My Forty Years Scribblin's
Personal Memories
The Isaacs and Me

This essay was written in 1992 and published in the January-February 1993 issue of The Montana Journal. A picture of two friends of the Mackie family.


The year was 1916 when Mrs. Abraham Isaacs came knocking at my grandfather's door at Evaro where I was staying to go to school. The Isaacs, who lived on his allotment some three miles north of Evaro on the Flathead Indian Reservation, were better known as Red Bird and Yellow Breast. They came quite often to the Johnson ranch, to visit and eat a meal—sometimes two. Grandma Mary, my step-grandmother, smiled a greeting and invited the visitors in. Red Bird motioned to her husband who climbed down from the buggy and tied his horse to a fence post. Red Bird declared herself to be an Oklahoma Indian, but there were those who claimed that her long braids were attached to a wig that covered a head of close-cropped kinky black hair. No matter. We liked her and were entertained by her antics and her deep-south drawl. Red Bird was also a cowgirl-saddle bronc rider. She made a striking figure when she traded her fringed shawl and calico skirts for boots and a riding habit, her head bound in a silken kerchief and braids whipping at every lunge of the bucking bronco.

Yellow Breast was a good looking Indian, and Red Bird kept him groomed. His black braids glistened, his high crowned black beaver hat was brushed, beaded moccasins encased his feet, and a bright silk scarf was knotted around his neck. I sneaked many a look at his face, fascinated by the little holes that sprinkled his skin. I later learned that he had survived a scourge of smallpox that besieged the Indians well before I was born.

Yellow Breast had one bad fault. He was wont to take French leave and keep hidden for months at a time, but Red Bird always took him back—on her conditions, but she never seemed able to make them stick. When these reconciliation occurred, she liked to bring him to our place to rake him over the coals, her only way of getting revenge. This, it developed, was one of the those times.

Paul Charlie (left), Abraham Isaacs (center), Michele Delaware (right), and Louie Callouyha (sitting) taken about 1900. Photo courtesy Harriett Whitworth.After greetings, we were given the whole story as though we hadn't heard it before. Red Bird had a flair for dramatics, and she went into action, berating her errant husband unmercifully. He had run away early in the winter barely past, and he wouldn't tell her where he had been. He was an ungrateful wretch, and what did we think she should do with him. I don't think she even wanted an answer to that one. Yellow Breast was a man of few words. Quite accustomed to her tirades, he wriggled and squirmed like a chastened puppy dog, and only the wide silly grin that he was trying to hide gave evidence that he was enjoying every minute of it. Her tirade over with, she told us they were on their way to Eneas Granjo's cabin for a country dance, a mile-and-a-half away. It was almost time for our evening meal, so they were asked to share it.

When the meal was over, Red Bird asked me if I would like to go to the dance with them. I was almost eight and had learned to two-step at our schoolhouse dances. I begged to go, and Grandma Mary finally consented. Daylight was fading when Red Bird and Yellow Breast left on the drive with me on the buggy seat between them. While Yellow Breast took care of his horse, Red Bird took me into the cabin where festivities were already getting underway—and promptly forgot me.

The Indian people were fond of the white man's mode of entertainment. They were a musical and fun loving people, and the fiddler was already holding sway. The Granjos had two little girls, one near my age, the other one two or three years younger. They approached me uncertainly, offering shy and timid smiles, and soon we were playing together, upstairs and downstairs, indoors and out, having our own kind of fun. But there was one problem. They could speak no English, and I could speak no Indian. I must have drawn some surprised glances, for after all I was the only "paleface" in the crowd. Following the lead of my newfound friends, I started out the door and ran face-to-face with my father. I don't know which of us was the more flabbergasted, but I think he was.

"What are you doing here?" he burst out. Some years later it occurred to me that I might have asked him the same thing. I hung my head. "Mary said I could come," I managed.

"Get your coat," he commanded. "I'm taking you home." My two playmates took flight, and I ran upstairs to find my coat. My dad mounted his horse and reached down for my hands to yank me up behind his saddle.

"How did you get over here?" he asked in angry puzzlement. Then, "I don't see why she ever let you come here," he declared.

"They're drinking and they're going to be roughing each other up." I had seen a couple of the men tipping the bottle, but I accepted it as part of the game. It happened at all the country dances I had seen.

The rhythmic swaying of the horse and the fact that it was several hours past my bedtime soon had me nodding.

"Wake up there," my father said grabbing my leg and shaking me. He kept repeating. "I don't see why she let you come over here!" Doors were never locked in those days, so I slipped into the house and crawled into my bed.

I went to several other schools and a lot of country dances but none under circumstances like the one when I rode in the buggy with the Isaacs. I grew up and married and went to live at Arlee. The last time that I was to see Red Bird, she took my hand and led me around the corner of the old Arlee theater.

"Have you seen A-braham?" she spoke in a husky half-whisper. Not waiting for my answer, she went on. "He told me he was going to get a drink of water and that was four days ago. He hasn't come back yet!" I couldn't give her any information, but I smiled inwardly thinking that I knew the rest of the story.

A year, maybe two years later word came that Red Bird was killed while performing in a traveling Wild West show in Europe. I don't know what became of Yellow Breast, but I'll always cherish the memory of the evening when I went to the dance at Eneas Granjo's cabin with Red Bird and Abraham Isaacs.