In the beautiful Puget Sound valley, there are bones beneath our feet ... BONES BENEATH OUR FEET is the lively historical epic tale of the conquest of the Natives of Puget Sound by the "Boston" tribe. Focused on the period from 1844-1858, BONES BENEATH OUR FEET explodes with political intrigue, stormy intermarriage, misunderstanding and fear, sudden massacres, tender mercies, greed and sacrifice, trials of law and of spirit, open warfare and martial law, funerals and tears. This astonishing tale resonates powerfully even today: though the gravestone of Chief Leschi, leader of the Native cause, reads: "LESCHI - Judicially Murdered Feb. 19, 1858," in 2004 Leschi's name was cleared by a special Historical Court of Inquiry headed by the Chief Justice of the Washington Supreme Court. This is not just a native story. It is the story of all Americans who live on this beautiful land - a story for all who are passionate about tolerance, dignity and liberty.
"Bones Beneath Our Feet by Michael Schein is a powerful and deeply moving historical novel about the conquest of the Puget Sound area by the "Bostons" as white people were known in the mid-nineteenth century. Based on research of the actual historical record, the story brings alive the struggles for justice by Chief Leschi and the Nisqually tribe who were being cheated out of their land by the infamous Governor Isaac Stevens. This story is a gripping one and beautifully written with vivid descriptions of the landscape that we all love. The characters, both historical and created, come alive as they fight and love throughout this big book. I especially loved his descriptions of the culture of the indigenous people, much of which may be lost today. We need the wisdom of the native peoples more than ever to balance the degradation of the landscape. I highly recommend Bones Beneath Our Feet to all who love the land and its history as well as those who love a damn good story with fine writing. And it has all the elements needed for a powerful movie. Having read Michael Schein's first book, Just Deceits, I anticipated that his second book would be one that I would want to purchase and Bones Beneath Our Feet has my highest recommendation!"
-- J. Glenn Evans, author of Broker Jim
(c) 2011 Michael T. Schein, all rights reserved
The Boy Listened
The boy listened with his ear against the door for the sound of his mother’s breathing. He didn’t dare to peek inside, for fear of inciting fresh rage. He didn’t dare to leave her, having seen before the effects of this deep melancholia. His father was out in the fields, and besides, what use was he? It was father’s fault that mother was in this condition. Hadn’t father held the reins that terrible night two years before when the carriage overturned and mother struck her head and the blood was unstoppable?
Mother, oh dear mother, how I miss you!
She was right there, behind the white door, but the haggard thing filling mother’s bedclothes was a cruel caricature of the mother of Isaac’s memory. How he clung to the image of an industrious, loving and cheerful woman, ready to solve any problem, heal any hurt. But at nine it is hard to hold on to the memories of a seven year old. Which was the true mother, which the imagined?
“No! NO!! You can’t fool me – I know what you’re up to!” came the guttural cry from within the closed chamber, and that was the real mother now, alternately sullen and apoplectic. Isaac heard a crash from within, the sound of breaking china. Swallowing hard, he tried the door. It was locked.
Moans like lava streamed from behind the door. Isaac pushed his shoulder against the barrier, but it would not budge. “NO – POISON!” his mother cried. Furniture scraped, then clunked against the door. Desperate, Isaac ran to fetch the stove ax, then flew back up the stairs, sisters in pursuit. Little Oliver, the toddler, exploded in tears. And where was that no-good servant Amy, whose job it was to care for their mother?
From inside the room came an eerie sound: sobs, interspersed with brittle sing-song, “Hannah Cummings, Cummings and Goings, Goings and Cummings, Hannah my dear!” Then more sobs, so violent they degenerated into clutching gasps for breath. “Goodbye Hannah, Daddy’s a Deacon, Deacon of Dying, Going to God.”
“Oh Isaac,” cried sister Elizabeth, “do something, quick!” as she too tried the door, but it would not budge. “Mother!” called the sisters in unison.
“Children, is that you?” came a voice from within, not quite their mother. A pause. “Children?” A very taut voice.
“Yes, mother,” replied Isaac, trying to stay calm. “Would you let us in, please?” Another pause, a long one, the children barely daring to breathe.
“SAVE YOURSELVES!” Glass shattering. Isaac swung the ax with a strength he’d never known, and the door split from top to bottom. Isaac and his sisters joined together to thrust away the remnants of white splinters and the rolltop desk jammed up tight. Scrambling through, Isaac was horrified to find his mother straddling the window casement, blood oozing from a dozen cuts inflicted by the jagged glass. In a single bound he was across the room as she pushed off with her trailing foot. He was just able to grab her arm as she fell, pinioning his legs against the moldings. She looked back into his eyes, no sign of recognition in her hateful gaze. “Be gone, ye creature of Satan!” she hissed, but he would not be gone. Though he feared to dislodge her shoulder he pulled for all he was worth. The months of barely pecking at her plate made her light, and he reeled her in like some strange sea creature, who flopped onto the glass-strewn floor, bleeding and unconscious.
Isaac Ingalls Stevens lay down beside his mother, heedless of the glass, trembling head to toe. His sisters stood silent, mouths agape; his little brother wailed. His father and Amy appeared at the doorway, blinking, disoriented, disheveled. Isaac shot his father a cold look. He did not permit himself tears until late that night, when he was alone.
The boy listened to the alien sounds coming from the stream bed just beyond the cedars. This was his first quest, to retrieve a medicine stick planted by his father next to the dead snag on She-nah-nam creek. Flushed with excitement, he had set out bravely, scampering as quickly as legs in their seventh summer could go. But now, creeping on his belly to the point where sheltering boughs brushed the crest of the bank above the dead snag, his quest seemed doomed to failure. With the tremulous caution of a doe, he parted the boughs a hand’s width, and gingerly peeked out. What the boy saw gripped his throat like a cougar’s jaws. The creek was crawling with ghost-cheeked men, their chins hairy as any wild beast. They smelled of death. Had some demon shape-shifted these creatures from dying wolves?
What the boy saw was beyond all seeing. Ghost-cheeked men with hairy chins crawled along the creek. They smelled of death. Had some demon shape-shifted these creatures from dying wolves?
Leschi let the boughs fall closed, as he considered his next move. Of course he should turn and run back to the safety of the tribe. He remembered well the many times he had been cautioned against the dangers of the forest. The wolf, bear, cougar and wild boar were terrible, but more terrible still were the enchantments: dwarves who could steal a boy’s reason; stealthy, quick demons of the forest like Seatco, who could enslave a boy in squalor.
To turn back would disgrace his family. To earn a vision quest Leschi must first pass the smaller tests set by his father. Without a vision quest, he could never know his tamanous – his spirit guide. Without his tamanous he would be but a shadow, a nothing, worse than a slave.
Leschi again parted the curtain of cedar boughs. There were as many of the creatures as he had fingers on one hand. They were gutting and skinning otter, the blue-grey viscera disappearing silently in the creek’s hungry current. Leschi was afraid. He closed his eyes, conjuring up his father’s resonant voice: “Remember this well, children – in fear, there is no wisdom; only death and suffering.”
Steeling himself against fear, Leschi studied the grasses waving under the caress of Laliad, the wind spirit. He didn’t yet know how he would do it. All he knew was that it must be done. Somehow, he would find a way to creep undetected over open ground the length of a longhouse, retrieve the totem, and steal back to safety. All under the malevolent eyes of the monsters.
Leschi prayed to his mother for guidance, though she had perished bringing his sister Skai-kai into the world in his second summer. He could no longer picture his mother’s face, but she was with him. She was the breeze in the grass and a voice – a clear sweet song washing over the cradleboard as she bent to her work:
Spirit dances in the rain, in the wave, in the wind, Spirit dances in rock and tree, you and me, Our hearts drum the dance.
Listening closely, he could hear her song even now.
With a clarity before unknown to him, Leschi peered across the expanse of osoberry, horsetail, rushes, cattails, plantain, nettle. Are we not the People of the River Grass? asked his father’s voice. The grasses beckoned to him, pointing the way with filial fingers. Breathing deeply to fill his lungs, Leschi bent low then slipped from hiding to scamper around the edge of the demons’ camp. His light copper skin melded with straw-colored stems and ochre-brown blades shifting in the wind. The padding of his bare feet harmonized with the susurrus of the grass. Just short of his goal, Leschi dropped to his belly, still as a fallen log.
The snag was surrounded by a circle of matted straw; no cover for the length of a stone’s throw. Leschi could see the talisman, a pointed stick carved with the face of Raven, the trickster, stuck in the ground by the tree. He looked to the creatures, who appeared to be absorbed in their work. He was downwind, and their scent soured his nostrils like the hamma hamma – rotting fish carcasses that littered the beach. He paused to ask the Creator, Sah-hah-lee Tyee, to make him invisible. Then he bolted across the open space and grabbed the medicine stick just as one of the monsters gave a cry, followed by a great babble rising behind him as he flew back to the welcoming grasses. Weaving through and back into the cover of the cedar forest, running like the Cayuse ponies whose hooves barely touch the ground, Leschi heard the demon gibberish fade in the distance, and he gave thanks to his mother and to all the spirits who had guided him through his moment of peril.
That night, safe in the longhouse at Muck Creek, the first rains came. Soon it would be time to follow the salmon upriver for winter. Leschi inhaled the warm smell of cedar logs, woven grasses, skins and dried salmon, wet dogs trotting in and out. Clutching the raven totem close to his heart, he burrowed deep into the mound of sleeping boys under a bearskin blanket. His eyes grew heavy; his breaths merged with the rain and ancient forest and teeming Nisqually River; with the powerful salmon, sweet crab and musky clams; with the blue, salmon, thimble, black, straw, elder, salal, goose, and huckleberries of Tenalquot, the Happy Land, the land of more than enough.