Pisquasistan Indian Charlie is called back from his exile in Canada to see off his dying father.
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Charlie’s sister Agnus’s letter said that their 87-year-old father, Walter Two Hearts, was bad sick and wanted him to come down from Canada to help him. Agnus, diabetic and wheelchair bound, could not – or at any rate would not – help Walter. As a born-again Christian she had no use for her dad or for Charlie whom she considered pagans. Charlie reread the letter and mulled over the contents. There was the matter of an outstanding federal warrant in the States. But he reckoned if the old man was asking for him, he was probably dying. He’d have to risk it.
The family was Turtle Clan of the tiny Pisquasistan people of present-day northern Nevada. The Pisquasistan, a tiny breakaway faction of the Paiute people, had been desert people for centuries – who knows, maybe millennia – until World War II needed their ancestral lands as a gunnery range for P-38 and Hellcat aircraft. Families were awarded $250 and relocated to five-acre plots on abandoned mining claims 20 miles north of Virginia City, scrub lands assigned to various dispossessed Washoe, Ute and Paiute peoples. Walter, then 16, helped his mother break soil to plant her garden, then sold his pony, lied about his age, and joined the Marine Corps.
From Guadalcanal to Pelilu he fought the Japanese in island jungles and caves until his left femur was shattered by a 7mm Japanese rifle round. Walter returned home with a silver star and a cane. Once the war ended, tribal elders hired a lawyer and petitioned the government for the return of Pisquasistan lands. In the confusion of the shift of the land from the War Department to the Department of the Interior, their letters went unanswered. In Washington DC no one had ever heard of the Pisquasistan. Jokes were made about the funny name until they were forgotten. Tribal elders ran out of money. Then even the lawyer did not answer letters.
Walt Two Hearts married a girl from Rabbit Clan and fathered two children, Agnus and Charlie. He and Susan Sunflower opened a little store where they sold gasoline, kerosene, soda pop, canned goods, candy, and a few car parts like fan belts and radiator sealant. For more than 40 years, theirs was the only store serving the rural native American community in the badlands north of Virginia City. Agnus grew up and moved away to Reno to take the Jesus way. Charlie stayed with his parents and grandmother until she died, then inheriting her five-acre plot. He was close to his dad and loved the old man’s stories about growing up in the rolling hills above the dry lake valley. One September, his dad drove a jeep on off-road tracks back to show Charlie the old homestead of rolling hills overlooking the eight-mile-long dry lakebed. The government had left none of the structures standing, but after a late summer rain columbine, lupine, and Indian paintbrush were in full bloom, covering the hills in magnificent color. Antelope and rabbits were plentiful. “This is beautiful, dad.”
“If you don’t look at them fences and gates and government signs, it’s special, ain’t it? But these September rains, they only come once in maybe ten years. Our people would harvest blue grass and the seeds from feather grass and grouse grass after them rains. Rain turns the lakebed to muck. My dad had a wooden mold, and me and him made hundreds of ‘dobe bricks outta that brown mud ever when them rains came. This was a sweet place to live. Antelope, rabbit, sometimes a deer, always somethin’ for the pot. I thought all them airplanes and shootin’ would have scairt away all the game forever, but look, there’s sign everywhere.” It was clear how much Walt loved the homeland. How it must have pained him to relocate to a rocky slope full of mine tailings where not even jackrabbits lived. In the distance they watched a BLM pickup raising a trail of dust closing on them. Two men in khakis stepped down. The one with binoculars suspended from a strap around his neck spoke.
“You are trespassing on government land. State your business.”
The carryall stayed 20 feet behind Walt’s jeep until they reached the paved road to Virginia City.
“Government assholes. Ain’t nothin changed since fuckin’ Plymouth Rock,” was all Walt said.
Charlie grew up helping his family and eventually took a job as a mechanic in a Virginia City garage, working for Ben Red Moon, a one-armed old Marine buddy of his dad’s. Charlie married a frail little Chicana, Lupe Mendoza, who could not bear children, which was okay. He very much loved Lupe, who was affectionate and popular at the bakery in town where she worked. Life was good. However, in the spring of 2011 Lupe developed a bad cough, lost weight rapidly and was diagnosed with lung cancer. She died Thanksgiving day.
A month after Lupe’s death, Buenaventura Mining Company discovered Charlie’s land sat atop a rich vein of lithium oxide. An 80-year-old document proving mineral rights was registered with the state, and in February Charlie received an order to vacate the property. Dispossessed of his land just like his dad, for half a year he slept in Ben’s garage where he worked while Buenaventura set up mining operations where his grandmother had grown squash, corn, and beans.
On the one-year anniversary of Lupe’s death, Charlie got drunk and broke into Buenaventura’s blasting shack, took two sticks of dynamite and blasting caps. With these he destroyed the elevator and sealed the shaft engineers had spent three months shoring with aluminum beams. On his way out he set fire to a Buenaventura backhoe and two pickup trucks. After a month-long federal investigation, two FBI agents showed up at Ben’s garage to arrest Charlie, who fortunately had taken the day off to help his dad unload a kerosene barrel. Ben phoned Walter Two Hearts warning him of the FBI agents. Charlie hid in a deer stand for a week, then with $600 from his dad hitched a ride to Saskatoon from a trucker friend, crossing the border in a crate marked porcelain toilets. From there, he blended into a friendly Cree community in a village called Hajomikja, where he again found work as a mechanic and heavy equipment operator. In 2021 he married a Cree widow, Mary Aleman, and once again life was good.
Charlie showed Agnus’s letter to his wife. “Mary, I gotta do this, you understand, don’t you?”
“I understand. But you gotta stay under the radar so the Americans don’t arrest you.”
At her suggestion, he borrowed her brother Pierre Bergeron’s passport. The two were similar enough in appearance for him to pass a casual inspection. Crossing the border was smooth. After all, to many whites all Indians look alike, don’t they.
Back in Nevada, illness had shrunk Walt’s frame to a frail 95 pounds. But his mind was sharp and his voice clear and strong. He explained to Charlie how he had to be buried on the homeland. “I’ve got the box and a shovel. You gonna take me up there to where we was that day. But at night by that back way I showed you. You gotta dig my grave, okay?”
“But dad, what about them assholes?”
“They ain’t gonna be no bother. See, they got this fuckin’ Burning Man festival starting on Wednesday. Thousands of these rich fuckers will be pouring in. Them BLM fucks has leased the dry lakebed to Burning Man for a month. Their hands will be full watching tits and ass with them binoculars. We gotta leave tonight, Charlie. I ain’t got much time.”
He borrowed a jeep from Ben, then bought a little tent, food, water bottles, and blankets to make a comfortable bed in the pine box for Walt, who directed him to the old off-road track to the homelands which got them there shortly after two in the morning. They slept the rest of the night, Walt in his box, the two safe with two low hills between them and the now crowded lakebed.
In the morning, Walt told Charlie to begin digging the grave. “She’s gonna rain, son. I can feel it. I quit takin’ them pills, so I might not make it to Saturday. Thank you, boy. You was always such a good son. Now I got my wish to be buried at my true home.” With tears in his eyes Charlie spent several hours digging the grave. Before he finished, the rain began. Walt asked Charlie to carry him to a hilltop where he could watch the Burning Man people. Carrying his dad piggyback, they climbed the hill closest to the lakebed. By now, thousands were engaged in erecting shelters, artwork, tents, and stages, and a giant multi-storied structure with a 40′ tall straw figure of a man atop in the center, all this in the pouring rain. Walt chuckled, “You reckon that’s some poor Indian they gonna burn, eh?”
“Probably, the rich fucks. Some of these people pay a thousand bucks for this shit. Look at all them fuckin’ RVs. Those big ones can run two, three hundred thousand.”
“All that so’s they can watch ’em burn a poor Indian. Ain’t that some shit, son?”
The rest of the day, the two slept in the tent while the rains continued without a break. The next morning the lakebed was quagmire, thigh deep in muck. Walt took half a cup of coffee, then asked to be carried to the top of the hill again. Charlie put the jeep’s poncho over the little frame that was his father and again piggybacked the old man to the vantage point. Below, hundreds of water-logged young people slogged through the mud. Blonde darlins, shoes in one hand, purse in the other, sloshing sometimes knee deep in running water and mud, wet hair plastered against angry, pouty faces. Soaked people in stupors standing in lines before porta-potties soon to be floating while the unrelenting rains continued. A steady line of departing vehicles indicated that the party was over. Big time.
Walter laughed. “All them rich white people down there look like maggots squirmin’ in a dead possum. That poor Indian they was gonna burn, now he’s too wet. Ha. Go home, shitbirds. Go home, you assholes. Get away from our home you stole, you trespassing fucks. Don’t none of you belong here. Put me back in my box, Charlie, I’m cold.”
That afternoon Walter Two Hearts died happy. Charlie buried him on the hill overlooking the lakebed where Walter Two Hearts and his father once made adobe bricks. Charlie returned safely to Canada without incident.