~ EL HEAD ~
THE BUGLER CROWS THRICE
Dennis E. Power
THE EL HEAD HOMEPAGE
PHINEAS BRANN; Master Sergeant 10th Cavalry. Served US Civil War, Sioux and Apache Campaigns,
Spanish-American War and Philippine Insurrection. Interviewed 7-6-1929 for Osage Sentinel, a Negro newspaper.
Entire transcript of interview first used in A HISTORY OF THE NEGRO IN THE US MILITARY, (Macmillian 1977.)
by Andre Verbaden.
So you want to know about the horror of war do you, well son, I can tell you stories about watching your friends being scalped, being blown apart by cannon shot, stitched to death by Gatling gun fire or just plain dying of some strange disease that literally drained the life out of them. That kinda crap you can hear from every soldier boy what ever served in any damned army. You wanna hear a tale? Huh. I got a tale for you.
The worst thing I ever saw in the army was what happened to these two old boys, Lester Peason and Stuart Calley. It was during what they called the Philippine insurrections. By this time I had been in the army some thirty years or close to it. I had joined in 1864 in a black regiment. Thirty years later I was still in an all Negro regiment and fighting another kind of colored man.
Now don't get me wrong, I don't have much sympathy for them damned Filipinos. We had just beaten the Spanish for them and they objected to the US of A staying on to make certain that they knew how to elect a democratic government. Now I don't hold again any man fighting for his freedom but there are ways to do it. Blowing up, or burning or bushwhacking innocent folks ain't the way to do it. When them little brown bastards captured one of our boys more often than not they would torture them to death. Yeah, there was terrible atrocities committed by both sides, but they started it.
I was on a reconnaissance mission with five young boys, we were scouting for an area for extended encampment. Suddenly like brown ghosts the little bastards slipped out of the jungle and surrounded us. Knowing what they did to their captives, one of the men panicked and fired indiscriminately. He killed two of the Filipinos. As soon as his weapon was empty, four Filipinos fell on him with their bolos, these big ass machetes, and hacked him to death.
They tied our hands none too gently behind us and put ropes around our necks. Reminded me of a chain gang. We were marched across the Zambales Mountains and to the South China sea. From there we were loaded into paraos, these here outriggers with sails, and carried us off to one of them hundreds of dinky ass islands around Borneo.
Tied neck to neck by a rope we 's pulled along by some damn bastard who thought he was taken some dogs for a walk. We were lead into a the dense jungle of the island on which we had landed. After two hours of hurried traveling along an barely seen game trail we entered a clearing.
Darkness was fast approaching but we could see that this was some kind of village. In the center of the village square, just beyond the central fire pit was a chair. Sitting in the chair was a corpse, ripe and stinking with decay. The skull was mostly bare and the flesh hung off the bone in rotting strips.
At first I thought that this was a death chair. This is a charming little custom in some areas of the Philippines. After somebody kicks off the family ties them into a chair in the sitting position. Mourners will then come to view the corpse until the body becomes too rotten for anybody to stand the stench.
To my horror the corpses head moved and its decayed hand motioned for us to be brought closer. As we moved beyond the glare of the fire we were able to view the corpse with some clarity.
A shock shot through me.
From the neck down the corpse looked like a large Polynesian man's body, several weeks dead. Yet the head was a virtual skull. Desiccated flesh hung from the skull in thin, almost transparent clumps. The bone of the skull was a pale blue, the eyes were a burning, radiant sapphire and did not appear to have been touched by decay. The skull wore a U.S. Calvary slouch hat, several decades out of style and in Union blue.
"Well, this is an unexpected pleasure, I see an old acquaintance. It is Corporal Brann, is it not?"
"Master Sergeant now" I said with no small amount of pride. "I heard you was dead"
"Of course I am, I have been since 1870."
"I meant gone for good. Not existing at all."
"The report of my demise is exaggerated. It is in fact, a lie which I created. Using my mental powers I made Dio believe that I had perished. I came here hoping the head hunters could end my existence. They could not.'
"Where is your body? Last time I saw you, you hadda drag it around with you in saddle bags."
"The older I got, the more power I accumulated, the more powerful I became, the less I needed my body. That body has been destroyed, except for a few pieces which still cling to some semblance of life."
"What do you want with us, have you joined in with the Insurrection?"
The man I had known as El Head began to laugh in his faint whisper of a voice.
"Master Sergeant, you surprise me. I thought you knew me."
"I know you!" I screamed with a sudden rage. "People used to call you El Head, El Jefe, El Cabezo Diablo. They shoulda called you La Arana, the spider 'cause you sit like one and control everthing from your web."
"I always suspected that you knew but wasn't too certain. Come here for a second will you?"
I shook my head no
"Stubborn as always." said El Head with a dry faint chuckle, Steel fingers sank into the base of my brain. It was extremely unpleasant yet not at all painful. My legs slowly begin walking me towards El Head's throne.
"What ever you may have heard about me, I am an honorable man, I always repay my debts. Let's see how much of a debt I owe you."
My face swung around to stare directly into the moldering and glowing skull face of El Head. His sapphire eyes beckoned and glittered like radiant jewels. Drawn into a blue whirlpool, everthing turned blue. My body faded away like morning mist in direct sunlight.
Suddenly it was 1890 and I was riding my horse across the frozen Dakota plain, part of a small detachment from the 10th Cavalry, temporarily attached to the 7th Cavalry for scouting duties. Quite a few of the Hunkpapa Sioux and the Minneconjou Sioux had broken out of the Pine Ridge reservation to have a great ceremony they called the Ghost Dance. The Injuns had a Messiah, who they called the Christ. Some say that this Wovoka, the originator of the Ghost Dance was the Messiah, others said he was a Prophet of Christ. The Army view on him was that he was a Paiute flimflam man, an agitating Redskin of the worst order.
He had filled many of the old time Injun leaders' minds with his hogwash story and hocus-pocus. Kicking Bear and Sitting Bull had become devoted followers of the Paiute Messiah.
Kicking Bear, a Minneconjou Sioux, had visited Sitting Bull at the Standing Rock reservation and told him of the Paiute Messiah. Kicking Bear told Sitting Bull that a great voice had commanded him to go forth and meet the ghosts of the Indians who were to return and inhabit the earth.
Kicking Bear and Sitting Bull had traveled to the Paiute Reservation in Pyramid Lake, Nevada. They met Wovoka, who told them that in time, a short time, Christ would return to the Earth. All the game would return to the earth. All the dead Indians would be born again. The old and sickly would be made whole again. After which the Indians will all travel to the mountains and the Christ will flood the world and kill all the Whites. The world will belong once more to the Indians.
To show their devotion to Christ, they would dance a special dance called the Ghost Dance. Those Indians who danced would be suspended in the air while the waters receded and the new earth was born. Those Indians who did not dance would be shrunk down to the size of a foot and turned into wood.
The Paiute Messiah preached a message of peace and non-violence. He told his followers not to hurt anybody or to do harm to anyone. They were not to fight and to do right always. The Messiah required them to do nothing but dance and sing. The Messiah would bring the resurrection. The Messiah would bring the vengeance.
Not trusting White Men, the Paiute Messiah promised his followers protection. Those who danced and wore a shirt painted with mystical symbols would be protected from harm. Not even the bullets of the White Men could penetrate the ghost shirt.
The army in its wisdom got the Indian Bureau to forbid the ghost dance rather than let it play and be proven false. The Injuns did not listen and so the agitators of the ghost dance were to be rounded up.
On December 15, 1890. Sioux reservation police were dispatched to arrest Sitting Bull at his home on the Standing Rock reservation. At first he agreed to the arrest. Sitting Bull's followers had gathered around his home, protesting this action. Still, Sitting Bull planned on going with the police and resolving the situation peaceful like.
Sitting Bull's fourteen year old son name of Crow's Foot says, "Well, you always called yourself a brave chief. Now you are allowing yourself to be taken by the iron shirts."
Sitting Bull says, "Then I will not go."
Four of the tribal police grabbed at Sitting Bull forcing him out the door. One of Sitting Bull's followers, Catch the Bear pulled a Winchester out from a blanket and shot at Lt. Bull Head of the Police, hitting him in the side. As he fell, he shot Sitting Bull in the chest. One of the other policemen shot Sitting Bull in the head. In the fight which followed five of Sitting Bull's people were killed and seven police men.
The police took refuge in Sitting Bull's Cabin. They spied something moving underneath some blankets. Under the blanket's was Crow's Foot.
He says, "My Uncles do not kill me. I do not wish to die. I did not mean to say that."
The police asked him what they should do with the boy. The Lieutenant, sorely wounded and dying from five bullet wounds, says, "Do what you want. He is the one who started the trouble."
Crow's Foot was smashed upside the head with a rifle butt and then had bullets pumped into him.
Outside of Sitting Bull's cabin was an old gray horse given to him by Buffalo Bill Cody. As soon as he heard the shots, he began performing his repertoire of tricks, which echoed in some bizarre way many of the movements of the ghost dance.
Nearly all of the ghost dancers had fled across the Grand River and hid in the hills south of the valley. One of the fanatics did not surrender.
He wore a red stained ghost skirt, rode on a black horse and carried a staff. He rode out of the timber and up towards the police. They fired on him and missed at close range. He did this three times and each time was unscathed by police bullets. He rode back to join the Ghost Dancers, living proof of the effectiveness of the ghost shirt. His name was Crow Woman.
This had all taken place five days ago. The Ghost Dancers of the Standing Rock reservation had run to the hills and joined up with group of Minneconjou Sioux ghost dancers lead by Big Foot.
They were encamped by the Cherry Creek. When Big Foot learned of Sitting Bull's death he moved his people towards the Pine Ridge Reservation seeking shelter and aid from Red Cloud.
Big Foot was sick with pneumonia and so his band moved slowly. They had only reached Porcupine Creek by the time the Seventh Cavalry under Major Whiteside caught up with them. Major Whiteside told the Chief he had orders to take him to a cavalry camp at Wounded Knee Creek. Big Foot said he was going in that direction anyway.
Major Whiteside's force surrounded the 350 Indians and escorted them to Wounded Knee Creek.
I was attached to the force lead by Colonel Forsyth, commander of the Seventh. He had new orders which he and the main force of the regiment carried towards Wounded Knee. Big Foot and his followers were not to be allowed to return to the Sioux reservations. Instead they were to be put on the nearest train and sent directly to prison in Omaha.
My platoon was dispersed on reconnaissance, making certain that no Sioux were coming to aid Big Foot's encampment and that all the stray Sioux had been rounded up.
Me and four other boys was all together, riding through the snow and ice covered plains looking for some crazy Injuns. It was so damned cold that our saddles creaked with every movement and our horse's hair were frost rimed. Needing to find shelter we started heading towards Wounded Creek, hoping to run into more of our compliment.
As we topped a hill, we saw distant fire glimmer faintly in the distance. Our cold and tired mounts would not gallop but we urged them as much as we could for the warmth of the fire. We saw movement near the fire but the shapes behind the fire were merely dark shadows, they could have been the goddamned Sioux for all we cared.
Approaching the fire we saw a child and two pack horses but no adults around.
The child looked up at us and we all gasped in shock. Pvt. Willie Mason screamed, "Haints!" He raised his carbine and fired before anyone could stop him. The crack of the rifle was followed by a deep throaty laughter. Willie Mason screamed once more as a bullet perforated his middle. He flipped over backwards. shot off his mount.
The child was not a child but a dwarf. He was dressed in expensive and warm clothing but had an hideous face. Scaly and pocked, reddish in tint and entirely bald.
A deep voice spoke, "Refrain from further violence and you are free to share our fire. Otherwise you will perish before reaching your fellow troopers or the other regiment."
The peculiar thing was that The dwarf did not speak and I did not see anyone else around. Perhaps someone was in the darkened tent behind the dwarf.
"You seem to know a lot about what's going on" remarks me.
"I know all, I see all" says the voice with a chuckle.
"If you's so powerful smart, why'd you go and shoot Willie?" asked Simon Yarden.
"I didn't. He shot himself by shooting at us. The bullet bounced back."
"How did that happen?" asks me.
"Maybe Dio is wearing a ghost shirt." says the voice.
I was getting really riled by now. "Maybe we oughter arrest your ass for killing a soldier."
"I am sorry but I could not permit that. I want to see the show."
"The last true, blue wild west show. The last round-up, the finale of Manifest Destiny"
"What the hell are you talking about." I asked, really confused by now.
"Custer's revenge, my revenge, your revenge, everybody's revenge. I always say, one man's revenge is another man's ravage.
"Show yourself or we take the dwarf and leave."
"You must know by now that is impossible but I will humor you. Dio, would you assist me please?"
The dwarf went to the tent and returned carrying a box with something piled on top of it. When Dio moved into the fire light a chill swept down my back. I should have known before. I had heard of the dwarf, I had never met him but I had heard tell of him.
The dwarf was the famous Lizard Boy and what he carried was indeed a haint. Sitting on top of a polished cherry wood box was a disembodied human head, wearing a Union Cavalry hat. What skin on the skull was a putrescent yellow. Only the eyes remained entirely whole and they were a odd glowing shade of blue.
This disconnected head was alive in some strange fashion. It was a ghost, a fiend, a villain. It was the being known as El Head.
I had met him shortly after... Right then I understood his reference to Custer.
Yeah, old El Head had popped up in Montana of 1876, far from his usual wandering grounds of the southwest.
Even though I was a Bugler, I got stuck with a detail from the Tenth collecting all the dead bodies from the massacre at Little Big Horn.
This here disembodied head rode up on this here yellow horse that glowed blue, in broad day light, just as bold as you please. I had heard the tales about El Head but thought the stench of the rotting bodies had given me the sights.
The yellow horse rode right up to the body of Tom Custer and gave him a swift hard hoof to the face, ruining his pretty boy looks.
No one else noticed El Head or pretended not to.
"Why'd you do that. He was already dead." I says to show I ain't a-feared of no ghost.
The Horse wheeled around and the decaying head regarded me with surprise, leastways that's what them dried up old muscles looked like to me.
The head spoke, "The Indians believe you spend the afterlife with such wounds. I did not want Tom Custer to be a lady killer for all eternity."
"Still, it's pretty cowardly to wait until he is dead."
"Oh, I had confrontations with him in his life, but he was one of those rare individuals whom I cannot readily control. I have no hands and I must scheme. I was here at his final moment, I was his final moment."
Not only was this skull evil, he was crazy.
"I was with the crows, before and after the fete and feast."
The glowing eyes regarded me silently for a moment. "I am having trouble reading you. You can see me when I have clouded my presence to everyone hereabouts. You bear watching, Private Brann."
"Watch all you want, just don't mess in my affairs." I tole him raising up my shovel. Laughing El Head rode away. My entire platoon was staring at me like I was crazy, to them I had been talking to empty air or dead bodies.
Back in 1876 El Head's voice had been a mere whisper, but in 1890 it boomed into the night.
"You take voice lessons or something?" I asks, making conversation to steer El Head away from the thoughts I was thinking. Something was percolating in my skull.
"No, this is merely one of my little toys. I connect what remains of my vocal organs to t~is here box, like you splice together telegraph lines. The box electronically reproduces my voice. I sent some diagrams of this apparatus to various schools of the deaf earlier this year but. have not heard anything from them. Only one man, some Scotsman name of Ball or something, even deigned to reply. The hell with them if they won't even try it."
I had to keep El Head talking so's he wouldn't be able to read my mind like a book. I kept up a patter of idle chitchat, asking him about his recent adventures. He was a real braggart that one.
El Head evidently had something against the entire Custer family, somehows they had soured one of his business dealings back in 1875 and he swore to get even. As I talked the pieces of a puzzle swirled around in my head, the pieces slowly falling into place.
El Head told me this here tale about Geronimo's surrender back in Eighty-six and how he had saved Geronimo from being assassinated by some Arbraska Scouts.
The final piece slapped into place, the picture that the puzzle formed was that of a crow.
I knew that at first light, me and my men was gonna have to ride hell for leather to the encampment at Wounded Knee Creek 'cause something bad was going to happen.
We shared El Head's fire for the night. We became aware of an overpowering stench rising up from one of the horses. After Lizard Boy and El Head retired to the tent, one of the boys investigated. Inside two saddle bags was the rotting and yet quivering remains of a human body. According to the tales, El Head had to haul his ole corpse around with him. I sat before the fire and formed a plan, which very well could end our lives. I told the others to tell the big brass to watch for Injun tricks from them Sioux, if I did not get away in time.
Next morning we set our plan in motion. We tried to leave the campsite but found our way blocked by an invisible barrier.
Lizard Boy exited the tent carrying El Head and his box.
"I am sorry but I enjoy your company so much, I want you to extend your visit." El Head says.
As we had planned two of the boys began firing at Lizard Boy and El Head. The other boy grabbed the reins of the horse with the body parts filled saddlebags and rode away from the camp. As I suspected while El Head was busy deflecting our bullets, he let down the barrier around the camp. The saddlebag horse galloped away with Elias Brown holding the reins. As the horse carrying the body got further away, our bullets began to hit close to and finally score upon Lizard Boy and El Head.
Lizard Boy fell after being struck simultaneously by three bullets. El Head fell from his hands. The voice box broke and the disembodied head rolled across the frozen ground. I told my men to go to Wounded Knee as fast as they could and warn the soldiers.
I ran forwards and stabbed El Head through the forehead with my bayonet. Swinging the impaled head forward I broke it against the frozen earth. It broke open like a pumpkin. The brains still pulsated with a semblance of life. I emptied my rifle at the throbbing mass until lay strewn out like bloody cobbled milk. Still the brains moved like so many pink slugs. I kicked these into the fire and El Head was gone in several bursts of fetid smoke.
I mounted my horse and rode off after my men.
My horse ran full tilt into an invisible barrier that nearly knocked me feet over ass. An invisible hand steadied me.
I spun my horse around. The bodies of Lizard Boy and El Head were gone. The horse with the corpse filled bags was tied to the tent. The tent flap opened and Lizard Boy exited. In his hands he carried El Head riding atop his voice box.
"Well, it appears you are not as immune to my abilities as we assumed, huh Corporal? Although I cannot read you, I can influence your mind, even to point of putting images into your mind and making you see images I create." El Head laughed. "It was a great performance wasn't it?"
"You are an evil bastard aren't you?" I ask, infuriated at being used so.
"Did you know that not too far from where Big Foot and his band are encamped, the body of Crazy Horse is interred. Big Foot believes that the ghost dance will resurrect Crazy Horse. I always did like old Crazy Horse, even if he accepted my help and then denied doing so. I bear no grudges, even if he did break a promise to me. Maybe I will resurrect the old bastard, maybe I will let him lead the Sioux to one last victory over the White Men."
"I'll stop it!" I cried.
El Head laughed his mechanical laugh and said, "I know you'll try. You can go now. Hurry or you will miss the grand finale."
I spun around once more and galloped across the snowy plains, well I rode as fast as my damned horse would take me.
The Sioux camp was entirely surrounded by the 7th Cavalry that morning of December 29, 1891. Four large Hotchkiss guns, rapid firing cannon which can carry an explosive charge, were aimed directly at the Indians' lodges.
My men arrived and informed Colonel Forsyth of the Indian's intended treachery. He ordered soldiers to search every lodge in the encampment. Only two guns were found. Colonel Forsythe then ordered that all possible weapons be confiscated. This included axes, knifes, kitchen utensils and tent stakes. They spread the lodges out on the snow covered prairie. Still not satisfied Colonel Forsyth ordered that the Indians turn over their blankets for inspection.
As the Indians stood shivering in the frigid air many donned white cloth shirts decorated with many designs. In their hair they stuck black or blue feathers.
The medicine man, whose name was Yellow Bird protested this vociferously. At the mention of his name, something strange clicked in my brain but I still did not understand it.
Disobeying the Colonel's orders, Yellow Bird stuck this decorated pole into the ground began dancing the Ghost Dance. The other Injuns followed him, they grabbed each others hands and formed a circle, surrounded the soldiers. Moving quickly liked young'uns playing ring around the rosy, they danced as fast as they could, bodies swaying, arms pumping and swinging each others hands and fast as they could.
Colonel Forsyth screamed for them to cease and desist immediately.
At the same time, one of the owners of the two guns, Black Coyote, was refusing to give his up, saying that it had cost him much money end he would not give it up without compensation. He held it above his head but in a non-threatening manner, he just wanted to keep it out of the soldiers hands.
What I saw next happened, but I am so far the only one who has ever admitted to seeing it, but they all saw it. They all saw it, otherwise, they would not have reacted as they did.
As Yellow Bird danced and sang, there was a sudden ripping sound, like canvas tearing. Being on the prairie as long as I did I knew Sioux.
The whole world is Coming,
A Nation is coming, a nation is coming,
The Eagle has brought. the message to the tribe.
The Father says so, the Father says so.
Over the whole world they are coming
The buffalo are coming, the buffalo are coming,
The Crow has brought the message to the tribe,
The Father says so, the Father says so.
A bolt of blue lightning shot from the ground upwards and there standing before us was Crazy Horse dressed in warpath regalia. He was a transparent blue figurine who walked over to Black Coyote and swallowed him up.
Black Coyote became a blue glowing ghost shaped like Crazy Horse. The blue ghost Crazy horse raised his rifle and fired once into the air.
Almost at once the soldiers opened fire. Seconds later the Hotchkiss guns opened fire. Bullets and shrapnel tore into the shivering half naked Indians. Oh sure, a few here and there escaped the gunfire to grapple with the soldiers. Because of this, Wounded Knee was not classified as a massacre. However the end result was that 280 of the 350 Indians were killed. Twenty nine soldiers were dead, most of whom were struck down by our own shrapnel.
I helped dig out the frozen bodies. There were crow and magpie feathers all among the dead. I found Yellow Bird's medicine bag next to his body. Inside the pouch he had three crow feathers bound together by faintly blue colored dried human skin. That was when I knew I had been fooled and had helped cause this unnecessary carnage.
A picture of a crow grew in my head, before my vision it grew vast until a blackness covered my vision. The blackness flared into a glowing blue.
I snapped back to 1900 and found myself staring deep into the sapphire eyes of El Head.
"I see the image of the crow but I still don't know what you know." El Head says to me.
I figured that I had nothing to lose at this time so I says, "I had heard this tale about how you somehow got control of all the crows in the world. I just thought it was the birds but the more I thought about it, the more I wondered if you controlled all the crows, even the people who used that name. Somehow you made Crow's Foot, Crow Woman, Yellow Bird and others act like your puppets. You caused the massacre of the 7th Cavalry at Little Big Horn and the massacre of the Sioux at Wounded Knee fourteen years later. The crows was the key."
"I wondered if anyone would ever put that together. As you have seen by my demonstration with you, I can compel just about anyone to do anything when they are in my immediate range. Over a distance I need to have established a link with them. Although I could have used any number of people to fulfill the roles I had planned, I used those connected with the crow. Not only did it create a puzzle but it seemed as -though those people who had some connection with the crow as an icon were easier to manipulate.'
I used actual crows to plant minute amounts of my flesh where it would be consumed in some fashion by my planned subjects. Once they had absorbed however small a piece of me, I could control them whenever I wished.
I cannot in truth take credit for Little Big Horn. Although, I did foster the alliance between the tribes and encourage them to slaughter the union soldiers, they did not do so at a place or time of my choosing. Custer's Crow or Arbraska scouts did give him advice that I manipulated but he refused to listen to his scouts. It was his own arrogance and poor military tactics that got him killed that day. Just as well, under my plan, neither Benteen nor Reno would have survived."
"I just don't understand why you did it. You weren't no renegade."
"Vengeance, pure and simple. Tom Custer had given trooper support, beyond the call of duty, to some of my enemies in early 1875. Old George Armstrong Custer, he had testified in Washington against the Secretary of War Belknap over the practice of selling Indian Bureau trading posts and agencies. He did not due to any feelings for the Indians but to further his own ambitions. My agents had purchased three of those posts, his little stunt cost me quite a bit of money. This is why the Custers had to die.
As for Sitting Bull's death and the massacre at Wounded Knee, it was payback time for the Sioux. I had made a promise to deliver a victory to the Sioux against Custer, which I kept. In turn they were supposed to aid me when I called for it. I foresaw trouble with the Hikowias near my Circle K ranch and thought the Sioux would make a perfect foil for them.
Sitting Bull, as time went by, declared that the Little Head Man as they called me, had nothing to do with the victory against Yellow Hair, that it was all Indian medicine which had caused it. They refused to aid me and in fact sided with their red heathen brothers. So they had to die."
As for Wovoka, the Paiute Messiah, he had a vision of the Ghost Dance while suffering from a fever. A friendly rancher who Wovoka had done work for gave him a bottle of Medicine, Dr. Ryan's Sure Fire Cure-All Tonic. Through this I established a bloodlink with Wovoka.
"I did not begin the Ghost Dance religion, no that was all Wovoka's idea and creation. I did influence many of the Crow and Magpie themes within it and manipulated the Sioux into accepting it as a true religion and into believing in the ghost dance. The religious visions that the Sioux ~ad while visiting Wovoka were my handiwork.
"So to kill Tom and George Custer, you had the 7th cavalry wiped out. To get vengeance on Sitting Bull and on the chiefs who took part in Little Big Horn, you wiped out most the Indians at Wounded Knee."
"Essentially that is correct. There were other considerations. I knew that by killing America's great hero, Custer the reparations against the Indians would be devastating. Without the Indians inhabiting the land my cattle operations could expand. My motives were profit and revenge, like most business dealings."
"Don't it bother you none that you killed a lot of innocent people by happenstance?"
"No. Human life means little to me. Life in general means little to me. The older I get and the more it seems like I cannot die, I care nothing about these short lived worms, you call human beings. All I wish is to be left alone."
El Head released his control over my body and I fell into a heap at the foot of his chair. One of the large Filipino warriors grabbed my legs and drug me back through the dirt.
I watched in silent horror as they cut loose Les Peason. El Head beckoned for him to come forward. Shaking his head Les let loose with a string of curses. Like slamming a door shut, Les's mouth shut and his eyes took on a funny, distant look. Stiff legged he walked over to El Head's throne. Jerkily he knelt before El Head, yet Les kept his own head erect and straight, looking as proud as he could be.
El Head stood with a series of shuddering, convulsive movements accompanied by a series of snaps and pops as the dried muscle tissue of his borrowed body cracked, stretched and tore. I almost missed the bob which El Head had in his hand. The bob flashed hot silver in the firelight, like a lightning bolt across a sunset sky.
When I was younger I had visited what's now known as Yellowstone park, back then it was on Indian land. Well, sir once these here boys, in funning, put this pumpkin on top of his hole. A few minutes later this here pumpkin shot up into the air riding upon a tower of steam and hot water. Les Peason' s head reminded me of that, except the steam and hot water was of course his own blood.
Les Peason's head went flying in one direction and the rotted arm of El Head, still holding the bolo, went flying the other.
One of the islanders, I don't think it were a Filipino, rushed up and caught Les Peason's head. Holding it up by its wooly black hair, he lifted it above him and did this here little dance while the blood dripped down on him.
Three more of these natives run up to El Head who was now kneeling. Two of them hoisted Peason's prone body into a standing position. The other native took hold of El Head just below the ears and lifted. There was this wet sucking pop and El Head was freed of the Polynesian body. Although most of El Head was rotted away except his eyes, I saw that part of his back bone and throat innards was pretty intact, wiggling like green slimy snakes.
El Head was placed over the open neck hole of Les Peason's body, his neck bones and throat innards slithered inside that hole fast and slick as a nightcrawler seeking shelter from the sun.
Peason's body twitched once and them natives backed off. The body stood under its own power but the head was slightly a kilter. Peason's dark skinned hands slowly moved upwards and adjusted the bone white and green fleshed skull of El Head until it sat straight.
El Head had decapitated Peason just below the jaw line so the voice box and all was pretty much intact. El Head walked back to the throne and sat down in his new body.
"What you gonna do with Les' head? asked Stu Calley, finally breaking his silence.
"Same thing that will happen to yours. It will be shrunk and added to the village collection. I obtain heads for the villagers and they get me bodies. Since your heads will be so rare, they'll be much prized and valuable items. So you see, you will continue to have some value after your miserable life is at an end."
Stu Calley commenced to wail and sob at his fate, setting up such a racket that it even irritated me.
When them islanders started to drag him away I leapt at El Head in a rage. My body froze up like a statue and I fell straight and hard against the ground remaining paralyzed and rigid.
"Master Sergeant," El Head chided. "You know that although I cannot read your mind, I can control your body at this close range. Don't worry about your friend, he will be kept alive and healthy, until I need him. Think of him as another casualty of war."
The clamps on all my muscles loosened. I rolled over onto my back and stared El Head down.
The war you started, you bastard!" I screamed at him.
El Head stared at me silently. Without facial expressions, it was impossible to know what he was thinking.
"Oh, I figured it out. Just like you did with the Indian wars. You came here what in 1899, right after the Spanish American war hoping that the USA would soon leave but they did not and from the looks of it we's gonna be here a long time. So you decided to get rid of us by stirring up the Filipinos. You should know you won't win."
"I don't expect to, I just want to make it so difficult for the Americans to rule here that eventually they will leave. Besides which it will provide me with a plenitude of fresh bodies." El Head laughed. It was a deep throaty laugh, stolen from Les Peason.
This monster would kill natives and Americans alike, just to live out undisturbed in his twisted little kingdom.
"Wha'chu gonna do wit' me?" I asked, reverting back to my slave dialect.
"I believe I will set you free. I owe you a debt for helping to complete the massacre at Wounded Knee and quite frankly, your body is just too damned old for me to use."
I should have kept my trap shut but seeing Les Peason die and knowing Stud Calley was gonna die just set me off.
"I am gonna tell about you, all about you and your set up here."
El Head roared with laughter.
"Tell away, Master Sergeant Brann, blow that bugle, sound the charge. Bring the bodies to me, so I won't have to hunt for them." He clapped his hands. Five men ran over and held me down, flat on my back.
"Before you leave, a final gift." El Head held out his hand and was handed a bolo.
Although I felt like it, I did not scream, determined to die like a man. El Head did not strike me but jammed the palm of his left hand onto the point of the bolo, slashing open the palm. He giggled. "Oh, God it is such a thrill to have a fresh body. I can feel things again, even pain is a beautiful sensation."
El Head walked over to me, his command of the new body seemed complete for it was as smooth and graceful a walk as any normal body. He looked down at me and grinned. Well, hell I know that his skull face was all the time grinning but somehow I sensed that if he had lips they would have been smiling this sadistic smirk.
"We are going to become brothers Master Sergeant."
His dripping palm swung towards me. I clamped my mouth shut tight and rocked my head all over the place. Four more natives grabbed my head, two held my head tight and two held open my jaws, still it was a battle to hold me still. Blood splashed all over my face like rain drops, I held my eyes shut tight and continued to thrash. Finally one drop fell on my tongue.
If you've ever drunk boiling hot coffee by mistake then maybe could get some idea of what I felt like. Only this was like my entire tongue had been stuck ir a cup of boiling coffee. The searing sensations rode down my throat, burned its way through my chest, into my guts like hot lead and turned everthing there into boiling hot water. When I say my bowels turned to water that's not just hyperbole. Steaming hot fluid poured out of my wand and wumpus, flooding the night with the stench of steamed excrement.
Chills swept over me, everthing became hazy. I saw El Head sit back down in his throne but it was like in a fog and from a great distance. I heard him say, "Take him back, make certain he is near an Americano base when you leave him."
I fell into a deep sleep. I awoke in a colored military hospital. I told them about my experiences but they did not believe me. They thought I was hallucinating from the malaria I picked up. When I persisted in telling the story of the living skull with magic powers who controlled the natives, I was given a medical discharge and confined to an asylum."
I had one interesting visitor in 1902. A Young Second Lieutenant from Texas, he had heard of my ravings and also had heard of the stories of El Head. He listened to my stories without much of an expression. I don't know if he believed me or not. He later went the Philippines and I heard later that he was the son of the one of the high officials of the US Military government of the Philippines. This Lieutenant did other things but eventually went back to the Philippines where he is right now, I heard. I ain't gonna say who he is exactly, 'cause I heard he is in line to become Army Chief of Staff and I need my pension.
After he went to the Philippines the first time, I did see him again. It was in 1908, President Teddy Roosevelt was hosting a reception for the veterans of the Spanish-American war, sorta ten year anniversary. Us Colored troops was invited only to find we was expected to serve all the others, as waiters, busboys and the like. Anyhow, I saw the Second Lieutenant, now a first Lieutenant and aide to the President.
As I served him his food, our eyes met and it was like a blue spark passed between us. Now don't get the wrong idea, it wasn't nothing faggy, it was a recognition. He was a blood brother of El Head, now I don't know how much influence El Head has on him but I do know that little bodiless bastard is out there. I can feel him like I can feel my little toe. Also ever now and then he will demonstrate he can still control me by making convulse and say bizarre things. These spell cause me to get tossed in the nut house for a while.
I spends my time reading and such, getting the education I never could before. He won't let me get a job nor can I abandon my life as Phineas Brann, although as you can see it is becoming difficult to prove that's who I am. El Head made me his blood brother in 1900 that was twenty nine years ago. That make me close to eighty years old. Yeah, I know. In the last twenny nine year i ain't age but maybe two, three years backwards. I look and feel like fifty. I don't know what I'm gonna do when they cut off my pension but that ain't your problem.
THE FOLLOWING IS AN EDITORIAL COMMENT BY ANDRE VERBADEN.Phineas Brann's plight is one of the many tragedies found in the history of the US Colored Armed Forces. Many were given inadequate pensions and inadequate medical care. Here is a long time veteran of the Armed Forces whose experiences in the American West, Spanish American War and Philippines had a cumulative and erosive effect on his psyche. All through his military career he had been sent by the white man to kill other colored men, first the Indians, then Cubans, then Philippines. It was like he had peered in the mirror and committed suicide thousands of times.
THE EL HEAD HOMEPAGEtop
~ EL HEAD ~
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