From Hand to Hand
The Story of a Clovis Point
Nebraska, May 1942
John Littletree carefully wrapped the exquisite green Clovis point in a clean shop rag and put it in his truck’s glove box.
When he had set off that morning to repair a tractor tire at the old McKinley Farm, he didn’t know that it would turn into the happiest day of his life. And he would never know that this was the day he would serve as an unwitting courier for destiny.
Having finished the job, John loaded his equipment into his truck just as his brother-in-law came roaring up in his Model-T. Before Mojon came to a stop, Littletree knew why he was there, and his heart raced accordingly.
With only a nod to Mojon, Littletree jumped into his truck and headed straight home. Mojon flashed him a big smile as he drove by.
When he arrived, the Ojibway midwife was leaving the house, her duties completed. She smiled at Littletree as she passed him in the yard and said, “You have such a beautiful little girl, John; she is strong too, just like her father.”
“Thanks, Anna, but it’s her mother who is the strong one,” he replied as he rushed in to see the mother and new baby.
It was true. He and his wife, Marjorie, were both strong people. And, they would need to be, in the years to follow.
The arrival of little Jasper would bring ceaseless joy into their home. But the recently entered into world war would impact the Littletree family in ways that they could not yet appreciate.
Nebraska, September 1942
Littletree, like many Native American men in the Plains States, signed up for military service. He discussed it with Marjorie, and though it would leave her to care for Jasper alone, she agreed that it was a necessary obligation to their country.
Before leaving for basic training, Littletree retrieved the Clovis point from his truck and placed it in a leather pouch. Handing it to Marjorie, he said that if anything happened to him, she should give this to Jasper when she was old enough to understand its significance.
Tears were streaming down her face as her husband walked out to Mojon’s car. She clutched the leather bag in her hand as she watched the old Tin Lizzie take her husband and brother off to war.
Feeling worried and helpless, Marjorie walked back into the house and sat at the kitchen table. She was pulled away from these fearful thoughts when she heard Jasper waking up from her nap.
Remembering the leather bag, still clutched tightly in her hand, she placed it on the table and walked into the nursery. Gathering up Jasper in her arms, she began singing her a song that her grandmother always sang to her when she was a small child.
That was before she was forcibly removed to a boarding school more than 100 miles away.
After Jasper went back to sleep, Marjorie returned to the kitchen. Without knowing what was in the leather bag, she carried it into her bedroom and placed it in the old steamer trunk that sat at the foot of her bed.
Marjorie sat on the bed a while, reminding herself that she was tough. Strong enough to get through the months, possibly years, ahead in husband’s absence.
“After all,” she thought,” I am Pawnee, and I survived those horrible years in an Indian boarding school.”
“The nuns tried to beat the Indian out of me,” she remembered, “They cut my hair, changed my name, and forbid me from speaking my native tongue. They told me that I could never be anything but a dirty Indian.
“But, they did not destroy me,” she said aloud into the empty room.
Marjorie had made her escape when she was 15-years-old, making it back to her family and tribe. She was determined that Jasper would grow up proud of her heritage.
Jasper would be educated and have opportunities denied the thousands of native children who were ripped from their families and forced into, often cruel and abusive, Indian boarding schools.
Many never returned home. Many more were callously buried in nameless graves without their parents ever knowing what happened to them.
By the time Jasper began walking and talking, Littletree and Mojon were seasoned soldiers attached to the same infantry group in Western Europe.
Holiday Season, 1944.
A young man from Western Union bearing a telegram showed up at Marjorie’s door on Christmas Eve, 1944. She opened the door, and upon seeing the look on his face and the yellow letter in his hands, she felt her knees going weak.
Littletree was killed by German Panzer fire four days earlier in the waist-deep snow of the Ardennes Forest in Belgium. Unbeknown to Marjorie, Mojon was wounded in the same battle. He would return to Nebraska shortly after the first of the year.
John Littletree’s first death came quick and painless. Now his name stands carved in granite alongside the other brave soldiers who died in the Battle of the Bulge. Littletree’s second death will be deferred until we no longer pay respect to those who gave their lives for their country.
The intention of things
Although a promise wasn’t necessary, Mojon had vowed to care for Marjorie and Jasper if something happened to Littletree during the war. And he honored that responsibility to the hilt – Mojon loved his sister and his young niece with all his heart.
Mojon recovered from the worst of his wounds, leaving him with only a slight limp. In early 1946, he reopened Littletree’s service station. After the war, the construction of new federal highways brought great benefits to Marjorie and her brother – business from travelers boomed.
One spring day in 1955, Jasper came home from school with a note to Marjorie from her teacher.
“Dear Mrs. Littletree, I write to inform you that Jasper’s work is far beyond the scope and, quite honestly, the abilities of our teaching staff here at the Red Willow Middle School.
“Jasper is an extraordinary student whose level of intellectual curiosity is a first for me in my 20 years of teaching. Therefore, I suggest that you consider allowing Jasper to attend high school classes beginning in the fall semester. She can no longer be adequately served here at the middle school.”
Marjorie still regarded Jasper as her little girl. But the teacher was correct; Jasper was an exceptionally bright young lady. She would not hold her daughter back if these were her wishes, too.
And, she thought, now would be an excellent time to honor John’s wishes to give Jasper the leather bag that has been in the trunk since he went off to war.
Marjorie retrieved the mysterious pouch and then dug down to the very bottom of the trunk, casting all other things aside. She brought out a rectangular wooden box and laid the two items on the bed.
She then called for Jasper to sit beside her on the bed. Jasper had no memory of her father, but he was dear to her because of the stories told about his generosity and bravery, and his deep love for his family.
She listened intently as her mother told her about the day she was born; how her father had been out working on a tractor tire at the time.
Marjorie related how just before he departed to join the army, he handed her the leather pouch. She said that he asked her to give it to Jasper when she was older and would understand the remarkable qualities of the item inside.
She told Jasper that the time had come, and she could open the pouch and see what her father had left her.
Jasper carefully reached into the pouch and brought out the green Clovis point. Turning it over slowly in her hands, she and her mother gasped when the red crystal sparkled brilliantly under the first light in years.
Then Marjorie opened the box and placed a beautiful, beaded bandolier in Jasper’s hands. She told her that this item had been handed down through four generations of her family.
Marjorie explained that the buckskin shoulder bag belonged to Jasper’s great-grandmother. “Even today, the Pawnee still speak of her bravery during a vicious attack by a warring tribe,” she told her daughter. “It is said she killed an enemy warrior using a special flint blade, saving her young grandson from certain death.”
After a pause for reflection, Marjorie added, “Jasper, wouldn’t it be something if this flint blade was the same one that your great-grandmother used to protect her grandson?”
Jasper looked deeply into her mother’s eyes and said, “Mother, somehow both things are familiar to me as if I have held them before. How can that be?”
“My dear daughter, our people believe that the past can affect the future in ways we do not understand,” her mother replied. “Maybe these items made their way to you for a reason.”
“Perhaps,” Marjorie add-ed, “Through these things made of buckskin, beads and stone, you have been given a task. If these gifts inspire you as such, then you must follow your heart.”
The purpose of things
Jasper was indeed inspired by the Clovis point and her mother’s painful stories about the Indian boarding schools.
She became an anthropologist and taught Native American studies at Columbia University for 15 years. A prolific writer, she is credited with the seminal book on the global migration routes of early humans into the Americas.
In 1982, Jasper was invited to work for the Smithsonian Institution.
There, she conducted a landmark study on Clovis culture that had challenged long-held beliefs about when the first humans arrived in North America. Her research on the distribution of flint types determined that humans migrated to the Americas millennia before previously thought.
Dr. Jasper Littletree Awiakta was awarded a Pulitzer in 2015 for her widely published research on the widespread physical, mental and sexual abuse suffered by tens of thousands of Native American children in Indian boarding schools.
Now 78 years old, Jasper is retired and still lives in Nebraska surrounded by her three adult children and 10 grandchildren. She remains a popular speaker at college commencements.
Jasper often opens her mother’s old steamer trunk. She reverently brings out the wooden box, carefully removing the green Clovis point from the ancient, beaded bandolier that belonged to her great-grandmother, Pakuna.
She ponders what her mother told her many years ago when Jasper first saw the treasured heirlooms and felt a mysterious connection to their previous owners. In a commencement speech at Harvard in 2007, Jasper shared the following with her audience.
“We humans only know that for which we are designed to know. At best, we see only a tiny sliver of all that is. The hidden aspects of our world will always frustrate us. Yet, there is much we may never know. Those that have the grace to step beyond their ego know this well.”
Author’s note: This work of historical fiction was inspired by our own Mike Smith a few years ago during a conversation about surface finds of flint and stone artifacts. Mike articulately described a feeling of deep connection with the person who last touched the artifact, each time he picked up a stone tool from the earth.
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