Following our encounter with the Kado and Osage, the story quickly made its way back to the Kado elders, based on reports from the Coconicis. Months later, I was able to piece together what must have transpired at Sha'chahdíinni, at that time the most important Kado village, which was located on the lake they call T'soto.
Sauninow walked slowly through Sha’chahdíinni, weaving between the tall, beehive-shaped lodges in which his people lived. His old, wizened face had grown long with the sad news the two Coconicis had just told him at the temple. He paused outside the largest beehive, which was surrounded by all the others. A brave standing at the entrance cast his eyes down as a sign of respect to Sauninow and let him pass inside. The tribal elders sat cross-legged around a small fire, smoking and talking quietly. Sauninow stood and waited to be acknowledged by the large Indian with long braids who was in conversation with an elder. When the man had finished speaking, he nodded to Sauninow to be seated beside him. Another Indian passed Sauninow the pipe, and he smoked.
All were quiet, waiting for the news they knew Sauninow had come to share with them.
“Tiatesun and young Kianhoon are dead,” said Sauninow. Low moans filled the room.
Dehahuit, the large Indian with long braids who was chief of the Kados, said, “Tiatesun? Dead? How has it happened that our Xinesi is gone from us?”
“An Osage war party,” said Sauninow. “The high priest and Kianhoon and the Coconicis were traveling as they do each year to Na-Da-cah-ah. As you know, there has never been trouble. This time, they were ambushed. And murdered.”
“Where?” asked another brave.
“On the Three Notch Trail, across the Red River.”
“Why would the Osage commit such a heresy as murdering our Xinesi?” “The Sah-coo teaches that man cannot know all the answers,” said Sauninow. “As the great chief Dehahuit knows,” he quickly added. “There were four of them. Perhaps they were Wey Chutta’s Wah-Sha-She, roaming the Three Notch looking for trouble. But it seems more likely they knew of Tiatesun’s journey and were looking for him. Would they know the boys were our Coconicis? Perhaps, for they could have slashed their throats but instead attempted to drown them, perhaps afraid to spill their sacred blood. Again, we do not know. The Coconicis say one of the Osage was killed by Kianhoon’s arrow, then Kianhoon himself was killed. Tiatesun was struck down by a bullet. Then two white men arrived. They killed the other three Osage and pulled the Coconicis out of the river before they could drown.”
“There were white men present?” said Dehahuit, leaning toward Sauninow.
“Yes. They came upon the attack, perhaps by accident. They saved our Coconicis.”
“Sauninow, my friend, you know there are no accidents in life.”
“Yes, my chief,” Sauninow replied, lowering his head. His long braids, resplendent with the beads and feathers of a Kado medicine man, fell about his shoulders.
“You are now the Xinesi?” said Dehahuit.
“Yes, my chief. The ceremony is complete.”
“Then you will now sit at my side. It falls to you to lead our people in our ways.”
“Yes, my chief.” Sauninow bowed his head, thinking how he could never take Tiatesun’s place. He would never make the pilgrimage to Na-Da-cah-ah with a youthful Xinesi candidate such as Kianhoon, nor with the Coconicis. The path to Na-Da-cah-ah had died with Tiatesun and was now lost forever to the lineage of Kado Xinesi. Tiatesun had taken that secret with him to his grave.
“And of the Coconicis?”
“They are now at the Place of Ceremony,” said Sauninow, “safely concealed. They have not been seen by any but the holy men.” The pipe had come around the circle again and Sauninow puffed for a time before continuing.
“They were courageous! They helped the white men bury Tiatesun and Kianhoon. Then the white men took them away on their horses, but in the darkness of night the Coconicis honored their vow to the Sah-coo and escaped! They ran all night in the stream until they reached the Red River. They ran and ran for two days across the Great Raft to rejoin our people. They have eaten, and now they sleep.”
“This is good,” said Dehahuit. “We mourn the great loss of our Xinesi, Tiatesun, and young Kianhoon, but we are blessed to have our Coconicis safely returned.” The chief reached out to Sauninow, who handed him the pipe. He smoked for a long time, then spoke. “But the attack could mean we are in grave danger. We must know more. We must know who. And why.” “Kadohadacho,” said one of the elders, addressing Chief Dehahuit by his ancient title from across the fire, “it is possible this attack was Wah-Sha-She braves acting without orders or thought of consequence, but as Sauninow has said, it is more likely that it was on Wey Chutta’s orders.”
“Yes,” said Dehahuit. “It would seem the Wah-Sha-She were looking for Tiatesun, at just that time and at that place, to learn where he was going and what he intended to do.”
The elder then spoke what they were all thinking. “It has been four moons since the Wah-Sha-She attacked one of our hunting parties and took Tiohtow. He died a terrible death. They sent him back to us mutilated, as a message. Could he have told Wah-Sha-She of Na-Da-cah-ah? Could Wey Chutta know of its secrets?”
For a long time, Dehahuit looked at the elders seated around the fire. Then he said, “Leave us now. I must speak with the Xinesi.” The elders filed out of the lodge, leaving only Dehahuit and Sauninow.
“Is it possible the Osage have learned of the blessings bestowed by Na-Da- cah-ah?” said Dehahuit. “Is it possible they were trying to find the source of Kadohadacho guns, ammunition and supplies?”
Sauninow turned toward Dehahuit. “I don’t see how it would be possible. Tiohtow knew nothing of the blessings of Na-Da-cah-ah. But the Osage must suspect something. They know we are now well armed. They know we now have resources. Perhaps they somehow made a connection between Tiatesun’s pilgrimages and our improved conditions.”
“How did Tiatesun go to meet the Sah-coo?” asked Dehahuit.
“The Coconicis say he was wounded and lay on the ground for a time. The Coconicis were taken away by one warrior to be tied up and drowned, but they saw two Osage warriors approach Tiatesun to take his scalp. It was at that time the white men began shooting and killed those two.”
“Sauninow, did the Coconicis say anything more?” said the chief.
“Yes, Kadohadacho. The young white man was carrying the Coconicis out of the water when he was attacked by another Osage, who wounded him in the arm with his knife. The older white man shot him dead. All four Osage died.”
“My chief, there is something else,” said Sauninow with some trepidation in his voice.
“According to the Coconicis, when they and the white men went to Tiatesun, he grasped the young white man’s wounded arm and thrust it into his own wound. There is only one possible explanation. Tiatesun wanted to give the young white man the Gift!”
Dehahuit’s face became very grave. He narrowed his eyes as he looked at Sauninow. He spat his words out, striking fear into his Xinesi. “Tiatesun…gave the Gift to a white man? This you are telling me? This is what the Coconicis say?”
“But why would he do this?” said Dehahuit. “Could this white man be worthy? Can any white man be worthy? What would a white man do with the Gift? Could Tiatesun have sensed something? So many questions.” Dehahuit shook his head in dismay and disbelief. He spoke again to Sauninow. “I do not blame you for any of this, my brother. I am glad to know it, even though I know not what we can do about it. Perhaps nothing.”
“There may be a reason. Tiatesun would have known with his and Kianhoon’s death that the Kadohadacho would lose Na-Da-cah-ah forever, along with its blessings. Unless there was some way to preserve the knowledge of its location.”
“But how could the Gift do that?” said Dehahuit. “The Gift could not lead to Na-Da-cah-ah without some kind of…”
Sauninow interrupted, “There is still one more thing you must know, my Kadohadacho.”
Dehahuit again raised his eyebrows over his tired eyes and pressed his lips tightly together. What could be worse than what he had just heard?
“The Coconicis say Tiatesun made markings with his own blood in the white man’s good book.”
Hours later, as the sun set, Dehahuit, Grand Kaddi of the Kado confederacy, stood looking out across the banks of T’soto, the ancient lake of the Kados. What the white man called Kado Lake was now home to over half of the Kado tribe, where they lived in the village called Sha’chahdíinni, which means Timber Hill. Over the past twenty years, a number of Kado villages from along the Red River had been forced by a combination of disease and Osage attacks to move here to consolidate the tribe’s strength. Dehahuit was a strong leader and had successfully brought the different tribal cultures into the Kado confederation.
Plumes of smoke rose from many of the clustered beehive lodges. His people were making their evening meals, safe from the warmongering Osage. At least for now. Their remaining culture had survived the Osage and the white man and his diseases. Dehahuit wondered what the future would bring his people. There was no question in his mind that the events surrounding Tiatesun’s death would be bad medicine. The path to Na-Da-cah-ah was lost and with it the source of the tribe’s improved mercantile situation over the past few years. What could the Osage know of Na-Da-cah-ah? And who were these white men? What were their intentions? What had Tiatesun marked in their good book? Surely not the way to Na-Da-cah-ah!