About the Author
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
July 1898, Treasure Creek, Alaska
These people were set on destroying not only the land but themselves, as well.
Teena Crow bent over the injured man. Blood pooled under his leg, a fresh stream joining the black patch in the grass. If she didn't stop the bleeding soon, he would die beside the Chilkoot Trail like so many others had. She took in his pain-filled eyes, the way the color seeped from his cheeks. Shrugging out of her fur shawl, she wrapped it around him then took out the reindeer moss, the plant known as mare's tail and other healing remedies she always carried with her. She carefully packed the wound. The blood flow stopped immediately. She watched it a moment then returned her gaze to the man, wondering if he would say with his eyes or mouth, or both, what he thought of a native tending him.
Many she'd helped showed no appreciation nor spared their hatred of the people who were here first.
The man's eyes were already losing their fear-filled pain and he showed nothing but gratitude.
She smiled. "How long have you been here?"
"Since first light," he croaked.
Light came early in July. That meant he had been there up to twelve hours. Teena held her canteen of water to his lips and he drank heartily. She sat back on her haunches and looked about.
All winter, they had come in boats of every sort in a mad race for the gold fields. They had flung themselves into the water, headed for land like fish thrown up at the knees of the newly formed town of Treasure Creek, Alaska, founded by Mack Tanner. They brought with them a mountain of goods that soon lay scattered across the beach. They clawed their way up the Chilkoot toward the lake and onward. They paid Tlingit Indians like her brother to pack their belongings over the pass where the Canadian Mounties waited to make sure they had the required amount of supplies. All for the glittering gold.
She shook her head. She would never understand the white man. But she had vowed to learn their ways of curing their diseases.
This was not the first one of their kind to be ignored at the side of the trail, as hundreds passed by without once pausing to help. Last winter her brother, Jimmy, had tossed his pack aside and left the path to pick up a man with a broken leg who had lain there all day without anyone helping. Jimmy brought him down the mountain to Teena. He had lived, though he might never walk as well as he once had.
There were many who got help too late.
She checked the man's wound. No longer bleeding.
He sucked in air in a way that said his pain had let up.
"You will need to rest a few days" she began.
"Step aside," a firm voice ordered, interrupting her suggestion that the man should rest until his wound healed.
Teena didn't move except to turn to stare at the man who spoke. A white man, of course. She'd known that immediately. Over time, she had gotten used to the strange appearance of these people. But this one was different. Eyes brown as spring soil, a little furrow they called a dimple in his chin. A strong face. No head covering, so she got a good look at his close-cropped, dark hair.
As she studied him from under her lowered lashes, something inside her uncurled like a flower opening to the brilliant sun.
He edged her aside and spoke gently to the man. "I'm Dr. Jacob Callowaya medical doctor. You're in good hands now."
Teena dismissed the way he said the wordsas if the injured man was in danger of dying before he arrived. All she cared was he said he was a doctor. A white healer. She'd heard such a man had gotten off a boat a few days ago. This was what she needed. What she'd prayed for, not knowing if God would listen to her prayers. Yes, the missionary, Mr. Mclntyre, had assured her the Great Creator heard the Indian as much as He heard the white, but she wondered how he could be so certain. Had he ever been a Tlingit and asked for something? How then could he know?
She would watch everything this newly arrived man did, and learn his way of healing.
A boy almost as tall as the doctor stood at his side. He had the eagerness of a child, the height of a man, but not yet the weight. No longer child. Not yet man. With an eager, yet cautious expression. He seemed to belong to the doctor. Perhaps his son, though there was no resemblance. The boy-man was as fair as the doctor was dark.
Dr. Calloway pulled something from his pocket and put a plug in each ear as he pushed aside the injured man's shirt to press a tiny, cup-like thing to his chest. He then leaned forward and listened.
What did he hear? Was this their way of healing, or was there more?
The doctor straightened, folded his instrument and placed it back in his pocket. "Now let's have a look at this gash." He made to pull the moss off.
Teena captured his hands, gently stopping him. "You must not lift it yet. It needs time to work."
Dr. Calloway gave her a faintly reproving look. "No doubt you mean well, but this requires proper medical care."
She knew nothing about the white man's methods.
But she knew how to treat a cut. "If you take it off it will get " She struggled for the English word but couldn't find one, and had to settle for describing what would happen. "It will get red and oozy."
"Exactly." He turned his attention back to the injured man. "You need to keep your wound clean. I have some dressings with me." He again began to pull off Teena's work.
The man sat up. "I'm feeling a whole lot better. Whatever this girl did has worked. I'm heading back up the trail." He pushed to his feet.
Jacob stood, too. "You'll end up losing your leg if you aren't careful."
"I guess I'll take that chance." He limped away, Dr. Calloway at his heels, as if he meant to stop him.
The gold seeker paused as he remembered Teena's fur around his shoulder. He pulled it off and handed it to the doctor. "Give this to the little lady, and my thanks."
Jacob stared after the man.
Teena shared his sense of helplessness, but had long ago learned people did not always listen to advice, no matter how wise.
"I fear you will get infection," he called to the man's back as he limped up the trail. "If you do, please come back to Treasure Creek. I am going to start a medical clinic."
A medical clinic. White man medicine. Teena's heart soared. She would offer to help. She'd do anything he asked, if he would only teach her his ways.
The doctor returned to Teena's side. He slipped her shawl over her shoulders, caught her two braids and lifted them from under the fur. He performed the task naturally, his thoughts obviously elsewhere, but his touch gave the pelt gentle warmth, as if from the noonday sun. For a moment she closed her eyes and enjoyed the comfort.
"I'm going to ask you to stop using your primitive practices on these people."
Teena slowly turned to stare. "What do you mean?"
"Ignorance kills many." His expression tightened, marring his strong face and filling his eyes with hardness, but Teena did not back away. She needed this man's help. Besides, she agreed. Thousands had come seeking the glittering goldunprepared for the cold, the mountains or any of the dangers. Far too many perished, and hundreds more sat defeated and broken at the edge of the water.
"These people deserve proper medical care." He picked up his black leather bag and turned back toward Treasure Creek, the boy-man matching his gait stride for stride. He grinned at his young friend. "Seems I got here just in time."
The boy gave Dr. Calloway an admiring glance.
"You are going to do white man's medicine?" she asked.
Jacob did not slow his steps, forcing her to hurry to stay at his side. He was a tall man. Taller than most she'd seen. And he walked with purpose. The boy hurried to keep up, too. "That's why I'm here."
"You will need help at this clinic?" She congratulated herself on remembering the word.
"I trust there are those who would be interested in assisting me." He smiled again at the boy.
She rushed onward. "I am Teena Crow of the Tlingit tribe. I will help you."
He stopped. For a moment he didn't move, then he faced her, his expression like granite. "Do you know scientific methods?"
Not certain what he meant, she shook her head.
"Are you willing to abandon the practices you've been taught?"
She did not answer directly. "I want to learn more."
"I'm afraid I can't help you." He strode on.
His wordsalthough softly spokenwere like blows to her. This was what she had longed for, hoped for and prayed for. He was several yards ahead of her and she ran to catch up. "I do not understand."
"Your people's ignorant ways have killed many. Now that I'm here, I can save others from such malarkey." He continued to the busy town that hadn't existed a few months ago.
Teena stared after him. She must have misunderstood him. Or he had misunderstood her. She followed the pair slowly, at a distance, as they made their way to the center of town. Jacob paused at the churchthe first building Mack Tanner had constructed. Now he was adding to it to allow more people to attend services. Across the street stood another buildingthe school. They taught children to read and write. Mack said the native children were welcome to learn along with the whites, but the Indian children had accompanied their families to the fishing streams and helped with drying fish for the winter.
Teena wished, not for the first time, she could read. Then she could learn how to treat white man's diseases without need of a teacher.
Dr. Calloway hurried onward to the street opening to the waterfront, the boy still at his side, pointing and talking. The store on the left did not draw the doctor's interest. Instead, he turned to the empty space across the street. Was this where he intended to have his clinic?
The man-boy spoke, waving his arms wildly. The doctor nodded and the boy hurried toward the waterfront and the throng of people and supplies.
Teena would never get used to the scurrying crowds, the unending noise, the strange smell of so many unfamiliar things.
She hung back, watching as the doctor paced the piece of land.
"What are you staring at?"
She didn't take her attention from the scene before her as she spoke to her brother, Jimmy. "Him." She pointed. "Dr. Jacob Calloway. He's going to start a white man's place for healing." They had automatically fallen into their native language.
"More white men. Just what our land needs."
"We must accept the changes. Learn how to work with them."
"We see what happens if we stick to our old ways."
"If they hadn't come, our people wouldn't have died of strange diseases."
"But they did come. Our people did get sick." She shuddered at the memory of one after another of her clan dying, their skin marred by the dreaded pox. "We need their medicine to cure their diseases."
Jimmy didn't answer. They disagreed on so many things, but he had no argument for this. "I wish they had never come."
"We cannot push the sun back one hour, let alone the days and weeks it would require to go back to who we were before the white man came."
"They have brought us a curse."
She studied him, her face happy with a smile. "They brought us the news that we can know the Creator. We have always known about Him but feared His anger. We did not know He had sent His Son to open up the way for us to lift our hearts to Him."
Jimmy's face darkened. "Sometimes I think He is angry at us for being so bold. That is why we are punished with diseases we can't conquer, and the swarm of people seeking gold, who care not about the land."
Side by side they stared at the mud and confusion around them.
Teena had her share of doubts, too, but she wasn't about to confess them to Jimmy. So many times, she wondered if God loved her people as much as He did the whites. "I asked for a chance to learn their healing way. I believe Dr. Calloway is what I need."
"He will teach you?"
She sighed inwardly, not wanting Jimmy to know what Jacob had said. "God has sent him. He will teach me."
"Let us hope you can learn what our people need."
"Let us so pray."
"I have to get back to work. There's no end of people willing to pay for someone to take their goods up the mountain." Jimmy's voice grew strong with pride. Day after day, he packed a hundred-pound burden up the trail in return for gold.
"I notice you don't mind taking the white man's gold."
"It is in our land. It is our gold."
"Can you eat it? Can you wear it to keep you warm? Can it cure a dying child?"
Jimmy took a few steps away, then turned to face her. "Trading with the white man takes gold. Did you not say we have to change?" He strode toward the waterfront, found the man he sought amidst the confusion and shouldered a heavy pack.
Yes, they had to change. Learn new ways.
She turned her attention back to Jacob. He stood on the boardwalk and stared around him.
She saw his careful assessment. Then his gaze rested on her. Again she felt a quickening of her heart. As if the future held a thousand unspoken promises. As if she had set foot on a bridge over a deep valleya bridge between two worlds. As if God had heard and answered her prayer, just like Mr. McIntyre had said He would.