“Pioneer Night-Light,” Friend, July 1996, 3
Nellie screamed and sat up in bed. Her mother quickly climbed in to the wagon bed from underneath the wagon where she had been sleeping.
“Hush, hush,” she soothed as she rocked Nellie in her arms.
“The flames, Mama! The flames and the men were hurting Papa.” Nellie buried her head in Mama’s arms. “It’s dark and I’m afraid!”
Nellie had awakened from her sleep, screaming, almost every night since a mob had pulled her sleeping family from their home near Nauvoo and burned the house and their fields. Papa still limped from the burns he’d received trying to put the fires out.
“It’s just a bad dream, dear,” Mama said as she stroked Nellie’s forehead and tried to quiet her sobs.
The next morning Nellie watched as six Indians, dressed in leather breeches, rode into camp on their horses. She cowered on her bed as one stopped his horse at her wagon. He leaned over, reached into the wagon, and held out one of Nellie’s long, blond braids. Her eyes got big with fear.
“He likes the color of your hair,” Papa said as he worked to yoke the oxen to the wagon. “His name is Flying Eagle.”
“He scares me.” She watched with relief as Flying Eagle rode to the front of the wagon line.
“He and his companions are going to hunt buffalo tomorrow. They have promised that if their hunt is successful, they will trade meat for flour and corn,” Papa told her.
“But won’t they hurt us?”
“Not these Indians. They seem to be friendly toward us Mormons. They have heard that we have been driven from our homes, as many of them were.”
The Indians camped nearby that night. In the morning they were gone and did not return until late in the afternoon. When they did return, meat from two buffalo hung over their tired horses. Everyone in camp came running to see. That night there would be a feast!
Nellie went to sleep that night happy and with a very full stomach. Suddenly her mother was gently shaking her. She had been screaming and crying again. As her mother comforted her, she looked up to see Flying Eagle, looking concerned, standing beside their wagon. After a few moments he turned and walked back to his camp.
As the hunting party was leaving the next morning, Flying Eagle rode up to Nellie’s wagon and pointed to a glass jar sitting on the sideboard of the wagon.
“Let him have it,” Papa said to Mama. “They are helping us find food, and it is a small exchange.” Mama put the lid on the jar and handed it to Flying Eagle.
“He must think it’s pretty. I guess he’s never seen a glass jar before,” Nellie said as he left.
That night the Indian hunting party returned with three bucks and several prairie chickens to trade with the Saints. Everyone felt relieved to have ample meat for a time.
As the stars came out, Flying Eagle approached Nellie’s wagon and handed her mother the glass jar she had given him that morning. Inside were small, darting lights. “Why it’s fireflies!” she exclaimed.
Flying Eagle pointed to Nellie. He shut his eyes, opened them as if terrified, then pointed to the jar and smiled.
“Ah—I see,” Papa said. He told Nellie, “Put them by your bed and look at them when you wake up at night. Then you won’t be afraid.” He turned to Flying Eagle and held out his hand. “Thank you.”
Nellie was fascinated by the little trails of light made as the fireflies flew around inside the bottle. She watched them for a long time before she fell asleep.
The old dream returned again that night, but when her scream awoke her, she saw the little lights in the glass jar and her fear drained away. She watched them gratefully until she fell asleep, peacefully.
Flying Eagle came to Nellie’s wagon the next morning. He pointed to the glass jar again. Motioning for Nellie and Papa to follow him, he led them down by the river where the tamarack bushes grew, and set the fireflies free. Then he showed Nellie how to scrape the jar along the ferny branches to catch more fireflies.
Nellie tried all morning to think of a way to thank Flying Eagle before he left with the other Indians to take the corn and flour they’d traded for back to their village. Finally she knew what she could do. She climbed into the wagon and left it a few minutes later with a small cloth bag in her hand.
She went over to where the Indians were getting ready to leave. Other Saints had gathered to say good-bye too. Nellie held out the little sack to Flying Eagle. “Thank you for the fireflies,” she said softly.
Flying Eagle opened the little cloth sack and pulled out a lock of Nellie’s hair with a pink ribbon tied around it.
He looked down at Nellie and smiled, then stuffed the cloth sack into a leather pouch he wore around his waist. As he got on his horse and rode off, he turned to wave to her. Nellie smiled and waved back.