February, 2024

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Issue #173

Welcome, Western Fans!

Looking for free, tantalizing Tales of the Old West?
You're at the right place.


Read this month's Tales and vote for your favorite.
They'll appear in upcoming print volumes of The Best of Frontier Tales Anthologies!

The Shadow of a Star
by Dick Derham
As the calendar advances toward a new century, lawlessness dominates the Arizona Mesquite. How could twenty-six men with badges hope to make a difference?

* * *

Rogue Scout and a Sacred Bundle
by James Ott
Where should loyalty lie—to his father's Pawnee family or to his new community of cavalry troopers? Scout Half Yellow Face answers the question, but will his fellow Pawnee scouts obey orders to capture Pawnee renegades? The test comes during a dangerous mission to the Texas Panhandle.

* * *

The Jug at Chaco Canyon
by Tom Sheehan
For much of his life, 48-year-old Bart Tarpin had heard of the music of the spheres. A gift it was—the most memorable of all gifts,—humming with heaven itself. Did the jug he found at Chaco Canyon contain it?

* * *

The Outcome of a Fortunate Encounter
by Robert H. Boder
Cavalry helps Sioux tribe protect its buffalo herd from hunters with a classic gun fight, unique trial and romance plus a bit of humor. See if you remember Western movie stars' first names! It's different from most stories and a memory test for fans.

* * *

The Koitsenko Soldier's Fourth Son
by Robert Temple
Twelve-year-old Keah-tigh of the Kiowa is full of doubts about his path in life, but learns he must accompany his father, Two Coups, in a war party. Will Keah-tigh find the courage of a warrior within himself?

* * *

Whose-Is Idea it Being?
by Jon Gluckman
Our protagonist and narrator reveals in her diary entries the lessons she learns about herself while in compromising positions with her aggressive pursuers. She's not going to take it anymore . . . or is she?

* * *

Want all of this month's Western stories at once? Click here –

All the Tales

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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