One day Hotsko was in a field, gathering grain with her mother. A summer storm quickly came up, catching them away from shelter. The two huddled under the protection of a lone oak tree at the edge of the field. They were trying to stay dry, but the wind was blowing, the rain falling heavily, coming sideways so that the drops from the force of the wind were stinging their faces.
Hotsko was afraid and wandered away from her mother. Suddenly, she looked to the sky and cried out. At that moment, a large bolt of lightning came from the clouds and struck the ground nearby. The falling rain immediately turned into a fine mist tasting of bitter salt, and the mother’s skin felt cleansed of all impurities, as if she had taken a bath in one of the hot springs she had once visited.
Instantly, Hotsko was rendered unconscious, and she lay there for a time before her mother rushed to see if she was still breathingif she was, in fact, still alive. Sensing a faint heartbeat and listening for the girl’s shallow breathing, her mother picked her up and ran back to their village.
There, for the next several days, Hotsko lay unconscious. The tribal medicine man and the woman of herbs prayed over her. Her mother and father wept uncontrollably, as this was their only child. Others in the village offered up prayers for the awakening of the little girl.
On the fifth day, in the early morning, somehow a miracle happened. Hotsko awoke and asked for a drink of water. She then told of the dreams that she haddreams of a great famine of her people, a vision of hot, dry summers and failed harvests, and of brutally cold winters with no game. She had also been visited by a spirit from many years past; this spirit spoke to her of how the rains could be summoned but warned Hotsko that misuse of the gift she was to receive would cause much pain and hardship to both her and her people.
Later that night, in the comfort of her family’s hovel, she told her mother and father that the spirit had also spoken to her of ways to cause the rains to come. She was given a simple prayer that could be offered with rain to follow in three days’ time. However, she was never to reveal the prayer to anyone, not even to her mother and father, nor to the elders of her village, and she should never utter it aloud; it was hers and hers, alone.
The following spring brought new life, and soon it was time for planting. The men and women of the village were preparing the fields for sowing the seeds of corn and beans, planting the root crops of carrots, potatoes and beets and, of course, the grasses for their animals and the grains of wheat and barley for baking. They tilled the fields, making sure that no weeds were present, and they hoped for the rains of spring that would provide the moisture necessary for germination and young plant growth.
For some reason, that year, the rains had not yet come. Hotsko heard talk around the campfire. The older men spoke of the need for rain, but they saw that none was in the sky. That night, Hotsko, lying in her bed, quietly recited the rain prayer that had been given to her in her dream. Three days later, the rains came, not in a rushing downpour, but in a gentle falling rain, which lasted off and on for several days.
The villagers were excited and prayed to the heavens in thanks for the gift of the rain. All through the growing season, whenever she heard the elders speaking of the need for rain, the little girl would offer up her prayer. Each time the result was the same gentle rainfall, lasting for several days, followed by growth of the crops. In the fall, the harvest was so abundant that the village had to construct additional areas for storage of the grain and vegetables for the winter.
This went on for several years with each season being the same; regular rainfall with abundant harvests, followed by the offering of prayers of thanksgiving for the rainfall. Several days following the most recent harvests, Hotsko actually overheard her mother and father speaking quietly of their wish to reveal their daughter’s secret. The little girl begged her mother and father not to tell of her gift for fear that the prophesy might come true, that somehow famine and hardship would fall upon the village as she had seen in her dream. However, her father insisted on telling the elders that it had been her and not the rain gods that they should be thanking.
Finally, one evening around the campfire with the elders of the village, her father spoke of his little girl’s dream. He honored her wishes by not telling them of her ability to offer the prayer, but just that she had a gift that had possibly resulted in the rainfall the village had received for their crops.
The next day the tribal chief called the elders into council. It was decided that the little girl would henceforth be called “Wuti-Yoki,” which translated means “woman of the rain.” It was not long before word spread across the territory of the existence of this gifted young girl, of this so called Wuti-Yoki, and thus began the offering of gifts to her family in return for her bringing rain for their crops as well.
The years that followed were quite busy for Wuti-Yoki. She traveled throughout the territory, visiting village after village. She would stay for a few days, and in the solitude of her surroundings, she would offer up the prayer she had been given. As before, three days would pass and the rains would come, followed by bountiful harvests.
As the young woman advanced into adulthood, she grew weary of this gift. She wanted a life of her own with children and a family, but no man had asked her to be his wife. She had not received even so much as a second glance from the young men she would meet during her travels.
One day she had just completed a visit into a remote area of the territory, when she came upon a wagon train headed west. The guide was a young man named Billy Spence, who assisted her, providing repair to her horse’s shoe that had become loose. During this brief encounter, the pair struck up a conversation. She learned that Billy was to leave the wagon train in the next town, turning them over to another guide who would take them on to their destination.
Billy learned that she was called Wuti-Yoki. She was so taken with him, and he with her that Billy agreed to come to her village to ask properly for her hand in marriage.
The next month, at the beginning of September, Billy Spence rode into her village. Everyone came out to meet him, and the young boys were excited to see this tall white man with the beautiful horse and the hand-tooled leather saddle. His dual six-guns hung from his belt and his fair hair and blue eyes were quite a novelty in the village. His skill with the six-guns amazed even some of the elders as Billy gave demonstrations of his prowess with both gun and knife. He challenged the young men to knife-throwing contests and bested them all.
After a dinner meal, around their campfire, Billy formally asked Wuti-Yoki’s father for her hand in marriage. Amidst the cheering of the village, her father agreed to the marriage. This made Wuti-Yoki very happy; at last, she could have a family of her own and would no longer have to travel from village to village feeling used and lonely.
The wedding was planned for the following three days. It would be a tribal affair, and Billy had much to learn before their wedding day. The next days would be spent in talks with the elders and the medicine man about the ways of their life. They also insisted that Billy should not take his new bride too far away from the village, as Wuti-Yoki was a key to their survival. The elders also asked that she be able to return each spring for the planting ritual and to assist with the rain that was needed.
Billy replied that he had plans for the couple to live in the next town, only a half-day’s ride from the village. There, he would become the proprietor of a feed and seed store. He told the elders that the couple would welcome family visits at any time they wished to make the journey.
On their wedding day, the village was decorated in the traditions of the clan, food of every description had been prepared, the bride had a new dress made by the women and Billy wore his best suit and a new pair of boots.
The celebration lasted all day and well into the night, as dancing demonstrations and singing of the old tribal songs were performed by most all of the women of the tribe. The men sat around the campfire, passing a pipe containing a smoke so potent that Billy was near intoxicated from only a few turns.
On the fourth day, the couple bid farewell to the village and rode away toward the town of Sweetwater. In the weeks that followed, Billy set up his store and built a cabin in the countryside beyond the hills and forest surrounding the little town. While Billy loaded and unloaded stock and made the deliveries, Wuti-Yoki provided assistance to the store’s customers. Billy was pleased and amazed by her ability to help with the chores around the store. While she could neither read nor write, she was quite adept at calculating, measuring and controlling the inventory, so that they were not long without adequate supplies to meet the growing demand from customers in town.
There was a school in the town and with a bit of coaxing, Wuti-Yoki agreed to attend long enough to learn how to read and write. It was then that Billy suggested she take a “Christian” name. Wuti-Yoki agreed and the couple decided she should be called “Sally.” Of course, she would always remain “Wuti-Yoki” to her village and her family.
The following spring, Sally became pregnant and immediately made plans for the arrival of their first child. It was early enough in her pregnancy that Sally made the ride out to her village to provide a prayer for the needed rainfall. As in years past, the rains came on the third day. After a week or so, Wuti-Yoki was making plans to return to Sweetwater when her mother asked whether she planned to have the baby at home or with her family in the village. Her mother thought that it would be better if she returned to the village to have the baby there. Sally feared this would not sit well with Billy, and she and her mother quarreled about the decision. Leaving her village, Sally wondered if she should take her mother’s advice and plan to have the baby in the village; after all, there was no doctor in Sweetwater and the nearest mid-wife was a good day’s ride to the west. She decided that she would discuss this with Billy when she returned.
As she suspected, Billy was not happy with any discussion about her having the baby in the village, and no amount of pleading would change his mind. Sally told him that she had observed lots of births in the village, and not one time had a child been stillborn, nor had the mother developed complications during childbirth.
The two argued for days with Billy insisting that he would ride to the next town and fetch the doctor in plenty of time. Sally reminded him that childbirth was quite unpredictable, and that he could not foretell when the baby would come. Still, Billy wanted her to have the baby in their home. And, he told her that she would not even be able to make the trip to her village after she became six months pregnant, and that he would forbid her to ride a horse all that distance.
The days and nights passed and Sally’s pregnancy progressed. When Sally prematurely and unexpectedly went into labor in the middle of the night, Billy was away on a trip acquiring additional inventory for the store. He was only to be away from home for a day and a half, and he had thought that there would have been plenty of time before the baby was to be born.
However, Sally would have to give birth alone in their little cabin. She labored for six hours with no result. Early the next morning, a neighbor came by their cabin. Finding Sally near exhaustion and in a lot of pain, the woman assisted Sally with the birth. The child, a girl, was stillborn, the result of a difficult labor. The baby’s cord had become wrapped around its neck, choking off the oxygen supply.
Sally was overcome with sadness, weeping uncontrollably, throwing things around the cabin and cursing the very god that had once saved her own life. She began chanting the rain prayer over and over. The rains came with such fury that their cabin and the entire town was flooded beyond anything in the past. The thunder and lightning were so fierce that several buildings were set ablaze. Sally ran from the flooded cabin, looking skyward, and cursing the death of her child.
Again, a bolt of lightning struck nearby, only this time it was so severe, and so powerful that she was blinded by the flash, her hair singed and her flesh reddened.
Sally walked aimlessly for hours into the forest and across the fields, trudging through mud and undergrowth. After two days of wandering, she finally came upon her village. The women and the elders rushed out to meet her. Taking her inside, they prayed for days over her shriveled and burned body as the one once known as Wuti-Yoki lay in a state of semi-consciousness. The medicine man used all his powers, and the woman of herbs applied all her skills, but in the end, it was time that would heal her.
Over the weeks and months, Sally slowly grew stronger. Still blaming Billy, she refused to see him, even though he repeatedly begged her family to intervene. However, she continued to refuse to speak with him.
Over time, Sally’s eyesight slowly returned, but never as it was when she was young. And, she would never be called Wuti-Yoki again. What’s more, because of her actions that night in her grievous state, she had lost the gift she had been given.
Sally rarely spoke of the old days of plenty, but she still yearned for the “gift” that was taken from her that fateful day. She would, however, find comfort in the talks with the elders of the village. And eventually, she came to grips with the consequences of her promise that she had broken in anger.
Sally went on to live a long life, her eyes an eerie shade of blue-gray with a scaly covering that looked as if they had been burned by fire.
Whenever the younger members would ask about Sally in hushed tones, the older ones would reply that she was an old Spirit, from many years in the past.
J. Bryant Ray was born in the foothills of the Cumberland Mountains, and now lives in NW Georgia. He has published two novels and numerous short stories about life in the South.