Days 9 Pawhuska, OK
Our last day in Pawhuska was a full day at the races. We went into town early, but being Sunday, everything except the gas stations and dollar stores were closed. We explored the set of Killers of the Flower Moon, a movie based off the book that details the murders of the Osage and the birth of the FBI. Maggie picked up the book for us to read along our journey.
We found a trail to hike along what I believed to be Bird Creek before heading back to the downs. We arrived just in time to get our chairs together, grab some food from the vendors, and set up our spot on the inside of the track near the starting line.
The first set of races were the sheep races where parents wrangled feisty sheep with long, matted, woolen locks and then place their toddlers on the backs of the sheep in hopes that they hold on for dear life and make it to the finish line. Out of three heats, only one child out of probably fifteen managed to hold on for the entire race. Most were bucked from the backs of the sheep within seconds, toppling heels over head in the rain soaked mud of the track. Some got right up and dusted themselves off with smiles on their faces. Others, not so much. Needless to say, our jaws were dropped in amazement that this is a thing that exists in the world.
The races to follow involved slightly older children racing Shetland ponies around barrels. Then came the legends. The legends are the relay racers that I’m sure 40-50 years ago were getting thrown onto the backs of unruly sheep by their parents. As the races went on, I lost track of the classifications, but that didn’t stop us from enjoying being immersed in this fascinating celebration of Native American culture. The excitement of the crowd cheering on their children and their tribes was infectious. We often found ourselves cheering for the relatives of those near us, but sometimes we just cheered for the prettiest horses.
We had our friends Manon, who is of Osage heritage, Ryan and Kazumi over to our camp for dinner afterwards. Manon told us fascinating but depressing tales of the Osage, including her cliff notes account of the Osage murders over oil head rights, another instance of the white man pillaging communities to take what isn’t rightfully his.
We went to sleep humbled and grateful for our experiences with our native brothers and sisters. While we may be on the opposite sides of our history, we share in the same love for our families and friends, the same grief over lost loved ones, the same celebration over our successes, and the same contemplation over our failures. After all, we’re all human.
Be good to yourselves and each other. Recognize your history and learn from it so that you may leave tracks worthy of following.