Another surprise for me was that boys and girls freely mingled both inside and outside the classroom, unlike in Moortown, where the sexes were rigidly segregated in different classrooms and kept apart in the playground by a high wall.
Another experience I was not prepared for was that – apart from their accents, and the overalls the boys wore, these young Canadians were no different from my previous classmates.
A popular game with the boys was Cowboys and Indians. This began at lunch hour but often carried over into the afternoon recess. Naturally the Cowboys were the good guys and the Indians, the bad guys.
You could easily tell them apart as the Cowboys always wore six-guns strapped to their waists while the Indians were armed with tomahawks or bows and arrows, or had the occasional rifle. The Indians also wore head-bands. The Indian chief – a chief was essential as a symbol of authority and control, was distinguished by the presence of two feathers in his hair. Preferably these were eagle feathers – the eagle being the noblest of birds – but usually we had to settle for crows’ feathers. These were picked off the ground and stuffed in the head-band. Horses, of course, were essential and both horses and weapons were made from willow branches or poplar saplings.
One problem with this game was that, without a motive, it lacked zest or point. The opposing sides had to have a motive for annihilating one another, so they invented reasons. It was well-known for example, that a band of savages would sometimes descend upon an isolated homestead, wipe out the inhabitants and burn the place to the ground: or they might attack a caravan of covered wagons, or a single rider, travelling across the prairie. Such acts of savagery had to be defended against and subsequently avenged.
I lacked the established status either of a Cowboy or of an Indian and did not possess either a head-band or a six-shooter. One day I was recruited to play the role of the passive, helpless white man – a part that suited me eminently!
My role required little talent. All I had to do was let myself be captured – as though I had a choice! – while I was supposed to be a ‘tender-foot’ with soft hands who had just arrived from the East and didn’t know my way around. The type-casting here was excellent!
I was riding alone across the prairie (that bit was hard to imagine!) with the coyotes howling and the wind screeching about me when I was spotted from behind a rock by an Indian Cree. The lookout signalled his Chief who was cleverly hidden behind a ridge. With a frowning, imperious gesture the head-man dispatched a dozen ‘braves’ to capture me and bring me to ‘justice’.
As soon as I heard the blood-curdling yells I dug in my spurs and leaned forward in the saddle. My powerful black stallion raced, with neck stretched out, across the prairie, his ears laid back and nostrils flaring, but the Indian rifleman brought him down and the ‘tenderfoot’ was captured!
………. Buzzard Carrion ………