Indian Lesson


Kristina sat on the milk stool in front of the fireplace, warming her hands.

“Remember, tonight is the night for our family hour,” Mama Brigham said as she stirred the stew in the big black kettle.

“Do we have to have it?” Kristina asked.

“Kristina Margaret Brigham!” Mama exclaimed. “You know what President Young has told us about having our family hour!”

“But with all of the little kids, it isn’t much fun,” Kristina complained.

Kristina, twelve, was the oldest of six girls, and it seemed to her that Papa always prepared the evening for the younger ones. It’s always the same old thing, Kristina thought as she got the plates out of the pie safe.

After dinner Kristina sat obediently in the big rocker. Lucky Carolyn, she thought, her father doesn’t make them have family hour!

“Tonight,” Papa began, “we’re going to talk about the Indians.”

Kristina sat back in the chair, trying to hide her boredom.

Father continued, “You know President Young has told us to share with the Indians. The missionaries have been teaching them our ways, but to show that we want to be their friends, we should also learn some of their ways. Tonight we’re going to learn some of their sign language.”

Kristina only half listened as Papa showed them the signs and explained what they meant. She wished President Young hadn’t told families to have an hour each week where important things could be discussed and everyone could grow and learn together. Kristina didn’t think Indian language was something she needed to know. The Indians came to Dover only when they were hungry or when there had been trouble. They hadn’t been near for over a year. And there were so many other things she’d like to be doing.

That night as Kristina was getting ready for bed, Mama stopped her. “Kristina,” she said, “remember, tomorrow is the day I want you to take the bread, butter, and cheese to Sister Adams. She is still sick.”

“I remember,” Kristina smiled. “I’m even glad. I wanted to go riding tomorrow anyway. I asked Carolyn to go with me.”

“It’s a long trip. I wish your father could go, but he’s too busy this time of year. Thank you for going.”

The next morning Kristina got up with the sun, as usual. The small room was cold, so she quickly threw on her clothes and ran downstairs to warm herself by the big fireplace.

“Your papa keeps promising a stove,” Mama said, as she stirred the mush in the big kettle. “I hope it comes soon.”

“It will, Mama,” Kristina said, as she kissed her mother on the cheek and started to set the table.

Kristina rode alone for nearly a mile on a narrow dirt path before she reached the Larson cabin, where she stopped for Carolyn.

It was a ten-mile ride through sagebrush-covered hills to the Adams’ cabin. The girls laughed, sang, and played games. Before they knew it, they saw Brother Adams chopping wood in front of his cabin.

They found Sister Adams sitting up in bed. “Well, hello!” she welcomed them. “It’s so good to see you.

“Stay for lunch,” Sister Adams insisted. “You’re the only visitors I’ve had since I took sick, and you must keep me company.”

“Well, only if you let us cook,” Kristina said.

Soon the girls had the fire going, and the sweet smell of beef stew filled the cabin. Brother and Sister Adams were so much fun that Kristina and Carolyn forgot all about the time.

Kristina was surprised to see the sun setting as she threw the dishwater out the door.

“We were enjoying you girls so much that I forgot to pay attention to the time,” Brother Adams said. “It’s so late, maybe I’d better ride back with you.”

“We know the way,” Kristina said. “We’ll be fine.”

Brother Adams glanced at his wife, and she nodded her head. Then he explained, “The people south of here have been having Indian trouble. I think I’d better go with you.”

“We’re going north,” Kristina answered, “and we’ll be just fine.”

Brother Adams still hesitated, but finally he let the girls go alone. They rode as fast as they could while there was still some daylight, but when darkness came, they had to slow down. “I can’t even see the path!” Carolyn admitted.

“I know where we are. Don’t worry,” Kristina said. “See that light way over there. That’s home.”

“Good!” Carolyn answered as she urged her horse into a trot.

The girls rode a little further and then came to a stream. “We didn’t cross a stream this morning,” Carolyn exclaimed.

“We are just going a different way,” Kristina explained. “What else could that light be?”

Soon they were close enough to see that what they had thought was a light of home turned out to be a campfire. No one was near so the girls looked around. Suddenly five Indians jumped from behind some bushes. Carolyn screamed as two of the Indians grabbed her.

Kristina kept outwardly clam, remembering Papa’s words, “They are our friends.” Her throat was dry and her hands and knees were shaking. Then she remembered something Papa had said at family hour. With shaking hands she carefully motioned to them in sign language, “I am your friend.”

The tall Indian said something to the others. The only word Kristina understood was Mormon. They put Carolyn down, and the tall one made the sign that said “friend.” Kristina nodded her head.

“Go!” he said in English. Kristina could not remember anything else from the family hour. Oh, I wish I had listened last night, she thought. All she could think to do was shrug her shoulders and nod her head, but somehow the Indians seemed to know what she meant.

The tall Indian got on his horse and signaled for the girls to follow him.

“Where is he taking us?” Carolyn’s voice shook.

“I don’t know. But they’re our friends,” Kristina said. “Let’s just follow him.”

Finally they reached the top of a hill. At the bottom the girls could see a cluster of cabins. The Indians stopped and pointed.

“Oh, thank you!” Kristina said. She could feel the tears starting down her cheeks as she spurred her horse on. Carolyn’s parents were waiting at the Brigham cabin with Kristina’s family.

“Oh, Kristina,” Mama Brigham cried as she hugged her daughter. “I’m so glad you’re home!”

Quickly the girls told their story. Father Brigham smiled. “We’ve always treated the Indians fairly. They know we wouldn’t burn their village. We’re friends, so they helped you.”

“How did they know we’re Mormons?” Carolyn asked.

“We’ve reached out to them as friends in many ways, one of which is by learning some of their language,” Papa answered. “That’s why we talked about it last night at our family hour.”

“You know,” Brother Larson said, “I haven’t been having my family hour, but we’re going to start it this very night.”

[illustrations] Illustrated by Jerry Thompson