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Holy Medicine

September 1, 2016
Walter Blackwolf

Walter Blackwolf’s father was James Blackwolf.

Far removed from ordinary life in Lame Deer is the Northern Cheyenne Sacred Medicine Hat.  Who knows how old it is?  Here’s what I have learned about it.  Someone very trustworthy and wise is chosen by the wisest people in the Northern Cheyenne tribe to take care of it.  Such a person is known as the Hat Keeper, and the hat is kept wrapped in a bundle that is not opened.  This object has been compared to the Holy Grail by Roger Clawson, when he was a columnist with the Billings Gazette.

Whenever the hat is unwrapped it is a big deal.  A damned big deal.  Books are written.  Highways are closed.  Heads are bowed.  Tongues are silent. In fact, time is judged by the number of years since the hat was previously opened.

About 1997 or 1998 I had the privilege of meeting James Blackwolf, a recent hat keeper, at a pow wow in Billings.  He radiated wisdom and greatness in a way that can only be described as profound respect.  One doesn’t meet people like that often.  He passed away soon after I met him, but I remember that his hair braids were tied with bits of cloth and that he wore fine woolen blankets.  He fixed me with a gaze that I’d describe as that of a newborn who recognizes his parent for the first time.

Actually, I had met Mr. Blackwolf only once before, when he was a patient at the clinic.  He was to receive a prescription, so I opened the door to the pharmacy and called his name.  A young man, intelligent, strong, clean shaven and short haircut, appeared at the door and came in.  Soon after, James Blackwolf himself came in.  The young man was a sort of lieutenant for the Great One, the Hat Keeper.  I gave the prescription bottle to the young man who gave it to Mr. Blackwolf.  Mr. Blackwolf then stood, took my hand with both of his, and thanked me.


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