July 1876

The setting sun shone through the scattered limbs of the old cypress trees, casting shadows where the moss hung down in thick, speckled gray clumps. Hughes of purple, pink, and blue shadowed the sky as night was rapidly approaching. Water filled the swamp mud, emitting a pungent odor from the last week of heavy rainfall. As the wind blew, the slow curls of water sloshed up against the base of the bell shaped cypress trees and against my bare ankles. The swamp was eerily quiet. Not a creature made even a breath of sound. The burial of the late Chief Diot was being carried out in Houmas Indian tradition. The mound of earth was built to house his body, and eventually his bones, while trinkets from his earthly life were placed on the mound. This knoll is the only completely dry area in this part of the swamp. It was the old Chief’s favorite place to come and meditate.

Louisiana swamps were renowned burial grounds for the Houmas Indians. Some of the mounds dated older than the pyramids of Egypt or even Stonehenge. The mounds in Louisiana alone number more than anywhere else in the country. Tradition and camaraderie were important to the Houmas Indians. My tribe built their houses in a circular shape and planted corn fields all around the circle. The women were farmers, the men hunters. Both were dancers and intense story tellers.

The Chief Diot was among the most famous of all the story tellers in the tribe. His absence would truly be missed among the children. They regularly stared starry eyed at him while he told of the spirits of the bayou around the campfire before their bedtime. He would weave tales of Loup Garou, spirits and Voodoo priestess’ in the bayous. The scariest stories were always about the Skinwalkers. These were half man, half animal that had psychic dominion over other creatures in the swamp; it could control them with just a thought. Some confused the Skinwalker with the Loup Garou, werewolves that were human most of the month and werewolf on full moons. The Skinwalker was different. It never turned back completely human and was doomed to wander the swamps killing to survive. The only way to battle a Skinwalker was with spirit; wraiths, protectors. They could keep a body from having its soul stolen by the Skinwalker. I wish for those days when all it had been was stories.

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