August 29, 2005
Puts On His Shoes
I used to explore out along the length of Knocker Creek, which had its beginning somewhere in the ridge over the Moreau River. As I would emerge from a grove of trees at the far end of Knocker Creek, I would often see this old Indian man sitting on his pony, which had a long mane and tail. The Indian would sit hunched over, head down, slumped bareback on his pony. The horse used to take the same stance, head lowered almost to the ground, butt turned into the wind, standing almost as if in a trance. I used to sit on my horse in the trees and watch them for what seemed like hours. All this time they would remain motionless, as though in a deep reverie. After what seemed like months of watching this old man, I finally got up the nerve to approach him, only to find out that he spoke no English. Finally after a long time and trying to communicate on several different occasions, I would just ride up, raise my right hand in the friendship gesture, say "how," and spend an hour or so, just sitting with him.
Putsy, as he was known, dressed in the original Sioux clothing. He wore a buckskin shirt and trousers with long fringes on the arms and legs, and covered with intricate designs, worked in porcupine quill beads of different colors. His hair hung in long braids with a couple of eagle feathers. Putsy's face was, of course, a striking picture. He had the long Sioux features and dark brown skin wrinkled beyond belief. Putsy, of course, rode his horse bare back and his feet were covered by heavily beaded moccasins. Sometimes, he would try to explain things to me in his heavy, guttural Sioux language. But, mostly he would use sign language, with much waving of the arms and intricate hand gestures. If one was attentive, you could understand most of what he was saying. Putsy used to tell me tales about storytelling as the Indians sat in their tipis during the long rains. He told me how the Moreau Ridge, as with Fox Ridge, were the paths the Indians traversed from the mountains in the West and North through to the low country of the great Missouri.
It was only much later that I learned that Puts On His Shoes understood and spoke English very well. It turns out that he had been a scout for Custer. It is rumored that he came by his name when, after a battle, he would try on dead soldiers’ boots until he found a pair that felt good, therefore earning the name "Puts On His Shoes." It seems that Putsy had worn moccasins most of his life and, after he started wearing boots, his feet hurt and he was always looking for a pair that fit better.
I knew all about Putsy at one time, most of which I have forgotten, but I will always remember him as a kindly old man who tried to teach me the way of the Sioux. Part of that teaching was the pulling my leg that he must have enjoyed as I sat there next to him as a kid, wide eyed and all ears.