Bud Exendine
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 years.

    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 were warm.

    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.
    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 subject.
     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 besides."
     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 appeal.
     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 the bed."
    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 did.
    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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