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  • Mj Pettengill

From the Author's Pen: Nellie's Silent Song


A Heavy Load: Edward S. Curtis Collection (Library of Congress)
A Heavy Load: Edward S. Curtis Collection (Library of Congress)

Sadness in dark brown eyes looked towards the white woman’s stick. The powerful beasts, once far away, were close. Sweat covered bronze. The stick hit, first soft and then hard. “Move along, old woman.” She smiled… not a smile to warm, but a smile to make cold in my spirit.

I swallowed the remains of grass that grew bitter on my tongue. I walked away from where the truth lay in waiting, leaving Nanatasis’s laughter at the banks of Crooked River.

She pointed to the other side of the field. “Git over there with the other idiots. Go on.” She pushed against my back with the stick. “Ain’t you ever got nothin’ to say?”

I looked to Father Sky. The small black and white birds searched. All hushed as the red-tail made great circles. I waited for him to depart.

I walked to the gathering place of the elders, women in yellow, and those with words that had no meaning. One laughed and the other wept. At nightfall, I slept on the banks of Crooked River under the shelter of stars. Nanatasis / Nellie Baldwin —June 30, 1872— County Poor Farm Excerpt: Etched in Granite Historical Fiction Series: Book One

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As you know, this book would not have been possible without the paupers buried anonymously beneath 298 numbered granite stones. They beckoned me to look beyond the numbers. At the beginning of this journey, their names were absent and lost to future generations. The identities of many of the transients, laborers, orphans, and farmers have finally been restored. The sum and substance of their lives is an integral part of the fabric of our complex social history. We can learn from them.

I am grateful for Mrs. Lewis, grave number 140, listed in the town records as a pauper, a 100-year-old “Indian” woman. In this story, her birth name is Nanatasis (hummingbird), and her Christian name is Nellie Baldwin, after my own great-grandmother, another old “Indian” woman of the same era. Her memories were brought to life through the stories told to us by my Aunt Irene.

Thank you, Nellie and my Abenaki ancestors. I honor the fallen and those who were able to preserve sacred traditions and maintain the integrity of our indigenous roots while surviving the intended systematic elimination of their people and customs. Not only did researching and writing this book present the opportunity to strengthen my connection to our family roots, but it was also the beginning of reclaiming ancient healing practices. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ The Crows’ Path Etched in Granite Historical Fiction Series: Book Four is in full creation mode.


“Well, we all shine on. Like the moon and the stars and the sun.” —John Lennon