Friday, June 15, 2007
A True Story
I have an older friend, Thelma, who was born in Oklahoma in 1910. Life was very different then. A cousin wrote the following poem about Thelma's father. She remembers the day it happened and how it affected her father for the rest of his long life. "Osage Plight" by Floerine Clemons 'Twas hard to get him started; The stories gave him stress. But, hearing them, we held in awe Our Uncle Roy Jenness. A U.S. Marshal he had been; The job back then was tough. When Osage Indians drank too much They got a little rough. When Uncle Roy would visit us We begged to stay up late To listen to the tales he told Of raids and guns and fate. And once he brought his marshal's gun. (We shuddered at the thought) A notch cut on the handle showed That one man he had shot. "Tell us how the notch got there," We begged him to relate. "It's not a pretty story, kids, But Osage Indian fate. "Saloons were gone, but stills were thick Those prohibition days, And bootleg whiskey was the curse That changed the Osage ways. "You see, the white man took their land By treaty and by force, And put them on some bare red hills To farm with plow and horse. "Then oil boom days soon made them rich; (It served the white men right). As oil wells gushed, the Indians bought 'Most anything in sight. Each Osage Indian now could own A white man's limousine And build a mansion on his land; His squaw lived like a queen. Instead of teepee with dirt floor The house was made of wood, With polished floors and painted walls Where once the teepee stood. "Big John was one who drew a check From black gold every week. He'd cash it at the local bank, Then bootleg whiskey seek. "It wasn't hard to find the stuff, And from the law to flee. He bought himself a gallon jug And promptly drank it down. "And by the time Big John got home He was drunk and wild and loud. He cursed the kids, and beat his wife. He'd kill them all, he vowed. "And one of them got loose from him And made an urgent call, 'Please send someone to Big John's place Before he kills us all.' 'I'll go,' I said, 'the rest stay here To take on any more.' I grabbed my belt and vest and gun And headed for the door. "And when I got to Big John's place The kids were with their ma; Old John had shot her in the arm And broken one kid's jaw. "He ran upstairs and slammed the door And held it with his boot. I climbed the stairs and held my gun, 'Come out, John, or I'll shoot.' "No white man gonna take Big John; I shoot you first, by heck." And then he shot right through the door; The bullet grazed my neck. "I had no choice but to go in; I lunged against the door, Then fired before he shot again And John fell to the floor. "I'm not proud of that notch, you know, 'Though duty must be met; But knowing that I killed a man I never can forget." Then Uncle Roy looked down and said, "I hope the Lord forgives, For only He can understand Why one dies, and one lives. "Don't ever touch that liquor, kids, Not even just in fun. 'Twas bootleg whiskey killed Big John; I only fired the gun."