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  • Mj Pettengill

Three Rivers—Nellie’s Solemn Vow

From the Author's Pen


Native American Girl, Public Domain
Native American Girl, Public Domain

Nanatasis—Nellie, her Christian name—lived in the present moment. She trusted that her past was behind her and that the future was a mysterious gift. Although she often dreamed in a way that suggested visiting her loved ones who passed, she knew that she would be reunited with their spirits in the afterlife.


Her visions offered wisdom, and her oneness with nature provided insight into the unfolding miracles of everyday life. No offering was ever too small or deemed insignificant.

Her work on the Poor Farm was natural, as was the way that she lived her life. She did not heal and protect those on the farm out of duty, for notoriety, or any egotistical gain. She did so because it was her pure essence. She was an authentic medicine woman, aware and aligned with the power of Our Mother, and she acted accordingly.

I admire Nellie for her ability to comprehend that everything that happened was because it was exactly as it was meant to be. She did not try to force, control, or overcome nature; instead, she observed the bigger picture and moved forward in a defenseless manner.

She was mute by choice. The trauma of losing her daughter brought her to a place where only she could understand. She made a vow to herself, and she honored it.

~-~~~~~~~~~~~~ Excerpt

It was the season when the wind was uncertain. The sound of the rushing water grew stronger. I pulled the fur around us more. We neared the crossing where the three rivers flowed roughly into the other. We would reach my people before nightfall.

Great white teeth and the fury of winter past stirred in the three rivers. The wind changed. There was much white water close to the edge of the crossing. We traveled carefully upon the land trail to reach the other side. The water hurried above the ground; I held my daughter closer. The howling river filled my ears, and the wind carried a spray that made us wet. The earth fell away, and the horse fell away too. I held Mamijôla when the horse cried out.

The river swallowed the horse and Mamijôla and me; the water was with ice and fury as it tore my daughter away. The great rush silenced my screams. I reached for her before the river pulled me below, where the rushing sounded no more. The currents pushed me to the deep rocky place where the river shakes. I faced the death struggle.

When I arose from the water that flowed under rocks and branches, ice struck me until whiteness was all around. The wind blew cold. Mamijôla was not in my sight. Each time I cried for her, the river took me back in her rage. I fought White River until I could fight no more. The darkness came; I fell into peaceful slumber.

Nanatasis! Nanatasis! The rushing waters of White River returned when I opened my eyes. The outstretched arms of the giant pines waved against the gray sky. Mother held my head. Pain was great; it took much strength to move.

Mamijôla. Where is Mamijôla? My spirit shook.

Nanatasis, Mamijôla is not here. There is no sign of her. Speak of your path taken after we parted. She was with sorrow and wet eyes. You are hurt.

Wnegigw and the others searched the banks of the river. My head was warm with blood. We were at the crossing of three rivers. There were many great winds and white water. The earth departed, swallowed by the river, and swept us away. I fought; White River defeated me and I lost Mamijôla. I moved; the pain made me still. I must find her. She is in danger and may perish.

Wnegigw approached and, with Mother, wrapped a wool blanket around me. He spoke with quiet. The night will be upon us; it grows late. We must take Nanatasis to warm by the fire. We will look for Mamijôla into the night.

The thunderbolt pierced my neck and back when he lifted me onto his shoulder. I returned to darkness under a blanket of shadows, and the river was silent.

The night approached. Nanatasis, you must drink. Mother held the hot medicines of the hemlock near to my mouth.

I looked long into the fire and turned away. I would not take of it. She pressed the inner bark of white pine onto the swelling of my leg. I closed my eyes to see Mamijôla slip under the fierce waters of White River. Until she returned, I would not utter a word.

(Nanatasis) Nellie Baldwin – August 30, 1872 Excerpt: Etched in Granite Historical Fiction Series, Book One