Frank Waters and The Man Who Killed The Deer

Frank Waters (1901-1995), photo via In The Grand Canyon – John Jauregui.

I have read most of Frank Waters’ work and I find him spot on for southwestern life and lore. In college history classes, I have used his novel of Pueblo Indian life as a literary example for the internal conflict people have when born and reared in the center of conflicting cultures. This excerpt I have is not about cultural conflict or diffusion, but about the web of all living things as Silence spoke about the Pueblo Indian, Martiniano, killing a deer out of season and failure to give proper respect.  The Pueblo council of elders contemplates:

Nothing is simple and alone.  We are not separate and alone.  The breathing mountains, the living stones, each blade of grass, the clouds, the rain, each star, the beasts, the birds and the invisible spirits of the air — we are all one, indivisible.  Nothing that any of us does but affects us all.

So I would have you look upon this thing not as a separate simple thing, but as a stone which is a star in the firmament of earth, as a ripple in a pool, as a kernel of corn.  I would have you consider how it fits into the pattern of the whole.  How far its influence may spread.  What it may grow into . . .

So there is something else to consider.  The deer.  It is dead.  In the old days we all remember, we did not go out on a hunt lightly.  We said to the deer we were going to kill, “We know your life is as precious as ours.  We know that we are both children of the same Great True Ones.  We know that we are all one life on the same Mother Earth, beneath the same plains of the sky.  But we also know that one life must sometimes give way to another so that the one great life of all may continue unbroken.  So we ask your permission, we obtain your consent to this killing.”

Ceremonially we said this, and we sprinkled meal and corn pollen to our Father Sun.  And when we killed the deer we laid his head toward the East, and sprinkled him with meal and pollen.  And we dropped drops of his blood and bits of his flesh on the ground for Our Mother Earth.  It was proper so.  For then when we too built its flesh into our flesh, when we walked in the moccasins of its skin, when we danced in its robe and antlers, we knew that the life of the deer was continued in our life, as it in turn was continued in the one life all around us, below us and above us.

We knew the deer knew this and was satisfied.

But this deer’s permission was not obtained.  What have we done to this deer, our brother?  What have we done to ourselves?  For we are all bound together, and our touch upon one travels through all to return to us again.  Let us not forget the deer.

(Frank Waters, The Man Who Killed the Deer, pp. 24-25.)

William Lattrell of Wild Ramblings Blog has written of the respect that is needed for the kill.  When I sent twenty-seven Angus calves to market, I sent them with words to the effect that they hopefully would become the essential nutrition for scientist that would discover a cure for cancer or a person that would perform a great act and get the Nobel Peace prize.  Chris Clarke of Coyote Crossing Blog has written post after post and started pressure groups to slow down the terrible effects upon the tortoise and wildlife in the Mojave Desert with the construction of the huge solar complex.  Hundreds of others in the blogosphere write similar pieces and attest to the preciousness of all living things.

It sounds primitive and mystical, “But this deer’s permission was not obtained.”  But it’s not.  The kicker in this whole excerpt of Waters is, “What have we done to ourselves?”

Things need not fall apart, but we have to keep the connections vibrant or they will indeed fall apart.  For those of us that buy at the supermarket, the first step toward keeping connections vibrant is to realize that we do not obtain our food from the supermarket.  The earth provides food, not H.E.B or Central Market.  Thinking that in all its ramifications will have us doing good things to ourselves and others.



The Frank Waters Foundation of Taos, New Mexico, provides grants for writers of Southwestern genre.  Frank Waters was nominated for a Nobel Prize during his lifetime.


Filed under Taos

22 responses to “Frank Waters and The Man Who Killed The Deer

  1. There is something so honorable about the way American Indians handled their kill, whether deer or buffalo. Our interconnectedness is an ongoing theme for me, how to understand it better, how to life it. Very nice post, and although not intended, I couldn’t help but see a metaphor for so many other aspects of our modern world and recent events.

    “Keeping connections vibrant,” are words to live by.

    • Yes, interconnectedness, and how to understand it better. I think we are in trouble as a nation in the hollowing out of our resources for profit and seeing all things as an opportunity to make a buck, gain and gain against the other fellow. Seeing all things as interconnected is not a mystical, ethereal concept. It’s true. Ever eat an onion? Kiss your lass after that? That’s not mystical, that’s you as onion. They certainly know that!

  2. This is a complicated topic to say the least. Respect for life is not something that we learn in a few moments but over a life time. It is not something learned just from culture but also from family. There are those who say they respect life but have no idea what this really means.

    Natural law allows for one species to consume another. There is no ethical difference between eating flesh or vegetables. Both lives lost are, in my humble opinion, of equal value. What allows us to do this is a matter of survival, what allows us to do this with grace and dignity is the understanding that we take on the life that we consume.

    In this day of agribusiness I do not trust many of the products that offered to the public. And so I continue to hunt and fish. We also raise a substantial part of our vegetables.

    I pray each day that I am so fortunate as to receive sustenance. I pray that I am deserving in sharing the life of another. I pray that I will utilize the sustenance and energy that I receive in a positive way and to share that with others. And if I am lucky the harvest will be fruitful.

    This all may seem to be a little self-absorbed but it is the only way that I can make any sense out of taking another life, either plant of animal.

    I also respect that others may think differently. It is more about making inner peace with myself and showing respect.

    • Bill, I will reply to your comment in an extended post as soon as possible.

      You have a voice that resonates and makes me attend. I want to write more about this. That you have read Waters and consider him a great influence brings a lot to the camp fire tonight. He is my intellectual father. I don’t have many, but he is in the pantheon. He worked for the telephone company in Colorado, stringing and repairing wire amongst the poles. He wrote that there was singing in the wires. I believe he heard that. I hear it and I have all of my marbles.

      I have one observation and moment that I saw Frank Waters in Taos at the Sagebrush Inn many years ago. I want to write about it. I need to get it on paper before too long. Not a deep thing, but then again….

      Bill, the life you take and the sustenance it provides you does this: you write and you write profoundly about the web of life and your corner of the earth. I really think your work on the web needs further circulation and I hope you look to that.

      • Thanks Jack, I hope you know I really appreciate your words.

        The fact is that there is nothing profound about me or my life. I’m about as simple as you can get. Like many I have a few skeletons in my closet but nothing that hasn’t been experienced by quite a few. I write about what I know. I will admit to being awed by the natural world. I’m simply a reporter, much like you (I hope that doesn’t sound too presumptuous)!

      • I have those skeletons, too. I wish they would stop rattling around. No, being called a reporter is not presumptuous. I see us all as reporters in a way with those that know the specific terminology of a discipline being able to refine reporting and point out nuances (as you do with your descriptions in Wild Ramblings).

  3. P.S.: I love the writing of Frank Waters, he has deeply influenced my thinking and writing.

  4. Kittie Howard

    I so agree with the sentiments in this post and with what the commenters wrote. I should like to add that when we speak of the culture in which we’re born, I think we should also consider the history which we inherit. Those colonists who first settled here, for the most part, were not highly educated or especially skilled. Their penchant to slash and burn and build and, if need be, move westward reflected what the greed and ignorance of not having (where they came from) developed into when given free reign.

    It would be foolish to say that a land mass as large as the United States would remain unto itself forever. Economics and the need for land determine much. Add to the mix that the homo sapien is the most destructive animal on earth, and a recipe for disaster unfolded. Unfortunately, ‘bad’ got twisted into a ‘good’ that became a more-is-better mentality that traveled with westward expansion and the 1898 ‘Manifest Destiny’ so obtained. Of course, the in-between destruction (that continues on a different level these days) required Christianity’s complicity. But you know that . . . no sense preaching to the choir.

    • You bring a perspective, Kittie, that is true. Bad did get twisted. Somewhere along the way, an error was made and we are living with it. I like Rousseau’s view about this — an accident of nature. Yes, we are the most destructive animal on earth. Kittie, you do know your history and philosophy.

      I do love your comments. Wish we few had a blog of our own.

    • Amen, Kittie, truer words never spoken!

  5. I have always felt close to the life perspectives of the native people of this land. I celebrate the present tribes here because their elders have retained much of the old thought and still appreciate the reasons for the old ways, yet I grieve that so many of the younger ones have gotten away from it. I continuously wonder if folks will ever get back to that simple understanding of our planet and the respect and reverence for it that understanding brings; if we will ever again dedicate our thoughts and efforts to the principle of stewardship of the earth to the seventh generation, or if we have gone too far already to turn back and will simply continue on our present trend toward the extinction of our species.

    • Montucky: I see processes going on with people and the natural world like you do. On the one hand we have a group of people that realize the interconnectedness and adjust their thinking and behavior accordingly. Usually this group has been reared with cohorts or parents or elders that see and teach. Off the grid, buy local, reduce, recycle, reuse: all terms that describe a diverse group and a way of life that attends the true nature of things. Then there is the Other. I’m sorry to say that a prevailing ethos in high places has polluted the air and water and ravaged the earth. I think it stoppable. I think it unstoppable. Too many people are fat-takers of the earth and they don’t look so good. I work to reduce, recycle and reuse. I am letting my fields return to shortgrass cover. I wish more people were closer to me in proximity to work with, but they are not. That’s when I think I will move to New Mexico and go as far off the grid as I can, living next to an acequia madre (the mother irrigation canal) and getting by. When I see the abuse and destruction of wildlife around my ranch by irreverent fat-takers, I think we have gone too far already to turn back.

      Then, again, I read and see your photographs and those of Bill and the writings of Kittie and Karen and Taos Sunflower and Debbie and Frank Waters and I think it stoppable. If not now, when?

  6. Now. We have to keep spreading the word. Living simply, eloquently. Nothing more, nothing less.

  7. The Native American are so tuned into nature. Being from New Mexico I have learned alot from them. I have the utmost respect for their traditions. We as outsiders can learn so much from them if we would only listen

  8. The children are the future. Teach them well and help them understand. I believe this and practice it four days a week at work and any other time I get an opportunity. Blogs by the people you mentioned help too. We all must use our voices. We can make a difference.

  9. Reading your words – “things need not fall apart” – my first thought was of Chinua Achebe, the Nigerian novelist whose initial work was entitled Things Fall Apart. The title, taken from the first stanza of Yeats’ poem The Second Coming, seems worth adding to the discussion:

    Turning and turning in the widening gyre
    The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
    Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
    Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
    The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
    The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
    The best lack all conviction, while the worst
    Are full of passionate intensity.

    The process of disintegration in Ibo culture described by Achebe has some remarkable parallels in our own, just as certain qualities of African cultures – an acknowledgement of the respect due the natural world, a recognition that life depends upon life for its sustenance and so on – have their own parallels in our Native American cultures.

    Pondering other points raised here, I find myself wondering: are we not also interconnected with those we experience as “Other”? Can we learn to truly respect those who differ from us? How can we keep connections vibrant if we refuse to acknowledge that connections exist?

    I will say this – I think Yeats might be surprised if he were here today. It seems to me the best among us are becoming firmer in their convictions. The worst are still pretty passionate, but who’s to say that can’t change?

  10. I would just like to add how very grateful I am for shoreacres comments, articulating so well my own thoughts around this discussion.

  11. Jack, this is a beautiful post. The connection is there for all of us, singing in the wires or wind, if we will only slow down long enough to listen and to feel.

    And Wild Bill, your way of living simply is exactly what makes it profound. What was once the norm is now the exception, and to live simply in harmony with all life takes great effort in the face of all the things that tempt us to live otherwise. I commend you, and all others who seek to reject our hyper-commercial, consumerist lifestyle and strive instead to live with respect and dignity.

  12. Jack, and others who have so eloquently replied to this post:

    This post and comments touch my heart. I was raised on the farm and also raised my children on a small farm. I have slaughtered fryers for the freezer. This particular time, I was three months pregnant and had 26 fryers to kill and dress in one day. My children were young, therefore, I had the job to do all by myself.

    Now, after reading the information provided here, I wish I had been exposed to the same as y’all were way back when. It would have eased my job for the day.

    This post reminds me of not long ago when I was preparing dinner. I opened a package of chicken purchased from the supermarket and found it had been mistreated before it was killed because it bled into the tissue. Something that would not happen after slaughter. I could see the chicken had been kicked several times. Wings broken, for instance. Bruises on the breast and back.

    I was so angry, I astonished myself! I found myself praying for that poor dead chicken. Now, I’ve never done that before in my life, nor had I ever thought to do so.

    There is nothing so disgusting as biting into a piece of chicken wing and find it full of cooked blood.

    Who, in their right mind, would abuse a small defenseless animal. These people need to be found out and punished. Not just for inserting such a product into the chain of our food, but for their being plain evil.

    The incident remained with me for several days. Made me want to find this person and thrash him or her soundly with a broom!

    Sorry, y’all were so poetic with your comments, and I insert negativity here. Please excuse my sour note, but I just had to tell someone about my unusual experience. This seemed the right place and time to do so.

    If you are forced to purchase your food, such as the greatest portion of our population, and find abuse of the food you have purchased, there are places to lodge a complaint other than the supermarket where you made you purchase.

    • Iona, thank you so much for your comment. I wish I would of opened it up sooner than today. You are eloquent in your passion and care. I learned something from your comment. The world is full of cruelty and goodness and it is up to us to prevent the mistreatment of livestock and the unfortunate in this world. I did not know all the signs of abuse in chickens. I shall remember your comment. Thank you so much for taking the time to write. Hope all is well with your health.

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