Red Moon was searching for duck eggs among the marsh reeds when she found the leather pouch. She would have known it was a white man’s bag even if she had not already seen the hoof marks of a shod horse—a hard-running horse, too, from the depth of the tracks. But they were three days old so she was not afraid.
The bag was as stiff as wood, not soft and pliable like Indian leather. Red Moon found a dry knoll, carefully laid the eggs on soft grass, and sat down to examine her find. She traced the letters USC with her finger, thinking it was only a strange design.
The United States Cavalry messenger’s pouch was closed with a heavy metal buckle and strap. The Indian girl’s eyes sparkled with excitement as her nimble fingers struggled with the stiff leather. She hoped the bag would contain colorful glass beads or perhaps some red or blue lengths of ribbon.
Red Moon sighed with disappointment when only letters and dispatches slid out. She turned the pouch upside down and shook it, but there was nothing more.
Oh, well. It will make a nice carrier for my eggs, she decided with a sigh. She packed the large eggs between layers of grass, slung the strap over her shoulder, and started home.
Red Moon did not know it, but among the scattered papers she left behind was one very important message concerning her tribe. It was a dispatch from Washington, ordering that the peaceful Indians be permitted to remain on their land.
The girl was puzzled and uneasy when she again found the tracks of the white man’s horse. Is he sick or perhaps crazed from the sun? she wondered. She had already crossed his trail several times. He had backtracked and ridden in circles. Not even a white man could be that lost! she thought.
“The pouch! He must have crossed back and forth searching for it,” Red Moon murmured. “But he could easily make another bag.” It must be the paper packets with the strange squiggly marks that he’s so anxious to find, she thought.
It was a long way back to the marsh, but the girl retraced her steps. She gathered up the loose papers and tucked them into her blouse. It wasn’t likely that she would ever meet the man or be able to return them, but she had saved them from being blown into the water and destroyed.
Her heart grew heavy as she approached her village. The tribe would be leaving this beautiful site soon, and not for just a hunting season. This time they would never return! Soldiers had come. They said her people must go farther north than they had ever been and remain there. It was a desolate place where snows were deep and summers short.
Red Moon disliked cold weather. She could not understand why her people were being forced to leave their land. Her tribe had never preyed on wagon trains nor fought with the white soldiers. It was Black Buffalo and his braves from a neighboring tribe who were so troublesome. But the soldiers could not seem to distinguish one red man from another. The powerful white chief had decreed that all the tribes would be moved. It was tragic and unfair for all to be punished when so few were guilty.
An air of gloom and sorrow hung like a cloud over the little settlement of tepees along a sparkling brook. The Indian girl sighed and went directly to her family’s wigwam. No one was there so she put the eggs in a basket. Then she tucked the papers in the pouch, put it under her sleeping robe, and forgot about them.
A week later soldiers rode into the village. The officer in charge told Chief Wetaug to prepare to move his people. The chief’s appeal to stay here had not been answered. The tall white man inquired about a leather bag that had been lost by one of his messengers.
“The pouch! The one I found!” Red Moon gasped from her hiding place behind the chief’s lodge. He can’t have it! she decided. Why should I return it? The white soldiers are cruel. They’re driving us from our land, so I owe them no favors.
But her conscience bothered her as the white officer’s words were translated. The pouch did not belong to her. Keeping it would be the same as stealing it. And besides, some of the papers were letters to lonely soldiers who had not seen their families for one or two years.
Red Moon’s heart hammered with dread as she walked forward with the leather pouch and laid it on the buffalo robe of the surprised chief. Then she turned and ran away into the trees, afraid of the soldiers’ long guns and clanking swords.
It was the throbbing drums and dancing that drew Red Moon back to her rejoicing village. The officer had gone through the bag and discovered the dispatch that would allow them to remain free on their land. Only Black Buffalo’s tribe would be moved.
Red Moon shuddered as she thought how close, out of spite, she had come to keeping the pouch. If she had not returned it, her people would have been relocated in the north by the time another message of reprieve could be sent.
Red Moon would remember the lost pouch all her life!