The Long Riders' Guild

Supreme Happiness

by Hetty Dutra

Some Long Riders set off in search of adventure. Others might be looking for an escape from a motorized world. A few are seeking to understand the secrets of their own souls. Hetty Dutra is such a seeker. Her ride along the historic Nez Perce Trail ignited a message buried deep within her DNA and revealed how it is never a matter of mere miles that justify the journey. Hetty was deeply touched when she read what Nelson Mandela said. "There is nothing like returning to a place that remains unchanged to find the ways in which you yourself have altered."  Twenty years after completing her life-changing journey along the Nez Perce Trail, she is preparing to set off again Ė to find more inner secrets of her own soul.

When I was just a little girl, I ran away.  I filled my saddle-bags, saddled my little red Quarter Horse, Peterbilt, and rode off.  I unsaddled my horse and set up my camp at an old deserted homestead that seemed like a long way away at the time.  I was supremely happy sitting on the saddle blankets eating a sandwich, and watching Peterbilt graze.  At dusk, my dad rode up to fetch me.  Throughout my life, I thought I was running away.  When I shared this with one of my friends, he said, ďMaybe you werenít running away, maybe you were running to something.Ē  That was exactly it!  My parents were nice and they loved me, but they were constantly prodding me to be the person they wanted me to be, instead of the person I was.  And I was not one to be told what to do.

The month I turned 50, my mother had just joined my father in death, my bishop decided not to ordain me, and my husband divorced me.  I thought a long trail, was what I needed, so I wrote away for a map of the National Trail System.  The history of the Nez Perce; cheated out of their land by a corrupt government, fighting to survive, and relentlessly pursued 1,300 miles, fascinated me.  To add to the drama, and pain, not all the Nez Perce, were involved.  Those that had signed the new treaty, were safe to stay where they were.  Those that lived afar, like the Chief Joseph band, were required to move hundreds of miles onto the little new reservation.  In the process of doing that, violence broke out, and a war was started.  The Non-Treaty Nez Perce fled.  There were people with ties and family in both factions.  Some of the Treaty Nez Perce supported the Non-Treaty Nez Perce, and others helped the government against them.  The Non-Treaty Nez Perce practiced their own religion, and the Treaty Nez Perce were Christian.  Even after the war, Non-Treaty Nez Perce who would not convert to Christianity, were not allowed on the Nez Perce reservation.

In an attempt to reach safety, the Nez Perce undertook an epic flight to freedom towards the camp of Lakota Chief Sitting Bull in Canada. Though they were pursued by more than 2,000 American soldiers, the Nez Perce travelled 1,170 miles (1,880 km) across four states and multiple mountain ranges. They were stopped 40 miles from safety.

After two years for the BA with the Dominicans, and three years of study for the Master of Divinity Degree, I was convinced that God had a plan for me.  I saw the Nez Perce Trail as a chance for me to bring reconciliation between the whites and both the Treaty and Non-Treaty Nez Perce.  I just didnít get that I was the one that needed the reconciliation of the trail.  After months of planning, I left on the trail with a Nez Perce rider, a photographer, a back up vehicle and driver.  At Leadore, about 562 miles and 52 days later, I was the only one left.  The minute it was only me riding the trail, I felt the same supreme happiness I felt when I was sitting on that horse blanket as a child.

The Nez Perce suffered no losses in the first two battles.  They had peacefully gone down the Bitterroot Valley in Montana, and were cutting new tipi poles and celebrating at the Big Hole.  Army forces and volunteers came and attacked them at first light.  The surprise was total and many died, still in their tipis.  Women and children were killed as readily as men.  The Nez Perce rallied and drove off the enemy.  After the Big Hole Battlefield, Yellow Wolf told how those caring for injured relatives would leave camp very early, ponying the injured and traveling slowly to try not to hurt them too badly. They would sometimes come into camp quite late.  When they camped at the rifle pits near Leadore, they posted a guard.  When I was there, riding in that magic time between daylight and darkness, I caught glimpses of the Nez Perce behind me.  The people who had ridden this trail, and suffered on it, were looking after me.  I wasnít alone, but being protected.  Riding in their hoof prints changed me forever.

 In the 1870s thousands of white settlers seeking gold invaded the Nez Perce homeland in the Pacific Northwest region of the United States. Tribal leaders initially adopted a pacifist response to these incursions. Eventually the Nez Perce fought back, then began a flight from the US Army. Yellow Wolf was one of the 200 Nez Perce warriors who defeated or held off the pursuing troops in 18 battles. Years later Yellow Wolf recounted these tragic events, when he told a biographer, "I am telling my story that all may know the war we did not want. War is made to take something that is not your own."

The trail of the Nez Perce was a trail of loss.  After 1,300 miles they were surrounded and besieged, not far from the safety of the Canadian border.  They had no provisions for winter, no tipis, and were cold and hungry.  When Chief Joseph surrendered with the words, ďFrom where the sun now stands, I will fight no more forever,Ē whatever they still had was destroyed and they were left with nothing.

They lost everything.  I left behind cherished dreams and assumptions, a desire to control and shape my destiny, and a need to be loved, or even liked.  Also left behind was a reliance on authority and a willingness to believe in othersí superiority.  However, I gained a new concept of who I was.  The trail itself informed me.  It is as if the dirt itself offers insights into those that have ridden it before, as well as insights into yourself.  Itís a double whammy:  the truth about yourself, and a deep connection with those that went before you.  I gained a family.

On this trail I had visions and dreams.  The first dream was of a squirrel in a cage that escapes.  Itís very important for me to catch it, but Iím afraid it will bite me.  I grab it, and it is changed into a beautiful flare of light, that then disappears.  I think this should be called, ďthe dream of grabbing your self.Ē  Another dream was of a hill glittering, as if covered in mirrors.  Three days later I found the hill and gathered shards of mica that made it glitter in the sun.  The last dream was an arrow in tall grass.  Iím hoping to understand that dream next year.

Iím now 70.  Next year it will be 20 years since I last rode that trail.  Once again Iím in need of finding myself.  When I look in the mirror, I see a very old woman looking back at me, and I donít recognize her.  Sheís full of wrinkles, her hands donít work so well, she forgets things, and she feels burdened by her life.  And, thatís ME.  Iím going back to discover who I am now, and to reclaim the supreme happiness of being myself.  Having just discovered the Long Ridersí Guild, Iím hoping life gives me time for more long rides.  Iíve a yearning to load up my horses and disappear, like smoke; something, I believe, the Long Riders understand.


Learn more about Yellow Wolf and the flight of the Nez Perce

Learn more about the historic Nez Perce Trail

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