July, 2023

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Issue #166

All The Tales

The Endless Rocky Road
by Christian Surgenor

"Do you love mom?" Calvin asked.

In the darkness, Harlen saw his son pull his coat tight and hold his woolen cap against the last gasps of winter. Calvin's bare hand flinched as he touched the soggy hat. He had forgotten his gloves.

"What?" Harlen's gruff voice was as gentle as he could manage for his son. They had been walking in silence for some time and the question had come unexpectedly.

"Well, I just mean you guys fight a lot."

"Hmm." Harlen raised his light to see his son, all of thirteen, and on his first pre-dawn patrol, yet still a questioning child. He removed his gloves and slapped them against Calvin's chest. "Do you know what love is, boy?"

"Of course," Calvin began, with all the confidence of youth, "it's like, you like things . . . more . . . " Confidence fading.

The wind died down. Calvin took the damp gloves from his father and put them on. He held his hands out to see his fingers not quite reach the tips of the gloves.

Harlen gave a slight chuckle. He tucked the two copper pipes under his arm and slipped his hands in his pockets. "Yeah it all seems simple until you start talking. Think about it like this. Love means you want something to do well, to prosper. You want what's best for the person more than you want what's best for you."

The father and son continued to follow their black and white collie mix, Sunday, down the path along the perimeter of their small pasture. Each year, as the seasons changed, the coyotes, in search of an easy meal, would press closer to the homesteads surrounding the Carter Copper Mines, such as Harlen's. Harlen had walked this path countless times, and hoped to pass the chore on to Calvin.

"There's got to be more to it than that, dad."

"Yeah a lot of people try to add more, but that just overcomplicates it. Now, there's more to being with someone than just loving them. You have to be nice and show respect. But none of that is love. Love is important but so are all the other things."

"Why do you fight then?"

"Some things need fought about." Harlen said it too quickly and didn't like the answer as soon as it came out. He waited, hoping for another question so he could redeem himself, but none came.

Father and son continued. Every part of Harlen's body, except for his mouth and mind, tensed and curled, as if they were poised to scream the exact words that needed said, but they withheld whatever insight they might have had and he remained silent.

"Am I gonna tend the herd all my life?" It wasn't the question he'd hoped for, but Harlen turned it over nonetheless, searching for the best answer.

"What else would you do?" That probably wasn't right either.

"I heard the Baxters are looking for help! Helping the deliveries in. I could learn to shoot from them, over the summer, you know. Carol Anne says—"

"They ain't no good. I agree they do a fine service but—but I don't know if that would be the safest thing for you."

"Aww safe? We're out here looking for coyotes. Sunday won't do much good and what if we see a pack right now? You ain't even got a gun."

"Coyotes ain't a danger. Not really. The Baxters deal with—you don't need to be a part of their kind of work. It's no place for a kid." Harlen had been trying to reconcile his description of love with the reality of his actions over the years, and so he'd missed the yearning in his son's voice. It was all so clear a moment too late.

Calvin hung his head.

"I'm not saying you can never work for them, but not every path is going to be good for you. For now, let's keep the herd alive. Let the miners have more than bread and potatoes next winter. Maybe pay some debts, too." The matter was closed; a door slammed too hard for the fragile spirit of the boy.

"How's that Carol Anne?" Harlen tossed it out, praying it was enough.

Sunday stopped, gave a growl, then bolted into the trees. Calvin, still silent, took a step to follow but was stopped by Harlen's firm grip. Too firm. "Wait, grab the poles and hit them together. We'll drive them off easy enough." The words came out too stern.

Calvin did as he was told. Clang, clang. Clang, clang, clang. Then faster again.

Less than a minute, though Harlen knew Calvin must have thought it was five. Maybe an hour.

But as would happen every time, Sunday came bounding back. "The beasts just look for easy meals. We scare them off and they go eat rabbits or birds. They're cowards, though. Scavengers, so long as they aren't too desperate."

Calvin didn't say much for the rest of the walk. Of course not, Harlen told himself, I crushed his dream before he could say it, made him feel dumb. The boy's never gonna understand what I'm trying to do.

The sun crept higher, painting the clouds purple and orange as the two neared their house, coming to the end of the routine patrol around the pasture. Harlen watched the morning come in silence, unable to broach any subject. As they approached the front steps of their house, Harlen started to order his son to the chicken coop, but stopped himself before the words came out. "Head inside. Dry off. Get some tea, or something warm."

Calvin skulked away, reaching the second step before Harlen called after him, "Hey. The gloves."

Calvin turned around and held them out, his eyes stayed on the ground.

Harlen took them. "You'll be alright."

For the next hour, Harlen went about the routine work of the morning. Through years of repetition, he'd worn each chore down to a series of simple, mindless tasks, allowing him time to think. Too much time, he told himself as he began the work. But by the end of the hour, his thoughts were lighter and less precise; more a general feeling that things were alright.

Finally, he set the goats to pasture and whistled for Sunday to head off with them. The sky had turned a perfect pale blue in the clear morning. All the clouds and rain of the night seemed never to have touched the land.

Harlen stepped into his house, still wearing his boots.

"Oh, you're tracking mud in. I just swept!" His wife huffed. She stood from the table and grabbed a broom. Harlen. Still by the door, removed his boots.

Love you. He kept the words in. It didn't seem like the right time.

About midday, Harlen readied his knife to slit and drain a worrisome abscess on the cheek of one of his goats. Sunday's barking alerted him from the front of the house. Harlen freed the goat, job unfinished, sat the knife aside, and headed in the back door to cut through the kitchen and front sitting room. He stepped softly, trying not to track too much mud.

The cause of Sunday's barking gave a solid knock at the front door as Harlen reached for the knob. Jennifer came out from the bedroom as Harlen opened it.

A young, stern-faced woman in a black dress and short yellow curls tucked under a black felt hat, stood on the porch, flanked by two larger, far dirtier men with pistols tucked into fine leather holsters on their waist. A third man stood with their horses on the path near the edge of the tree line. Jennifer ducked back into the room, seeming to know what they'd come for.

Harlen knew as well. "Yeah. Come in, then."

The woman, Mary Elizabeth Carter, whose maiden name was Baxter before marrying the much older president of the Carter Copper Mines, sat first at Harlen's kitchen table. One of her men stood behind her while the other walked around to lean on the back door. Harlen took his seat across from Mary.

"It has been six months." Mary spoke with a calm tone, yet she entirely lacked even the slightest trace of feminine softness. In the handful of meetings he'd suffered through over the years, Harlen had felt that the conversations had been a mere presentation of facts and not at all a discussion with a real person.

"It's coming up on it."

Mary Elizabeth adjusted slightly in her seat and folded her hands in front of her. "The agreement will end in eight days. Our company was not paid in full last season. And you have failed to make the agreed upon payments over the subsequent months. Our decision has been made."

"Well, I missed two, yes. It's been . . . it's been . . . " Harlen let his words fade. He had no facts to present and anything else, he knew, would be pointless.

"Tuesday, the eighth, you are expected to be out of this house and off this land."

Harlen hung his head. His pride collapsed, but not fully. He raised his head and did his best to imitate Mary's cold tone. "What of the herd?"

"Sell them at the market. Or take them with you. We've an agreement for beef from Texas cattle drive is already on the way. Your goats are of no interest to us." She slid her chair back and stood before Harlen could respond. She could have stayed in the chair forever. Harlen had no more facts to present.

Mary walked to the door. Her two dirty friends followed. Harlen stopped in the doorway, watched them swing atop their horses and ride away. Sunday did not give chase or bark. The dog sat by the footpath and stared at Harlen, seeming to have the same question he asked himself. What now?

Harlen turned inside, Jennifer once again stood by the bedroom, also staring at him. Tears welled in her eyes.

I love you. It still didn't seem like the right time.

Calvin ran from his room on the opposite side of the house into the arms of his mother.

He's above her shoulders now.

"I love you, mom."

"Love you too, baby." They disappeared into the room. Harlen turned to the dog outside, his own tears beginning to well. He sat on the top step of the porch and let them fall. Sunday bounded off with the goats.

The next morning brought a heavy rain. Harlen didn't wake Calvin for the patrol. He needed the solitude; he needed to think.

True thoughts didn't come, though, only feelings. He felt the pain of the conversation with Jennifer the previous night, the weight of the long silences and the sting of her thinly veiled disappointment. He felt his life slipping away, and wondered what grasp he ever truly had on it.

With the morning chores complete, Harlen headed for town to arrange the sales. He knew Mary would have already informed Darryl or Hannah at the market and his part would be simple: agree and sign.

Having sold the horses to cover the few payments he managed to make toward the land, Harlen began the four mile walk to the town of Carter. About half way, the dirt path combined with a wider, more rocky trail hardly fit for hooves or human feet. He walked along the smoother grass to the side until he reached the town.

As expected, Hannah met him at the door of the market's office, "Come on in, Harlen. Darryl's got the paperwork ready." Her words seemed steeped in pity, which somehow made it all worse.

Darryl, looking every bit of his seventy-and-a-half-decades, stood behind the counter, papers laid out in front of him, with the same face as his older sister. "Hey, bud."

Harlen stepped to the counter, in no hurry. He picked up the pen, not raising his eyes from the papers, though he couldn't focus to read them. "Nothing worth reading, anyway." He didn't mean to let the words out.

"Yeah, it's a tough spot. How's the family taking it?"

Harlen shrugged, unable to form the words.

"Life's full of rough spots like this, though. You and your family will be alright. You know that?"

Harlen sighed, he knew he had to agree, he searched for words that wouldn't be too painful. "I suppose. Just a setback is all. We'll make it one day. We'll get there." Then he added, the words seeming to say themselves, "I don't know what we're going to do."

"Well, that ain't it, is it?" Darryl stood up straight, seeming to be filled with a more vigorous, youthful spirit. He took a few steps down toward the end of the counter, then turned to face Harlen. "Nobody really makes it anywhere, do they? Not really. I suppose. Yeah, you're a father. A husband." He came closer and leaned in. "My wife and kids are all long gone. I look back and think of them sometimes, you know that? I'm telling you, boy, there ain't no finish line to all this. No grand victory. No big winners. Don't miss out on what you already got."

Harlen left as quickly as he could. The walk home seemed almost too short. He stopped at the split in the road. As far as he could see, that rocky path stretched off into some distant future, lifted and fell along the sides of hills, disappeared down into valleys, then rose again. Harlen wondered what lay at its end. He turned down the small dirt path toward his home.

Harlen ran.

Jennifer sat at the table, head in hands, and stood as Harlen burst through the door. He wrapped his arms around his wife, pressed her against him.

She slid her arms around his neck.

"I love you."

The End

Christian Surgenor lives in Southern Arizona with his wife and three daughters. When not writing or reading he tends to the chickens, ducks, geese, goats and pigs on his little hobby farm.

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A Fate Worse Than Death
by John Porter

The saloon doors swayed in the evening breeze. Mary Lou stood beside them, smoothing the new frilly pink dress that Mrs. McCoy had given her to wear on her first night in the Last Chance Saloon.

Betty Lee, with her back against the bar and her elbows on it, watched Mary Lou rub her hands together, then clasp them.

Sweet young thing, Betty Lee thought, you're hoping they're gonna like you enough to pay Mrs. McCoy a dollar and take you upstairs.

Betty Lee watched Mary Lou practice a smile, moisten her lips, and take a deep breath.

And you're hoping if they do like you enough, they'll pay you a little something extra that will help you to get outa here someday.

She watched Mary Lou rub her hands together again.

'Cuz more than anything, you wanna get outa here, so you're scared they'll run right past you, over to the bar, and over to . . . 

Mary Lou looked at Betty Lee.

 . . . me, Betty Lee thought. Oh, Mary Lou, I know exactly how you feel, just like I felt on my first night, when I stood beside those doors and looked at Sarah Jane, who leaned against the bar and sipped whiskey.

Betty Lee sipped whiskey from a shot glass.

I wouldn't be doing you any favors if I told you how things are gonna go, so I won't tell you. But here's how they're gonna go: the boys'll like you enough, all right, 'cuz you're sweet and young and eager to please. And you'll be so grateful. But they won't be. They'll think the dollar they give Mrs. McCoy will make up for the stains they'll leave on your dress, your body, and your soul.

Betty Lee looked at the stains on her old frilly red dress, then sipped some more whiskey.

Mary Lou turned back to the doors.

Will they like me? she wondered. Or will they run right past me, over to the bar, and over . . . 

Again she looked at Betty Lee.

 . . . to Betty Lee?

Mary Lou turned back to the doors.

I hope they won't run past me, she thought. But deep down inside, I kinda wish they would. Then I could just walk out of here and go . . . where? Not back to the farm, where that man killed Jesse and raped me.

She shivered.

That man didn't say nothing. He just stood there in the dark, then shot Jesse and climbed on top of me, and he stunk. Lord, he stunk to high heaven of that stuff the barbers put on a man after they shave him. Lavender.

She raised a hand to her mouth and retched, then breathed deeply and lowered her hand.

And if I walked outa here, what could I do? I ain't a nurse or a schoolmarm. And they don't want me clerking at the general store. They get decent folk in there, they said when I asked them for a job. They can't have me touching ribbons and calico. Get married again, they said. But no man would want me for a wife. And where would I find a man anyway? Not in here. In church? I can't go to church, so full of sin as I am.

No, I gotta stay here and do my best for Mrs. McCoy and them cowboys. And I gotta hope I can get outa here someday and go . . . where?

Mary Lou closed her eyes.

I'll do it just one time, she thought. I'll do it good, and I'll ask for a little something extra. And maybe it'll be enough for me to go somewhere, anywhere.

She opened her eyes and nodded again.

I'll do it just one time.

She looked at Betty Lee, who sipped her whiskey.

Just one time, Betty Lee thought. That's what you're thinking. Then you'll go.

"You won't go, Mary Lou," Betty Lee said.


"If you do it one time," Betty Lee said, "you'll do it again."

Mary Lou stared at her.

"Get out," Betty Lee said.



Betty Lee finished her whiskey, poured another shot, and raised her glass.

"Or you'll end up just like me."

Horses' hooves pounded on the ground.

Mary Lou cringed and turned to the doors.

Men whooped and hollered.

Mary Lou hesitated, then shook her head.

This life is worse than anything else that could ever happen to me, she thought.

She moved to the doors, pushed them open, and walked through them.

On the street, she stopped, turned to the left, saw cowboys galloping toward the saloon, and heard them whooping and hollering.

She turned to the right.

I'll get out, she thought. I'll go somewhere else, anywhere else. I'll do something else, anything else.

She took a step, and someone grabbed her arm.

"You're coming with me," Mrs. McCoy said.

She pulled Mary Lou into the street.

"Why?" Mary Lou asked.

"You're a thief."

"I didn't take nothing!"

"What you call that fancy dress I let you wear for the night?" Mrs. McCoy asked.

"Oh," Mary Lou said, touching the bodice, "I . . . I didn't think—"

"No, you didn't, you little whore!"

"I'll give it back."

"You're damned right you will," Mrs. McCoy said, pulling her across the street. "After a night in jail."

She pulled open a door, pushed Mary Lou into the sheriff's office, and pushed her to a desk, behind which sat a handsome young man, who looked up from a ledger.

"Where's Sheriff Olson?" Mrs. McCoy said.

The young man stood, looked at Mary Lou, at Mrs. McCoy, and at Mary Lou again.

"Please sit," he said, "Miss . . . ?"

"She ain't no miss," Mrs. McCoy said. "She's one of my girls—or she was before she stoled my dress."

"Please sit," he said again to Mary Lou, who stared at him, then sat on a chair in front of the desk.

He smiled at her, then looked at Mrs. McCoy.

"I'm Deputy Owen Garner," he said. "The sheriff is out of town, and I'm in charge until he returns tomorrow."

"You keep her here till tomorrow," Mrs. McCoy said. "I'll be back in to file a complaint."

He moved around the desk and touched her arm.

"I'll take care of everything," he said.

He led her to the door, where she turned and glared at Mary Lou.

"Yeah," Mrs. McCoy said, "I'll be back in tomorrow."

She nodded at the deputy and left.

The deputy closed the door and smiled at Mary Lou.

Mary Lou stared at his glistening hair, his smooth face, his broad shoulders, and his pearl-handled pistol.

He can take care of everything, she thought. He can take care of me.

"Good evening," he said.

She hesitated, then nodded.

"So, you've had some trouble," he said.

She nodded again.

He smiled again, moved past her, and sat behind the desk.

"Everybody has trouble now and again," he said.

He understands, she thought.

"Everybody deserves a second chance," he said.

Yes, she thought.

"And maybe even a third, fourth, and fifth chance," he said, then smiled.

She smiled.

"I'll give you all the chances you need," he said, "Just give me a chance, too."

A chance to take care of me, she thought.

"I will," she said.

He leaned across the desk and offered his hands.

She leaned toward him, took his hands in hers, and smelled lavender.

She leaned back and tried to pull her hands away.

He held her hands.

"Come with me," he said, standing, holding her hands, pulling her toward the jail cells.

"I'll scream," she said.

"They won't care," he said.

He stopped beside a peg on the wall, reached for the keys hanging on the peg.

She reached for his pearl-handled pistol and pulled it from his holster.

He released her hand.

She stepped back, raised the pistol, and pointed it at him.

"Are you going to shoot me?" he asked.

"I'm gonna go," she said.


Where? she wondered.

"Where?" he asked again, then laughed, then took a step toward her.

She took a step back.

He laughed again and reached for the pistol.

She smelled the lavender.

She fired.

He stared at her, looked at his chest, and saw blood spreading across his shirt.

He looked at her again, fell against the wall, and fell to the floor.

Mary Lou looked at him, then looked at the pistol.

* * *

In the Last Chance Saloon, the cowboys stood with whiskey bottles and beer mugs in their hands, staring at the swinging doors.

Mrs. McCoy stood at the bar, staring at the doors.

Betty Lee stood beside her.

Someone fired another shot.

The cowboys looked at one another.

Betty Lee looked at Mrs. McCoy.

"Mary Lou," Betty said, "she got out."

The End

John Porter manages his family's cattle ranch in California, where he also writes stories, essays, and screenplays. Twenty of his screenplays have been produced (thirteen of them are listed on the IMDb). In August 2021, Two Gun Publishing published Your Typical Outlaw and Other Stories of the Old West, a collection of some of his Western stories. In July 2022, the company published The Good Lawman and Other Western Stories, a second collection. Here are the links to my sites: John Porter - IMDb Two Gun Publishing

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by John Robinson

Part One: Tactical Daydreams

San Antonio, Texas. September 14, 1901

Late one warm, fall evening in South Central Texas, Lt. Colonel Edward Godfrey and his wife were startled by a loud knocking at the door to their quarters.

"What's wrong?" asked Mrs. Godfrey. She was a military wife with an instinctive distrust of unexpected messages.

"It's probably nothing," Godfrey answered as he rose to answer the door.

He recognized the enlisted man on the porch as one of the base commander's orderlies.

"Pardon the hour, sir," the man panted. "The General requests all commanders to convene at his quarters with the utmost dispatch."

"On my way," Godfrey said, returning the man's salute. Walking back by Ida in the sitting room, he gave his best reassuring smile.

"Just another staff meeting. They have lots of those here."

He and Ida had recently transferred to Ft. Sam Houston with his promotion to command the 12th Cavalry. After his earlier frontier postings, they were both hoping for a more comfortable life together. Not a good time for war with Spain, he thought wryly to himself.

Ten minutes later, the ring of murmuring officers hushed when the base commander entered the room. He looked agitated.

"Gentlemen . . . " he began and stopped. Godfrey tensed.

"Gentlemen, we have received a telegram bearing tragic news," he said in a halting voice. "For the third time in my . . . ," then looking up, he blurted out, "Our President, William Jennings Bryan, has been assassinated!"

This drew an involuntary burst of "My God!" and "Oh, no!" and the like.

"He went to an exposition in Buffalo, New York. He was shot in a receiving line by a single assassin, and died soon after."

After a few moments, one senior officer spoke up, "Who would do such a thing? Sir, do you think it's political?"

The General slowly replied, "I don't know. A Booth? A Guiteau? A coup . . . or a foreign plot?"

The room grew very quiet.

"Washington's orders are to stand by and see what develops. I expect you to maintain your commands in a state of readiness, and comport yourselves in a professional manner. We have a new Commander in Chief, now."

Like many in the room, Godfrey had digested more death and tragedy than most people. And like the General, he had lived through the assassinations of two previous Commanders in Chief. But the Base Commander's last words arrested his thoughts with a different and stunning implication . . .  President George Armstrong Custer!!!

Rosebud Creek, Montana Territory. June 22, 1876

Twenty five years earlier, on another warm evening, then Lt. Godfrey was mostly thinking about adversity. The military operation of which he was a part had already spent over a month in the field. He commanded Company K of the 7th Cavalry Regiment. They had set out earlier that day from General Terry's main column on the Yellowstone with orders to locate, contain, and possibly engage the assemblage of hostile Indians that were somewhere between the Rosebud and Little Bighorn Rivers.

The regiment only made twelve miles up the Rosebud before camping that first evening. The assignment promised to be a very long, hard ride. The responsibility of taking care of his men, horses, and pack mules on this journey was challenging enough. Although Godfrey wouldn't admit it to his fellow officers, or even his own journal, he felt worn out.

The mood was about to get heavier. George Custer, his flamboyant regimental commander, sounded an officer's call after supper. As Custer relayed orders and directions, his officers were struck by his uncharacteristic lack of self-assuredness. His explanation of their mission even included a solicitation of their feedback and counsel, something he never did. By the end of the meeting, the tone had shifted from somber to depressing. It was one thing if the invocation of "Custer's Luck" meant putting all their lives at risk. It was perhaps worse if Custer had adopted a "Lost Cause" attitude before the fact.

Was it just the dangerous prospect of finding thousands of warriors? Or, wondered Godfrey, did something else happen back in General Terry's headquarters to un-nerve Custer? Was it the fear of failure, of not being able to prevent the hostiles from scattering? At any rate, the meeting had a negative effect on all the officers. As they made their way back to their companies, Lt. Wallace broke the silence.

"Godfrey," he said, "I believe General Custer is going to be killed."

"Why? Wallace," Godfrey replied, "what makes you think so?"

"Because," Wallace answered, "I have never heard Custer talk in that way before."

Wolf Mountains, Montana Territory. June 24-25, 1876

The moodiness and fatigue progressed along with the regiment, which had covered a grueling seventy miles in two days. Now, in the early morning hours of June 25, they tried to rest in the badlands that divided the Rosebud and Little Bighorn valleys.

Following the Indian trail up the Rosebud had brought increasing evidence that the Indian encampment was large and growing. This fed the fears of some in the regiment, perhaps none more than the Crow, Ree, and civilian scouts. The depressing gloom persisted among many of the officers. Custer, for his part, seemed a little bit like his old self.

Godfrey, for his part, had more than enough to occupy him in taking care of his company's needs. Commanding a cavalry company, like winning a war, is mostly a matter of logistical planning and management of supplies, animals, and the men. Supervising the packing, transporting, and rationing of grain and fodder for the animals was a huge daily chore. All the smells, filth, and dangers of working in a barn, without the benefit of a barn, thought Godfrey.

There were also passing along orders, maintaining discipline, resolving conflicts, and the like. "Like being a father to an extended family of impoverished delinquents," a senior captain had once groused to him. Just the other night, two privates in Godfrey's own company had pushed the captain's critique to the extreme.

Private Gibbs, who hailed from Manchester, England had gotten into a political disagreement with his tent mate, Private Foley, a fiery red-head from Dublin, Ireland. The conflict led to insults, and then to blows. At this point the ruckus had drawn enough troopers around to separate the two men and prevent anything worse.

Godfrey was inwardly flabbergasted as he and his sergeants straightened out the matter. How could these two jackeens have the energy for old world enmities? You want to go at each other now, he thought, when General Iron Butt is leading you straight into the fight of your bloody lives! "Mortify yourself, Cadet Godfrey," interjected a familiar inner voice. "The only thing that isn't worthless is to live this life out truthfully and rightly. And be patient with those who don't." But whom, Godfrey's mind retorted, did the latter really include?

The grind of chores and personnel matters punctuated a tedious day of riding in choking dust in the baking summer heat. Godfrey's method for handling the fatigue and monotony was to mull over matters of military science. "An army travels on its stomach," he reminded his sergeants, quoting Napoleon from his West Point studies. And as the dreary hours passed in the saddle, this had lately led to random free associations of his logistical problems, compared to his native adversaries. He imagined his West Point instructors comparing and contrasting how a cavalry company carries food for both horses and men.

"An Indian village also uses ponies to transport baggage and food stores. And they depend on their ponies to locate fresh grass and game. Cadet Godfrey, how will this information shape your battle tactics?"

"Lieutenant?" the sergeant asked again.

"What? I mean, yes, what is it, sergeant?"

His mental wanderings were a pleasant distraction. So much of what he learned at West Point did not apply out here in the real West. But you still had to have a plan. General Terry has a plan, thought Godfrey, hoping it was the right one. This three-pronged pincer movement was big and comprehensive, and it balanced out Custer's tactical focus. A real one-trick pony, thought Godfrey, thinking back to the Washita battle. Custer could never be a planner like Terry, or the big brass. Custer could never have dreamed up the Anaconda Plan. Now that was a plan. Strangle the South's transportation, cut access to markets and resources. Disrupt the rebels' ability for military movements and logistics. That's why we ultimately won.

"But, Godfrey," Wallace had chided him the previous evening, "You're missing the point. The Anaconda Plan targeted the Southern ports, rail, rivers, and industrialization centers, not the cities, per se. The Indian village itself is more analogous to Richmond, is it not? By your reasoning, we should be focusing on . . . why, the pony herd!" The firelight had illumined his grin. He enjoyed academic distractions as much as the next weary officer.

"Exactly!" Godfrey had replied. "We should be targeting the pony herd. The Indians' ability to make war comes not from Sitting Bull, nor his allied warriors. Rather, sir, it is represented by the thousands of Indian ponies that are this night all nicely gathered up for us in one spot. That enables them to hunt, to fight, to transport, and ultimately exist as non-Agency Indians."

Luther Hare had then made all them laugh by launching into an impersonation of one of their West Point instructors. "So, imagine, sir, if ALL [with the classic sweeping hand gesture] the stores of the Shenandoah, and ALL the Southern railroad lines, plus the Tredegar iron works, were ALL located in one spot inside Lee's trenches at Petersburg. Why, it'd be a strategic gold mine, sir! Capturing it would have ended the war right then!"

It had been Jack Sturgis, the army brat, who had pointed out the obvious administrative dilemma. "Godfrey, you are proposing to abandon the hostiles. Our orders and our mission are to locate the hostiles, force them back to the Agency, or attack them."

Godfrey had countered, "And I am proposing to remove the very thing that enables them to be hostiles."

That exercise had gotten their military juices flowing.

"Stampeding the pony herd allows for a feint attack against the village, which is what they would surely expect, which would buy us time. As we put distance between the herd and the village, their military and logistical position will increasingly deteriorate."

"They will play out the horses they have trying to retrieve the ones they have lost."

"Meanwhile, we remain concentrated while moving away on open ground, so we avoid being destroyed in detail."

Godfrey had been therapeutically mulling over these points for almost two days now. But it was just an entertaining exercise. He had no confidence that his commander was interested or even capable of doing anything differently than what he had done at the Washita. Which meant riding down into that village. He sighed deeply, and then instinctively mimicked his instructor's favorite saying from Epictetus: "The chief task in life is simply this: to identify and separate matters so that I can say clearly to myself which are externals not under my control, and which have to do with the choices I actually control."

Now it was getting a lot closer and a lot less academic. By dawn of the 25th, the scouts had climbed the divide and seen signs of a huge village, and a massive pony herd. General Custer and the scouts were still reconnoitering the situation in the early morning light, with Lt. Varnum, and Lt. Hare.

Meanwhile, the regiment sheltered back in a ravine and rested. Godfrey found himself next to the General's brother and aide-de-camp, Tom Custer.

"Good morning, Captain," said Godfrey. Tom Custer was the only one of his commander's inner circle that he felt close to. Although their service back in the 21st Ohio Infantry did not overlap, they still shared and valued that common bond.

Custer smiled. "So tell me, is this how you Old Timers felt before the momentous and historic Battle of Scary Creek?"

"No!" laughed Godfrey. He paused. Might as well put it out there— might be the last opportunity. "The fear before one's first battle is from not knowing what to expect. I fear now that I do know what to expect."

"Well," chuckled Custer, "We hear you have a plan, at least."

"Oh . . .  Well, uh, no, sir. Not a plan. Not exactly . . . "

Within an hour, events began moving swiftly. Some baggage from one of the companies had been lost, and then discovered by some Indians. When this news was reported to Tom Custer, he quickly left the regiment to tell the General. It turns out the column had also been spotted by another small party of Indians. General Custer had apparently decided to attack that afternoon to avoid the risk of the Indians scattering to the winds.

In short order, the entire regiment was on the march, crossing the divide and descending into the valley of the Little Bighorn. The other evening's briefing notwithstanding, those experienced officers like Godfrey did not expect anything from Custer by way of planning until it actually unfolded. Some of them, right up to General Sheridan, thought Custer a tactical genius. He was certainly aggressive. Others, like Benteen and Reno, saw their commander's improvisational style as reckless. Whatever the case, it was obvious to all that Custer's tactical mindset was now fully engaged. The old Custer was back—energetic, confident, arrogant, and brusque.

As the regiment descended, the Indian trail tracked along a small creek that appeared to drain into the Little Bighorn. At this point, Custer halted the column and gathered his officers. He grouped the troops in three battalions led by himself (Companies C, E, F, I, and L), Captain Benteen (Companies D, H, and Godfrey's Company K), and Major Reno (Companies A, G, and M). Captain McDougall (Company B) was assigned to escort the pack-train, which was commanded by Lt. Mathey.

"The regiment will ford the river upstream of where this tributary drains," Custer began. "Our objective will be the pony herd on the western bank. The battalions of Captain Benteen and Major Reno will form right and left wings, respectively. Major Reno, you will cover the western side of the valley and the steppe. Captain Benteen, you will cover the eastern side and the river. You will simultaneously charge the pony herd, stampeding it down the river valley, away from the village. Once started, it will be your responsibility to keep them moving down the valley, no matter what. You should destroy as many ponies as you can along the way, until you reach the Montana column on the east bank of the Bighorn. Take the pack train—you'll need the extra ammunition."

"Your charge and the resulting stampede will raise a lot of dust. That will help my battalion feign a large scale attack on the village, and then we'll follow along behind you, providing support where needed. Any questions?"

"General, how are we to ride for another 24 hours with our horses in their present condition?" asked Major Reno.

"You have your orders," came the curt reply.

"And what of the hostiles," asked Benteen. "Will they not scatter?"

"I expect they will first give pursuit, so watch your backs!" Custer yelled back over his shoulder, as he trotted away towards the front of the column. At least until they realize their strategic vulnerability, thought Godfrey, who couldn't believe this turn of events.

He was close enough to Captain Benteen to see him mouthing something in the direction of the departing Custer. Although Godfrey was slightly deaf, he thought he heard the Captain mutter, "Yes, sir, I'll do precisely that."

Then they wheeled their mounts and rode back to the right wing companies.

Godfrey's company fell in behind Companies D and H, the latter led by Benteen. Moving at a fast trot, they descended the trail in a long column of twos. After a few minutes they rounded a small knoll, and came to the river.

K Company forded the Little Bighorn at the very last. Custer's battalion was assembled there on the west bank, chomping at the bit. Reno's battalion had already moved three or four hundred yards to the west northwest. Benteen's other companies were riding down river just west of some cottonwoods. Godfrey marveled to see no signs of movement or alarm in the direction of the village. As his company passed Custer, the General waved his hat and yelled out to them, "Hurrah, boys, we've caught them napping!"

They advanced at a slow trot. Companies H and D ahead had apparently been ordered to left oblique, so Godfrey followed suit. The river valley stretched over a mile wide, with the river itself hugging the bluffs on the east bank. Smoke columns and the tops of tipis emerged from gaps in the timber, several hundred yards distant. Godfrey also began to see quite a few grazing ponies, nervously tossing their heads.

Godfrey was not privy to when, and by whose direct order, the expected charge would commence. But it occurred to him that when these angling columns turned back north as a double front, he and his company would be brushing very close to the edge of the village. There ahead at last he caught sight of a few women and children running away. But no yelling, no shots, amazingly peaceful. A pleasant ride on a sunny Sunday afternoon.

They followed another left oblique turn from the lead company, and now were riding away from the river and the timber. Godfrey kept looking to his right. He could see tipis more clearly, and a few more moving figures. The column in front halted and maneuvered right face. Godfrey so ordered his company, and there they paused.

Godfrey glanced toward his company and recognized Private Foley immediately to his right. The Irishman looked more pale than usual, and his green eyes were shifting about. His and the other troopers' mounts were pawing the ground, tossing their heads, and snorting. Well, thought Godfrey, if the chowderheads don't realize the danger, at least their horses do.

Suddenly, from behind and to the right, a startling roar of volley fire from over a hundred rifles split the air. Private Foley's horse bolted forward at the noise. The signal! And in another instant came the sharp, clear opening notes of "Charge" which was promptly swallowed up by the avalanche of pounding horse hooves.

"Bugler! Sound the Charge!!" yelled Godfrey. With a wave of his revolver, he spurred his horse forward. And so it began.

The ponies immediately to their front turned and raced away. The scattered animals beyond them coalesced into what looked like a wave. The sound of this crescendo astounded Godfrey. He had been dangerously close to a tornado once, back in Kansas. He had also visited Niagara Falls when he attended West Point. This was much louder, like sustained, rolling thunder.

The valley floor erupted in thick dust. Suddenly a running human figure appeared and vanished on his left—wait, Foley? A defending warrior? Onward they charged through the manufactured maelstrom of dust. A pistol shot cracked near him. And then another. A half-naked warrior briefly emerged from the dust, and Godfrey pointed and fired, and then saw nothing.

To his front, ponies fled by the thousands. A few of the ponies had riders who appeared to be trying to extricate themselves from the stampede. A mounted warrior appeared up ahead in Godfrey's path. The figure wheeled towards the village, but was shot off his horse by an approaching trooper.

Godfrey knew from experience that the surprise and shock of a cavalry charge would send the villagers fleeing, at least temporarily. His green troopers would be witnessing that now for the first time, he thought in passing. Very passing.

The storm barreled down the valley for several miles. Soon Godfrey snatched glimpses of the west bank of the Little Bighorn between patches of cottonwoods. They were clear of the village. Movement in the timber turned out to be what looked like a handful of ponies that must have peeled off from the rest. Being few in number, Godfrey ignored them and raced on.

They began dodging hobbling ponies, either wounded by gunfire or injured in the stampede. Then the movements and sound of the pony stampede began to change. The mass of animals devolved into separate rivulets, which flowed in and around unseen obstacles. Some of these turned out to be clumps of brush, ravines, and low spots.

Onward they galloped for another few miles. The pace was slowing, but Godfrey did not know what to expect. The dust behind them obscured his view. If riders were following him, he didn't know whether they were hostile or Custer's battalion. The safest thing was to push on. Remember, he thought, the advantage of this plan is to make distance from the enemy.

The stampede had now slowed from a cascade to a steady flowing stream. But larger groups of ponies were veering off towards the real flowing body of water. In addition, his own mount was building up a lather with heavy-sounding breathing. He had to take stock of the situation.

Godfrey reigned up and shouted, "TROOP, HALT!" But stopping his horse did not stop his adrenaline. Godfrey had to consciously suspend the fight-or-flee sensation to direct his men. The troop's next actions set a pattern for the rest of the day. A sergeant and squad of troopers were sent towards the river to either herd along these strays, or shoot them. The rest of the company proceeded forward in groups, herding groups of ponies with shouts or gunfire. A messenger rode over to Captain Benteen, advising them of their situation. Godfrey tasked one group of troopers with watching their rear and right flank, especially for any movement of Indians on the eastern bluffs.

Those bluffs and the river provided a natural chute. Benteen's right wing spread out behind the pony herd in a broad front, pushing the massive heard along, much as Godfrey's company had started doing. An irregular pop! pop! pop! of pistols and carbines belied the steady demise of hostile horses. Since they had access to the pack train's ammunition packs, it became clear very early that the easiest way to drive and destroy ponies at the same time was by gunfire. Not enough to stampede them up the bluffs or into river, but to keep them moving.

Reno's left wing had to work harder to contain the ponies within the river valley. Gradually the left wing companies were strung out in a long single file, blocking any movement of ponies beyond the western side of the valley.

Thus the stampede slowed to a march—in many ways, a death march, and not just for the ponies. Different troops would dismount and walk their horses, in rotation. Yet a number of the 7th's mounts were playing out. This left an increasing number of troopers having to walk, carrying their carbines, ammunition, and whatever else they could. These men gravitated towards the west bank of the Little Bighorn, forming what became the "Foot Patrol." A few troopers tried to catch and ride Indian ponies. But the latter were too skittish, and the troopers couldn't ride bareback, so they gave up and shot them.

Exhausted men and horses marched on for miles and for hours, and it was grueling. Few of the men had slept more than a few hours in the last two days. The cavalry horses were playing out. Anxieties rose about being stranded on foot, about falling asleep, about counterattack.

During this time there had been no word from Custer. Benteen had instructed Godfrey to notify him if he saw any sign of the missing battalion. Around seven o'clock, some of Godfrey's troopers thought they heard several rifle volleys back up the river. But they were not sure. Still, Godfrey sent a message to Benteen. It turns out that Reno and Benteen, who were conferring together, had also heard the firing.

Captain Weir of Company D asked Benteen permission to go ride back to the sound of it.

"Denied," said Benteen in an accentuated drawl.

"Major Reno!" cried Weir, but Reno cut him off.

"We are under orders to drive this pony herd down the Bighorn, no matter what. We are in serious danger ourselves. Our own horses are playing out. We can't afford to use them up more by riding back, much less fighting an engagement."

Around 8:00 p.m., with the sun low in the sky, Godfrey's men saw a dust cloud a few miles back, along with some glints of light reflecting off rifle barrels and brass buttons—Custer's battalion. Soon Godfrey recognized a party of Indian scouts, along with Lts. Varnum and Hare.

"Where is Reno?" they yelled. Godfrey indicated the general direction, and off they rode. In a few minutes, Custer appeared with his aide-de-camp and adjutant. After being directed toward Reno's position, they rode on without comment. The remaining battalion took what appeared to be a reserve position in the middle of the river valley, a half mile southwest of Godfrey's position.

Eventually a dusty messenger relayed to Godfrey to press on. Apparently Custer's battalion had engaged and whipped an equally sized body of mounted warriors. The Indians counterattacked, but were held off at long range by volley fire. They might now be falling back to the village, but nobody knew for sure.

The trek of men and animals groped on into the night. A waxing crescent moon provided minimal illumination, but it set before midnight. After that Godfrey's best compass was the starlight reflecting off the river, contrasted with the pitch black of the bluffs beyond.

The main thing motivating the men forward was the terrifying prospect of being killed in the dark by vengeful raiding parties of Sioux and Cheyenne. The exhausted troopers reached the Bighorn an hour before dawn. Here they paused for daylight, attempting to contain their equine hostages within the inverted V created by the two rivers.

Godfrey's brain was numb, and his body felt like a corpse. His dismounted troopers were asleep on their feet, or passed out on the ground. As the eastern sky began to lighten, the colors reflected off the two rivers like a lovely purplish pink corral enclosing thousands of snorting and whinnying ponies in a jammed mass. Something about the coming of the new day enlivened Godfrey a little. He took a deep breath of cool twilight air, looked around. We made it, we actually made it, he marveled to himself. To which his inner voice exclaimed, "Highest marks! Well done, Cadet Godfrey!"

On Monday morning, Lt. James Bradley and General Terry's Crow scouts heard what they presumed was a major battle up the Bighorn, near the confluence of the Little Bighorn. They noted volley after volley, and then a scattered but sustained rifle fire for over an hour. A dust cloud heralded the approach of some massive movement.

After receiving these reports, Terry judged that it either meant that the 7th was fighting a rear guard action, or else they were pressing the hostiles in Terry's direction. The latter implied that Terry's pincer plan had worked perfectly.

Within the hour, the mystery was solved with the arrival of several 7th cavalry troopers and an officer. It was Tom Custer. What he said shocked Terry. They had followed the Indian trail from the Rosebud to the Little Bighorn. But instead of attacking the hostiles, they had captured most of their massive pony herd.

"Are you telling me," asked Terry, "that the Lt. Colonel violated his orders by leaving the Rosebud prematurely, and then he didn't engage or contain the hostiles?"

"Oh, I think they're pretty well contained, sir," answered Custer. "They can't really flee, at least not very fast. They can't fight. They can't hunt. They can't carry much food, or anything else. They may have to eat what remaining horseflesh they possess. I expect they are trudging back to the agencies as we speak."

"And as for engaging, we drew the best of their warriors out onto open ground and whipped 'em good. No, sir, they've been taught a very good lesson."

The color began returning to Terry's face. By the time he had greeted General Custer that afternoon, Terry was beaming: "Well done, Armstrong!"

The later administrative review of the campaign did not change Terry's positive assessment. The Indian village had split up, with most returning to the Agencies. Sitting Bull remained a recalcitrant hostile, but he lost standing with the Agency Indians. The historic native convocation in the summer of 1876 was replaced with acrimonious disunity and mutual blame over the loss of horses, possessions, and the arduous, starving journey back to the Agencies. The generals smiled wryly at the accounts of Cheyenne and Sioux stealing their remaining horses from one another.

The government had achieved its objective while avoiding widespread killing of Indians, which would please the Sunday School lobby. The most controversial aspect of the whole affair was the slaughter of the remaining ten thousand ponies along the banks of the Bighorn. As General Sherman put it, it had all worked out swimmingly.

Custer was the hero, the author and finisher of the brilliant and unorthodox plan. His reputation as a tactical genius was confirmed, as was his foresight in delivering critical information to General Crook. Crook repositioned his battered column in time to engage and defeat a band of fleeing Ogallala Sioux, thus revenging his defeat on the Rosebud with the death of Crazy Horse.

Military and newspaper reports said little of the few dozen troopers who died in the stampede, or later after getting separated from their troop in the dark, or by simply collapsing on the march.

COMING: Part Two—Politics and Other Wars

The End, Part 1 of 3

John Robinson is a Professor of Agricultural Economics and an Extension Economist at Texas A&M University. His formal education includes B.S. and M.S. degrees in Entomology and a Ph.D. in Agricultural Economics, all from Texas A&M University.

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A Dead Man's Gold
by Holly Seal Kunicki

Manuel Ortiz had three beautiful daughters. The eldest daughter, Consuelo, was in love with a no account ranch hand named Tom Jenkins who had asked for her hand in marriage. Manuel was poor and had no money for a dowry so he forbade the marriage because he felt the young man could not provide for his daughter. One day Tom showed up at Manuel's little farm with a proposition. He and another ranch hand named, Pasco, had pooled their meager resources together to grub stake an expedition to an abandoned gold mine. If in the course of six months Tom had not made his fortune he promised Manuel he would not pursue Consuelo's hand in marriage.

Tom heard tell of an old man who lived in the town of Calypso and rumor had it that he knew the location of a lost gold mine high in the Sierras. The Crystal Rock Mine, so named for its gold bearing quartz deposits had ominous beginnings. According to legend the mine was founded long before the California gold rush of 1848 by a wealthy land owner. He obtained his wealth and prestige by using the indigenous Indian population as enforced slave labor in the mine. Later the M. T. Coronado Mining Company purchased the rights to the mine and continued the practice of using Native Americans as slave laborers. The new owners denuded the mountainside of trees, reinforced the mines supporting timbers and expanded on its network of tunnels. For several decades the mine continued to be profitable until eventually the production of gold plummeted and it was abandoned in the late 1850's. Over time a stand of pine trees grew up in front of the entrance and the mine was forgotten.

That night Consuelo and Tom spoke of their love as they strolled under the stars. "My partner and I head out before sunup and may be gone for several months," Tom said.

"I will go with you," Consuelo pleaded, "I promise I'll be no trouble."

At first Tom tried to dissuade her remembering his promise to her father, but Tom was not a man known to keep his word, so he agreed to take her along.

Early the next morning Manuel was working in his field when his two younger daughters came running to tell their father Consuelo was gone and she had taken her horse, Gypsy.

It was late afternoon on the third day of their journey when the three riders reached the town of Calypso with their pack mule, Bonita, trailing behind. The town wasn't much to speak of, just a few broken-down shacks. After making inquiries they were directed to the old man who ran the trading post and asked directions to the lost mine. "Mister," the old timer replied, "it's been nigh unto ten years since a body asked about that ole broken down heap of rocks. But if'n you be insistin' to know its whereabouts head east till you reach yonder mountain ridge then turn due north. Keep on fer some ten miles or so through some pretty rough patches. On the other side of a deep ravine you'll come to a mountain stream. Then find the miners work trail and follow it up the mountainside to the entrance of the mine."

Suddenly the old man's voice took on a kinder tone. "Mind you," the old man said, "many a fool has tried their luck in the mine since she shut down. Some folks have never returned while others got nothin' but empty pockets to show fer it. I reckon she's played out all right, but maybe you folks will be the lucky ones and hit pay dirt."

"How do you know so much about the mine?" Tom asked the old man.

"Cause I was one of them fools," he replied.

After crossing the foot hills the trio reached the base of the mountains and turned north. Soon they encountered dense forests interspersed with, large boulders and thick brush, losing a half days ride circumventing the ravine. Finally they reached their destination, crossing over the stream as it tumbled down the mountainside. From their vantage point they gazed upwards towards the heavily forested slope but they were unable to spot the mine. Nevertheless the trio got to work immediately setting up camp. Undeterred by the old man's words their search for gold would begin in earnest at dawn.

The next morning the men set out to locate the miners work trail as the old man had instructed. As they searched along the base of the mountain they soon discovered a deeply rutted trench that was covered over with foliage. Convinced it was the workers trail they used their hunting knives to widen the path as it zigzagged upwards. By noon the steep trail had abruptly ended and the ground had tapered off to a gentle slope. Here a dense stand of pine trees and thick underbrush grew. Both men began to have doubts of the mines existence, but they forged on lashing out at the bushes with their knives while using an axe to cut down the smaller trees. After clearing the final bit of brush there before them was the entrance to the mine, carved into the mountainside and framed by ancient and rotting timbers. It was obvious that no one had been here in years.

Wearing miners caps the men held their lanterns high as they cautiously entered the mine knowing that mountain lions and bears often made cave-like tunnels their home. Near the entrance they passed a dilapidated lift that was once used to bring the ore from lower levels. Now they moved deeper into the mine where they observed most of the tunnels had sub tunnels, each having a number carved into its supporting timber. They decided to keep track of these numbers not wanting to get lost. In the powder room they found kegs of black powder and other blasting equipment. When they climbed down one of the shafts to a lower level they discovered that many of the tunnels were not accessible due to cave-ins. Tom recalled the old man's words when he referred to the mine as a, "heap of rocks." With pickaxes, shovels and an old wheel barrow they had found they began to dig. That day Bonita hauled several saddle bags filled with ore up one of the shafts via rope that was later processed near the stream. Their dreams of striking it rich were now within reach.

Several days later during the night as the exhausted campers slept they were suddenly awakened by the sound of a screeching mountain lion. The attack on the horses was swift and brutal with the wild cat clawing at their flanks. Before the men could get a shot off to scare the lion away, Gypsy reared up and broke free from her tether, disappearing into the dark night. Consuelo was inconsolable. Gypsy was a gift from her father when she was just a young filly and the two of them had been inseparable ever since. "Don't worry your horse will return in the morning," Pasco said reassuringly. But the next day came and went and Gypsy was no where to be found.

Days had turned into weeks and the mood in camp was glum. After all their hard work the men had mined barely enough gold dust to cover their grub stake. Tom became despondent and began to complain that bringing a woman along had brought bad luck. To avoid Tom's black moods Consuelo focused on her chores while her evenings were spent sitting around the camp fire where Pasco would regale her of his many adventures as he worked his way across the country doing odd jobs, finally arriving in California where he met Tom.

One night Consuelo moved her bedroll far from Tom. More than ever she regretted her decision to join the expedition and desperately wanted to return home but with Gypsy gone this was unlikely. Hot tears rolled down her cheeks. One thing was certain she was no longer in love with Tom Jenkins.

After that night Consuelo and Tom barely spoke to each other until one day he grabbed her by the arm and led her away from the fire.

"Don't think I don't notice you and Pasco whispering behind my back and exchanging glances. I can't trust you anymore Consuelo," he said angrily. In his mind Tom was sure they were planning to double cross him.

Consuelo tried to reassure him but he wouldn't listen. Tom was still seething over the fact that she had spurned him.

Back at the Ortiz farm Gypsy had found her way home against all odds. Manuel knew immediately that something was terribly wrong as Consuelo and Gypsy were inseparable. Now he gave his daughters instructions to rub Gypsy down, water and feed her while he prepared for a long journey. He reasoned if Gypsy could find her way home then the she could find her way back to Consuelo, so his plan was to hold the reins loosely and give Gypsy her lead. Early the next morning as he rode away he waved good bye to his daughters and called to his hunting dog, Sebastian, to follow along. Three days later Gypsy, with rider atop, trotted into the town of Calypso and stopped in front of the trading post.

One day the men were working deep into the second level in tunnel number eight when they discovered a dull whitish area on the rock wall. Suspecting it to be a quartz deposit and knowing that gold may be nearby they decided to use blasting powder to bring down this section of wall. After preparing the charges on the rock wall a long length of fuse was detonated to allow the men time to stay well back from the blast area. When the smoke cleared to their shock and amazement the blast had uncovered a massive streak of gold covering the entire length of the wall.

Back at camp Consuelo heard a loud explosion and began to worry, so a few hours later she was relieved when she saw Tom leading Bonita down the trail. Consuelo ran to meet him but before she had a chance to ask where Pasco was Tom reached into his pocket and removed a sizable gold nugget and placed it in her hand.

"Pasco and I have struck the mother lode," he said excitedly. "The streak is so big there's no telling where it begins or ends." Now Tom offered to take her into the mine to show her the glittering wall of gold explaining that Pasco had stayed behind to work the strike. Odd, but the men had never allowed her into the mine before saying it was too dangerous for a woman.

At the mine's entrance Tom handed Consuelo a lantern and guided her deep into the mine, down a ladder to a lower level, and then deeper yet along a corridor flanked by piles of rocks. Finally they reached tunnel eight. Up a head candles placed in steel holders and then stuck into crevasses in the rock wall illuminated the area. As Consuelo approached she noticed there were huge chunks of gold ore strewn across the tunnel floor just waiting to be picked up and carted off. Then she caught sight of the glittering wall of gold just as Tom had described and her heart raced wildly.

The old man at the trading post had remembered Manuel's daughter and had given him directions to the mine. After locating the camp he found it had been recently occupied as the embers of the fire were still warm. Hope sprang up in his heart that his daughter was still alive. "Find her boy," Manuel commanded, and with these few words Sebastian put his nose to the ground and sprang into action. He circled the camp twice then began barking wildly. It was clear he had picked up the scent. Manuel followed Sebastian on horseback until they came to the base of a deeply rutted trail that led up the mountainside. Knowing he must prepare himself for whatever he might find he strapped on his hunting knife, placed a coil of rope over his shoulder and tucked a gun into his belt. After retrieving a lantern from his saddle bag he followed Sebastian on foot up the trail and into the mine.

The darkness was unnerving and Manuel's lantern gave off barely enough light to see, but Sebastian seemed to know exactly where he was going. Deep into the mine the dog suddenly stopped in front of a shaft and began to paw the ground and whine softly. Sebastian was the key to finding Consuelo so somehow Manuel had to devise a way to get him down the ladder. All at once he remembered an old piece of canvas he had seen a few yards back. "Stay Boy," he commanded, and went to retrieve it. Now he cut slits into the canvas with his knife, wrapped it around the dog and wove his rope through the openings to create a make-shift sling.

"Where is Pasco?" Consuelo asked.

"Follow me," Tom said, as he led her deeper into tunnel eight finally making a sharp right into a sub-tunnel that soon came to an abrupt end.

Consuelo was puzzled." I don't understand Tom, I thought we were going to meet Pasco here," she questioned.

"Oh, he's here alright," Tom said, "look down the shaft."

Consuelo held her lantern over the pit and was horrified to find Pasco sprawled out at the bottom motionless. She called his name to no avail. Now she turned to Tom; "We have to help him he may still be alive."

"There's no need to rescue a dead man, you see I shot him," Tom said flatly.

Suddenly all the color drained from Consuelo's face as sheer terror engulfed her. She had never been this close to evil before but she recognized it in Tom's cold, dead eyes. How could she have ever loved this man?

"Your plan to double-cross me and keep the gold for yourselves backfired on you and your lover," Tom said, his face contorted with rage. "You should be grateful to me Consuelo I'll see to it that you and Pasco will never be separated again."

Suddenly his plan for her became clear, at the same time she realized there was no use trying to reason with him. The man was out of his mind with revenge, jealousy, and greed. As she stood in front of the abyss she decided not to give him the satisfaction of pleading for her life as it would be futile. Instead she would spend her last few moments thinking of her father and sisters. Tom drew his gun and pointed it in her direction. Consuelo closed her eyes and waited for the inevitable.

Suddenly, as if in a dream, Consuelo heard the sound of a barking dog and her eyelids flew open just in time to see Sebastian charging out of the darkness towards Tom with his teeth bared. Hearing the commotion Tom turned at the last moment, but before he could take aim the animal leapt upon him knocking the gun from his hand. From the force of the attack Tom staggered backwards towards the pit desperately trying to regain his balance, all the while Sebastian continued his relentless and savage attack. Consuelo instinctively stepped aside from the pit as Tom, with arms flailing wildly, reached out in a futile attempt to grab her and then teetered at the edge of the shaft for a moment before toppling into the darkness below.

Consuelo was still in shock when she saw her father approach. He set his lantern and rope down and embraced his sobbing daughter. "I heard what the man was planning, but I knew in the darkness I couldn't risk using my gun, that's when I gave Sebastian the command to attack."

"Father how did you find me," Consuelo asked with tears still streaming down her face.

"I'll answer all your questions in due time daughter," he said, "but for now I must get you to safety."

Suddenly they heard a faint voice crying out from below. Tom had survived the fall but had broken his leg and was pleading for help. Consuelo felt no pity for the man at the bottom of the shaft, but she remembered at one time she had loved him and her heart softened. She knelt down and reached for the end of the rope only to discover Manuel had placed his foot over the life line, holding it firmly to the ground. Consuelo looked up at her father,

"Let go of the rope, daughter," he said gently, "we must go home now, your sisters will be waiting for us."

As they headed for the ladder neither Manuel nor Consuelo gave one more thought to the man at the bottom of the shaft, for he was already dead to them.

When they reached tunnel eight Consuelo suddenly stopped in front of the glittering wall. "Father," she said, "what about the gold?"

Manuel placed his hands firmly on her shoulders. "No daughter," he said, "we will not take a dead man's gold. We must leave this terrible place, for it is surely cursed."

Knowing her father had spoken the truth they hurried towards the main corridor where they found Sebastian sitting at the base of the ladder. Manuel placed the canvas sling around his dog and fastened the rope. Now father and daughter climbed the ladder to the main level.

As they hauled Sebastian up the shaft they began to hear loud creaking and rumbling noises echoing throughout the mine. The supporting timbers that had held fast for over a hundred years were finally giving way under the massive pressure of tons of earth and rock. Tunnel number eight and its sub-tunnel which had been weakened by the recent blasts were the first to crumble setting off a chain reaction as one by one the tunnels on level two and three collapsed.

"Run!" Manuel cried as Sebastian led the way out of the mine and down the mountainside. When they had reached the bottom of the trail father and daughter turned back in horror to witness the final death knells of the Crystal Rock Gold Mine. The noise was deafening as the ceiling on the main level came crashing down filling every square foot of remaining space with earth, rocks, and debris that spewed out of the mines entrance mowing down the trees in their path. For the first time in decades the wreck of the mine was visible from the base of the mountain. Suddenly Consuelo foresaw the future. Soon the forest would reclaim what was rightfully hers and a thick curtain of trees would once again hide the mines location to those who would come seeking gold.

Back at the campsite Consuelo was overjoyed to find Gypsy and suddenly everything became clear. Gypsy had led her father to the mine while Sebastian had found her in the labyrinth of tunnels making her rescue possible. Now father and daughter began to prepare for a hasty retreat not wanting to spend one more night at the mine, for it was a haunted place that had claimed the life her friend Pasco.

Just before they were about to begin the long journey home Consuelo went to secure Bonita's saddle bags when a sudden breeze lifted one of the flaps. To her astonishment she found they were filled to the brim with gold nuggets brought down from the mine earlier that day by Tom.

At first Manuel did not want to take a dead man's gold fearing it was cursed, but even so he asked himself, might there be a positive use for it? Being a religious man he decided to consult a higher authority. After prayer and deep contemplation on the matter the answer became clear. The contents of one of the saddle bags would be donated to the church to help the poor and mistreated.

But the other one would also be used for a worthy cause. After all, Manuel had three beautiful daughters and they would need a dowry.

Epilogue: When Manuel and his daughter returned to their farm with two saddle bags brimming with gold word of an abandoned mine filled with vast wealth quickly circulated throughout the nearby village and beyond. Because of Manuel's donation to the church the little village prospered while the Indians of the region who had suffered past injustices were deeded a large plot of land. Manuel took not one peso for himself, but was content when his daughters soon married well-to-do cattle ranchers in the area due to their generous dowries. In the years that followed Manuel and Consuelo remained silent regarding the location of the mine and the old man, the only other person to have known of its whereabouts, had long since passed away. Just as Consuelo had predicted a thick curtain of pine trees grew up around the pile of rocks that had once been the entrance to the Crystal Rock Gold Mine, concealing it from view. But the legend persisted and down to this day gold seekers come from far and wide searching for a lost mine somewhere in the Sierra Nevada Mountains.

The End

Holly Seal Kunicki, a former New Yorker and graduate of Fashion Institute of Technology is currently retired and living in Florida. Ms. Kunicki loves writing short stores inspired by our American west with its unique history and spectacular scenery, but is a relative newcomer to the western genre. A previous story has been published in Frontier Tales while her poems have appeared in the Montauk Sun and her community newspaper. Her most recent western adventures include a trip to Utah's ghost town, Silver Reef, a once thriving mining community and Zion National Park, where she trekked the canyons.

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Picnic by the River
by Steve F. Bowder

Summer, 1862

After a long week of chores for the Wiseman children, chopping wood, feeding animals, carrying water, pulling weeds and picking garden produce, cleaning house, doing laundry, and helping cook meals, it's time for some recreation.

The three little boys are outside arguing over what to do.

"Let's play tag!" says William, almost nine.

"Nah, too hot" replies Andrew, who has just turned eleven.

"Let's play cowboys and Indians."

"Nah, too hot."

"We could play hide and seek," suggests Loren, their four-year-old brother.

Andrew and William respond in unison, "Ok, you go hide!"

A puzzled look comes over Loren's face.

Pheobe, their mother, listens from inside the main log cabin while doing dishes in a wash basin. To her daughter, "Hannah, it is such a hot day. Why don't you take the three little boys to the river?"

Hannah sighs and responds with an inaudible grumble.

"You know, to the backwaters of Bow Creek for a picnic and a swim?"

Hannah sorts laundry and tosses socks and shirts in their respective pile. She knows the suggestion was presented as a question, but it really was more of an order.

She spots off with, "What about Arthur? Why can't he do it!?"

"Your father and Arthur are out hunting on the ridge. They won't be back until dark, earlier if they are successful."

Hannah mulls over this comment to herself: "I can hunt too, but no. I'm a girl, so I can't go!"

Pheobe slyly adds, "I plan on going over to Mrs. Wuebben's to do a little quilting this afternoon. I guess you all could come with me?"

Hannah immediately agrees. "Ok, I take them to the river."

The thirteen-year-old thinks to herself: "Oh, no that would be a disaster, I prefer the boys to absolute boredom. The boys might be out of their cotton-picking minds. But having to listen to all of those old women yacking and gossiping is not for me."

Pheobe smiles, "I will pack some leftover fried chicken and fix up a fruit basket for you."

"Okay, where did the boys go?"

"I saw them headed out toward the hog pen."

"I guess I will grab their cut-offs," Hanna replies in a defeated tone.

As Hannah rifles through the boy's clothes, she fumes. "Watching my brothers is like torture. Andrew is always being a big brat and now William is beginning to join in. When around Ma and Pa, I am not allowed to respond like I want to. If they try anything today, I'll have the freedom to take care of it myself."

She tosses the clothes aside and sets her mind to an afternoon of babysitting: "I will just have to make the best of it. Then, there's the little one, Loren. He always wants to hang on me. Sometimes it gets so annoying. When will I ever get any time to myself?"

* * *

Wildfire is saddled, a picnic basket packed, and fishing poles are in hand. The procession of Wiseman children head out. With horse and straggly dog right alongside. They make their way west along the Missouri River's edge.

As soon as they see the creek the two older boys rush off leaving everything, of course, for Hannah to do! Peeling off their shirts as they run, William and Andrew go straight into the water and begin splashing each other. Loren looks at his brothers then back to his sister and decides to join his brothers. Boots, their family pooch, finds some shade near Hannah. The backwaters of Bow Creek are a peaceful place if it weren't for these three distractions.

The shallow, calm waters of this quiet stream are a good place to cool off. Plenty of large trees provide shade from the hot summer sun. Today there is a light breeze off the river to be enjoyed. The river's backwater always refreshes, even if it appears to be a nasty, muddy muck. Hannah spreads an older quilted blanket and places their picnic lunch off to the side. She sets the canteens in the shade of a weeping willow tree, filled with plenty of fresh water from their artesian well.

Hannah smiles as she remembers being the boys' age not long ago. She finishes unloading Wildfire, her fire-red companion, then ties her off in the shade under a huge weeping willow tree. Hannah hears more splashing and turns to see Loren wade deeper into the water. He looks like he is headed over near his brothers.

"Loren, stay close to the bank," she calls out.

He responds like always in his best you're-not-my-mother voice, "Okay! Okay!"

Hannah returns to the blanket and sets up a peaceful place to relax. She looks up constantly, checking and occasionally yelling for Loren to be safe. He waves his arm blindly at her.

Under her breath, she murmurs, "You little sh*t!"

Andrew begins to wade farther out, defiantly challenging his younger brother William to follow. They can swim very well, in calm water, for their age. Nonetheless, stories have been told of strong adult swimmers that don't come back from the Muddy Mo. Thankfully before she yells at Andrew, he comes back. As he does, William starts to splash him again.

Loren wades ever so slowly farther and farther out. He splashes as if he were part of the older brothers' battle. Witnessing their antics, Hannah is ready for a refreshing dip herself. She starts off in a dead run, effortlessly scoops Loren into her arms, and splashes headlong toward the battling brothers. The two opponents immediately join forces and accept the new challenge. Loren relies on Hannah for support and tries his best to assist in the battle.

Hannah, who is outgunned and holding Loren, who is more of a liability than an asset, decides to give up the fight. She retreats with Loren in tow.

The aggressors, not satisfied, continue after the defeated pair.

Hannah places Loren down in shallow water and without warning takes up the challenge again. Enjoying the moment, Hannah reminisces of the times her older brothers, Ben, John, and Arthur would play with her in much the same way.

All of sudden, the splashing war is interrupted.

From behind her, she hears a faint but audible cry for "Help!"

Loren has drifted into the small stream's current.

She immediately dives in his direction and comes up screaming, "Loren!"

She loses sight of him, then swims in his last general direction. In a panic she pauses. Treading water, she looks for her brother anxiously. She sees one of Loren's arms flailing.

"He is trying to swim but he doesn't know how. I told you to stay in the shallow water."

Hannah gets closer to him, but he is still so far away. Where the Missouri River and the creek meet, a whirlpool takes him under again. Hannah swims toward him, unaware the trees on the bank are passing by swiftly. She plunges forward again. Her heavy full-body swimsuit weighs her down. Frantically, she attempts to tread water refusing to acknowledge she is getting tired. She desperately looks for her youngest brother. She sees an arm. Frantically, she swims in his direction.

Out of the corner of her eye, Hannah sees Andrew and William on shore running along the bank. She's thankfully they are okay because she didn't stop to check. They are yelling something.

Gasping for air, she glances around. She can't see Loren but there is a big splash just to her left. Surprised and now fearful, all at the same time, she wonders: "What was that?"

Another splash. Then another.

She sees a paddle, then two paddles.

They are from a canoe. A rawhide canoe.

It's an Indian canoe.

No time to worry, she continues to look for her youngest brother. Her energy is nearly depleted. Hannah is barely able to tread water; she gasps for each breath. The current picks up. She drifts further and further down the Missouri River.

The canoe passes her swiftly. The two occupants paddle furiously. She tries to yell for help but takes a mouthful of muddy water instead. The long arm of one of the paddlers reaches over the side of the canoe and plucks Loren from the water.

Hannah is scared but hopeful. She is relieved momentarily. Her relief vanishes when she sees Loren's lifeless body come out of the river.

The rescuer hands Loren to his partner, then points in Hannah's direction. A strong but now weary swimmer, she continues to drift in the river's current.

She is so tired.

The current never tires.

She struggles against each whirlpool; that sucks on her body, pulling relentlessly. Each time Hannah attempts to swim toward shore, she is swung back around in another swirling current. Fatigued, she tries to tread water again.

The canoe and its occupants make their way to her.

She sees them begin to wave their arms and paddle frantically. Exhausted and confused, she doesn't understand why.

Suddenly she is in a torrent.

A fallen tree has snagged her swimsuit. The branches act like fingers that grasp her swimsuit tightly. The current relentlessly rolls over her. She can't pull herself free or tread water. In desperation, Hannah grabs for the branches that hold her. Each futile attempt is the same. The water-soaked branches crumble in her hands.

The river's current continues to pull her under.

She holds her breath as long as she can.

Realizing she can't hold her breath any longer she releases her final breath.

* * *

Like waking from one nightmare into another, Hannah endures an indescribable pain. Something has grabbed her hair. The pain is excruciating, she grimaces and swallows the muddy river water.

She feels a hand grabs her under her left arm and across her chest. The other hand letting go of her hair is forced under her right arm. Fingers lock across her bosom.

The canoe is in danger of capsizing. The rescuer with Loren's limp body, leans over the opposite side of the thin-skinned canoe to balance the weight as his partner pulls steadily and firmly on Hannah's physically-drained tree branch-snared body.

The branches will not release her. Finally, with river water close to rushing over the side of the canoe, Hannah's bathing suit rips. A branch gashes her flesh.

All at once, she sees light and coughs up muddy river water. She desperately gasps for air. Hannah grabs frantically and feebly for the side of the canoe. She finds her rescuer's strong dark-skinned arm and hangs on for dear life.

He explains in broken English, "Hold on! We will take you to the bank first. If we try to bring you in, we might capsize."

Too tired to respond, she nods in agreement and continues expelling the muddy river water out of her lungs.

The canoe turns and uses the current to its advantage. The rescuers maneuver the retreating canoe toward an opening in the tree-lined bank. She sees Loren's lifeless body across the lap of the first rescuer.

Hannah, barely able to speak, sputters, "How is he? Is he all right?"

There is no answer.

Finally, Hannan is able to touch the muddy bottom. She holds onto the canoe; worried and weary, she continues to cough.

The taller rescuer looks down from his seat and asks, "Are you alright?"

Hannah nods.

"Hold on!"

He thrusts his paddle into the water, directing them to the bank's edge. He grabs a sturdy tree branch and pulls the canoe to shore safely.

Loren is still motionless, draped face down over the lap of the other rescuer. Suddenly, he begins vomiting water and coughing.

Hannah is relieved and exhausted. She stands in the water waist-deep, and repeats vehemently, "Thank you! Thank you so much!"

She notices her rescuer's eyes are not focused on her face as she speaks. The cool breeze suddenly alerts her to her torn swimming suit. She quickly covers herself.

Embarrassed, the taller of the two rescuers immediately jumps from the canoe, grabs and pulls it to the bank.

Andrew and William, running along the bank, finally catch up. William declares, "Wow! That was cool!"

Hannah glares and then ignores her little brothers. She turns to the second rescuer and repeats, "Thank you so much." He carefully hands Loren to her.

Still shaking, Loren begins to cry. Hannah carries him to a grassy spot on the bank and chides, "I told you to stay in the shallows."

Visibly breathless and tired, the two rescuers speak to each other in their native tongue.

William nonchalantly exclaims, "Nice canoe!" As if the last ten minutes didn't even happen.

The shorter rescuer responds in a little better English, "Thank you, do you want to see?"

Confident Loren is all right, Hannah calls to Andrew, "Can you watch him?"

He nods.

Hannah returns to the taller rescuer. She holds her torn swimsuit with her left hand. She offers her right hand to him and says, "My name is Hannah. Thank you so much. I don't know what would have happened if you were not here." Overwhelmed with gratitude, Hannah is almost in tears.

The tall one, responds, "My name is Chaska. This is Little Eagle." He points to the back paddler.

Little Eagle replies, "You are welcome. That was very close!"

Chaska adds in broken English, "We are very lucky to have been here when we were!"

Hannah, "Yes, I am so grateful. How can I repay you?"


"Yes, for saving my life. And for saving my brother's life. I owe you, our lives."

Little Eagle insists, "You owe nothing!"

Chaska adds, "He is right. It was scary. We are just glad you both are alright!"

Hannah continues, "Thank you again. At least, come eat with us. You must stay. We have brought food for our picnic. Will you join us?"

The two older Wiseman boys agree. Andrew proudly states, "Yes, join us. Ma made fried chicken. It's the best!"

"This is your mother?" retorts Chaska with a tease.

Little Eagle laughs.

"No, I am not their mother. I am their sister," Hannah replies and laughs. She starts to relax and adds, "This is William and Andrew. The one you pulled from the river is Loren."

"You must learn to swim soon," says Little Eagle to the fully drenched Loren.

"He better learn to listen first," Hannah remarks sternly.

Loren looks up at her shyly.

They all make their way back to the picnic blanket. Hannah notices the boys surprisingly help set up the food.

Andrew asks, "Were you fishing?"

Little Eagle responds, "No, we were hunting and hoping for deer. They always come down to the river to drink and hide in the brush. So, we hunt from the river, hide behind brush or float silently down river until we see something."

Chaska chimes in, "Today we catch little boy and young girl." Then adds, "So, I guess we were fishing today."

This is followed with laughter by all.

After having a piece of fried chicken each and a drink of cool, refreshing water, Chaska and Little Eagle excuse themselves.

Andrew asks, "Can we see your bow and arrows?"

"Yeah, can we?" adds William.

Little Eagle replies, "Sure, come I'll show you."

Andrew, William, and Little Eagle head back to the canoe.

Hannah ignores her little brothers and asks Chaska, "Do you hunt and fish around here often?"

"Yes, we come here often. Game is plentiful here."

"Well maybe I will see you around then," she says and blushes, still holding Loren. "I come down to the river to ride my horse, Wildfire."

"I have seen you. Your horse is very fast. Not as fast as mine, but very fast."

"Oh, really!"

* * *

On the way home, Hannah tells the boys, "You cannot tell Ma or Pa, not even Arthur, about what happened here today."

"Huh?" Andrew queries.

"Why?" William asks.

"If you do, they will never let us swim down here by the river ever again."

Andrew asks, "What about your suit?".

"I'll take care of that!"

Once they reach home, Hannah's mind is elsewhere. Pheobe is well aware of the disconnect. Hannah is washing her brother's muddy cutoff jeans and daily clothes as Pheobe prepares the evening supper.

"How was your picnic?" her mother asks.

"Oh, it was alright."

"Did you have fun?"

"Yeah, it was nothing special; the usual," Hannah says and grimaces slightly as she scrubs the mud from her brothers' clothes.

"Looks like it might have been fun! They got pretty muddy," Pheobe observes.

Hannah emphasizes, "Yes, they did."

Pheobe checks the coals in the cast iron stove. A puff of smoke escapes but there is no sign of flames. She grabs a couple more pieces of kindling.

Hannah realizes she needs to steer the conversation away from her day before her mother asks about her swimsuit. She decides on a familiar subject that always sparks Pheobe's talking.

She asks, "Tell me again how did you and Dad meet?" Hannah loves this story.

"You know the story," her mother replies.

"Tell it again Momma," she begs.

Pheobe blows on the coals; a red ember ignites a flame. She closes the stove door, latches the dropdown plate and begins retelling the tale. "Well, we both grew up in the same township, back in Virginia."


"You've heard this a thousand times."

"I'm sorry. Tell me again."

"Well, we went to the same country school together. We had gone to school there for a few years before your father noticed me. I noticed him before he noticed me. He was always busy hanging out with his guy friends."

"How much older is Pa than you?"

"Oh, he's almost three years older than me."

"How much older is too much older?" Hannah asks.

Pheobe laughs. "Sweetheart, age doesn't matter, unless you are talking about really old."

Hannah smiles at that answer and asks, "How did you two know you liked each other?"

"Well, I liked your father from the start, but he didn't figure it out for some time."

The kettle of stew over the fireplace is warming nicely. Pheobe stirs the vegetables in the cast iron skillet on the stove.

"Here is a detail I don't think I have shared,"

She moves to the table.

"I knew your father was good at math," Pheobe says and sprinkles flour on a smooth wooden slab. She picks up the pie dough, slaps it down, and begins to knead the blob. "So, I would ask him for help with my homework."


"Yes, really."

Pheobe continues kneading the dough and explains, "He was so patient with me. He would explain it three ways to Sunday."

"But you are good at math, Ma."

"Yes, I am. I have always loved math," Pheobe says and giggles.

"Ma, you tricked him."

"Just a little," she quips.

They both laugh as they continue working.

"Did you go out with anyone else before Pa?"

"No, dear. Your father was and is my one and only."

"When did you know you loved him?"

Pheobe looks at her daughter. "Why all these questions?"

The End

Steve F. Bowder was born in Sioux City, Iowa just across the river from Nebraska where he was raised. This is his first attempt at writing a historical novel. It has turned out to be quite the adventure and has ballooned into a six-book series. This short story is only a portion of a chapter from the first book in the series, 'Clash of Cultures, The Legend of Henson Wiseman and the Dakota Chiefs'. This is an embellishment that leads to the answer to a question in the family history. Why was the daughter tortured?

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Soldier House at Medicine Bluffs
by James Ott

His backside rested comfortably in the deep seat of the McClellan saddle. Sergeant Jonathan Masters swayed with the rhythm of his mount, Zachary, cantering along the trail. Ahead, Captain Stanwell halted his horse and stood in the stirrups searching the horizon. A courier was riding headlong fast toward the column.

Lean and tall, Sergeant Masters turned in the saddle and with a wave signaled the men of D Troop to a halt. A reprieve was welcome. In summer's heat D Troop of the Sixth Cavalry had been riding south from Fort Dodge for eight days. The mission into Indian Territory was uncertain, only every man in the ranks sensed a fight brewing. At assembly under the flag at Fort Dodge, troopers heard from the colonel in command. "Indians have jumped the reservation at Fort Sill. They are breaking the law," he said, and added morbidly, "Good hunting."

On the march south, the rumor mill suggested the escape differed in scale from the past. An Army scout, a renegade Kiowa, explained: "Young and restless not alone in breakout. Whole families vanish into darkness."

The courier halted his mount next to the captain, stirring a dustbowl. The gray stallion radiated heat; white sweat streaked its neck. The steed stamped its hooves, contented the hard ride was over.

"Message from Fort Sill," the courier said and handed over a leather case.

"At ease," Captain Stanwell ordered. He dismounted and opened the dispatch case while walking to the shade of a flowering redbud tree amid a cluster on the prairie. The lieutenants, the cadre and ninety troopers alighted and tended to their horses. They uncorked canteens and talked about what the message might augur.

After a few minutes, the captain called for officers and Sgt. Masters. The youthful sergeant stood tall among the cavalrymen.

"This is a message from General Grierson, commanding officer. We're ordered to stop at Fort Sill. Wagons and a string of pack mules await us, and we're to add supplies for an extended forage. Hostiles are scattered throughout the territory. Most are heading west toward the Texas Panhandle."

"It looks like things are coming to a head," a lieutenant said.

"Definitely," Stanwell said. "First, we deprive the savages of food, buffalo for the most part, and force them into reservations. If they escape, we round'em up. Then we attack, attack, attack, and kill as many as we can. Sergeant, tell the men where we are going, and that's all for now."

Masters saluted and led his steed toward the column. The captain's menacing comment disturbed him. 'Kill as many as you can' was not written Army policy. As he approached the column, he consoled himself with the thought, 'Saying is not doing.'

Jonathan Masters assumed the title of first sergeant only a week earlier. The previous Top Kick had fallen ill and was confined to the hospital at Fort Dodge. At twenty-six years old, Masters was likely the youngest first sergeant in the Cavalry. When the commandant at Dodge named him to the post, two older non-coms in D Troop grumbled. Masters was not intimidated. He looked the veteran sergeants straight in the eye and carried on with his duties.

Masters had no time to sew the four-point diamond on his sleeve to mark his new rank amid the three V-shaped stripes. The promotion swung his mind to the early days of the Civil War. Local militia had selected his father, Major Wycliffe Masters, to command a regiment of Ohio Volunteers. He remembered the sad day of his father's burial, a casualty of the Wilderness Campaign of 1864. To the then eighteen-year-old Jonathan, a private in the Volunteers, his father's death bequeathed a longing to carry on in the service of his country even in the reduced post-war Army. His assignment to D Troop was his first west of the Mississippi River.

On his husky-voiced command, D troop came alive. Soldiers mounted their horses, and the column resumed its way south over the shortgrass prairie. Hard riding over two days on the dusty plain brought the weathered troopers to the outskirts of Fort Sill. The Wichita Mountains loomed off to the west.

Entering the environs of the post, the horsemen rode past a line of brick barracks, their wood porches and window frames painted stark white. A unit of Buffalo Soldiers, veterans of the 1868 winter campaign and a dozen skirmishes, occupied chairs and steps while smoking pipes and cigars. They quietly watched the White soldiers pass by.

Once troopers erected tents and Jonathan arranged for mess privileges, he visited the commissary to acquire rations, ammunition, and for the animals, bales of hay and grain. Soldiers from other units lined up at the supply sergeant's counter. The Top Kick from the Tenth Cavalry, a curly bearded man, brown as a berry, was next in line. Jonathan recognized him.


"Well, look at you. Jonathan, a sergeant."

"You stayed in the Army. That is good, Jeremiah," Jonathan said.

"Truth is, I had nowhere else to go."

Jeremiah had been a house boy in Grandfather Masters' tobacco plantation near Lexington, Kentucky. He and Jonathan played together in summers during visits of Jonathan's family from the free state of Ohio.

"Old man's gone now," Jeremiah said.

"Yes. "

"He was jus' overwhelmed. Soldiers camped all over the grounds of the big house. There was nobody to cut tobacco. It withered in the fields. Shame. Shame. Course, those soldiers helped me to jine up in sixty-four. I needed a name. I took Nelson, after General William Nelson. You remember him, the Kentucky hero at Shiloh. So, I am Jeremiah Nelson, sergeant. Almost ten years now."

"I had no home to go back to either. Mother moved to Columbus, Ohio, to live with her aunt. My sister is married and lives in New York City. I looked at it this way: The Army gives you a place to sleep and food to eat. Well, most of the time."

"I felt the very same way."

The two sergeants placed orders with the supply sergeant and shook hands.

"See you in the Mess," Jonathan said.

"No doubt about that."

After a supper of fried pork chops, beans, and freshly baked bread, Jonathan and Jeremiah leisurely walked to the Post Quadrangle. Other soldiers observed them.

"Those two Blue Bellies talk together like brothers," a former Confederate, Corporal Tillson Hanks, said to a gathering on the porch steps.

Jeremiah offered Jonathan a cigar. They smoked and reminisced about swimming in cool waters of Elkhorn Creek and riding horses on Blue Grass pastures hell bent for leather.

"Those days seem so long ago," Jonathan said.

Jeremiah agreed. "Yeh, long ago. The years are not many. So much is happenin'. First, the war. Now the fighting here. I was wounded in a skirmish at Wilson Wells, hit by an arrow in my upper arm. The Indians took me, Comanches they was. They let me be while I recovered. And ta beat all, the chief took me as a slave. I carried wood, cleaned weapons, brushed down ponies, for all of six months. I think they kept me for show. One night, thank the Lord, our troops attacked the village, and I was freed. Again."

"How were you treated?"

"Well, I got one bad beating. I stepped on something they said was sacred. It could've been worse. I worked for the Comanches, and they fed me. They called me Soldier Bear."

The two sergeants strolled by General Grierson's office. The general, Captain Stanwell, his sharply contoured face set as if in stone, and a half-dozen other troop commanders lounged in office chairs, smoking.

"Wonder what they're up to?"

"Don't have any idee. General Grierson's a good man. He promotes tolerance and good will, even charity, toward the Indians. I heard him say, 'try to understand. Bend a little. Use violence as a last resort.' But his good nature and tolerance doesn't always work out. He's in trouble with the Texans. I don't know if he's right or wrong. I can tell you this much. He's commanded our regiment since it was formed in '66. To him we are soldiers, and that is that."

"In this Army you can't ask for much more."

"Well," Jeremiah drawled. "I learned if it is worth doing at all, it's worth doing well."

"Sure enough."

* * *

The dull white glow of the morning sun below the eastern horizon revealed a cloudless sky and promised another hot day. A covered wagon, filled with sacks of salted beef and pork, beans, and hardtack, lined up next to a wagon loaded with boxes of ammunition and medical supplies. Water barrels and bags of grain hung on the outside of each wagon. A twelve-pounder Napoleon artillery piece followed, four artillerymen, two by two, riding on pull horses and the caisson. Muleskinners drove a half dozen mules from a corral.

Masters watched the muleskinners load the animals with packs. He had read reports on the success of pack trains.

"They're the key to defeating the Indians," Masters said to Corporal Moore, a squat, lantern-jawed Irishman. "They can go where wagons can't. Units can split off and pursue bands of any size and track down strays. It's a tactic that is working."

"They don't stand a chance," the corporal said.

At Captain Stanwell's bellowing command to move out, the guidon bearer for D Troop held the pennant high and lowered it to stow the standard's pole in a sleeve on his saddle. To Masters the movement of a cavalry troop had no equivalent in its unique package of sight and sound. Horses neighed and snorted. Hoofbeats provided a deep rhythmic base accompanied by the percussive cadence of metal striking against metal and the sharp outcries of a spirited band of soldiers.

Captain Stanwell dispatched Kiowa scouts to a handful of trails heading west. He nodded to Corporal Moore, a popular trooper who wore a perpetual smile. In a tenor's voice Moore began singing:

Around her hair she wore a yellow ribbon

She wore it in the spring time

In the merry month of May . . . 

Baritones and a few bass voices took up the song subduing Moore's tenor. The Irishman smiled; he had launched the chorus. He called for one of the new privates to accompany him. They galloped away on the main trail to the Point where they would stay miles ahead often within sight.

The clamor of troop movement on the vast plain served as a clarion to Indians for miles around. Smoke signals and scouts relayed the message: the cavalry was on a mission. As the day wore on, southerly winds like an unseen broom brushed dust from the prairie floor and plastered the faces of horses and riders. Five hours in the saddle quieted songsters. The troop halted at the Canadian River. Horses were watered.

On the opposite side of the Canadian, Corporal Moore and the other soldier were about to reenter the river and return to the column. Moore heard a fast-moving, flitting sound. With a thump, an arrow struck his upper back.

"My God," he yelled. "I got a tree stickin' in me."

He slumped over and slipped off his horse.

The private dismounted and knelt next to Moore. The corporal groaned. In the distance an Indian on his pony fled, yipping, and flourishing his bow. The soldier stood and uselessly fired his carbine. The private had no need to call for help. Masters on Zachary was leading a mounted squad and a white-coated surgeon splashing across the river toward him.

Moore lay unconscious. The doctor removed the shaft and the Comanche iron-tipped arrowhead from the muscle.

Four cavalrymen, each bearing a corner of Moore's stretcher, transported the corporal across the river to a table standing next to the medicine wagon. A physician's assistant unfolded a travois. Troopers connected it to Moore's mount Indian style. Semi-conscious and hurting, Moore was placed on the travois. He and two escorts began the trip back to Fort Sill. The travois dragged past the soldiers of Troop D, their faces grim and set. Now blooded, they were even more ready to fight.

* * *

Kiowa scout Morning Bear, a feather in his swept-back black hair and wearing an Army blue blouse and trousers, approached the column on the main trail. He rode his pony at a trot, saving him for a harder ride that he knew would come.

"Fifteen, twenty," he said in broken English to Captain Stanwell, pointing to the trail. "Moving, ten miles, past Medicine Bluffs."

"How many warriors?" Stanwell asked.

"Four, maybe five."

Captain Stanwell called for Sergeant Masters. He wanted the sergeant for the task ahead. The young man had impressed him with his zeal and readiness to obey orders.

"Take a dozen men and some mules, and follow Morning Bear," he said. "He's located a band of twenty with four or five warriors. You should reach them when they are bedding down tonight. Hit them hard after sundown. The fewer prisoners the better. Use your own judgment."

After a moment's thought that came from deep inside, Masters asked for the troop bugler to ride with him.

Stanwell agreed. "Go to it. Good hunting. We will stay to the south of the Wichita range on the main trail. You should find us there. For this band, use your own judgment, sergeant," he said.

"There are women and children," Masters said affirmatively.

"I assume so," the captain said. "Again, use your own judgment."

The captain's eyes looked hard at Sergeant Masters trying to convey to him without words that he wanted no prisoners. It was an awkward moment.

Minutes later, Masters, his bugler, the squad, and the mules, galloped behind Morning Bear on his pony heading west. He mulled over the captain's advisory, "good hunting," and thought it flippant. He figured the captain had no qualms about killing any Indian—man, woman, or child. While the troop was enroute to Fort Sill, he had heard him repeatedly refer to them as "savages."

No matter how the government or any Army officer felt about Indians, Sergeant Masters at this hour was facing the reality of a showdown. With the sun still high in the blue sky, he began mapping a strategy keeping in mind the potential for a massacre. A trooper could fire his weapon accidentally. An Indian might simply want to fight and spark a wider conflict. He devised the outline of a plan he hoped would avoid slaughter. He kept thinking about the ramifications of his plan when, on his command, the troop moved out.

Ex-Confederate Corporal Hanks riding a chestnut horse joined Morning Bear and his pony on a reconnoiter, stirring up dust as they galloped ahead. The troopers rode under the blazing sun well into the afternoon hours. Once the column skirted the southern foothills of the Wichita range, Masters ordered troopers to slow from a trot to a walk. The flat prairie had altered to a welcome landscape of rolling hills that hid the troop's movement. The tall grass reminded him of fields of Ohio wheat waving in the wind. At that moment Morning Bear and Hanks came riding over the horizon. They had located the band.

Masters assembled the squad and spoke of his plan to surround the camp. He ordered the men to "be wary. Don't start shooting until you hear a command or unless you run into a bad situation. We 're going to use the bugle. We will let this tribe know we are present. If you meet with resistance, and I mean if a warrior is going for his bow or rifle, stop him. Spare the women and children if it is possible."

At this instruction, Hanks's face grimaced. Other troopers nodded. Morning Bear emitted a loud grunt, agreeing to interpret and relay commands to the band. Masters told the scout to keep repeating the offer of safe conduct.

The sun was above the horizon when the troop remounted and followed Morning Bear. Masters swallowed; his mouth filled with cotton. The cavalrymen moved quickly, deliberately, and each face showed nervous quiet and concern.

Smoke from cooking fires climbed in the fading light to the west, marking the camp. Morning Bear indicated the band had gathered in a small depression. He demonstrated by holding his arms out in a bowl shape and pointing to the middle.

The Army steeds were quartered. Wind picked up as darkness fell. Troopers crept quietly on foot to points around the unguarded camp and lay waiting for the bugle call. Ponies roped together, nickered. Squaws cooked food in pots on several fires. Children played around the flames. Men sat together in front of two wickiups freshly covered with red and yellow blankets.

Masters ordered the bugler to blow reveille. The sound rang around the hills like sharp cracks of thunder. In between bugle calls, Morning Bear let out a yell and shouted, "Camp surrounded. Camp surrounded" in Comanche dialect.

On hearing the bugle, a young warrior jumped up and dashed to a hillside carrying a bow and his quiver of arrows. Reaching the crest of the hill in quick succession, he fired two arrows. One shaft hit Corporal Hanks. He fell, groaning. A volley of carbine shots brought down the Indian, a Comanche. He rolled down the hillside.

The shootout aroused a lively, shocked response in the camp. Indians started running in all directions. Squaws screamed. Ponies stamped hooves and snorted. Old men stood up, stunned. Morning Bear kept issuing pleas to drop weapons and gather around the two fires. After a few chaotic minutes, the Indians moved to the fires. In a sing-song chant, Morning Bear issued the safe conduct message again and again. Masters shouted an order for soldiers to advance from their positions in a show of force.

Troopers searched the camp and wickiups. They found a few Infantry rifles and numerous bows, quivers, and spears. An old, gray-haired man, Mukwooru (Spirit Talker) gave up a Colt .45-caliber revolver. Through Morning Bear, Masters sent assurances that no one would be hurt if they stayed together and returned to Fort Sill. Finally, Morning Bear said, "Sleep, sleep. Go back in morning."

A count of captives numbered twenty, five older and four young men, five children and the remainder women. Troopers buried the bullet-ridden body of the Comanche and marked the site of Corporal Hanks's interment. Masters placed troopers at four corners on hillsides around the camp. Another soldier kept fires going through the night while Indians slept wrapped in blankets or crowded in wickiups.

At dawn, the number of the captured dropped to nineteen. A desperate warrior had eluded the guards and took a long-barrel Army infantry rifle from the ammunition wagon. After breakfast, soldiers watched the clans gather their belongings and start on the Fort Sill trail.

With a solemn face, Mukwooru with resignation, said, "We return to Soldier House at Medicine Bluffs," the Indian name for Fort Sill.

* * *

Captain Stanwell spotted Sergeant Masters' returning column. He ordered Troop D to a halt. Distress showed on the officer's stern face. He repeatedly rapped his mount's reins on his thigh. He did not expect any captives.

Returning troopers and the Indian band approached Stanwell's column and passed by a graveyard of rotting bison carcasses and white bones. Smelling the odor of decomposition and seeing the devastation, Comanche elders waved their arms, pointing fingers at the colossal waste. Squaws whimpered, shuffling along with children. Young men in the band witnessed the wanton destruction, and anger rose in their hearts.

Masters' mind rolled over a few thoughts. Was it a coincidence that Indian captives and the soldiers were coming together at the site of a buffalo slaughterhouse. Or had a mysterious form of fate played a hand. He noticed soldiers shaking their heads over the destruction. A shift of winds spread the stench. Masters smelled the disgusting odor. He was not alone among soldiers who recognized rotting flesh and bones as ample evidence of the government's failure, negligence, and man's inhumanity to man.

Captain Stanwell was not moved by inhumanity. He took notice of the rage burning in the braves' eyes. He welcomed the opportunity to quell trouble and, if necessary, to carry it off with violent effectiveness. He called for three men, two he named, Atkins and Snyder, and a third who happened to be next to them. Their horses trotted over, and they stood by, carbines ready. He spoke to the three. Masters could not hear what he said.

Masters' horse Zachary ambled toward Captain Stanwell. The sergeant saluted. Stanwell barely acknowledged the gesture, consumed by the smoldering eyes of the young warriors. At Stanwell's command and at gunpoint, two of the three troopers dismounted and pulled the braves, one by one, from the band. They resisted. The captain drew his pistol and fired into the air. The soldiers used rifle butts to batter them. Then with ropes flung to them by Stanwell, the soldiers strung the braves together around their necks and hands.

At the beating of the resisters, Masters grew apprehensive. Without warning, the captain and three troopers moved out, dragging the semi-conscious warriors. The remaining soldiers in two columns had dismounted and stood at ease. They watched as the prostrated Indians were dragged over a hill out of sight.

After a few minutes, one after another, shots rang out, then three more. Seconds later, the third trooper galloped over the hill.

"The captain's been shot. And two troopers down."

Sergeant Masters spurred Zachary and called for a squad to follow. On the other side of the hill Captain Stanwell and two soldiers lay crumpled on the ground. Their horses had run loose. The three braves lay stretched out. They each had been shot in the back of the head. A search of the area located a dead Comanche. Morning Bear identified him as one who escaped from camp the previous night.

Masters asked the survivor, Private Wills, "What happened?"

"The captain ordered us to shoot. I didn't want to. We all hesitated. The Indians were not armed. They had fallen to their knees. The captain was furious and went up to each and fired his sidearm at the back of their heads. Then we were fired on. I didn't know who was shooting. The captain was hit first. We couldn't see the attacker. He fired again and again and hit the other two men. Then I saw the shooter in the distance and answered with my carbine. I got him."

Masters sighed deeply. He took mental notes of how the Indians had been bound and shot. He confiscated the carbines and marked each with their owner's name. The Indian's long-barreled rifle, a standard 1871 Army infantry weapon, was tagged.

Over the next few hours, elders and squaws carried out a ceremony filled with cries of mourning and drums. They wrapped the dead in blankets. The elder Comanche Mukwooru approached Lieutenant Wilson, now in command, and asked permission to bury the four in the Wichita range twenty miles to the east. Wilson hesitated. With the captain dead under peculiar circumstances and the fort not many days away, he thought it best to return to Sill immediately.

Masters spoke up.

"Lieutenant, remember General Grierson's advice. Lean up a little. We don't lose anything. We can provide escort for the burial in the mountains and then proceed to Fort Sill."

"But what do we gain?"

"We are more likely to win the peace with these people."

"Alright. You can take them. After the ceremony, return to Fort Sill immediately."

Wilson dispatched an escort to accompany the burial team with Masters in charge. He permitted the use of ponies that belonged to the four dead braves to bear them to the mountains. The squad moved out with the sergeant at the lead. Mukwooru, a few elders and most of the women walked behind the funeral horses carrying the possessions of the deceased toward the Wichita mountains.

* * *

From the campaign's start, Buffalo soldiers played a unique role. The troop split into squads and roamed trails with a mission to assist scouts and Army units searching for escaping Indians. Veterans, they knew the territory and were skilled in combating the renegades' hit-and-run tactics. The pack animals allowed them to stay on the trails for extended periods.

Sergeant Jeremiah Nelson and his squad had halted in the foothills of the Wichita range. Using his binoculars, he observed the two troop columns converging at Buffalo boneyard. He did not hear the exchange of gunfire that killed Stanwell and the two soldiers. He saw the columns merge and move out for the post. He watched as the unit split off and started in his direction.

"They are coming for a burial in the mountains," he said to his corporal.

On a similar mission more than a year before, he had escorted a burial team to the Wichita range to a site Comanches regarded as sacred ground.

Nelson scanned the wide expanse for a war party. He had seen signs of a band but lost the trail after dark. He worried the small squad approaching his position might be vulnerable. Then he thought a war party would respect the dead and not attack until after the ceremony. He continued to observe the squad and had a feeling a renegade band or two were watching them.

The burial party came within a mile of his position. He identified his friend Jonathan Masters wearing his white cavalry Stetson hat with the front part of the brim pushed back. He also recognized his Morgan horse, Zachary, leading the party.

Jeremiah was upbeat seeing his old friend. He remembered good times growing up and some bad. Jonathan defended him once against a taunting crowd of farm boys they encountered during a swim in Elkhorn Creek. Together, they fought two of the bigger of the brutish set, emerged victors, and managed to find their horses for a getaway from the crowd. Jeremiah remembered the odd sense of freedom as their horses galloped away from the clutches of farm boys.

The chaos of war ended his close relationship with Jonathan. After the war Jeremiah tried to locate him in the ranks. He didn't know that his White friend had joined a volunteer brigade formed in Cincinnati. The brigade disbanded after the war and its personnel records were lost. When in Lexington to settle the Grandfather Masters' affairs, Jonathan inquired after Jeremiah to no avail.

Together once again, they now had much in common, each a veteran of the Civil War, holding the rank of sergeant, and cavalrymen. More important, that old bond from the time when they rode horses together and dealt with hate, resumed easily when they laid eyes on one another only days before.

When Jonathan's squad reached the foothills, he recognized Jeremiah astride his horse, Bourbon, at the head of a squad of Buffalo soldiers.

"Now we can work together," Jonathan said.

"We can do jus' that," Jeremiah said.

He inspected the deceased and checked for markings.

"They are Comanches of the Kotsoteka band, known as 'Buffalo eaters,'" he said. "I know where the burial will be in the mountains."

Mukwooru pointed to the first hill strewn with irregular rock formations. Jeremiah nodded.

A two-hour uphill ride brought the procession to a plateau where niches and caves scarred the mountainside. Squaws prepared bodies for burial. The elders and squaws interred the dead in a cave. Boulders were shoved and earth shifted to seal the mouth. At sundown women began wailing. Mourning continued into the night. Elders stacked possessions of the dead, handmade wood saddles modeled after the McClellan saddle, blankets, and a few items made of bone and leather, and cast them into a roaring fire.

"The big fire is a signal. Every renegade within twenty miles will know there are burials here," Jeremiah said.

"We can get started early in the morning," Jonathan added.

Jeremiah said, "Better let women do grieving. It shouldn't take long."

Jeremiah sent three of his dismounted soldiers on their own into the night. They used their 'night eyes' to scan for prowlers across upper and lower sections of the rock-strewn hillside.

The fire burned radiantly until the moon rose, illuminating the sky and laying a silvery stratum of light on the stony mountain.

In the morning Jeremiah's scouts reported several campfires in the distance, an indication of two renegade bands.

At daybreak, the two sergeants talked.

"We got some company," Jeremiah whispered.

Squaws restarted a fire and resumed wailing. A companion of Mukroowu beat the drum slowly. Soldiers of the two units shared a fire and brewed coffee. They chewed hardtack and jerky and distributed food to elders and women. Within an hour the soldiers, tribal elders and women took to the trail for the two-day ride to Fort Sill.

The scattered clouds of early morning dissolved by 9 a.m. Under blue sky and light winds, the column proceeded at a rapid pace through grassy scrub. Elders and squaws rode ponies of the dead braves. A pair of soldiers from Jeremiah's squad had pushed on ahead. Jonathan's men welcomed their taking the Point. Another two scouted on the flanks of the column.

Mountains in the Wichita range loomed in the distance.

"Best to take the southern route," Jeremiah said.

"Southern route it is," Jonathan responded. "We might catch up with Wilson."

"Good idee to return to the fort. Captain dead, and we got a sizeable band to bring back."

Troopers followed the main trail. Jeremiah knew it well. His troopers had marked the trail painting dabs of paint on boulders. Soldiers had widened the trail in places to allow wagons to pass.

The two sergeants rode together at the head of the column.

"What's your plan for after the Army?" Jonathan asked.

"Nothing big. I'd like to buy a piece of property and farm, get a wife, and have a bunch of kids." Jeremiah smiled and laughed in such a way that Jonathan knew that he meant what he said.

"Looking at any place special?"

"Maybe Kansas or even farther north, Nebraska maybe. A place with a lot of water. I like a lot of water, a stream that's long, wide and flowing, like the Platte River."

"How 'bout you?"

"My enlistment is up soon. I've got my eye on officer training at the artillery school at Fort Monroe in Virginia. I was a clerk for the commandant. He said he would give me a chance at officer training. First, I had to do a tour in the West."

"As if the war wasn't enough to make you a soldier. Where'd you serve in the war?"

"In Virginia. I was a replacement in the 110th Infantry Brigade, Ohio Volunteers. We were part of the siege of Petersburg, Virginia. That was after the disaster at the Crater. All those Black soldiers wasted."

Jeremiah nodded, remembering. "I jined to be a fighter for what people called freedom. I was thinking 'bout freedom in a way that mos' people look at heaven. Then I got practical. I was hopin' that freedom would jus' let me to git paid for my work, my sweat. Then there was the battle at the Crater. It changed everything for me. I was fightin' for my life. Everybody was. Both sides. After the Crater I realized the war was about something a lot bigger than jus' me. For a while I thought freedom meant that you'd just be left alone. Lately I've been building on that. It's not enough to be left alone. You've got to be recognized and have a sense of dignity. And it applies to everybody. Does that make sense?"

"It's more than sense. It is the heart working rightly," Jonathan said. "Joining up was all personal with me. I wanted to hit back at the people who killed my father. That was the motivation. Revenge. When I saw the Crater and heard about the hand-to-hand fighting, what people were doing to stay alive and have a station in life, man, I knew we were fighting for a cause greater even than preserving the Union."

"True then, true now," Jeremiah said.

The irony of what they were saying while escorting Indians to a reservation as if they were criminals struck the two soldiers like a lightning bolt. Didn't freedom apply to them as well? The soldiers rode on quietly, thinking.

"Sometimes I feel like a slave driver," Jeremiah said.

Jonathan said, "I will get on my high horse. This is the outcome of a failed government policy, dishonest treaties, and gutless politicians. The Army is left to pick up what is left over. General Grierson is carrying on, doing the right and proper thing. Without him as a guide, where would we be?"

Jeremiah agreed with a nod.

The distant sound of gunfire reached the column. Instinctively, the soldiers looked down the trail toward Medicine Bluffs. They could make out a disturbance on the plain. A flock of birds was scattering in front of the thick ascent of dust and smoke. Rifle fire crackled. Muzzles flashed, seen even from their distant position.

Jonathan assigned troopers to guard the Indian band. Jeremiah and his squad galloped toward the scene. Jonathan followed with his squad. They rode hard toward the sound and sight of battle.

Comanches from two bands had attacked Lieutenant Wilson's column as it was treading toward Fort Sill. The sudden lightning charge lasted a few minutes and broke up the column. When the Indians retreated, Lieutenant Wilson organized the troop by shouting and pointing. He set up a line of defense in front of a hillside of boulders. Troopers herded horses to safety behind the hill and lay in a crooked row finding refuge behind large rock formations. The artillerymen positioned the two Napoleons on a level stretch awaiting a second charge.

A song of echoing sounds and sharp pitches filled the air to the vibrating beat of drums. While preparing for another charge, the Comanches dispatched several skilled warriors to snipe at the soldiers. The warriors crept quietly toward the troop's flanks as chilling vocals filtered by a light wind dispersed across the plain.

Ten minutes of chants ended with silence. Comanches launched the attack, riding their ponies with furious abandon. Cannon fire ripped through the center; the line of Indian attackers separated into drives on the troopers' flanks. They fired their weapons and pierced the air with flights of arrows.

Jeremiah's squad reached the battle, firing as they rode. They broke the charge against Wilson's left flank, littering the land with writhing bodies and ponies streaming riderless. In the lead, Jeremiah was struck by an arrow in his right chest that pitched him back on his horse, Bourbon.

On the other flank, riflemen picked off warriors one by one. Only a few managed to escape, chased down and recovered by Jonathan and his squad.

The battle was over in minutes.

* * *

The cavalry's covered wagons bearing Jeremiah and other wounded, five troopers and a dozen Comanches, rolled into Fort Sill. Doctors met the wounded and wheeled them on stretchers into the hospital. Troopers escorted captives to a temporary enclosure in the Wichita Indian Agency.

Before Comanches were moved, old chief Mukroowu saw Jonathan and said, "Young people are no more. This is like death. We live on food from the government. We are like grasshoppers on the prairie, eating and doing nothing else."

Jonathan was speechless.

General Grierson joined Jonathan in the company of the Indian agent. Using Comanche language, the agent spoke to the captives asking for cooperation. General Grierson looked over the assembly. Men and women, pathetic and downcast, stood together, their families their sole bond. His heart moved by the scene, he felt the need to do something kind and merciful. He heard from an officer that Jonathan successfully led the escort of Indians to the sacred burial ground.

"My dear people. I authorize a revisit to the scene of battle. You may take possession of the bodies of your brave warriors. I also offer the assistance of our troops to accompany you on a procession to your sacred ground."

Mukroowu and others responded with murmurs of gratitude.

Anxious about Jeremiah's health, after completing his duties Jonathan walked to the hospital. In the main ward he passed by the wounded in hospital beds under white sheets. Jeremiah was not among them. He asked an orderly about him.

"That Black soldier died this morning. From the loss of blood. We couldn't help him. The arrow hit an artery."

The words stunned Jonathan. "Where is he?"

"In the morgue, a room out back," the orderly said. "I hear he was a good soldier. God knows we need men like him to manage this mess we've got."

On a stretcher lay Jeremiah's body. He had been stripped of his blue uniform and lay under a sheet. When the fatal arrow was removed, his flesh tore and now showed a deep black against his brown skin. Rigor mortis had already begun, pinching his once noble features into a death mask.

"He gave his all," Jonathan said. He viewed the body and fondly remembered him as a boy. He saw him smiling, riding a stallion on a sunny warm day racing through Blue Grass pastures. He thought of him as a man, once a slave, then free, once a boy, then a soldier, a duty-bound cavalryman, brave as a lion charging into battle.

Images of Jeremiah remained with Jonathan. He was proud to have known him. Their reconnecting at Fort Sill seemed a minor miracle. He remembered Jeremiah's favorite saying, "If it is worth doing at all, it's worth doing well."

The next day, First Sergeant Jeremiah Nelson's body, dressed in Army blues and lying inside a flag-draped wood coffin atop a rolling caisson, was borne to the Fort Sill cemetery. A troop of Buffalo soldiers from the Tenth Cavalry led the procession. Jonathan and cavalrymen from the Sixth rode behind.

General Grierson, knowing that Jonathan and Jeremiah were friends, asked Jonathan to join him at the grave to say a few words. After the chaplain ended the blessing, Jonathan dismounted and took a place where he could see the cavalrymen and their horses lined up at attention. The horses nickered. A light wind tumbled mesquite. Quiet fell on the funeral scene. Jonathan spoke:

"We know the greatness of this country and the values that are part of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. Those values represent an ideal that we must always pursue. We are pledged to defend the United States and to carry out the commands of our military and civilian authorities even when we sometimes need to grit our teeth. Sergeant Jeremiah Nelson did this, willingly and well.

Jonathan paused to see the response of his fellow soldiers. They appeared serious and listening.

"We can speak of the heroism of the past, in the Revolution and in the recent Civil War, and the struggles many people have endured to preserve and advance freedom. Sergeant Nelson was a product of this nation, divided as it was, divided as it is still in many ways. In his case he was a slave and then he was freed. He told me the Army had become his home. Truly, he had few alternatives. And he made the best of it. He did not shrink from danger, veteran of a dozen skirmishes and wounded once. And now he has died in another, his last, battle. To me, the heroism he displayed is the stuff of what this country is all about. He accepted the responsibility to do his duty, first to himself, then to his fellow soldiers, and to his fellow citizens.

"God bless him and the United States of America."

A rifle team of cavalrymen fired a salute. A bugler blew a sonorous "Taps," and General Grierson dismissed the troop.

Jonathan mounted Zachary and rode toward the stables. All the way, he kept thinking what a privilege it was to know a man who had done his duty.

The End

Freelance writer James Ott is a retired writer for former McGraw-Hill publications Aviation Week and Business Week. The author of The Greatest Brush, a biography of the artist Frank Duveneck, and three other books, he served at Fort Sill with the Army Reserve. He lives in Crescent Springs, Kentucky.

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