The calf roping commences after a song by the Indian band. The object in calf roping is to rope and tie the calf in nothing flat. An Indian named Morgan comes closest to nothing with a time of 14.2 seconds. A good horse is 90% of the game. And practice. A Yakima Indian says, "Morgan will practice roping you if you're not looking."
The bareback bronc riding follows fast. The object here is to get killed and make the judges believe you are enjoying it. The good luck is to draw a bad horse, a horse that will try to kill you. Otherwise there is no show. The people will want their money back. If you have ever been on an airplane exploding in mid-air then you know the exact sensation of riding a bronc bareback. Northern Indian tribes, a Crow says, practice this by riding elk. The Indians can't afford to blow up airplanes. Elk are free.
The judges glance at the first Indian rider out of the chute and then look away, and you know the rider has failed to spur the horse on the first jump and has already been disqualified. But no one knows this until the ride is over unless they have watched the judges carefully. The bareback rider has nothing to hold onto except air and a strap, so it is no mystery that most end up busted, twisted, broken, and, ah, yes, happy.
After the bronc riding is the Navajo Feather Dance, a delicate weaving pattern of joy in color and movement. You realize how corrupt modern white dancing has become; what was once a primitive communal ecstasy has been reduced to a colorless mechanical mapping out of movements with no relation to poetry, no regard to earth, to people, to the animal in people. Then the Going Home Dance of the Pima, a serpentine study in light, then the Hummingbird Dance of the Taos, a movement of small birds on a great plain. But the Eagle Dance of the Zu�i is something the world has been waiting for; that alone is worth a trip to Gallup, N. Mex. With the dancers we become bright-colored birds soaring alone above all of death and life and are free.
The gambit and opportunity in steer wrestling is to leap from your running horse onto the back of a steer and throw the 500-pound animal flat. The problem is that the steer objects, even if Indians are attempting it, so the Indians have never seen so many failures in their lives. Lo, the poor Indians; all power to the steers. (What in the hell were you trying to do on my back?)
A Blackfoot says that the next event is the biggest thing since Custer—the saddle bronc-riding event. The Indian can manage very well without a saddle, but the Indian is becoming soft. What the automatic transmission is to the white, the saddle is to the Indian. But the Indian will go along with the saddle for the show. Fame is the spur. The wild bucking horse is the challenge. Above the chute a Winnebago Sioux is about to dump a contestant into the saddle. The Sioux may be the last person to see him alive. But there is no sentiment, no fond farewells. The Indian rider is thinking, dreaming of the half a thousand dollars to be won or lost on the toss of a horse. The Indian rider named Realbird is trying to catch Sonny Jim James in all-round points, but both are behind Dugan LeBeaux, the Oglala Sioux.
The chutes, which are below the announcers' and photographers' stand, begin to rattle and quake. You expect a photographer to come crashing down, but instead the chute opens, Realbird reaches for the sky, gives a perfect ride but does not have the perfect horse. Realbird will settle for a tie in the saddle bronc event.
Now the Isleta Pueblo dancers, on weaving feet and accoutered in outrageous colors, prance lightly in flower patterns. All Indian dances are choreographed for performance on dirt so that all movement is definite and precise.
Now the hoop dancers hit the arena. They throw down their hoops, retrieve them with their feet and wiggle them up their bodies without ever touching them with their hands. The hoop dancers bring down the house—that is, they pound the earth so hard with their violent dancing that any house in the area would fall down. There are no houses in the area, so the hoop dancers quit far, far ahead to a riot of applause.
The Navajo Squaw Dance is a pretty tame affair. Couples locked arm in arm go through a series of configurations to chanting, cut up with coyote yells and the bang bang bang of a great big drum.