Post War United States 1870
They got off the train in St. Joe unsure whether they had been followed. Back at the Chicago meat packing house the cutting floor boss had discovered Krebs stashing a stolen hind quarter wrapped in burlap under the loading dock, and the bastard had gone for a constable. Krebs had quickly shucked his apron, gathered his knives, and had just grabbed the hind quarter from under the dock when he saw the floor boss running toward the loading dock with a constable. A whistle sounded as soon as they spotted him; they immediately gave chase. The copper slipped in offal on the loading docks, allowing Krebs a 20 yards lead. Hearing the shot, he cringed against the brick wall of this blind alley separating the slaughterhouse and the cutting floor. There was no way out. A second after the constable around the corner with his pistol in hand, Krebs smashed the flat side of his cleaver hard into the man's face and down he went. Krebs gave him a kick to his head and the man's lights went out. He picked up the dropped revolver and wrapped hind quarter and ran.
On his father's pig farm Caleb Krebs had led a solitary, lonely, lean life under a cruel, drunken father, his mother having escaped by way of consumption early in his life. Not long after the start of the war he was moved by a military parade in town. Smart blue military uniforms with gay stripes and brass buttons passing in step to the captivating beat of the snare drums and snapping flags. The next week the 18-year-old without a word to his father signed up. It would be a three years mè:lange of boredom, raucous comradery, and horror. He served as a rifleman, company butcher and surgeon's assistant. He had assisted in the amputation of countless hands, arms, feet and legs. He had dressed beef critters, horses, goats, hogs, sheep, and fowl. He had killed men in battle. He had also learnt the occasional pleasures of an evening with whiskey and women. After a life of thankless hard work from sun-up to sundown on a farm where the odor of pig shit permeated everything, where nothing but the weather ever changed. War and the army imbued a sense of escape, albeit dampened by fear . He appreciated the depth of fellowship that united men at combat and the flavor of the mix of Chicago city boys and farm boys like himself, and the Irishmen and Dutchmen in his company, good men, scoundrels, weak, strong, smart and stupid, but men willing to die for one another even more than for The Union and Old Glory. Those nearly four years seasoned him. The Army had given him the feeling of a clump of salt that had finally loosened and could at last flow freely from the shaker. The war had instilled in him a recklessness. On foraging parties, he had learned how easy it is to take food or goods with a pistol from someone. He knew with profound certainty that he was never going back to farming.. He would rob and steal before he ever allowed himself to be yoked to any damned farm.
The affray with the law made returning to his boarding house too risky. He needed to get far away from Chicago fast. Within an hour he was in Molly's tiny room at Miss Spooner's explaining why they'd have to flee while she packed. He prayed that he hadn't killed the copper. Were he dead Krebs knew that within a day or two circulars would be posted to every train depot and police agency within 500 miles. He explained to Molly how they must quickly outdistance the telegraph wires and trains that could outrun them. With scissors and a razor, he quickly shaved his beard while instructing Molly. "We'll walk to the station and board the first train leaving, wherever it's headed." Molly finished packing the grip with the metal box holding the $52 they'd saved hoping for enough to strike out to the western plains. That hind quarter was the last payment to Miss Spooner and despite the confused emergency Molly was now free and his. Near the station he paid a gaunt, begging, one-legged veteran a dollar for his Union kepi which he wore low over his forehead to hide part of his face.. God knows that these days there were plenty of destitute wounded like this sorry veteran.
On the train he fretted bringing Molly. This had been a spur of the moment decision. She would present a real hindrance if the law began looking for a couple. But she was one good gal, and how he had grown to care for her. She was a loyal darlin' devoted and hadn't she clung to Krebs. At first meeting her in the sporting house she had presented a sorry sight. Had Miss Spooner taken this one out of pity? He felt sympathy for her. Skinny, frail and so new to the game she lacked any basic whorehouse skills. But he considered it a risk worthwhile because she was his, dammit, she now belonged to him. They did not leave the train until St. Joseph, sure by then that they had not been followed.
Molly, an orphan servant girl, had at16 had been pushed into marrying Jethro Mayfield, the Mayfield household's youngest son. His parents reckoning that their effeminate son would never be able to or even want to find a wife. The boy was an embarrassment to his father who had political aspirations. The way the weak sister of a boy sashayed rather than walk like a man, how he let his hands droop at the wrists, how he often bit his lower lip and that lilting effeminate speech. Frail and melancholy, and given to pouting fits, yes, Jethro Mayfield presented an acute embarrassment to his prominent family. His father feared that exposure of a sissy-boy son might ruin his image. He intended to place the couple on a sheep farm they owned far out of town, and more importantly out of sight.
Whatever the girl's feelings for the boy they were overridden by a strong desire to escape the drudgery of her servitude. Jethro had always been kind to her, if strange. Also, marrying him was an act of obedience, of her obedience owed to these people who held the power of protection, food, and shelter over her. She was a girl. She did what she was told to do. She resigned her young self to live with the consequences of marrying witless Jethro Mayfield. What else was she to do?
After the simple sham of a wedding ceremony held privately in the Mayfield's kitchen one morning, Jethro, as unwilling and naïve as his bride, disappeared within an hour of the nuptials. For two days searches were made. Weeks later the family learned by letter that Jethro had on the very afternoon of his wedding enlisted in the army which had borne the young husband hundreds of miles south to lay siege to Vicksburg. Two years later the boy was sent home from the war discharged, a screaming, weeping madman prone to fits of fantasy, and was shortly confined to the insane asylum in Bartonville. In order to erase traces of such a stain upon the family, the Mayfields now regarded Molly as a lingering embarrassing stigma of a bad event. They turned her out with two five-dollar gold pieces, effectively making her as much a war widow as those women whose men had fallen in battle, but with Jethro alive in the madhouse she qualified for no pension from the War Department. Where could she go? What place was there for such abandoned women?
Whores fall into two categories: those who have chosen the profession and those coerced into prostitution by evil men or by hard times. The war had filled the whore houses with the poor, the desperate, and plenty of unwilling war widows. Where in this weary nation were they to go, what else loomed for those women with no supporting families? Proof lay in the law of supply and demand. Before the war a frolic seldom went for less than $5. Now as little as $2 could satisfy a man's lust. Such lust had brought Caleb Krebs to Miss Spooner's whorehouse.
When Krebs had mustered out of the Army at Rock Island there had been much talk among soldiers about heading west to look for a fortune from gold or silver or in bountiful homesteads. He had fancied doing something out west even conjuring images of himself as a road agent or a gambler. But he needed work for a grub stake. He looked for work in Chicago. With the spate of job seeking veterans he was lucky to land a job as meat cutter at the meat packing house to earn enough to stake a move.
His genuine feelings for this wretched would-be whore tore at him. His memory had flashed to the capture of Jackson, Mississippi when his company had been assigned to patrol the surrounds of the city to capture fleeing rebs. Just beyond a destroyed Confederate barracks his squad came across a whorehouse that had suffered severe damage from Union artillery the night before. A mortar shell had set fire to the roof, exploding in the upstairs where the ladies had been preparing to evacuate. Among the charred and torn bodies was a lone survivor, a thin young thing badly burned. Combing through the house for food and loot Krebs had heard a faint moan and discovered her under the staircase. Incoherent, in the throes of death, she pleaded for water. He lifted her head to offer his canteen from which she gulped greedily. She had slowly opened her eyes and looked into Kreb's face, whispering "thank you, sir," then expelled a rattle from her chest that sounded like a rip saw biting into a plank, the end to her misery. He had seen men cut down and blown apart, some of whom he knew. He vividly remembered the rows beside the surgeons' tents of pitiable lines of wounded in bloodied still bright red bandages lying in fly-blown agony groaning and weeping under the sun. But the memory of this pitiful dying whore would remain the saddest experience of Caleb Kreb's war.
Perhaps because Molly's face and frame bore resemblance to this dead whore his heart had instantly overruled his head, and he vied to free the girl from her plight, to make her his. He bargained with the madam, Miss Spooner, for the girl's release. In truth the madam was pleased to be quit of her. The little fool had come to her a virgin, without the faintest idea of the varied pleasures demanded by paying clientele. Spooner knew a grossly fat banker willing to pay $100 gold for a virgin. Her first week was a living hell punctuated by the shock of hard slaps, shakings, blood and terror. Now no longer a virgin and as plain as hominy, the crying idiot held no value. She would be dead within a month Spooner predicted, she seen it before, but to the madam's surprising luck, this man Krebs had offered her a whole beef for the girl's release. So, she agreed to put Molly to work in the kitchen and emptying slops until this fool made good with the delivery of beef. Then he could have her. Men were such fools. And so, on the day of the confrontation with the police he had delivered the last stolen hind quarter on his flight from the packing house, completing the deal. Molly was his.
The West was the new promised land. Wide open with more space than a man could imagine and with so few people that a man could seemingly melt away from civilization. No further than a hundred miles beyond the Missouri River the few white men between a scattered Army posts lived rough. No law, no churches, no schools nor even roads. Newspapers proclaimed that the railroads would bring change. Soon, thousands of railroad leaflets depicted tall farmers standing with scythes amid limitless grain fields and boasted that with the railroads the prairies would soon bloom with fruit trees, fields of wheat and barley enriching legions of lucky land hungry homesteaders. Best of all for Krebs, the West was a place of anonymity, where whoever you were back East mattered not. Prince, pauper, war hero, coward, saint or rascal, nobody on the trail or grubbing in the dirt in some filthy mining camp gave a good goddamn who or what you were. The West was an answer to the horrors that had been the war and natural draw for the dreamers, the drifters, the respected, the lost souls, the dispossessed, the disrespected, the lawless, and the rogues, the perfect place to disappear. The misery of his youth and the feral nature of men at war had made Krebs anarchistic. Where else could he find such sanctuary.
Krebs and Molly hired on with a freight company as teamster and cook to drive wagons into west Kansas with hardware, whiskey, flour, bolts of canvas, calico for forts and trading posts. The treks were hard work and dangerous. Rough weather, breakdowns, and the threat of hostile Indians or road agents loomed. The company's route steered to the southwest into Sioux lands to avoid the more hostile Crow and Blackfoot.
The wagon master, Marcel Bergeron, a nasty, hard-headed French-Canadian, was a sour bad-tempered sonofabitch who wore a large gold earring and whose eyes could not stop undressing Molly. On their second trip deep into western Kansas and entering lands of the Sioux. Krebs noticed late one afternoon that they were being dogged by riders too far away to determine whether white men or Indians. If the riders were white they could be road agents. Either way trouble loomed. Krebs approached Bergeron who dismissed the idea of Indians or road agents. "We ain't close enough for to worry over no Indians, these riders are probably Army, just some soldiers, non? I see them two days already. Any Indians in this place is just looking for tobacco, coffee, sugar. Handouts, the beggars, or maybe for some horse to steal eh? Thieving beggars, harrumph." Bergeron then ordered Krebs to drive his wagon to a fur trading post 40 miles northwest on Canadian Creek then rejoin the group south at Ft. Kermit. Leaving two hours before dawn, by noon Krebs and Molly spotted on the horizon behind them billows of white smoke from the burning wagons.
Two days into this trek and now alone for the first time in many days Krebs grew frisky and suggested that Molly comfort him in a little stand of willows. She was compliant as she owed Krebs her life, but oh how she loathed his touch or that of any man, but she had learned to passively submit. At least Krebs did not demand the filthy indignities she had suffered in Miss Spooner's whorehouse.
Moments after this very short tryst they heard a moan. Rising, gripping his pistol he followed another sound to the body of an Indian curled in pain trying to lick from a seep of muddy spring water. He summoned Molly to fetch a canteen. His femur had snapped in two when thrown from the gelding he had stolen from the wagon train,. Krebs built a fire while Molly spooned water and then whiskey into the man's mouth. He placed a strip of whang leather into the man's mouth then set the broken femur while Molly held him down. Splints fashioned from shag bark hickory were tied to the leg. For two days they tended him and on the third morning his fever broke. The only effective communications were hand gestures. The Indian insistently and repeatedly pointed north excitedly where Krebs guessed his people were. His indicated that his name was Pishtawchi.
Krebs turned over ideas in his head. This Indian was probably Sioux, savages,, whose people were by now looking for him and it was only a matter of time before an encounter. If, however, he purposely drove deeper into Sioux territory to seek them out he had to take the risk that delivery of the young man could gain safe passage. They were sitting ducks. What else could he reasonably do?
Back at the depot it would be assumed that all wagons and mules had been lost. In that sense he considered the wagon, four mules, and goods now his property. This new-found wealth presented trade opportunity. With a complicated 15 minutes of made-up sign language he indicated to the Indian that they were attempting to deliver him to his people. He altered his course to due north. The Indian nodded emphatically showing understanding.
Less than ten miles into the northward progress a band of Sioux warriors thundered down upon the wagon but halted when their young man raised a hand and shouted in Sioux. The riders suspiciously circled until it became clear who Krebs' passenger was. Willy-nilly the braves dismounted and clambered onto the wagon ready to kill Krebs and Molly, halting only when Pishtawchi shouted that they had saved his life. The warriors escorted the wagon to a collection of 50 or 60 teepees. Krebs noticed mules standing among the camp's herd of ponies. As others carefully lifted their man from the wagon, a tall man wearing Bergeron's large gold earring on a cord around his neck led the Krebs to a teepee. In this band of Sioux no one spoke English.
A council was held that afternoon and it was decided that for the safety of the camp the pair must be forbidden to leave. This site had been carefully selected for winter quarters after the band had trekked south from the Dakota territory, and they would allow no possibility of compromise. They had suffered too many fatal encounters with whites to instantly trust Krebs despite his having saved a life. It was argued that he could lead soldiers to them. Mention was made of the usual course of action for prisoners, torture and death. Pishtawchi commented stridently on their genuine kindness and his belief that they were indeed attempting to return him as a matter of good will and at his direction. There was discussion that Krebs' wagon must have been part of the group of three other wagons their men had attacked and burned three days earlier. That war party had returned with rich loot: long-eared horses, several guns, blankets, and cooking pots. One man suggested they pillage this wagon too for goods, but Pishtawchi suggested trading instead. Then the question the kepi arose, why was he wearing of the hat of the enemy bluecoats? Discussion suggested he had perhaps killed a blue coat and taken the kepi as a prize. Or found it. All were puzzled about the presence of the woman and it was then agreed that no warrior blue-coat would be accompanied by a woman. This was followed by lighter comments and laughter on how ugly the woman was and how bad the pair of whites stank. The elders, skeptical, forbade the pair to leave. We will consider them slaves, rich slaves, and perhaps trade them to the Arapaho in the spring it was decided..
Their wagon was situated beside a teepee that housed a single crippled man. A young girl tended this man and brought them all jerked buffalo and squash and showed Krebs and Molly where to draw water, gather firewood, and places where it was proper to shit. The mules were unharnessed and mixed in with the band's herd. Krebs and Molly would sleep in the wagon and tend the crippled man's fire and would cook for the three of them in his teepee. Molly set up a black kettle and brought blankets into the man's teepee. This crippled man was called Ichidahscipah which means Good Bear. He held hero status as a great warrior, having been crippled from a clubbing during battle with a Cheyenne war party after having slain four enemy. His wife and two children had died of smallpox the previous year. With nothing to do Krebs endeavored to learn the Sioux tongue from this man and the girl who brought the food. The crippled warrior was delighted with such active company, despite the stink of this white man, something he and the girl endured and joked of with each other. The girl who was called Tshawa was an excellent teacher and within a fortnight he had learned enough essential nouns and verbs to express himself perhaps on the level of a five or six-year-old. As his vocabulary expanded he easily interacted with others, a few of whom grew friendly, particularly Pishtawchi. Molly too showed a flair for language and progressed even faster than Krebs.
Molly was pulled away most mornings for women's duty. She worked at various tasks, washing, gathering firewood, and smoking game as the fall hunt was on with the men daily bringing in much meat and fish, provisions for the coming winter. As it was the women's wont to talk endlessly while they worked throughout the day, within a month Molly was remarkably conversant with women in her crew and conversed easily if not perfectly. The Sioux women were curious as was she was about each other's culture. Her explanation of her relationship with Krebs the Sioux interpreted as one of master and slave. When an older woman had remarked that were not all of women slaves, everyone had laughed heartily. As she was by long habit a good, non-complaining worker who learned the Sioux tongue and customs so rapidly and with good heart, she gained wide acceptance among the women quickly. They gave her the name Kishwanawa, Strong Hands.
Krebs' progress in language and assimilation, though good, lagged behind Molly's as Sioux men talked far less. However, Krebs' generosity with tobacco and trade goods was seen as good reflection and atypical of whites they had dealt with. Krebs reasoned his largess with the wagon's trade goods to be the smart thing to do as the Sioux were steadily pilfering whatever they could anyway. Although as a precaution, he chained to the wagon the wooden crates with the four Spencer rifles and ammunition. Those rifles, the mules, and the wagon were too valuable to let go. He advised Molly to be generous likewise with needles, calico, and cooking pots.
One afternoon a group of men sat talking in a circle of a planned buffalo hunt. Krebs asked to join in this hunt telling them that he was an excellent shot. The next day he was brought to a pinto mare which he endeavored to ride bare back much to the amusement of the Sioux. Pishtawchi offered Krebs to ride double with him. Krebs fashioned a sling to a Spencer that night and was ready to hunt. The hunting party consisted of about two dozen men mostly armed with bows. Besides Krebs Spencer were three Sioux riflemen with one Spencer taken from the freighter attack and five old trade muskets. Krebs the night before had instructed Pishtawchi with the Spencer on its operation. Ammunition was too scarce for live fire practice, but Krebs showed the man loading, cocking, dry-firing, and reloading the state-of-the-art army rifle. He explained that if the lever action jammed on the hunt Krebs would be next to him to help him and for him to and to bring a dab of bear grease. The hunting party would flank both sides of the herd. It was understood that once the rifles began firing the bowmen located a league further would begin coursing the stampede. Everyone had high expectations remembering that the last big hunt had yielded tons of meat which had insured a happy winter.
The hunt astonished Krebs. When the dust had cleared, the rifles and muskets had brought down 18 of the huge critters, the bowmen another seven. All were amazed at the speed of the lever action Spencers firing with their magazines of seven .50 caliber bullets. All the men gathered around the Spencers eager to hold the weapons. It was a phenomenal hunt. There was much rejoicing back at camp as the hunters rode in with travois after travois bearing carcasses and hides, bountiful meat for the winter and skins for robes and teepees. There would be liver, tongues, and brains that night for everyone and a dance too. Pishtawchi told Krebs that they would be honored at the dance. Krebs was elated and could not remember ever feeling more pride and happiness.
Every girl and woman would spend the next nine days sunup to sundown skinning and smoking strips of meat, scraping and tenderizing hides, and tending the kettles of rich bone broth.
With autumn the weather grew cooler and the elders directed women to construct a teepee for Krebs and his woman,; however, Molly asserted to Krebs she wished to sleep elsewhere. She had been invited into the family of a woman she had befriended. Yes, she had strong feelings of gratitude for Krebs, he had saved her life, but did he not realize just how she was repelled by his touch?
"I thought you was just shy, Molly. You mean you don't like it when we're doin' it?"
"I care for you Caleb, but I hate it when you touch me. Even just sleepin' next to you makes me squirm sometimes. It ain't you, I'd feel that way with any man. Maybe I'm crazy but that's the way I feel. If you want to do it to me, I'll still do it, but I won't like it none. You understand?"
So, to the women's delight construction of a new teepee was cancelled and most of all Molly, a slave woman, had prevailed over a man.
Among the men there was much laughter behind Caleb's back. "Now the ugly one refuses to sleep with or pleasure him? How funny, how very funny," said one of the elders at council, chuckling. But Krebs had earned no small degree of respectability through his hunting prowess with the Spencer, his generosity with trade goods, and his good nature. At Good Bear's invitation Krebs moved into his teepee for the winter. Three different girls visited Good Bear regularly at night. One of them, Tishishawa, the girl who for months had brought Good Bear's food often slipped into the teepee at night to make love with him. Soon each night after pleasuring Good Bear she would slip under Kreb's blanket, this too at Good Bear's direction. Eventually she quit Good Bear for Krebs. After all Good Bear still had her two sisters for pleasure. But she liked Krebs who was affectionate and unlike Sioux men gentle and considerate of her feelings. By late winter she moved into the teepee permanently.
The winter was a happy one. No one starved. There was but little work to do and there was ample food, sleep, and storytelling. Krebs grew quite content with the Sioux. Life among them was in some respects like army life, but somewhat better in the matter of independence. Unlike the army, men did not labor, there were very few rules, no one ordered others around. Everything was shared without complaint. Everyone's voice was heard at council. But like soldiers, the Sioux played pranks on one another, wrestled, and shared stories and games and hunts and war. By winter's end he had grown to much admire the Sioux. Molly had told him that if he departed the band she would not go with him. She had found her home. The Sioux were free of the hypocrisy of the whites. No damned church services or stupid religious condemnation of everything pleasurable. There were, of course, taboos, but there was no sin. Many men, and women too, were promiscuous. Stealing was good—especially horses. Gluttony was expected when food was plentiful. In so many respects they were superior.
By early spring the band began work to move north to the Dakota Territory. Krebs was at a crossroads. He believed he had earned the confidence of the Sioux and that they would allow his departure with his mules, wagon, and what was left of trade goods. But he had to face the reality that he had come to appreciate this way of life. Too, Tishishawa was just beginning to show with child, presumably his child. Here they could live happily together. With the whites she would always be scored as a heathen savage, their child a half-breed.
Five years later Caleb Krebs drove into St. Joseph with a considerable amount of Black Hills gold taken by him and his band from raids on mining camps. In late summer, he would rendezvous with his band of Hunkpapa at the big early summer pow wow of Ogallala, Hunkpapa, and Lakota Sioux. There he would distribute the five cases of 1865 model Spencer repeating rifles that would be used so effectively on June 25 at a place the Sioux called Greasy Grass and the whites called the Little Big Horn. Fighting beside his adopted brother Good Bear, Caleb Krebs did not survive this glorious battle to share in the wild victory that followed..