Betty Gordon in the Land of Oil/Chapter 9

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CHAPTER IX


OLD INDIAN LORE


Mr. Gordon stayed over night, but was off early in the morning. Bob and Betty watched his rickety car out of sight, and then, determined to keep busy and happy, set out to explore the Watterby farm.

The family, they had discovered at supper the night before, consisted of Grandma Watterby, her son Will, a man of about forty-five, and the daughter-in-law, Emma, a tall, silent woman with a wrinkled, leathery skin, a harsh voice, and the kindest heart in the world. An Indian helped Mr. Watterby run the farm. In addition there were two boarders, a man and his wife who had come West for the latter's health and who, for the sake of the glorious air, put up with many minor inconveniences. They were very homesick for the East, and asked Bob and Betty many questions.

"Just think. Bob," said Betty, as she and Bob went out to the barn (they had been told that they were free to go anywhere) , "there's no running water in the house. Mrs. Watterby carries in every bit that's used for drinking and washing. She was up at four o'clock this morning, carrying water to fill the tubs; she is doing the washing now."

"Water's as hard as a rock, too," commented Bob. "I suppose that's the alkali. Did you notice how harsh and dry Mrs. Watterby's face looks? Seems to me I'd rather drill for water than for oil, and the first thing I'd do would be to pump a line Into the house. They've lived on this farm for sixty years, your uncle said. At least Grandma Watterby has. And I don't believe they've done one thing to it, that could be called an improvement."

"Here's the Indian," whispered Betty. "Make him talk, Bob. I like to hear him."

The Indian had eaten at the same table with the family, after the farm fashion, and Betty had been fascinated by the monosyllabic replies he had given to questions asked him. He was patching a harness in the doorway of the barn and glanced up unsmllingly at them. Nevertheless he did not seem hostile or unfriendly.

"You come to see oil fields?" he asked unexpectedly. "You help uncle own big well, yes? Indians know about oil hundreds of years ago."

"Uncle Dick is working for a big oil company," explained Betty. "I don't think he owns any wells himself. Tell us something about the Indians? Are there many around here?"

There was an old sawhorse beside the door, and she sat down comfortably on that, while Bob, picking up a handy stick of wood, drew a knife from his pocket and began to whittle.

The Indian was silent for a few minutes. Then he spoke slowly, his needle stabbing the heavy leather at regular intervals.

"Wherever there is oil, there were Indians once," he announced. "Ask any oil man and he will tell you. At Lake Erie, in Pennsylvania and some parts of New York State, where dwelt the Iroquois, many years after oil was found. It is true, for I have read and heard it."

"Were the Iroquois in New York State?" asked Bob interestedly. "I've always read of the Mohawks, but not about them."

The Indian glanced at him gravely.

"The Mohawks were an Iroquois tribe," he explained courteously. "Mohawks, Senecas, Tionontati, Cayuga, Oneida—all were tribes of the Iroquois. Yes I see you recognize those names—many places in this country have been named for Indians."

"Are you an Iroquois?" asked Betty, rather timidly, for she feared lest the question should be considered impolite.

"I am a Kiowa," announced the redman proudly. "Oklahoma and Kansas were the home of the Kiowas, the Pawnees and the Comanches. And you see oil has been found here. In Texas, where the big oil fields are, once roved Wichitas. The Dakotas, some tribes of which were the Biloxi, the Opelousas and the Pascagoulas, lived on the gulf plains of Louisiana. Out in southern California, where the oil wells now flow, the Yokut Indians once owned the land. They tell me that where oil had been discovered in Central America, petroleum seeps to the surface of the land where once the Indian tribes were found."

"Did the Indians use the oil?" asked Bob. He, like Betty, was fascinated with the musical names of the mysterious tribes as they rolled easily from the Kiowa's tongue.

"Not as the white man does," was the answer. "The Senecas skimmed the streams for oil and sometimes spread blankets over the water till they were heavy with the oil. They used oil for cuts and burns and were famed for their skill in removing the water from the oil by boiling. Dances and religious rites were observed with the aid of oil. The Slouan Indians, who lived in West Virginia and Virginia, knew, too, of natural gas. They tossed in burning brands and watched the flames leap up from pits they themselves had dug.

"You will find," the Indian continued, evidently approving of the rapt attention of his audience, "many wells now owned by Indians and leased to white-men companies. The Osage have big holdings. They are reservation Indians, mostly—perhaps they can not help that. I must go to the plowing."

He gathered up his harness and went off to the field, and Bob and Betty resumed their explorations, talking about him with interest. Their tour of the shabby outbuildings was soon completed, and just in time for a huge bell rung vigorously announced that dinner was on the table.

That afternoon they found Grandma Watterby braiding rugs under the one large tree in the side yard, and she welcomed them warmly.

"I was just wishing for some one to talk to," she said cheerfully. "Can't you sit a while? There isn't much for young 'uns to do, and I says to your uncle It was a good thing there was two of you—at least you can talk."

"What lovely rugs!" exclaimed Betty, examining the old woman's work. "See, Bob, they're braided, just like the colonial rag rugs you see in pictures. Can't I do some?"

"Sure you can braid," said the old woman. "It's easy. I'll show you, and then I'll sew some while you braid."

"Let me braid, too,'* urged Bob. "My fingers aren't all thumbs, if I am a boy."

"Well now," fluttered Grandma Watterby, pleased as could be, "I don't know when I've had somebody give me a lift. Working all by yourself is tedious-like, and Emma don't get a minute to set down. My brother used to make lots of mats to sell; he could braid 'em tighter than I can.

She showed Betty how to braid and then started Bob on three strips. Then she took up the sewing of strips already braided.

"We were talking to the Indian this morning," said Betty idly. "He told us a lot about Indians—how wherever they have been oil has been discovered. Does he really know?"

"Ki has been to Government school, and knows a heap," nodded Grandma Watterby. "What he tells you's likely to be so. I don't rightly know myself about what they have to do with the oil, but Will was saying only the other night that the Osage Indians have been paid millions of dollars within the last few years."

Her keen old eyes were sparkling, and she was sewing with the quick, darting motion that they soon learned was characteristic of everything she did. She must be very old, Bob decided, watching her shriveled hands, knotted by rheumatism, and the idea of age put another thought into his head.

"Mr. Gordon said you'd lived on this farm for sixty years, Grandma," the boy said suddenly. It had been explained to them that the old lady liked every one to use that title. "You must know 'most every one in the neighborhood"

"Fred Watterby brought me here the day we were married," the old woman replied, letting her sewing fall into her lap. "Sixty years ago come next October. I was married on my seventeenth birthday."

She sat in a little reverie, and Bob and Betty braided quietly, unwilling to disturb her, although the same question was in their minds. Then Grandma Watterby took up her sewing with a sigh, and the spell was broken.

"Know everybody in the neighborhood?" she echoed Bob's statement. "Yes, I used to. But with so many moving in and such a lot of oil folks, why, there's days when I don't see a rig pass the house I know."

Betty and Bob spoke simultaneously.

"Do you know any one named Saunders?" they chorused.