NORMAN, Okla. - "One of the phrases describing February may be interpreted as 'Don't let it fool you.' In other words it is not always what it seems to be, so do not get caught out away from shelter during February because the weather may change and you could be in danger," mused John Greyeagle as he remembered words of wisdom from his grandfather.
Greyeagle is the first person narrator of Osage author Charles H. Red Corn's first novel "A Pipe for February." Greyeagle lamented the lost rituals and traditions but realized that assimilation into the American culture had become necessary to the Osage's survival.
Greyeagle overheard an elder say, "The world has changed. It is time for us to bury this Pipe with dignity and to put away its teachings ? Those children outside listening, they will learn another language. They will be taught by white people. They will learn new ways and will not know our ways,"
The story is set in spring of 1924 in Pawhuska, Okla. The resident Osage Indians had become fabulously wealthy from the enormous oil deposits under their reservation. The BIA and assigned guardians kindly offered to handle all of the Osage's money for them - leaving them free to pursue the American dream.
A series of suspicious accidents took the lives of many of the older individuals on the reservation leaving a group of young and frivolous multi-millionaires without the benefit of the traditional teachings of their elders. Then the youth started to meet untimely ends. The surviving Osages had to face prejudice, envy and even the murderous greed of the government officials that lusted after the riches of Oklahoman oil.
Red Corn is a member of the Tzishuwashtahgi (Peace) clan, as is his character Greyeagle, and Red Corn based much of the historical fiction upon the experiences of his own family.
"I didn't know my grandfather so my grandfather's brother kind of adopted us as his grandchildren ? and he owned the hotel where they pulled the swindle ? so all these things were based on fact," said Red Corn.
Red Corn's grandfather died mysteriously during the time of the Osage murders but no investigation ever took place and no charges were ever filed. "The Senate in their hearings went into his case and proved that he was not treated fairly by his attorney and his guardian," confirmed Red Corn.
"It was a difficult time and some writer or someone started calling it the 'Reign of Terror' and so that phrase kind of caught on," said Red Corn in an April 1 interview with Indian Country Today. "I talked to a lot of the old people who lived through that and they didn't really feel terrorized, they were just having a good time. They were having too much fun to be afraid and since there was always an official explanation it took a while to realize what had really happened."
By the end of the book Greyeagle comes to terms with his responsibility to his family and tribe as well as the balance between traditional and modern ways. Today's Osages have done much the same.
"We are getting better at it. I think we are producing 13,000 barrels of oil a day," said Red Corn. He proudly added "We elect 10 people every four years and in June we elected a principal chief, an assistant chief and eight council people. All 10 people are actively participating in our tribal dance ? All 10 people have their clan names ? and all take part in the traditional part of the tribe. This is the first time we have had that in close to 100 years - where all of the people that are elected to handle our business are part of our local traditions. We are very happy about that."
"A Pipe for February" is volume 44 in the American Indian Literature and Critical Studies Series. The 272-page hardcover book is available by contacting University of Oklahoma Press, 4100 28th Ave. N.W., Norman, Okla. 73069-8218, phone (405) 325-2291 or fax (405) 364-5798. For more information, visit www.ou.edu/oupress.