The Desire To Write

In a cave hunched against the cold outside a man sat in a flickering firelight. He was clad in animal skins, and his hair was matted and tangled as it hung over his shoulders. He stirred, smashed, and ground in a crude bowl a substance which he studied intently. Satisfied with the mixture he dipped his index finger in and reached toward the cave wall. After a few dips of his finger the shape of a crudely drawn bison took shape on the wall. The figures of four men were added and a hunting scene took shape. Spears then were placed to show the triumphant conclusion. Satisfied he wiped his fingers on one of his leather leggings and smiled. A good day.

There are many Indian writings (pictographs) around here in Wyoming where I live. Many depict hunting, some are symbols, others are battle scenes. Man has it seems had a desire to record events since his beginnings. We can now share events at the speed of light. We can also now place pictures on a virtual wall somewhere on the net, a cloud I guess, somehow still driven to record a day’s events.  The smile of a grandchild, a perfect sunset, a freshly caught fish, a wedding, it’s only limited to an imagination. The image below is a description of how the name of the town in which I live came to be, and the depiction in Indian writing of that name.

Ten Sleep

An old man sits dressed in the garb of a sheepherder, a western man, or ranch hand, and bathed in the light of a computer screen. His fingers carefully click out the words of thoughts as they roll through his mind. He’s seen so many changes in his life, at an early age and two years of kindergarten, he learned to write with a very large lead pencil. His mother had fallen ill and his father was able to have the school teacher who lived up the road take care of him.

In the country school he attended, the teacher had to keep the four year old in the classroom with her during the day, and consequently gave him learning projects to do. The following year he attended kindergarten for real. There were no computers in those days. They couldn’t have made one work if there had been because there was no electricity. The Rural Electric Association didn’t bring the lines through that area till about five years later. The restroom was an outdoor facility, one side girls, the other boys. Very fancy, and the only one on the entire Willow creek. Double sided  that is, everyone had out houses. Children had duties to perform when they arrived at school. One child raised the American flag, one would go fetch a fresh pail of water from a hand pump out of a cistern that held the water supply. They all drank from the same water dipper which hung by its handle on the side of the bucket, shocking right? Another made copies if copies of papers were needed. A copy was made one sheet at a time. The original was placed on a tray of goo and it left its impression. Successive copy’s were made by laying more papers on the goo and pulling them off. Some would sweep or shovel snow or do a number of other tasks that were needed. There was a small three sided shed where any of the children lucky enough to ride a horse to school for the day could put up their horse. Mostly all the children walked in any and all kinds of inclement weather. He lived a mile from the school and some children lived a little further away. When the snow was too deep or it was 40 or 50 below zero They might get a ride. The sheepherder remembers he rode one day on the drawbar of a tractor behind his dad as he drove, the snow was too deep for the four wheel drive. Snow day? HA, that’s funny.

He hears they are not teaching cursive writing anymore and that makes him a little sad if it’s true, because some he has seen on Americas founding documents is so beautiful. He learned or tried to learn typing in high school but his fat fingers and lack of manual dexterity failed him. His typing teacher said to him ” if you will sit in the back of the class room and look busy I will give you a passing grade.” He passed.


The old man peers intently at the words he placed on the screen before him, thinks of the man with the paint on his fingers and wonders at this desire to place the words and images on the wall. He also has a mobile wall that will place pictures and words in net space as fast as a touch on a screen. Pictures are good too, and that makes him happy. He smiles and slows his labored typing, it is a little slow even with the large keys that fit his fingers. He mutters contentedly, “Dragon Naturally Speaking”, he needs one of those, he talks it types……hummm….. Not bad progress in the life of this sheepherder. He smiles again. The words will go on the wall faster.

One thought on “The Desire To Write”

  1. The petroglyphs of the two hands and the tepee have been shown to a lot of archaeologists, tribal elders of the Cheyenne and Northern Arapaho Nations, scholars that have interpreted hundreds of symbols, and they are all stumped. Nobody can say for sure what those symbols mean, as they aren’t documented anywhere. The best explanation is that when Paul Frison came through the Ten Sleep area, he recognized them as native, and made his best guess as to what those symbols meant. A much better story, in my opinion, is that his brilliant written history of the Ten Sleep area includes his guess of those symbols. In 2014, Dirty Sally’s is still able to sell T-shirts and mugs with this story that Paul Frison basically invented–to this day, not one expert on native writings or tribal elder can say what the hands and the tepee mean. At this point, it could have been something really epic, or maybe a couple of teenagers drawing, we don’t know.

    Sam Hampton once told me (when thieves had chipped off and stole the original sandstone with the Petroglyphs) that “Paul Frison told a way better story than Indians ever did.” My opinion is he is right.

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