TO THE HIGH PLAINS

In the morning I said what the hell and tried the Interstate. That didn't turn out worth a damn; sure enough, I-40 was one construction zone after another. (Basically I-40 across Oklahoma is divided between stretches under repair and others desperately in need of it.) I got back off the Slab near Weatherford and rode the frontage road, and found I could make better time, and without having to fight the turbulence from those God-damned trucks. And, as a bonus, stop whenever I took a notion to admire the view, or take a picture, or pee.

And now and then something simply weird.

West of Clinton I turned off onto a series of long straight roads across rolling, almost empty country. There was a detour I wanted to make, a place I wanted to visit. Or rather revisit; Phyllis and I had been here before, back in the nineties, on the last long bike trip we ever took together - though it's not really the sort of place for sentimental associations, sure as hell nothing romantic about it....

This is the site of the Battle of the Washita, named under a time-honored historic principle; if it had gone the other way and the Indians had won, it would have been called a massacre.

Which was pretty much what it was, whatever the official terminology. Back in 1868 an old Cheyenne chief named Black Kettle had made what he thought was a solid peace with the whites; he had even moved his village closer to the white men's fort to show his good intentions, and taken to flying a US flag over his teepee. Much good it did him; a prancing tinhorn bastard named George Custer moved his troopers in during the night, surrounded the camp, and commenced a general slaughter. Black Kettle himself was gunned down while frantically trying to talk to the attackers.

Considering the advantage he started with - a surprise dawn attack on a sleeping peaceful village - Custer didn't even commit a very efficient atrocity. Later he claimed ninety-some-odd Cheyenne warriors killed, but considering that there were only about fifty teepees in the camp, that was ridiculous. Most of the Cheyenne dead almost certainly were women and children, and old men; anyway the exact body count was never known, partly because the snow covered a lot of the bodies and partly because Custer had to leave in a hurry, other Indians having shown up from neighboring villages. And at that the evil little shithead managed to lose twenty-one of his own men. All things considered, the outcome at Little Bighorn, eight years later, doesn't look so surprising.

The monument does give a pretty fair account of the affair. The last time we were here I went over and pissed on Custer, and I was going to do it again, but I found myself remembering how Phyllis had laughed, and the depression hit me and I got back on Maggie May and rode on.

And finally there it was. Not a very encouraging reminder: this state not only produced that son of a bitch, they're proud of it.

On the other hand, there was at least one good thing to be said for the place.

Turning southwest, I fought gusting quartering winds down to Pampa - a town of amazing unloveliness - and then northwestward to my destination for the day.

Lake Meredith is a big manmade impoundment, about thirty miles north of Amarillo, made by damming the Canadian River where it has cut a long canyon through the rock of the Llano Estacado - the ruggedest part of the High Plains - and with several excellent little campgrounds, all of them free.

The wind was coming up from the southwest in great violent gusts now; getting the tent up was something of an operation, and then I had to string a bungee-cord support to keep it from being pushed flat. There were campgrounds down by the lake, where the cliffs would have offered some shelter, but I liked it up here on the caprock.

After dinner - a bit of a trick getting the little stove to work in that wind, too - I walked around a little, looking at this and that, remembering when Phyllis and I stayed here on that last good run. I'd bought a couple of steaks and a small bag of charcoal back in the last town and we'd had a great steak dinner, and afterward watched a hawk vainly stalking a family of quail that were showing great expertise in staying under cover.

Later there was an unnecessarily spectacular sunset and then the wind died down enough to let me sleep.

* * * * * * *

NEXT: CANYONS AND CADILLACS

MOTORCYCLE PAGES INDEX

HOME PAGE