Artwork: Museum of the Beartooths in Columbus, Montana

Martin’s Midnight Frolic

Who are these people? To whom do they belong?
Scanning the sparse grass, you notice
leather boots and moccasins, the unprepared ground,
stones big enough to trip a running child or horse.

A tall bottle next to what might be a drunkard’s feet.
So little joy in their expressions for something
called a frolic. 45 years after the Greasy Grass defeat
just east of here, then famine, the awful sickening,

the allotments. This rodeo is maybe an uneasy truce.
Cowboy bronc riding. Squaw racing
is on the bill. The Crow knew by then about abuse
at the boarding schools. By 1900, most Native

children were enrolled. It is July Fourth in Absarokee,
Montana, but everyone wears wool blankets
or coats. The white men smirk at the camera, wary
of being tricked. Lopsided bowties at their necks.

Three in white aprons and toques blanche: the cooks.
Next to them, two trombones, a snare, a tuba.
A few of the musicians are laughing, as if sharing a joke—
trumpets, clarinets, cornets, a bass drum, and bugles.

Tickets cost $1.25 per adult and 65 cents for children.
7,000 people came, lured by the promise of beer
and ice cream. It was the state’s biggest event up to then,
a break from the hard work required at the frontier.

Fanny Blackbird, William Big Day, Alex Plainfeather.
You know who they are because someone knows
them today. Sim Boot Tail and George, father or brother?
Old Crane. Walter Chief. Joe Gun. Oliver Lion Show.

It is written that, when they first arrived at the Carlisle
school, each child was given a pointer and told
to pick an English name, though it would be a while
before they learned to read. Of all the names they stole,

which ones survived? A beautiful clutch of girls, halfsmiling,
in skirts, hold hands under their overlong sleeves.
They lean close like grass stems, wide-eyed as calves,
sly with wonder. They alone seem most ready to believe

Melissa Kwasny