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Paul Sylvain
Sunday, April 8, 2012

Still buzzing years later over the mystery of the ‘bees’

Paul Sylvain
Paul Sylvain

This day celebrates an event that sounds too impossible to be true. How can a man die and, three days later, rise again and leave his tomb behind?

Yet, millions of people believe this story without question, even though if asked if they believed in ghosts, many would reply,“Are you nuts?”

Every so often, something happens that speaks to something deep inside a person’s being. This column is about such an event that happened to me on a visit to Cheyenne, Okla., in June 2008.

If you don’t believe we walk with spirits, or “shadows” from our past, then skip this column and read something else. I can’t explain what happened to me or why, but I do know it was real and life-changing.

Cheyenne is a mostly forgettable place few people have ever heard of. But it was near here, at a little spit of a river called the Washita, that George Armstrong Custer and his 7th Calvary attacked a small village of southern Cheyenne one bitterly cold late November dawn in 1868.

Many women and children, and a handful of braves, lay dead. More than 800 Indian ponies were slaughtered, and the lodges, with all their clothing and winter food supplies, were reduced to ashes. Payback would come eight years later at the Little Bighorn.

I was in Dallas in 2008 and drove up to Oklahoma City to visit a military museum dedicated to the unit my dad served in during World War II. On the way up, I noticed a sign saying I was crossing the Washita River. I was aware of a battle bearing this name but little else.

During the following week, I felt the urge to find the site and visit it. That next Saturday, I drove more than four hours to get there.

When I arrived, I parked on an overlook. Mowed trails carved in the waist-high grass led to the site. There were no other cars, visitors or park staff around.

Signs cautioned visitors to stay on the trails and to watch for snakes. Armed with my camera and a site map, I trotted down the trail.

I reached an expanse of open field bordered by trees. The site was where Chief Black Kettle was wintering with his band of Southern Cheyenne on Nov. 27, 1868.

Black Kettle advocated for peace and was viewed as an outcast by other bands of Cheyenne because of his attempts to broker peace with the whites.

I tried snapping a few pictures, but my camera would not work. I kept getting different error messages. It worked when I left Dallas, but now nothing.

I continued along the trail, baffled by my camera’s failure, and reached the spot where the battle took place. By now, it was late morning, under hot, clear blue skies, and without another living soul in sight.

Suddenly, my ears were filled with a roaring, deafening buzzing noise, which sounded like thousands of bees swarming around my head. It startled me, and I literally ducked and covered my head.

A few seconds later, I looked up but saw nothing. The buzzing was still there, but not a single bee was anywhere in sight. And there were no rattlers nearby. There was nothing there.

Within 20 seconds or so, the sound began to fade off into the distance. I collected myself and walked nervously down to the river, where Black Kettle and his wife were killed. I sat on a bench that I shared with a small lizard.

There aren’t many things that shake me up, but I was rattled by what I had just experienced.

I tried my camera several times along the rest of my walk, but it still would not work. When I returned to my hotel room, I checked my camera again. It was now working just fine.

I called my Lakota friend, Longbow, and told him about the camera and buzzing noise.

“You were trying to steal their shadows,” he explained. “You were on hallowed ground and the spirits of those who died there still walk there.”

About the buzzing, he said: “You had a vision. You were called there for a reason, and you were given a gift.”

Longbow didn’t try to explain the buzzing, other than to say if I searched, I would learn the answer.

I also shared my story with an Abenaki friend of mine here in New Hampshire. Several days later, I received an email from him.

“You might find this of interest,” he wrote.

What he found was an account from a Cheyenne survivor of that attack.

The air was filled with the “buzzing of bullets,” the survivor reported. “It was like the sound of bees hitting the teepees.”

Paul Sylvain lives and writes from his home in Merrimack. His column appears the second Sunday of the month. Contact him at