Monday, October 18, 2010

Ghost Story from My Youth

Out in eastern Montana (where I grew up until age 12) and at about the halfway point of the Rosebud creek is what my friend, Reo and I called Volcano Hill. It is not volcanic basalt at but sandstone mingled with a powdery red earth similar in consistency to cinnamon. Naught but tumbleweeds, cactus and sage grow well in it. We called it Volcano Hill, because it is a cone shaped mesa, that looks like it has had the top sheared off. The most interesting things about the hill however is the strange aura that radiates off of it.

The Cheyenne (to whom I am partial over the Crow) considered it sacred and their petroglyphs cover numerous sections in sheltered overhangs. A handful of caves burrow back into the hill, and we as children ventured into them as far as we dared...a scant few feet because several dropped off into bottomless pits that we could see nor hear no end of-but what I really recall was that it seemed a presence lurked in those caves that we dared not abandon daylight for. I envisioned a scarecrow-like old Indian sitting cross-legged deep in the caves, a wicked shaman with little patience for curious white boys. My minds eye said he had gnarled hands, long teeth and penetrating eyes of obsidian that looked into my soul.
Reo and I talked many times about spending the night on the mesa, but we always found a better reason not too, when night fell.

I remember being told by the old-timers that back in the short days right before the Battle of the Little Big-Horn, (the quintessential last stand battle of my childhood) that the Warriors went to Volcano Hill and stood from sun-up to sun-down with their hands upon the sacred stone face, in a shamanic ritual to make themselves invulnerable in the coming battle.
Did it work?
They won didn't they?

Reo and I put our own hands upon the warm stone one afternoon, and though we, as 10 year old boys only lasted perhaps a few minutes, I remember a power emanating from the deep within and it was easy to believe there was something special about the place, something otherworldly. I can't help but think of John Carters gateway to Mars now, but back then it seemed it was my own portal to another realm and the possibilities were endless.

The last time Reo and I went back, looters had attempted to break off portions of the petroglyphs, they didn't succeed but they did damage the face of the most prominent glyphs, scoring a large rectangle about it as well as breaking chunks off of the weak sandstone. Some of their tools and clothes were left scattered behind on the ground. I know the looters must have attempted this at night, but what scared them off? The hill is off by its lonesome, it isn't like anyone would be happening by at night, its far too remote.
No, something else got rid of them. We never heard about looters out there ever again.

Pic by my friend Kris Cooper


Charles Gramlich said...

The very idea that people would damage such things just disgusts me. I really don't like people much.

L.T. Elliot said...

It's such a shame to me that people deface or destroy things like that. History gets lost. Even just beauty gets lost.

What an incredible picture from your friend.

Angie said...

Awesome story. Makes me shiver. Darn looters! I hope they got what was coming to them.

David J. West said...

Charles-there are a lot of thoughtless people out there, that and shameless collectors.

Thanks L.T., I'm sure Kris will appreciate that.

Angie-I'd like to imagine so.

Andrea Franco-Cook said...

Great story. I'd like to believe those looters got exactly what was coming to them.

David J. West said...

Andrea-I hope so, thanks for reading.