The following is a fragment of a novel-in-progress called An American History.
“This is not life,” White Coyote said to his father, who was the chief of their tribe, as the two men formed bricks out of mud and straw, “Why do we do this?”
“We do this because we must, my son, to survive.”
White Coyote stood for a moment, looking at the half-built monstrous structure, what was to be called Mission San Gabriel, and the newly-tilled lands around it. He watched his overseer, the fancy man on the horse, looking down on the Kizh people as they worked the land.
“What will we do when we finish this building?” White Coyote asked his father, bitterly, “Hide from the world?”
“We will live, my son.”
“This is not life, father. To dig up the ground, to build a monstrosity of earth, to pray to the white God, to abandon the traditions of our ancestors, to plant trees that are not meant to grow here, to force the animals behind fences.”
“Juan Avila!” a voice called from behind, “Get back to work!”
It was Pedro Nieto, the Spanish soldier and overseer of the mission’s workers.
“My name is not Juan Avila,” White Coyote said. Juan Avila was the name he was given when he was Christened at the mission.
The soldier rode right beside White Coyote, one hand on his musket. “Excuse me?” he shouted angrily.
“My name is not Juan Avila,” White Coyote repeated.
“Would you like to spend another night in the stocks, Juan?”
The anger burned in White Coyote’s heart, a fire he feared he could not control. A great rage at a life that had been taken from his people. He wanted to rise up, throw himself at the soldier, beat him down into the mud. White Coyote looked at his father, who was shaking his head, as if to say, “Please, my son. Do not do what is in your heart.” White Coyote’s back bore the scars of numerous floggings, his wrists the scars of many nights in the stocks. What does it matter, he thought, if I am confined to work or confined to the stocks? This is not life.
“I would like to spend a night in the open fields, far from this place of death,” White Coyote said, defiantly.
“The stocks it is, Juanito!” the soldier said, and the last thing White Coyote saw was his father’s sad face before the butt end of the musket cracked down on his head and knocked him out cold.
While he was unconscious and being dragged to the stocks, White Coyote dreamed. He dreamed he was with his father and brother, fishing in a canoe they had made together. They rode the ocean waves, and White Coyote eagerly held his spear. He couldn’t wait to impress his father with a big fish. They rowed together, feeling free and alive, the salty air on their faces. They were three proud men, from a long line of chiefs, stretching back generations.
He was awoken from his dream with a splash of water on his face, and found his arms and neck bolted into the familiar wooden stocks. His back ached and his head throbbed.
“What’s your name, amigo?” the soldier asked.
“My name is White Coyote and I come from a long line of chiefs.”
“Wrong answer, amigo,” the soldier said, and crack went the whip on the young man’s back.
“Como te llamas?”
This time, instead of the whip, the young man in the stocks heard the familiar, calm voice of Father Boscana.
“My son, you have been given a new name. You have been redeemed by Christ.”
“It means you have been given a new life in Christ.”
“This is not life. Maybe for you this is life, but for my people it is misery.”
“It’s no use, father,” the soldier said, “This dirt worshipper is beyond saving.”
“It is YOU who are beyond saving!” White Coyote shouted back, and now there were tears in his eyes, tears of rage, “You have taken EVERYTHING from us, our lands, our traditions, our freedom. EVERYTHING! Simply because you have those guns and big ships and horses, but you do not know how to live. You do not know anything!”
The soldier made a move to strike White Coyote, but the father put up his hand to restrain him.
“I will pray for you, my son,” Father Boscana said gently, and walked away.
“You are not my father! Pray for yourself!” White Coyote shouted.
With the Father gone, the soldier continued his flogging, until the young son of the Chief fell unconscious again, his arms outstretched in the wooden stocks, his body limp and bleeding.
For further reading:
A Brief History of the Tongva Tribe by Roseanne Welch (Claremont College)