Our May 2023 Rumpus Book Club selection is Debra Magpie Earling‘s, The Lost Journals of Sacajewea, an astonishing work of art and a powerful tale of perseverance—the Indigenous woman’s story that hasn’t been told. Read an excerpt below and subscribe by April 15 to the Book Club to receive this title and an invitation to an exclusive conversation with the author via Crowdcast.


Day of Moon turning to ash

We are camped by Three Rivers Come Together—out on the wide grasses far from Agai. I am nine winters aged. In my gut, Land tells me we are not wanted in this place of Earth mounds and distant Mountains, growl-thick with Moose stink, marshy suck holes, and sneaky boat-headed Badgers.

Last Gather Season, our Enemy the Apsáalooke, killed our Walk-Around-Watchers. They ran us from our gathering places before Buffalo came, before we cached what keeps us. Some winters come like Rabbits, soft-round with snowy robes. Some winters slip down Mountains like scat, like gut-stench steam, winters that punish us with reek Waters and boney Wolves.

Starvation winter came like bitter smoke from screech-dry Rivers. Our mouths turned blue with hunger. Winter itself— a hungry animal—snuffled on the high ridges, roared down Mountainsides, howled ice-cuts across wide-open. Trees snapped around us. Agai River whined. Our skinny Horses ate sticks and grew barrel-stomached.

Now we have so much meat I feel stingy with all Earth gives.
I pray all day as I work but tire of work all day.
Women work day into night.
Men clatter down Mountains with more Deer. More Elk,

sometimes Antelope, and living thud-jumpy Rabbits. As I skin, I dream of gathering Camas roots and Gooseberries.

Animals give their lives to our hunger. I thank them as I skin. I use every speck. My fingernails are red-Mooned and blood smell. After Ceremony, I skin Deer, skin Antelopes, skin Weasels, skin Buffalo, skin Rabbits, skin Elk. My blood-heavy robe sticks to my belly. Blood-gut days. My teeth ache with beating and breaking bones. Scraping hides. Nothing is left but stacks of shatter bones to grind.

When Moon rises work saws in my teeth. Scrape scrape scrape. You should work clean, Men tell me.
You should be happy, my Bia says. We won’t starve come winter. Bia works beside me, her back a Hunter’s bow. We have shattered so many backbones, have pounded bone on bone for one slurp of marrow. My hands are as wide as my Appe’s. My knuckle cracks wake mice.

Appe is the person all Hunters seek. He is arrow fixer and arrow maker. His bows are as bendable and as strong as Agai. His bows do not shoot arrows; his bows spin arrows to their aim. No Hunter misses with an arrow made from Appe. He fixes thick arrows or bent arrows, and whittles them down so they sing through Sky. His bows, covered with snake skins, are never lost. Appe’s snake-skinned bows writhe. Appe makes nets that capture more Agai than ten Men with large nets. His fishing spears chant through roaring Waters and spear mightiest Agai. His arrows whisper to the hearts of Deer and Elk. Hunters repay Appe with plenty meat.

At Three Rivers Come Together, heavy sacks of meat swing over us, dripping blood. Black and flapping Birds darken Sky.

White Man called ă’-rah Crow. Now ă’-rah and Crow are one in my head.

Their name ă’-rah like their call. Their name Crow like they look.

Crows rootle lice, shit on the blackened Tree stand, and scold Women working

until Debai sleeps.




I am small and Crows wing down to snatch entrails from my hands. Crows are a shining black lake of wings above, around me.

Women look up from work and laugh when they hear me scream. They will take you, they tell me. We will see the speck of you in the Sky far far from us.

Black beads of ă’-rah. Crow eyes surround me, follow me. Crow eyes like small pecking winds of Old Women eyes. Like Old Women who know—me, you, All Around. Crows bobble over stacks of bones pecking blood, their eyes watching All Ways.

Crows know my prayers are puny. They know I want to go

home to Agai. They know my want means we suffer from hunger the length of long winter. They laugh at me. ă’-rah ha ha

At night the amber-green glow of Mountain Cats surround our camp, their eyes glaring in the Trees. So much blood makes us all prey.


Day of Moppo

When Debai rolls behind Mountains, clouds lift from oily reeds. Mists rise from nests of mud. Blood-stinger s s swirl. Blood- stingers s s swell.


Water bush pitch and Sweetgrass burn all night. Smoke to chase Moppo back.

Too Ott Lok, pitiful one, cannot outrun Moppo, cannot hide. They find him. They seek him out.

Old Men say, Stay far from Too Ott Lok. Watch for him. He is not like other boys.

We hear high sing hum-m of him-m long before we see him. At dusk, night Birds whistle-roar around him. Open-throat Bats whoop the Sky, descend like Appe’s arrows to spear Too Ott Lok clouds. Birds clear mists swarming Too Ott Lok’s head. Bats and Birds swoop his-s sweet blood.

We do not want him near our foot games. Children run from him and look back. Too Ott Lok, we call. Sticky gum catcher. Your blood is pine pitch and bee spit. Stay clear. Step back. Too Ott Lok comes.

Puh, Bia says. Too Ott Lok is our great gift. See. He was born to keep pests from us.

Bia is All Big when we are with Women. They listen to her words while she puffs and shudders.

Poor poor Too Ott Lok, Bia says. We should be happy he is with us.

Women look toward Bia with drum-stretch smiles. Nod like dogs catching scraps.

When we are alone, Bia tells me, Do not treat your own like always-baby. Better to leave one like him where you squat.


Days of no-work thief

Combs Gut does not leave Too Ott Lok who is thirteen winters old. She lugs him with us—everywhere, her baby, her big afterbirth saddle.

Rancid pair. Worse than rot, Otter Woman says. Combs Gut only works for Too Ott Lok. No one else.

Old Women strapped with baskets and burden-strap shoulders pretend Too Ott Lok is not sneaking behind them, scooping handfuls of berries—fistfuls—wolfing their work.

Too Ott Lok and Combs Gut, puh. Bia says their names like they are mice in her basket. Puh.

Too Ott Lok makes Gather Season long. Some nights, Combs Gut sings to him. If we listen, we hear her cooing without end. Most days, she stands behind him and rocks him in her arms, and together they pockell us as we pick chokecherries and gather high black moss.

He needs me, Combs Gut cries. We all must help him.

No one argues. Women always work . . always catch up slow Men.

When Women are not looking, Otter Woman and I spit plum stones at Too Ott Lok.

Toothless Onion Wife gums her tongue, looks at the ground. Her silence winks in the mouths of other Women.

Combs Gut eats more meat than Warriors but is only rib skin. Year upon year upon year she has not birthed children, still her teats bloat with milk. She binds her teats with tongue leaves wound with gut string. When her teats leak she cradles them in Cattails, and her teats leak . . . . and leak . . . .

How come she carries milk? I ask.

These things are not to be talked, my Bia says. Look with your gut, Baide then you would have no need for questions. Do not let your eyes hunt for no good. Puh.

Bia claps her palms over my eyes and shakes my head. You are here to work. Not weigh.

No one tells Too Ott Lok to work. He is many summers beyond me and still not a Man. He will not be. Too Ott Lok is Women- whispers, old Men long-looks, Children-laughs.

Bia pats my back and looks off into far away. She has taught me Old Ways to survive. She tells me Women carry Water pick berries dry berries collect help plants dig roots dig potatoes gather firewood snaregame gutDeer gutAntelope gutBuffalo gutBear poundmeat poundmeat&berries poundbones sewrobes pound moremeat seekmousebeans smokehides weaveFishcatches twist Againets pickberries poundberries dryberries dryrootspound roots dry Agai dry meat pound Fish smoke Fish smoke meat storecache gatherLodgepoles putupLodges sweepLodges brush Horses tan hides cook tend fires weave grass braid grass cut willows scrapewillowsticks weavewillowbaskets chewhides scraperoots scrape hides gather black tree moss dig cooking holes cut bushes weavebaskets toolrootdiggerssnarelizards skinPorcupines make Porcupine brushes teeth quills wash roots find poison boil roots gatherplums gathercherries grindbones gatherclay burncooking rocks gather cooking rocks make dog-carry carry cooking rocks carry children carry old ones carry firewood carry Water carry meat carry sacks carry Lodge poles carry carry carry.

When I fall asleep Bia is still talking. Strike stones for tools make awls weave Agai gigs make bone caches make Sheep cups make Buffalo cups dry Deer brains boil Deer brains clean hides in Water wring hides wring hides wring hides make frames make drying pouch for frames make sinew ties chew sinew ties roll hides in ashes then smolder fires . .

Before Debai enters our Lodge, Bia talks. Women make Earth jars. Fish kettles. Women hunt. Join War parties. She says more but my listening grows lazy.

No easy work, she tells me, only good work. See. All good work. All. Look at brush berries growing ripe to feed others. Look at Rabbits with their babies. Weta dig their food. Birds make nests, sit on eggs, chase us when we come close. Fox carries their babies to safety. Black moss grows as long as hair to feed us.

Too Ott Lok carries nothing but his fat self, I say.
I know work. I could speak my days, but talk is lazy.
I am not lazy. I work. More.
Bia whispers in my ear with breathed wings of Bats. We should

leave him. Puh.
Bia’s thoughts scrape like sharp bone. Her thoughts belong to

many Women. What-Women-will-not-say calls in me. They say

Leave him. Leave him. Leave him. And go. Leave him and do not look back.

It is not meanness, Appe says to me. It is survival.
It is meanness, Bia says. Puh. Meanness for survival.


Days before Thunder

On good days, Onion Wife tells Running Woman stories. Every Woman stops digging, stops picking, stops rooting to hear Onion Wife. Running Woman could hunt. Could trap. Could fight. Could weave grass baskets. Men, Women, Children watched Her like She was Debai, like She was Bluebird’s light in dark Trees, like She was cold Water on a hot day. We watched Her sick with want for Her. She was smells of cook fires and Stream Waters, small Trees high in Mountains. Her skin glistened like Fox fur. Her teeth were strong as Elk teeth, white as River clay.

One cold night when the People were hungry, She returned from Far away—Her Horse weighted with Buffalo, Her dog-sled heavy with Antelope and Deer. We danced. We ate. No Man, no Woman was jealous of Her.

She left us in the Season of Thunder. Kidnapped by the River Lodge People and taken far from us. Our Men chased after the tak- ers and returned sick and skinny. We knew She would escape these Enemies. For many days, we cried and waited. We looked for Her. We searched for Her. Every wind carried Her scent. Every Coyote sniff was Her breath. Every Mountain Lion cry was Her calling for us. For a long while People said they would see Her, a Lightening shot there, and then gone. Others swore they saw Her by River weaving rushes. We looked to find Her shadow cast like River shine through high ridge Trees. It has been a long time. We wait for Her until there is no One to wait.

Onion Wife claps her hands. You will see. Running Woman will return with drifts of Buffalo robes and pale pink shells. It will be like She was never gone.

You must gather what you can now. Fill your baskets to the top. When Running Woman returns, She will not find us lazy.


Night of too-good-for-you husband

My Bia has spoken.

Long ago, Appe promised me to Blue Elk. I am told when I am older, Blue Elk will take me for his first wife. This is my Appe’s way of tricking, I think. If other Men believe Blue Elk wants me—they might want me.

Now old Women sigh. Young Women snort when they near me.

Blue Elk is all Women desire. They chase him, bring him hump fat of Buffalo, bull berries, Water potatoes, wet chewed hides, Water baskets. Every Bia wants to snatch Blue Elk for a monappe. With Blue Elk you will never go hungry, never worry about Enemies.

Women whisper Blue Elk is more. I watch them watch him.

When Debai pools red and night turns the blue shine of his hair. When mint and sting weed rile me like black poison arrow tips fallen to sharp grass, and Men watch for rainbowed Trout to stub against weirs, Blue Elk crouches in fields, gathers sage and needle grasses, and then rubs a fire that burns like lit Buffalo bellies, yellow in the vein-colored dark. Women watch as Blue Elk, sure as Fox, winds to Water, his torch light blazing above him flicking tiny Stars into night’s bowl, All Around him tiny Stars raining, never catching brush on fire.

Men waiting for Fish run, open their mouths at the sight. Blue Elk lifts his torch and Fish gather to him, flapping Water. He gives his torch to Stands Tooth. He scoops up Fish and tosses them onto the bank, over and over again, until Blue Elk himself becomes one with Fishes. Blue Elk, his hair to his waist, belly flat, turns from Water to bank with armloads of Moon-speckled Fishes. His Song lifts like cedar smoke, like Womb ache. Silver curves of Rainbow Fish dance around him.

To be one with him would make Turtles sing, Women say.

Puh. How he looks matters less than mouse turds, Bia says. Who cares if his hair shines like Moon light? Who cares if his poker is as big as a Lodge pole?

Foolish Women. Foolish girls, Bia says. Do you not know arrows glance off his chest as if they know him? When no Deer are to be found, he finds them.

Bia speaks as loud as River roar. His looks will become as dry as old creek mud. Puh. Your belly will never rumble with Blue Elk in your Lodge.

But Women only gawp, only chitter chitter chitter like branch rub.


Day of blood sign

Small Elk left his Bia’s side while she picked berries. Our whole camp made a game circle and we flushed toward each other, beating the ground with branches, closing in on ourselves.

Deer rattled bushes in the center of our search. Badger sniffed air and then clawed back into his hole. Weta and her two cubs shot past us shitting berries.

We should have gathered up and left before we lost Small Elk, I tell Bia.

Now a bad scent follows us. Death rattles in the leaves and tickle grass.

Women arch their backs and hiss as they enter River.

We are in the Season where Women blood scent is sticky. Old Women snuckle their gums, and say—Women-blood fouls Water.

Bia says, Women blood scent is winter calling us to prepare. See, Bia says, Bramble is as red as Womb. I will help you prepare, my Baide. I am not ready to be Woman. Women-blood is strong enough to kill Men. Women-blood curdles Agai runs, rusts stones, salt clay, Elk trails, Turtle shells, Earth cracks. Women spill birth blood, and walk. Women-blood drums to all living. Our blood is

our Song into Seasons.
My breasts are flat. My muscles flinch when I move. I am as

muscly as a paw cat and far
from my blood time. I am not ready to lie beside Blue Elk, to open to him.

You will, my Baide, Bia says.
I will be like Running Woman, I say.
Bia laughs. She laughs so hard she spits. You have a slow start,

she says.
We shut our eyes before we dunk beneath pull currents, afraid

we will see edges-of-dark.

Bia hears Pabihiano hissing from River’s edge, laughing, playing tricks. Can you not hear them? Pabihiano wait to net us in the Season before Turtle sleep, she whispers.

I do not tell her I hear Pabihiano when I am alone. They call to me. They rustle in River Tree overhangs. They tell me when I am too close to suck holes.

In Gather Season rough as gopher fields, Ogres chatter in River foam but only Appe sees.

They have left their stone houses and bunched up here, Appe says. He sniffs. Up River is clogged with Sickness and bones of the Dead. Do not look.

I shiver when I enter Water. I watch for change.


Days of Earth yawn

After Rutting Season the days are hot as summer stones and promise sweet roots and plenty Deer, but just below River skin, Death pulls. Rattlers shed their long skins along hilly rocks and fury-strike any move. Lightning crawls Earth like lizards, shivers over gather paths, and the paths of all animals. Thunder rumbles our feet and startles blood.

Now is the time young Women see only each other, and only as Enemy. They hear their own Womb rattle and ready themselves to strike.

Move out of their way, old Women tell young Men, and laugh. For young Women, there is only one Enemy now—Bawitčhuwa. Women eye Bawitčhuwa. They watch Her like camp scouts

and stretch their eyeballs to keep Her in sight. If Bawitčhuwa spots them, they play blind. They play they look to distant Mountains.

Bawitčhuwa is fourteen winters and ready for Husband. She is as ripe as late Season snow berries, and poison.

Even old Men puff big when Bawitčhuwa is near. I have seen Walks Back Night stretch before Her like a dog wanting scratch, his cockhead blazing. She snaps Her teeth at him and he rolls. If he follows Her, Old Women spit at him.

Bawitčhuwa’s Appe promised Her to Rabbit, and when Rabbit died, Her Appe told Her She could choose. All wives hope She chooses not their Husbands.

Men watch Her. Hope for Her. Bring gifts. Fish as long as a short Man’s legs. Hunks of Buffalo. Deer hearts. Men lick their lips, say when She has babies, Her milk will drown us all. Her Appe and Bia grow as greasy as fat Bears. Soon they will become as big as Buffalo.

Bawitčhuwa comes to River last. She does what She wants. She perches on juts-over River rock and pulls Her robe off over Her head and stands naked too long forever.

Her skin is River bramble in early Debai-light. Her nest-hair is as sleek and shiny as Beaver.

Old Women splash Water on their ankles and turn to watch young Women and Bawitčhuwa chipping for battle.

Young Women peep Bawitčhuwa, and then turn their backs to Her, hunch their shoulders together, laugh.

Puh, Bia says, Show their want; lose their power.

Women say, Bawitčhuwa’s legs are so strong She could squat and grind all day and never tire. Forget good work. Forget children. While She huffs over your Husband, you will work to feed Her. With those big hips, they say, SHE will have so many children we will all starve.

In winter, when food is scarce and the People are hungry I shrink to bones.

Bawitčhuwa never loses fat. Her breasts remain the size of Buffalo balls, firm and high.
Her ass as plump as a Mountain Ram rump.

Puh. She is lazy, my Bia tells me, not the worker you are.

I am dry and hard and skinny. Not like Bawitčhuwa with Her berry-stained fingers, Her plump greasy lips. I have dressed over a hundred animals since we set camp. Spirit teeth click in my gut. Crows smack my name in their black leather tongues and call their Brothers to my blood-stiff hair. I wash with River clay and cannot wash stink from my hair.

Look to All, Appe tells me. You are All you see. See All good. Appe opens his arms. See light flitter like Birds on silver leaves. See Beavers, slick as minnows, chew down Trees, and if you are quiet you will see Weta’s eyes watching through leafy branches.

Appe places his palm over my eyes. Look inside, he says. See the stories you hold.

I see long back. Night glows brighter than Agai coming up River. Up from Earth, a smell rises from where Pop Pank stands,

so sweet, so fullish, blossoms puffing in Budding Season cannot fill my nose. Outside Grass Dance circle, Pop Pank stands so quiet I hear her teeth clicking. I see Men and Women dance for grasses to grow for Deer and Elk, for All animals, for All Fish, for All People. A scent stirs in my marrow. A gut pot boils. A snake hole waggles. The quivering scent of Earth yawns. Grasses writhe up from Pop Pank’s River dampness, her red Agai heart. Grasses rise from her small shaking body.

Men fall to their knees, their eyes wurtling round.


Days of ene’e

Water is so cold I am breathless. Bia mouths for me to follow and we return to River bank to watch. Bia is trouble-faced. She squints into Water light. She wraps me in my robe and gathers her blanket and together we stand shivering. A deep smell shudders over Waters, sweeps across River in ripples.

I see now what Appe sees. Ogres bob up and then down, Their stony heads sleek and round from Water rub. Women perch on rocks, not rocks, mistaking Ogres for places to rest, not seeing loll of Ogre heads rise between their legs as they lean forward, then back, and kick their feet in Water. Ogres’ stony eyes roll as They watch Women bathe, as They wait beneath and beside Water to wed them.

Do you see Them, Bia? All along the Water line?

Bia cups her eyes, and looks. I cannot, she says. Only Earth-close People see Them. The Old and the Young. The Ones given sight.

Mud Squatter plops into the Water and heads to where Water is angry, where giant Ogres cackle at boulders. Water spits white and gurgles round and round Mud Squatter while Women shiver together.

Mud Squatter teases Ogres. I can tell. She smacks her lips at Them and They roll under her waves. Mud Squatter swims where we cannot, where we are afraid, and is happy. She putters and puffs. Her hands paw. Her head bobs in her own splashes.

Debai squints at Mountain edges and we shield our eyes to see Mud Squatter eel across the widest wound of River. She becomes Beaver-sleek past Water so deep, so black, to look there is to become blind.

Far below her, Spirit caves chicker with the winking Dead.

When Mud Squatter reaches the far bank, she hefts herself up and rests. She rests for a time too long.

Young Women call to her.

Leave her to herself, my Bia tells them. Can you let old Women rest?

Mud Squatter sits up and pats her face. She cups her hands round her eyes and looks around as if she does not know where she has landed. Far above her, cliffs rise too steep to climb. Mud Squatter s-shakes her naked body and climbs anyway.

Ahhh, my Bia groans.

Mud Squatter taps here and there and slowly makes her way up cliff wall.

Halfway up, Mud Squatter stops to stand where Mountain Goats have stood. Rocks tumble past her, clatter all the way down and splash into River. No one should be where Mud Squatter stands.

Far below her, green Water wriggles, and waits.

Bia fists her mouth. She will fall, my Bia says. That foolish old Woman will fall.

Pop Pank dips beneath River and boils Water with her breathhh.

What is she doing? Bia asks. She should be watching her Gagu, not calling noise to herself. Puh. White Man knew Pop Pank was special but Bia says work is worth.

Mud Squatter grasps at horsetail clumps and climbs higher, higher yet, and comes to top bluff where she hand slaps here there searching for holds.

At last, she fists Bird weed and kicks herself up on the rock shelf and rests.

My Bia taps my arm and points her chin at Bawitčhuwa floating in Water. Bawitčhuwa smiles a River bug smile—knifes her arms and legs—and skims top Water. If Mud Squatter fell, Bawitčhuwa would own the old Woman’s Death.

Far above us . . Mud Squatter stands on the edge of the World .. andstretches.

Women back up to the River shallows, their eyes on Mud Squatter, All Women but Bawitčhuwa. Bawitčhuwa stays flow-ting. Smile-ing.

High above us, Mud Squatter’s shadow quivers through skinny Trees. When she steps from the shadowy saplings, Debai ticks through tall grasses. Watery blue branches sway as s-s-s-she edges her way out to an overhang thin as a s-snake’s tongue.

Women wave their arms. Come back, they shout.

Birds wing beneath the shaley plank Mud Squatter walks upon. Rocks split beneath her feet and plunk|splash to Water. A breeze smokes upward and then dust spittle comes

down down

and down
again and

scatters over River.
On Earth’s crumbly tongue, Mud Squatter stands Weasel-eyed.

Woozy. Her breasts wobble as she peaks her hands above her head and smalls herself. She killdeers off the ledge and hits Water like a coup crack, her Spirit spraying upward fizzing white. We smell pine-needle hiss of her body before she becomes River.

We wait for her to surface until our dark selves stretch tall. Sky becomes color of clay. Mud Squatter has become only quiet, only sounds of Water lapping and rushing on in ripples.

Ogres wink at us in River light.

Pop Pank smiles and drifts along in swirling Ogre-crackling River bends as if nothing is wrong, as if nothing is wrong at all.

Women slap Water skin and Water rings out. They call her name, her name-no-longer. Mud Squatter. Spit sizzles in the pitch of their voices.

Bia holds me as we walk back into Water. We shiver beside one another. We know now. River has taken Mud Squatter.

Bawitčhuwa gathers her robe and leaves as Women begin to wail. But when Men come to River, their eyes wound-dark, Bawitčhuwa waits and watches. Children cry.

Blue Elk runs past all of us. He runs so quickly, leaps from juts- over River rock and spears into River headfirst and I feel the cedar wind of him passing.

Appe squats beside River and watches currents looking for any sign of Mud Squatter.

Blue Elk is gone too long and Bawitčhuwa returns to stand on rock Blue Elk leapt from. She disrobes again slowly this time. And as Bawitčhuwa enters Water her breasts float. Her nipples become as large as thimbleberries. Foam gurgles from the mouths of Ogres.

Bia sees IT first. Narrow edge of Monster moving through Water, lipping waves. A back hump stirs Women and one after the other Women spin, jump, squeal as Monster threads in and around us.

Bia does not flinch. She grips my hand and makes me stand still beside her.

Blue Elk’s breath bubbles to the surface and he emerges like Otter, shakes his head, lifts his hand to other Men before he dips down again into black Water caves.

Look, look, Bia says. River dimples with light. S s sw-wirl of swift feet. Beavertail currents. Purled wash of skin. Small bubbles swarm my knees. A large Fish brushes scales against my hand, glints silver past my legs.

Bia cups her hand to my ear—Mud Squatter—she whispers. We are not to speak Mud Squatter’s name, not call her up from River that has claimed her.


From The Lost Journals of Sacajewea by Debra Magpie Earling (Minneapolis: Milkweed Editions, 2023). Copyright © 2023 by Debra Magpie Earling. Reprinted with permission from Milkweed Editions.




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