"The Medicine Bag" is an inspirational message. The words were a gift for me to write and I am passing them on for all to share.
It was a pleasant evening as we sat next to the campfire. The weather finally broke from the relentless heat of around 100 degrees during the day and a cool northerly breeze felt good as it blew over the prairie. Jake and I had drawn night herd duty and everything was peaceful for the moment. The cattle could be heard rustling around drawn by curiosity of the glow from the small fire. The coffee was ready and so were we. Jake was a curious fellow. He was generally quiet and seemed as though he didn't have a care in the world. But when he got to town or the crew was feeling boisterous at the chuck wagon, he was as lively and jovial as any. But I never saw a mean side of him and he never shirked lending a helping hand.
I had noticed on a couple of occasions that he wore a small leather pouch that was usually concealed under his shirt. I had heard him refer to it as his medicine bag. I figured it was something he picked up from one of the Indian tribes he had encountered on his travels.
On this night the moon shown full, and Jake seemed a bit distant. After a time he slowly removed the pouch from around his neck and opened it. My curiosity was aroused. I moved over closer so I could see what treasures he had been hiding there. He must have noticed me watching and began to speak.
"You may know that this here is known among the Indians as a medicine bag. Now you must realize that what we call medicine and what the Indians call medicine can be quite different things. White men have pills and liniment and potions or snake oil. The Indians have herbs, roots, and animal grease and even use mud. But they have medicine most white men don't believe in. Magic. Look at this here."
He tipped up the bottom of the pouch with one hand and several items spilled out into his open hand. The light from the campfire revealed several colorful beads of different shapes and sizes, a whitish yellow object that looked like some kind of polished rock. A claw from some kind of animal, an arrowhead and other items. He picked up one of the beads and began to explain.
"You never know when you might find yourself running low on supplies and no posts around for miles. If you happen upon a band of Indians that aren't intent on taking your scalp, they might just be willing to do a little trading. They really like these here beads. I managed to stay warm enough to survive through a few freezing winter nights because of some blankets I traded beads for."
"This is ice that never melts. Now to you and me it's just a piece of quartz crystal, but some Indians haven't ever seen the likes of it before. I call it ice to make it easier for them to understand. Many don't get the idea of bein' able to see through a rock. It might come in handy some day. It came from a gal I met in town. I forget which one. She said it helped balance out nature and would be good for me. I didn't understand what all she was trying to say, but I appreciated the thought.
This is what the Indians call medicine, it's the claw from a Bobcat. The Indians believe that by keeping this claw close to me, I keep part of the spirit of that Bobcat also. It is supposed to make me fierce and agile in a fight. Like the Bobcat."
Then Jake picked up the whitish-yellow object.
"If you look at this a while you may recognize it as a tooth. It is also called ivory. It is an Elk's tooth. More magic. This is supposed to give me strength and alertness to avoid danger. There's all kinds of magic. The kind you see in towns with men making things disappear. The mystical kind the Indians believe in. And there's another kind of magic called miracles."
Then he took out a little cross carved out of wood. It was small and almost looked too fragile to be carried loosely in the pouch. He held the artifact in his hand and looked at it for what seemed a very long time. When he spoke, he told me the story of a trip he took through the west Texas badlands.
"I happened upon a green horn walking next to a little pack burro. The man looked like he hadn't been well outfitted for his journey. He was dressed like a dude. He had no staples, weapons or anything to camp with. He just had two crates, one on either side of the burro. It looked as though he had been sent out to wander and die."
"Where ya' headed there friend?"
"El camino de Cristo" The man said in a dry voice.
"I ain't never heard of that." I said. "It's gonna take you a spell to get there. You sure you know where you're getting to?" I asked.
"I'll get there in God's own good time, brother. This is my path. I know it." "I would be grateful though, for a drink of water if you can spare it."
The man said.
"You mean you ain't got no water canteen? Mister are you crazy?" It just didn't make sense, a man bein out in the middle of nowhere with no provisions. "Say," I said. "What's in them boxes on that animal? You steal that stuff and now you're on the run or somethin'?"
"I assure you," The man said. " I have not committed any offense. Inside those crates are books that I am taking to the mission at El camino de Cristo. They are not stolen. You may feel free to inspect them if you wish. You may even have one. Here, take one, please."
I said "No thanks. I ain't got room for carrying anything that I don't need to survive."
"But this will help you to survive." The man said. "It is a small book, but the message inside is bigger and more powerful than all you see around you."
"Oh, sure. If I am attacked by renegades or bushwhacked by outlaws, I'm going to pull out this little book and read to 'em?" I said with an irritated tone. "Mister, you been wandering out in the sun too long."
"No, no, you don't understand. Forgive me." Said the man. "I have not made myself very clear. You see the book is a story. It teaches us how to live, to prepare us for life and the things we will encounter along the way. So if those things you mentioned do happen, you will know what to do."
By now I was beginning to think this fella wasn't right in the head. "Aren't you listening? Or do you need a bullet from my Colt to clean out your ears? I don't want it."
The man looked quite disappointed at this refusal. I may have been a little harsh with my response, so I said, "Look mister, the truth of the matter is I can't read. That's why I don't want your book."
At that, the man actually looked relieved. "Oh, that's okay. I didn't mean to offend you. And I would be beholding to you if you would be so kind as to forgive my persistent nature. Say, do you mind if I travel along with you? It seems that we are traveling the same path, for a while, anyway. There hasn't been anyone along for quite some time and I would enjoy your company. We can make camp in a few hours and I will gather wood, draw fresh water and whatever else I can do to be of help."
"Well, I suppose it wouldn't hurt none. But don't worry about lookin' fer fresh water out here. There ain't none for forty mile or so. This here is barren country. I got enough to last til tomorrow, but the animals will have to make do with what they can find to graze on when we make camp."
As we moved along the trail, this fellow started talking about the Almighty. Now I have been to a camp meetin' or two and have heard enough fire and brimstone talk to last me through a mess o' Injun raids. But this feller talked different. He didn't talk about an Almighty who was angry all the time over what folks did or didn't do. He talked about a God that loved folks. He even said that this God had his self a little boy. It was kind of different cause this boy was born to a feller and his wife. But they didn't make this boy the way folks usually do. God made him and gave him to the woman to bear. I don't reckon' I understand it all. But when he talked about it, it made sense good enuff.
We got to a place where we made camp. I tended to my horse and the fellow proceeded to gather rocks, wood and kindling to start the fire. While I was starting the fire I noticed the fellow pouring water out of the canteen into his hat for the animals. I flew into a rage and took the nearly empty canteen from the man. "Hey, take it easy there with that water. That's all there is and there ain't no more for a good days ride." I used the last of the water to put on some coffee and got out some jerked beef that I carried with me. I handed the fellow some and poured him a cup of coffee. He handed me some kind of bread that he had. It wasn't like hard tack. It wasn't like anything I had ever eaten before.
I didn't think about it at the time cause we were sharing food, but I never figured out where he got that bread. I didn't see any in the boxes he was freighting and he didn't have any saddlebags.
We got settled in as it got dark and he picked up a stick, pulled out a jack knife and began whittling on that stick. He talked as he whittled. It was a night a lot like tonight. He talked about this boy of God's and how he grew up and about his life. He told me about the 12 pardners he picked up along the way and how they traveled together spreading his Almighty father's words everywhere they went. He talked about miracles that they did, healing folk and raising folks up from the dead. I guess you could say they performed their own kind of magic. After a while, it was getting late and he told me the most impressive thing. He told me how this boy, who had grown up by now, had been killed. Now the way he died was every bit as bad as any torture I ever heard about. He told me that the whole purpose of his dying, was so that I could be forgiven for the wrongdoings in my life and that I could have a place saved for me in the great hereafter on a seat next to the Almighty. And then he handed me this little wooden cross. That is what he had been whittling on while he talked.
He said that since I didn't have need of one of the books he was totin', he hoped I would accept this to remind me of the stories he had passed on to me. I was really moved by all of that. Then I asked the fellow his name. He said it wasn't important. He wasn't on the run or anything, but with what he was doing by taking the books to the mission, he just wanted to be called Gideon. After that he rolled over and went to sleep.
I drifted off soon after that myself. I must have slept real good and peaceful too. Cause the next morning, the coffee was on and there was a big ol' breakfast in the skillet with enough food left over to keep for a second meal. I looked around and that Gideon fellow was gone. What's more, there was no sign of where he had gone. He didn't leave any tracks to follow. And no, I didn't have a headache, because I didn't have any rye to drink. I broke camp, packed up and headed on my way. I was hoping I might catch that Gideon and find out how he made away so clean. I kept up a pretty good pace so as I could overtake his little pack burro, but I never saw him. Not even a sign. I was getting thirsty so I took a swig from my canteen. And would you believe it was full? I don't reckon I could have got another drop in it if I had tried. If it were not for this little wooden cross, I probably would not believe any of it had ever happened. Now that is what some folks would call a miracle. Jake grew silent again.
I heard a coyote bark and howl off in the distance. The fire crackled as it glowed warmly in the little camp. The cattle were quiet. I watched as he turned the little cross over and over in his hand as he gazed upon it. "Yep," Jake said. "It was a night just about like tonight. I look around me and remember Gideon's words. Just think, someone I never even met gave his life for me. Remember this son, to give your life to save another is the greatest thing you can ever do for a man. And he did it for me. He did it for you too.
Now I may not have much, but I have everything I need and a pardner to go it with me. This little wooden cross represents the most powerful magic of all, I reckon."
Jake put all the treasures back into the old leather pouch, draped the cord around his neck and tucked the pouch safely into his shirt. He stood up and threw the last of his coffee out onto the ground. That was his signal that it was time to get back to work.
"But what about El camino de Cristo?" I asked. "Did you ever find it?"
"In my own way, I guess I did." Said Jake. "Although I never found a place by that name, I came across a padre around San Antonio some years back. I asked him if he had ever heard of it. He said no. I asked him if the name meant anything. He said that it loosely translated into "Path of Christ" or "Christ's Path."
As we saddled up and rode to the perimeter of the herd, my mind raced with the images of meeting up with Gideon myself one day. To see if he had any miracles left for me. At the very least I might get me one of them little books.