SATINKA’S TRUE STORY
A sister of warriors, daughter of the chief, Satinka should have been the safest of all the Shanowah.
Her mother had died when she was eleven. Her father had never been quite the same after that. Her father was spiritual, mighty, suspicious of strangers, protective and often aloof. He would explain to her that a chief has much more on his mind than a young girl. “A great leader,” he would say, “must consider all the consequences of his actions before making decisions. And above all, he must do what is best for the tribe despite the sacrifices it may require. Do not let your thirst for knowledge, Little Pony – a pet name he gave her – cause you to fall into the river and drown.”
But Satinka’s cautiousness was often overpowered by her curiosity. When the white man, John, had come to initiate trade, he’d been directed to the chief. The chief ordered Satinka to stay away as she does not know the darkness that lies in men’s hearts. So she eavesdropped.
Her fascination had begun when she saw a white woman by the lake, washing and humming a tune to herself and now she assumed that she belonged to this John.
John knew a Native American language that was close enough to Shanowah that they could sufficiently communicate. John had been injured in an accident while working on the railroad, which left his face scarred. The chief feared it was a sign that this man should not be trusted. But his compassion for the white man, who was clearly in want of meat, caused him to agree to help. Satinka was glued to every word.
After John’s meeting with her father, Satinka’s curiosity drove her to go and watch the woman almost every day. She was fascinated with her bright complexion and straw-like hair.
Elizabeth was not unaware of the young woman’s surveillance, nor did it make her uncomfortable. Rather, it was almost like a children’s game, reminiscent of a more innocent time in her life she wished had not slipped away. Eventually Elizabeth gestured to Satinka to come out of the shadows and allow them to properly become acquainted.
She found a kindred spirit in a stranger of another color, another culture, with whom she initially shared no means of communication.
Satinka had been impressed with the fortitude of “Missus Elizabeth” and her husband John, building a home so far from their ‘kind.’
That friendship had developed quickly. After a few encounters, whenever Satinka happened to find herself a serviceable reason to be near Elizabeth and John’s homestead, she would show up; regularly and without pretense.
As Satinka learned English from Elizabeth, she taught her some Shanowah, and some of the Plains Sign Talk that would allow her to communicate with multiple tribes.
It became a habit of Elizabeth’s to collect novelties from white traders and travelers that she thought Satinka might like. As simple as some of were, Satinka valued them all.
When examining and enjoying Elizabeth’s gifts, Satinka would often retire to a cave she’d found nearby which had become a sort of refuge for her – a place where she could be herself, away from the eyes and expectations of her tribe.
On her way there one evening, she heard an owl hoot, a bad omen. She turned and saw the owl staring back at her. She ran, fearing that it might follow and steal her soul. When she entered the cave, she knew she was alone, yet the omen was clear. Something bad was coming. Had she brought some future calamity on the tribe because of her fraternizing with Missus Elizabeth? How could it? John and Elizabeth were good people, nothing like the stories she had heard.
She wanted to tell her uncle, the shaman, about the owl to understand what it might mean. But she was afraid her father would chastise her. Perhaps she could ask the shaman’s apprentice, and he would keep her secret. She and he had become friends.
It had been a few seasons since her childless uncle had taken on an apprentice, and the boy was still learning the more theoretical aspects of shamanism, having not yet begun to aid in the ceremonies. As he had come to spend so much time near her lodge, they had become friends. The boy told her he greatly looked forward to the end of such study, at which point he could aid her uncle in the more practical aspects.
As she approached the shaman’s tent, where the apprentice also sleeps, her attention was drawn by a loud disagreement between her father and the shaman.
“We don’t know what the future holds. We don’t know that someone might not try to use it against us. Sometimes we learn things to protect against them. The boy should know.”
“It would put a stain of dishonor on our tribe if used,” responded her uncle. “Such knowledge is evil. It is best forgotten.”
“Knowledge is neither good nor evil. It is to what purpose we put it that defines our morality. It is my decree as chief that this knowledge be passed on.”
Satinka had practically forgotten about the owl and could think of little else but how to place herself within earshot of this information that could arouse such passionate disagreement.
For the next two days, she never let her uncle and his apprentice out of earshot.
Finally, as she began to think her uncle had resolved to defy her father, the shaman drew the boy aside. Satinka remained outside, but close enough to hear. She’d always been light of foot, and, if anything, the preceding two days of furtive shadowing had made her polish that skill.
She learned in as great detail as did the apprentice the forbidden ceremony of a Shakani transformation or skin-walker. An indiscriminately bloodthirsty beast with the strength of a bear, the demeanor of a boar, the sight of an owl, the speed of a bobcat, and the cunning of a coyote was its preferred form.
It required neither food nor water, needing only a sacred blue flame to renew its energy – a task it must perform no less frequently than every three days. It could not be killed through physical injury alone. It was impervious to disease. Its lifespan had no natural limit.
And as if that was not disturbing enough, the manner by which it and its blue flame are conjured was even more so. The conjurer was required to literally consume the heart of their own father, and the beast came into being by transforming the conjurer’s body.
Two lives lost to create a demon-beast that would likely take scores more. A powerful ally if it can be trusted.
The details were so horrible that she found herself unable to purge her mind of them. She’d taken to late-night walks when she found herself insufficiently tired and her mind running in circles, oftentimes coming to rest on the horrible details of the forbidden ceremony. The sheer fact that such horrid actions had been discussed, put her ill at ease.
Though she’d developed a fair facility with English by that point, she could of course not tell Missus Elizabeth what she’d just learned – it was a tribe secret, and one she wished even she could forget. But she sought comfort in Elizabeth’s companionship. In the face of her friendly demeanor, the horrible information soon began to feel like a fading nightmare.
The white woman’s optimistic spirit had so served to calm Satinka that she found herself even more frequently spending time at the Baker homestead, even helping with chores in order to prolong her stay. Missus Elizabeth even taught her how to whistle and hum a few songs.
When she returned to camp late one night, her father was upset, worried, questioning where she had been. There was fear in the camp. Two boys were missing. Warriors of an unknown tribe had been seen in their valley, land that neighboring tribes knew was inhabited by the Shanowah.
Rumors had spread of a war tribe known as “the Hawk,” who had ravaged the Shanowah’s eastern neighbors. A few years ago white men had killed many Hawk’s warriors and leaders, and chased the remainder out of their lands. Now Hawk warriors were on a rampage, spreading west, ravaging anyone in their path with particular disdain for white people and those friendly to them.
The Shanowah warriors were on alert, in protective formation, the tribal council was meeting and the women were herded into the center of camp for safety. Satinka asked her father about the white settlers.
“Did that John do something to you?”
“No. They have been nice to me.”
“You didn’t go there? Alone? I forbid it. They are not our kind. They are dangerous. You will stay here where it is safe.”
She wanted desperately to warn Missus Elizabeth. She and John were alone out there with no protection. Not even aware of what was coming.
Though the Bakers had been trusted by the Shanowah, and come to be seen as reliable and fair traders, they had certainly not been accepted as part of the tribe nor worthy of their protection.
Just after sunrise, the scouting party returned with the beaten bodies of the dead boys, black crow feathers left behind as a signature of the Hawk people.
Satinka broke free as soon as she could but when she arrived at the Baker homestead and saw trampled vegetation and hoofmarks, she feared the worst. No humming nor whistling came from the house. She called out, “Missus Elizabeth?”
When she entered the house, she saw blood on the floor, on the chair, and the table. There lying on the ground near the broken window was the blood-soaked body of John with multiple wounds. It seemed clear he had put up quite a fight but was far too outnumbered to win.
She hurried around the place, no longer even bothering to call out for Elizabeth. When she finally passed the shed, she saw the painfully contorted body of Elizabeth – motionless, her blood-dirtied dress – a tomahawk in her back. Trying to reject what she saw, Satinka crept closer, hoping to rouse her, but Elizabeth’s endless stare confirmed all her fears.
It was devastating. She had not lost a friend but a sister. As she returned to camp she saw men, Hawk men. A dozen of them. One wearing John’s hat, another using Elizabeth’s bonnet as a rag. She wanted to chase after them and beat them for what they had done, but a bird call caught her attention, one used by the Shanowah. Soon she saw a group of warriors, a search party looking for her.
The chief rebuked her harshly, worried sick, “I lost your mother, I cannot lose you.”
“I was in no danger.”
“Satinka! These are dangerous times. You are too young and naïve to see that danger is everywhere.”
“They killed Missus Elizabeth and John.”
“And how do you know this? You did not go there.”
“They are good people. This is not right.”
“They have brought this curse upon this land.”
“What curse? I don’t understand.”
“They were good people but their kind has done bad things.”
“Their kind? Is this not the mindset that is causing so much suffering, father? We cannot judge people on ‘kind.’ We must judge as each is. Have you not taught me that?”
“This is different.”
“Then we are no better than the Hawk?”
“They are savages! They kill children. They have no honor. They eat human flesh. They are animals.”
“What has happened?”
“We sent a counsel of peace… They slaughtered them. Sent back their horses with a basket of their severed heads.”
“Why do they kill?”
“Some men must kill, like others must breathe. And they will not stop until they kill all or are destroyed.”
A warrior speaks up, “We must attack! Make them pay.”
“No. We must be wise. Anger, revenge and hate are what drive them. And we cannot become them.”
The chief held council. The shaman was deeply troubled. He saw no hope but the chief believed that their goodness would save them. The Great Spirit would favor them in the end. A war party was dispatched and the chief would send word to other tribes for help.
Before the messengers could be sent, Hawk warriors attacked the camp. The strongest of the Shanowah fought fiercely but the sheer number of Hawk was overwhelming. The attack was from all sides. They broke through the weaker ranks and began taking away women and killing children.
Satinka, overcome more with anger than fear, threw rocks and burning embers at them. When the war party urgently returned, the Hawk scattered. Nearly half the tribe had been killed, the shaman was dead and Satinka had been taken. The chief wept openly.
What the Hawk men did to Satinka proved themselves worthy of the wrath that would be visited upon them.
When it was dark and they had their fill for the night, Satinka managed to free herself from the bands and stealthily crawled away, bereft of emotion. Her spirit and clothes in tatters.
She did not return to camp, to her father, she went to her cave.
Though the coast was clear, she still crawled inside, to the deepest, darkest chamber. There she finally cried. Hours later, she woke and reflected on not only what had happened, but what must be done; drastic measures must be taken if her tribe was to survive. It was clear in her mind that this is why such an awful ceremony exists.
But could she do something as cold-blooded as killing her own father? “There is no choice,” she thought. “As he would say, we must do what is best for tribe, no matter the personal sacrifice.”
She crept into the tattered camp that night, passing the guards, as stealth as a coyote. She went to her father’s tent and heard him crying. She was changing her mind. She wanted to comfort him and show him she was still alive.
But am I, she thought. She had been changed, abused, destroyed, disfigured, mangled, altered. That was it, altered. She could never go back to being the sweet, innocent chief’s daughter. That girl had been killed. So how could she tell her father she was alive when she wasn’t. There was no comfort she could give him, other than that she would use her new, wiser, darker self to save their people.
When she entered the tent, he thought she was a ghost, the spirit of his daughter. She found the sacred dagger and turned to him. He gazed up at her in wonder and lament.
“I’m sorry my child. I’m so sorry.”
“No more need sorrow, father. I will save us.”
She drove the knife deep to make the pain as minor as possible. He clasped her hand gripped around the dagger, and drove it into his chest to the hilt.
She lit a fire in the cave, sat down before it, and began chanting the words that had been engraved upon her memory, such had been her fascination at what simple sounds could hold such terrible power. She recovered some of Missus Elizabeth’s hair and used it in the ceremony. Though not Shanowah, it felt fitting that she should be included in this ritual. Satinka was doing this for her and John as well.
She began consuming the pilfered heart. Consuming the raw organ was a long, monotonous, and abominable process, but in her fugue state, was not as terrible as she would have otherwise found it. In fact, she had finished barely half before she felt the power begin to take hold, which increased the ease with which she consumed the rest.
She spoke the final words of the ceremony. As she did so, the fire before her turned from customary yellow to an eerie blue. It flared, beaconed her. Both their lives were lost and a demon-beast was formed. She stepped into it and became the fire, the curse, the monster, the Shakani.
She felt the rush of strength, confidence and power. She quickly chose a different form, not of a bear, wolf or mountain-lion, but that of her friend Missus Elizabeth, a hearty woman who’s death was more than worthy of vengeance.
It did not take her long to find a campsite of Hawk warriors. She did not even try to be quiet. They saw her coming and were surprised that a woman should be so foolish.
A warrior raised his tomahawk as she got close, but she sliced open his throat with such speed, his arm never swung down. A stronger warrior charged her, he swung his blade, she broke his arm, and with one punch drove his own knife into his chest. Two more, three more, all mowed down, outwitted and overpowered by this girl.
Each murderous blow gave Satinka more courage, more confidence, more rage and more blindness to what she was truly doing, killing indiscriminately. Could she say she was better than the Hawk? That question no longer existed. There was only the need to inflict pain and the satisfying of that need. She never realized that at some point, she should want to turn off that need.
Before long there were teams of twenty Hawk warriors looking for her. But they would not realize the coyote watching them or the previously killed warrior that had suddenly appeared in their ranks was who they sought.
Before long the Hawk were fleeing the Shanowah lands, but Satinka’s thirst could not be quenched. She killed every last one she could find. But not only Hawk. Her vision had changed, her perception of humanity. She was no longer one of them. Not Shanowah, not a woman, not a human. All of them were her enemy and all deserved to die.
Soon the flailing Shanowah tribe was on the verge of extinction from the very person who sought to save them. The shaman apprentice who was now shaman devised a plan. He understood what had happened and why.
He gathered warriors and learned where her cave was. But his memory of her, who she once was, prevented him from going the distance. He could not bring himself to do what was necessary to end her. So when the Shakani had retreated to its cave, he had the warriors cause an avalanche to block the only entrance.
She was buried in the earth. Surely this was enough. Surely this was more merciful than destroying her and because of the sweet girl she had been, she deserved mercy.
Years later, Shanowah people reported seeing “that white woman” wandering in the night. Then a lone Hawk warrior.
The shaman investigated but the cave was still blocked. After a personal encounter he had with the white woman, he realized it was a hallucination. If one wandered near enough to Satinka’s cave, the Shakani could pervade their mind. She could no longer roam physically, but she had found a way to wander mentally.
And so it was, that the land that would eventually be named Graveyard Valley, would be called Tay-Do. Forbidden land. A place avoided by all Shanowah. And the true story of Satinka, who had become a monster, a shame, was kept a secret for only the tribal elite to know.