Buying A Stone
By Ken Leland
Four of us were returning to town at the end of a glorious, autumn day. My cousin John took the Indiana back roads, driving at about thirty with his foot poised over the brake pedal. His wife Rose glanced anxiously into the tall, yellow corn.
There they were in an empty soybean field, three deer grazing next to the tree line. John slowed right down.
“This year’s fawns,” my wife Susan whispered. “Beautiful.”
Rose turned to us from the front seat. “In April I was coming
home on the highway. Doing about sixty I guess. A doe ran out. She hit the wind shield and I rolled the car. Thank goodness for seat belts.”
John glanced over at her, but quickly returned to scanning the roadside.
“Look there.” he said. “Five more! One’s a buck.”
The stag led his harem across our path to concealment in a
“Forty years ago. Forty years!” I said. “John, there were no
deer when we were boys.”
“Oh, they’ve been around for a while now. More every year. And wild turkeys and coyotes. Farmers say wolves are taking the odd sheep and young pig. Hard to believe how things have changed.”
The count was thirty-four by the time we reached Shishibes Lake. It was almost dark.
“Want to say hello to the old Chief?” John asked.
We pulled over next to the grassy, half acre memorial. Atop a pedestal in the little park was a white limestone statue of Menomni (Wild Rice Gatherer). A carved Plains headdress fell to his shoulders. He gazed without expression into the southwest.
“No one remembers what a Potawatomi looked like,” Susan
“I always think he’s watching his people leave,” Rose said.
“Our great, great grandfather,” John said to me. “He was here then.”
“Militia must have driven them right past the farm gate.”
“Probably,” John said. Then, “I want to show you a grave.”
“Oh, honey,” Rose said. “It’s dark. They don’t want to go
traipsing round a cemetery at night.”
“No – it’s alright,” I said.
Susan was a bit dubious but John had a flashlight.
“My Mom and Dad are buried just over there.” John shone the
light towards a huge maple. “But look at this.”
“Thomas Bear, 1859,” the clean, chiselled legend read. “Rest in the soil of thy birth.”
“Who’s that?” Susan asked. “Is he family?”
“Let your husband figure it out,” John said.
“Bear. Bear Clan? Shishibes Lake, Bear Clan?”
Rose smiled. “Good start.”
“1859? He must have been forced out in the Removal. But he came back.” I paused for a while till I understood. “He came back to die.”
“That’s what we think.”
“But the stone. The gravestone’s brand new.”
“The burial notice was in an old newspaper. The marker, wherever it was, is long gone so the Historical Society held a fundraiser. This plot was donated anonymously.”
“You and John donated the plot?”
“Yes,” Rose admitted.
We looked at the headstone for a while after John switched off the light. The half moon cast waist-high shadows. Outside the cemetery, car headlights rounded the curve on the road into town.
Finally, I asked, “John, is this what you and Rose think I should do?”
“Well, yes. You had to leave then, but you could come back now, if you wanted.”
Then he laughed. “Of course, it might be another hundred and fifty years before anyone buys you a stone.”
From 'Harvest Time,' published by Inwood Indiana, 2012, copyright by Ken Leland.