Wooden Indians

by Jim Christy

Scattered in the long ago across
North America, a great nation,
More numerous than Kiowa,
Ottawa, Pawnee, Comanche
And never took to the warpath.
Where did they go, those wooden
Indians? They figured in my childhood,
Like the one on Sycamore Street who’d stood
Immobile through the siege of Petersburg,
The big band era and early-Elvis.  There
Was even one in my young adulthood, Queen
And Bathurst Streets, Toronto. Some were famous,
Like poor ol’ Kawliga but most nameless
Old warriors who had buried the hatchet
To stand all dignified out front of cigar stores.
Where did they go?

Maybe they were rounded up in the middle
Of the night and transported to thoroughly
Inappropriate camps, like Geronimo
Sent to Florida to rot in the humidity. Were
They shanghaied for figureheads on
Clipper ships? Maybe they were massacred
By black lawn jockeys. Somewhere there
Are wooden Indians in warehouses, wrapped
In termite blankets. They’ve even removed
Wooden Indians from museum dioramas
Where they hunted paper mache buffalo.
I dreamed there’s a lost nation still of wooden
Indians. Hundreds of their ancestors once
Penetrated General Sheridan’s fort pretending
To be the palisades, and made him take back
That notorious remark. Many, I’m told, fled
To Europe like jazzmen.


They get no respect.
If a movie were ever made about wooden Indians,
They’ll probably be played by wooden Italians.
They have no status, file no claims, yet
Most white people boast of having some
Wooden Indian blood, usually Sioux, but
They don’t invite them into their homes.
Tell the truth, would you let your daughter
Go out with a wooden Indian? Wouldn’t
You worry he’d always be hard?
I heard the ones who remain are being forced
To assimilate by marrying ventriloquists’
Dummies. Be kind to the next
Wooden Indian you see for, after all,
Maybe he doesn’t really
Have a wooden heart.