Crimshaw Payne was Crow. Not full-blooded, or even half, but she had enough of her ancestor’s blood in her veins to feel the Great Spirit flow within them.
She called herself Shaw, but the townsfolk named her Crow long before she realized it wasn’t polite. They called her father Injun and her mother, Witch. Both were lies. Her father was not Native American, and her mother, a half-breed, never practiced the craft.
Like her mother, Shaw believed the Universe, and all the natural things within it contained the Great Spirit. This was their soul. Communion with this power was magical, but she never considered anything her mother taught her to be witchcraft.
Prejudice was a painful lesson. Her mother’s family never approved of her parent’s marriage, and the townsfolk hadn’t welcomed them either. Outcasts, rejected by both worlds, her parents lived a life of seclusion. They claimed an abandoned building on the outskirts of the small mining town. The same community they once hoped to call their home.
Shaw, now thirteen, accepted the everyday world was fueled by fear. This awareness made her choice to remain a recluse, an easy one. At least up until this point, it seemed her only option.
By five, her mother and father had forbidden her to leave their homestead with or without them. She never understood why this was necessary until a rival tribe moved on the local Indian camp and killed all but the handful that escaped. These same marauders crossed paths with her parents, who foraged in the valley near this unexpected massacre.
Orphaned by two arrows three years ago, Shaw only discovered her parents’ fate because she defied their wishes and searched for them. The arrowheads that pierced their hearts, broke hers. She found them propped on sticks, lips burned into hideous curled smiles, and their entrails draped around them in a circle of death.
Shaw comprehended hatred and cruelty, but like the forked tree which designated two distinct paths, a new decision needed to be made. She entered her own womanhood and faced whether to stay estranged from civilization or transform herself into a person who could live as a white woman in town.
Unseen since she was a child, everyone believed she had died of smallpox after the rumor her mother spread to protect her. Shaw felt certain none would recognize her with her pale skin, chestnut hair, and slight curves, which marked her matured. She prepared herself to accept either path.
An image of her parents, not as she had found them, but as alive, emerged. Her heart filled with memories of her mother’s tales of childhood on the reservation. Shaw’s favorite was the Rite of Passage.
A maternal desire welled deep within, and she knew her decision. She would live with those people in their town. She would marry one of them, and she would share her stories like a treasured secret with a child of her own. To succeed, Shaw needed a spirit guide, and to attain one, a Vision Quest was required.
Although reserved for the males as they came of age, her mother told her about the Sweat Lodge. This was always built with its entrance facing East. Fiery rocks were placed in the center with the first four in a cross. This designated the cardinal directions. Devotion and endurance were tested as steam purified the body and readied the soul for the next stage of the ritual, the Sun Dance.
This lodge, more substantial than the first, focused the power of the creator toward the individual on the quest. The process was necessary for one to obtain a vision of their animal guide from the spirit world, and receive the gift of transcendence.
Shaw knelt on the damp stone and thanked Grandmother Earth for her cave home. She gave thanks for the food provided, and for the animals that had shown her their ways. She prayed for a spiritual journey and a blessed transformation.
A bag waited on her altar. Hand sewn from the buckskin she removed from a tribesman, and adorned with scavenged beads, she had acted as her own Medicine Man and constructed her own sacred pocket. She placed it around her neck.
With wild tobacco, red cedar, and sweetgrass, she stuffed the pouch so full, the flap barely closed. She tucked a bit of lavender inside as well. This herb increased clairvoyance, and she found the scent pleasant.
She traced the beaded shape. A crow, large and black, took up the majority of space. Blue beads formed the sky around the bird, and alternating yellow and white pieces created the border. The colors meant victory, wisdom, determination, and peace. The image signified her ancestors and represented the people who would embrace her as a woman, never knowing she housed that hated child’s soul.
Dried sage smoldered in the lit fire. Shaw cupped her hands and circled the smoke as it snaked upward, directing the sacred vapors around her face. She rocked back and forth and emptied her mind of all thoughts. At once, she understood her journey. At the eastern end of Yellowstone County stood Sacrifice Cliff. Her destiny awaited her there.
She packed the cotton dress her mother always wore into town, put out the fire, and cleared her altar. A wheel drawn on the cave’s wall caught her attention. Shaw kept track of the seasons and tallied each annual cycle with a hash mark from a black plumbago stone. She threw water on the image and rubbed her hand on the design until it was no longer recognizable. Satisfied her existence there now erased, she fixed her hair into two long braids and headed toward the cliff.
The quest required fasting for three days, but Shaw hoped this part was unnecessary. Along the way, she gathered elderberries to eat with the walnuts stowed in her bag. Before Shaw got into the town’s view, she stopped and filled the animal bladder with river water. She smeared riverbank mud across her face and on her arms, so her skin blended with her buckskin dress.
The vast, sandstone formation stood against the morning sky like a round, flat cake pressed into the peak of a small mountain with its top iced with trees. Shaw threw her bag over her shoulder and placed her extra pelt on her back.
She followed the river past the cliff’s base where the trail peaked through the brush. This path meandered up the backside of the steep rimrock, and when she reached the top, the town stippled the ground below. Shaw stood among the trees and waited for a sign.
A black feather floated down. The crow squawked and took flight as the plume rested on her chest. She feared this an omen of the Trickster who could lead her the wrong way. Shaw brushed the lone tuft away and moved in the direction of the cliff’s edge, unaware this bird brought her magic.
The bird circled overhead and darted down at her every third or fourth pass. A second feather floated and settled against her medicine bag. She wondered if her actions lured this mischievous spirit to her?
Fearful, she dumped her stored food and water on the ground and begged for forgiveness. Her unwillingness to sacrifice more and her belief that in this lifetime, she suffered enough summonsed ill luck. She remembered her mother’s words. To expect something as owed was the surest way of never receiving it.
Shaw hid her satchel with her mother’s dress. She pulled her moccasins from her feet and slipped her buckskin away. Naked, she waited on The Place Where The White Horse Went Down, where the buffalo jumped to their deaths. She listened for her heart to tell her how to transcend.
In her stillness, the crow cawed, and she heard something else. A voice, young like hers, approached. Shaw crept among the trees and moved closer to the sound. A boy talked to himself as he loaded his shotgun. She snuck nearer.
The crow landed beside her and perched himself on a nearby branch. She swatted her hand to shew the noisy thing away, but this only made the bird squawk louder. For a second, Shaw forgot and cried out for the pest to leave her. The boy turned toward her and spotted her crouched in the brush.
He froze as his mind sorted this out. He raised the barrel, and Shaw’s life flashed like a dream of someone else. She closed her eyes and wished with all her heart that witchery was real.
She stood bare before him with only her pouch around her neck. Her arm stretched out, and she plucked a feather from the fowl. She claimed this, for good or bad, as the physical representation of her bond with the Great Spirit himself. Shaw stuck the black plume into her braid and ran.
Her feet skimmed the ground as she bounded through the woods. A man’s voice bellowed for the boy to shoot. Her pace quickened. She dodged the trunks and leaped over rocks as she rushed toward the cliff’s edge, all the while with her gaze fixed on the sky.
A shot zipped past her. She no longer thought like a human, nor like the Indian within her blood. She moved with instinct as she zigzagged toward her unknown destination.
A second shot rang out, and Shaw stopped at the land’s boundary. She snatched the feather from her braid. In desperation, Shaw shoved it in her mouth. The quill ripped down her throat as she swallowed. She took this spirit within.
Twigs crushed behind her. The hunters encroached on her location. A gust of wind jolted her, and like the buffalo driven to their deaths, she jumped.
The boy expected to find her dead in the grass. Instead, he found a plain, buckskin pouch, and a crow, that upped and flew away.