This story took place near Bloomfield, Knox County, Nebraska, about two years after the photo was taken.
“Leora, please check on the baby, then help the boys wash up.” Merl and Wayne were about four and two years old.
Mamma, in her long dress and apron, set out bowls and spoons for midday dinner. Her sleeves were rolled up to cook at the big black stove, even in summer.
Leora, almost five, also wore a dress but she and her little brothers went barefoot all summer. The baby was still asleep in the cradle, so her big sister started for the door to call for her brothers. She noticed shadowy figures standing just inside.
“Mamma.” Though Leora’s heart beat faster, she spoke quietly. Mamma turned from the stove, holding a large spoon.
Three men dressed in pants and shirts, just like Sherd and the other settlers. One had long black hair and wore moccasins, but the others wore boots just like Pa. One of them carried folds of cloth, in shades of red and blue. That meant they wanted to barter for something they wanted, probably chickens.
The Goffs were used to the sound of hoofbeats to signal someone arriving, or at least a knock at the door. But the Indians approached silently, as was their custom, and quietly entered a house without knocking. Laura never got used to it. Indians didn’t come often but they always startled her.
Pa said they wouldn’t hurt them but Leora knew her mother was uneasy when Indians slipped silently into the house when Pa wasn’t home.
“Go ahead and get your brothers,” Mamma told Leora.
“Those Indians?” asked Wayne.
“I told you they are.” Merl puffed out his chest.
“Hush. Yes, they’re Indians.” Leora dipped a little water from the barrel into a pan on a wooden table outside. “We’re supposed to wash up for dinner.” Merl washed his own dusty hands while Leora helped with Wayne’s grubby ones.
“Tiptoe in and sit at the table.”
“Aren’t you afraid?”
“Whisper,” she told them.
Leora helped Wayne onto a chair. The men had unfolded some of the fabric–dark prints of blue and red cotton. One man pointed outside to the pen of chickens.
Three pairs of eyes watched Mamma and the Indians.
Baby Georgia began to whimper. Leora slipped off her chair to gather her little sister out of the cradle. She stood rocking from foot to foot, patting the baby while watching her mother motion with her hand how much of the blue fabric she was willing to trade for.
“Leora, would you go out and catch a hen?” She handed the baby to her mother on her way out to the dusty chicken area. She deftly caught one by the leg and brought it to the doorway upside down, holding it by its feet. Mamma motioned to hand it to one of the men.
He turned to Mamma and held up two fingers, then pointed to the hen. Mamma paused a second during the transaction, then nodded yes. Leora soon caught another chicken, glancing up at the man’s dark eyes as she lifted it to him.
Mamma handed baby Georgia to Leora again while she found her scissors in the sewing basket. She smoothed the Indigo blue fabric and carefully cut it. She folded it as the men carried the bolts of fabric and the chickens outside.
“Hee haw hee haw.” Pa’s mules had come up to the gate. The brown visitors laughed, motioning to each other about the mules’ long ears, then left as quietly as they’d arrived.
Leora giggled behind a sun-browned hand, her speckled brown eyes shining. “Wait ‘til Pa finds out the Indians made fun of his mules.”
Mamma began to spoon some stew onto their dishes. “Wait ‘til Pa finds out how brave you are.”
Early Days at Santee: The Beginnings of Santee Normal Training School by Mary Buel Riggs, 1928.
History of the Santee Sioux: United State Indian Policy on Trial by Roy W. Meyer, 1967, 1993.
Leora (Goff) Wilson memoirs.
The a Goff family Santee Sioux in Nebraska story opens Leora’s Early Years: Guthrie County Roots.
What a wonderful story of old times and how brave was Leora!! Lovely Joy.
It was even a clue to the woman she would eventually become, doesn’t it!
That was exactly my thought!
I love how this illustrates an interaction between natives and settlers that was pure business, not about hostility. Too often those get overlooked.