Chapter 3 – Neshnala’s Saga: 1750-1800
Like anyone who has ever undergone a profound spiritual awakening, the Sauk Holy Man loved to talk about his transformation with anybody that would listen. Over campfires at night he would go on and on, speaking of the tree’s great power and the peace and joy it had brought to him.
Being a Holy Man meant he was known as the tribe’s “thinker,” the one who thought about the “why” questions that were difficult to answer, like what is our place here? Which meant, in turn, that the down-to-earth members of the tribe who were more focused on mundane day-to-day survival activities than those sorts of “big questions,” while they always treated him with deference and respect, also tended to shrug at his strange ideas and go on about their business.
So that when the Holy Man led pilgrimages of other tribe members up the difficult trail to the meadow to experience the tree for themselves, only a few actually went. And only a relatively few of those, perhaps because they, too, were “ready,” attested to having some form of spiritual experience – a “neesh-na-ha-a-la.”
Those few then told others, not only within the tribe, but with neighboring tribes, so that after just a couple of decades, tribes as far flung as the Cheyenne way to the north, the Lakota Sioux on the Great Plains in the west, and the Potawatomi near the great lake to the east had heard of the sacred tree in the Sauk’s territory.
From time-to-time a Holy Man, or a medicine man, or a chief from one of these neighboring tribes would make a pilgrimage to experience “neesh-na-ha-a-la” for themselves; even if they were from a tribe where there had been bad blood in the past, they were always welcomed.
Through the 1780s and 90s, what had earlier been more or less rare contacts with white men in what was still pretty much a wilderness − a once or twice a year visit for trading purposes, perhaps an occasional encounter while on a hunt – turned into a steady, if small trickle, and word of the sacred tree began to seep outside of the Native American communities; however, being both ethnocentric and arrogant, the whites tended to be dismissive of any suggestion the Indians could in any way be truly religious or spiritual.
“Hell, every rock or tree seems to be sacred to those people,” they’d sniff. It was a mindset that would prevail among the whites for well over a century and greatly affect the tree’s future fortunes.
To be continued…
(C) 2018 Dave Lager