Rachel Kindred was a teenage mom with a toddler at her skirt as she put out the last campfire one night in 1844. She and her family were part of the Bush-Simons party headed across the Great Plains from St. Joseph, Missouri to Oregon and the Pacific Northwest.
As she poked the dying coals and the amber igloo of firelight surrounding her melted, she realized to her horror that her little boy had vanished, lost in the all-encompassing dark. She roused her camp and everyone searched, but by sunrise it was silently understood that the child was gone, taken by the wild creatures that prowl at night.
At daylight the wagons were loaded and by noon they were five miles along, moving steadily at the strong pace of an ox team.
Days later, perhaps a hundred sad miles along the trail, one of the teamsters spotted a lone rider approaching the wagons. The rider stopped in a dust cloud just beyond rifle distance, wheeled his horse around and raced away.
Puzzled, the whole party focused on the rider’s cloud. As the dust settled, they recognized a small standing figure there on the prairie.
Rachel reached him first. There was her son, but he was not dressed in the attire she had last seen him in. Instead, he wore a beautiful beaded and fringed leather shirt with matching beaded moccasins, and his hair was braided and greased with buffalo fat. He was still smiling from his great adventure with friends.
As the story goes, one day in the 1920’s, a curator at the Washington State History Museum in Tacoma rushed in late to an appointment he had made weeks before with a very old gentleman holding a plain paper bag. The curator watched as the man’s weathered hands opened the bag and pulled out a tiny beaded shirt and moccasins. The curator recognized them immediately as artistry of the Plains tribes from the days before the Indian War.
The old gentleman was making a donation, and with a smile, passed along the story of his great adventure when he was very young.