West of Rosebud community, the tribal seat of Rosebud Reservation, a narrow asphalt-surfaced road dips and turns sharply for two or three miles as it descends into Crazy Horse Canyon—a scenic river valley banked by tall ponderosa pines rising up majestically along the gradual slopes to form a natural protection from the constant prairie wind on the plains above. A two-lane bridge spans the Little White River that winds through the canyon. Past the bridge, the road straightens as it ascends to flat open country.
An old Jesuit priest used this road frequently, traveling between the reservation communities of Rosebud and Cut Meat. As he reached the straight stretch of road beyond the bridge, the priest stepped down hard on the gas pedal. He loved the sudden thrust as his new Chevrolet with its special eight-cylinder engine rapidly accelerated. After skillfully negotiating the sharp curves of Crazy Horse Canyon, the opportunity to test the outer limits of the speed at which he could safely (in his own mind) traverse the straight stretches of his route always exhilarated him.
Now he came to the open prairie above the canyon. He could see the road ahead curving ever so gently as it reached into the fading light far out on the westerly horizon. The river canyon behind him was now pitch black and rather foreboding. The covering of green-black pines prevented the last light of the winter’s day from penetrating.
Off the road to his left on a windswept hill the priest could see rows of small wooden crosses in a tiny cemetery encircled by a shabby picket fence bare of paint from constant punishment of rain, wind and snow. The brown of the dead prairie grasses extending as far as one could see made the countryside seem uninviting and uninhabitable, like a remote tundra. Though there was no snow on the ground, a long cold spell had gripped the reservation area for more than two weeks. Temperatures were well below zero every night; the incessant wind gave the cold a greater profundity. The timid sun warmed the earth only slightly on these short winter days.
Soon the priest fell into a melancholy mood; he was unusually weary as he drove along the monotonously straight road. He was accompanied by an old man and a younger woman, neither of whom had uttered a word since they’d left Rosebud community. The old man, Leroy Hawk man, sat next to him on the front seat. His hands were folded like an obedient schoolboy’s and his small dark eyes were fixed stonily on the road ahead. A huge red nose dominated his deeply wrinkled face.
The woman, One Feather, occupied the rear seat. She appeared to be about thirty-five years old, though you could never really tell about these reservation women. Her shoulders were draped with a shawl, and over her long, straight black hair she wore a colorful scarf. A faint streak of gray showed where part of her hair was exposed. Her face was smooth except for a few lines around her eyes just above prominent cheekbones. Her eyes focused from side to side as she took in the scenery.
The taciturn group was headed home to Cut Meat, a village of about four hundred inhabitants. The interest One Feather took in the passing countryside would have suggested to a casual observer that she was traveling through new, unfamiliar territory. In truth, she’d lived in Cut Meat for more than ten years, and had made this ride several times a week with Father Hauser for the past five. Along with seven or eight others, One Feather worked at Father Hauser’s printing shop at St. Francis Mission in St. Francis community. The father was mechanically inclined, and thus well-suited for his work with the Mission’s vital printing operation.
If the whole truth were told, the priest was, in fact, suited for little else than his mechanical chores. His unpleasant, gruff personality and habitual scowl had long ago shown his superiors at the Mission that the man was woefully ineffective in dealing with people, be they Indian or white. His quick temper and sharp tongue only served to worsen matters in any given situation.
Yet none of the Mission’s work was more important than Father Hauser’s. He was the man who monthly sent out hundreds of letters (known in the trade as beg letters) soliciting funds for the Mission’s activities. He ran an efficient shop and took particular pride in the mailing list he’d built up over his three decades on the reservation. His list, however, was nowhere near as extensive as that of Boys Town in Nebraska, he would sometimes remark lugubriously.
Father Hauser, orphaned at an early age, had spent his formative years at that very Boys Town. Engraved on his memory was the harshness of the fathers in those early days, but he believed he’d truly profited from their steady and stern discipline. His faith was dogmatic and unflinching, and the resolve that had carried him through the lonely years of service as a reservation priest was apprenticed at Boys Town. It was of course at Boys Town that he’d decided (with ample encouragement, certainly) on the life of the priesthood.
St. Francis was one of the first Catholic missions in the territory, established in 1890 at the request (according to some accounts) of various Sioux chieftains—Spotted Tail, Iron Shell, Left Hand Bull, Big Turkey, Two Strikes, and others. An elementary school was opened in 1891 with forty pupils. Thereafter, enrollment increased rapidly.
During his years on the reservation, Father Hauser had witnessed many changes, some good and some bad, but the most painful to him were developments that saw the influence of the Roman Catholic Church diminishing among the Sioux people. It seemed to him the significant changes really started after World War II when missionaries of other faiths began moving onto the reservation. Until the sudden influx of these new denominations, the Roman Catholics and Episcopalians were in the majority. He didn’t mind the Episcopalians so much— they were kind of like the Roman church and might even find their way back to the Mother Church someday, he figured.
But these newcomers! They really got his ire up. What with Sister Evangeline, sent by some little-known sect in California, and the Methodists, Congregationalists, Baptists, and even Mormons last year! Nineteen- and twenty-year-old kids called Elders, com