February, 2024

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Issue #173

All The Tales

The Shadow of a Star
by Dick Derham

I was packing the tin in those days, just a small five-pointed star with two words stamped into it, but that little hunk of metal cast a bigger shadow than I ever did, and proud I was to wear it, making me one of twenty-six Arizona Rangers, who never had to prove their right to be called "man" not even in the toughest of the outlaw dives in the territory.

I hadn't come to the badge natural—come to think of it, none of us had. Each of us blazed his own trail through the trackless desert of life on the frontier. Me, growing up as I did in the rough country of the Tonto, among solitary cattlemen and sheepherders, with our neighbors being hard-driving rustlers and black-bearded outlaws and sometimes which was which depended on the day of the week, my schoolyard friends were proudly tough, my enemies were the same, and anyone who couldn't handle himself well enough to fist his way to respect was beaten down—and when I say beaten down, I don't mean with fists. No one wasted a bruised knuckle on a girlie-boy. We just left them to shrink within themselves until they dropped out of school and moved on.

Most of us figured we'd follow the trail of our father, none of us being too finicky about something city folks called "the law." My real education didn't come from musty books but from my schoolmates. Some of my best friends were the boys who taught me their father's trick of hobbling a wet calf, not yet weaned, so it couldn't keep up with its mama and could be stolen and fresh branded easy, or how a man could learn the hidden springs in the Chiricahua Mountains and trail his "borrowed" herd all the way to Mexico without meeting any unfriendly opposition, or how a red-hot running iron was all an artist of the Mesquite needed to transform a "Rafter C" into a ready-for-sale "Diamond O", all useful knowledge for a fellow growing to manhood in a country free of juries, judges and such impediments to a free life.

The real outlaws were standoffish a bit, but once they knew you were a friend of their son, they were the most generous, warmhearted men you'd ever know. And the stories I learned from their sons riding home from school made me anxious to apprentice myself as a horse thief, cattle rustler, even stage robber before I turned fourteen.

One difference between outlaws and rustlers I could tell: outlaws were all straight-shooters, at least in their home range. If an outlaw gave you his hand on something, you could consider it done. Rustlers were some shiftier. But still, they were good neighbors. The only time one of them practiced his trade on some local cattle, he got visited by the others of his kind and given a week to leave the country. Maybe they have a bad reputation to some folks, but in those days, there was more honesty in the Tonto rough country than in some towns I could name.

It was spring, a month before school was out for the chores of summer when my two best buddies told me how they planned to show their fathers that they were grown up by making a raid on a sheep ranch. They talked me into joining them. Well, they didn't have to talk too hard, it being a real manly adventure and them being the boys I looked up to in the schoolyard. But I had the bad luck—maybe the good luck, the way it turned out—of getting my arm broke in a fall in the barn the week before we was to leave. Laid me up a month, and by then Bobby and Frank had become "guests" of the territorial penitentiary at Yuma.

That was the year, Pa sold off all his herd and moved us to town. Maybe he did it to change my associates, he never said. At first, I hated town. I missed the freedom of riding horseback to school, of doing good, honest farm chores out in the fresh air of the country. Even cleaning out the fragrant muck in the stable was pleasanter to the nostrils then the mixed-up odors of town life. Add to that all the petty "thou shalt not's" adults dreamed up to stifle any spirit of freedom among us kids and I learned to hate city life before I'd been there a week.

Not that the schoolyard was much different. Right from the start, me and the other boys were sniffing each other and by the second week, a kid called Butch figured it was time to show me who ran things. He waited until school was out and I knew what was up when the other boys didn't run off home like usual. But I had been sizing him up too. A year's growth he had on me, not bigger as much as heftier, and the way the other boys deferred to him, I had quickly known I'd have to put him in the dirt sooner or later.

Miss Rogers was watching from the schoolhouse window but she knew there was more growing up in what we was about to do than in hearing her spout about someone dumping tea in Boston Harbor. Butch didn't waste time with words to give me a chance to kowtow to him. He knew what he wanted and my fists were hungry too. I dropped into a fighting crouch and motioned him toward me.

For the next half hour, the dust in the schoolyard got a good deal of rearranging, the blood dripping from my nose not settling it too much, and I got bruised where it showed and where it didn't. There was cheering for him—no kid would dare cheer against him—which powered my own efforts, knowing others were measuring the force of my fists and making their own plans to "get to know me better". We was going on half an hour and I could see he was nearing his limits. Two or maybe three more good punches and he'd be down and calling "uncle". Problem was I was plum spent, it never having taken me that long to flatten anybody in the Tonto. And so it ended.

When I got home, my Pa looked at my torn shirt and ask only one question: "who won?

"He did," I admitted. "This time."

It was the last two words my Pa cared about. It is no character flaw to lose a fight; it's giving up that demeans a man.

I didn't tell my Pa how the fight went, the times I had Butch down, the blood spattering from his nose for a change, or how satisfying his whoosh of air was the time I buried my fist in his belly. That would seem like bragging and he'd just remind me that I lost.

I also didn't tell Pa about the one thing that surprised me the most, that had never happened in fights on the Tonto. What I was finally down, and struggling uselessly to get up, Butch was standing over me with a broad grin, like I'd seen before, like I'd given kids I had put in the dirt, but different somehow.

"You're the dirtiest fighter I ever seen," he told me, even though I had never done anything different from the fights in the Tonto. Then he reached his hand down to help me up. "That was fun," he told me. I wasn't so sure about it being fun, not yet, especially since I was already thinking about next time. Then he put his arm around my shoulders. "You and me, Joe. We're going to be best friends."

Funny thing is, he was right. The only thing bad—maybe you'll say good—was that there was no more schoolyard fighting. The two of us could have taken any three or four of the others and they knew it. And I wasn't even his acolyte, like sometimes you saw in the Tonto. Him and me were equals right from the start.

At first, I missed the fighting, measuring myself against other boys was a big part of our path to manhood, or so we told ourselves on the Tonto. But something else was happening, something I didn't understand right away. I was spending more time in the school room sneaking a peek at the girls. They were changing too, in a way more obvious at first glance. And town girls turned out to be less impressed with the solid crack of a boy's knuckles against someone's jaw than they were about the gentleness of his hands in theirs. I was learning all sorts of unexpected things about becoming a man.

One thing I did not know about Butch, not for three or four weeks, something that likely would have put the kibosh on any idea we could be friends. Then one Saturday, after some of us had been playing this Eastern game called baseball we swung by his house. His mother brought out the milk and cookies and it seemed the end of a good day, but then his father walked in and I wanted to be somewhere else right quick. Pinned to Mr. Bradley's shirt was the badge of a Deputy Sheriff, a black-mark for sure on Butch if I had known it. But by then, we were such good friends, I forgave him for the sins of his father.

In time I saw his pa didn't seem like such a bad sort at all. Maybe not as carefree as some of the rustlers back home, maybe not as glamorous as the outlaws. But when you got to know him, Mr. Bradley wasn't much different from the men of the Mesquite's. Oh, he had his ways about him, things he approved of and things he didn't approve of, and they were not the same as Mr. Jennings or Mr. Piper back in the Tonto, but once he knew you were a friend of his son, he was warm and generous.

I was learning about a new way of looking at life. Maybe it was Mr. Bradley, maybe it was being in town where I could see how folks relied on each other, but somehow the glamour of "making a withdrawal" seemed different when you knew people who put their own money in banks. I began to think rustling and robbing wasn't the only way to make a living.

Then, finally, schooling was out for good. What I had always yearned for—being a man on my own—had come and I had to choose which fork on the trail I would ride. Turn one way and ride back to the Tonto and a familiar life of freedom. Turn the other and make myself into a "civilized" man.

Should I stay in town and get a job as night man mucking out the stables at McCutcheon's livery? Spend my days at Olson's Drygoods packing store shelves and sweeping the sidewalk? Or could I apprentice myself to a saw and a hammer and try to teach myself to pound nails for a living? And never again see the wide-open sky uncluttered by storefronts, never smell the fresh sage unpolluted by town stink?

I knew I could go back to the country. I knew for certain that Mr. Jennings or Mr. Piper or one of the other men would welcome me into their crew, or I could aim one step lower and sign onto one of the rustler outfits, taking part of my share in cows and build up my own herd, following a natural track, one that had been there for me from birth. The carefree life of a robber promised less work but My pa had drilled into me that work was what earned a man his space on this earth. Some nights, lying in my blankets, going back to the Tonto seemed mighty fine. But other nights I thought about Mary Jo at the school, and the things she said about country folks were not the way I wanted to be seen by her.

The freedom of the Tonto was part of me—the free, open spaces, where a man got his dinner with his rifle and lived with the elements of God's world, the cowman's world, the rustler's world, a world where a handshake and a straightforward meeting of the eyes was the measure of a man.

But I was also partly of the town, now, where I'd been transformed from a boy to a man, a world where freedom yielded to duty, where a man earned respect not with his fists, but with steady, dependable work that others could rely upon. In towns there was friendship based on a deeper relationship than sweat and muscle power.

My Pa wasn't much for living my life for me. All he said was "every time you shave, you'll look in the mirror. Make sure you like the man you see."

So, I had to decide: which world would I live in? The open honest frankness of the Mesquite? Or the duty and dependency of city life. What kind of man would I be? The biggest question any man has to answer.


Somewhere along the line, one day while Butch and me was playing catch, Mr. Bradley asked Butch if he had looked into the forest ranger job. It was the first I had heard about it, and if I'd known the ways of adults better, I'd have figured he was really talking to me. Likely he knew one suggestion from an adult, and I'd do just the opposite. But what he told Butch, about riding the open country, sleeping under the stars, having fresh-caught trout for breakfast, all things I knew Butch had no interest in, got my juices flowing.

I put my name in, with Deputy Bradley's letter, and I got the job and rode off to begin the adventure we call life.. Before long, I was a forest ranger wandering the Black Mesa Forest, the White Mountains and the Black Mountains from Flagstaff to New Mexico line, feasting my eyes on the thick close-standing firs and blue spruce, the wide groves of white Aspen, with clearings in the valleys, streams with trout almost ready to leap into my frypan, the forest thick with black-tailed deer, mule deer, buck-tailed deer, this was my country.

There was parts of the job Mr. Bradley hadn't mentioned. Bookkeeping, first of all. Then there was the hassle of cajoling ranchers into paying their fees for grazing stock on public forest land, and soon I learned that forest fires didn't put themselves out, but demanded a lot of my time, energy, and urgency. Somehow, without knowing it, I was learning my wages came with work, but soon I was starting to feel a satisfaction every time I cajoled rancher Purvis into paying back fees, or organized a group of cowhands to put out a range fire before it got out of hand. And I was seeing other things, too. Though I hadn't thought of it when I signed up, outlaws, men like Black Jack Ketchum and his gang, spent some time on the Mesa, but that's a story for a different time.

I guess that's what readied me for my next move. The governor had decided that the territory, filling up as it was, could no longer rely on county sheriffs to track down criminals who could easily cross from one county to the next and leave the local law behind. Arizona needed a group of men not fenced in by county boundaries. That's how the Arizona Rangers came into being, twenty-six men to carry law and order into the Mesquite.

By then, I had become part civilized. The outlaws I encountered as a forest ranger, away from their home range, didn't seem as friendly and natural as my old neighbors on the Tonto, and the victims—I had begun to call them that—lived in a world with different rules. I guess I was beginning to see them as better rules.

Not that I was harkening for a town marshal job, where I'd spend my time jiggling store handles and running in drunks. Even a job as Deputy Sheriff was too town-confining for me. But Rangers would work on horseback, covering the whole state, and, it was quietly understood, would not be too fastidious about territorial or even national borders. By then I'd come to see that bringing in rustlers and robbers was a higher calling than collecting grazing fees.

So, riding down to Douglas where the new Rangers were headquartered was a natural step and before long, I had met Capt. Rynning, raised my hand and become "Ranger Number 13".

In one way I was a mite uneducated to be a Ranger. Others had life experiences that prepared them well for our work. Like Johnny Brooks, who'd learned all the rustling tricks outwitting lawmen while he drove his own stolen herds from Arizona to Mexico, swapping for Mexican beef, and driving them back. Like he told Capt. Rynning, there was money to be made both ways. Men like Johnny knew the ways of rustlers and, often as not, knew a rustler's move even before he did himself.

Others had their own stories of life in lawless Arizona, strong men of the back country who were confident enough in themselves and their skills that they didn't spend gun powder when it wasn't needed. What they all shared was a toughness, an ability to act quickly on their own, and the instincts to sniff out a trail across deserts and mountains for days without losing their prey.

Likely if you asked any of them why they "reformed", they'd just say they moved on to a better job. But not one of them ever disgraced their Ranger badge or betrayed their Ranger oath.

Even though I didn't have their "diverse experience with the law," Cpt Rynning saw that I knew the Tonto and Black Mesa better than most, that I was adept at trailing through the Mesquite, and so I bought my own qualifications.

We Rangers did all kinds of work, from chasing a Mexican gang that stole the mules from a Southern Pacific construction camp down into Mexico, to rounding up Chinese who had illegally entered from Mexico, to disarming saloons of heavy-drinking cowboys before things took their natural course.

But mostly, the Rangers were created to bring law to the Mesquite. Rustlers were our meat and potatoes, sometimes tracking gangs driving their stolen beef to the mining district of Colorado where butchers needed beef, sometimes to New Mexico to fatten up a rancher's herd, and sometimes just trailing after a loner who figured he'd be too small fry to justify the work of us tracking.

One time, the Arizona Livestock Board reported a wave of cattle rustling going on before spring round-up. Capt. Rynning didn't give me no instructions, just told me to put an end to it. I signed on as a cowhand on one of the main outfits, but to tell truly, I was riding the range. When I spotted a solitary horseman leading a roped calf, my "rustler-detector" activated and I followed the rider from far enough back that he didn't see me. Finally, I lost sight of him when he dipped down into a little valley. By the time I got there, the rustler had vanished, but I found a small fenced off pasture with thirty or forty calves, all of them fresh-branded. I had my man.

Well, not so fast, Ranger 13. I knew the calves, their hides still healing from the branding iron, were the rightful property of neighboring ranchers. But what a Ranger knows from the tip of his boots to the crown of his Stetson and what a mixed jury of bartenders, store clerks, and such will agree to with no "reasonable doubt" didn't always f4it together. Not when the rustlers had been washed up, shaved, and wore a clean shirt to make them seem young and friendly.

Here's where all my eager listening to my schoolmates in the Tonto came into play. I told you how "hobbling" a calf was the technique rustlers favored. It worked fine most times—once the calf taught it itself to eat grass for supper and the burn mark had healed, it was just another yearling. But some of them calves I had found were still "wet." I decided maybe I could make use of my Tonto education.

What I did seems simple in the telling, but it took some persuading of the ranchers that they should round up their cows—no need to trouble the steers—and take them away from money-making grazing and drive them into a corral near town, the drive running down solid beef and therefore costing the rancher even more money. And all this on my unproven promise that they would get some of their calves back.

But working with my old Tonto memories, I had a plan. We turned them partially weaned calves loose among the cattle. Somehow, don't ask me how, among all the teats bulging with fresh milk, a calf knows which one birthed him and won't even stop for a taste from any one else. And so, we had proof even a jury couldn't ignore. All the calves carried a fresh brand registered to a man named Andy Longfellow, and a warrant for his arrest was in my hands by nightfall.

In the morning, a good supply of chuck rolled into my blanket and tied behind my saddle, I returned to Longfellow's holding pen to track down my rustler. Longfellow had several days lead on me, and there was no telling where he was going, but I was a Ranger, and on the trail, with nothing to do but follow it, through broken and timbered country, toward the Tonto Rim. A town sheriff like as not would have got himself lost, but riding through timber had been my life for years. So, on the third morning, I came in sight of a night camp with a man stooped over the fire getting ready for breakfast.

If any of you read them Dime Novels they pass around back East, you know what happened next. I pulled out my six-gun, galloped into camp shouting "hands up." He dove to one side, slapping leather as he slid away from me, punched a hole through my hat, and as the hot beans went back and forth, I saved the Territory the cost of a trial. The Rangers always get their man. That's what the books say.

Sorry to disappoint you. That ain't the Ranger way. What Capt. Rynning says is "one live outlaw is worth ten dead ones."

Understand that we Rangers didn't wear a uniform, and we packed our badge in our pocket, so when I "Hallo'd" the fire, and he looked up, what he saw was an itinerant rider with the promise of conversation over breakfast. He gave me a friendly wave in and when I reached the fire, he invited me to "stand down."

I slid to the ground, my horse between us. "Don't mind if I do," I said. "You Andy Longfellow?" When he looked up it was not the barrel of a gun he saw, it was the star of the Arizona Rangers, something outlaws had a good deal more respect for than someone else's bullet-spitter.

Once I had his sixgun in my belt and had emptied his Winchester of its cartridges, I motioned to his frypan. "You make enough batter for flapjacks for both of us, and I'll toss in some bacon." For the next half-hour we did the work of breakfasting, talking, as men will, about things of the range, reminiscing, I did, about growing up on the Tonto. Then we mounted up and started out on a trip he'd as soon not have made.

Come nightfall, we made camp like two traveling pards. I didn't tie him for the night, on his promise he wouldn't try to escape. He'd been fair caught, and took it like the man he was. That was the power of the Arizona Ranger badge. There's a lot of talk about "the Badmen of the West", and I guess some like Black Jack Ketchum truly were, but most were just fellows trying to eke out a living the way their pas had, not understanding that Arizona was changing.

In less time than we had expected, the Arizona Rangers had worked ourselves out of a job. Unlimited crime was a thing of the past, and the Mesquite was safe for ranchers and their herds. How had we done it? The old-fashioned way, filling the prisons, one outlaw at a time.

The old Arizona is only memory now, and I'm proud to have been part of making Arizona a modern state.

The End

Authors note: this story is inspired by Line Rider, the memoir of Arizona Ranger Joseph Pearce. It's a good read.

Dick Derham, a native of Seattle, has been reading Western history and fiction since his teenage years. A member of the Wild West Historical Association, he has written over twenty stories for Frontier Tales.

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Rogue Scout and a Sacred Bundle
by James Ott

Half Yellow Face gazed at the night sky over the Wichita Mountains. The mysterious Milky Way brushed an opaque sheen across the firmament. The stars his late Pawnee father called 'gods' shined brightly.

The Army scout was enjoying an after-dinner stogie. He strolled alone in front of whitewashed buildings at Fort Sill. A coyote howled and yipped. On the steps of the barracks, blue-clad soldiers shared a bottle.

"Hey, want a swig?" one asked.

"Sorry, it might make me crazy. No more a good scout."

He spoke understandable English he had picked up from his mother, a white captive of the Pawnee.

"Just asking."

"Good of you," he responded.

"How'd you get such a name Half Yellow Face? Why not just plain Yellow Face?

"It's a long story."

"Tell us."

The scout thought for a few seconds. Should he tell them or not? He figured rightly it was a taunt. Suddenly there came to him an answer they might like.

"My father, a Pawnee chief, used to dump a full bucket of yellow paint over his head. They called him Yellow Face."

The soldiers roared with laughter.

When they stopped, a few shaking their heads, he added.

"I only use a half of a bucket and cover just half my face."

They roared again.

The soldiers settled down passing the gut warmer.

"Now there's one of the good ones," he heard a soldier say.

Half Yellow Face ignored the remark. He turned toward his barracks satisfied that his joke roused laughter. He liked the soldiers, mostly Civil War veterans, both ex-Gray and Blue. They were decent men doing often distasteful and lethal jobs. Chasing fugitive Indians, escorting them back to reservations they hated, and protecting railroad workers.

"You'd been asked how many times about your name?"

Corporal Rafferty came up beside the scout.

"More than a few."

"Nobody can understand the "half" part of it," the corporal said. "How'd it happen, really?"

"Seems long ago."

"Before the war?"

"Not sure of dates. I was with my mother. She was a captive of the Pawnee."

"Not Irish?"

"No. She was an immigrant, from the German part of Switzerland."

He paused, not wanting to get too personal. "Maybe one day I'll tell you about my name."

"Well, that's fine," said Rafferty, "Tomorrow's another day," he said, pinching off the fire end of his cigar and pocketing the stub. "A patrol beyond the mountains. The Skidi branch of the Pawnee are making trouble again."

"Not all of them. Just a few. We'll need a good sleep," the scout said. "Have a good night."

Rafferty turned to his barracks, whistling a melodic Irish tune.

The scout continued walking to his barracks. He knew all too well how he got his name. With traces of tribal pride, he remembered the account of his father's bravery told by an elder. In battle as a young brave, he had saved the life of the hereditary chief. Though wounded himself, he lanced with a spear an attacking Sioux warrior. In a ceremony later at the village, the chief daubed his father's face with yellow paste from gall bladders of bison, the color of bravery, and gave him a new name.

As his son and the offspring of a white woman he became Half Yellow Face.

The scout extinguished his stogie and dumped it in an old milk container. Inside the barracks he untied his yellow kerchief and pulled off his blouse bearing the stripes of a corporal. He sat on the cot, removed his lace-up brogans, leftovers from the Civil War. After hanging his clothing, he turned back the sheet and blanket. In his long underwear he stretched out on his cot thinking of what tomorrow might bring.

* * *

The bugler trumpeted reveille. Half Yellow Face lit a candle and washed his face from a bowl of cold water. He donned his uniform and walked outside, stretching his arms high and breathing deeply. The sun was just about to dawn. He smelled coffee and fried bacon coming from the Mess Hall.

At a corner table Pawnee scouts Joshua and Red Moon chewed bacon and warm bread. Half Yellow Face drew a cup of coffee and joined them with a plate of food. They ate quietly. When they finished, Joshua and Red Moon waited solemnly in their seats, arms folded. They spoke broken English that few comprehended and relied on Half Yellow Face to clarify orders.

Minutes later the Long Roll started, the lengthy and steady drumbeat alerting the post to an Assembly. Rafferty was among soldiers raising the flag, saluting while the bugler played. The unit of scouts, wearing a mix of Pawnee and Army clothing, lined up next to Troop D. From their cockeyed campaign hats, feathers poked up in all directions. The unconventional attire and uninhibited demeanor contrasted starkly with the scrupulously smart blue uniform worn by Half Yellow Face standing at attention.

From a raised platform the colonel's aide-de-camp read orders of the day. The officer said:

"It's true of what you've heard. Troop D and three scouts will be deployed with a pack train. They will track down a Pawnee band led by Tonkawa. Prepare for a campaign of three weeks," the aide said. "Based on previous experience, bed roll, haversacks, and extra socks are required. Heavy weather is likely, so prepare. Sergeants, see that each man is properly equipped. The colonel expects every man to do his duty. God bless America."

After dismissal, the scout Joshua, his leathered face sober and dignified, approached Half Yellow Face. His eyes, wide open, reflected great concern.

"Tonkawa?" he asked questioningly. "He is brother. No Pawnee to hunt down. Scouts from other tribes."

Joshua pointed to scouts from the Arikara tribe and said, "They do it."

Half Yellow Face understood his point.

"Tonkawa came with us from the Platte," he said. "He is the son of a chief. But he and his people raided a Union Pacific train. They killed three people. They must be brought to justice. They are fugitives, causing trouble and at the last word, they were heading south toward the Panhandle. It's important we show the Army that we can do this, even when it is our own people. We got the order to bring them to justice. They're in the wrong."

Joshua's face remained sober, his eyes revealing doubt. He left with Red Moon. They talked all the way to the barracks, stirring up dust as they walked. Half Yellow Face followed them wishing he could hear what they were saying.

In the barracks Half Yellow Face collected his gear. He placed in his haversack his father's sacred bundle, a leather satchel containing the vessel of hardened yellow paste and his father's knife. He had inherited the family bundle after his father's death in a battle with the Sioux. He tucked it carefully in the haversack. The bundle reminded him of the crucial importance of family to a Pawnee.

In less than an hour the mounted soldiers, the scouts, an ambulance and two wagons decamped taking the main trail west toward the Panhandle. On a gray stallion, Capt. Edward Higbee took the lead. Disgust read across the captain's face as if it had been painted there.

"We are just like the police, chasing down fugitives," he said to First Sergeant Evans astride a chestnut Morgan. "It's a low form of military activity."

As soon as the column moved out, Higbee asked Evans to call Half Yellow Face. Evans turned in the saddle and motioned to Half Yellow Face atop his Morgan steed Ramrod riding alongside the guide-on bearer.

When he arrived, the captain asked, "What's your plan?"

"I will send scouts to reconnoiter separate trails that come down from the north. I'm betting Tonkawa will choose one trail, probably the main one."

"Why the main trail?"

"He has friends along the way in the Palo Duro Canyon."

"It is approved," the captain said. "I want to wrap up this assignment as quickly as possible." "Let's go hard for two days, then give the horses a rest."

He thought for a moment, then asked, "Will Pawnee scouts do as they are told? How do you people feel about running down another Pawnee?"

"Joshua told me the Arikara scouts should do it. Family is important to Pawnees. There is no doubt the assignment will be hard for us. We know Tonkawa and some of his people. I look at it this way. They have broken the law."

"Sounds reasonable. Go ahead with the plan. By the way, Arikara scouts are on another assignment. They left the post before we did."

Half Yellow Face saluted and turned his mount Ramrod. He called Joshua and Red Moon from the column. They trotted off to the right flank. The horses whinnied and stamped. The scouts listened.

"The Arikara scouts have their own orders and have already departed. Tracking down Tonkawa is our assignment."

Then he checked the skins of water hanging off their McClellan saddles. He examined saddle bags bulging with food and ammunition. Red Moon's contained a bottle of hooch.

"Your carbines ready?"

They nodded.

He presented each with dinner plate-size mirrors.

"You can use these mirrors to send messages. When we get to the Palo Duro Canyon you can climb to a high point and see for many miles. The column should not be that far from you. We plan to move in that direction. If you are near the column, send one flash at midday to show where you are. To flash a second time, wait for the span of time between the calls of a Northern Harrier. In white man's terms, that is way more than a few seconds on the clock. Remember, three flashes right after one another means you have located the band. Send that message repeatedly."

With the white man's handshake, the scouts agreed and galloped off.

Half Yellow Face proceeded on the beaten-down main track well ahead of the column. A welcome sight was Rafferty riding his black horse, Dublin, to join him at the point.

When he pulled up, Rafferty said, "Go west, young man, seek and find your fortune. Now that was good counsel when I read it in the New York Tribune. The only way I could get to the west was courtesy of the U.S. cavalry. So here I am, going west and always returning to the east back to the fort. My Army life can be compared to riding a steam-powered carousel."

"Rafferty, you belong in an asylum."

"That's just where I am, and I love it. On Sundays and holidays mainly."

The riders searched the horizon and the high and irregular peaks looming ahead.

"How many times have you gone through the Wichita Mountains? Ten or more?" Half Yellow Face asked.

"The very day the post was opened a few years ago, the commandant sent me with a message inviting a local tribe to visit. They gave me a mount and I didn't have to walk. There were three of us, one with a U.S. flag, me, another with a Troop pennant, and the third man bearing a white flag. Tell you the truth, I was scared out of my mind. We passed Signal Mountain and there was the Indian camp. We were treated with civility and the chief accepted the invitation. It has been a downhill ride since. More like fifteen trips rather than ten."

"Rafferty, you are a good soldier. Take the left wing and I will take the right, closer to the main trail. If you see anything interesting, fire two shots."

As he trotted off Rafferty checked his sidearm and launched into the opening lines of The Girl I left Behind Me. Half Yellow Face liked Rafferty's tenor voice. The soldier sang in a lilting tone:

I'm lonesome since I crossed the hill,

And o'er the moor and valley,

Such heavy hearts my thoughts do fill

Since parting with my Sally.

Sally happened to be the name of Captain Higbee's daughter, a winsome girl who caught every soldier's eye on a visit last summer. Half Yellow Face was charmed by her smile and delightful manner. She wore a white dress at church and was eager to talk to anyone. Her flaxen hair was curled and long.

At the church door, she said to him, "You are a corporal of scouts. Very impressive."

"Thank you."

As he rode on the dusty plain, Sally's blonde hair reminded him of his mother, so proud and strong if not stubborn even in captivity. Out of necessity she wore Pawnee clothing, deer leggings and an elk skin dress. But she rejected the name, Yellow Moon, and defied her captors, saying:

"I am Mary Secrist and no other."

The sound of her name refreshed the image of her warm and agreeable face. He kept thinking about her. As a young man, already taller than she, he had asked many times, "How did you get here?" She always shrugged off the request until one quiet wintry night. He had pestered her. They sat around the fire in a snow-covered lodge. He remembered her blue eyes glistening in the firelight when she told him her story.

"We came from the Canton of Glarus in Switzerland." she said, "and crossed the Atlantic Ocean to Baltimore, Maryland. I lived with my parents. Father was a clock maker. Mother worked for the Carroll family cooking mostly. After the Gold Rush in California, father decided to move to San Francisco. He had a friend there. And he had this idea to make clocks for companies, industrial clocks he called them. We traveled to Pittsburgh and then down the Ohio River to St. Louis. We joined a wagon train in Missouri bound for California. We made good progress and were cutting through Nebraska Territory when it happened."

She stopped talking and put her two hands down on her lap. Tears welled up in her eyes; a drop escaped in a thin course on her right cheek.

"On that leg of the journey, our Conestoga was at the end of the long, winding train. It was near the close of the day. Raiding Pawnees, your father's own people, jumped our mules. A warrior yanked the reins right out of father's hands. An arrow to the chest killed my father right away. Then two arrows struck my mother right in succession. She fell from the wagon. I tried to hide inside. A young brave whooped and hollered when he found me. He roped my hands and dragged me behind his horse. I screamed all the while. Your father, a chief then, stopped him. He hoisted me on to his painted pony. I was young and I was grateful riding behind him. He left me at his lodge with other families on the Platte River."

The story stunned Half Yellow Face. She saw his distress. He gritted his teeth.

"There's more. This is the better part."

She paused, getting a grip on herself. "I loved your father," she said. "He loved me, and he believed in the values of his Skidi clan. I can't forget those first days in the lodge. I had to work hard. My wrists bled from rope burns. An old woman beat me with a big paddle. I was sore and bruised when your father came into the lodge. He cursed the old woman. He protected me, and I felt secure."

Mary Secrist's manner turned even more personal. She sat thinking, then said, "One night after a hunt, reeking of bison blood he came into the lodge. I was lying down. He came to me and took me, and I didn't resist. I became one of his wives and in time your mother. He is a good man. It never mattered to him that your skin was lighter than his, or that your hair even today is streaked with the color of flax, like mine."

Mellowed by these thoughts, Half Yellow Face rode on alone toward the setting sun. The warm images of his parents gave way to the recollection of the dreadful day when Mary Secrist was removed from his life. While he was away on a buffalo hunt, the Sioux raided the village. She was cut down and scalped. On his return, he found her crumpled body near the river, her blonde hair wrenched from her head, her face dirtied. He dreaded the image and regretted the recollection. He tried hard to wipe it away. At last, he succeeded by forcing his mind to the razor-sharp personal conflict affecting him and other scouts. He saw the issue as a clash of loyalty between a man's obligations to his family pitted against the need to abide by the laws of a good and lawful community. He knew where he stood but he was uncertain how Joshua and Red Moon would act.

* * *

As the bright autumn sun rose and fell on the troops driving through the Panhandle, the column pressed on hard at Captain Higbee's order. Midday of the third day, the officer called a halt. The horses needed to graze and rest before journeying through the lengthy and dry high plains.

Rafferty, off to the left of the column, kept his eye on the main trail and observed that Half Yellow Face had halted as ordered. He joined him at a bountiful site of grazing land near a creek of slow-moving clear water. Ramrod and Rafferty's mount, Dublin, foraged while the soldier and the scout ate salted beef and hardtack. They stuck picketing pins in the ground and secured horses.

Before turning in, Rafferty said, "I don't know Joshua and Red Moon all that well. They keep to themselves pretty much. I've never seen such straight faces. They never seem to even blink their eyes. It is hard to talk with them and even harder to understand them."

"Pretty quiet, those two. They do their jobs. They volunteered to work for the Army. In many ways they remain Pawnee. That's alright. Truth is I am worried that we have heard nothing from either one. I haven't seen one mirror flash. But then again, the rolling hills we just passed offered little chance to send a message."

"Well, I wouldn't expect them to bounce flashes across the prairie like a fiery tumbleweed."

Half Yellow Face laughed at the mental picture.

"The thing that bothers me is that they are out there alone. Joshua tends to brood about things. On the other hand, they did a handshake on this mission. That should mean something to them."

"Let's hope so."

Half Yellow Face mused over whether the white man's gesture, a handshake, would stand against the demands of the Pawnee idea of family.

The wind picked up as the stars appeared and twinkled in the darkening sky. The men rolled up in their blankets and kept an ear to the sound of riders.

As usual for Pawnee scouts Joshua and Red Moon traveled well ahead of the column. They drove their horses even harder than the soldiers of Troop D and had reached the high plains and approached the Palo Duro Canyon, Joshua on the south trail and Red Moon to the north.

On the north trail in the twilight a stab of lightning and a thunderclap startled Red Moon. A black cloud roamed the prairie. Suddenly the weather cell advanced toward him. He could see rain falling in sheets.

"Damn," the Pawnee said, a curse word he learned from the troops. He hadn't expected a downpour.

Red Moon picketed his fatigued horse to a Redbud tree and rolled out a waterproof blanket. He used his carbine to make a tent as the squall raced toward him. He crawled inside and tucked it tight around him. Rain pounded on his sheltering blanket.

The storm's appearance and strength troubled the scout. A great wind passed over him, and he began to equate the gravity of the cloudburst with the tribe's eternal forces that ruled from the sky. When the wind struck, he heard the snarl of a ferocious bear. A big man himself, Red Moon had found a kinship with the force of the bear, kuu`ruk, in his language. He wondered what the sudden storm and the bear's snarl meant for him.

To the south Joshua prepared for the night and saw the same dark clouds well to the north. He rolled out his blanket and picketed his pony. He kept thinking about Tonkawa, remembering him as a friend during the days on the rich, fertile plains on the Platte. The Great Spirit had provided the Pawnee with all that he needed. Herds of buffalo thrived, an endless gift that brought work and pleasure in hunts twice each year. Tonkawa, famous as a hunter, slew hulking beasts by himself wielding a spear. He lived and fought bravely under the law of the sky gods. Now he has broken white man's law. Which law was better? For Tonkawa, for the Pawnee? For Joshua?

The scout made up his mind. He would contact Tonkawa and talk. He had to strip himself of white man's symbols. He unhooked his leather belt and took off the yellow-striped, blue trousers and stuffed them in his haversack. After donning deerskin leggings, he tossed the campaign hat in the fire and watched it burn. He brushed his black hair into a tie at the back of his neck. He donned a headband and inserted feathers. He felt like his old self, a warrior.

* * *

Troop D covered thirty to forty miles a day through the High Plains staying close to the Red River and its tributaries. Out in front at the point Half Yellow Face searched in vain for a message. Leaving the plains behind he and the troop entered the Llano Estacado, a vast open expanse staked with escarpments, high ridges extending across the plain.

"Anything from them?" Rafferty asked.

"Nothing. Escarpments here go as high as a thousand feet. At that height they should be able to send a message. You can see for miles and miles."

Red Moon, troubled by his mystical experience in the storm, was camped on top of a ridge. He had ridden his pony on a trail that steadily rose on the leeward side of the escarpment. Spiritual longing swarmed in his mind and heart. He had slept badly. He felt wretched and dosed himself with half of a bottle of whisky. Normally supple movements turned clumsy. He dropped the bottle and stared at broken shards of glass spread on rocky soil. In a moment of clarity, he unpacked the mirror to send his first midday message. He tilted it into the bright sun and saw light radiate toward the main trail. He waited as he was told for the span of time between calls of the Northern Harrier. He tilted the mirror again and sent another flash.

Miles away, across the barren mesa, Half Yellow Face and Rafferty saw the blinks of light.

"Do you think it's Red Moon sending the messages?" Rafferty asked.


In the mesa a thousand feet below Red Moon's ridge-top camp, a lone outrider from Tonkawa's band saw the same flashes of light. Caddo, a nephew of Tonkawa's, instinctively knew the flashes came from an Army scout. His heart filled with indignation at his people's plight and feeling a pressing hunger for food, he secured his pony to a scrub bush and began a climb to the top. A holstered and loaded revolver hanging from a leather belt, taken from a traveler on the Union Pacific, fit tightly around his waist. The hard ground on the leeward trail offered good footing and eased his ascent. In the desert quiet, the only sounds were his light footfall, drafts of gentle breezes and the sharp cries of migrating falcons.

Red Moon, in a stupor, heard the falcons' cries. The sun had warmed the rocky ground where he sat. He stared at the ground.

Caddo reached the summit, his revolver ready. He recognized Red Moon from the days on the Platte. In his own language Caddo thundered, "Traitor!" and fired his pistol at Red Moon's head. The scout toppled over. The shot rocked the horse picketed nearby. Caddo found Red Moon's salt pork and hardtack, gobbled them down, and drained his canteen. He examined the scout's haversack and shouldered it. The carbine he kept in its leather sheath, the ammunition loose in a satchel. He calmed Red Moon's pony before mounting him and returned on the trail to the mesa below. He linked reins of the pony with his at the shrub and found a shaded place behind boulders in view of the trail. He lay comfortably in wait for whomever Red Moon's message had been meant for.

Miles away toward Palo Duro Canyon, Joshua rode with determination. He expected to find Tonkawa and his band encamped there. The Army had predicted the canyon to be the refuge. He knew the reason why. A renegade band of Arikara from the far north had adopted the canyon as a base from which they raided cattle drovers on the Chisolm Trail.

Joshua remembered the elders on the Platte say, "Arikara are cousins of the Skidi Pawnee. Their language is close."

He knew the Arikara would welcome Tonkawa as a renegade and cousin.

Joshua discarded Army clothing littering the trail. He had grown accustomed to his McClellan saddle and kept the leather sheath for his carbine. His haversack was filled with salted beef and hardtack. On his approach to the canyon the first guard from the Tonkawa band caught sight of him. The guard waved to alert other guards along the way. They made themselves known to him as his pony trotted through an accessible rocky portal to the canyon.

Within an hour Joshua reached Tonkawa's camp, teepees spread out on the flats surrounded by tall rust-colored pinnacles. One of Tonkawa's band grabbed the reins of his horse. Another withdrew the carbine from its sheath and took his holstered revolver. Joshua saw these maneuvers as a bad sign. He expected to be greeted as an old comrade.

"I come to talk," he said.

A stern Tonkawa was seated across from him, his eyes glaring with malevolence. The renegade had heard reports of Captain Higbee enroute to the canyon.

"Why are you here?" he asked Joshua. "An emissary?"

"No," Joshua responded. "I came. I am no longer a scout. No more reservation. You will not be treated with respect, and I . . . "

Tonkawa, a muscular man of forty years, direct in speech like a well-aimed arrow, stopped him with a wave of his hand. His eyes searched Joshua's face.

"You lived as a Pawnee. You become an Army scout. Now what are you?"

Tonkawa doubted if Joshua could be trusted.

"You take an oath. You discard it and move to something else. You use white man's saddle, his guns, and his haversack. Why?"

He waited for an answer.

Joshua had no answer.

"You live like a white man and stink of white man's goods."

Tonkawa nodded to warriors and cut the air with his hand.

They grabbed Joshua, wrestled him from the tent, and dragged him hundreds of feet to a garbage dump. He yelled, "I am Pawnee" repeatedly. A warrior loaded Joshua's carbine with a single bullet and shot him in the forehead. He rolled the body into a shallow pit where reddish black coals of a fire burned and smoked.

* * *

Rafferty aboard Dublin met up with Half Yellow Face astride Ramrod. They rode, stirring dust, on the vast mesa toward the flash of light.

"I feel like the only chicken in the yard and I think somebody's hungry," Rafferty said.

The scout chuckled nervously. He had the same feeling.

"If I am right," Half Yellow Face said, "the light came from the escarpment to the left. That's more than a few miles."

He had a sudden notion to take a safe route close to the escarpment wall.

"Let's go to the side below the rise. It offers some protection. We are less of a target. In the center of the mesa, we would be a target from either side."

"I agree," said Rafferty, tugging Dublin's reins to the left.

Half Yellow Face followed him on Ramrod. At that point the wall of the escarpment curved inward and offered the two riders a narrow band of welcome shade. After an hour riding on the warm afternoon, the quiet of the mesa pervaded. Sharp cries of migrating hawks broke the silence. The riders grew languid in the saddle, their horses' hooves rattled on rocky soil.

At the base of the escarpment ahead, Caddo waited behind a rock formation, the carbine and his pistol at the ready. A bow, two arrows and his hardwood club leaned against the boulder. His keen ear heard the approaching riders but he could not see them. Moments later in the late afternoon sunlight Rafferty emerged from the shade. Caddo fired the carbine. Rafferty dropped from Dublin.

"I'm hit!"

Dublin turned around dipping his head toward Rafferty, blocking Caddo's view. Half Yellow Face quickly dismounted and dragged Rafferty back into the shade. The bullet wounded Rafferty's right shoulder. The scout tore the blouse revealing a red mark. The bullet had grazed the clavicle and exited, missing a major artery. The wound bled lightly. Rafferty was conscious and hurting.

"Darn it," he said. "The shot came from behind a boulder just directly. I saw the shooter. He didn't look like Red Moon."

Half Yellow Face found a bandage in Dublin's saddle bags, wiped the blood away and packed the shoulder wound with white bandages. The scout worried the shooter might advance on them. He peered around the edge of the escarpment wall. A shot rang out and the bullet glanced off the hard rock. A few minutes later the horses ambled out of the shade and chewed on buffalograss. The mesa fell silent again.

Half Yellow Face thought, "Where is Red Moon?"

His murderer Caddo, with revolver drawn, a hardwood club tucked in his sash, crept around the side of the escarpment. At the corner he moved from sunlight to the shade. Half Yellow Face tackled him as the Indian fired a shot in the air. They wrestled in the dust. Caddo lost his revolver. His club slipped free. He grabbed it and struck Half Yellow Face along the side of his head. The blow flattened him.

Arising from the dusty ground, Caddo walked slowly to Ramrod still chewing on the spiked grass. He searched the haversack and found Half Yellow Face's sacred bundle. His face scowled with hatred at the fallen scout. The yellow paste he dumped. He inserted the father's knife and sheath in his belt.

His eyes barely open Rafferty observed the desecration. He felt for his sidearm, withdrew it and fired at Caddo's head. The Indian collapsed.

The gunshot stirred Half Yellow Face awake. He looked at smiling Rafferty and crawled over to where Caddo had fallen. Rafferty's aim was sure. Caddo was dead, his brown eyes staring. On the ground he found remains of yellow paste. He rose, feeling dizzy. The dishonor pained him as if he had been banished. "Could he not be himself? Part Pawnee, part white man." He understood how his mother must have felt after his father, Yellow Face, was killed and she, then an outsider, was forced to take a lodge on the outskirts of the village. "But none of that," the scout instructed himself. He had duties to perform. He banished the thoughts. Locating his father's knife and sheath on Caddo, he hooked it to his belt. The leather satchel that had contained the sacred items was intact. He left it lay.

* * *

On the main trail a few hours later Troop D approached the Palo Duro canyon. Sergeant Evans saw the two men waving from the shaded area. He directed the driver of the ambulance to follow him.

"This was one of Tonkawa's renegades," Half Yellow Face told the sergeant. "He fired on us and wounded Rafferty."

"When I'm around, they never miss," Rafferty told the ambulance attendant.

"It could be a lot worse," the attendant said.

The medic cleaned the wound and repacked Rafferty's bandages. He wiped blood from the cut on Half Yellow Face's head and applied a bandage. Rafferty walked to the ambulance and climbed aboard on his own. Half Yellow Face rode Ramrod to make his report to Captain Higbee.

"We saw a mirror flash and were riding toward it. One of Tonkawa's men, Caddo, fired on us. There was a fight. Rafferty shot him after he knocked me down with his war club. The flashing light was the only message we've seen. I think it came from Red Moon. We found the mirror in Caddo's possession. We can only guess what happened to our scout. No word from Joshua."

A patrol located Red Moon's body at the hilltop camp. Soldiers caught the two wandering horses and corralled them with a herd Captain Higbee had set up in a nearby grazing area.

Troop D settled in for the night. On the captain's orders Rafferty and Half Yellow Face rested outside the ambulance. They drank cups of steaming coffee. Half Yellow Face withdrew a stogie from his trouser pocket, lit it with a burning stick from a cooking fire, and relaxed.

"Sorry about the sacred bundle," Rafferty said. "There was no reason to destroy it."

"It's gone. I will always remember what it stood for."

"Yeh, I guess it's like having a house where you grew up and then moving away. It's no longer your family's but it stays with you all the same."

"Something new can come into your life," the scout said. "When the Sixth Cavalry came to our vandalized village, my mother lay dead. I roamed for days on the outskirts of the village. A lieutenant from the Sixth stopped and asked me a lot of questions about my life and my mother's. He invited me to ride with the soldiers. All the survivors of the attack were going to Indian Territory. So, there I was astride a pony amid the cavalry column. A soldier gave me a blue blouse to wear and a hat. I realized I looked much like the horsemen. They were tan and rugged and a few even had light-colored hair. I respected their discipline and how they responded to commands. And they sang."

"Singing always helps," said Rafferty.

"I felt important riding with the soldiers. After a couple of days listening to them, the Army seemed to me to be like an extension of a great tribe, a society, whatever you want to call it. I remember my mother saying, 'In America there is a mix of personal opportunity and at the same time a heavy responsibility to everyone else. There is a promise of fairness. I felt like I belonged when I rode with those soldiers the first time and even more so now. I felt I belonged to this new band of men."

"You've got to be loyal to something," Rafferty said. "You made a real discovery."

"True enough."

In the morning, smoke from cavalry campfires rose and drifted in the wind, calling attention to the troop's presence. The smoke attracted a Tonkawa scout. A cavalryman on picket duty observed the scout spying. The soldier waited until Tonkawa's man climbed aboard his pony and rode off. He followed him to the canyon. On a ridge above Tonkawa's camp, the soldier counted ten Pawnees. They walked among teepees near an arroyo. The soldier returned to the troop as fast as he could and reported to Captain Higbee.

Higbee called for Half Yellow Face and filled him in on the picket's report.

"We are dispatching half the troop. I will command the first twenty-five as an advance party. My plan is to surround the camp. You will go with us. We need you to scout. Once we are in place around the camp you will let Tonkawa know that he has few options. There's always hope he will surrender. A second group of twenty-five will be close by in reserve."

"Give me an hour to go first. I want to see if Tonkawa has guarded the trail."

Higbee agreed. Half Yellow Face saluted. He saddled Ramrod at the temporary corral and galloped toward the canyon as troopers assembled.

On the trail Half Yellow Face found a high point where he could see for miles. He picketed Ramrod and scaled the hill. He searched for Tonkawa guards and spotted one on a lesser rock formation a half-mile away. He descended and found a footpath in the guard's direction, carrying his carbine, his father's knife, and working his way quietly. In the span of fifteen minutes, he stood behind the guard and called out in Pawnee language:

"Drop your weapon."

The guard let his rifle fall and turned toward him.

He was a boyhood friend, Little Creek.

Half Yellow Face hesitated. He couldn't shoot and alert Tonkawa's camp. There was another reason, an old friend stood ten feet away.

Little Creek reached down for his weapon, a fatal mistake.

A knife, Half Yellow Face's father's knife, swiftly thrown, stuck in Little Creek's neck. He fell, grabbing at the knife. He bled profusely and passed out. No time even for a word between them. Little Creek groaned and died quickly in a pool of his blood.

The encounter left Half Yellow Face with a numbing feeling of sadness. He had killed one of his former people, a onetime friend. His conscience nagged at him as if he were browbeaten. A strange feeling came over him. His stomach rebelled. He had killed a man, one he knew. Half Yellow Face stood over the lifeless body that reeked of blood, His stomach erupted and splayed the contents on the ground.

Half Yellow Face prayed as his mother used to pray, down on his knees.

"Oh! God! Why?" he cried aloud.

The rumbling noise of approaching horses broke into his reverie. Captain Higbee and the troop entered the canyon. He saw them, and suddenly, duty called. He leapt to his feet and waved time and again, catching the troop's attention. Soldiers were leading a dancing Ramrod. They had found him picketed and brought him along.

He addressed the captain. "There was one guard. He is dead. There could be other guards. I can't be certain."

The captain turned to Sergeant Evans.

"The troop will surround the camp. Dismount here. Corral the horses over there."

He pointed to an open area and added: "Move as quietly as you can and not on this main trail. Don't rush. When we are in place, Half Yellow Face will announce our presence and we will see what happens. Be ready and Godspeed."

Half Yellow Face saluted Captain Higbee. He climbed aboard Ramrod with a deep feeling of regret that he had to kill Little Creek. As he rode off he started to feel better about what had happened. In an unexpected way, he had been called to action. He understood that his only choice was to throw the knife in self-defense. But he knew the image of Little Creek dying would not go away, ever.

On Captain Higbee's command the soldiers moved out to ridges on both sides of the trail. The captain and Half Yellow Face took the northern side, making their way through scattered brush and boulders. The camp lay ahead among a patch of trees above the dry arroyo.

Once the captain and Half Yellow Face arrived at an overlook, Higbee said, "Let's give the troops a few more minutes. To me the arroyo looks like an escape route."

Half Yellow Face nodded in agreement. Pawnees in the camp below were dismantling tents and dressing horses for travel.

At Higbee's signal, Half Yellow Face shouted in Pawnee, "Tonkawa, you are surrounded. Surrender!"

The words stirred the camp like a great wind. Indians dropped their goods and ran for cover. A pair of braves fled to the arroyo.

"Tonkawa, your people are running. Give up now."

After the initial excitement, the camp fell quiet.

Captain Higbee shouted the order: "Troop D, advance!"

Soldiers moved through rolling green fields of Juniper and Mesquite trees toward the camp. Several broke off pursuing braves running in the arroyo.

Tonkawa emerged from a tent his hands held high. The renegades grouped together in a circle. The caught runaways joined them.

Half Yellow Face questioned Tonkawa and learned the reason for the easy surrender. "They were alone here," he told Higbee. "The Arikaras left a day ago."

The renegades made the return trip to Fort Sill in leg irons, a discontented lot riding in the US Army wagons.

In his office at the fort, Captain Higbee discussed his report with Half Yellow Face.

"Congratulations, Sergeant Half Yellow Face. You deserved this promotion."

"Thank you, sir."

"Most of the Pawnees are good people. We need more scouts. Can you help recruit a few?"


Kidding him, he said, "By the way, do you always do the right thing?"

"No, but I believe in abiding by the law. It is something to build on."

Rafferty, standing nearby, added: "I think you should add Secrist to your name. You can be Half Yellow Face and become Sergeant Secrist at the same time."

"Good idea."

"I will handle the paperwork," said Captain Higbee, smiling.

The End

James Ott tasted the West as a soldier at Fort Sill, Oklahoma. He is a former contract writer with McGraw-Hill publications. An aerospace specialist, he authored a book on the air transport industry titled, Airline Odyssey (McGraw-Hill). The Royal Aeronautical Society named him Aerospace Journalist of the Year for an article on the impact of 9/11. Publications include a biography of the artist Frank Duveneck titled The Greatest Brush (Branden Books) and a history of the Catholic Diocese of Covington. He studied English Literature at Thomas More University and earned a master's degree from Xavier University. Read more at Wordpress site ottscribe.com

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The Jug at Chaco Canyon
by Tom Sheehan

For much of his youth and all of his adult life, 48-year-old Bart Tarpin had heard the music of the spheres, as his Uncle Charlie called it. And Charlie had told him, in a hearthside talk that "The ancient people who lived in the caves and cliff-side rooms of Chaco Canyon once conversed with the gods, and brought the holy music away with them, down to Earth. A gift it was, the most memorable of all gifts, humming with heaven itself."

Bart's eternal interest was aroused.

Bart believed, as a youngster on a riding trip from their ranch into the canyon with his father, that he had heard the core of the music. And it haunted him all the ensuing years, a melody and a rhythm and a sounded myth that never left his consciousness. He had gone behind a huge rock at the base of one canyon wall that eventful and unforgettable day to empty his bladder. That's when he saw the cave opening low against the wall. Clearly he could recall the draw and magnetism the small opening had for him the way mysteries can pound at a person. With an unknown power it drew him inside to find the jug or gourd or container of some sort in the center of the cave floor, as if, he thought evermore, it was ceremonial and had been placed there by one of the ancient elders to exact or give tribute.

And the music of the spheres, or a hum from the past, came from the jug, a music that filled his head with visions of the ancient people filing in their resolute and stately walks along the cliff edges going down to their canyon-bottom gardens, and later, after Pizarro, looking for gold or Cibola, had brought the gift of horses from Spain by way of Mexico, he saw them astride their mounts, thundering and flying across the plains and up the base of the canyon.

The descendants rode like his own memorable range riders and champions at ranch matches, sitting their mounts as if they had been born together, man and horse coming into life as an entity. He envisioned the ancients with their feathers streaming in the wind, their plaited hair tailing out behind them, the wind whistling in their ears, almost in flight the way the hawk could float with ease on the slightest thermal. Bart knew such sights would never be seen again, the way settlers had filed into the territory and towns grew and trains had come along Chaco Canyon and all over the region. He saw those old visions at night on the trail while on watch rounds, at lazy campfires alongside the chuck wagon, in the kitchen with his parents, and in the bunkhouse when he moved out of the house to brace life on his own.

The visions never left him, or the music.

Or the jug itself.

It was his piece of history. And he never told anybody about it. It was his to dream about, to listen to, to find the warmth that his hands had felt as they circled the container, to remember, when times were tough or life needed a bolt of interest, other considerations had called on him.

An old Indian, whom everybody called One Whistle, seemingly as old as mountains or the morning star itself, mentioned secret things to him as a boy and Bart was convinced that his Uncle Charlie had commissioned One Whistle to teach Bart all he could about the ancient people.

The Indian knew just about everything, he figured. The names of Hopi and Anasazi burst upon Bart as One Whistle talked to him when they rode out among the red mesas of the area, and the visions grew, as if they were dreams fulfilled. The names of the old chiefs leaked out of One Whistle the way some people hold secrets until they came to a moment of entertainment, or need, and then spill away. Bart heard the names of One Gone and One Come and One No More and he was entranced by the drama of their fanciful and plain interpretations. One Father One and One Hawk and One Wolf Dying vibrated through his very soul, and he was rapt in their magic and the unknown lying right out there on the horizon for him. Odd legends, strange and bizarre to say the least, were revealed to Bart by One Whistle, who held that he was a direct descendent of One Keeper, a medicine man and totem of the Anasazi, the ancients who had built the canyon homes as if defense was their first mission. Enemies of all kinds abound in the world and the gods need to be fed.

Bart grew in these ways, inherited the ranch when his father and mother died in a tornado that lifted their wagon right off the edge of a cliff. He knew some girls, found some love, married and had children.

He worked hard as did those who worked for him. One of his sons, Caleb, was also captivated by the stories Bart told him about One Whistle, and started studying the ancients with great interest, listening to one and all who held stories of beliefs for the telling or the sharing. He best loved the campfires and the camaraderie of tale-spinning. But he knew, as deeply as his father knew, that legends and fables are often buried in truths, or come right from truths as if disinterred.

But work and sustenance also called on them all; survival making great demands. They ran horses, raised cattle, a dozen piglets each year to butchering time, small tracts of corn and beans and potatoes and turnips.

And the music kept coming back to Bart no matter what he was doing.

So it was, in his 48th year, the year already a business success, when he decided on a trip back into the secrets of Chaco Canyon. Bart told his son Caleb he was going into the canyon to find some roots he might have lost touch with, and the jug from long ago. "For the first time in years, there is a void in my mind, as if some part has been cut away or just plain eroded. I have not heard the music in more than a week. It has never been gone that long for me, a part of my blood, my mind, my real interest when I am alone."

Caleb was a most interesting young man; a great rider, a guitar player extraordinaire, who had gravitated toward his father's interests in the ancients, but with less enthusiasm than his father held on the music of the spheres, hearing his own sounds about a campfire, on the summer porch at night, in the bunkhouse with the hired hands. He had his own ear and it was heard in his words.

"Some might say it's only an old jug, pa," Caleb said, "an old jug that some Indian left behind in his hasty escape from the canyon. It's common knowledge, at least among the Hopis, that the ancients, the Anasazi, fled from some great disruption, cataclysmic, moral or war-like, as if life swallowed them back to where they had come from."

Bart found himself, for that moment, back with One Whistle, the man who had the most influence in his life, whose voice came to him with the music of the spheres, the hollow beauty that silence makes in one's mind when the whole world stops to be looked at, found, and studied. He was back in the canyon marking landmarks he had not seen or thought of for years, seeing ridges and lines and demarcations he had never before paid attention to.

There, he thought, was the language that the old Indian was trying to get me to learn, to interpret. One Whistle's words sounded out again in the dead silence of the canyon, sounding like a prayer he knew from the fires of One Keeper, the word passed to him and then to a white boy who had a soul that might understand what was being said to him, what was about him, what echoed from the walls of Chaco Canyon, from the other end of history. "All flows in lines from Mowhata. All sound comes in music from Mowhata."

All that had been forgotten, and brought back in a second, and then lost again. He turned to his son, shaking his head, wondering where he himself had gone, where he was going to. He had no idea.

"But One Whistle," he said, "rest his soul, said I was special and the music I heard was special, and waits for me forever. I am bound to hear it again, as it has sustained me and supported me all these years since I was a boy. I heard it when I lost my sister and again when I lost my parents in that terrible tornado, and I have heard it with or without those times that demand measurement of people. It kept me whole. I've always wanted to go back and look for it, though by now I fear I have no idea at all of its location. I remember that the opening was just big enough to let me get through, and I was a boy then and not even filled out."

He sensed a pause in his own being, the way memories sometimes seem to suspend life for seconds. "My father was with me then, when I found the jug, just on the other side of a big rock when he let me go to do my business. He never had any idea of what I found and I never told him. Never once told him what I found, what I heard, because I had seen nothing in the darkness. That was all part of it, part of the ongoing mystery that I had not seen what was around me in the cave, what made up the cave, what I could have seen if there had been any light. But light could not enter the cave as I did, crawling through a tight space, and standing upright in the darkness. Not even knowing what was above me."

"You be careful, Pa. I'd go with you but I am leading the new drive to the railhead. If you're not here when I get back, why I'll come looking for you as you lead that old-time band." His smile was bright and honest and a bit of glee shone in it.

They both laughed and Caleb left with the rest of the ranch hands to drive the cattle, get them loaded on the train, and conclude the sale. Bart was proud of him and how he grasped the business of raising cattle, fighting the harsh odds and the occasional rustlers, and knew his temperament would always be steady, even with a slash of humor always on the edge. He whistled as he left and made a sing-song salute with his hand as if he was leading the fiddlers at a barn dance.

Bart immediately fell into a trance and the visions, in all their stark realism, flooded back from where they had fled to, and he could hear the music again, and the words of One Whistle as he explained a nearly forgotten legend of his people concerning One Elder's blanket and how it held rest in its form and hid anxiety in its folds.

"Listen, young one," he said, "and know what I have found from the Elders and from One Elder and from One Keeper and from Mowhata sitting in the high place. The blanket and the jug are like brothers. They share the great responsibilities and no one person, Indian or white, ever gets past the hard places without one or the other. Remember, a blanket or a jug. You will be lucky if you have both, but both can hide things that level this entire world. That means you must treat them well and respect what they are and what they can do. Never toss a blanket away, no matter how faded or torn, no matter if it is only rags that can be plaited, as it will bring warmth to some creature if only for a night or the surge of one storm. And never crack a jug that can hold water for a thirsty soul. A jug in the desert is often the gift of life, or death."

Bart shivered when he heard the words coming down through the years.

Eventually they trailed off in the morning air the way all sound disappears, as if all words are mere echoes of what has meant to be. He felt as though he was at the edge of a great discovery, that a strange unknown was to be revealed to him. It unnerved him, but there was no stop in his interest of a civilization that was much older than his own. The shivers of that knowledge rode his frame like an old bronco that had learned all the tricks.

Bart's custom was always that of the early riser, and in the morning, the sun still below the distant hills and the distant mountain peaks, he slipped from his bed where his wife of 25 years slept soundly, grabbed a canteen of water and a ready-to-ride pack of dry grub. In a few hours, stars still keeping company over his shoulders, he was at the mouth of Chaco Canyon. A coyote, on alert, called out a warning and his horse's ears straightened at the cry. A slight wind sounded louder than it would normally sound, as though it was being released from a blacksmith's prodded bellows.

His horse nickered. "I know, horse, it is a holy place. Many things have begun and ended here since the beginning of creation itself. You know as well as I do what hangs in the air, which is a lot more than the mere facts of history. But all that is not strange, it is blessed, and it carries much of what looks down upon us."

For the moment he realized he had made peace with all that had been here, from the beginning of time, in the heart of Chaco Canyon. With deliberation and a bit of memory working on him, he began his search for the small cave he had once visited. For much of the day he walked and rode about, seeking odd holes, dark depressions, secrets of old. Then, as if a gong had sounded in his head, he spied a small dark patch at the base of the cliff. From his saddle he unstrung a pick and shovel and set to work. An hour later, One Whistle continually in his ears, he managed to slide his way into the cave.

The next day, when his horse came home without its rider, Caleb and others started out on the search.

Even after three months there was not a sign of Bart Tarpin, and the search, though intermittent at times, petered out and life went on beyond Chaco Canyon.

What none of his family, friends or ranch hands ever knew were the events that took place in the cave on that second visit. Bart, still in good shape, had managed to get inside the cave. The jug was there, as it had been ever since he had found it, and ever since whoever had left it, in the center of the cave. Perhaps it was a sign to the gods, he thought, or a sacrifice of some strange tribal custom.

As if with the waving of a wand, the music he had longed for returned, though faint and distant. The jug was smooth and warm in his hands and he was sure the music was coming from it, from the heart core of the jug. When he bent over it to hear better what had charmed him for years, placing his ear close to the mouth of the jug, there came a bare moment of total revelation, as if One Whistle's promise had come to being, and all he felt was the deep strike at his carotid artery where the snake's fangs sank their poison.

The End

Sheehan (31st Infantry, Korea 1951-52; Boston College 1952-1956) in his 95th year, has published 57 books and has multiple works in Rosebud, Linnet's Wings (100), Serving House Journal, Literally Stories (200), Copperfield Review, Literary Orphans, Indiana Voices Journal, Frontier Tales, Western Online, The Literary Yard, Green Silk Journal, Fiction on the Web, The Path, etc. He has 18 Pushcart nominations, 5 Best of the Net nominations (one winner). Later book publications include The Cowboys, Beside the Broken Trail, In the Garden of Long Shadows, Between Mountain and River, and Catch a Wagon to a Star. His most recent book, The Saugus Book, gained him $1000 first prize in poetry

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The Outcome of a Fortunate Encounter
by Robert H. Boder

Fort Randall at the southeast corner of South Dakota is the first fort on the upper Missouri River trail protecting pioneers going west beyond Dakota Territory. The corner unlike most of the Great Plain is filled with rivers, lakes, forests and rocky ridges. After Sitting Bull's win at the 1876 Battle of the Little Bighorn the Sioux left for Canada only to return in a few years believing President Grant's treaty promises. 1880s hunters exterminate buffalo to force tribes back to Canada so prospectors can mine Dakota gold. There isn't gold in this South Dakota corner. Tribes maintain the herds to sustain their way of life. It is a deadly game when the two sides clash. Losers of any encounter often are killed.

In 1887 Fort Randall's Major McCoy will use his troops to protect the Yankton Sioux tribe. Captain Cooper and two enlisted troopers lead the effort. Captain Cooper in 1878 guards supply wagons to Great Plains forts. Sergeants, Gibson and Scott have short Texas Ranger careers. They are too good with guns and became cowhands on cattle drives to Dodge City. In Dodge they don't win at poker so they join the Army. These men and two new privates carry out McCoy's mission.

McCoy and Chief Thundercloud agree reservation buffalo hunting must stop and Cooper is the officer to stop it. Cooper and tribal leaders map reservation and surrounding land into sections where buffalo could be found or hides hidden. The tribe reports hunter sightings by section now hunters become the hunted. If found on the reservation hunters are made to leave. This didn't stop hunting so more is done during the cold snowy 1887-88 winter. The Schoolhouse Blizzard, January 12th, alone stops tracking for a month. Braves and cavalry find dead buffalo parts only off the reservation so there is little progress stopping them. Finding kill sites is easy. Where hides are stored isn't but hides can't be moved or sold until spring.

In Burke, the nearest town, a Swedish immigrant new recruit, Private Hugo, gets the answer to how the hides are moved when in the outhouse he hears a hunter named Wales bragging to another drunk about his latest buffalo killings. The more Wales brags the more information he spills to the private. He tells how hunters drag hides to safe locations off the reservation while snow storms cover their tracks. Hugo knows what hunters are doing and how to track them after listening to Wales brag. He learned from his father how to hunt on skis and use sleds to move heavy loads. At the fort he tells the sergeants about the drunk, his story and what he knows about hunting in deep snow. The same day Private Mix and his talent with guns arrive at the fort. The new soldiers are assigned to the cavalry when Captain Cooper is told about Wales. Cooper doesn't know if they can ride horses! Hugo's father can bring skis and a sled to the fort and teach the soldiers how to use them. He will bring them along with his daughter and two friends to help train the soldiers. Captain Cooper agrees and training starts before the skis arrive a day after leaving Yankton. When they do the troops see the women instructors so there are more than enough soldiers to train.

The women, Idun, Geion and Lofn, and the officers want more time together so they will be together again in Yankton for Christmas. Will this be the beginning of romances? Whatever it is will have to wait till after winter.

Swedes used skis, sleds and snowshoes to fight Russians and hunt for over a hundred years. The tribe already has snowshoes. Hugo makes more cross country skis for the tribe with the fort's carpenter tools to move even faster. With the tribe's map of kills and hunter movements, it is easy to quickly narrow searches to the few areas where heavy loads of hides could be stored.

Troopers and tribe scouts operate in teams with Cooper's hunting dog, Fritz, aiding in searches. They find where hides are hidden then retrieve the hides after Hugo turns the fort chuck wagon into a sleigh by putting runners where the wheels go. Braves quickly want runner skis for their travois's. Now teams with skis find and remove hides faster so the hunters are put out of business. As hunters are caught, braves take their rifles and money is used to buy bullets. Finally the snow is melting and still Wales is impossible to catch killing both buffalo and Sioux but he doesn't know the cavalry and tribe already found his store of hides. Wales goes for the hides, finds them gone, is enraged and wants to kill Sioux braves. His chance comes a day later.

On a warm early April day in 1888 the new fort doctor, Gillespie, with three medical supply wagons pass through Burke. Gillespie is a young doctor interested in forensic science. As long as he can remove bullets, apply bandages and dispense shots of whiskey nobody cares about his hobby. Lt Bond and six troopers escort the wagons. Half way to the fort, they hear two rifle shots from a reservation hill. Immediately Sergeants Gibson and Scott ride to where the shots came from. They find two wounded braves and quickly bring them to the wagons. Then up the hill nearest to where the braves are found look for the shooter, find two Sharp rifle shells and tracks going towards Burke. Scott sees a rider on a paint horse wearing a buffalo hide coat and knows who it is. The doctor treats the wounds going to the fort. Unknowingly the hunter made his biggest mistake and will soon pay for it. At the fort the doctor removes and keeps the bullets saving the braves' lives. The Major immediately sends Cooper to tell the Chief about the braves and invite him to the fort. One brave is Thundercloud's son. Will the tribe go on the warpath? No after McCoy convinces him to let the cavalry find the shooters. The attempted murders may have been on the reservation and shooters are now in town creates the problem of who can capture and punish the shooters.

To show what his men can do they put on a shooting demonstration outside the fort for the Chief. There is small pine tree by the fort gate McCoy wants removed and asks the Chief to watch how it will be done. It is now a target as Hugo quickly puts a face on it with 5 pistol shots. Then the others chop down the tree chest high with bullets. Mix gets the tree falling before the sergeants get a shot off. The sergeants say Mix is better with a handgun than John Wesley Harden and he just proved it. Now a plan is to let the Army capture the shooter.

Wales is in town planning his next move and while drinking is spotted by soldiers going back to the fort. After more drinks Wales falls asleep at the stable till the next morning as Cooper and his sergeants, out of uniform, ride into town to get him. Knowing the town sheriff and locals hate the cavalry they bring along Hugo and Mix making it a team of five. Fritz follows to watch the horses, so a team of six is on their way. This is Fritz's reward for finding hides and soon Cooper learns Hugo can do more than make faces on trees with a gun. It is one of those leftover winter days rarely occurring in late April, clear cold and without wind, the troopers dismount and start walking down the empty street. Shutters close on windows, doors slam as smoke rises from chimneys. They prepare for battle, taking positions and determined to do what needs to be done with long guns at the ready. The privates must shoot first to maim or kill if not the hunters surely will. The others passed this test long ago.

It is so cold it reminds the men of what being dead must be like. Mix and Fritz watch the stable so once in no one gets out with more than one working leg. Burke streets are clear so they enter each saloon. Cooper is always first in with a shotgun then the sergeants remove stragglers. Everyone at the tables hits the floor then told to leave by the sergeants while the ones at the bars run out the back doors except for two at the second saloon with a piano player. The piano player cowers behind his piano stool under the keyboard when suddenly there is a shot from behind Cooper. It puts a hole between the eyes of the large naked lady painting behind the bar. Cowboys too drunk to walk hear the shot then jump out a window after seeing the painting. Hugo says "Just me. Fritz is watching the horses" so Cooper asks him where he learned to shoot. His reply is "In Sweden hunting polar bears. You only get one shot". The next stop is the stable with Mix and Fritz outside making sure no one goes in or out. One who tries has a hole in his hat and a dog bite in his backside.

Two men and Wales with his paint horse are at the stable trying to get away. There will be a fight and the troopers can't wait to finish it. The hunter loads his rifle and is bringing it up to fire getting knee high when Cooper's buckshot takes him down. Wales shouts "Why did you shoot me in the knee?" Cooper replies "I was aiming higher". Doc Gillespie will fix him up, give him a crutch for his trial and keep the paint horse as payment. Cooper has his rifle. Wales's wagon crew is looking into Peacemaker barrels. Unfortunately the sergeants don't get to pull triggers like the privates did. So much for the fight they looked forward to instead the hunter's wagon is hitched up for a ride to the fort with three passengers hogtied in the back.

Mix, Hugo and Fritz bring up the rear with the hunter's Sharp. Cooper will not know how important that is until the trial. Leaving the stable Cooper and Hugo bring the sergeants' horses and the paint to the fort. Nobody in Burke will question this arrest but in case they do, Lt. Bond is just outside of town with twenty troopers as drunken outraged "citizens" get enough courage to saddle up to get their friends back. Seeing the troops ready to charge they go back to the town. The saloon regulars are still shaking in their boots as they grumble and boast how brave they could have been until the piano player's bullet hole in the painting explanation gets around.

At the fort, plans are made to try the hunters in Yankton. The crime happened on US land so if the hunters object they will be turned over to the tribe. If guilty their fate is the same but likely less painful with the Army. After the trial the troopers and doctor will visit with the ski instructors and their friends for a few days. For the troopers and the women romances begin.

At the trial no one saw who did the shooting so how is Wales convicted? The most important fact is the bullet markings on the two bullets the doctor took from the braves match a test bullet fired from Wales' Sharp rifle! As early as 1835 it is known that rifled barrels leave marks on bullets so the barrel rifling process makes every barrel unique. The verdict is the wagon crew spends 5 years in prison and Wales hangs without his boots on.

The Chief honors troopers and the doctor at a tribal party for his son's return. The Major brings imported firewater bottles and Fritz comes along. They hope he doesn't leave too many future Fritzes while at the party. As the firewater is passed around, a brave asks what a polar bear is and could it beat a grizzly bear in a fight. Hugo hasn't seen a grizzly so he has no answer. Then he says that his uncle hunts fish as big as three buffalo in a canoe the size of four horses with a spear. Fortunately it is the time to leave because whaling stories take so long to tell. The chief presents each soldier and the doctor a Sioux beaded vest. All know the value of what they accomplished together as Plains tribes need buffalo for survival more than farmers need bones for fertilizer. In the future there will be buffalo raised on ranches nearby and a buffalo preservation reserve on the open range not far to the west.

In 1889 buffalo pouching ends and so will the careers of the captain and sergeants. The fort will close soon after while the tribe's reservation remains to this day. Before leaving Cooper overheard a trooper call him "Old one shot" and knew it is time to go. He and the sergeants leave the Army now that rapid firing rifles, Maxim guns and breech loading cannons means being on a horse in a battle lost its appeal.

Hugo asks if Cooper and the sergeants will see the women ski instructors again. Yes! The three ride to Yankton. Private Hugo has a Presidential West Point appointment. He will charge up San Juan Hill with a buffalo hunter, Teddy Roosevelt. Mix will star in movies. An old Tombstone marshal living in Hollywood asks him over lunch "Why only three shots? " Mix answers "Only needed to shoot one rat to get the job done. Two shots were just for attention and the job was over before noon".

The End

Bob is a retired 30's Western serial movie fan. After graduating from the Naval Academy in 1964 served on ships then left to work for IBM and as a YMCA swim coach. He wrote computer programming and competitive swimming books. Now he writes short stories while sitting by the ocean in York Maine for his family and friends when not reading old books about the War of 1812 Navy, New England whaling and post Civil War Indian Wars.

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The Koitsenko Soldier's Fourth Son
by Robert Temple

Fifteen springs before white men came out of the eastern forests, when grass was but ankle high in good pastures, Keah-tigh of the Kata Kiowa sat his horse in the circle of mounted warriors surrounding his father, Two Coups, who stood among a knot of horses. A Koitsenko Soldier and one of only ten guardians of the sacred Sun-boy medicine bundles, Two Coups ran a hand along a horse's ribs outlined by skin as tight as a rawhide drum.

"Blackfeet have stolen my wife Wun-oan-to-mee," said Apiatan, Keah-tigh's uncle, "yet you waste our time looking at these nags when the Blackfeet are already a half day's ride away."

"They left these," Two Coups said and pried open the mouth of another horse—its teeth were badly worn and its gums bled—"because they stole thirty good Kiowa horses."

"Only Kaan horses," Apiatan said and laughed. Half of the twenty-eight warriors were of the poorer Kaan class. Ten were of the next higher Ondegupa and followers of Apiatan. Only three older warriors were Onde like Two Coups, Apiatan and Keah-tigh.

Two Coups felt the spindly legs of a third horse and slid a finger into its split hoof. A wide band of silver fell like a waterfall among the uncut black hair on the left side of Two Coups' head. A braid on the right side showed streaks of silver, as did his scalp lock at the top of his skull. He wore buckskin leggings fringed with the hair of his enemies, both man and animal, and a buckskin shirt fringed with hair and dyed yellow with ocher. In his left hand was a coup stick of smooth ash, as long as his forearm and as slender as his index finger, with a crook at the top. A stick known throughout the Staked Plains and beyond—wherever the Kiowa had enemies. With it, he had earned his name when he was just sixteen by riding between two Ute warriors and striking them both with the harmless coup stick.

"Still, it will take a long ride to wear down fresh Kiowa horses, whether they belong to Kaan, Ondegupa or Onde," Two Coups said, straightened and pointed the coup stick at Keah-tigh. "You will go with us as horsetender. Gather two extra mounts for each warrior. If a warrior does not own three horses, provide him from my herd."

Keah-tigh nodded. His first war party. Although he was only twelve, he reminded himself that he was Onde. He hid his uncertainty in a spine he hoped was as straight as his father's.

"The Ondegupa boy, Anko, should go as horsetender also," Apiatan said. "It was he who found our war party this morning. Without him, we would have gone on with our raid into Mexico unaware that Blackfeet had so easily killed the three warriors you left to guard the camp."

Fifteen springs younger than Two Coups, Apiatan had bound lengths of enemy scalps to his own raven hair with otter skin so they hung to his knees. His leggings had feather tassels at-tached to the hair fringe, and his yellow shirt sported streaks of vermilion and green. Far more bits and pieces of tin jangled around his feet than were strung on the leather thongs of any other warrior's ankle-high moccasins. He was as tall as Two Coups, who stood taller than the hump on a bull buffalo. Except for Apiatan's extra finery and Two Coups' silver hair, they looked like twins. By tribal custom, Keah-tigh called both Father.

Two Coups nodded. Keah-tigh rode off to collect Anko and the extra horses. When the two boys led their strings of remounts back to the warriors, Anko's eyes shone as bright as a rutting stallion's. Climbing astride his blood-red sorrel, Two Coups pointed his coup stick north and kicked his horse into a fast trot.

In midafternoon, their tracker, a half Mexican and half Mescalero Apache named Wapeche, found a Kiowa woman's knee length moccasin boot. Apiatan let out an agonized howl and snatched his wife's boot. Galloping ten horse lengths in front of the band, Apiatan slid off his horse to his knees. He tore up clumps of grass and hurled them along the trail of the Blackfeet. Then he bowed over the moccasin on his lap. The rest of the band stopped two horse lengths away. Several Ondegupa sang grief songs to honor Apiatan. The Kaan stare wide-eyed at an Onde warrior kneeling over a woman's moccasin. Here was a powerful thing, strong medicine from Apiatan's heart. Uncertain how to honor his uncle, Keah-tigh glanced at his father. Two Coups sat his horse next to the three Onde warriors, who scarcely looked at Apiatan. Two Coups said something to one of the Onde, who nodded. Then Two Coups spoke to Wapeche, and the tracker started off toward the north.

One Ondegupa shouted a wordless protest. The other Ondegupa grunted to show agreement. Keah-tigh turned his head away from the anger in their eyes and looked at the Kaan who stared at Two Coups in confusion. Keah-tigh fought to hold his face expressionless, as the other Onde did. Two Coups set out at a fast trot after Wapeche. Remounting, Apiatan raced to the front of the band just behind Wapeche but a little apart from Two Coups.

Keah-tigh pulled on the rawhide tether to his string of remounts. His face was hot, and he squinted his eyes hard. Two Coups had earned Koitsenko honors younger than any warrior in tribal memory. He had performed all twelve deeds that made a man a Kietaisopan, a great warrior. Some of these Ondegupa had barely performed the four that made a man merely a Kataiki, a warrior. Who were they to question a Koitsenko's commands?

Keah-tigh thought of the shaman, Ato-t'ain. Whenever the tribe needed to change hunting grounds or pasture, he was consulted. He prepared his medicine and sang his ritual songs. Then the seer prophesied where to establish a new camp. Sometimes, the hunters killed fat buffalo, and sometimes, the horses grew strong and swift on the new grass. All praised Ato-t'ain's medicine. But other times, the hunters returned without meat, and the mares dropped stillborn foals. No one raised an angry voice; no one said age had robbed Ato-t'ain's medicine of strength. Instead, all respectfully asked what they had done to ruin his medicine. Women still brought the best slices of cooked buffalo tongue to his lodge. Warriors still presented him with horses, but he was Ondegupa, as high as a shaman could rise. Only the bravest warriors and their families were Onde, but if the greatest warrior in the Kiowa nation received less respect than an old Ondegupa priest who never exposed himself to danger, why should Keah-tigh become a warrior?

Wapeche tracked the Blackfeet across the flat plains of light green buffalo grass and blue-green sage. The trail led due north toward a river two and a half day's ride away. The Blackfeet's horse droppings were not scattered under the sage, and the hoof prints showed clear and deep with the gouge of fast moving horses in the light brown soil. Every so often, Keah-tigh heard the Ondegupa mutter about their woman's pace, but Two Coups rode with his head up and his back as stiff as the Mexicans' iron. He lightly tapped his coup stick on his left elbow.

When their shadows stretched nearly three horse lengths, Two Coups motioned for Keah-tigh to bring his third mount of the day. When his father leaped from the back of his tired mount onto a fresh chestnut gelding, Keah-tigh dared to ride beside him.

"Tell the others to change mounts more frequently," Two Coups said. "We must not throw away our advantage. Wapeche says thirteen Blackfeet and Wun-oan-to-mee ride just thirty horses."

"Who are these Blackfeet, Father? Are they kin to our enemies, the Pawnee or Sioux?"

"No, I have seen them only twice—once when I visited our friends the Crows in the Yellowstone country and once when I traded with Arikiras well up the Great Muddy Water, where it ran clear and pure. The Blackfeet live northwest of the Sioux and Crows. They are bitter enemies of both. They have no friends among other tribes and want none, believing themselves great warriors."

"Why have they raided so far south?" Keah-tigh asked.

"Why do we raid so far south into Mexico?" Two Coups replied.

"But it must still be winter in their country," Keah-tigh said. "They left the safety and warmth of the lodges before the grass was green enough to feed their horses. Their leader must not be very wise."

Keah-tigh tried hard to look his father squarely in the eyes, as a warrior should. Deep lines ran like dry river beds across Two Coups' face, springing from the corners of his eyes and funneling down his cheeks in many branches. His nose, broken by a buffalo horn, twisted like a dried gourd. War paint was the only fresh, moist thing on his father's face and reminded Keah-tigh of power symbols that shamen painted on cliff walls to draw new strength for the tribe from their mother Earth-woman.

"Winter was hard in our land this year," Two Coups said. "Their winter must have been worse. Horses would have starved when snow became too thick to paw through. Many would have frozen in drifts or been dragged down by wolves made bold by hunger. Perhaps, if pemmican ran out in the parfleches, the Blackfeet were forced to eat many of their horses. They are not a people rich in horses. Such a winter bows the necks of a people, making them forget their courage. A wise leader might have decided to set out early on a raid to rekindle his people's spirits. Crossing all the plains between their lands and ours would be a challenge to lift his warriors' hearts and make the women sing in the lodges of the greatness of their people. Such a leader would weigh both risks and needs, and he would know that under all the sky no people have finer horses and more of them than the Kiowa. Now go tell the others to switch mounts more frequently."

As twilight faded, Wapeche slowed his horse to a walk. After a few minutes, he dismounted and walked bent close to the ground. The plain became a dark blurred robe that wavered and rippled, as the wind tossed the grass back and forth. Wapeche came to a halt and looked over his shoulder at Two Coups.

"We camp here," Two Coups said.

"But our horses are still fresh!" Apiatan cried. "Are warriors afraid of the dark?"

"Wapeche cannot track in the dark," Two Coups said. "We will follow at first light tomorrow."

"What need have we of tracks?" Apiatan shouted. "Are we stinking Apaches who run with their noses in the buffalo chips? We are Kiowa warriors! We know which way the Blackfeet travel—north, straight north. We must push on and overtake them before they stop to sleep and, and . . . "

"And if they turn under cover of dark, as I would, how will you know?" Two Coups asked. His voice was calm. His face an expressionless mask.

"We will find them!" Apiatan cried. "We must find them. I'll not have my wife a plaything for others. I say you will go on."

Apiatan thrust his lance, held straight up and down, out from his chest. A gasp escaped one of the Kaan. Keah-tigh gripped the rawhide tether with all his strength and tried to swallow without noise. Several Ondegupa grumbled agreement with Apiatan. The three older Onde edged their horses alongside Two Coups who stared past the lance into his brother's face.

"Did not my brother give his first wife as a plaything to his Ondegupa two summers ago?" Two Coups asked. "Did not my brother say, 'Here is my wife. Take her. She has dishonored me with the Kiowa-Apache named Elk-Stalker. I throw her away.'?"

Apiatan's lance trembled ever so slightly. Starlight shimmered on the iron point. Suddenly, Apiatan jerked the lance over his shoulder so that the lance head pointed at Two Coups. Then he yanked his horse's head around and rode twenty horse lengths. Bringing his horse to a rearing halt, he sat staring toward the north.

"We camp here," Two Coups said.

When the boys finished staking out the horses, Keah-tigh told Anko to take last watch. Then Keah-tigh sat down beside his father, who offered him a string of jerky. Keah-tigh chewed the dried meat, working his teeth in a grinding motion and softening the jerky with as much spittle as he could work up. He glanced once toward Apiatan's silhouette. Two Coups smiled.

"Be sure you are awake to tend my brother's horse when he comes to sleep. It would shame him if the Ondegupa boy rubbed down his horse."

"Would it shame you," Keah-tigh asked, "if Anko had rubbed down your horses?"

"No, but I am not Apiatan."

"But you are Koitsenko," Keah-tigh said. "He is not."

"Since he became a warrior," Two Coups said, "he has had to rein wide to ride outside my shadow, but I remember the little brother who used to hang on my stirrup when I returned from battle or the hunt."

Keah-tigh chewed his jerky awhile, wondering whether he would have grown to resent his three older brothers had they lived. He barely remembered the eldest two, who died defending the camp from an Osage attack. But Keah-tigh had worshiped his third brother, Waitan. He remembered how proud he was when Waitan made his vow at the Sun Dance to count coup on two warriors at once, as his father had. Waitan had counted only one coup in a battle with Mescalero Apaches, but everyone said he had kept his vow.

"Apiatan's grief is a powerful thing, is it not?" Keah-tigh asked.

"It is powerful," Two Coups replied, "but Wun-oan-to-mee is not dead."

"It's not fitting that he worry about a woman's safety?"

"Apiatan is more concerned that his grief seems a powerful thing." Two Coups cocked his head at the hoot of an owl and when it hooted again, nodded.

"Are you concerned for Wun-oan-to-mee, my father?"

"Not tonight."

"Perhaps they will punish her when they find she lacks a moccasin. Perhaps, they will use her as Apiatan fears," Keah-tigh said and studied his father's face. He looked for anger to flare in the warrior's eyes at the thought of an Onde woman passed like a drinking gourd among the men of another tribe.

"They may do that," Two Coups said. His eyes remained calm and his voice even. "Or one warrior may already claim her for his own, but I trust the wisdom of the Blackfoot leader to avoid these things until a safer time."

"I do not understand," Keah-tigh said.

"Then you must think about it while you wait for Apiatan. If you are to be a warrior, you must learn to see these things for yourself. Now I wish to sleep."

In the morning, Apiatan scolded everyone who did not instantly leap from sleeping robes to horseback. He called the three older Onde "old sleepy eyes" when they carefully rolled up robes, inspected weapons and renewed paint on their faces. The Ondegupa laughed and one or two of the Kaan joined them.

Wapeche followed the Blackfeet north for a quarter of the morning. Then the tracks swung west, but Apiatan called Wapeche "a stupid, ground-licking Apache."

"They must go north!" Apiatan shouted. "This is just a trick to delay us. They have horses and a woman. The west has nothing they need. They will go north."

"The tracks run west." Wapeche looked at Two Coups. "They travel as one band. No one has slipped away."

"When did they turn?" Two Coups asked.

"Judging by the hardness of the horse droppings," Wapeche replied, "last night before the moon had risen very high."

"This is just a trick!" Apiatan said. "They must turn north again. We could gain a day's ride by heading northwest and cutting across their trail. We might even take them unawares."

Ondegupa clashed shields and lances to show agreement. Several let out war whoops.

"We cannot say where they will turn north again," Two Coups said. "They may ride west for a day, two days, perhaps a week. We would never cut across that wide a trail. We would lose the horses and the woman."

Apiatan swung his arms wide to all of the band.

"It is not just of my wife that I think," he said. "I think also of my brothers. Yesterday, we set out for Mexico to fill our arms with plunder and to steal horses. Now, we ride in the opposite direction, but not to gain new horses and captives. We ride to regain our own, no more. Honor, yes. The scalps of our enemies, yes, but only if we catch the Blackfeet. All of these we would surely obtain in Mexico. Did we not pledge to raid far into Mexico—to see the birds that talk like men and the little furry men that chatter like birds? As slowly as we chase these Blackfeet, the grass will turn brown before we even think of going south."

Again the Ondegupa clashed shields and lances. Many shouted agreement. Some of the Kaan grunted acceptance. Two Coups tapped his coup stick on his left forearm until the noise died away.

"If my brother is so concerned with the slowness of our feet, why does he delay us further with words?" Two Coups asked. He waved the coup stick at Wapeche to follow the trail west. "We must at least see the Blackfeet today or they us."

"Will Kiowa content themselves with just a glimpse of their enemies?" Apiatan asked. Two Coups rode after Wapeche. The three Onde fell in line behind the Koitsenko. Grinning at Apiatan, who returned the grins, the Ondegupa rode into line. Then came the Kaan. Last came Anko and Keah-tigh.

Keah-tigh stared at Two Coups' spine, still so straight and stiff. But of what use the coup stick in his father's right hand? Now, even Kaan dared openly disagree with his father. Apiatan drifted farther and farther back until he rode knee to knee with Keah-tigh, who tried to erase all emotion from his face, but Apiatan put a hand on Keah-tigh's left shoulder.

"My son is confused by his father, Two Coups."

Keah-tigh jerked bolt upright. Apiatan smiled and let his hand drop.

"You must not judge him too harshly, for he grows old. He was the greatest warrior the Kiowa have ever known. It is sad that the demons that dig into the spirits of the old ones swarm about his head. He tries to fight them, but each day, they rob a little more of his courage and wisdom. Ten more springs, perhaps as few as seven, you may be forced to throw him away, as he threw away my father whom demons made crazy and weak. You grow to be a man, a warrior. Soon you must face these decisions. I know you will choose wisely."

Apiatan kicked his horse's flanks and galloped up beside Two Coups. Keah-tigh studied the river of silver spilling down his father's back. He remembered when it was just a trickle, but he had been a boy then, still sleeping on his mother's side of the tepee. He had seen old ones left behind on the prairie. Sometimes, the old ones did not know what was happening, so strong were the demons inside them. These old ones laughed or sat talking to the long dead. But sometimes, the old ones knew. A few wept and clung to their grandchildren, but most lay still beneath the buffalo robes their children wrapped around them. Many in the families wept. Some cropped their hair or cut digits from their fingers to show their grief. They still threw the old ones away. The demons that possessed the elderly were a threat to the tribe's children.

Keah-tigh had never known his grandparents, and when he was six, his mother had starved herself to death out of grief for her third son, Waitan. Slashing her hair and blackening her face with soot, she had sat just a horse's length outside the entrance to Two Coups' tent, singing her song of grief and rocking from side to side. Each morning, Two Coups had set one bowl of fresh spring water before her. Then he had tended Keah-tigh, making sure he had food and sweeping out the tepee. As his mother's song had lessened and her rocking became just a swaying, Keah-tigh had tried to take her food one night, but Two Coups had cuffed him and sent him inside the tepee. Then seating himself at the entrance, Two Coups had spent the night smoking his favorite pipe. In the morning, when the women came to take away the body, Two Coups had placed the pipe across his wife's chest. Keah-tigh's earliest memory was of his father smoking that pipe with other tribal leaders about some weighty affair of hunt or war. He had taught Keah-tigh the uses of bow, lance and horse. He had painted symbols of power on Keah-tigh's shield. To picture his father gone was to see the plains without grass—dust blowing wherever the wind tossed it.

At midday, Wapeche pointed to two separate groups of tracks—one headed northeast and the other northwest. He said Wun-oan-to-mee went with the northeast group.

"He lies," Apiatan said. "She is on horseback. No man can say whether a horse carries man or woman by its hoof prints."

"I captured Wapeche when he was a boy among the Mescaleros," Two Coups said. "Like all Apaches, he was already a tracker. He served me well. I freed him and sponsored his membership into the Kata Kiowa. He has never lied to me."

"Then ask him how he knows which horse carries Wun-oan-to-me?" one of the Ondegupa shouted. Two Coups scowled. He shook his coup stick at the band.

"His word is enough! If he lies, then I lie. Who says Two Coups lies?"

The Kaan cast down their eyes. The three Onde glared at the Ondegupa, but these men returned the glares. Some even dared to meet Two Coups' eyes. One or two glanced at Apiatan, but he studied a horsefly on the neck of his mount. Two Coups motioned for Wapeche to proceed along the northeast trail.

"The tracks of this horse follow as shadow to the tracks of this other." Wapeche pointed. "Both horses have riders—the prints are deep. Two riders do not travel so close unless one leads the other."

"I should follow this group with half the warriors," Apiatan said and swatted the blood-gorged fly, "while you pursue the other group so we do not lose half the horses."

"We all follow the northeast trail," Two Coups said. A murmur arose among the Kaan. Ondegupa with herds of thirty or forty horses might not consider this loss of any great conse-quence, and the wealthy Onde with herds of a hundred or more horses would surely not notice the loss, but a Kaan was lucky to own three or four horses. Were not most of the stolen horses Kaan? Heat crept into Keah-tigh's cheeks and earlobes. He fidgeted, but a glance showed Two Coups sitting his horse with his customary calm expression, listening to the Kaan with his coup stick resting across the crook of his arm. When their grumbling ceased, Two Coups nodded at Wapeche.

As the band fell into line, Anko rode beside Keah-tigh. Anko said that thirty Kiowa chased six Blackfeet and one woman, when once there had been thirteen Blackfeet. Perhaps now, Two Coups might wish to do more than merely see the enemy. Keah-tigh turned his face away. Anko laughed and led his string of horses far off to the left among the Ondegupa.

Not long before dark, they came upon a lame horse. A Kaan jumped off his mount and examined the horse. He spat in disgust, while the Kiowa spoke of the shame of abandoning a lame horse to wolves without first slitting its throat.

"We know now they have seen us and push ahead, as fast as weary mounts will go," Two Coups said. "Perhaps, their leader hoped we would take in the horse and slow our pace, as he hoped to divide our numbers earlier."

"Now is the time to overtake them," Apiatan said. "They are near. Our horses are fresher. We should ride all night, if need be, to catch them."

Ondegupa shouted agreement. Kaan echoed the yells. Even one of the Onde grunted.

"And if they turn again in the dark," Two Coups asked, "how will we follow them? We will not wear out our horses chasing false trails in the night. They have seen us and will push their tired horses to exhaustion tonight. We will catch them tomorrow, but when light fails today, we camp. Now slit the horse's throat. We go."

When the sun sank to his lodge beyond the horizon, the Kiowa made camp. Keah-tigh tended his string of horses. Anko dared to claim first watch, but Keah-tigh said that Anko would take last watch, no matter what a lazy Ondegupa wanted. Anko replied that Onde slept lightly because they were old women afraid of the dark. Keah-tigh took a step toward Anko, but then a Kaan warrior told them if they continued to disturb his sleep he would show them how Kaan dealt with noisy children. Keah-tigh seized his sleeping robe and walked outside the circle of sleeping men.

He sat on his robe with his feet curled to one side. He watched the stars above the southern horizon. Two days to the south, Ato-t'ain slept undisturbed. No one taunted his courage. Even the men who slept as women with other men had an honored place within the tribe. Certain honors and privileges were denied them, but no one called them old women. Their dignity was respected.

"Does my son forget that a warrior must eat if he is to have strength?" Two Coups asked. His father stood silhouetted against the northern sky. Starlight glinted off the silver in his scalplock. It looked as if the stars had nested in his hair.

"I am not hungry," Keah-tigh said. Two Coups sat down beside Keah-tigh and shoved jerky and pemmican at him.

"A warrior must eat, even when he has no taste for his food," Two Coups said. "He must have strength. The life of the tribe depends upon the strength of its warriors."

Keah-tigh let the meat lie in his lap. He looked again at the southern sky. Then he glanced at his father but looked quickly away. Would he ever possess the serenity that wrapped his father like a warm winter blanket? The childish taunts of a stupid Ondegupa boy had driven Keah-tigh outside the war band and robbed his hunger. Yet his father had endured far worse today and seemed to dismiss it as something of no account.

"My father, I do not know if the warrior's path is mine," he said to the food in his lap. The shaming water crowded into his eyes. "Is my father angry?"

Keah-tigh felt those calm eyes upon him. He was his father's fourth son. Four was the sacred Kiowa number. Fourth daughters made the most virtuous wives. Fourth sons were the bravest warriors. He bit off a chunk of jerky, doggedly chewing to hide his tears, so his father would not be even more ashamed.

"Why should I feel anger that my fourth son asks the same question that I asked at his age?"

Keah-tigh looked at his father. Light flashed like shimmering stars in Two Coups' eyes. Keah-tigh blinked and wiped a hand across his face. He swallowed a mouthful of meat.

"I am not certain of myself," Keah-tigh said. "A warrior needs to be certain."

"You speak of certainties where there are none," Two Coups said. "A warrior chooses among uncertainties."

"I do not understand," Keah-tigh said. "If a warrior is never certain, how does he choose?"

"He uses the wisdom the Great Mystery granted him," Two Coups said, "but he is never certain. Last night, I said I was not concerned for Wun-oan-to-mee because I trusted in the wisdom of the Blackfoot leader. A wise leader would have seen that his men were too close to our camp to risk the noise of a rape. His men would have lost alertness quarreling over who went first. Perhaps, the man who captured her would have protested being forced to share. A wise leader would not risk this with enemies nearby, but what if their leader was not a wise man? What if he was young and overeager to glory in the triumph of his raid? I could not be certain, so I hoped their leader had wisdom.

"Again, when the trail split, I chose among uncertainties. Many times, I have split my war party when pursued. I send the youngest warriors and the fastest horses in one group, hoping the enemy will foolishly divide his force to chase men whom I have split again and again, scattering my enemies across the plains. Perhaps this is what the Blackfoot leader did, but maybe the Black-feet quarreled over the woman and the horses. Such quarrels have divided war parties before. I could not know, so I hoped their leader acted as I would and kept the woman with him to prevent trouble among his younger warriors. I asked my spirit helper for courage, and he told me a leader must decide."

"Can a warrior choose correctly and still fail?" Keah-tigh asked.

"Yes, that is when he has most need of his courage."

"Apiatan has great courage," Keah-tigh said, "and he is always certain."

"None has greater courage than my brother," Two Coups said, "when the enemy is within arm's reach. Thinking courage is enough, he rushes to display his courage at every opportunity. He puts aside wisdom. He sees that the Blackfeet's horses are weary and enemies are close at hand, so he would blunder after them among shadows and moonbeams. There is little chance he would find them, but great chance they would hear him—men who crouch with knives in hands, not daring even to breathe. At the first sound of pursuit, they will kill Wun-oan-to-mee to keep her silent. They may still do that."

"Why? We do not pursue them."

"But we pushed them hard today." With three fingers of his right hand, Two Coups stroked the coup stick lying across the crook of his left elbow. "We had to—else tonight, confident they had outrun pursuit, they might have passed the woman among them. I hope they will not kill her since we do not pursue them tonight, but other creatures travel these plains. I cannot be certain that weary, frightened men who remember the boot Wun-oan-to-mee left for us will know a coyote or a grizzly by its sound before they use the knife."

"Where does my father find wisdom to choose among uncertainties?"

"I seek the words for my life's question among uncertainties." Two Coups' fingers traced the bend of the crook at the top of the coup stick. "A warrior's life is a question for which he seeks words. His choices are his words. Always the voice of his spirit helper tells him that he could find better words—that every choice, no matter how great the rewards, is somehow a failure, but every failure is somehow right, if it is part of the question he hopes to ask the Great Mystery, not an answer the warrior shouts at that we do not understand."

"I do not know if I have this courage," Keah-tigh said. "I want answers. I fear the harm I might do without them."

"Then perhaps you should go to Ato-t'ain," Two Coups said. "He is old and wishes to teach one to follow him. The tribe will honor the shaman whom he trains. Ato-t'ain will teach you certainties."

"Have you ever sought these certainties, my father?"

"Once when I was about your age," Two Coups replied, "I sat and listened to Ato-t'ain speak with certainty about the will of that we call the Great Mystery, but even he did not know its true name. I did not see my words along Ato-t'ain's path, for I remembered that once the Kiowa lived underground as ants. Earth-woman kept us safe there. Food she gave us from her womb, but one day, the shape-changer Saynday walked above us on the surface. We called to him from beneath the sacred cottonwood. He asked what we wanted. Some of the ants were afraid and ran away to hide in the safety of Earth-mother. But others cried to help them find a way out of the earth, for they wished to be nearer the Great Mystery and walk in the light of its symbol, the sun. Saynday told them that walking on the surface meant finding their way among cold, hunger, thirst and disease. Enemies would threaten them at every step. There would be no safety for them ever. Still, some of the ants asked to walk nearer the Great Mystery, so Saynday helped these ants out of the earth and changed them into men and women. He gave them a name, Kiowa, the People Who Go Forth. It is on the warrior's path, the path of greatest uncertainty, that I feel truly a Kiowa."

Early in the morning, Wapeche found Wun-oan-to-mee's scalped corpse—hands bound, mouth gagged and throat cut. Blood had dried to a red crust on her neck and the front of her buckskin dress.

Apiatan stood over the body and tore off his painted shirt. He slashed his chest again and again with his knife. Blood poured down his stomach muscles and spread across his loin cloth. He sliced off the little finger of his left hand and chopped his hair into a jagged stubble, sparing only his warrior's scalplock. Ondegupa and Kaan crowded around him, echoing his cries with grief songs and songs of revenge. Many collected locks of his hair to add power to their medicine bundles.

Jumping off his horse, Two Coups studied the corpse. Then he walked with Wapeche for several horse lengths in all directions, pointing to sign—swiftly, decisively, as if the corpse had freed him. He conversed briefly with the other Onde. Then he strode to the center of his warriors, where Apiatan had wrapped Wun-oan-to-mee in a buffalo robe and draped her across his horse. Now Apiatan trudged toward Keah-tigh and held out his hands for the reins of another horse.

"Anko will take the body back to the tribe," Two Coups said.

Apiatan spun around, but then stood as if struck a blow to the head—his mouth open and slack. He swayed slightly. His left hand dropped the reins to Wun-oan-to-mee's horse.

"Your grief is great," Two Coups said and looked at the rest of his warriors, "but we have need of your courage. Find it! We ride after the Blackfeet."

The war band clashed shields and lances. War cries sprang from lips. Striding to his horse, Two Coups vaulted onto its back and sent it prancing along the Blackfeet's trail. Wapeche cantered alongside Two Coups. The rest of the warriors mounted and chased after their leader. Keah-tigh knotted Anko's string to the end of his tether but left the best horse for Apiatan. Then he followed his father. Soon Apiatan galloped past Keah-tigh.

Early in the afternoon, they caught sight of the Blackfeet, tiny specks fleeing north on the green plains. Soon the specks became men crouched over the necks of laboring, foam-drenched horses. The Kiowa shouted insults and war cries. Two Coups swung his coup stick in a wide fan from left to right. Instantly, the Kiowa swept into a long line that outstretched the width of the six Blackfeet and their stolen horses. By kicking his horse's flanks and yanking on the lead tether, Keah-tigh managed to stay within two horse lengths of his father at the center of the line.

The Blackfeet turned left, but the Kiowa easily turned and closed more ground. Two Coups spun his coup stick in a circle above his head. Kiowa at both ends of the line lashed their horses to greater speed. Soon, a moving circle of Kiowa enclosed the Blackfeet. A tall Blackfoot, wearing nothing but a breechclout and moccasins, shouted a command, cast aside the lead tether of three stolen horses and turned his mount to the right. Abandoning their extra horses, his five warriors followed their leader's charge. An Ondegupa leveled his lance at the leader, but the Blackfoot swung underneath his horse, avoided the lance and then pulled himself astride his horse with a mocking yell. An arrow from another Blackfoot sent the Ondegupa's horse to its knees. The rider jumped clear, and the Blackfeet raced past him.

Two Coups shouted to three warriors to gather the freed horses. Keah-tigh galloped past the unhorsed Ondegupa, who sprang onto the back of the last horse in the string and cut the tether with his knife.

While the Kiowa reformed a line, the Blackfeet opened a lead of thirty horse lengths. They headed for a small knot of cottonwoods that marked a spring. At the edge of the trees, the leader flung up his hand and leaped with bow and arrows from his horse. Copying his actions, his warriors took cover in the grove. Just out of bowshot, Two Coups shouted a command to halt, but two eager warriors charged the grove. Arrows knocked both men from their horses. The Blackfoot leader ran out of the grove, scalped both men and then jumped up and down waving the scalps at the Kiowa. Then he sprinted back into the cottonwoods to his cheering men.

Two Coups signed for his men to encircle the Blackfeet. Then the Kiowas moved forward, pouring a storm of arrows into the grove. Unable to hide from arrows coming from all directions, five Blackfeet died quickly. Only the leader, an arrow through his right calf, remained alive when Apiatan shouted for the Kiowa to hold their fire. Two Coups turned in the saddle, studied his brother and then nodded. Apiatan shouted a challenge. The Blackfoot bent, snapped off the protruding shaft and limped to the edge of the trees. Screaming a war cry, Apiatan charged. At four horse lengths, the Blackfoot sent an arrow into Apiatan's horse. Collapsing over its front legs, the beast threw Apiatan headfirst. He landed a body's length from the Blackfoot. Apiatan's right leg twisted three ways, as if he had a second knee. He lay groaning. Dropping his bow, the Blackfoot strode forward with his scalping knife. He stood above Apiatan and laughed.

Two Coups raised his coup stick and shouted to his warriors not to move. Then he held out the coup stick and yelled a single war cry. The Blackfoot watched him. Two Coups walked his horse to within a horse length of the Blackfoot, dismounted and stepped forward. Keah-tigh slid from his horse, knocked an arrow to his bow and pulled the bowstring to his ear. Two Coups extended the coup stick. The Blackfoot jerked his knife above his head. Two Coups extended the stick again. After a moment, the Blackfoot lowered his knife and accepted the coup stick. Two Coups spread wide his arms. Twice, the Blackfoot tapped with the stick above Two Coups' heart. Then Two Coups bent and hoisted Apiatan onto the back of his horse. Turning his back on his enemy, who stood with the coup stick resting across his left forearm, Two Coups led the horse back to Keah-tigh. Keah-tigh lowered his bow.

"Kill him," Two Coups said. Keah-tigh rocked back on his heels. "Would you steal the honor your father has given a brave warrior? Would you send him in shame to his people without the men he led? Kill him!"

Keah-tigh raised the bow, bent the string to his ear and sent his arrow straight into the heart of the unmoving warrior.

"Scalp all but the Blackfoot leader," Two Coups said to his men. "Leave him with the coup stick in his grasp. Pawnee or Sioux will find this battlefield and spread the tale. Eventually, the Blackfeet will sing of their warrior who died with the coup stick of the greatest warrior in the Kiowa nation in his hand."

One of the three Onde grunted and slipped his knife from its sheath. The other two lifted Apiatan down from his horse and set about fashioning a splint for his leg. The Ondegupa and Kaan followed the first Onde into the grove while Keah-tigh stood beside his father.

"I am the fourth son of a Koitsenko soldier," Keah-tigh said. "Surely, I will find the words for my life's question along the warrior's path."

Two Coups said, "That is my hope."

The End

Robert Temple is a retired college professor living in Talking Rock, Georgia. FiveStar/Gale/Cengage published the first printing of his novel The Strange Courtship of Kathleen O'Dwyer December 21, 2022. Thorndike Press will release the large print edition this coming April. Whispering Wind published his short story, "The Koitsenko Soldier's Fourth Son"; The Artistry of Life published "The Stutterer"; Amelia Magazine published "Night Ambush"; Late Knocking published "Time Flow"; The Wisconsin Review "Bob's Park"; and Alles Alpacas (a German magazine) and International Camelid Quarterly both published his short story "How Suri Alpacas Kept the Faith."

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Whose-Is Idea it Being?
by Jon Gluckman

"The unexamined life is not worth living." – Socrates

September 11, 18__

Dear Diary,

Whose-is idea it being for us womens to wear all them frills and bangles? Well, I don't know whom that idjit was, nor whom it were intended for, 'cause let me tell you all, no man wants to put more clothes and items to unhook on a womens. They's would have it to put on less, or perhaps maybe, none at all.

Not sure, I am, why womens even wear clothes at all when it comes down to a man's desires. Why, we should all just walk around naked as an unsheathed bodkin, it being up to them. I can't count up the times I get myself all frilled and bangled up to come into town, already imagine-in in my minds the type of night I'm be wanting for myself: such as a dance or two in the dance hall and then a fine dinner with linen and candles and silver platters with domes on top and steam that seeps up the outsides like ghosts' fingers clutching at you through the walls or floors-is (to be more directionally correct) of some old house, only to be taken on back of the livery and then thrown down into the hay to have their way taken upon me, huffin' and blowin' like a hog rolling in mud. It's like them ghostly steam hands were a-dragging you down to Hell when you considered it all in the end, with the way it always turned out.

Well, I never! Except it happens all the time. Don't know why I bother to imagine any different. I guess that's not what The Lord Almighty had me intended to be. I guess I'm was made to be thrown down and used like some type of rut to fill a plow blade to, or something of that nature. At least that's the way my thinking went until Sam Buckley the Third, with the tall silken hat and tails, and that silver wolf's head walking stick, not just on the top, but silver to the floor in a straight line, well, until he helped me off the wagon, our two right hands making a chain in an "S" formation if-in an "S" was laying itself sideways somewhat, like this: "S", only further over (I was never so good at the sketching as my sister Penelope she being; I was always the natural one with the craft of wordsmanship's where my talents lay) as he let me down off the running board and into the dust of Main Street, there in front of the saloon.

Then he says, "Why ain't you the prettiest thing given to God's green Earth," as he smiled at me with all those white-as-bone teeth.

I like a man with good teeth. They can be hard to find around here, what with all them chewing tobacco, and having their faces caved in by some raging antagonist wielding a whole wagon tongue, or maybe just the kingbolt across their faces, as it were. Thems there teeth of his-in, I could nearly see myself in, I'd bet, but I didn't look that long to find out, turning all red like I do through my cheeks, and then having to cast my glance down, when embarrassment swaddles me like in a blanket that don't gives a body any warmth.

Mr. Sam Buckley, he's the discerning type, 'cause he recognized the distress I felt, and as soon as he did, which was mere seconds off the clock after I felt it, he says, as if he spoke to some third party that wasn't there, and not to me at all, like the speakings is over my head, "It'd be an honor and privilege for me to take the likes of a woman like yourself, this vision of loveliness, this creature poured from the cauldrons of heaven above, to have a dance and a dinner with the lowly likes of someone such as myself." And he doffs his hat and extends his arm like one of them proper English solicitrixes, just like that in his "howdy-ya-doo."

I says, "Well, Mr. . . . err . . . Mr. . . . "

"Bradley. But you call me Sam."

"Well, Mr. Bradley, I think you needn't look much beyond where you're looking right nows-is in front of you to have such desires fulfilled."

After I said that, I felt I should curl up like one a them John Campbell newspapers they have out there in Boston, that I'd heard about, in a conflagration, and wished to blow away like its ashes when the fire had had its way with me. I'd not been, ever before, so forward as to have such a thing by me said, as I said.

Some mens are mens of action and some mens just let life happens to them and make no effort at all to become the agent of their longings, or their sufferings for that matter. Mr. Bradley is the former type, the type that takes the actions that need taking to become the commander and chief of the life granted unto himself.

So, without another one of his "howdy-ya-doos," he takes me by the elbow, links it with his-in, and off we go to the dance hall, practically skipping by them tumbleweeds as it were, and have ourselves just the time of our fool-hearted lives, dancing jigs to the jamboree, and promenading ourselves all over the dance floor. Why I never danced so much in my life. I panted like a whip-driven mule tethered to a grind wheel by the time Mr. Bradley called it all quits there and suggested we'd worked up enough of an appetite now that dinner should be the next item on the menu; "No pun intended," he said and snorted, but I likes myself a man with a sense of humor. Even a bad one. So's, I didn't mind his pun none.

Never had me a dinner like the one we had, I'll tell you. There were them potatoes all brown and crisp on top like a layer of brown slate got itself laid across them, all soaked in the drippings of the prime rib that looked like it attempted to make a break for itself over the plate's edges. And them cheese-is and the cherries all on fire after that, well, I'd never seen such food in all my days up to 22, as I am. I could barely fit it all in. But I did after I came back from the powder room where I struggled some, but managed to loosen my corset with help from a nice lady in there with me who said she worked for the establishment, upstairs. She gave me some fresh Eau de toilette, too.

"I'm just having the best time, ever," I told Mr. Bradley. And he said he was glad. Glad for me. And then suggested we walk off all we ate down by the river. Under the moon. Only when we got down there, there was no moon. In fact, it was so dark it appeared that God had never a moon invented by His-selfs. Even though it weren't cold, I shivered, and Mr. Bradley, he takes off his jacket like a real gentlemans and puts it over my shoulders in a cape-like fashion. I thanked him kindly, and he says, "Not at all."

That's when he shoves me between the shoulder blades-is, and I stumble into the brush besides the trail there, where he then falls on top of me after he turns me up to face his face, which was all full of thems teeth.

I asks "Why?" as I always do, when these mens insist on themselves to do this, this way, and not in some way proper where I don't have to be crying all like I do, with my chest heaving, my muscles knotting, my veins all constricting and have my underthings all ripped-up underneath, and bloods running down my thighs-is after its all over and done with, and they are to be catching their breaths.

And, so's this time, I'd had enough of this. I decided right then and there, I wasn't letting this to have happen to me again, with nothing to say about it. So, when Mr. Bradley, he finally stands up with his pants all down by his ankles in circular ripples like water draining down a cesspool, I fumble for the walking stick he'd let fall beside us, and swing it so hard it leaves a wolf's face impression imprinted from his left cheekbone to his jaw, as his teeth spray out like chaff from one of them new threshing machines. And now, he warn't that attractive anymore, this Mr. Bradley in his silken hat and tails, 'cause he had no teeth, now, that were whole teeths, and I couldn't see myself in them anymore, as I had imagined I could have, before all this happened. And you know how I feel about teeth, 'cause I told about that before.

It is a truth; I count myself with the most unluckiest of people, as is made obvious by these entries in my diary that I keeps under lock and key so's nobody can stick their nose into my life and being, although, as I suppose I've illustrated with all I've been telling, that my life is nothing special.

I am told this sort of carrying-on happens all the time, that it happened even back into days before clocks or towns or dance halls. Thems were some dark days back then, I'd bet yous. As dark as that walk, there, by that river without no moon.

Seems like for as much time moves forward, it stays right where it is as if it hadn't moved forward at all. It's like you're standing in that river, in the same spot with yourself all the time and the river moves herself along without paying you no neverminds. I'm just like that, I come to realize: changing yet staying the same. That's why I like to write these here entries. I learn things about my lifes as I examines it here. Things I'd never learn if I didn't write them down. And that, I'm told, would have made some feller some time ago, happy, and I'm all about makes-in them fellers happy, as it turns out.

The End

Retired, veteran English teacher, Jon Gluckman, writes in a small southern New Jersey town, right outside Philadelphia, PA with his beautiful and brilliant curator wife, and a rascally rescue puppy. He has published work in Micro-Fiction Monday Magazine, 101 Words Weekly, Mystery Magazine, Grim & Gilded, and Mobius Boulevard.

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