Rolling Thunder by Doug Boyd is a great contribution to Native American Literature. We have penned down the Rolling Thunder summary. Dough Boyd is one of the famous Native American writers and Rolling Thunder is his famous work.
Rolling Thunder by Doug Boyd/ Summary:
The author describes the dress code of Rolling Thunder when he first met him. He was wearing a red and white shirt with Indian design khaki pants. He was also wearing a hat with a large eagle feather in it. The author is in some ceremony and Rolling Thunder talks to the audience. (p.4)
He tells them that it is his first time meeting with White people in spiritual matters and this is the reason he is feeling hesitation. It is in his routine to talk to Indians about spiritual things. He wants to make things clear to them that he will not reveal any secrets regarding rituals or ceremonies that are not supposed to be revealed. (p.5)
Rolling Thunder says that now the time has come when we can travel and mix with White people and he has high hopes to find people with good hearts. He says that traditional Indian do not sell medicine and neither they do anything to show off.
In Council Grove, Rolling Thunder tells the
“process of self-realization, of seeking and knowing one’s own identity”. (p.7)Rolling Thunder by Doug Boyd (p.7)
Importance of Plants and Animals and Water in the process of treatments:
Rolling Thunder talks about plants and herbs and how they help in healing. He says that whenever they (Indians) need plants for treatment, they ask them. According to him, plants also have a purpose and they should be respected because they help humans. Plants also have families and tribes and whenever they need these plants, they ask for them. Plants are their great helpers and they pay them great respect. (p.9)
Rolling Thunder also talks about receiving the power of certain animals that help them in the healing process. When it is necessary to kill some animals for food or medicine, they make an apology. they make sure that every part of the animal is used for a good purpose. (p.9)
Indians have the ability to cure many diseases with only water. They take a glass of water and pray over it in the morning and this also works as medicine. (p.9,10).
In a reply to the question of who will be the medicine man after Rolling Thunder, he replies that White Indians tried to kill many of their chiefs and for the next generation, they have taken them off.
After performing a successful healing ritual on an ill man, Rolling Thunder leaves the room. The narrator wants to meet him personally, but he suppresses his desire to meet him many times and tries to focus on other things one day, in conversation with Dr Green, he expresses his desire to meet Rolling Thunder.
The narrator does not have any idea where to find Rolling Thunder or where e lives. He arranges a research program and put forth his proposal to Dr Green. Dr Green approves it and gives him the assignment to meet Rolling Thunder.
The whole motive is to learn some key points regarding self-regulation and control of internal states (the secrets of mind and body). (p.25).Rolling Thunder by Doug Boyd
After boarding a bus, the narrator reaches a restroom and books a room. He starts thinking about meeting Rolling Thunder but he does not know his whereabouts. He finds out about the town Carlin and reaches its post office and asks about Rolling Thunder. He comes to know that the Rolling Thunder is locally known by the Anglo-Saxon name John pope and he works as a brakeman. The narrator asks about his address and the lady in the post-office tells him. (p.28)
The house of Rolling Thunder looks like a “cottage in a children’s story”. The narrator meets Rolling Thunder’s son outside of the house who calls his mother to meet him first as Rolling Thunder is not in the house at the present moment. His name is Buffalo Horse and he also has a younger brother whose name is Spotted Eagle. The narrator finds Rolling Thunder’s wife a really beautiful woman. He tries to tell her the purpose of his meeting with Rolling Thunder.
Rolling Thunder’s wife tells the narrator that he works on the railroad and he is out on a trip. He will be happy to meet him. The narrator feels a strange kind of power in Rolling Thunder’s house. After the meeting, he comes back to his restroom. Helen Pope (wife of Rolling Thunder) calls him and tells her name Spotted Fawn and the narrator realizes that “Helen Pope is Spotted Fawn”. She tells him that Rolling Thunder has come back and she told him about the narrator so he can come to meet Rolling Thunder. (p.33).
The narrator finally meets Rolling Thunder. He mentions his meeting with Rolling Thunder at Council Grove. The atmosphere is strange and he describes the interior of the room. The room is decorated with stuffed animals and their horns. Rolling Thunder introduces him to his other visitors named Anne Habberton and Richard Clemmer. (p.35)
The narrator tells Rolling Thunder about his mission to search the states of consciousness, volition, self-regulation and creativity. He also mentions that he has high hopes that Rolling Thunder will help him. (p36)
In reply, Rolling Thunder says that teachings and knowledge cannot get by sitting and talking.
“You have to live it and be part of it and you might get to know it” (p.37).Rolling Thunder by Doug Boyd
The narrator explains the organization that he wants Rolling Thunder to work with. The organization’s name is Menninger Foundation and it works in the area of mental health. The project that he is holding is called the voluntary controls project. (p.37).
Rolling Thunder explains the current status of Indian tribes throughout America. There are two types of Indian traditional and BIA. Traditional Indians still live by the morals and codes of conduct and they are maintaining their legacy. BIA Indians have become incompetent and they have lost their direction. They have become alcoholics and
“their suicide rate is the highest in the United States.” (p.39).Rolling Thunder by Doug Boyd
Talking about the oppression that it started with White men who invaded their lands and now it has extended to non-Indians as well. It has extended to minorities, “to people in underdeveloped lands, to people of new generations with new ideas, to all the people outside the government establishment”. (p.39). However, the traditional Indians are oppressed by it but they do not become part of it.
According to Rolling Thunder, it is wrong to spread beliefs be it some religion or anything else or even if you think that this is the best belief in the world.
In the camp, the narrator comes to know about his first lesson and that is to see the destruction of pinyon-juniper forests on Shoshone land. The wealthy ranchers pressurize Land Management to cut down the forest and convert them into grazing land. According to Rolling Thunder, the man is destroying his own environment. Rolling Thunder wants to bring Indians and non-Indians together to protest against this damage. (p.44).
In their team, there is a White woman whose name is Alice Floto. She is a friend of many Indians and she has a good relationship with all of them. One of the reasons Indians like her is she does not promote Christianity among Indians as she is liberal in a religious sense. She agrees to be a part of their team after Rolling Thunder asks her. He knows she is capable of many things. (p.46,47).
The narrator asks Rolling Thunder about the water of the stream because he wants to swim in it. Rolling Thunder says that the water is polluted by White men. Their land was pure once and everything that is in it including water and air and now there is hardly any pure water in it. Rolling Thunder calls the “earth an organism”.
He put a new perception in narrator’s mind that
“this earth is a body, a gigantic body of a conscious, struggling living being. The body belongs to a being, an individual with an identity and a purpose. That being exists here now. We have to be within it like cells.”Rolling Thunder by Doug Boyd (p.50)
According to Rolling Thunder, the earth is sick now because it is mistreated by humans. It is possible that some natural disaster happens in the future because nature wants adjustments to throw off this sickness. He equates it to be like fever or like vomiting and calls it a physiological adjustment. (p.51). He states that we should respect our environment and should never neglect our duties towards it.
Oscar Johnny who is a hereditary subchief of Western Shoshone joins them in camp one evening. He knows about every hill, valley, river, stream and location of every plant and tree. He tells them about Shoshone customs of everyday life. (p.54).
The narrator recalls some prophecies like one day the children of white men would dress up like Indians. They will wear long hair, beads and a headband.
The narrator and other researchers leave Palisade campsite in the early morning and they ride to Ruby Valley. On their way, they get a chance to see the barren lands where trees were cleared by the Bureau of Land Management.
Rolling Thunder compares White hunters and Indian hunters. He says that White hunters are greedy, inconsiderate and destructive. They do not care what they kill. But they (Indians) only take what they need with respect and in a proper way (p.62).
The narrator repeats the story of the signing of the treaty between White men and Indians that was signed with the blood of an Indian. These incidents were told by Rolling Thunder.
Their treaty (Indians) was made in Ruby Valley, Nevada, in 1863. Their treaty was signed by chiefs and headsmen but paid for in blood. White people were not strong at that time and they came to the Indians for a peace treaty. There was a war going on between White people that was called the Civil War.
They needed Indian’s land to travel. They were dying to meet chiefs and a date was set. The peace treaty was about to sign by both parties. On the day of the meeting, Indians came unarmed and soldiers from government representatives had rifles. The soldiers killed the Indians and said that it would be a lesson for Indians that they cannot be in the way of White people. (p.66)
Rolling Thunder says that
“Truth cannot be expressed verbally and it can only be experienced. You have to live it and be part of it and then you might get out know it”.Rolling Thunder by Doug Boyd (p.72)
The narrator’s first step is to learn What Rolling Thunder means by understanding.
Everything that Rolling Thunder does is for some reason. After the sun goes down, he does not collect herbs. He only gathers those things that he needs and he does not believe to take extra or wasting them. There is no fear for him. Everything that exists in this nature is his companion including plants and animals. (p.73)
With the help of a tiny stick, Rolling thunder pokes an “ordinary stink bug” and says that it will bring rain. After teasing the bug slightly, they hear a loud, sharp crack, a bolt of lightning and Rolling Thunder says that this bug brings the lightning. soon it starts raining. (p.77,78).
Rolling Thunder says that the
“Western society is the most unnatural way of life. The people of this society are farthest removed from the trees, the birds, the insects, the animals, the growing plants and the weather”.Rolling Thunder by Doug Boyd (p.81).
They are the least in touch with their own inner nature. (p.81) The white man is always after selling something but Indians do not believe in selling and neither you can get them by selling be it religion or politics, science or other products. (p.83)
During a healing Ritual, Rolling Thunder starts with an invocation.
“To the East where the Sun rises
To the North where the cold comes from
to the South where the light comes from
To the West where the Sunsets.
To the Father Sun.
To the Mother Earth.”Rolling Thunder by Doug Boyd (p.86).
Then he proceeds to talk about the forced adoption of Indian children by White families, the destruction of mother nature and the testing of different kinds of weapons in Nevada.
The narrator and other people go down the hills and Rolling Thunder tells him that there are people who shot at everything they see and there is no reason for it. They shot because they want to. The narrator says that somehow they succeed in hiding and Rolling Thunder says to him now he knows how it feels to be an Indian.
“They are always on run and hide. They are always hunted and chased, kicked out, sent away, herded here and there”.Rolling Thunder by Doug Boyd (p.96).
Rolling Thunder tells the narrator about purification that without cleansing and purifying the mind, you cannot purify the body, this is the right way of purification. Further, he says that people should take responsibility for their thoughts, so they have to learn ways to control them.
The narrator tells Rolling Thunder that he became interested in chanting after working with Swami Rama. Swami Rama instructed the narrator to concentrate on chanting and he became interested in the possibility that chanting can produce responses in plants. The narrator tells all the stories that he has heard from Swami to Rolling Thunder.
It was the story of a snake who used to bite people when they come to worship at a temple. The Swami used a mantram to call it and ask for its submission. The Swami instructs the snake not to bite people. The Snake follows the instruction of the Swami. However, people start harming the snake. One day, Swami calls the snake and sees his condition. The Snake tells him that it is following Swami instruction not to bite people. The Swami says that he instructed the snake not to bite, but he did not tell him not to hiss.
The narrator tells that he is afraid of Bees but Rolling thunder says that
“The fear of any living thing is based on misunderstanding”Rolling Thunder by Doug Boyd (p.114)
He then asks Alice to talk to Bees that they will not harm them and that they will leave enough for Bees and for seeds. After their talk to the Bees, the Bees move. The narrator says that now he can take the story of Alice talking to Bees to the Menninger Foundation but it is hard for a researcher to believe this as human talking to Bees is not related to science.
Rolling Thunder tells that “nothing comes free and everything has its cost”. When we go through sickness or pain, there are reasons for it. These are prices that we have to pay for something. If you make them go away, the price becomes greater.
He says that they take up to three days to look into things regarding a personal healing process. Physical troubles according to Rolling Thunder start on a spiritual level and the main thing is not at the body level.
The narrator tells the reasons for his association with Rolling Thunder. It was based on Rolling Thunder’s idea to learn the truth by struggling against ignorance in one own self and surroundings. All companions of the narrator in Shoshone country maintained their motivation by the belief that working and learning were the same processes.
The narrator talks about traditional Hopi which is thought to be
“custodians of the spiritual doctrine of traditional American Indians. Traditional Indians were known to quote Hopi prophecies”. (p.139).Rolling Thunder by Doug Boyd
“These prophecies tell the major wars, the constant oppression of sovereign peoples living upon this land, the recent manipulation of governments in the Far East, and the creation of the UN headquarters on Manhattan Island”.Rolling Thunder by Doug Boyd (p.139)
Rolling Thunder has an encounter with a snake. The snake leaves its place after Rolling Thunder see in his eyes. The narrator has already seen him in dialogues with mosquitoes, ants and now with a snake. He senses that
Rolling Thunder and the deer, snakes, bees, mosquitoes, ants and pinyon trees are one being.Rolling Thunder by Doug Boyd (p.166).
Next, he describes the cutting of the trees that Pinyon trees were falling, there was too much dust and noise that they could not hear each other. They were trying to capture the tragedy of cutting forests around them through cameras. (p.171).
Rolling Thunder gathers some herbs and says that they have killed every bit of life including trees, Indian tea and sacred herbs. He stands motionless by the dying trees for a few moments.
He says that this is the misuse of power and if the chaining would be stepped, the trees would grow again and this will symbolize the sovereignty of all species of all kingdoms to live int heir own nature.Rolling Thunder by Doug Boyd (p.174).
The narrator stays connected with Rolling Thunder till the end of the book and this was a great experience for him for self-realization and understanding.
(Source: Rolling Thunder by Doug Boyd, 1974)