There Be Smoke

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Lewis and Clark stood on a plateau that over-looked the vast open plains somewhere in what is now Wyoming.

The valley was immense, forever.

These 2 trail-blazers that had been commissioned by then President Jefferson to undergo this expedition could not have envisioned the grandeur of this wild country even if it had come to them in a dream.

The men had been on their quest for almost a year now, with several successes and tragedies.

The many tribes of Indians that they had encountered thus far had began calling them “dog eaters” for obvious reasons.

That was to be expected, Lewis thought to himself. An untamed country was just that…untamed.

Like a young stallion that had to be broken, it could still kill if you underestimated its desire to stay wild.

Their company of fellow explorers had been setting up camp on the plateau for over 2 hours.

It was a beautiful day, not a cloud in the sky.

Lewis was not concerned about a storm popping up so much as worrying about renegade tribes appearing.

It was very windy though and Clark had sent the French trapper Charbonneau across the valley to try and meet with Charbonneau’s wife’s people and parlay for supplies and guides.

Charbonneau’s wife, a Lakota Sioux, was called Sacagawea or “Cutie” for short.

Her father and tribe were expecting to be contacted by the travelers on the return route of the expedition, to trade and guide the troupe back to the Arkansas River Delta region that fed into the great Missouri River tributaries.

But now they were at a fork in the river and had to make a directional decision.

The Lakota guides had almost given up trying to use smoke signals to alert their tribesmen on the other side of the valley to their location.

“What’s the problem?” asked Lewis looking over at Cutie.

“Wind much too big” replied Cutie.

Cutie was a priceless addition to the expedition…Clark had come to rely on her, but Lewis was indifferent, always referring to or calling her a “Squar”.

“Pompous ass” thought Clark.

Cutie and the guides had noticed that the smoke signals from their kinsmen across the valley were dissipating quickly in the brisk wind, and the echoes of the signal drums were reverberating and fading over the slow rolling grasslands, lost in the numerous valleys and flats.

“Frustrating” thought Lewis. “What are the drums saying?” asked Lewis, growing more impatient.

Taking his eye from the spyglass that he was using to try and read what broken signals he could, he could see that it would be dark soon and they had to get an idea of how far they would have to travel on the morrow before then..

Cutie replied “They have stopped now”.

She pointed her hand over the valley and waved it in a sweeping motion over the plains, she said “They cannot see our smoke no hear drums…must move”.

Across the valley, the time it took for Charbonneau to move the others into a better position the wind had picked up making it impossible to control any type of smoke pattern, much less trying to keep from starting a wildfire on the flat, grassy prairie.

“Damn” thought Lewis.

He gave Clark a questioning look.

Clark knew what he was thinking.

Clark said to Cutie, trying to sound calm, but direct…. “This needs to be done by tonight”, he returned his cupped hands to his ears.

He couldn’t quite make out the sounds or the messages but he could tell when they started up again.

The expedition depended on Cutie for the interpretations and replies.

Over the next 2 hrs the drums could be heard, then fade.

The sounds came in bits and pieces…never long enough to make out a complete message though.

The Lakota guides were getting anxious as dusk began to fall darker and Lewis could tell that Cutie was becoming frustrated herself.

They all knew it wasn’t good to be isolated and separated from the others out in the open…

Especially at night.

“Pray” whispered Clark.

“Let’s get a little higher up on this hill and try again” ordered Lewis, moving up a slight rise on the plateau.

“Thirty more minutes… ” Lewis said as he raised the spyglass to his eye.

“Then we’ll have to stay here until morning” He said.

The guides and travelers did not like this idea and began to mutter amongst themselves..

Once at the higher elevation Lewis and Clark had stood with both their hands cupped over their ears, straining to hear anything.

Cutie stood quietly in front of them, listening intently …her eyes closed.

The drums began to finally come thru the wind clearer and remain steady for about a minute and then stop.

Then, in about 3 heartbeats the drums repeated the same sequence of beats again.

Cutie smiled. She looked satisfied that she had understood the message.

“Well?” asked Lewis. “What did they say Squar?”

Clark shot Lewis a sharp glance.

Lewis changed tact. “…Cutie…” he started over again “What are the drums saying please?”

Cutie looked over her shoulder at the 2 travelers and said “The ‘Kota had to move several times, and Charbonneau my husband has found a good spot now. Drums are clearer” She turned away…still listening as the drumming continued once again.

“Well?”…it was Clark’s turn to be impatient this time.

He glanced at Cutie, the question in his eyes.

“What are they saying?”

“They say…Can you hear me now?”

Get it?


4 thoughts on “There Be Smoke”

  1. There is not a smiley big enough to indicate how loudly I laughed at this line: “Charbonneau’s wife, a Lakota Sioux, was called Sacagawea or “Cutie” for short.”
    Tres, tres, funny, Trey! And yeah, I got it. After I saw the visual. 🙄

  2. Ya bugger! You reel me in with poetic license and then turn it into a joke! I was waiting for Cutie subverting all plans and a romantic ending of the Shakespearean type. Yeah, I get, ya sod! Humour over pathos. Bugger! I need to watch you more closely. You’d think I’d have learned by now. 😉 x

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