Don’t Let Another Shotpouch Walk on Without Passing Down Herbal Healing Wisdom

Steve Russell

Call him Shotpouch. That’s not his name, but I don’t have his permission to write this and the Shotpouch outfit is big enough that no individual is likely to be mistakenly identified. He’ll be as safe as I’d be among the Teehees, another big Cherokee outfit.

I first met Shotpouch at a little mom and pop in Jay, Cherokee Nation, Oklahoma.It was breakfast time, and we got scrunched into the same table because there were more bodies than tables and it was that kind of place.

I had had some bureaucratic problems with the BIA, and I was whining about it. Shotpouch appeared to be full blood, which turned out to be true, and of an age that his face no longer reflected any particular age, but you could tell that guy was old.

He chuckled at my rendition, but then launched into his own BIA story. His complications with the BIA one-upped mine considerably and even though he spoke softly in that cadence of people still thinking Cherokee-to-English, by the time he finished the hilarious saga of bureaucratic ineptitude you could hear a pin drop in that greasy spoon.

There was a moment of silence when he finished followed by a collective roar of belly laughs, and I knew I had just been taken to school in the art of storytelling by a master. He also made me feel better, because my hassle was so trivial by comparison.

We wound up leaving at the same time and, as I got into my red Karmann Ghia convertible with the top down (don’t ask—it’s a long story), he started walking in a direction where I didn’t think there was much destination. But one look at his gimpy stride led me to offer the old man a ride, which he accepted.

Turned out, Shotpouch lived up in the hills, without electricity. He had a spring for water and an outhouse prudently downhill from it. The entire cabin was surrounded by what looked like an amazing vegetable garden…except that I did not recognize some of the plants, and he appeared to be cultivating others I thought were weeds. He had chickens and several piglets to whom he spoke in Cherokee.

He was a fascinating man, and that tale at the eatery was just a tiny example of what he could do in English. I had the thought: he must be incredible in Cherokee; when a middle-aged couple showed up in a Chevrolet that looked older than they were, and started an animated conversation that I had no hope of following.

I excused myself and strolled through his garden for a while. By and by, he came out and went directly to a particular row and oh-so-carefully removed a couple of green plants, roots and all. He sandwiched the plants between two damp paper napkins and handed them to the woman.

The man reached for his wallet and the conversation smoked me again, but some sum did change hands. My experiences that day led me to look the old man up when I visited Jay, usually more than once a year. I learned that he had spent his whole life studying traditional medicine, but he was not teaching a young person to replace him.

“The kids nowadays, they all want to know how many years it would take. How would I know?  What kind of a question is that?”

There came a time when I drove up that gravel path to his house and found his garden in terrible disarray. I drove over to the Seventh Day Adventist Hospital in Jay where my R.N. aunt worked, and asked after him. The medical community was small enough in Jay everybody would know.  

Shotpouch had walked on some months before.


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