by CB Bassity
Forty years ago, as a New Jersey schoolboy, I
learned that we whites had been preceded by the Lenni Lenape people, also
known as the Delawares. I lived in the town of Ho-Ho-Kus, from the
Delaware term meaning "red cedar." Years later as a rancher in Oklahoma,
I found, once again, I had been preceded by a Delaware. (Two
ranchers’ names have been changed, for reasons that will become apparent.)
Early in the sixteen years I
farmed and ran cattle in southwest Oklahoma I noticed a big Indian guy
who was often out and around, always with a rifle or shotgun. He lived
at the end of a red dirt road in our neighborhood and seemed reclusive,
walking usually alone but for a beagle or two. After a while we waved in
passing as if we knew each other. One day my tractor had bogged down in
quicksand and I was walking home. Bud stopped his pickup and offered me
a ride. He was headed for town, the other direction, and I protested. He
said, "My business isn't pressing." Bud's business, I found, was rarely
pressing but usually worthwhile. He became the best friend I had in those
Regina is a white woman, from an old Czech family. When
she and Bud married in middle age, it was the second time out for both
of them, but this time it stuck. A certain member of her family bristled—"a
damn Indian." You can't feel that way without it showing.
Bud was in his fifties when
I knew him, Delaware and Caddo on his mother's side, and Delaware with
a trace of Austria on his father's. For all his time in the sun the skin
of his broad face was smooth and unlined, the deep brown color of oak leaves
in winter. Baldness accentuated his rounded features. If a tree could walk,
it would move like Bud Exendine. A big, lumbering guy, he was an outdoorsman
who wore overalls year-round, although in the summer they'd be cut-off
above the knee. He smiled easily in the right company and was reserved
otherwise. Most times when I pulled up and parked under the shady elms
in his yard I'd get half-way to his door and hear a booming, "let's go
get drunk!" (His "drunk" had the vowel sound in "oomph") Unless it was
too cold or too hot we'd sit outside under his porch roof. Bud had an all-purpose
table where you could clean fish or break down a chainsaw, and there we'd
gaze across the Sugar Creek bottom, maybe drink a beer or three, and visit.
I wish I remembered half the stories he told.
From broad experience he had gained a healthy sense
of irony—at some point in his eclectic college life Bud had roomed with
a rabbinical student who followed strict Orthodox rules about cooking pots.
Bud's cuisine ranged widely, and quite often you had to pick shot out of
it. It wasn't an easy time for the future rabbi.
On a cold day in February of '94, Bud put on a "Men's
Dinner" at his house. He invited Jim Burke and me, all two of us. Bud had
baked bread and cooked three wild ducks in a wine sauce. He set a bottle
of bourbon and a couple of wines on the table and he forbade tableware.
It was wintry and cold outside, but inside the company and the stories
A day came when the family member and his wife wound
up at Bud and Regina's place to visit. It happened to be the fall of the
year. Things were a little sticky, but they all muddled through well enough,
until Family Member's wife asked, "Well Bud, in your walks through the
country, have you seen any signs of what kind of winter we'll have?" She
was thinking wooly caterpillars, numbers of crows, and such.
It was an opening Bud couldn't resist: "Oh yeah,
it's going to be one hell of a hard winter."
"Oh," she said, brightening, "how can you tell?"
"White men making big woodpiles."
John Owings's widow, a full-blood Wichita, was eighty-ish
and blind. When Bud went to see her on tribal business, she said, "I'm
just damn glad I can't see you—gone and married a white woman like that."
John had been a white farmer. It wasn't lost on Bud, he laughed and laughed.
Bud's first wife, in Denver, had got mad at him.
He wanted to go kill bear—it was bear season. She didn't want him to go,
said "you're not going bear-hunting; if you go hunting, when you get back
I'll be gone." Telling the story, he said, "Sure enough, when I got back
she was gone." His voice went up in pitch on the word "gone," and he smiled
as if he were relating some curious habit of geese.
Bud's habits were hardly conventional. Sitting
under his porch roof one evening, several years back, I was pretty hot
about Doyle Stevens cheating me out of a grazing lease, 160 acres I’d held
for six years. Bud didn't know Doyle, and I reeled off some of his
other exploits of swindling and theft. Doyle had seriously pissed
off several people, none of whom were pressing charges—it's just not done.
Bud clucked and shook his head, "Someone ought to shoot his bull."
It was an offhand remark like, "why, if I'd had a gun I'd have shot him"not
the kind of thing you take seriously.
So a while later when Doyle was burning up the roads
hunting for a missing bull, a good hybrid animal worth about $1500, the
thought scratched my mind that Bud might be involved; but it seemed unlikely.
Bulls sometimes wander after all. However, the bull was missing from
the lease I had lost to Doyle, and Bud walked that road nearly every evening.
It was June, a busy season; I didn't have time to think much about it.
But a week later that bull stunk so that everyone knew where he was.
He lay under a cedar tree, a short distance from the road. Bud didn't
twitch or even blink when I asked him about it—he could have walked that
demeanor past a customs-inspector. He looked away and changed the
A rifle in Bud's hands was like a basketball
in Michael Jordan's, a natural extension of the man. Had he not been
so massive, I expect Bud without a firearm might have listed to port.
But even armed he seemed more avuncular than threatening. Bud looked
to guns the way you would to a crescent wrench or nails and a hammer.
I leased a place next to Bud's house, and I paid
half his water bill through the winter for the water line to my stock tank.
It was a good deal for both of us. And each spring after removing
my cattle I drained the tank and dumped a pint of crankcase oil into it
to keep mosquitoes from breeding in whatever rainwater might collect there.
When I sold out of cattle and farming, the lease went to Bobby Short, who
was very much the white man. Apparently Bobby didn't appreciate how
good a deal he had on the water—Bud had to remind him twice about the bill.
And in the spring, Bobby couldn't be bothered with draining the stock tank.
Bud mentioned the mosquito problem two or three times to no effect.
One evening when the mosquitoes were particularly
vexatious, Bud chambered a twelve gauge shell, strolled across the road,
and shot through the tank bottom. In that sandy soil it was empty
in no time. "Injun-uity" was Bud's term for resourcefulness.
He drove an old GMC pickup. One day a highway
patrolman stopped him. On Bud's driver's license was his given name,
Malcolm. "You need a muffler on that pickup, Malcolm, it's too loud."
Bud assured the trooper he'd get a muffler right away. Instead, he
kept to the back roads. Not long after that, he coasted to a stop
on the river bridge to check the height of the water. A voice piped
up from a canoe below, "Malcolm, haven't you fixed that muffler yet?"
Bud bought a muffler within a day or two.
Over the years Bud had worked as a conservationist
mostly, and sometimes as a surveyor, in Colorado, Oklahoma, New Mexico,
and elsewhere. He worked in Saudi Arabia for a time, contracting
to an oil company as a surveyor, and led a team of five Saudis laying out
a pipeline. He served in the army during the Korean conflict and
brought home shrapnel in one shoulder. He studied at four universities,
but never took a degree.
For a while during the 1960s and early ‘70s,
when Bud was a game biologist for Oklahoma’s Department of Conservation,
he worked with another biologist, Gerald Iams. They trapped wild
turkeys and transplanted them, seeding new populations across county lines.
From year to year they monitored quail populations and counted prairie
chickens. Iams says, "Bud was as bull-headed as a man could be.
It didn't matter what you told him, he'd do things his way." On weekends,
if Bud wanted to go somewhere, he’d take off in the state pickup and drive—maybe
clear across state—regulations be damned. Iams, retired now from
a full career in conservation, says, “I worked with a lot of people, and
Bud's the smartest wildlife man I ever knew."
Iams remembers another thing about Bud—he never
locked his house. Bud had a load of steel fence posts he didn't need
at his place in Elk City. Iams had use for the posts and Bud said
come get 'em. "Me and Paul Hahn drove up to Elk City for those posts,
and Bud happened to be gone. We loaded ‘em, and it was hot.
Paul said, 'I could sure go for a cold beer right now.'
"I said, 'let's go inside and get one,' and Paul
looked at me like I was crazy. We went into Bud's house and drank
up all the beer he had—I don't know, six or eight cans. You know,
he had rifles in there, books, binoculars—someone could have walked off
with the whole lot. Bud would say, 'What I've got's paid for—if someone
wants it, why, I won't owe anything.'
"But he raised hell about that beer."
It was Bud who told me that if an Indian says,
"I like your hat" (or admires something else you have), you give it to
him. And I learned from him, or extrapolated, the origin of the term
"Indian-giver": that having "given" something you might need it back later,
such communal approach to property being inimical to conventional Western
values. For some time this custom was nothing more than lore to me.
I may even have considered it suspect, apocryphal.
One day I met with Dale Swift and his two elderly
sisters to renegotiate an expiring agricultural lease on land they owned.
I caught up with them at the Wichita Community Center on the north edge
of Anadarko, where the tribe was cooking dinner for its senior members.
Although I’d had many dealings with Dale and could visit and joke with
him easily, I was meeting his sisters for the first time, and our cultural
differences joined up with adversarial economics to create a terse atmosphere.
Neither sister said more than "I'll think about it," and from their faces
I knew only that they were alive.
Partly out of genuine appreciation and partly wanting
to lighten things up, I said, "Boy, that fry-bread smells good."
Armalene Horsechief got up without a word and disappeared. I figured
a bathroom call or something. But she came back, set a paper plate
in front of me, and said, "Here's your frybread." I thanked her,
but she gave no hint as to whether her offering was a begrudged obligation,
a matter of etiquette, or whatever. I was a bit uncomfortable, wondering
whether my comment might have been perceived as a demand, as if: "Not only
does he come to do us out of a decent deal on our land, but he wants lunch
Bud was good at delivering the unexpected.
One time I wanted to cut ditches to drain a field that plagued me with
standing water. I just knew the field drained to the north.
A pond at the north end seemed ample evidence of where the water went.
Bud suggested we take instruments to the field, so as to lay out the best
system of ditches. He set up an alidade and plane table on a tripod,
and I traversed the field with the stick. He mapped out the elevations,
showing the lowest end of the field (seventeen inches below the average)
on the southeast side. That was Bud all over: what seemed
readily apparent might turn out to be nonsense.
Bud traveled throughout the west: Wyoming, Colorado,
Montana. He owned some land in “Old Mexico” that he traveled to on
occasion. He had contacts in Alaska and brought back smoked salmon.
I met Fran (Frances) Hamerstrom, the late wildlife
biologist and author (and general character—she had appeared on Letterman),
at Bud's house. She had been an Aldo Leopold disciple and an associate
of Konrad Lorenz. Fran and Bud met in the 1970s when their studies
of the lesser prairie chicken overlapped; she had traveled to Oklahoma,
and he to Wisconsin. She stopped in one spring evening in the early
‘90s on her way home to Wisconsin from a season in Peru. They were
passing a bottle of brandy when I got there. She drank hers from
a coffee cup, straight, with no ice. Bud had all Fran's books; her
inscription in one was: "To my favorite big Indian." He had a widespread
Bud’s friend since boyhood, Dale Stockton,
runs a convenience store on the north edge of Anadarko. Dale called
to wish Bud a happy birthday one evening—he called about eight p.m.
Bud, who went to bed around seven and got up about four in the morning,
raised Cain—“Dale, don't you know it's the middle of the night?”
When Dale's birthday came that year, his phone rang at two in the morning.
Bud was laughing, "Happy Birthday, Dale!" Regina remembers driving
to Oklahoma City, about an hour away, on some errand. At eight-thirty
in the morning, outside some mall that was dead, shut up tight, Bud said,
"Don't these people wake up in the morning?"
Jim Burke and him were at a motel in New Mexico
on a hunting trip. Burke woke up to see light out the window.
He grabbed Bud's watch on the nightstand—six a.m. "Bud," he said,
"it's time to get up." Bud showered and dressed, had his coffee going
. . . and looked out the window. In a sleet storm, a fleet of trucks
had parked outside, headlights burning and light reflecting everywhere.
It was just past twelve-thirty. "God-damn you, Burke," he said.
At the beginning of September each year, Bud would
extend his evening walks ever further into the hills. "We've got
to train for hunting season," he told Regina. And when Burke or another
hunting buddy would lag somewhere on a hunt, Bud would say, "My wife's
in better shape than you are."
Bud was just a guy, imperfect. I've heard
him bitch about the weatherman getting the forecast wrong. The most
uncomfortable he ever made me feel, was when he told me how he'd been driving
through Kansas on some remote back road and a car flew past him in the
other direction, stopped, and turned around. I think Bud's pickup
stalled mysteriously right about then. An Indian man in the other
vehicle came and said, "We knew you were coming, but we didn't know when,"
and then it became a he-told-me-everything-I'd-ever-done story. And
thus began Bud's association in some sort of shaman-hood. It sounded
too much to me like a Carlos Castenedas script.
But who's to say—when it comes to what we can't
see or record—who's to say what’s plausible and what's not? Joe Head,
a gunsmith in Mangum, Oklahoma, knew Bud for years, and said Bud’s Indian
name was Hallowe—a Caddo word for owl. One time, Joe had kept peackocks,
and owls took to decimating his population. Joe: “They'd land on
their backs and bite their damn neck off. And fly away, and the next
night they'd come back and get a fresh one." Joe began sitting on
his roof, waiting to shoot the owls by moonlight. He mentioned the
matter to Bud.
And Bud said, "The owl is my grandfather."
"He put on this ceremony—” Joe said, “it sounded
like a bunch of coyotes or something. He was out in that field howling
and raising hell, talking to the owls. We'd lost sixteen peacocks,
besides all our ducks and chickens, but after that, we never lost another.
The owls'd sit on our roof and hoot, and never touch nothin'. And
we'd been losin' em for years.” Old Hallowe.
Whatever his powers, Bud was equally unassuming.
One day he happened by when I needed a ride between farms. When I
got in his pickup there was something on the seat wrapped in a piece of
cloth. "What's that," I asked.
"It's a ceremonial drum," he said.
"Could I look at it?"
"Oh, not today," he said.
I remember seeing Bud dressed up—only once.
It was Christmas. He wore an ermine hat, white fur. He had
on a fringed buckskin jacket and moccasins. More than that I don't
remember, but the effect was unforgettable. I don't think he carried
himself differently, dressed that way, but it looked as if he did.
He looked like a sovereign.
When Bud was a boy his father, a veterinarian, worked
for the Army, caring for horses and mules at Fort Sill. At the time,
Bud said, “I was pissing the bed pretty regular. And one night when
Dad come riding up, Mother told him I'd pissed the bed again. Dad
said, ‘Well, I guess it's time you eat a packrat.’ He had a big,
old service pistol, a revolver, in those days. He went down to the
barn for a while, and I heard something go BOOM. Then he come up
with a packrat and dressed it out. He roasted that thing in the oven
and I had to eat it."
"Did it work?" I asked. "What was the upshot?"
"Must have been something to it—I never again pissed
For all his outdoorsman-ness and Indian lore, Bud
was no idolator of nature. I used to find a mouse or a large grasshopper,
on occasion, impaled somewhere on a barbed wire fence. I asked Bud
about those. "That's the work of a shrike," he said. "They
call it the butcher bird, related to the mockingbird. You've seen
them around—looks like a mockingbird but smaller, chunkier, with a black
bar running across the eye. Look for a solitary, gray bird sitting
on a power line." I began seeing the butcher bird regularly.
He told me that deer drop their young around the
second week of June in our part of the country, “in the heat, when the
flies are at their worst all year.” He shook his head and laughed
ruefully, as if to say things would be arranged better if he'd had any
say. Christmas afternoon, one year, Bud and I shot two ribby dogs
that I'd found early that morning trying to breakfast on a newborn calf.
People often drive out of town a few miles and leave unwanted pets on the
roadside—out of sight, out of mind. Bud said, "I don't mind shooting
'em, but I'd rather draw a bead on whoever left them to starve."
I remember seeing in the Anadarko paper, one time,
a letter to the editor that Bud wrote. He had been out walking with
his beagle, Buddy. Beagles characteristically find a trace and go
off following it. From well up on a hill Bud saw a pickup stop on
the road. Someone got out, shot something, and drove off. Bud
came off the hill to find Buddy dying on the roadside. Recounting
what he'd seen and describing the pickup in his letter, Bud explained that
the clearly healthy and cared-for beagle was like family to him.
To whoever shot his dog, Bud said, "I hope you rot in Hell."
Of Bud’s notions of the afterlife, Joe Head told
me, “Oh he had some keen beliefs. What he’d been taught is you’ve
got to treat everybody and all the animals fair. There’s a great
chasm fixed between here and the happy hunting ground. There’s a
log—you walk the log to get over there. Every person and every animal
that you’ve mistreated will be there on that log to see that you don’t
get across. I don’t know how you could improve on that.”
When doctors recommended triple bypass surgery for Bud's
coronary blockage, he said, "No, I'm ready to go when it’s time."
He told Regina one night, "I may not live another year," and then added,
"now quit your bawling—I've made arrangements."
One morning in the spring of '96 I stopped by to visit.
I happened to have two frames left on a roll of film in my camera and it
was sitting in the pickup. Bud acquiesced. Standing in his
garden where I found him, he's looking toward the camera, nearly expressionless
but for a few faint wrinkles over the near eye. That eyebrow, barely
raised, is Bud all over—looking at the world with skepticism, ready to
laugh at the next foolishness that comes along.
Four months later, the morning of August 20, 1996, Bud
died, almost surely of a heart attack. The little Massey-Ferguson
tractor he used to brush-hog the roadside rolled off a bank and crushed
him in the road. His diabetes was beginning to close in on him; he
could hardly walk more than a quarter mile anymore; and it seemed merciful—after
a time—that he wouldn’t have to live housebound and suffer the inevitable
amputations and maybe blindness. I was glad to have the pictures,
the only ones I have of him and apparently the only ones anyone else had
got in several years.
When he died, we sent Bud away with tobacco.
He wanted no funeral nonsense. He'd been appalled at the idea of
paying some unctuous stranger in a suit to handle his dead flesh.
There was no casket, no ceremony in town. He was cremated, and his
ashes had barely cooled before Regina brought him back to the house.
The memorial was set for Friday evening, although, thinking of his friends,
Bud had decided against the traditional all-night ceremony.
Women from the community cooked corn soup, squash,
pumpkin bread, fry bread, and more. Four tables end to end, filled
the house, and we had to eat in shifts to get everyone in. People
I knew, many I'd never seen. Before and after eating, people visited
out in the yard under the trees. Several of us tended a small fire.
Above us Bud's singletree hung from an elm limb—it might still be there.
When everyone had eaten and the tables were cleared
away, we filed solemnly into the house. Two women stood outside the
door, one holding a pouch and one dispensing from it a pinch of tobacco
into each person's cupped palm. I knew nothing about such ceremonies,
and in the half-dark I wondered if it were tobacco or Bud's ashes.
Inside, each person added his or her pinch to a kerchief spread before
Harvey, a Kickapoo, from Kansas. If you'd seen him at a bus station,
you wouldn't have given him a second glance. His wife stood behind
him. Shaman, elder, celebrant—whatever his position—Harvey wore rumpled
work pants, a plain shirt, and sneakers. He was dressed as if he
just got off work, hopped in the car, and drove to Oklahoma—he probably
After everyone crowded in (I wondered about the
floor joists), Harvey gathered the kerchief, mixed the tobacco, and filled
the pipe. He said some things in another language. Someone
else turned the lit pipe to the four directions. Only the men smoked
it; it went around the room, but the women stood behind.
Bud’s ashes are scattered on Cedar Hill, where he
often walked, about a mile northwest of his house.
He had once appeared to be an unsocial nobody in
overalls, wandering the roads with a beagle or two. He turned out
to be much more.
CB Bassity ©1999 All Rights Reserved
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