12 Mile Point

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The Owls of Twelve Mile Point

In 1878, the Tsistsistas, or Cheyenne were forced to settle on reserved lands in what is now western Oklahoma. The cosmic and other medicines that constitute our lifeway we carried with us from the northern plains, our former nomadic home. We were placed near the north Canadian river and several creeks. I was raised near a creek called Twelve Mile Point. When I was a child we had no electricity or running water in our house, consequently the sounds of outside became a large part of my experience. My earliest recollection of what I am telling happened when I was about 10 years old. My grandmother, smoking a Camel cigarette, called me into her room and asked me to get rid of the owls that were outside.

They were great horned owls. I walked outside to the largest oak tree in our backyard and I saw them — three or four of them — sitting in the highest branches. They simply looked at me. I threw a rock and they watched me. I threw another rock. They watched me. I went back inside and they stopped calling. They flew off to their night of hunting. The next morning at dawn out side my window in the tree I saw them — perhaps eight great horned owls. They were communicating in low sounds as if conversing — passing some information about the river land which was their hunting ground and perhaps their night of hunting.

Over the years this ritual continued. I would be asked by my grandmother to go outside to throw something at the owls. For many Cheyenne people the great horned owl or the Mistah — which is a double name meaning ghost or owl — is a symbol of foreboding or a messenger of evil things. One of my uncles informed me because I was a mixed blood their medicine couldn’t harm me. Years later in my ceremonial training I was informed that the valley between Twelve Mile Point Creek and the North Canadian River was a place where the medicine people buried, when we first arrived, some sacred medicines for the wellness of the people. These medicines contain the breath of the universe. The coyotes, woodpeckers, snakes, owls and other animals captured this breath inside them. This infusion continues and exists today.

Years later upon a visit from Europe, where I now live, I went to a blues bar in Oklahoma city. At closing, my tribal brother and I decided to drive the 48 miles to Twelve Mile Point. We arrived near dawn and sat on a small bridge in the valley at the creek. We drank a few beers and decided to return to the city. On the road at the place where the mailbox once stood, a hundred yards from the house where I was raised, Flip Bringing Good, my brother, was driving. I was nearly asleep when he called my name, and in the headlights of the car, in the middle of the road, a great horned owl– perhaps three feet tall — stood watching us. I got out of the car, the owl didn’t move for about ten seconds then he lifted and flew disappearing behind the house to rest in the ancient tree still standing there.

I returned to the car, got in, and Flip handed me a beer.

“They remember you” he said.

Lance Henson
Wednesday, November 7, 2012

© 2012 Lance Henson