Oliver Pahdopony was the last medicine man of the Comanches and his vision quest became centering point for the Comanche people. Between 1980 and 1985, a graduate anthropology student, by the name of Robert Vetter, was doing his field work in the southern plains, and had the good fortune of being taken into Pahdopony's family, where he developed a close relationship with his adopted grandfather. Vetter was interested in religion, spirituality, and healing, and learned much from a Native American perspective, which he shared with me.
Ten years before their meeting, Pahdopony was very ill and hospitalized. The doctors exhausted all their tests and treatments, and finally told their patient that they could do nothing more for him but ease his pain. Pahdopony had terminal cancer. Thus began the vision quest of Oliver Pahdopony!
Pahdopony discussed his situation with his wife and son, and they decided that since the doctors could do nothing, he would heal himself in the tradition of his elders. He would fast and go into the hills on a vision quest. Pahdopony went into the Wichita mountains on the night of a new moon, and brought along an eagle feather, a blanket, and some tobacco. This was the fall when it was just starting to get cold.
Pahdopony reached his spot, a rise facing Mount Scott, one of the taller peaks in the Wichita mountains, he sat down and waited. For a long time, nothing happened. Then, near morning, he could hear the rustling of leaves from out in the distance. Looking up, he saw something that appeared to be a flame. Whatever it was started getting closer and closer. Then he realized that this was a creature spitting fire out of his mouth, and it was getting closer to him. Pahdopony, who referred to this creature as a visitor, soon realized that it was coming after him. Pahdopony sat frozen, unable to move, and the visitor, directly in his path, shot a flame at him. Now Pahdopony couldn't move, talk, or breathe. His heart completely stopped and he was totally helpless. Not an expected occurrence during a vision quest!
Then the visitor spoke, and Pahdopony returned to normal. He could move, breathe, and talk again. The visitor said in Comanche, "Son, what are you doing here?" And Pahdopony replied that he was sick. "There's nothing the matter with you," the visitor replied. "You're going to be alright. But they sent me to a vision quest and to take care of a man who's real bad off." With that, this visitor started to take off to the west. But just before disappearing, he turned around to Pahdopony and said, "Son, did you know that this whole world that we live in comes to a complete standstill for a short time, just before morning? That's the time when things like me can enter into this world."
With that, the visitor disappeared into the west, which is often considered to be the direction of death.
Some time later, his son came back for him. Running up to his father, he asked, "How did you make it through the cold night? Pahdopony replied, "What do you mean? Where I was, it was like springtime." Leaving the rise, everywhere had frost on the ground, everywhere but where Pahdopony had been.
Pahdopony returned home, his cancer now gone. He never had problems with that again. But he knew something else had happened as well, and he really didn't know what to do about it until sometime later. In a nearby town, an old Comanche lady walked up to him and asked, "Son, what happened to you?" Pahdopony asked the old lady what she meant and she told him that something changed about him. He explained the story of his vision quest, and she said, "Something like that doesn't happen to you without your receiving a gift. You've got a gift, and you don't yet know what it is, but some time soon, you're going to find out. Whatever healed you is going to give you the power to heal other people."
Pahdopony started to think about what had happened to him on the hill. Putting it all together, he began to remember the traditional medicine people of his childhood. And he had remembered some of the ways they had doctored people.
Word about what had happened during Pahdopony's vision quest got out in the Indian communities of Oklahoma. And people from the different tribes started coming to him for help. Pahdopony began to realize what he was supposed to be doing and how he was supposed to do it.
Since fire had healed him, Pahdopony used this element to treat other people. He would build a fire, and let it burn until the coals in it were red hot. Then he would take a piece of the hot coal out of the fire with his fingers, and place it into his mouth. This would activate the power to heal others. Pahdopony saw sickness as fire, and would say that you have to fight fire with fire. But you have to understand what that fire is, or else it will burn you.
Different medicine men and women specialize in treating different illnesses. Pahdopony's specialty was Bell's palsy, a facial paralysis where one half of the face become paralyzed. He had the ability to take the person's face in his hands, and reshape it the way that it was supposed to be. Pahdopony would explain that it was like taking wet cement. You could move it around any way you wanted. But once it was dry, it would stay in one position.
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