Oklahoma (1888)

Family photograph of Buena Vista (Harris) Rasmus

Oklahoma (1888)
by Jane Hammons

Before her mother died, Estelle Bow Kerchee asked about her name.

She knew Bow and Kerchee came from her father’s people. Comanche.

Her mother’s name was Buena Vista Redbird Billy.

Estelle wanted to know about Buena Vista. She knew other people named Redbird in her mother’s family and she’d known some named Billy when they lived with her father in Texas. But her mother was the only Buena Vista she ever knew. They had come to Oklahoma because her Cherokee family said it was a safer place for the baby who killed her mother to be born. There the doctor said Buena Vista Redbird Billy was not built for babies. Two other babies had already died. One before Estelle and one after. Those babies let Estelle keep her mother. But the last one took Buena Vista Redbird Billy with her. Estelle would have liked a sister. But not a dead one. They were buried with Cherokee family in Tahlequah.

Buena Vista said her name was a mistake. It meant Good View or Fine Sight, something pretty, in Spanish. But when her father chose that name he did not know what it meant. He just liked the way the words looked on a map of Colorado. And he didn’t know how to pronounce it either. He pronounced Buena like it rhymed with tuna. Buna. Buna Tuna. Children teased her.

Estelle didn’t want the name Billy but she wouldn’t have minded Buena or Vista or Redbird. Her mother told her she thought a white name would help Estelle get along better in life. If Estelle was supposed to make life easier, she didn’t want to know how much harder things might have been as Buena or Vista or Redbird Billy.

After Estelle’s mother died, no one talked about her. When she was 10, Estelle started living at the Cherokee Orphan Asylum. Her mother was a place on a map of Colorado.

Jane Hammons taught writing at UC Berkeley for thirty years and currently lives in New Mexico. Her flash fiction is included in the anthology Hint Fiction (Norton) and she received a Derringer Award from the Short Mystery Fiction Society. She is a citizen of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma. Twitter @JHammons Instagram @muchophotos website www.janehammons.com/

Family photograph of the author’s great-grandmother, Buena Vista Harris Rasmus, provided by the author.