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HomeNL-2012-06 Painted Stone

The Painted Stone
Charles Zipprian

Spirit of a Stone

Have you ever noticed an old coin in your pocket change?  Wondering how many people have held that coin?  Or wondered what they purchased with the coin?  What about walking along a trail and found some house in ruins?  Maybe you have gone hunting the old ruins, seeing a place where people lived their lives many years ago.  You could have looked at the debris around the old home, maybe picking up a shard of pottery.  Was the shard part of the bowl people used for their meals?  Maybe a favorite mug carried many miles across country to end its days at this lonely ruin?  This a story of a stone as it travels down through time.

3780 BC – Shaman


Peyote Buttons
Dream Seeker was fifteen when he had given his adult name.  His father had given him a peyote button for his toothache.  The peyote had removed the pain and taken him for his first visit to the spirit world.  In his spirit vision, his spirit had left his body, floating over into a huge fire.  He could feel the heat of the fires as the flames reached for him. 

When he woke the next morning, he told his father of his travel to the spirit world and the fear he felt.  His father believing his son’s vision moved the tribe down close to the river.  For a week they stayed close to the river and on the eighth day smoke could be seen on the horizon.  As the columns of smoke approached, flames could be seen racing before the wind.  The elders had the tribe head into river taking all their belongings.  They watched as a lone bison, ran towards them.  His massive back and head on fire, flames shooting up between his powerful horns.  The crazed bison plunged head first into the river spraying water several feet high.  Emerging in front of Dream Seeker, the bison stood trembling.  Its exhausted muscles quivering as it stared at the young man.  Many of the members raised their atlatls, but Dream Seeker slowly raised his hand halting their actions.  The bison and boy stood together as the fire sweep around the river and past.  When the roar of the fire had passed the bison turned and walked away.  When life returned to normal for the tribe, Dream Seeker was given a painted stone.  The limestone had a small hole at the top for a rawhide strip to be threaded through.   The stone displayed a powerful bison with flames along the head and back.  Dream Seeker wore the stone around his neck believing the stone to be a symbol of the spirit world he had visited.  Dream Seeker died in his fifty-fifth year. As was the custom of his people his body was moved out into the arid land.  The spirit stone as his people came to call it, still around his neck. 

2000 BC - Hunter/Gatherer/Traders




Desert plant
Talks-in-Sleep was searching for some chert with his mother and siblings.  They had found twenty good pieces to trade.  The last winter season had been rough and his youngest brother had caught the dying cough.  While searching for chert, Talks-in-Sleep had found a rabbit hiding under the bear grass.  He had seen that the bear grass seeds were ready and had taken a step towards the plant when he saw the rabbit.  He knew that he had to be within twenty feet to have a chance of hitting the rabbit with his first throw.  Chances of hitting it with a second throw depended more on luck.  Talks-in-Sleep had two pieces of chert in his hand.  Watching the rabbit he took a small step forward.  Moving very slowly he got closer and closer.  Deciding it was time to make his throw, he moved his arm back.  Just as he started to make his throw the rabbit took off.  The throw was clean and smooth and the rock hit the rabbit hard in the middle of its back knocking it off its feet.  As fast as the rabbit scrambled, Talks-in-Sleep was faster and closed the distance.  The rabbit ran towards its hole with Talks-in-Sleep in close pursuit.  The rabbit’s head entered the hole just as Talks-in-Sleep’s hand close over the rabbit’s back legs.  The boy had jumped the last five feet stretching out to grab the rabbit.  He felt his hand wrap around the rabbit’s feet as his face and head crashed into the dirt and rocks around the hole. Pulling the rabbit from the hole, he noticed a stone with blood on it.  Looking closer at the stone, he saw the head of a bison with his blood highlighting the flames.  Talks-in-Sleep took the rabbit, the bear grass plant including roots, chert, and the painted stone to his family.  While his mom prepared the rabbit, Talks-in-Sleep wove the bear grass leaves into a basket.  The roots of the bear grass would make a good trade item.  Talks-in-Sleep wiped his blood across the stone.  Believing the stone needed blood to bring him good luck, Talks-in-Sleep wrapped the stone in the rabbit’s fur and carried it with him for rest of his life.

1532 AD Spanish Explorer


Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca
Ranging far to the south of their native land the Jumanos had followed a massive herd of bison and avoided the raiding Apaches.  Traveling lightly they had taken several older bison that could no longer run very well.  The Jumanos watched as a small group of ragged Spaniards approached the camp.  The Spaniards stopped outside of camp and waited to be invited.  At first the Spaniards were driven from the camp area, but they kept coming back and stopping on the edge.  Taking out a knife as enticement, the Spaniards began carving the scant remains off a scavenged bison bone.  As twilight was approaching Speaks in Whisper invited the Spaniards to his camp.  Offering the scant pieces of meat to their guest, the Spaniards were given bowls of roasted bison tongue.  Speaks in Whisper’s wife took the meats scraps laughed and threw them into the cook pot.  Speaks in Whisper could only talk in a soft voice due to an injury when he was young.  Sitting next to the leader Alvar Nunez of the Spaniards, they spoke until late in the night.  Speaks in Whisper told of the tribe escaping the Apaches, of the people lost, of the land to the north, of the other tribes he had met in his days of trading.  Alvar Nunez spoke of his homeland. 

Alvar had a habit of using a stick to dig into the ground while he talked.  As he scraped and poked the ground he told of his crossing of the Atlantic Ocean.  Speaks in Whisper listened to the amazing words of this strange man.  He watched the man’s body language and recognized the pains and hardships that were suffered.  He watched as different moments of suffering and loss caused Nunez to dig further into the soil.  Speaks in Whisper was the first to see the stone come into view.  As the stick rolled the stone over Speaks in Whisper could see the firelight shine on the bison’s flames.  Speaks in whisper recognized the stone as a medicine stone from the old ones, a powerful stone.  He continued to listen to the Spaniard’s words as the stick continued to roll the stone around in the little pit that he had dug.  Speaks in Whisper knew the Spaniard was now talking to his lost friends and companions.  The look of seeing the past was on the Spaniards face and he did not disturb him.  After a while the Spaniard grew quiet and began to watch the Jumanos camp as other members prepared for sleep.  For the first time, he noticed the stone.  Reaching down Alvar picked up the stone and held it up to the firelight.  He could see the bison with the flames on his back.  Catching a look at Speaks in Whispers face, Alvar knew he had something to trade for more food and supplies for his men.   Alvar and his men spent many days with the Jumano people until a final trade was made and he continued his travels to Mexico.

1830 - Mexican caballero


Cattle in Texas brush country
Julio tossed the end of his lariat at the bull’s head.  The bull stood under a cedar with no way for the caballero to get his lariat over the horns.  He didn’t want to rope the bull anyway, just get him moving towards the other cattle.  The bull’s horns spread twelve feet from tip to tip.  Coiling the lariat, Julio watched the bull.  It was never good to take your eyes off the wild longhorn cattle in the Texas brush country.  Julio noticed the attention his horse also gave the bull.  Flicking the lariat out again, the end smacked hard between the bull’s eyes.  Roaring, the bull recoiled away from the lariat.   Spurring the horse and coiling the rope in one practiced motion he soon had the bull headed toward the other cattle.  Julio and his fellow horsemen had rounded up over a thousand head of longhorns and had them headed south. 

Julio noticed the Tickanwatic were in camp trading.  He rode by the blankets spread out showing the deer, skins, fish, and other items up for trade.  Tonkawas as they were known by the local ranchers wanted steel, knifes or hatchets.  Julio noticed one group had spread out a collection of pots, reed baskets, and other items.  In particular was a painted stone.  Passing on down the line he turned his horse loose into the remuda and walked to the fire for dinner.  There were a dozen seasoned caballeros around the camp eating their meal.

Pico Juan hurried into camp placing something into his bedroll.  Pico Juan was the cook’s helper, a ten-year-old orphan who was hired on for the round up.  Shortly, several angry Tonkawas children came into the camp circle closely followed by some adults.  One big fellow walked up to Pico Juan and held out his hand palm up.  After much finger pointing and confusion, the story came out that Pico Juan had taken a charm without trading for it.  Pico Juan shook his head and denied taking anything.  The big fellow reached out and grabbed Pico Juan by his arm.  As one, the caballeros rose and stepped forward.  A few caballeros had found reasons to pull out thin knives to begin cleaning their fingernails or rubbing their whiskers in preparation of shaving.  The Tonkawa looked around at the group.  The tension was thick as each group eyed the other.  The big fellow looked down at Pico Juan his expression showing his contempt.  Eventually, he walked away and the caballeros put away their knives.

Pico Juan was all smiles as he walked around camp collecting plates and cups.  As Pico Juan came to Julio, Julio did not smile at him, as was Julio’s custom.  Julio invited Pico to come sit with him after his chores were done. 

Pico Juan came to him as twilight came over the region.  Pico was carrying a biscuit and a piece of meat.   Handing Julio the biscut and meat, Pico said “To eat later, when you are watching the herd.”  Pointing to a spot, Julio asked Pico to sit with him.  They spoke of the stars, the cattle, and the food for a while.  “I was so proud when the caballeros stood up for me today” smiled Pico.

Shaking his head slowly, “Pico, they did not stand up for you.”

Looking confused, “I do not understand, when the big Tonkawa grabbed me, they were willing to fight for me.”

“Pico these men, they were willing to fight because the big fellow had come into their camp and insulted them.  You are not a caballero.  Pico, it is a hard life being a Caballero.  We are a very proud people.  Each caballero here has earned the right and trust of his fellow caballeros.  They would fight and die without questioning their fellow man.  But with this trust comes a responsibility, each man knows that none of them would do anything to disgrace the others.  Therefore, there is no need to doubt the actions of the others.”

That night while rolled up in his bed, Pico Juan fingered the painted stone.  He had longed for the stone for a long time.  He could see the flames flickering as the shadows cross the stone.  Pico had watched as the Tonkawa man and child had traded hoping no one would take the stone.  The man had traded for a knife, as he turned to put away the knife, Pico had grabbed the stone.  Pico thought now of Julio’s words.  He heard Julio prepare and leave for his time with the herd.  Pico was still thinking as he heard Julio return.  Pico desired nothing more than to be a caballero, to feel the pride of sitting his horse, or to hear the swish of the lariat as it flew through the air. 

The next morning while helping with breakfast, Pico saw the big Indian return with a deer for the cook.  Walking up to the Indian, Pico held out the painted stone.  The Indian took the stone and walked away.  Julio sat eating his breakfast and watched the return of the charm.

A week later, Julio laid out the charm in front Pico Juan.  “What would you trade me for this?”

When Pico Juan was a grandfather he had often talked of his painted stone and had explained to his sons and grandsons how he had brushed and tended to Julio’s horse for thirty days and the reasons why Caballeros were a proud people.

Pico Juan proudly wore the painted stone for the next twenty years until he and his horse got caught in a flashflood.  While he had been able to scramble up the side of the ravine with a broken leg, the rawhide thong holding his stone had parted.  He had searched for many days afterwards and over the many years had often taken trips to search.  The stone was lost.

1862 - Civil War soldier

A young farmer whispered, “Where do you think we are headed?” to the tall lanky teenager marching beside him.  Christian Wells was three inches over six feet.  Christian was a head taller than most of the other soldiers and considered the unofficial squad leader in the 4th Texas Mounted Rifles.  The soldiers in his squad were all from Victoria area.  They had crossed into New Mexico several days ago and were wondering if the march would ever stop. The commanding officer was General Henry Hopkins Sibley and he cast a dashing figure while trotting his horse up at the front of the ranks.  No one was supposed to be talking while we were in formation, but since they hadn’t seen so much as a lizard moving around in this heat, everyone was talking.  That is as long as Colonel Green didn’t catch them talking.  Green was a stickler for the rules and if he caught someone messing around, he had all kinds of special duties such as pulling guard duty during the wee hours of the morning.  Whispering back after checking to see that Green was still at the front of the column Christian said, “I heard one of the cooks say that they had heard it was El Paso.  That one kid from Matagorda, he keeps saying it’s Santa Fe and then onto San Francisco, but nobody believes him.” 

Albert Allcot was the young farmer, who thought the Confederate Army was his escape from a life behind the plow. “If they catch him talking about the letters he’s carrying, they going to skin him alive. Besides why would we be going to San Francisco?  All the fighting is over in east!”

Having no answer, Christian focused on the rider in front of him and tried to not think.  He reached inside of his shirt and felt the stone.  They had been several days out of San Antonio when he found the stone.

While the rest of the squad went to collect the food and water from the supply wagon, Christian went in search of firewood.  He had found a large wood pile near a ravine and began pulling several large pieces free.  As he pulled another limb free he noticed a piece of stone dangling from a rawhide.  The rawhide was wrapped up in the branches.  Untangling the rawhide he could see the stone was painted with the figure of a buffalo on fire. 

That night, word went through the camp that they would be attacking the Union held Fort Craig tomorrow.  Christian toyed with the stone all through dinner.  Checking on his horse after dinner he turned into bed while many were speculating on the upcoming battle. 

The next morning with a cold breeze blowing from the north, the army approached Fort Craig.  For three days the Fort Craig commander Colonel Canby played cat and mouse.  Sibley not willing to attack and Canby would not leave the fort. 

On the fourth day, Christian and the 4th Texas Mounted Rifles were dispatched to the ford at Valverde which was east of the fort to block any supplies reaching the fort.  The 4th was surprised to find Union soldiers already at the ford. 


Ruins of Fort Craig
Christian felt the bullet tuck on the brim of his hat as he dove for cover in the dry creek bed.  Piling up rocks in front of him, Christian readied his pistols for the attack.  Throughout the day the battle continue to wage with neither side gaining an advantage.  Canby sent reinforcement to attack the confederate flank while Colonel Green organized counterattacks.  Christian’s and the 4th were ordered to attack and take artillery guns which had been firing upon the confederates.  On the third wave Christian’s and the 4th were able to break through and capture the guns.  With the Union line broken, Canby ordered retreat back to the fort. 

Christian went on to take part in the battles of Glorieta, skirmishes at Albuquerque and Peralta.  As the losses to the confederate army began to pile up, over 800 men were lost before the army returned to Texas, Christian began to have a spiritual dependence on the painted stone.  Before each battle he would confirm the stone was located over his heart.    

A year later, Christian was in Galveston when the confederates retook the city.  He traveled on to participate in battles on the Red River, Sabine Cross Roads, and Pleasant Hill, and other skirmishes as far east as Valdalia on the Mississippi River.  In all battles, Christian held the painted stone and took confidence in having it next to him. 

Christian was back in Houston, Texas when the surrender of the Confederate army was completed.  A battle weary Christian traveled west to raise cattle in the Big Bend area of Texas.  In his travels he found the ravages that took place upon the Texas settlers by the roaming bands of Comanche.  Christian joined the Texas Rangers for a few years before finally falling to a lifetime of skirmishes and the stone was lost for a while.  

1884 - Silver miner


Presidio Mine
Shaun MacGaffney was walking in the twilight.  He was frustrated from thoughts of the mine.  Kicking out at a group of debris from the mine he noticed a piece of limestone half buried in the rubble.  Noticing the hole at one end with an old piece of rawhide, he reached down and picked up the stone.  Turning the stone over Shaun saw the painting on the stone.  Spitting on the stone, he rubbed it between his fingers.  The caked on mud fell away to show the bison drawing.   Shaun was a trained geologist who was working for the Presidio Mining Company in the town of Shafter, Texas.   Shaun recognized the limestone rock as an Indian artifact.  The stone had a small hand drilled hole at the top for a string to be threaded through.   Walking on and turning the stone over and over his mind forgot about the mine troubles and he began to relax for a while.  Sticking the stone in his pocket, Shaun walked back to the new mining town.  Sitting at a table in his canvas home, Shaun placed the stone on the table next to his plate.  Shaun was from New York and this was his first job as lead geologist.  The team had been working the mine for over a month with little to show for the efforts.  Taking a corner of his napkin, he dipped it in his coffee and cleaned the stones surface.  After a few strokes the stone’s image became clear.  In the candlelight, the flames seem to dance across the bison’s back. 

Waking with a start, Shaun realized he had fallen asleep in bed watching the light flicker across the stone.  He got up and prepared himself for the day ahead.  As he headed out of the tent, on impulse he grabbed the stone.  Each morning he collected samples of rock from the mine’s digging.  Although at first glance this morning’s results looked the same as any of the previous mornings, Shaun noticed a slight difference in a few of the samples.  Ordering the miners to dig at the sight of the new samples, the miners began to find richer ore within a few feet.  By the evening shift, the ore began steady improve.  At the end of the next week, the mine had produced more silver than all the previous months combined.

Shaun left the mine in 1887 when arguments became heated over ownership rights.  Shaun carried the painted stone with him everywhere he went for the next fifteen years.  He traveled down to Mexico and South America, working sulfur and tin mines.  In 1902, while traveling across New Mexico his stage was held up and the robbers used his travel bag to hold the money and watches they collected.  While riding away from the stage, the stage driver took a shot at the fleeing bandit.  Unknown to the driver, the bandit was creased along his right leg by the bullet.  In two weeks the bandit was dead from gangrene poisoning from the wound, having not spent any of his collected money.

1903 – Texas ranch hand


1892 Woodmanse Steel Back-Geared Mill
Bill Watson wiped the sweat from his eyes as he paused from digging.  Looking out over the Spade Ranch’s range, he could see the cattle heading toward the well.  In the past week, they had dug the well they now called Kate and set up a windmill.  They were now putting on the finishing touches on the water tank to hold the water flowing out from Kate.   Bill was sixteen and had been born on the ranch.  His father was one of the first cattlemen that Baldy and Dave had hired together when they took over running the ranch.  No one could remember how the brand had been chosen, the Spade brand looked like a shovel or spade.  With the cattle coming in for the evening, Bill walked over to bundle he had found earlier.  Riding up to the well this morning, Bill had found the bones of a man lying in a small shelter of rocks.  The bones had been scattered and only a few were still recognizable as human.  Bill had found a small bag among some other gear.  Opening the bag he had hope to find something showing the name of the deceased.  Instead, he had only found a few crumbled paper dollars, twenty-five dollars in coins, some watches, and a limestone rock. 

With nothing to identify the remains, Bill dug a small grave and placed all the bones he could find.  He started to put the stone in with the bones, but decided it along with the watches and money probably didn’t belong to the man. 

Bill and three other workers were digging wells along the entire length of the fifty-four mile long Spade Ranch.  Bill was to meet up with the crew after finishing up the final touches on this well.  They had dug eleven wells so far and figure on three more before they were done.  Bill looked at the burning bison and wondered about its size.  There were very few buffalo still out on the open range.  The Spade Ranch ran Red Durham cattle and the few remaining buffalo were not welcome.  The ranchers figured they ate grass and drank water that the cattle needed.  Still Bill was amazed when he came across one, their huge heads and bodies.  Taking a piece of rawhide, Bill ran a line through the hole in the stone and tied it to his saddle horn.  For the next thirty-five years, Bill had the stone on his saddle as he rode the 540 square miles covering the ranch.  At fifty-six Bill had seen the many changes going on with the ranch.  The Red Durham cattle were replaced by Hereford Bulls, which could handle the arid country better.  Bill had a devotion to each of the fourteen wells he had cared for over the years.  The owners were now completing the sell of the ranch to farmers.  With the money he had found at Kate’s well, Bill had been able to purchase a small plot and now raised his own cattle.  

One evening while unsaddling his horse, Bill noticed the firestone was gone.  The strip of rawhide had parted at some time during the day.  Bill retraced his steps the next day looking for the stone, but never found it.  That night, Bill raises his beer in salute to the stone, he thank it for sharing its luck with him for so many years and wished good look to whoever found it next.

2012 – Modern Family

The little girl was walking along a trail with her mom and dad.  They were out for a beautiful Sunday walk when the little girl spotted a jumble of rocks.  She reached down to pick up the painted stone.  The ever vigilant mom, pulled her back from the pile of debris, “Don’t pick that up dear, you don’t know where it’s been.”

The Painted Stone

While all of the tribes, ranches, mines, and civil war battles are actual occurrences, with the exception Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca and the Civil War story, all the characters displayed in the stories are fiction.  Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca is a Spanish explorer who suffered extreme hardships in his travels from Florida to Mexico.  The Spade Ranch has the honor of being one of the oldest ranches in Texas.  In the Civil War story, Fort Craig and the battle at Valverde, NM were a real battle and the characters true people who fought and commanded in the battle.  Presidio Mine was a real Texas silver mine.  The Tonkawas and Jumanos tribes as well as other tribes can be researched on the network.  I highly recommend reading of the factual events as researched by dedicated scholars. 

The author,
Charles Zipprian