On a cold winter day, a Pikuni from an outlying band named Pretty-on-top rides into the Lone Eaters’ camp with a Napikwan named Sturgis. Sturgis is a heavy-singer-for-the-sick among his own people, and the two bring news of a worsening white-scabs disease outbreak within the outer Pikuni bands.
Sturgis is obviously a Napikwan doctor, and his presence is an attempt to convince the Pikunis to report the agency because of the worsening outbreak of smallpox.
Sturgis tells the Lone Eaters that the disease is quickly spreading through the bands, and even his own wife, a Black Patched Moccasin woman, has already died. The disease is coming from the Napikwans who carry it on their move westward. Sturgis tells them about a medicine—a magic “juice” that keeps them from getting sick. The medicine will not cure them of the disease, Sturgis says, but it will keep them from becoming sick. If they go to the Many Houses lodge, they will be able to get this medicine.
The Many Houses lodge uses the smallpox vaccination as a means to lure the natives onto reservations and into boarding houses to be assimilated into white Napikwan culture. This way, the Pikunis are only guaranteed to live if they turn themselves in to the reservation. Sending Sturgis onto Native lands with the immunization would have saved countless lives.
The Lone Eaters are distrustful of Sturgis and Pretty-on-top, and suspicious of any Pikuni who takes on the Napikwans’ ways as he has. The two visitors are taken to a nearby lodge to rest as the Lone Eaters discuss their options. If they stay put in camp, it is likely that they will die. They can always go to the agency on Milk River, which will take them in, but this holds little appeal to the Lone Eaters. They consider moving camp north toward the country of the Siksikas, but there are no blackhorn there and they will be forced to eat the slippery swimmers. For now, “their world seems hopeless.”
Clearly, the Pikunis would rather take their chances with the white-scabs disease than live a healthy life at the agency as a Napikwan, and this too is evidence of the Pikunis’ determination to continue their way of life no matter the cost. Still, some of the tribal members are hesitant to move north and abandon the blackhorn, and this also underscores their connection to the sacred buffalo.