THE MAN THE ANIMALS TALKED TO
In the 1930s an old Seneca man moved to Salamanca from one of the other reservations. He lived in a shack by the old church and made his way doing odd jobs for a couple of bucks and a meal. People got to know him as well as they ever would through the work he did. He spent almost all his time in the company of his animals, several cats and a pack of dogs.
He cut a curious figure. He walked wherever he went, and a couple of dogs always went with him. The understanding between them looked past that between most pets and their owners. In his company these animals seemed more focused than other animals. There wasn’t the frisking, the sniffing, the inquisitive or reflexive behavior common to other cats and dogs. Word got out that he could talk to animals.
People who walked by his house often saw him in his rocker on the porch, cats and dogs always with him. He often seemed to be speaking to them, always in Seneca, never English or any Western tongue. It scared people more that he often paused to listen. Others swore they saw the other animals lean in and perk up when one needed to have its say. Some people wondered if these were natural animals; but there was no report of trouble from them as would be expected if they were witch-animals, and when he wasn’t around they acted like calm, well-behaved pets, not wzards in disguise. People started to think of him as a medicine man of some sort.
Whatever he truly was, he was known by his neighbors as the man to call whenever an animal was sick. Many could recall him leaning near the head of a sick horse or cow as if carrying on a conversation with a patient. He always made up a potion or other and soon the animal was well. He never accepted a fee for work like this. People thought he was strange for a number of reasons, not the least of which was denying money.
People almost never visited him after sundown. The lights in his house were almost never on at night as if he could see in the dark like an animal. Besides, those dogs acted like they were guarding something important.
One summer trouble came to the houses up on the hill. At all hours of the night horses’ hooves could be heard on the roads in a certain neighborhood, sometimes on the paths in the trees behind the houses. After a while people started seeing a strange horse in their yards at night.
One old woman reported coming out on to her porch at night to find a well-groomed, dark gray stallion, standing still and looking at her in a way not common to horses. She screamed and it trotted casually into the woods.
Her husband came out a night or two later to get a pail of water and saw the same horse simply staring at him. The next night he looked out and saw it stalking the house, simply observing. He shined a flashlight through the window at it and it took off.
Soon everyone in the community was worried. The old timers would have considered this a witch that had taken the form of a horse and come among them to do harm, and no one knew what to make of it. They were about to call a council of the elders when the man with the dogs came for a visit. A couple of the neighbors gathered in the house of the two old people and told him all they had seen and heard. He listened carefully. When they were through he told them they might see the horse again, and that if they did it would be bolder. He didn’t say much when they asked him how he knew, but he told them he would be back in a few days.
Two nights later a loud thump came on the side of the house of the old couple whose property had been the focus of the earlier reports. The woman looked out the kitchen window to see the horse a foot or two from it, looking in. She let out a yell and the horse vanished. The next morning the man with the dogs came back, heard them out, and said he would stay with them that night.
Around sunset he and four of his big dogs came back. He carried a big bag, a walking stick, and a hunting knife. He sat on a chair in the dark on the back porch and waited, his dogs silent around him.
Around midnight the dogs perked up their ears. Sure enough, it was the sound of horses’ hooves coming down the slope on the path that ran behind the tool shed and approached the house. The dogs ran out silently in four directions, barking and snarling only when they had surrounded the horse. It was startled and utterly confounded. They snapped at it from all directions. It stomped, snorted, and whinnied fiendishly. The man and woman of the house heard the commotion, came to the front door, and looked out on the moonlit scene.
The horse reared and lashed out with its hooves, seeking to break from the dogs. The old man spoke a single sharp phrase in the Seneca tongue. The horse stopped and looked at him as if it was listening. In a minute or two the man walked into the woods, followed by the strange horse and its escort of dogs.
The old couple waited on the porch, the man holding his shotgun. In about an hour the four dogs ran back to the house,and huddled, shaking and looking back into the woods as if they had seen something so terrible that it had scared them. The couple worried that maybe the witch-horse had killed the man, and began to fear that it would be coming back to finish whatever work it had with them. They waited what seemed like another hour. Then the dogs perked up their ears again as if they had heard something and ran back into the woods. This seemed to be a sign that something had changed, and the exhausted old couple went to sleep at last, hoping for the best.
As usual, the next night the man who talked to animals was on his porch, smoking his pipe, gently rocking, and watching the twilight turn into night, his animal-friends by him still. He never said anything about his night in the woods, but no one saw or heard the witch-horse again. No one would have known any more of the night’s events but for the report of A neighbor.
The sun was just coming up on the next morning as this man drove over the hill on his way to work. Near the old church he passed the man who talked to animals, his four dogs alongside him, coming out of the woods with a bag over his shoulder and something so heavy in it that he tottered as he walked with it. This was all anyone ever heard about that night in the woods. No one could guess what was in the bag or what the medicine-man’s dogs had seen that scared even them.
THE NIGHT THE DOGS CRIED TOGETHER
The night the dogs cried was a cold one in the autumn late in the 1930s. Duce Bowen remembered it, a night he was visiting his grandmother. She gave him cookies for a snack and tucked him in for the night. Sometime in the dark morning the dogs in the neighborhood all cried.
There had been signs of this a day or so before. The man who talked to animals had been working for one of the families on the hill, and when he was done he was asked to look at a listless dog. This one was the inseparable companion of the older boys, but for the last couple days had lost his interest in anything, as if he was sick to his belly. The animal-man found him lying on the back porch, spent a few moments near him, and stepped away.
“Something strange could happen tonight,” he said to the family. “I can’t tell you much about it yet.” On his way home he stopped at a few houses and made inquiries. Sure enough all the dogs had been mournful and listless for a couple of days, and some had even started to whine with no apparent cause.
The man who talked to animals had a lot to think about on his walk home. He fixed meals for himself and his animals and sat a long time with them on the porch, trying to figure the whole thing out. Then he went in and sat in his customed chair, two cats asleep on his lap, the dogs in their sleeping-spots. He fell asleep in his chair.
About two-thirty in the morning he jerked awake to the sound of a dog howling somewhere outside the house. He went to the door for a look. All the dogs in the neighborhood, inside or outside, were howling and whining. It was an awful, surreal sound. His own dogs came close to him and commenced their own whining, but they calmed when he started to speak to them. He told them in his own Seneca tongue that they did not have to cry out to the world, because they were his own dogs, and he knew their hearts already. Soon they were still.
He put his heavy coat on and went out to look at the sky, listening to all the other dogs of the village. Their songs together told him a story, and tears were on his cheeks when he turned back into his own house.
The next morning a group of people sought him out and asked him about the strange night. Tears came to him again when he started to answer. He told them to prepare their hearts, because a big war was coming, bigger than any that had ever been.
“Somewhere across the seas events are in motion, and it’s finally too late for them to be turned around. Many of our sons will leave us, and many of them will not be coming back. The dogs know this, and they cried by the doors and windows because they love their families, especially the sons who ran with them as boys, who will be with their families only a little while longer.”