Legends of Spirit Cave: An Excerpt (Part 2)

Presently, the members of the distraction team came splashing around the fallen hulk to congratulate Mauwee and Turtle. The six men hugged and laughed as they celebrated among themselves the success of their stealth and the kill. Despite the accident of Mauwee falling into the hole, Turtle had saved the day and completed the kill. He was instantly recognized as the hero of the hour, and his companions would not be stingy in heaping praise upon him.

The excited, joyous shouts of the women and children of the group began to ring out as they made their way to the shore of the marsh for the celebration of the successful venture. The other hunters of the group who had not participated in this hunt came down to the marsh dressed in full hunting regalia to show support and appreciation to the successful hunting party. Turtle’s mother, Yan-Mo, and sister Tani splashed out through the water to congratulate their successful providers. Similar welcomes were in store for the distraction team as their families came out to greet them. The small children of the band climbed upon the head and tusks of the mammoth and everyone marveled at the size of this wonderful beast.

A Columbian Mammoth was truly an incredible creature. He likely stood about twelve feet tall and must have weighed ten tons. The excitement the people felt upon the taking of a mammoth was justified. A group of fifty to a hundred hunters and gatherers roaming the marsh and desert lands would not obtain as much protein in an entire year as they had taken from this single event. This included whatever they may take in the way of bird eggs, waterfowl, fish, insects, lizards, snakes, woodchucks, rabbits, rats, squirrels, deer, bighorn sheep, pronghorn antelope, elk, bear and buffalo put together.

No time was wasted in beginning the processing of the kill. Even with the large number of participants, it would take two to three days to process all the meat from the mammoth kill. The women immediately began to flense blanket sized sheets of hairy hide from the carcass. Bloody stone knives flashed in the autumn sun as long strips of red meat were quickly stripped from the bones. Young girls cut the big chunks into thin strips and spread them out on large boulders to dry along the shore of the marsh. A large pouch of salt from a desert far toward the rising sun was used to sprinkle over the meat to season it and speed the cure.

The men of the hunting party cut the heart and liver from the beast. The broken lance and the intact stone point were retrieved and returned to Mauwee. Warm, steaming liver was cut into large pieces and shared among the six members of the hunting party. The men gathered around the kill and ate their fill of the warm, raw, liver. They laughed and pointed at each other as they let the blood run down their faces and drip off their chins and down their bare chests. The massive heart was roasted over the morning fire as a reward to the hunters, but there was enough to feed all members of the group.

As the butchering proceeded, Grandfather called Turtle aside to walk with him along the shore of the marsh. They walked along the very footprints left by the mammoth the day before. After awhile, they stopped and sat upon a tufa formation along the shore. Mauwee pulled the mammoth point from his bag and handed it to the young man who had swollen with pride since the hunt.

With slow, deliberate words, the old man said, “Take this blade, as it is rightfully yours now. It was used in mammoth hunts untold ages ago when the animals were common along the shores of this dying inland sea. It will be of no use for that anymore, but use it as a knife. It will serve you well. Keep it as a keepsake, for you, your father, and I have all killed mammoth with it. It has been in our family for as long as we have been in this land. One day you may want to give the blade to your own son. For now, take this blade and start your own medicine pouch. It is time for you to gather together the possessions you prize most in life, things that will help you to one day become a shaman, as I have been for many years of my life.”

The young man was overwhelmed at the instructions being given to him by his grandfather. He asked, “What items should I gather to put in a medicine bag?”

“That will depend upon exactly what type of shaman you will become. There are many kinds of shamans. I was a shaman of hunters. I studied the ways of the hunt and the spirits of the animals. My bag contains things that aid in the hunt for game. Your own mother Yan-Mo is a shaman of medicine for healing people. She knows the herbs and remedies for healing the sick and injured. Her bag has the medicines she needs for these cures. Our friend, Yellow Eyes, is a spiritual shaman. He knows the spirits of people and of all things in nature. Every person, animal, tree, rock and mountain has a spirit. Yellow Eyes has studied these spirits and knows how to call upon them to help us in many ways. His medicine bag contains the things that help him to communicate with these spirits.”

“Forgive me, Grandfather, but I am young and unfamiliar with the ways of a shaman. Yesterday I was merely a boy, now suddenly we talk of me becoming a shaman. Do not misunderstand me, I do want to work toward becoming a shaman, it is just that this is all new to me.”

“I understand your apprehension, grandson, but without a nudge from the nest, a bird may never learn to fly. You have proven to me that you are ready to learn many things. It is time I help you on your way to learn the ways of a shaman. Your mother and Yellow Eyes will also help you to learn. Today, I have proven to myself that my days as an effective shaman are nearing a close. The people need wise and experienced shamans to guide them along through this harsh and unforgiving land. I am becoming too old and weak to be anything other than a teacher of the things I have learned over many years of life. When I fell into the marsh during the hunt this morning, the Great Spirit was telling me that it was time to pass on my knowledge to a younger, more capable person. My mind and spirit are strong, but my body is failing me in many ways you may never know.”

The old man had obviously deliberated long over the words he was speaking. It was as if he was performing a duty or obligation that life had destined for him. He was fulfilling a promise he had made to his own dying son, that he would see to the rise of Turtle-Who-Fights to manhood. With the limited vocabulary of a Late Pleistocene hunter, the grizzled old man continued pouring his words into the open mind of the young hunter.

“Go now back to the mammoth we have killed. Cut out his testicle sack, tan it and make a medicine pouch that will last you a lifetime. I predict that you, my grandson, will always carry powerful medicine in your pouch. You will need a very large pouch for the powerful medicine you will carry. Do not be concerned at this time what will fill the pouch. When the time comes, you will know what to carry in the bag. From this day on, you need not call me ‘Grandfather.’ I, and other men of the clan will consider you as an equal to us in the ways of men. My name is Mauwee and I expect you will refer to me as such in all talk. At our next campfire, I will introduce you to the others as a capable hunter and companion. All men of our clan will be proud to hunt with Turtle-Who-Fights. Now, set about to fill your bag with powerful medicine.”

Turtle felt honored to have been called aside by Mauwee to absorb the words the old shaman had spoken. Mauwee had other, older grandsons who had never received the attention Turtle had. The young man knew at that moment that he was to be considered as a man by his elders. He also knew he would have to live up to all the expectations revealed to him.

Upon return to the mammoth kill site, Turtle immediately followed the instructions given to him by Mauwee. He used the sharp-edged Clovis point to cut the testicle sack from the mammoth. Turtle took the sack to the women who were scraping the fat and meat from the large sections of hide they had flensed from the animal. He asked them to put the testicle sack in with the batch when they tanned the leather blankets. The tanning women were happy to comply with Turtle’s request. One of them, an older widow named Rama, only a few years younger than Turtle’s mother, Yan-Mo, came over to talk to Turtle and congratulate him on the matter of the successful mammoth kill. Turtle was so shy talking to the woman that he cast his eyes down to the ground as he spoke to her.

She said, “Do not be shy, young friend. It was a brave thing you did to kill the mammoth. I have no mate, and I have a daughter to raise. The meat from the mammoth is greatly appreciated by me and the others of our group. I will see that your pouch gets tanned. Perhaps someday you can return the favor for me.”

Turtle thanked the woman and was embarrassed at his shyness in talking with her. She is an attractive woman for her age, Turtle thought, I only wish she were closer to my age so I could get to know her better. There were not any unattached, unrelated women of Turtle’s age available for him among the people of his clan.

The next few days were spent along the shore of the marsh processing the bounty from the mammoth kill and preparing the people to face the coming winter. Practically all the meat was stripped from the bones of the animal, which was either eaten or cured for future use. The butcher site was a scene of chaos. Everyone participated in the work at hand. Even the small children chased away magpies, seagulls, and other scavengers wanting a taste of the bounty. The pet dogs of the group became so stuffed with scraps of mammoth meat, they sometimes puked it up, but usually they lie about with their distended bellies swollen in agony. At night, it was all the dogs could do to perform one of their required chores: to keep the coyotes and other predators at bay.

Some of the larger bones were smashed with rocks to recover the bone marrow. This rich, highly nutritious material was given to the young children to fatten them up for the winter. Some of it, and there was plenty, was mixed with ground seeds to make a rich, nutritious cake that could be carried while traveling. It was a special treat for the entire clan. Everyone in the group gained weight from the feast that the mammoth kill provided. Fortunately, they had already stored away considerable stores of non-meat provisions. With the protein provided by the mammoth kill, they would have no trouble getting through the winter.

Plenty of food and provisions to sustain the group through the winter was one thing. Having a place to serve as shelter for all to get in out of the bitter cold of the coming winter was another. The winters along the Black Island Marsh were especially severe. The region offered few caves where the people could seek shelter, but the abundant tules, cattails and other marsh grasses could always be used to construct a temporary shelter. The Great Ice Age had come to an end in the Great Basin. A few remnants of glaciers still covered the slopes of the higher mountains in the region. The marshes all froze over in the winter, making fishing and hunting of waterfowl difficult. It was nearly impossible for the women to gather the tender tule roots or marsh grasses when everything was packed in ice as hard as granite.

The traditional winter habitation site for the group was a journey of about ten days to the south. This was the area near the Stillwater Marsh, where there were many caves and rock shelters for the people to find refuge from the elements. There was also a large cave with a narrow opening, called Hidden Cave, where the people could store their provisions gathered during their spring, summer and fall seasons of foraging through the desert hills and along the massive system of marshes. With the completed processing of the mammoth kill, it was now time for the hunters and their families to gather their belongings and resume the journey to the Stillwater area.

When Turtle began to help his mother and sister gather their belongings and pack everything in baskets and bags for the journey, Yellow Eyes came by their shelter to congratulate Turtle on the successful hunt and the confidence shown to Turtle by Mauwee. Turtle was honored that the spiritual shaman for the group had come to pay him a visit. Yellow Eyes took the young man aside and sat with him along the shore to talk.

“Your grandfather has told me he has great pride and confidence in you, Turtle-Who-Fights,” spoke the wise old shaman.

Turtle, swelling with ego replied, “Yes, he and I talked about many things. Since I helped him to kill the mammoth, he believes I am ready to be a hunter and to learn to become a shaman, perhaps one such as you.”

Legends of Spirit Cave: An Excerpt (Part 3)