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My Little Sister’s Heart in My Hands
by Anita Endrezze

Part One: Rogue River Oregon, 1856

“I promised to give you some of our experience in hunting Indians–
a kind of game not often treated of in your journal–
and as the sport has become rather universal
on this coast, every bit of experience will be of service
to the amateur or professional hunter....
A large herd crossed the mountains last winter....
We have caught a great many females or squaws and young,
but the bucks have generally made their escape....
You must as [a hunter] vow vengeance
against every Indian you meet,
but never molest any
except peaceable Indians,
who are unarmed,
and expect no danger;
this is a gallant thing,
when done in the face of public opinion,
law and order.

If an Indian is a prisoner
and charged with some offense,
you go up to him very fiercely
and say, “You d–––––d scoundrel,
why did you steal my pantaloons?”
the Indian does not understand
a word of English but thinks
it ‘s something terrible, looks scared,
and shakes his head, this is proof
of his guilt
and you haul out your revolver
and blow his brains out.
He can’t help himself,
for his feet and hands
are tied.
You have done a determined thing,
and henceforth
are a made man.”
–from an editorial in Porter’s Prairie, May 28, 1856

Part Two: Rogue River, 1956

We live not far from the Rogue River
where Indian babies were thrown into bonfires,
I’m too young to know this,
Every night, though, I hear the black snakes in the grass
sliding through the meadows toward the river,
their long black bodies gliding, glistening like tears.
Under the pear-shaped stars, in the orchard of womblike fruit,
I hear cries, weeping, I hear Sally Bell’s voice:
Soon...some white men came.
they killed my grandfather
and my mother
and my father.
I saw them do it.
Then they killed my baby sister
and cut her heart out
and threw it in the brush
where I ran and hid.
My little sister was a baby,
just crawling around
I didn’t know what to do.
I was so scared
that I guess I just hid there
a long time
with my little sister’s heart
in my hands...

Part Three:Rogue River in Review, 1996

I have a baby sister.
I have a daughter.
I have a mother.
I have a grandmother.
I have felt their hearts beating
under my cupped hands, against my cheek
as I loved them as I slept.

A long time we hid
with our hearts in our hands
with the soft red rivers
from one to the other.
You can’t say you didn’t know.
And though some have died
not hurting anyone
they are this voice, this poem
untied and henceforth
that the truth
will blow your brains out.


Author’s note: We lived outside Grant’s Pass, Oregon, for a few years, my parents logging their land for a living.
Sally Bell was a Sinkyone Indian woman, and her report was recorded in 1935.

From the book: throwing fire at the Sun, water at the Moon (The University of Arizone Press-Tucson)


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