Sunday, June 12, 2016


Petaga Yuha Mani, (American Indian, born March 17, 1912 - died December 3, 1993).

A holy man or woman who is powerful in spirit will have great influences wherever they are. Continually in communion with the Creator, they shed the musk of hidden meanings as they breath. Their presence changes lives. A simple brief meeting with such a soul might have more impact than a lifetime of encounters with others. 

During the course of my life, I have met people like this, but rarely, since they are unusual. 

Years ago, in my youth, I chanced to find myself with a holy man, and the episode deeply touched my life. A living experience dwells in my heart ever since. Here is the story:


With his back to the early morning sun, he stood beside his small wood slat home on the South Dakota Indian reservation. Despite being at a distance, he had a bigger-than-life presence, such as a grand, magnificent oak tree might have; full of character, deep roots and strong trunk, with branches reaching far off to the sky. He gazed imperturbably at us, a little gang of hippies that had arrived improbably at his house in the early summer. Our elder leader popped her head out of the old Dodge Dart we were packed inside and smiling, called out, “Pete, long time no see!” He smiled and replied, “Yeah, on the Big Island wasn't it?”
The others filed inside, and as I reached the threshold, I stood a moment, reaching out my hand. A slanting ray of light fell across his figure. The tall older man stood almost a head above me. Deep furrows creased his long face. Black braided hair fell behind immense ears and over his shoulders. He wore a faded western shirt, black trousers and boots and reached out to me with both hands open. I moved to stand face to face as he took my hands in his. Looking at me with utter kindness and humility, he stood for what seemed like a long time, not saying anything, simply gazing with great tenderness, warmth and curiosity. I was startled to suddenly feel truly recognized, like we had known each other forever, even as dear friends from a time before birth when we had gathered together on the shores of dawn. The moment burned indelibly into my being, and I was given a lasting gift of deep peace and comfort. Though not a word had been spoken, volumes were imparted in the briefest moments.

His English name was Pete Catches, Sr. the last part shortened from Catches The Enemy. He lived on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota all his life. For decades he healed and instructed both Natives and non-Natives near his home and off the reservation. He revived the Sundance among the Lakota in the early 1960's and in 1964, he was named Sundance chief by the Oglala Sioux Tribal Council, the only such distinction in tribal history. His Oglala Sioux name was Petaga Yuha Mani, or Petaga for short, and during a gathering in his home, he told us how he got his name, meaning “Hands in Fire.”
Petaga sat on a wood chair, long legs outstretched and hand on his knee. “It was the early days of my being a medicine man, and I had been called to visit a sick man. When I went in his home, he was laying on a bed in the corner . He looked at me and I could see he did not believe I could help him. I needed his faith. I walked to the fireplace and reached into the fire, gathering hot coals in both of my hands, and then went to him. As I stood in front of him, he got faith and I was able to cure him. From then on, I had the name Petaga, meaning hands in fire.

We stayed three days. The last evening, we gathered at a sweat lodge near the house, and did a sweat with his two grown sons. It was surprising how hot it became inside the hut made of bowed branches covered with burlap and blankets. A pit dug in the middle contained hot stones taken from a nearby wood fire. Occasionally someone sprinkled water on them making them hiss and steam. Prayers and offerings were made to the four directions and Great Spirit. Sage was thrown on the stones and burned with a sweet pungent aroma. A peace pipe was passed around.

He told us he had two wives, and when he had taken the younger wife his first wife did not like it. Saying this, he grinned and explained the Sioux are allowed to take more than one wife. Always absolutely honest, he was deep as a river and as broad.

During a moment of silence, when he sat near to me, I found myself praying for him. I imagined the innumerable hardships he faced. His little house with makeshift furnishings would barely keep out the harsh winters. Closing my eyes, as my prayer went out, I had the unusual experience of feeling Petaga block my thoughts. I felt hurt at being strongly rebuffed—his door suddenly shut. His pride did not allow for sympathy from strangers. Inwardly, he spoke to me then, saying, little brother, why do you pray for me? Everything is contained here . . . and more! It is you that is poor. Be content with me in the Kingdom of our Father.

© by Steven Boone
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