When Richard "Sonny" Torres and Ray Briggs arrived at Holy Rosary Indian Mission in the fall of 1951 the first thing they did was to look for a way to escape.
They were city boys and looked at things a little differently than those of us that were reservation born and raised. For instance, when they saw the wire-meshed screen on the window in the big boy's recreation room, they saw an exit to freedom. I saw it as just another window.
There was nothing spontaneous about the plan they hatched to escape. First they found a way to loosen the screws on the recreation room window. And then they chose a Sunday night to make their escape.
Sunday night was the most relaxed night of the week at the mission school. It was the night that we saw a movie in the school gymnasium. The big boy's recreation room was at the bottom of the stairway leading to the movie seats reserved for the older boys.
Taking advantage of their street-wise ways, they contacted their friend, Glen Three Stars, in Pine Ridge Village and set up a time and place for him to meet them with his car. Shortly after the movie started I saw them approach Mr. Bryde, a Jesuit prefect, whisper in his ear and then head down the stairway to the restrooms.
No one paid much attention to them after that because we were busy enjoying the movie. After the movie we traipsed down the stairs and stopped in the recreation room to have one last smoke before bedtime. We noticed at once that the window was open and the wire screen had been pushed out. Mr. Bryde immediately called for an assembly and role call of all the students. As we lined up I immediately noticed that Torres and Briggs were gone.
I found out later that Three Stars had picked them up near the mission highway and drove them to Rapid City, S.D. They had made a clean escape. I hated the boarding school as much as they did and now it was time for me to plan my escape.
I tried to escape once with a friend named Pete Cummings when I was in the fourth grade, but we got caught and had to take a severe whipping with a leather strap and suffer the further indignity of being deprived of the Sunday night movies for about six weeks. It took a few months to work off the demerits we accumulated from our thwarted escape.
I was now in the 11th grade, a much older and wiser guy. I knew I would never make it through the school year and so I waited two weeks after Torres and Briggs had made their run before attempting my escape.
It was a beautiful Sunday morning in early October when I put my plan into action. Sunday Mass was always a bit longer than our regular daily Mass. I figured that if I could find a way to get out of the church early in the service, I would have nearly an hour's head start before Mass ended. Or, if I got lucky, they wouldn't miss me until after breakfast when roll call was usually held.
I left the pew and told Mr. Bryde that I was really sick to my stomach and needed to go outside for a bit. He nodded his OK and out of the church I went.
I will never forget climbing the first hill overlooking the mission grounds and feeling like a bird about to take flight. I paused for a few minutes to catch my breath and looked back at the buildings and grounds where I had been held captive for 10 years. I then took the course I had planned and headed the four miles south to Pine Ridge Village where I hoped to hook up with Glen Three Stars.
It seems that Three Stars had become a facsimile of the Underground Railroad for escaped students from the Holy Rosary Indian Mission. Three Stars was one of the most famous athletes to ever come out of Pine Ridge High School or Oglala Community High School as it was called in the days of old.
I found Glen's house and he hid me out for about three days. We then scraped together enough money for me to catch a bus to Rapid City.
Not once in my life have I ever regretted running away from the mission school. At that point in my life it was the bravest act I had ever committed and I never looked back. Instead of losing something I always looked upon it as a new beginning. I don't know what course my life would have taken had I remained at the mission school, but one year later I was in the United States Navy and traveling the world. It truly was a new beginning.
X Giago, an Oglala Lakota, is president of the Native American Journalists Foundation Inc.