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Day Four – Amarillo, TX to Shawnee, OK. 330 miles.

Honor, Respect, and National Pride

Today, the Midway Route did something brand new, and it was the only activity that we had today.  We visited the Fort Sill Field Artillery Museum.  This is on an active military base, and permission like this doesn’t come along very often!  Our collective hats are off to Mike “Heavy” King for making all of the arrangements.

Now you may not think that visiting a museum about big guns would be all that exciting.  But you would be wrong!  (By the way, I know that artillery is NOT actually called a ”big gun.”  But I never served in the military, and to me, that is still the best way to describe artillery.  Sorry!)  The museum has full size displays that represent the Ringold “Flying Artillery” used in the 1845 Mexican War all the way up to the modern day.  And it isn’t only inside the building.  There is a park next to the museum that has dozens of various types of armament.  It is quite impressive to see, and I hope that we will all have an opportunity to come back and spend some more time here.

But I don’t really want to talk about the museum, as good as it is.  Instead, I want to tell you about two extremely emotional events that took place while we were on the base.  I will talk about the second one first.  (Does that make since?)

Before we had a delicious brisket and pulled pork sandwich, we were asked by the Kiowa, Comanche, and Apache Veterans Group to join them at a wreath laying.  We were treated to a beautiful Native American Princess singing the American National Anthem.  One of the KCA Chiefs talked about how although each of the Native Nations is their own country and has their own anthems, they are also very proud Americans, and they have served our country with honor and distinction.  So it was very fitting to hear not only our Nations anthem, but to have it followed up with a native language “Song of the Flag.”  Without knowing the words, we could still all feel the intensity and the emotions coming from the Elders in the drum circle.  Except for the drumming rhythm and chants, the entire base was silent.  It felt to me as if even the birds were listening and giving their approval for both songs.

The Elders then sang a traditional “Welcome Home” song for their warriors.  Not just the living, but those that have gone on before us.  In this way, just as we have been “saying their names”, their ancestors are not forgotten and all are still honored.  Halfway through this song, all of the RFTW Veterans were invited to come forward and shake hands with the Chiefs and other Native Nations dignitaries.  It was an incredible moment to witness the bonds of brotherhood that were passed between these Heroes.

After the anthems and memorial songs were sung, it was time for a wreath laying.  The Chiefs of the Kiowa, Comanche, and Apache Nations were joined by a US Colonel and our own Route Coordinator Jerry “Corps” Wilkens.  The five gentlemen made their way across a short field, walking amongst all of the visitors, to lay the wreath at the base of an American Flag.

It’s so very hard to explain why this simple act was so powerful.  But here you had representatives of four separate Nations, all of whom had fought wars against each other in the past, coming together to honor the one country and land that they all love and respect.  As one of the Chiefs had said earlier in the day: “The past is over.  We remember our differences, but we move ahead.  We are proud Americans!”  Today, that is exactly what we did and who we are.

Before the wreath laying ceremony for the entire Midway Route, I was privileged to accompany Our Route Coordinator Jerry Wilkins and the Oklahoma State Coordinator Mike King to a sacred spot in the Native American cemetery.  Three Chiefs from the Kiowa Comanche and Apache Nations, accompanied by four Native American Princesses, wanted to honor and bless the Midway Route and it’s Riders.  “Chief’s Knoll” is the place where many of the Chiefs from across the past 150 years have been buried.  (I recognized a lot of names from the history books that I have read on the headstones!)  Standing amongst these venerated dead, the Chiefs each told the significance of the location, and how each Nation honors their ancestors as well as their living relations.  This keeps the spirits alive, and the people will not forget who they are or where they have come from.

I really wish that I had recorded the exact words that they said, but I did not want to intrude on, or diminish their rituals by dishonoring them.  I DID ask permission to take photos, and asked if there was any part of the ceremony that they did NOT want photographed.  I was granted permission to take pictures of anything and everything!  The Chiefs are proud of their heritage, and were eager to share it with us.

And so the ceremony began.  We were told that tobacco has been used for centuries during meetings with both friend and foe.  Before going to battle, enemies would get together and smoke, letting the teepee fill with smoke while they discussed issues.  Once the discussions were over, the doors would be opened and the smoke would dissipate, as would all disagreements, arguments, and other issues.  It was actually rare that the smoke did NOT “clear the air” and the Nations would then go to war.  So the first part of the ceremony we witnessed today was the sharing of tobacco with the sacred Elders and Chiefs.  Two of the Princesses came forward and sprinkled tobacco over one of the graves, in the fashion of their tribe.  This offering was to both the ancestors and the earth, so that we could all “clear the air” and have peace.

The second offering was of water.  We were told that humans were just like tobacco and grass.  We grow only when watered and nurtured.  Without the water, there could be no life.  So to insure life and prosperity, water was sprinkled over the tobacco offering.  Two other Native Princesses made the offerings, again according to their own customs.

I found the differences in the customs to be subtle, but fascinating.  One Nation scattered the tobacco into the wind, while the other sprinkled the tobacco more directly onto the earth.  The same held true for the water.  One Nation sprinkled the water directly from the Woman’s hand, while the other poured a more liberal amount directly onto the ground.  These may seem like simple differences, but it was explained to us that the reason was for religious/traditions.   (Some areas had more water in abundance than others.  Likewise with the tobacco.)  As the Chiefs explained more of the rituals and why they were important, I found myself understanding the similarities between these three Nations and my own traditions.  We all believe in the same God, maybe just under a different name.  We all (or at least we SHOULD) respect our land, because it feeds us.  We all remember our ancestors for their deeds that defined us and made us who we are.  And we honor our Heroes, for they paid the price for our freedom.

Some of you may be wondering why this ceremony was not performed in front of the entire group of Midway Riders.  The answer is two-fold: the rituals, although not private, were designed for the Leaders so that they would remember and then inspire their people.  But more importantly, there is a specific amount of each element that must be offered for each of the participants/recipients.  So for both Jerry and Mike and the other two dignitaries, there was a required amount of tobacco and water.  (As an observer, I did not require an offering.)

After the ceremony and offering, I had a few brief moments to visit with one of the Ladies in attendance.  She showed me the graves of several important and well-known Chiefs, and then took me to the graves of two of her direct ancestors.  When I read the names, I had to tell her a story that I had been told as a young man.  I have a three-times removed Great Uncle that went on a raid back in the late 1800’s.  Their mission was to repatriate a white woman that had been taken captive by the Comanches as a child.  So as I looked at the two headstones, I had a very emotional shared moment with a descendant of that same white woman and her Comanche Son.  I read the names of Cynthia Ann and Quanah Parker.

Today was a day of Honor, Respect, and National Pride!

Jim “Hoofer” McCrain
Midway Route Photographer and SITREP Author

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