He scarcely saw the old Indian move past him and stop at the edge of the firelight.
Murphy was the first to see him. He lifted a hand. “How!” he said, in greeting.
The old Indian looked around. “How,” he said mildly. He gestured. “Many white man come. Too many.”
Murphy chuckled. “That’s right as rain! This was a good country before it got all cluttered up with white men!”
The Indian looked at him sourly. “No white man need tell me what my eyes can see. The white man came to a land of grass and trees, to a land of clear, cold streams where the buffalo roamed in their thousands and the beaver filled the streams. They came to a land rich and beautiful, and what have they done? They descended upon the land like starving wolves and they have slaughtered the buffalo for their hides and left the meat to rot upon the prairie, they swept the beaver from the streams and ripped the metals from the earth, and where the white man has been, the streams are fouled with mud and the poison from their mines.
“Where there were forests there is now a wilderness of stumps and useless brush, and the rain washes out the soil from around the roots, and the few trees die. Where there was grass, there is desert; where there were buffalo, there are vast and empty plains swept by sun and wind. No longer does the beaver tail slap the water in quick alarm. His people are gone from the clear waters, his dams are broken. So my people are dying also, and you white men will sweep on across the land digging and killing and ripping up the long grass lands until finally you reach the waters in the west, and then you will wash back upon yourselves. You will return upon the land you have raped and looted, and fight like snarling, starving dogs filled with hunger and hatred.
“Where you found forests, you leave desolation where you found plenty, you leave famine; where you found prairies waving with tall grass, you leave a desert. Finally, you will turn back upon yourselves and fight over the scraps until all is gone and you turn and stare about in astonished wonderment at the land you have ravished, and you will say, ‘Great Spirit, what have we done?’”
“He’s crazy!” Harless said, staring at the old man.
Murphy tugged at his beard. “Maybe. I think the old boy makes sense.”
“I have been to your great cities, White Men. Went with the great Red Cloud, but what did I see? Only a mad rush for wealth, all fighting and wrangling and hurry, and I found no contentment then, no peace. There is no calm in your people, there is no majesty, you are a people of thieves who sell your daughters for money and barter your souls for gain.
“I shall not live to see the end, nor will you, for the land you have stolen from the Indian is rich, an the looting will take years. The spirit of looting within you will not end, and you will come to see your greed a virtue. You will call it energy and industry, and he who steals the most will gain the praise of his fellow man until finally a day will come when you will look back and see with eyes like mine, and then you will understand.
“You came to our land: a people in search of homes, and homes are good things, but then homes would not content you. There must be more, and more, and MORE! Like beasts you slew my people, like beasts you looted our land, and now you praise yourself for your energy. This, you said, is what a white man can do!
“It was not your energy, White Men, it was the wealth you found when you came. Any man can appear rich if he spends all he possesses in a mad orgy! You are like the foolish young brave who found the skins of many animals, and draped himself in these skins, and said ‘See! What a great hunter I am! What a great warrior!’ But when the skins were sold or given away he had no more. His wealth was gone.
“Some among you have talked of saving the trees, of keeping the grass, but they are a few small voices whispering against the wind. The men you send to speak in your councils speak for the greedy, and for this they are given a part of the spoils, and as they grow old and fat and lose their hair and teeth and the strength of their loins, they grow more rapacious.
“White Man, you have destroyed my people; you are destroying my land; but a day will come when you must face destiny, when you will find the metal you made into cheap trinkets or into objects soon to be worn and tossed away, you will find that metal is the metal you need to survive. War and desolation will sweep over you, and you will be gone. The white man will go. He will die, not slowly like the Indian, but swiftly, suddenly, and then he will be gone.
“The white man is not fitted to survive, for he knows not content. He knows not peace. Wars and more wars and bitter famine and pestilence shall end his pride. He cannot learn. Wherever he goes there is war. The Indian fought, but his battles were short and soon over, and the Indian returned to his hunting and his lodge and his squaw. But the white man lives in violence. Where he goes there is fury, and he will die, tearing at the agony of his wounds, crushed and bloody and wondering because in all his hurry and his doing he has never understood his world nor what he does.
“My people will not be here, but when the fury of the white man is gone, the grass will return, and the forests will grow tall again, for at last, White Man, it is the grass that must always be the victor. It is the grass that made us, the grass built your cities, and the grass fed your flocks. It is the grass that made us, and it is the grass that will come back, sewing up with green thread and winding brown roots the gashes you have ripped in the earth, and the grass will save the water that trees may grow tall, and the flowers bloom again. And the grass will strain the mud from the rain water and the streams will grow clear again, gathering the soil from the desert into bounty once more.
“The white man will be gone. Nothing of him will remain. His cities will fall to ruin, rust will gnaw his steel, and when the years have swallowed him, there will be nothing to mark his passing or the fury with which he looted this green and golden land.
“I shall go, White Man. You have taken my Black Hills from me, the dwelling place of the Great Spirit. You soon will take the Big Horns. My chiefs have died to save their people, and we have fought well, but your ways of war are hard, and my people are not persistent in their hatreds. We have fought well with what little we have, and now we shall go, wrapped in our blankets and sorrowing that this must be an end.”
Aaron Stark shifted and looked around. Then he got up suddenly and bent over the coffee pot to fill his cup. “Some of this land ain’t much good, nohow,” he said, “won’t grow nothin’. You get a good crop for a few years, an’ then it’s all gone.”
Barney Coyle had walked up while the old Indian was talking. He looked up suddenly. “That’s right,” he agreed, “just like my poke. Spend a few dollars and then there isn’t any more.” He pushed his hat back on his head and grinned at Ban Hardy. “I guess the idea is to keep putting something in once in a while.”
[Westward the Tide, Bantam Books, 1977, pp. 196-200]