Strange Ornament

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    STRANGE ORNAMENTA Matthew Galland Casto Family StoryWritten by Thomas A. Hunt, a grandsonProvided by Brian Collings Cooper, a great-great grandson

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    It was Christmas Eve. The war between the Indians and thepioneers was over, but it was not with complete confidence thatFloating Cloud guided his pinto pony along the streets of thesmall frontier village of Manti. He felt very ill at ease. Thingswere so different, somehow, from what they had been beforethe hostilities began.The houses, the streets, the stationary things of every sort,

    even the melting patches of brownish snow between thehouses and circular wreaths of evergreen, were very much thesame, but where Floating Cloud had once been met with smilesand cheery Christmas greetings--many of the pioneers callinghim by name--there was nothing now but cold grey scrutiny.

    The children, too, who once, out of curiosity crowded near tosee the bright stones and fancy colors in his dress or to displaytheir home-made Christmas toys, now cried with fear or ran andhid as he approached. But Floating Cloud could not turn back.Instead, he held the rawhide cord by which he led the little

    sorrel mare more tightly than before, and plodded on.

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    The coarse, unnatural breathing of Little Oak in LaughingWater's arms rasped upon the Indian's ears. His infant son wasill. He hoped the ride would not jolt the boy too much. He

    hoped the Great Spirit would be kind and would not take thelife of the child. He hoped--so many things--and yet--he did nothave much hope.Floating Cloud dismounted before an unpretentious little home,placed the bright gift blanket on his shoulder, took Little Oak

    from Laughing Water's arms and strode toward the humblefrontier door.

    The door edged slightly open. A tiny face appeared. Thesmall blue eyes were wide with fear as their diminutiveowner tried to close the door. Floating Cloud was

    desperate. He placed his moccasin-covered foot tightlyagainst the door. The little girl retreated, the door swungopen, and Floating Cloud walked slowly forward into thesmall, tidy, frontier room and stood helplessly before the

    'legless one'. "Baby sick," he muttered.

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    The cripple did not smile. He resented the intrusion of the Indian.It was Christmas Eve, and he had planned to celebrate it with hisfamily, singing carols, popping corn and decorating the small bare

    evergreen his sons had carried from the mountains. He did notwant the gloom which accompanies sickness to spoil the spirit ofthe day. He had enough troubles of his own. He did not want to bebothered with a sick Indian child. Besides, he was not a doctoreven though everyone for miles around referred to him as such.

    But, then, there were no doctors in this pioneer village in 1865,and Matthew Casto, as he was called, knew more than any of theothers about such things. He had never studied medicine inschool, but as a youth he had lived with his Uncle Isaac Galland,a practicing physician in Ohio. And acting as assistant to thedoctor, he had acquired considerable knowledge of the medicalpractices of the day.Grudgingly, Matthew took the bundle from the Indian's strong,brown arms and removed the mass of bright colored blankets

    which were wrapped about the child.

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    He placed his hand upon the small, brown face. It was burningwith fever."What can I do?" he asked himself. "I'm not a doctor. I don't care

    about this Indian child. If I could save its life it would merelygrow up and learn to kill white men like me. They're no good.They can't be trusted. I ought to know. I saw them kill MelAnderson and burn his homestead to the ground. But, can I letthe baby die with no attempt to save its life? If an enemy of mine

    had done that to me, I would not be alive today."He shivered as he remembered the exodus of the Mormonsfrom Nauvoo. He had been injured a few days before whileworking on the great temple there. He had fallen from a highscaffold and broken both his legs. They were still unhealedwhen the Mormon-hating mob entered the city and beganransacking the houses. They dragged him from his bed withoutregard for his legs, dragging him through the streets until thesharp, dagger pains wore through his consciousness and he

    hung limp and insensible between the ruffians who held hisarms.

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    Apparently they had let him fall and gone on tolivelier sport, but one among them hadremained behind. The stranger had takenMatthew to the river and put him in care of a

    Mormon family which made its way to theMormon camps on the other side.

    His legs could not be saved. Both remainedbehind as the old buckboard in which he rode

    pointed west toward the sheltered little villagewhich was then but a dream of safety in thehearts of the pioneers.

    The baby squirmed and coughed, bringingMatthew back to reality.

    "Elizabeth", Matthew called to his wife, "Bringme some water. George, push me over to thebed." His son complied immediately. Matthewleaned forward in his strange home-made

    wheelchair, pulled back the covers of a smallbed and laid the papoose there.

    Matthew Galland Casto

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    "I'll do all I can," he said, half-heartedly to Floating Cloud, andthen turned again toward the child which choked and gasped forbreath. When Matthew looked again at Floating Cloud, the Indianwas bending mournfully over the child, great drops of perspirationon his brow.

    "I have no reason to hate him," Matthew thought. "He once wasmy friend. A war between our peoples should not change that andyet it has. The war has made me hate."

    It had not been so long since the Old Chief, Great Eagle, hadbrought Floating Cloud, then but a child with a serious infection inhis arm, to be Matthew's first Indian patient. He had helped theboy and both Great Eagle and Floating Cloud had regarded himas a friend until the war began. The Indians had been goodfriends and he had tried to treat them fairly. He was sorry that allwhite men did not do the same, for he noted with anxiety, thegrowing tension and mistrust between the Indians and their new,white neighbors.

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    When he heard that some drunken fool, for meresport, had killed an important Indian from anearby tribe, he knew that the entire Indian

    nation would seek revenge. He knew that theresult would be disastrous. He heard the drumsof war echo in the hills and he knew that soonmany unsuspecting settlers would be caughtunawares and massacred..

    Mary ElizabethDaniels CastoBut more particularly, his thoughts raced toward George andAbel, his two sons, who had been somewhere in the mountains,unprotected with their cattle.Elizabeth, his wife, had gone, time after time, to the village edge

    to look for the boys. As the usual time for their returnapproached and passed, her anxiety became more great, but atlast she saw them coming along the lanes between the fieldsand ran to meet them to make sure they were unharmed.

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    They had seen no Indians, they were glad to say, but Georgehad lost the precious watch which Uncle William had sent himfrom Salt Lake. They had returned to Echo Canyon to search for

    it but had been unable to find it.Little Oak gasped for breath. It seemed impossible for him tobreath. Matthew grabbed the child, patted him on the back,pressed in upon the tiny chest with his large, strong hand,released the tension, and repeated the action time and time

    again. The child began to breathe a labored gasping breath.Time passed. The lamps were lit. A cold, howling wind arose,and darkness began to march in long dark columns from themountains across the lanes and fields into the town.

    "Mommy", asked the little girl, losing her fear of the Indian in theroom, '"can we sing and dance around the Christmas treetonight?"

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    "No, dear, not tonight." her mother answered as she turnedtoward the window and looked out into the deepening grey ofevening. She hated to disappoint the children, but the Indian

    child could not be disturbed. Her eyes focused on a strange,dark shadow bunched up peculiarly against the door. After amoment of wonder she realized that it was more than anordinary shadow. It was the Indian mother waiting for her child.

    Elizabeth brought her in and seated her where she could warm

    herself beside the glowing fire.

    Matthew did not leave the infant's bed. "Some Christmas Eve,"he thought as the strains of carols sung by the Rasmussonsnext door were faintly heard above the howling of the wind.

    "Some Christmas Eve--and wasted on an Indian child. Ourplans forgotten. But still the child deserved to live. I cannotjudge its worth."

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    The little girl grew sleepy and was allowed to sleep in herfather's bed. The night wore on, the hours marching slowlyas if cautiously feeling their way through the darknesswhich lay beyond the sphere of light near the infant's bed.Matthew did everything he knew but pray and praying wasnot in his heart. He was resentful still.

    The crisis came at dawn. The fever broke. As the sun

    appeared the child began to breath more naturally. Thebaby was not well but the momentary battle had beenwon.

    The little girl awoke and George and Abel helped her pinsome bits of colored paper trimming onto the tree.

    Floating Cloud was happy. Hope had returned. He felt thechild would live, grow big and strong and be a mightychieftain--a loving son. He saw the white man's childrenpinning objects on the bushy little tree. He wished to help.

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    He opened the rawhide bag which was hanging at hisside and brought out a string of lovely colored rocks andturquoise stones and hung it on the tree. Next some bits

    of snow-white fur were handed to the little girl.

    Then from the bag hebrought a shiny, goldenobject which glistened

    in the light. He handed itto Abel proudly as anornament for the tree.

    "My watch!" George

    gasped. "Where did youget this?"

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    "Echo Canyon." the Indian replied.

    "But when?"

    "Day Indian go on warpath."

    "We didn't see you there."

    "Indian see you."

    "You saw us? Why--didn't you--kill us then?

    "You son of 'Legless one'. 'Legless one' friend

    of Great Eagle. Great Eagle send bravesdown trail to guard so other braves no kill."

    An emotional silence filled the room. Somestrange sensation wrung at Matthew's heart.With misty eyes he turned to Floating Cloud,held out his hand and smiled. And, in silent,solemn thoughts he prayed, "I thank Thee,God, for friendship, and for"-- looking at thewatch--"for this strange Christmas ornament."