'Education is not preparation for life, it is life itself'
Sioux, The Irish And Running Horses By Bob Redwater
A love of horses runs in my family. One of my earliest memories was being put on the back of a gigantic ancient heavy horse called Darling. She was blind in one eye and liked to stand against the farm fence and get petted by local children.
We gathered handfuls of grass for her from our side of the fence. She was a gentle giant and stood still while we were given a peg up onto her back. She never moved away from the fence and seemed to know we were in her care. It was exciting and scary at the same time.
My grandfather came from the west coast of Ireland and was known to be a good horse handler. He managed to get a job with Buffalo Bill’s Wild West when they were touring in Europe and met some of the warriors who were veterans of the Little Big Horn Battle where Custer and many of his 7th Cavalry perished.
Those Lakota Sioux warriors had joined the tour to escape the boredom of life on the reservation after they had been forcibly removed from their ancestral homelands. On the reservation they were living on measly handouts and their movements had been severely restricted. A large portion of the 7th Cavalry were Irishmen who had emigrated to the USA for a better life. They ended up joining the US Army for a salary and three square meals a day. It was my grandfather’s stories of Indians that gave me a lifelong interest in Native Americans which would change my life.
In later years I had a chance encounter with a Lakota Indian in the town of Albuquerque, New Mexico. His name was Lone Eagle Mark Redfox and he had been born on The Fort Berthold Reservation in North Dakota near the Canadian Border. We exchanged addresses and wrote to each other on a regular basis. The history of his family and the clearance from their original ancestral lands had many similarities with the Highland Clearances in Scotland. In the 1940’s the US government decided to build the Garrison Dam to stem the flow of the Missouri River. 90% of the Native American population were forcibly removed from their traditional tribal lands and dumped on unsuitable and inferior land. Existing treaties were ignored and overruled by the government.
I received a book from my Indian friend through the mail. The title was Coyote Warrior. There was a hand written note on one of the inside pages addressed to me.
“To my friend Bob”
“This book is about the tragic displacement of a nation, society, culture and a way of life that continues fifty years later, in the form of broken families and lost heritage. My father Wilbert Redfox JR. and his family were displaced and like most families never fully recovered from this event. Fifty years later, I can attest to this personally. I’ve yet to meet my relatives who live on the Fort Berthold Reservation and yet to set foot inside the boundaries of my nation.
On the other hand this book is the story of victory and the success of a small nation against racism and defeat.
I hope as you read this book that you will imagine the story as it unfolds could have included me there as it were. I was born one year after the dam was finished, although I have never seen it. The impact on my father and his family was great and it’s effects still run through the Fox family to this day”.
Mr Redfox and I have now been friends for over 15 years. In 2012 he finally made it to Scotland with his wife Feather and stayed with me in Edinburgh. We showed them the Highlands, the East Coast and the Scottish Borders, which he said looked like Montana. On our travels in the USA we thought the Black Hills of Dakota looked like the Scottish Highlands. Millions of years ago our lands were physically connected.
My wife and I have made 7 trips to the USA and have met many different tribes of Indians, from the Mexican border, along the Rocky Mountains, all the way up to the Canadian border. I exchanged hunting and poaching stories with Indians that we met on the reservations. When they discovered that we were Europeans and not Americans, we seemed to be treated very kindly. We met several Sioux and Northern Cheyenne Indians who had Scottish surnames that dated back five generations. Those Scots ancestors of their’s dated back to the highland clearances when single young men from Scotland had married into the Northern Plains, tribes when they were working as trappers for the Hudson Bay Company. We were surprised how well thought of those highland clansmen were in Indian society today.