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Richard's Writings > The Testament of Anointed One

The Testament of Anointed One

I, Jeremiah Johnson, being a school teacher for the third district of the Territory of The Dakotas, do hereby swear that all the following is faithfully translated from the original Lakotah, as told to me by Anointed One, lately medicine man for the Oglala tribe of the Great Sioux Nation. Of course, a translator must be allowed a measure of latitude; the Lakotah language is rich with nuances that have no English equivalents, and I have tried to remain faithful to the spirit of the following declaration, as told to me by Anointed One himself before his departure into the Sacred Hills. This is his story. I am merely the instrument that recorded it, being the only man educated in letters at Fort Joseph at this time. I repeat, I merely record the words of the Oglala medicine man, Anointed One. I am not responsible for them.


I have been asked by my people to leave a record in the language of the white man, so that all might learn of my coming. I do so for them. I do not feel it is worthy of words, for one cannot truly speak of what is known in the heart, and it is only in the heart that my message can be received. But they have asked me to speak, and they have followed me through many storm cloud days, and I will heed their wishes.

I am called Anointed One by the many tribes of the Dakota People, but I was born with a simple name until I was to choose my own, as is the custom with our people. I was called Yellow Beaver, because my first gesture out of the womb was to grab the wooden stick my mother had used to keep from crying out in undignified birthing pains. I have always had a feeling for wood, and for trees, like my father, and found myself with skill in fashioning the bark and wood into bows of fame and tools that were hard, like trapper iron. But I speak without a course, like a river in flood. There has been much said about my birth and my mother that I am urged to repeat here. It is known by many old women who were there, and who can still speak of it today, that my mother was untouched when she found she was to bear a child. All the women of her clan gathered with her in the wigwam of the sacred fires to see if this could be the truth, for she was soon to join with Swift Reed, my father. And they all saw for themselves: she was as a girl at birth, untouched by any man, as she and Swift Reed had claimed, and yet she was with child. This was a mystery to all my people, but all the women of the clan supported the proof, and no man could speak against his woman. So my mother was honored as a wondrous thing, and her betrothal to Swift Reed was joyful for all.

Our people had by that time been forced to live within a small limit of our ancient homeland, and white and red soldiers were given to us to increase our shame. Near the time of my birth, the chief of the long-knives ordered my people to come to Greasy Sticks (Fort Buford) and be counted before the time of the harvest moon. Swift Reed and his betrothed had to answer the notice, along with all my clan, so one day he put my mother upon the travois and we set upon the path. My mother was very unhappy. She wished for my father to leave the clan until I was born, so that the white man would never learn of my birth, and I might be free; but my father was proud, and dared the white men to see his spirit. Uncouth strangers occupied our ancient land, our lives disturbed, our gods laughed at and spit upon. He would not run away in the night like a dog. But I came into their lives before they came into Greasy Sticks, and that same night three scouts from the Black Hills joined with them, and warned them to ride through the night to safety. Whiskey and wickedness waited in the fort and our people became white men when they were there and lost their pride. My father rode away with us, because he had too much honor to stay.

I was raised in the teachings of my father, who was skilled with wood, and with fire. He knew the secret of non-burning, to make wood strong, like stone. Always he taught me to respect the Earth Mother who gave up the trees and the herbs, and the Father above, who gave us fire, and water, and breath. I grew with all the boys in an ordinary way. I rode, I played in the games, and I learned to fashion wood, like my father. But I would not hunt. Soon I was able to create tools as strong as my father's and soon I could bend a bow with the power of a man. I remember one day I sat with the old men in a council. It was the first time they let me share the pipe, for I had won the contest that day with a bow and a straight eye, and I spoke to them of the Great Spirit and the worlds that came before. I told them this: several times the world had ended, but we were privileged to be able to climb up to another world again and again. I told them this was our last world. They were shocked by my words, for they had heard similar words before but only in secret whispers, yet they listened to me, and we spoke long into the night. I never spoke in council again, but I feel I have nothing more to say since that long-past day. And all have since come to me for advice, when needed.

There came a time in my life when I knew it was time for me to find my true name. This could only be revealed to me directly by the spirits of my calling: the earth, trees, fire and water. I went out alone. I would not eat until I discovered my name, for I knew I must be pure and empty before the spirit could fill me once again. I walked to the bluffs that look down upon the grazing grasses of my people in summer. I climbed the bluffs and walked on, into the brush, the trees, beyond to the cold green of the never change trees. Here I fell under a tree, lost in my mind, weak in my body, but strong in my spirit. I knew I was near, so near, yet not ready. I awoke to find my mouth sweet, and my strength renewed. The tree had dropped its sap into my mouth, and had given me life! I arose, my eyes filled with the spirit, and my ears filled with the rushing of life. I heard the pulse of the trees from root to limb to leaf, I heard the silent struggle of the fish in the stream, the wolf lying in the grass, the hare hiding under the fallen tree. I saw everything with more than my eyes, all life was familiar to me, and I to life. I walked past a cougar with no fear, and played with her cubs. I knew my name came from the life of the sun, the life of the fire, the essence of warmth in winter. My people were the children of God, and I was the son of my people, born into time to support the old, and to guide the young. I was blessed by the Four Corners, I was the given the torch, I was the Anointed One. The wind whispered the words to all life; "The Anointed One walks among you now..."

When I returned to my people I was told they thought me dead. I had been gone for [40 days] and never before had a name quest gone beyond the cycle of a moon. I was welcomed into the community of men, but my reluctance to join in the big mid-summer hunt, a hunt that called for all the manpower of the clan, was a need of mine that caused distance between myself and my brothers. Still, I watched them all drive the buffalo towards the cliff, and when the time came I had the needed fires ready to begin the dance of feasting.

In time, many men came to me for advice. I learned from the herbs and the spirit to heal many illnesses, and I ministered even with my words, both sweet and bitter. I spoke only the truth, for I could do no other, and though this was not always a happy path, it soon came to be a straight and true one, and all in time knew my words had value, as did my silence. I spoke only for peace, but many brothers came to me to urge overthrow of the white man. I could lead great warriors, I could unite the Dakota tribes, I could free my people. But I could not listen to these words. I had seen that I was one with the pine, like the cougar and the salmon, and I was one even with the white man. Could a man slash himself, I asked them? Yes they answered, in the Sun Ritual, to free one's spirit from his body's tomb, and so only more so to free one's people from godless strangers. But I protested the Sun Ritual, I said we did not need to be extreme with our bodies, that the spirit was not revealed in heat or in pain or in thirst - only heat and pain and thirst lie there. The spirit lies quietly within; a smile might bring it forth. This they did not want to hear. I was swept aside. I was called a traitor to my people. I was forbidden to tell them that their path led to misery and destruction. I could warn them that to seek the extreme would yield only the extreme, but they would have me suffer their ears no longer. These were deaf ears that my learning could not open. I left my brothers to their thorns and thongs, and I began my journey to Greasy Sticks, where my people had sent word that their need for healing was great, in body and in pride.

I had begun my journey on horseback. After a short time I looked back to see an ever-growing stream of people struggling to keep up with me. I stopped and waited for them to rest, then continued on foot. It is always better to walk; on horse, your eyes are always on the horizon and your thoughts on your goal, but on foot your eyes see the grass, the clay, the life that surrounds you, and you are at peace wherever you are. It is better to go slowly, and expand into the entire world, rather than rush straight and narrow from here to there like the woodlark. I walked through our ancient land, land that will be ours long after Greasy Sticks joins with the dust. But defying the white man has brought great suffering to my people. Everywhere along the journey I told my people to let the white man have his lines and borders and maps, it did not matter; we are the human beings, we are the grandfathers, they are still children. Some heard me, some did not.

Greasy Sticks was bigger than before; white men are great builders. I would not enter. I built my fire on a hill nearby, and the people came to me. I saw many who had traded their clothes for whiskey, many who would no longer raise food or families, many with a far-off look in their eyes and shame on their brow. I spoke to all these. I urged my people to return to the ancient ways, to free themselves. I saw that the smell, noise and ways of Greasy Sticks were evil for all people, white man and red man. It should not be.

Soon, soldiers came for me. Their chief wished to see me. He spoke in a crude way, and he had no respect. I would not answer him. He mocked my people and our ways. He called his soldiers and they laughed at my people. They took our quest for the spirit, the Sun Ritual, and tried to make it a shameful game. But I would not lose my honor. I thought of my father. I was led to a tripod 20 feet tall. In a mockery of our ways they pushed thorns through the muscles of my chest, and left me to hang in the sun by thongs attached to these thorns. The sun moved from overhead to halfway, a ball of fire that seemed only inches above my face. I dried like pemmican, became like dust, without weight. My thirst soon changed to cleansing emptiness; I was like a bladder sack filled with air, light and round, neither warm nor cool. I saw I was spirit, spirit only. I rose to join the sun, free at last from all needs and cares. Before I slipped away into Father Sky I looked down at my poor little body still hanging from the tripod, and saw a soldier approach. He was impatient with the game, he wished to end it. He thrust his sword into the side of my body, and I turned away to join with the sun.


My story does not end. I awoke to find myself covered by a robe high upon a burial platform. My body was stiff and sore, but it moved to my thoughts, and I was able to sit up. My life had not yet fled. In time the rain came and refreshed me, and in time I found the Earth Mother and walked upon her once again. I returned to my people. There was great joy and wonderment, but it did not touch me. I was empty, and I was full. I spoke to my people; I gave them the path. I could do no more. For one moon I have given all I had. Now I am done. Now I go the find the Great Spirit. I know the Great Spirit waits for me high in the Sacred Hills. I will follow until I find him, and I will never come back. Someday you too will go to find him. May your path have heart. Ho!