The Boy Who Promised Me Horses


The Boy Who Promised Me Horses

David Joseph Charpentier
Foreword by He'seota'e Miner

324 pages
20 photographs


May 2024


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eBook (EPUB)
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May 2024


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eBook (PDF)
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May 2024


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About the Book

“He tried to outrun a train,” Theodore Blindwoman told David Joseph Charpentier the night they found out about Maurice Prairie Chief’s death. When Charpentier was a new teacher at St. Labre Indian School in Ashland, Montana, Prairie Chief was the first student he met and the one with whom he formed the closest bonds.

From the shock of moving from a bucolic Minnesota college to teach at a small, remote reservation school in eastern Montana, Charpentier details the complex and emotional challenges of Indigenous education in the United States. Although he intended his teaching tenure at St. Labre to be short, Charpentier’s involvement with the school has extended past thirty years. Unlike many white teachers who came and left the reservation, Charpentier has remained committed to the potentialities of Indigenous education, motivated by the early friendship he formed with Prairie Chief, who taught him lessons far and wide, from dealing with buffalo while riding a horse to coping with student dropouts he would never see again.

Told through episodic experiences, the story takes a journey back in time as Charpentier searches for answers to Prairie Chief’s life. As he sits on top of the sledding hill near the cemetery where Prairie Chief is buried, Charpentier finds solace in the memories of their shared (mis)adventures and their mutual respect, hard won through the challenges of educational and cultural mistrust.

Author Bio

David Joseph Charpentier is the director of St. Labre Indian School’s Alumni Support Program and executive director of the Bridge Foundation. For more information about the author, visit


“Beautifully embodied by the people who inhabit the Northern Cheyenne community in southeast Montana, this journey is fraught with difference, ambiguity, and harm, historical and present, taking us into the shadows of our individual and national interiority and helping us acknowledge not only shadow but light.”—Shann Ray, American Book Award winner and author of The Souls of Others

“A beautiful tale of friendship, memory, and loss. Charpentier didn’t go to the Northern Cheyenne Reservation or make friends with Maurice Prairie Chief in order to write a book. He wrote the book because he had a story he needed to tell. The result is a look at reservation life that is achingly honest, both about the people he came to know and about himself.”—Ed Kemmick, author of The Big Sky, By and By: True Tales, Real People, and Strange Times in the Heart of Montana

“The most powerful and heartfelt stories are the stories we don’t see coming, about the people who live quietly at the edge of our lives and offer untold love and meaning. The Boy Who Promised Me Horses is a love story lit from within. Unexpected, powerful, and deeply moving.”—Debra Magpie Earling, author of The Lost Journals of Sacajewea

“Not only a lyrical account of the narrator’s friendship with Maurice Prairie Chief, it is a haunting tragedy, a cross-cultural narrative that explores the mystery of friendship and the impossibility of ever really knowing another person. Dave Charpentier has crafted an indelible and unforgettable story.”—Tami Haaland, author of What Does Not Return

“David Charpentier’s The Boy Who Promised Me Horses is humble, wise, honest, full of wonder, and absolutely, devastatingly heartbreaking. Which is as it should be. The story of the American West is one of genocide, thievery, and forced assimilation—and that’s the historical legacy David Charpentier meets head-on as a young English teacher at a high school on the Northern Cheyenne Reservation in southeastern Montana. Yet, too, in his time on the reservation Mr. Sharp begins to learn resilience and loyalty and a deep and sustaining culture. And most of all, he learns friendship. You’ll be thinking about Charpentier and Maurice Prairie Chief long after you turn the last page.”—Joe Wilkins, author of Fall Back Down When I Die

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
Foreword by He’seota’e Miner
1. As Brief as His Life
2. What I Knew
3. Cool, Indian Kids!
4. Teacher Dave from Minnesota
5. Fishing at Sitting Man Dam
6. Needed: High School English Teacher
7. Sleep, without Restless Dreams
8. I’ve Never Been Good at Algebra
9. Chimney Rock
10. Labor Day Powwow
11. Eagleman and Hawkman
12. Peyote Meeting at the Medicine Bull’s
13. The Search for Fisher’s Butte
14. New Possibilities That Felt like Gifts
15. Sweat Hobo
16. Stag Rock and Birthdays at the Runs Above’s
17. Get Studly to Run
18. It Makes Me Think of Uncle Doug
19. The Huckleberry Party and Others
20. The Balance of This Day
21. Pissing the Day Away
22. Hawkman Tries to Say Goodbye to Eagleman
23. What Elaine Littlebird Said
24. Time and Distance
25. You Don’t Wanna Help Me, Then, Do You?
26. Shooting Star
27. I Should Have Known More
28. Swallowed by the Darkness
29. He Knows How to Ride
30. I Wanted Him to Stay
31. All the Words I Was Forming, I Held Onto
32. Wrong about Buffalo One More Time

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