Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The Original and Authentic Kickapoo Indian Primitive Physic (A story of the Elusive)


With deliberate and solemn step six men approached the front of Pearsons’ Pharmacy and Soda Fountain. A wrinkled old man with sharp eyes, wearing a black bear's head, the huge yellowed teeth touching his forehead and the thick bear hide draping his shoulders in the New England summer sun carried a drum under his arm. The other five Indian warriors wearing buckskin shoulder bags, buckskin trousers and moccasins, red chevroned chest plates of bone, and single or double eagle feathers woven into their menacingly long and shiny black hair braids folded their arms on their chests like courtly judges, closed their eyes and as one body sat down in a circle in the dust of main street. The old man placed the tom tom between his knees and started up a steady drumming as another man built a small campfire. The fire rose modestly, the tom tom whumped, as men stepping down from trolley cars stopped and stared, women carrying shopping bags were tugged by the hands of begging children clamoring to get a closer look, and the people in their summer clothes gathered to gawk and point. A barefoot boy in knickers reached out a finger and touched an eagle feather. The warrior’s eyes sprang open and the boy jumped back. The old man’s eyes, watching, twinkled.

The five men stood, ignoring the crowds chatter and questions, reached into the shoulder bags and began passing out handbills to the crowd.

Show Tonight!

The Original and Authentic Kickapoo Indian Primitive Physic

With the Elusive Element
Made only from Natural Roots, Herbs, and Barks
Cures all illness of the Blood, Liver and Stomach
Wandering Uterus and Female Hysteria

 

Kickapoo Indian Worm Killer and Tape Worm Secret

For Removal of Indwelling Intestinal Animals


Kickapoo Indian Oil

For all Aches and Pains

Doctor Duncans Dandy Dandruff Remover


When the last paper had been passed to the crowd and posted in the Pharmacists window, the old man stopped his drumming, the fire maker kicked dust over the fire and the six warriors together unsmiling and stately as pall bearers commenced in patient pace back the way they’d come, towards the edge of town where the public wigwam had been pitched, followed by a cloud of boys, girls and barking dogs.

By sunset the crowd was circulating among the tents and displays of beads, human scalps, weapons, drums, pemmican and other relics of Indian life. Off near the trees were six private tee pees where the families loafed and played, guarded by a large, imposing but pleasant brave .

On stage a small brass band wheezed to life and played a patriotic march for the crowd milling with cotton candy, souvenirs and drinks, ending in a sudden bugle blast as a man stepped forward into the spotlight.   He wore a dark buckskin suit with long fringes and moccasin boots laced up to his knees, a string tie fastened with a silver and turquoise clasp and a broad brimmed beaver hat with a coon tail hanging on a tassel. This last he seized and raised high over his head. His lush Van Dyke beard and  long mustache curled with wax rose in a beatific smile.  He bowed long and low. When  his hat on his head he began.

“Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, grandma and grandpa  as you have well observed our entertainment tonight has been of the most entirely wholesome nature. There will be nothing seen, heard, spoken, or performed that would mar the propriety or impunity in any way shade sound, suggestion, source, manner or form of even the most delicate and fastidious sensibilities of any little lady in the fine community of Hadleysburg.

“I am Edward Bloodworthy the Third, of the Bloodworthys of Cambridge of whom you may have heard. In the vast great plains I am called ‘Nevada Ned’. You have also heard me referred to here as Doctor, I am not a doctor though I have attended the medical school of Cambridge for seven years. But the conventional world of the white man’s science was insufficient for my curiosity. I was a sickly young man. A man cursed by nature. I went to the west and the high plains of Nevada in search of wealth and a strengthened constitution. One day while panning fruitlessly for gold in the wild rivers of Nevada I saw a red skinned savage struggling in the throes of quicksand. I did not see my enemy, but only a man like myself, lacking in fortune, struggling to live and my heart was stirred. At the risk of my own life, tying a mining rope across my waist, impetuously I plunged in and we struggled we two together until at last we stood in the life bestowing sun, not white man or red man but only brothers struck of misfortune.

“The red savage I had saved, who on another day might have snatched the scalp from my head alive, this man was none other than  an original and authentic Indian Doctor, known as a medicine man, descended from the wizards and medicine men of the great Kickapoo Indian nation who had been gathering herbs and that day fallen into peril and destiny. We drew blood, we shook hands and vowed to be blood brothers as long as mortality endured.

“Tonight – we bring you the secrets of native and aboriginal science, hidden for 800 years from the eyes of the white man which have made me the robust specimen you see tonight. Tonight I ask you to curb your fears and cherish your curiosity as I introduce you to Chief Running Rock, Indian physic and prophet of the Southwest Kickapoo Indian Terretories! Here!”

As he spoke six Indian warriors appeared in a line on the stage. Standing at the front was the old man with a lavish war bonnet trailing a line of eagle feathers down his shoulders. He took his place beside Nevada Ned, gazing down upon the hushed crowd.

In a low and growling voice he began to speak, and Ned tipped his head to listen. He nodded and whispered questions. The old man raised his hand and made a gentle tomahawk chopping motion. He folded his arms across his chest and waited for the translation. Nevada Ned stood straight with his hands on his buckskin jacket lapels and cleared his throat.

“Chief Running Rock says he will paint a word picture for you any child can understand. In your home after a meal you keep a slop bucket by the back door for bones and scraps and scrape your garbage into the slop bucket.”

The old man rumbled in his baritone for a moment, Nevada Ned nodded  “After the bucket is full, feed it to pigs, give it to your dog, bury it, do what you will but don’t wash it. Give it a week and then look again.”

The old man spoke for a few minutes at length.

“Chief Running Rock says - there my friends examine closely the filth that clings to the sides, smell the rottenness, touch the slime and ooze with your finger tips, and then realize this comes from the very same food that you have been putting in your stomach for one year, five years, ten years, a lifetime – and say to yourself – I have never cleaned it out! Roiling in your intestines, even where you stand are double handfuls of filth, corrosion, corruption, organisms, nepotisms, fecal matter, maggots and even worms!”

The old man raised his hand and spoke loudly and earnestly. One of the warriors standing behind convulsed and snickered. One put his hand to his face to hide his smile and wheezed. Ned noticed with some irritation the word “kimosabe” go swimming by, one of only seven words in Kickapoo he actually knew. It meant “asshole”.

“Chief Running Rock says - We children of nature have lived close to the mother earth. Any of you knows a mother, a brother, an Aunt, an Uncle who felt in robust health until the moment they were struck by fatal heart failure. In a few hours they were dead. How does this happen? They allowed their blood to become weak and watery, to become thin, until the poor heart could labor no more.”

The old man made a hollow fist with one hand, raised his middle finger and moved it in and out of his fist, speaking in loud and solemn tones. Ned heard the struggling snorts and giggles from the shadows behind and ground his teeth. “Chief Running Rock says - weak blood is the source of all illness, influenza and catarrh, the syndrome of the Wandering Uterus and Female Complaint.”

As he spoke again, the old man raised his fists and began pumping his hips suggestively.

“Chief`Running Rock says - the Kickpoo Medicine Doctors have used the Kickapoo Primitive Physic for centuries, from the days of Christ, the Indians have gathered the herbs, gums and bark of the forest and through generations of experiment have perfected the solution we make available to you today.”

The chief beat his heart with his fist and spoke solemnly. Ned put his hand on his shoulder questioningly. The chief nodded and spoke a single sharp word.

“He makes this available, the Indian Primitive Physic with the Elusive Element not because of you my friends, but insists I inform you it is because of the deep personal debt he feels to me that he wishes to help the white man by sharing the most ancient medicinal secrets of these lofty children of the forest and plain. This is the very substance, the very substantiated miracle, palpitated and promulgated in the scriptures written by the hand of the holy ‘go ye into yonder fields, gather ye together roots, herbs and brew them for the sickness that ye the children of Adam are heir to. And the fruit thereof shall be used for meat, and the leaf thereof for medicine for thy blood – yea! – even thy children’s blood.’ “

A man in the audience waved his arms wildly. “I only have ten dollars! I only have ten dollars! Ask the Chief - can I just buy half a bottle? You must, sir! You must! If I only had more time I could get more money, but I’m afraid you’ll run out before I can get a bottle home to my sick daughter.”

The Chief looked stern and growled.

“My friend –“ said Nevada Ned, “What is your life worth? What is your daughter’s future worth? Who can put a price on the life of an ailing child?”

The Chief looked thoughtful, glanced down at his moccasins, looked up and smiled. He whispered in Ned's ear.

“The Chief has given me this opportunity to make an unprecedented offer – did I hear you right Chief?”

The chief nodded and made the tomahawk motion again.

“This is extraordinary. You have moved his heart, sir, never before has this offer been made. I have been given permission, - nay – solemnly intoned – by Chief Running Rock, wizard and medicine doctor of the Kickapoo nation for this night only to offer this Kickapoo Indian Primitive Physic with the Elusive Element not for twenty dollars, not for ten dollars but for the no! It cannot be I heard you right, Chief.”

The Chief looked at him, raised a forefinger and shouted two words in Kickapoo. One of the warriors guffawed.

“One dollar, sir.” said Ned. “Chief Running Rock demands, out of deference and respect for the Great Spirit of Life we will offer an entire bottle of this Primitive Physic for one dollar! One single and solitary dollar. And six bottles for five dollars. And for your sick child sir, Chief Running Rock of the Kickapoo grants a bottle as a gift.”

The chief smiled and spoke.

“Chief Running Rock says he is a grandfather also.” As he handed the bottle to the man, a piano threw out the first bars of “Stars and Stripes Forever” and hands waved with silver and paper dollars. The warriors jumped into the crowd, passing out bottles and making change. The piano played, the chief nodded and looked on benevolently. Soon the music changed to brass and the Tumbling Thompsons began their acrobatic act.

People began uncorking the bottles and sampling. Men passed bottles to ladies and the chief grew concerned as he watched from behind the curtain. The air seemed to acquire a rich muskiness.  After a moment the women began to flush and squeeze their knees tightly together. Their lips parted avidly. Men acquired the stare of hard lust.

“Well, old buddy,” said Ned to the chief. “I don’t know what elusive ingredient you’ve been putting in that stuff, but it is the vocation of a gentleman to read the signs of nature.”

The Indian women rolled up the tee pees. The roustabouts packed the stands and snacks and put them on the wagons. After the first two shows they had learned their lesson.  They were ready in twenty one minutes flat.

The music faded. Clothes began to fly into the air. Nevada Ned packed up the cash and loaded the wagons as the first shrieks of passion from the women and groans of release from the men began. Bare skinned bodies, rolled entwined on the ground. “County line is twenty minutes from here,” said Ned to the chief. Once we’re past Ogallala Creek they can’t touch us. We’ll need you to start another batch for Yazoo County next week before word gets out. Then I suppose we’ll be back in ten months with the Kickapoo Infant Formula.”

Women screamed in ecstasy as naked men pulled their hair and feverishly hammered their loins together. Knife fights broke out among discovered adulterers. The wagons and horses vanished into the night.

In the new camp, in his private tee pee the medicine man began the seed batch of herbs and barks that would be watered and fermented over the next two days. He smelled the fumes. It was time for the elusive ingredient upon which their livelihoods depended.

From his steamer trunk he took a small wooden box with a latch. He unhooked it and opened the box.

Inside was a necklace of seashells and bone beads. His wife’s. There was a small drum, their baby son’s. They had died on the reservation from small pox caught from blankets handed out by soldiers. He pressed the beads to his lips. He tapped the little drum. Soon the tears began. He bent over the pot and thought of home as the tears fell.


C. Sanchez-Garcia

And just for Fun:

This is The Band performing "The W S Walcott Medicine Show"
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t3So8wWm5W8




6 comments:

  1. Garce!

    I never know what your imagination will pull up! I'd love to know where this came from.

    The last scene reminds me of a bit the movie scene in El Pimientero.

    Guess you have fantasies about orgies...!

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  2. I do. I was combining random elements again. What I wanted to do was to try to get a feel for the language of the medicine show, that old timey and high flown rethoric. I did a little research to try to find some archived medicine show pitches and Ned's pitch is based on actual show pitches including the shill with the sick daughter. The old chief saying obscene things in Kickapoo while Ted pretends to translate is my idea, though I suspect this kind of thing happened.

    I didn;t expect anyone to read this because its so long, so I'm very grateful that you gave it a look. You're very good to me that way. I'm not satisfied with it though, it seems to me more like a first draft with a polish. It feels unfinished, like something is missing. Talk about elusive! It was fun to write but in its present version it doesn;t seem to go anywhere, but that's all right. I figure I'll gather a lot of these little stories and keep them handy and then some day I'll find away to work them into something bigger and better. Nothing is ever lost.

    Garce

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  3. Garce, this is fascinating. Were youa t all influenced by late cartoonist Al Capp's imaginary "Kickapoo Joy Juice"?

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  4. Garce, stop apologizing for your long blog posts. They are well worth reading.

    If there's a problem with this piece, I think it's the fact that you can't decide whether it's supposed to be humorous, sexy or touching. I suppose it might be possible to be all three, but right now those three emotional trends seem to clash with one another.

    Well worth working on, though!

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  5. hi Jean!

    I've been a Al capp reader since i was a kid and I think he would have had a ball with the political shenagans going on in the US today. I remember Kickapoo Joy Juice as this moonshine Injun Joe and Lonesome Pole Cat used to brew up in a tub. It was even a commercial soft drink you could buy in a can at 7-11, the ancestor of Mountain Dew.

    In this case when i had the idea and starting fishing around I discovered the Kickapoo Medicine show which - believe it or not - was a franchise! There were as many as a dozen Kickapoo Medicine Shows playing at any one time throughout the country peddling something called "Indian Sagwa". Pitchmen would give their speech as I've depicted it, standing on a stage with an oil painting panarama in the background showing innocent Indian past times while a genuine Indian (usually an Iroquis or Algonquin) posed next to the pitchmen looking authentic and serious. Kickapoo indians are real and once occurpied a fairly large territory in Texas, Kansas and Oklahoma, but were embittered and wanted nothing to do with the medicine shows. I wonder if they're still around?

    Garce

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  6. Hi Lisabet!

    Now that's an interesting observation that hadn;t occurred to me. I think you're right about that, three themes at once. It goes with that "elusive" undeveloped feeling.

    Garce

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