldest — he was 16. I was 14, and Paul and Thomas Night Horse were 15. None of us much cared for the job. Half of June and most of July were spent clearing weeds and cleaning the overgrown yards of tribal elders. But we liked making nearly $30 a day.

The only fun we’d had all summer was when the government unexpectedly sent one of its commodity trucks to the reservation, loaded with hundreds of pounds of butter. The butter was pale white, with yellow coloring included in a side packet. And it came in rectangular five-pound blocks, stuffed inside thin cardboard boxes marked “United States Department of Agriculture.” It didn’t make any sense to send that much butter, but we were used to things not making any sense on the reservation. So Clyde, Paul, Thomas Night Horse and I loaded up box after box of butter onto the flatbed of Charlie White Thunder’s beat-up pickup truck. He was a tribal elder who was nearly 70. He’d owned his white GMC flatbed with rusted-out sides forever. He drove it off the reservation only three times a week, to go to the local store four miles away. Any trip always took Charlie White Thunder a long time, because he wouldn’t drive over 35 miles an hour. We stacked the boxes in the flatbed, and Charlie White Thunder drove us to every house on the reservation, including those without electricity. We dropped off as much butter as we could. Some Indians took five pounds, others 10 pounds. Lila Standing Bear took 25 pounds — she was an elder who baked a lot of things for her grandchildren. We stuffed the dark gray boxes into refrigerators, ice boxes, plastic containers — any place even slightly cold.

By the end of the day, we had delivered several hundred pounds of butter. It seemed like every Indian on the reservation had butter. But there were still dozens of boxes at the reservation tribal hall. So we loaded the rest in Charlie White Thunder’s truck and he backed it into an old metal Quonset hut across from the hall. We hurriedly stacked the boxes in a Great Pyramid of Butter. When we came to work after the weekend, the Great Pyramid of Butter had become the Great River of Butter. Hundreds of pounds of butter had become hundreds of gallons of liquid. It took us two full days to mop it all out of the sun-drenched hut. Thomas Night Horse came to work on the second morning, carrying a loaf of bread to make some toast. We all laughed. That was the only fun we’d had all summer. And then Arlo Two Moons came to work with us.

We knew Arlo Two Moons. Everyone on the reservation knew him, or knew stories about him. One story was that he had done time in an Arizona prison. He had left California once, and didn’t come back for nearly four years. Arlo Two Moons told everyone he had been staying with family near Flagstaff, but Susie Night Horse had told her brother that wasn’t true. What happened was that Arlo Two Moons had beaten some urban cowboy in a drunken rage outside a bar. He broke the guy’s jaw, split open his skull and kicked his bleeding body into a side street. It took three Coconino County sheriff’s deputies to wrestle him down, Susie Night Horse said. The only thing that bothered him, Arlo Two Moons had told her, was that he didn’t kill the guy.

Another time, Arlo Two Moons was thrown from a speeding car late at night on the highway right in front of the reservation. He had a broken arm, a busted ankle and some knife cuts across both hands, but he crawled from the highway to the main reservation road and collapsed. He was found lying there in his own blood, but he refused to say what had happened. He didn’t even want to go to the hospital, so one of his cousins drove him to the Indian Health Clinic. No one really asked any questions there. There were other stories, but it didn’t matter. All we knew was that Arlo Two Moons was coming to work with us.

It was the last day of July. Clyde, Paul, Thomas Night Horse and I stood outside the tribal hall, waiting for Arlo Two Moons. Then we saw him coming out of the dilapidated white building, waving a piece of paper in his hand. He had long black hair, braided, and wore dark sunglasses to cover up his permanently bloodshot eyes. He wore a flimsy black vest, unbuttoned and without a shirt, revealing at least half a dozen tattoos across his chest and arms. He wore torn blue jeans and his cowboy boots were black. He wore one large hoop earring on his right ear. He was thin, about six feet tall. And he walked with a slight limp. He couldn’t have been 35. But he looked a lot older than that.

As far as I could see, the only thing missing was a bottle of whiskey. Every Indian on the reservation knew that Arlo Two Moons always had a bottle of whiskey with him. Usually he carried it between his belt and his pants — a fifth of Jack Daniels if he had any money, some other cheap bottle if he was broke. But now, since he was working with us, the whiskey was missing. Cassie Rollins was our supervisor – she was in her mid-thirties, married with one son — and Arlo Two Moon’s cousin. She had hired him, even though no one else really trusted him. Cassie Rollins called all of us together — me, Clyde, Paul and Thomas Night Horse.

“You’re going to work with Arlo for the next two weeks,” she said, eyeing us closely for any reaction. “You’re going to work on the road and install some culverts at the top of the reservation on Volcan Mountain. You guys will work the shovels.” Arlo Two Moons would work the tribe’s Caterpillar bulldozer, a hulking relic from the ‘60s. “He’s good on heavy equipment – he’ll tell you what to do,” she said.

We all looked at each other. None of us wanted out. Cassie Rollins looked relieved. Arlo Two Moons was called over.

“This is your crew,” she said. “All yours.”

He looked at us warily. “Cass, did you get me any Indians who can actually work?” he said with a grimace. Then he suddenly broke into a wide smile — his upper lip was split and two bottom teeth were missing. “Indians — we’re going to fix some damn roads on this reservation! When we’re done, Charlie White Thunder will be cruising at 70 miles an hour. He’ll be ripping up the damn road!” We all laughed.

“Be here at eight sharp tomorrow morning,” Cassie Rollins told us. She turned to Arlo Two Moons. “And don’t bring any whiskey — you’re gone if you do.”

He shrugged. “Cousin,” he said, shaking his head, “I don’t have a damn penny.”

The next morning, we all showed up before eight. Arlo Two Moons was already there, inspecting the rusting cab of the Caterpillar. “Get on the damn Cat!” he shouted when he saw us. “Indians, I’m gonna work your asses off!” Clyde, Paul, Thomas Night Horse and I climbed onboard the faded yellow-and-black Cat. I jumped up near the cab, holding on as Arlo Two Moons shifted the piece of heavy equipment into gear. Black smoke rose as the bulldozer began its lumbering three-mile ascent to Volcan. I looked inside the cab. On the floor, glistening in the sun, was a full bottle of whiskey.

For the first week, the routine was the same. Arlo Two Moons would drive the big dozer to Volcan, drop the big blade of the scraper and begin grading the hard dirt and rocky mess that was the existing reservation road. While he smoothed the road and moved massive piles of fresh dirt from a surrounding ravine, the four of us worked furiously with the shovels, spreading dirt along the side and creating gutters and berms. Arlo Two Moons was good with the dozer — he spun it around like it was a car he had driven a thousand times, scraping dirt, moving rocks and creating gentle slopes alongside the newly-graded road. We worked hard, too — until 11 every morning. Then Arlo Two Moons would shut down the Cat’s engine, wipe his brow and lean back in the cab’s swivel chair. He’d lock it into place — and then start guzzling a bottle of whiskey. Sometimes, he had two bottles. By noon, usually, he was passed out.

We got used to it. It became part of our routine — we’d work hard for a couple of hours, and then Arlo Two Moons would start drinking. By the beginning of the second week, Clyde brought some cards and Paul had a transistor radio. Thomas Night Horse and I would lug some old cans and bottles so we could hit them with rocks. We were just killing time until Arlo Two Moons woke up from his whiskey daze at around three every afternoon. He’d look around, wave us onboard and then start up the dozer for the long rumble down the mountain.

One day in August, he shut the Cat down earlier than usual and jumped onto the freshly-graded dirt. He had a half-empty whiskey bottle in his scarred right hand. He swung his braided hair and looked at Thomas Night Horse.

“You want a drink?” Arlo Two Moons said, holding the bottle in his slightly shaking fingers. He walked over to Thomas Night Horse and stuck it in his face. Thomas Night Horse glanced at the black label: Jack Daniels Old No. 7 Tennessee Whiskey.

“Not my brand,” he said.

Arlo Two Moons howled with laughter. “Not my brand!” he yelled. “Shit, Indian, the only brand you can handle is Kool-Aid.” We all laughed.

Then he walked over to Clyde and offered him the bottle. “Can’t drink on the job, man,” Clyde said, waving him off.

“Indian – I do more work passed out than you do all damn day!” said Arlo Two Moons.

Paul didn’t want any whiskey, either. “I’d take a swig and then probably drive the dozer off the road,” he said, laughing nervously.

“Which is damn better driving than you’d do if I put your ass in the cab right now!” Arlo Two Moons shouted.

Finally he turned to me, bringing the thin bottle to my chest. Then he thumped it against me. “Let’s see if we got at least one Indian who can handle some whiskey,” he said, pretending to pour the golden liquid into an imaginary glass. “Drink up, Indian.” He pushed the bottle under my nose. My eyes burned for just a moment.

Clyde, Paul and Thomas Night Horse all stared at me intently. I looked at the bottle, then stepped back. “I don’t drink,” I said, looking directly at Arlo Two Moons. “No whiskey. Nothing.”

Arlo Two Moons stumbled towards me. His black eyes were in a rage. He came face to face with me, his eyes darting back and forth. His cracked lower lip trembled slightly as he lifted the bottle between our faces. Suddenly Arlo Two Moons broke into a broad smile. “Indians — shit, you might as well be little white boys,” he said. Then he raised the whiskey to his lips. “Little white boys — look at this!” he said, pointing to the bottle. “Whiskey, whiskey, everywhere — and not a drop you’ll drink!” Arlo Two Moons laughed uproariously. Then we all watched him finish the rest of the bottle in five swallows. He drank it like it was soda. He licked his lips and tossed the bottle aside. “Indians — back to work!” he shouted, and hopped on the Cat.

A week later, we had completed nearly one full mile of road. We had smoothed some sections, graded over others, and put in two small culverts near some dips. Not bad, considering Arlo Two Moons was the only one who knew what he was doing. On the eighth day, Arlo Two Moons started up the dozer and waved us all aboard as usual. I took my usual spot, hanging on a side handle for the long ride up. I glanced at the floor of the cab. No whiskey bottles.

Thomas Night Horse noticed it, too. “Hey,” he shouted to Arlo Two Moons, “how you gonna work without whiskey?” Arlo Two Moons smiled, and slowly raised his crooked left middle finger to Thomas Night Horse.

When we got to Volcan, we finished up the rest of the grading in less than a couple of hours. That was it, said Arlo Two Moons, shutting down the Cat. We were done. All four of us were standing around, drenched in sweat and leaning on our shovels. Arlo Two Moons called me up to the cab. “Think you could drive this piece of shit down the hill?” he said, handing me a key.

“At five miles an hour — yeah, who couldn’t?” I said. I wasn’t serious.

Arlo Two Moons was. “I’ll put it in gear – all you have to do, Indian, is steer.” He put his hand in his pocket.

“Shit! I gave you the wrong damn key,” he said. “Give me the one in your hand.”

As I handed it back to him, I noticed the key was attached to a small piece of something ragged. “What is this – cowhide?” I said.

“Shit, you call yourself an Indian?” said Arlo Two Moons. “That’s buffalo. Ever heard of buffalo, Indian?”

“Where’d you get it?” I asked, handing him the key.

“Where did I get it? I’ll tell you where I got it.” Arlo Two Moons lifted a bent cigarette from his ripped vest and lit it with a grimy silver lighter he pulled out of his pocket. “Bad habit,” he said, lighting the cigarette. “My only one.” He inhaled deeply, and then blew out a long, grey plume of smoke. “This buffalo skin was given to my grandfather by my great-grandfather, Black Arrow, the old Shoshone Indian Chief. My grandfather gave it to my father, and my father gave it to me. White people would call it a friggin’ family heirloom.” Arlo Two Moons was rubbing the tattered skin in his hands, his eyes closed tight. “My father, when I was little, he told it to me like this: Black Arrow had been out on a buffalo hunt, and the snow was falling. He and his hunting party had seen no buffalo, and they were becoming discouraged. Then his horse, In The Sky, reared up suddenly, and Black Arrow saw a large brown hump on a ridge. He rode over to the large brown hump and saw that it was a buffalo, just lying there. Black Arrow declared, ‘It is not a fair hunt, but we must kill this buffalo. We will take her hide and her meat will be good.’ So they slaughtered the buffalo, and as they did, Black Arrow saw that she had a calf inside her, and now they were both dead. My great-grandfather waved off the hunting party. ‘We cannot eat of this buffalo,’ he said. ‘The meat will be sour in our stomach and in the stomach of our children. But we will take the hide, and her fur will keep us warm.’”

Arlo Two Moons rubbed some sweat from his eyes. He was gripping the skin tightly. “That night, Black Arrow went to sleep, and the slaughtered buffalo came to him in a vision. The buffalo said, ‘Black Arrow, it is true it was not a fair hunt — but your heart must not be sad. My spirit was nearly gone when you came upon me, and my calf would have died with me, half-buried in the snow. It is true my meat would have been bitter, but you were right to take my skin. It will warm you, and your son, and his son, and his son. And then it will end.’ Black Arrow awoke, and the next morning he brought my grandfather next to him, and he said, ‘As it was told to me in a vision, the skin of the buffalo in the snow will remain with us, and I will give it to you, and you to your son, and he to his son. We will warm our bodies and our spirit with this buffalo skin.’”

Arlo Two Moons ran his hands through his hair. He opened his eyes, looked away from the sun and then at the withered piece of skin in his hand. “This is all that’s left of that buffalo,” he said, his voice raspy. “One little piece. I’ll keep it until I die.”

“Where’s the rest of it?” I asked.

Arlo Two Moons shook his head. “Gave it away one night a long time ago,” he said, a twisted smile crossing his face. “Needed a drink. So I gave it away — the whole damn thing — for some whiskey. Took it out of my closet, put it on my shoulder, cut off a piece to keep. Then I just handed it to some son of a bitch for a bottle.” He turned to me and shook his head. “You know what, Indian?” he said, dropping his cigarette and crushing it in the dirt.

“What?”

“That day you didn’t take a drink — Indian, that was the only good thing you did all damn summer.”

Arlo Two Moons walked back to the cab of the Cat and stuck in the key. The loud diesel engine sputtered to life. He motioned for all of us to get on. “Indians — road’s done. We’re done.” He turned to me as he sat down behind the wheel. “This shitty thing is even too slow for Charlie White Thunder,” he grumbled. Then he let out a loud, screeching howl — he’d done it before, but this one was louder and longer. “Indians — hang on — I’m shit-ass sober!” We all laughed. Arlo Two Moons drove us down Volcan Mountain and back to the tribal hall.

When we showed up for work the next day, Arlo Two Moons wasn’t there.

Seven years later, I was in my college dorm room when the phone rang. I recognized my mother’s voice immediately. She just wanted to talk. She said my father was spending most of his days in the lilac fields. We had planted five acres of the scented purple flowers a few years ago, before I left home — and now it was turning into a cash crop. My sisters were fine — all three in high school — two already had boyfriends, my mother said, disappointment in her voice. That reminded her — did I remember my old girlfriend Katie Standing Bear? She was 20 now and just had her third baby in December. Three different fathers — and only one of them was an Indian, my mother remarked.

Oh — one more thing — did I remember Arlo Two Moons?

I hadn’t heard that name in a long, long time.

“Yeah – I remember Arlo Two Moons,” I replied.

“Well – he drank a lot,” my mother said, her voice rising. “A lot.”

“I’ve heard that.”

“Anyway – he had this drinking problem — it was whiskey. He was always drinking — like a fifth every day, I think, sometimes more.”

“Something like that,” I replied.

“Anyway — about a month ago they found him dead.”

I remained silent.

“Some of his cousins found him. They said they were all drinking one Friday night on the reservation, and it was cold and a storm was coming in. Arlo Two Moons said he was going to walk home before the snow came. He was drunk of course, but no one thought anything of it.”

“No one ever does,” I said.

“Especially with Arlo Two Moons,” my mother continued. “Anyway – he never made it home. The next night, his cousins – Man, I think, and Pretty Boy — they’re walking along the road and they see two stiff legs sticking out of a ditch. They pull on the legs – and it’s Arlo Two Moons! He froze to death. Pretty Boy said he was face-down, half-buried in the snow.”

Half-buried in the snow.

“Thanks for calling, Mom,” I said. “It was nice to talk to you.”

I hung up the phone.

I did not attend the funeral of Arlo Two Moons, so I do not know if he was buried with his buffalo skin.

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