From Dave Dantzer

by | Oct 14, 2020 | Press

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June sun was hot on my bare back the air was filled without movement and with humidity, the wild turkeys in the surrounding fields of Buffalo grass broke the silence with sporadic cackles. I had decided to weed Harvey Iron Boy’s vegetable garden and had been at it for at least two hours as the sweat dripped from my body, I paused to survey this remote area called porcupine on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. I was grateful that Harvey’s girlfriend Velma Kills Straight had invited me to stay in their modular home for the previous three days. She had warmly welcomed me and seemed to need somebody to talk to.

She was just finishing her year of mourning for her son who had hung himself on the tree that used to be in front of the house. He had gone willfully to join us father and drinking buddy in the next campground. His father died suddenly from a heart attack just two years prior to his death. Before I had arrived Harvey had built a traditional Lakota sweat lodge called an inipi and had his brother, Wyo, pouring water and in charge. Harvey expressed his disappointment that nobody seemed to have visions, cures, or prayers answered as a result of the lodges. I had requested an inipi by presenting tobacco to Harvey. I intended to purify myself and pray for the Oglala, Lakota children I would be teaching tennis too. In addition, I brought him a dozen, large, lava rocks.

Lakota inipis are known for being among the most difficult because of the intense heat, long duration, and lack of water. This lodge was no exception. During the first inipi between the second and third rounds of the ceremony, the front door flap was open to allow for fresh air. I could see the fire pit heating the large rocks before they were to be brought into the lodge. From the flickering glow created by the fire pit, I could see a paint horse grazing nearby I was startled because there was no grass for feed. I rubbed my eyes and looked again.

The horse was sorrel and white and the glimmering firelight shimmered around his legs. He vigorously tossed his head in the air several times. I blinked again and he was gone.

I related this version to Harvey and Velma afterward in the kitchen while we were enjoying fresh fruit. Harvey broke into a wide grin and told me that I had seen Dash’s uncle Tasunka Witko (Crazy Horse). He was born in 1840 and died in 1877 at Fort Robinson Nebraska arguably the most renowned warrior chief of the Lakota people whose spirit sits up on the hill and comes down when he is pleased with what we are doing, Harvey related. Word spread in and the lodge was jammed for the next two nights. Tonight would be our fourth and last night. Harvey arrived home after work and suggested that we go to Little Wound School in Kyle to check out the condition of the courts where I was to hold my tennis clinic the next day.
I told him that I did not like the dark cumulus clouds that had rolled in. He ignored me and said we’ll make it in 45 or 50 minutes in my pick up.

From porcupine, we headed north on Highway 27 and it began to rain lightly. We listened to the girl on the Rez radio warn of a possible tornado sighting near her location in Sharpe’s Corners. “Isn’t that on our route?”, I asked Harvey. He turned silent at the same moment that the radio transmission disappeared. We traveled on for about a half a mile when Harvey jammed on the brakes and made a quick U-turn on the two-lane Highway. Now we are headed home without a word from Harvey. The wind was picking up more force by the second and now we were hit with large raindrops. Over the foothills to my right, a brown mass rolled on its side. As it tumbled in our direction, I asked, “What is that? Smoke? What could be burning in the rain?” “That’s not smoke”, Harvey shouted above the din.

Harvey slammed on the brakes, once again, in the middle of the highway.
“What should I do”, Harvey yelled at me. Before I could reply, he shifted into a four-wheel-drive and pulled off the road. The air around us was filled with debris.

As we bumped down into a gully, I could see David Seallow’s new mobile home above us. I told Harvey to drive the front bumper into the side of the hill to secure us. By now, golf ball size hail made gunshot bangs as they dented the aluminum roof. I was afraid that the windshield would shatter. “Damn tornado”, Harvey shrieked above the roar of the wind. “Hoka Hey”, I shouted the Lakota Warrior cry (it’s a good day to die!).

We crouched in the cab with our arms over our heads for protection in case the window shattered. The powerful wind rushed into the gulch and picked up the rear of our truck and dropped it like a toy. The howling wind rushed over our tiny hideout. All at once, I felt strangely calm as I prayed for protection. Had not we spent three evenings of purification and prayer? Were those ininipi Ed to prepare us for a voyage to the next campground?

After several agonizing moments, the tornado and hail had passed. As a light rain ensued, we drove back up to the highway. David Swallows mobile home was flat as a pancake.

We stopped at the highway and a small VW pulled off the road and stopped next to us. Harvey rolled down his window and so did the other driver. His long black hair was standing out straight all over his head because of all the electricity in the air. Nobody said a word. Harvey said, “I’ve known him since I was six years old, but I couldn’t think of his name.”

The rain had stopped by the time we reach the Kills Straight home which sat at the top of a hill. All of the neighbors sought shelter there because it was the only home with a basement.

In the candlelight,
all of the serious dark faces stared at us as Harvey related our escape from the tornado. He ended, “David here wasn’t worried because he was with a brave Lakota warrior.” The place rocked with laughter.

Later, the gentle breeze caressed us where we stood on top of the hill. We could see lightning flashes and hear rolling thunder in four directions.

The next day we learned that 12 tornadoes had hit the Pine Ridge Reservation within 24 hours. In nearby Oglala, 11 people had lost their lives. Within several hours the poor people of Porcupine had gathered enough clothing, blankets, and food to fill the cargo area of Harvey’s truck. We took the back gravel road around the reservoir to reach the village because the National Guard had the main road (Highway 18) blocked. The tornado had indiscriminately attacked the homes, flattening one while leaving the neighbor’s standing in perfect condition.

The donations gathered in Oglala had covered the whole gym floor. Warm smiles and soft words of “wopila” (thanks) welcomed us. “These people are proud, tough, and determined.” I thought. “A little tornado did not stop them. They were happy to be alive, and so was I!”

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