One summer a few years ago, the state parks people called Stanford. They wanted to re-enact the 1866 Fetterman Massacre, in which Arapaho, Cheyenne and Sioux warriors ambushed and killed 80 U.S. soldiers. It was the 140th anniversary of the event. They had the cavalry and infantry lined up; did Stan have any warriors? Sure, he had warriors. I wasn't there at the time; we were on the phone. I imagined him looking over at the boys sprawled on his bed, watching Beyonce Knowles dancing on MTV. He was up to his neck in warriors. He had Beau, and Daniel, who could handle a horse well enough. Stanford hustled up these two, plus four friends and one kid currently living at the house. In 10 days, he got them onto horses often enough that they were ready to drive to Fort Kearny, in the northern part of the state.
In the park museum's bathroom, the boys painted their faces. Beau put black-and-white horizontal stripes on his face. His head was crowned with a coyote pelt, some feathers and a pair of antelope horns. He looked like something from a Grateful Dead album cover. Daniel painted the right side of his face black and had lines on either side of his mouth up to his eyes. The other boys' efforts to appear warrior-like were less successful: A boy named Brandon painted big red circles around his eyes -- "He looked like a rodeo clown!" Stanford laughed. "Daniel got mad -- ‘Take it off! I'll paint you!' -- but Brandon still wound up looking like a Care Bear."
Then they mounted the five bareback ponies Stanford had brought up in a borrowed trailer, whipped the saddles off the two dude-ranch horses the parks people had provided to round out the Indian herd, and galloped flat out over the rough ground towards the soldiers. The park superintendent told me he was amazed at the bravado and speed of their attack, but Stanford saw three of them fall off, one of them so often that the rider resorted to leading his trotting horse by the reins and running after the infantry, threatening them with his hatchet.
"The soldier guys, I think they wanted to laugh, but then again, I think they were just happy the Indians showed up," said Stanford. "But Beau and Daniel looked good. All they had to do was not smile and people thought they'd get scalped. Beau snuck up to one of the cavalry guys. He turned around and went ‘Whoa-oh-oh!' "
He laughed so hard at his own story he had to rub his eyes with his limp hands.
Stanford had orchestrated all this from a body that could no longer do his favorite thing in the world, which was ride a horse. And while the Arapahos and their allies prevailed in the Fetterman Massacre, within a few years it was all over for the Plains Indians. If Stanford had tended toward bitterness, historical or personal, or if he'd have been scared of the Arapaho riders looking less than stellar on horseback, his group of latter-day warriors would never have left the reservation. But Stanford wasn't bitter, and he wasn't afraid, either.