August, 2021

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Issue #143

All The Tales

Funeral of a Brave Man
by Martin Suppo

It was a warm morning in Travis, Arizona in the summer of 1876. The body of Jack Woodward, killed in a duel against "Rocky" Jackson, was carried by his friends, his wife, and only daughter to the local cemetery, where the gravedigger, shovel in hand, was waiting to do his work. The parish priest was not present at the ceremony and did not allow the body to be laid to rest in the church, "Jack wouldn't have minded, he was never much interested in religion," said his wife as the coffin was lowered into the hole previously dug for the occasion.

The deceased's daughter, a blue-eyed, blonde-haired girl who clung to her mother's legs, however, did not cry. Her father was unknown to her for most of her short 5 years. It was very common for "the northerner" (as the villagers, including his murderer, called him) to be absent from town for several days, even months, and always return with a new scar, although that didn't matter to the owner of the land where Jack's ranch was located, as he always returned with enough money for rent. Among the friends who went to the funeral was the Sheriff, Kit O'Rourke and his deputies. The representative of the law was an old white-haired man with a short mustache. He once knew how to be muscular and quick with a gun, however, at 61 years of age Kit was already fatter and slower, although he still held a certain level of moral authority among the citizens of Travis. The story of how he befriended the dead man was a local legend. Back in '67, a younger Kit and a newly arrived Jack (still wearing his Yankee cavalry uniform) took on the dangerous Mendoza gang, a group of Mexicans terrorizing both sides of the Rio Grande. The Sheriff and the soldier followed them to the Texas border; the gang, unaware that they were being followed, decided to make camp and get drunk on alcohol stolen from Travis' saloon. Jack and Kit, hiding on a mountain near the bandits' hideout, waited for dawn to strike with their repeating rifles. The hangover-stricken Mexicans were unable to respond properly, and so a 12-man gang feared throughout the American Southwest was wiped out in a single morning. This was the first contract the former cavalryman cashed in as a bounty hunter. Upon his return to Travis and after collecting the money, Jack rented land from the local landowner, married one of the Can Can saloon dancers ("Blondie" Johnson) and had a daughter.

Another of those who went to the funeral was an old Apache Indian. He was tall, with long black hair; he was dressed like an army scout and on his back he carries a Winchester rifle. No one knew quite how they had been related, although Black Pete claimed that they had fought together against the Mezcaleros in '73, when Jack had served in the army because of his knowledge of the state of Arizona, although that could never be confirmed as the Indian left Travis as soon as the funeral was over without saying a word to anyone.

The wooden cross that had been placed there fell apart and due to the fire that the Travis Herald suffered in 1878, very little evidence of the existence of Jack Woodward remained. One of the only textual evidences was a book written in 1889 by a French anthropologist.

At his grave, the deceased had his two Peacemaker pistols placed in his hands, resting on his chest. On his forehead, to hide the hole left by "Rocky's" accurate shot, a $1 coin had been placed. The coin had a depression in the center; according to Jack, that was where the bullet that almost killed him in the battle of Yellow Tavern had hit him. He had been dressed in his old uniform; however, his saber was missing, his wife had sold it to pay for the cost of the ceremony. The widow would die in 1901 and their daughter left town in 1877 to be educated in the east supported by her paternal family, although she would make occasional visits to her mother until her death. The last record of her is that of her marriage to a prominent Boston lawyer in 1894 which was published in the Boston Review.

One of the deceased's war buddies, now a respected officer, learned two months after the funeral that "Crazy" Jack had died. His mind flashed back to the memory of his late friend charging Confederates in multiple battles, always coming away unscathed or with minor wounds. He had always considered him immortal. The death of his companion affected him so much that it was the only thing that occupied his mind for several months. The officer was thinking about it as he rode with his men through Lakota territory, ready to find the bulk of the rebel Indians and report back to the main force. He was so engrossed in his thoughts that he did not notice that a small group of Sioux natives had surrounded them, nor did he have time to realize that a tomahawk was aimed at his head and the last thing he thought as his body fell to the ground was "if Crazy Jack is dead, it means that no one is safe anymore".

The killer of the deceased was in the Can Can saloon drinking whiskey after whiskey. The bar was completely silent despite being full of parishioners. The only voice to be heard was that of Black Pete sitting in his usual corner telling the town kids how the confrontation between the bounty hunter and the ex-confederate had gone. Pete had not been present at the duel, although to be fair none of the townsfolk had seen the fight, most had seen Jack and Rocky leave the bar and others were napping when the sound of gunfire was heard. When they came out, they saw the body of the "Northerner" lying in a pool of blood and Jackson dropping his pistols and re-entering the "Saloon". However, this did not matter to the storyteller, who proposed the theory that Jack had been insulted by "Rocky" accusing him of being a murderer for his actions in the war and that the "Yankee" had merely pointed to the door and put his left hand on his revolver. Chet, the son of the bank owner and blessed with an intelligence that would enable him to get rich from oil in the century to come, asked the Negro why Jack lost to the Southerner. For the first time in his life, Pete had to say "I don't know." After that the boys lost interest in the storyteller and left him alone, allowing him to concentrate on finishing his beer without first toasting Jack Woodward "the bravest son of a bitch I ever met." A few weeks later, Rocky would leave town, never to return, and just like his duel with Jack, every resident of Travis had his own version of his ultimate fate.

The most interesting and the one that would be published in "Legends and Modern Folk Tales of The American Frontier" (1889) written by the French anthropologist Jaques Badeux, in chapter 5 the author interviewed "a Negro who went by the name of Pete" who told him that after leaving Travis the murderer had sold his services as a mercenary to various landowners in Mexico before being killed in a brothel in El Paso, "by a girl with white skin, blond hair and eyes as blue as the sky".

The End

Since he was very young, Martin Suppo always enjoyed westerns in any kind of medium, be it comics,films or books. One of his favourite tribes of the American West are the Apache so he tries to put them in every story he works on. He writes mostly for pleasure and his main objective is to entertain, while maintaining a certain degree of quality. His main inspirations are: the writing of Zane Grey, O'Henry, and Louise L'amour; the films of John Ford, Howard Hawks, Delmer Daves, Sergio Leone, and Sergio Corbucci; Italian-French comics such as Blueberry, Comanche, Storia Del West, Tex, Zagor, Jackaroe, etc.

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The Preacher
by Al Matlock

The sounds of thunder rolling down the canyon hid the sound of the shot. Lighting pierced the dark black ominous clouds, outlining a lone solitary figure of a saddled horse standing as if holding a vigil for some obscure reason, while the rain continued coming down in sheets.

The storm had raged for two hours and a deluge of water filled the stream bed that roared into life. The lighting continued to light the night sky illuminating the steep rocky slope lined with blackjack oak and a black object appearing to be a man's body, unmoving and without life.

The body was that of a man whose face had been battered and bloodied, his hand moved across his forehead, a signal that he was alive.

The trail was a rough fifty feet from where the man was laying. The man called "Preacher" rolled onto his side and began to pull himself ever so slowly up the steep embankment to the trail he had been riding. A hidden rifleman had blown him off his horse and left him for dead.

* * *

As I lay among the mud and rocks my head felt as though it was going to explode. My brain was addled, but I had to get my horse, if I was going to survive.

The bullet parted my hair on the left side of my skull, just about where I normally part it. Had it been a quarter of an inch lower I would not be worrying about getting to my horse. I was sure 'Water-Maker' would be waiting for me.

The slow tough pull back up to the trail was an arduous one. I forced my hands to dig into the mud and rock and leverage to the next hand full of mud. My body was so weak I rested often.

Willing myself, I continued the long climb to the trail. Tumbling down the slope had bruised and bloodied my face but no bones appeared to be broken. My head continued pounding and my body ached from bouncing off young blackjack trees and rocks as I rolled down the hill.

Finally with the last of my strength I reached the trail. Water-Maker came close nuzzling my shoulder as if to say, "where you been and why did it take you so long?"

I just laid in the trail for several long minutes, gathering strength. Finally grabbing the stirrup I pulled myself to stand beside the tall black stallion.

Summoning my strength I tried to put my foot in the stirrup. After several attempts my boot found the stirrup and I pulled my body into the saddle. Water-Maker was glad to see me but no more than I to see him. I reassured him, rubbing him on the neck, "I'm okay! That was a close call. We have to find some shelter." Exhausted and almost done, I urged the big horse on down the trail, looking for some kind of shelter.

The storm continued to rage; blinding rain continued its downpour. Slumped over my saddle horn, I wasn't seeing very clear, what with the rain and it getting dark, but there appeared to be a grove of blackjack trees off to the left.

Barely conscious for the past half hour, I gave Water-Maker his head. He took charge and continued into the grove of trees nestled against the side of a bluff.

The slap of a pine branch against the side of my head brought me back to consciousness. The chills began as my tired and beat-up body tried to hold on to its last little bit of heat.

The entrance of a cave loomed up in front of us. Once again Water-Maker had saved my bacon. Grabbing the saddle horn with my hands and arms I let my body just slide off, almost sinking to the ground, I stumbled and came up against the cave wall.

The cave had been used by another traveler far a long period of time. There was fire sign on the roof and dry wood was stacked inside the cave, which was something most of us that travel the trail appreciate and would return the favor for the next traveler.

After I finally got the saddle and gear off, I got a healthy fire going. Coffee was my next order of business. A small stream, just a few feet from the cave entrance filled my coffee pot. My clothes were so wet I just peeled them off and laid them out to dry.

Darkness had set in by the time that was done, and so was I. I bathed my wounds, as best I could, downed a cup of coffee and felt better, but my body moaned for rest. Water-Maker was not far away, standing guard over me, like a sentinel.

Wrapping my blanket around my aching body I stretched out on my ground sheet and drifted off.

Sleep came easy but was not peaceful. My mind fell off the cliff of reality into a night of horror. Two men raped and murdered my wife, Sarah Jane, and burned our cabin around her.

* * *

My horrible nightmare was one of terrible pain and sorrow. The memory of Sarah's death brought back the sound of my own screams for her. She was my life and everything revolved around her and the baby that was alive in her.

The pain lanced through my head as my mind flashed back to the horrors of that day. I had been hunting and was almost home when I sensed something was wrong. The sound of the shot came as the slug tore into me, high in my upper back, knocking me from my horse just in sight of the cabin.

The smell of wood smoke was heavy in my nostrils, I could hardly breathe. I opened my eyes to see our cabin's roof collapse on top of Sarah. The horror paralyzed my mind. I could hear moaning that turned to screams of despair once again reality dropped off into oblivion.

Darkness had covered everything by the time I regained consciousness, moving brought terrible pain. The slug had entered high on my left shoulder, passing through from back to front. Struggling to set up, my clothes was caked with dried blood.

The bleeding had eventually stopped but I had lost a lot of blood and my arm was totally useless. Willing my body into action, I rose onto my right elbow. Although I could see the remains of our cabin, I could not bring myself to accept the fact that Sarah was inside.

The sound of a lonesome cry echoed down our valley. The anguish and sorrow of emotions swept through my mind, I knew that she was lost to me forever.

The smell of smoke brought me back to my present reality, a corner of my blanket had edged into the coals and was beginning to smolder. Pain brought me fully awake when I moved abruptly and my sore muscles cried out from the bruising, jarring, scratches and cuts on my body from the hard fall last night.

Someone has said that nightmares seem to come back when a person is tired and exhausted. My nightmare comes every time I lay down to sleep. I wondered if it would ever end.

Outside of having a cut on my scalp, a headache, sole muscles, and my old back wound from two years ago, I felt okay.

The rain had stopped sometime during the night and the morning-rays of the sun were snaking down the little canyon warming up the chill that always accompanies the darkness in the northeastern hill country of Indian Territory.

Water Maker was feeding on grass just outside the cave entrance and the bright morning sun was getting warm. A cup of coffee and a biscuit would make me feel a whole lot better.

Coffee boiled over fire is so strong its aroma can almost pick a man up and carry him and some might say even resurrect a dead body, well almost.

After my second cup of coffee and hardtack biscuit, I thought about my next move. The rain had washed out all tracks, so that was not a consideration.

This was the second time I was shot from my saddle and lived, I had better be more careful. Almost three weeks ago I started on this trail, trying to catch up to two worthless vermin that murdered an old man and woman for a few dollars.

Luther and Ruth had been our friends when Sarah was alive, and I was pasturing their little church. Their friendship and comfort meant a lot to me when Sarah was killed. I was a Preacher, but had not always followed the 'turn the other cheek' commandment.

Blood was sure to flow and nothing was going to get in the way of justice for my friends. The killers knew I was coming and now thought me dead so maybe they would get careless, let their guard down and spend too long in the wrong place. I'll be there to wake them.

The only settlement of any size would be Tahlequah, about twenty-five miles to the south. I was no stranger to Tahlequah. I tracked the Waters brothers to Tahlequah and with the help of Jim Tenkiller and Zach Watts, Sarah's killers met the end they deserved.

Tahlequah was said to be the new Echota of the Cherokees. It was a thriving community since the whole nation had arrived four years ago. It seemed to be a good place to catch up to the Hatcher brothers. A visit with Jim and Zach, after the Hatchers were taken care of, would be good.

Working up a sweat felt good. My muscles screamed for a bit but loosened up. After stacking up another wood supply and washing the last bite of biscuit down with some coffee, I felt better than I had a right to. The sun was a good two hours risen when I saddled up and turned my back on the cave.

Glancing over my shoulder, I thanked the good Lord for His watch care and the last traveler for his help. Water-Maker was anxious to get on with the trip and set a mile eating trot that was as smooth as a rocking chair, well almost!

The sun was overhead and its rays were warm and felt good on my back. The trail wound down through the scrub oaks, maples and sycamore trees. Small streams cut across the trail like snakes winding themselves down the hollow over and abundance of rock.

Slowing Water-Maker to a walk I enjoyed the tranquility of the forest and the birds making their music and squirrels chattering and fussing because of the intrusion upon their domain.

My thoughts were interrupted by the sounds of hammering and cursing between two men. I stopped Water-Maker in under a huge maple and remained quite just to make sure I wasn't interfering in bad business.

Their wagon was low on the right rear, appeared the wheel had come off and they were attempting to put in back on, but they had a load of small barrows and it looked heavy.

I nudged my horse into the road and gave out with a loud "hello!" Good people have been shot because they didn't introduce themselves before entering a camp. Dirt had been dug from beneath the wheel and they had a timber as leverage but not enough weight to lift the axle high enough. The weariness showed on their faces and a little bit of fear showed around the edges.

One had a felt hat in hand about to throw it on the wet ground until I showed up.

"Looks like you could use another body to weight that timber or maybe unload some of those barrows."

"We were just about ready to give up. Axle needs to be raised another foot, and those barrows stay on the wagon!" Felt hat commented.

I had about decided these two were trying to hide something in those barrows. It wasn't hard to figure out what that was, hard moonshine whiskey. I tied Water-Maker to a sapling beside the trail. "I'll help you put more weight on your pole; maybe we can lift it high enough."

Felt hat said, "I'm Jack Double-Tooth and this is Thomas Cox. We appreciate your help!"

"Everybody calls me Preacher." We began putting our weight on the pole and the wagon lifted just high enough to slide the wheel on the axle.

Spirits picked up a bit after the wagon was repaired and ready to go again. "Preacher you are welcome to ride along with us. We're going to make a fire about a mile down the trail. We don't have much, but Thomas cooks a good batch of flat bread and we'll fry up some potatoes and beans."

I didn't like the business these boys were in, but decided they weren't bad, just misguided. I knew the Cherokee's didn't hold to whiskey being in their country, but that was their business. "That sounds like an invitation I can't refuse."

We were sitting around waiting on Thomas's flat bread, sipping on a cup of coffee and I could sense the question coming, "What happened to your face? Where'd you get all those scratches and bruises?"

"Well, a bushwhacker parted my scalp with a slug late yesterday and I tumbled down a steep bluff, banging my head on every rock and tree trunk on the slope. I must have been on that slope for couple of hours, while the storm was going on. Lucky for me, my horse waited on me."

"Do you know who it was that shot you? Jack asked.

"Yep, it was one of the two murderers I've been trailing for about three weeks now. The Hatcher brothers or least that was the names they were using up in Kansas. I think they're heading for Tahlequah. I'll catch up to them and make them pay for what they did."

Jack appeared to be mulling something over for a few minutes before he said, "You know they may stop before they get to Tahlequah. There's a tavern about five miles from here on the Illinois River. A man can get food and drink even get a bed, if you don't mind sleeping on straw mattress and burlap sheets. If those two think you are dead, they may hold up for a day."

"You may be right! I think I'll pay that tavern a visit about sundown."

The sun was about three o'clock when we packed up and headed towards the tavern. Jack and Thomas decided they weren't about to miss the fun so they tagged along with me. The trail was pretty well traveled and so we made good time.

The sun was getting pretty low when we pulled up in a grove of trees. The tavern was in sight and looked like there were three horses tied to the rail and a couple others in a small corral to the side of the building.

Jack was looking to his waist gun like he was preparing for action, I said, "Thanks for your company, but I kill my own snakes."

Thomas said, "We'll just make sure the odds don't get worst, as you're dealing with those two."

"I'm obliged to you. I'm going around back and see if there's a door. Those polecats will run if they see me coming."

Jack said, "We'll drive on in and hitch our horses to the rail and fool around until you're ready, then we'll go in through the front door. They'll be looking at us when you make your move."

"I just don't want you two getting shot up because of me."

My foot was on the first step of the back porch when I heard Jack and Thomas raising a fuss out front. It sounded like an argument.

I opened the door and stepped inside into a small storage room and another door that was open. I could see a large room with four tables, spaced around the room. Three men were at the table nearest to the front door and two others were at the plank bar on the long side of the room.

I stepped into the room, their attention was out front but the younger of the two standing at the bar turned his head and went for his gun. It didn't make much sense for him to do it, since I didn't know him as being part of the Hatcher bunch, but he did.

The Kentucky pistol was slow lining up on me and since I had thumbed my Paterson Colt back when I came in, my shot caught him in the middle. He fell back against the bar bringing bottles crashing on the floor.

I was already swinging to cover the others. A move behind the bar got my attention. The bartender was trying to find a safe place to hide. Turning back to the room I got a glimpse of someone running past the front window.

Jack pointed and said, "Three busted out as soon as you started shooting. Were those the ones you're after?"

"Yeah, they were the polecats." Looking at the last man sitting at the table, "Do you want a part of this, or are you just playing cards?"

"Mister, I never laid eyes on those three until about three hours ago. I was just looking for a friendly game and that's the only thing I want any part of."

The bartender was busy sweeping up the broken glass and trying to ignore the body on the floor. So I ask him, "Did the Hatcher brothers say where they were heading?"

"No, but I would say that Tahlequah is a good bet. They like their drink and comfort."

"Do you have anything to eat? I'm hungry enough to eat a boot." Turning to the card player, I said, "I've got a five dollar gold piece if you'll take this body out and bury it. You might check and see if he has anything that says who he is and if any relatives are close by."

"I'll take care of that right now. Say, he's got, or he had a horse and saddle, what do you want me to do with them?"

Jack was quick to jump in "I'll lend a hand, for the horse and saddle, if you don't mind."

With that settled I set down to a roast venison sandwich and a cool glass of water. As I ate I thought about the foolish young man that had brought into something which cost him his life. That was a risk he should not have taken.

Jack and Thomas came in about the time I was rinsing down the last of my sandwich. I could tell they had their fill of fun for one day, Jack said, "Well Tom and me we're heading out. Maybe we see you down the road somewhere."

"Jack, Tom it's been my pleasure. Thanks for your help. You boys be careful as you go down that road with your wagon. I imagine the law will be on the lookout for what you carry."

Tom interjected, "I told Jack this was too risky, but here we are anyway. We'll likely both get killed one of these days doing this kinda thing. Just ain't worth it!"

After a piece of apple pie, I heard Water-maker stomping on the front porch, telling me he was tired of waiting. The bartender and I were jawing and he suggested that the Hatchers might not be heading south but east to a little community over in Arkansas called 'Bentonville'. He heard one of the brothers mentioned that they had friends there.

I thanked him for the food and information and he suggested, that if I wanted to stay the night there was a barn with hay and I was welcome to it. The barn wasn't much but it was a roof and a place for us to sleep.

Water-maker seemed happy with it, I sure was, so I threw my blanket over a pile of hay and slept like I hadn't slept in a long time.

* * *

The morning sun found us about a mile down the road, moving slow since those two were ahead of me somewhere. I forded the Illinois and headed east hoping to cross the road to Bentonville.

The rolling hills began to grow larger into what I thought were the foothills of the Ozarks. A mountain range that was wild and beautiful, but rugged. Evidence of a well travelled trail stretched out before us winding its way up through dense brush and trees.

Maple and oak were in abundance, it was a place that would be ideal for an ambush. Goose bumps rose up on my shoulders causing me to sharply rein Water-maker off the trail. I heard of stories when men who didn't listen to their instincts ended up dead and I sure didn't want to give them another shot at me.

Ground hitching Water-maker I took my long gun and started moving parallel to the trail. I had gone a couple hundred yards when I smelled smoke. Smoke to the trained senses can give a position away better than a skunk that's been scared.

The terrain was now rocky bluffs with cedar trees dotting the sides. Skirting the trail I soft stepped for another hundred feet and came back towards where I thought the smoke was.

Sure enough, the snake was about fifteen feet up the bluff behind a rock overlooking the trail. I made sure my Kentucky rifle was primed and moved in. The back shooter was focused on the trail and when I stepped from behind a large pine he still did not make a move.

I was so sure I had him dead to rights; I failed to make sure he was alone. The bullet took me in my right side. I fell forward which saved my life, for another bullet whizzed by where I had been.

I heard the echo of their shots as I was falling forward into brush that hid me from them. I had to get away. My blood was flowing freely and I knew I was in bad shape. I crawled as fast as I could, trying to be quiet and move the bushes as little as possible.

I heard the shooters say, "We hit him, don't let him get away. He's going to die today."

"Hatcher, I don't hear or see him and I'm not going in by myself to find out if he's dead."

"Okay, we'll be right down there. But you better keep your eyes open"

It had only been a couple of minutes but I had managed to get maybe fifty yards away. I had to keep moving and find a place to hide until dark. I took a quick look at my wound, the bleeding had slowed some.

The bullet had passed through the flesh so it looked like a clean wound. I stuffed some wadding in the holes and kept searching for a hideout.

I had gone another seventy-five yards moving low to the ground, almost passing by a huge pine right up against the bluff. It cast a shadow that covered a crack in the rock. I looked into the crack hoping that rattlers were not using it for a hideout to.

Putting my long gun out front of me hoping to scare off any critter that was ahead of me, I moved further into the crack. It widened out after several feet and I could turn around to face my enemies.

I pulled my waist gun and set down to wait. I felt very tired and it was all I could do to stay alert. I felt they would not give up this time and would continue the search until they found me.

Voices that were very near woke me up. "He's got to be close. I know he's hurt bad. We're not quitten until we know he's dead. He's hounded us long enough."

Looked like it was mid afternoon for the shadows had shifted making my hideout more difficult to see, but I was not intending to wait for them to find me. I was coming out of my hole.

I waited for another fifteen minutes and moved to the face of the crack and took a quick look around. No sounds of anything unusual, but I knew they were close. Getting down on all fours I crawled out into the shadows behind the pine and lay down.

My wound felt better but the soreness was coming on. Using my long gun as a crutch I finally got on my feet and moved to my right back towards where I had left Water-maker.

I had made about fifty feet and had no good cover when Leo Hatcher spoke from behind me, "Stand real still and lay that long gun down."

He called to the others, "I got him cold as a dead turkey."

"You been dogging us for a long time and I don't know who you are. What's yore name?"

I knew I was in trouble because I could hear the others coming through the brush. I bent over like I was laying my rifle down and just kept falling onto my left side, while pulling my colt.

I didn't know exactly where Leo was but I had to chance it. "My name is Preacher and this is for Luther and Ruth." I thumbed off a shot in Leo's direction hoping to buy some time.

My Paterson has six shots which are handy, especially in times like now. My second shot found its mark because Leo grunted and said, "Carl he shot me," and crumbled and fell over.

The other two were coming but I had no idea where they were now since Leo had gone down. I crawled into the brush hoping the noise didn't give my position away. No such luck! I heard the shot after feeling the impact.

My shoulder felt like a mule had kicked it. The shock numbed it but I knew pain would come soon. I tried to crawl but I was all out of strength. My colt was six or seven feet away with no way of getting to it. I could hear Carl coming and knew I had to do something.

The only thing I had was my knife but it was useless with an injured shoulder. Carl stood over me with a blood thirsty grin and the other killer was nearing. Carl said, "Yore gonna pay for killing Leo. I'm putting a ball right between yore eyes."

Carl thought he had me and it looked like the end. But the Lord has His own plan and my dying was not in this day. Carl was lined up on me, ready to pull the trigger, his eyes got big, spread his arms and fell backward like a giant pine tree.

The echo of a shot sounded and I realized Carl would not be killing anymore. Jack and Tom came from the trees, the third killer hit the brush and disappeared. "We got to thinking about yore situation and felt like we would be missing out on some fun if you found these killers on your own, so here we are. Guess we saved your bacon, right?"

"Jack, you came just at the right time. I've had all the fun I can stand for awhile. I owe you my life! How did you two find me anyway?"

"Well we didn't go far until Tom talked me into coming back because we didn't see any tracks of these killers going south, so he thought we should tell you. We found where you changed direction heading east so we just naturally tagged along behind you."

Water-maker came a running when I whistled and acted like he had been worried a little about me. With a little help from Tom, I was in the saddle and headed to Tahlequah.

"I'm going to buy you two the biggest steaks that Sarah can cook up for us, then I'm going to visit Jim Ten-killer, get some rest and maybe hunt and fish some. I'm a whole lot tired and worn out."

Two days later I rode into the yard of Jim and Wynona Ten-Killer, some of the best people I have ever met. They came to meet me as I stepped down. I got a hug from Wynona and a hand shake from Jim, "It's good to see you. You look like you been rode hard and hung out wet, you been in some trouble?"

"I'll tell you'll about it after awhile. My shoulder is paining me some. Give me a couple days and I'll be good as new. What about you all?"

"We've been okay, well until yesterday. Eli rode in and said that Stove-hat had been ambushed. He's okay, but looks like someone is trying to cause some trouble for us."

"Well I thought we might do some hunting, guess this will be 'varmint' hunting. The two legged kind!"

The End

A.R. (Al) Matlock is retired from the Air Force and Civil Service. His home is in Sallisaw, OK, and he's a greenhorn in the writing field. He grew up on a farm, working the fields, hunting and fishing, and reading Zane Grey and Lamour.

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White Feather
by Martin de Brouwer MSc

The sound of swirling water against smoothed boulders, muffled the noises of our horses and disguised the movements of our enemies. The thick undergrowth, on the banks of the Little Bighorn, prevented me from seeing lieutenant colonel Custer and his men, who had to be on the other side of the river.

A galloping horse startled me from my ruminations. Bloody Knife, major Reno's scout on his brown-and-white mustang, told the commander what he had seen, with a few gestures and words I couldn't hear.

The major faced his men one by one. My buddy Henry flinched under the gaze of our commander. I felt nothing when he looked at me. Was that an omen?

Reno threw his fist in the air, let out a primal cry, and dropped his arm like a saber. 'Attack!'

We thundered through the woods. Trees towered up above us like giants. The river on our right made a sharp turn. The Indian encampment loomed before us. Adrenaline robbed us of all caution. The three battalions of the seventh cavalry left the forest. I bit my teeth, held my Springfield tightly, looking skittishly at the bushes along the riverside and the tall grass that lay between us and the camp. No more than a few hundred feet from the village, within easy reach of their arrows, I saw a flash. Metal reflecting sunlight I realized, when an order passed through our lines. Just as our attack formation came to a halt, the first shot roared. One of the horses went down. The soldier ended up under the massive dead body.

Reno yelled: 'Dismount! Skirmish line!' The stress was written on his face. As soon as my boots hit the ground I felt a bullet whiz over my hat. 'Mother Mary,' I muttered, lowering myself into the grass. I loaded my gun and looked down the barrel. The same grass that hid me from the Indians obscured my view of our enemies.

Bullets and arrows threw up the dirt in front of me. Henry, holding the horses, let out a gurgling cry when an arrow pierced his neck. I tried to catch the reins of one of the horses, but the leather slipped through my fingers. My horse, the only way out of this mess, ran from the smell of dead, like she was chased by the devil himself.

I shook my head to control my senses and focused on the encampment. I saw women and children, covered in blood, crying out their last breath. An attractive young girl tried to get a glimpse of the battlefield. Almost instantly her teepee was riddled by bullets. I cursed the devils wearing the same uniform. Our adversaries would brutally avenge the murder of these defenseless victims.

That thought had barely crossed my mind, when a group of Indians appeared on our left flank. Arrows descended upon us. Their smoking guns shrouded them in a demonic mist. Cries of fear were our only defense. I aimed my Springfield at one of them, a Sioux with a red moon on its cheek. Just when I was ready to pull the trigger it felt like my right leg was torn from my body. I cried out in pain and fell to the ground. Desperate for help, I crawled to my mates but found nothing but their corpses. The fear of death was forever chiseled on their faces. Only the sound of people dying proved that I was not alone.

'Withdraw!' The command echoed through our ranks. To my left and right I saw blue uniforms rushing to their horses and spurring the animals with the courage of despair. I shouted: 'Help!' My cry got lost in chaos. Our formation had been broken. From now on, it was every man for himself.

A Sioux's horse, the grin of invincibility on the rider's tanned face, made the grass, merely inches from my head, bow. I was lucky. He didn't see me and passed by. I looked over my shoulder and saw how the young Indian scalped Henry while howling like a coyote. The presence of the enemy behind me made an escape to the forest impossible. I made up my mind and decided to go where they would least expect me. I crawled through the tall grass. Every second it felt like a dozen arrows were shot into my leg. Blinded by pain, I reached the riddled teepee. On my right I heard the river. I slid onto the bank and closed my eyes, preying for Custer to find me before the Indians would.

I don't know how long I lay there. It might have been a few seconds but it could have been half an hour or more. The pain was overwhelming. My leg was a bloody mess. I carefully examined the gunshot wound. I got lucky, again; the bullet went through and through. I tried to gather my senses and anxiously searched for my rifle, but it was nowhere to be found. The Colt in my holster was my only defense if things went south.

Suddenly I saw a young woman, with a white feather in her charcoal-black hair. The curious girl from the teepee: she had survived. She was even more beautiful than I remembered. Without noticing me, she dipped a rag soaked with blood in the rushing water.

Out of nowhere three men appeared on the other side of the river—Custer's soldiers. I watched one of them, a guy with a thick gray beard, raise his gun and aim it at the helpless young lady. On impulse I drew my revolver. The bullet hit a tree just above the soldiers' head.

The young woman only then noticed I was there. As our eyes met, the world seemed to stop turning. It felt like lightning rushed through my veins. After a few seconds she realized the danger she was in, ran away and left me with nothing but an unprecedented desire to see her again.

Protected by cover fire from soldiers I couldn't see, the three men on the other side of the river tried to cross the water, but the stream was at least waist deep and the water rushed along at fast pace. Nonetheless they urged their horses to move forward. When they were halfway through, gunfire echoed from countless weapons. Gray Beard was instantly shot through the head. One of the others had the horse knocked out from beneath him. The third jumped of his and was swept away by the water. Howling and screaming the Sioux appeared. I watched eight or nine soldiers, on the other side of the river, fleeing the scene.

Only moments later, the Indian with the red moon painted on his cheek towered up above me. He raised his gun. The blow with the butt of his weapon made me lose consciousness.

* * *

I met Crippled Cockroach, as my brother decided to call him, the day that would go down in history as the Battle of the Greasy Grass. Under the awesome power of The Great Spirit, we defeated lieutenant colonel George Armstrong Custer and his seventh cavalry.

I was only eighteen years old. We had camped south of the Little Bighorn. A great uproar took hold of the village as our scouts galloped past the teepees, calling for all warriors to take up arms.

Curious as I was, I wanted to take a look but Spotted Fawn, my sister, grabbed my arm, slapped some sense into me and pushed me back into our teepee, leaving me only to hear the battle cries of our brothers, cousins and uncles. Almost instantly the thunderous roar of the guns made my heart pound in my chest. Bullets whizzed through the tent. My sister, who must have seen the fear in my eyes, pulled me to the ground and lay down on top of me to protect me. I could feel her breath against my cheek, as she softly recited prayers that seemed to calm neither her nor me.

An all-encompassing fear had gotten hold of me. The frightened scream of my sister brought me back to my senses. Spotted Fawn was covered in blood—her blood. I stroked her cheek while the fingers of my other hand searched for the wound that had whitened her face and faded her eyes. I found it just below her right breast. When I pressed it gently, her mouth opened like a fish out of the water, but a cry of pain did not escape from her lips. On impulse I jumped up, grabbed a blanket and ran to the river.

The water of the Little Bighorn was freezing cold, but I hardly noticed. I had to help my sister, although I didn't really knew how. A sudden bang, barely five feet away from me, knocked me to the ground. Bewildered I saw the enemies at the other side of the river crouch, while a soldier, laying in the grass next to me, emptied his revolver on his own men. With his other hand he urged me to run. This white adversary saved my life.

Red moon, my brother, alarmed by the shots from the village came to my rescue. He and his men attacked the three soldiers, who had the courage to cross the river. They died before they were even halfway through.

My brother ran upon my savior. The butt of his Winchester descended on the soldier's defenseless skull. I kept him from taking his life.

When night broke the warriors returned to camp, euphorically. They had gotten hold of countless weapons and pounds of ammunition. They danced and caroused until the drink ran out. I didn't take part in the festivities. My sister, losing blood, had become delirious. I called for the medicine man. He reeked of booze. When he dug into the wound with his dirty fingers, she almost let out her last sigh. The medicine man smiled like a mad man, shook his head and ordered me to cover her wounds myself.

* * *

The night had passed. At sunrise the caravan left the battlefield. Tied on top of a packhorse I desperately searched the endless plains for a sign of the cavalry. The men who I loved as much as I had loved my mom and dad, seemed to have melted away, like the snowflakes I danced through as a child. My head ached, my left eye was blurry and my injured leg smelled badly. I had been given neither food nor water, but I probably had to thank God that I was still alive and knew my scalp still mine.

After a full day of travelling, the Indians made a makeshift camp. It was already dark when the man with the moon and the girl with the white feather approached me. She knelt next to me and covered my wounds. She was talking to me, but I didn't understand. I greedily drank from the water she gave me, until I almost choked and half of it ran down my chin. The girl laughed, neither shy nor afraid. When she wanted to give me some food, the man pulled her away. That night the girl with the white feather visited me in my dreams.

* * *

Red Moon warned me: 'The Great Spirit has determined your fate, White Feather. You will become Rapid Wind's wife. You may not get involved with Crippled Cockroach. Do not deny the will of the Gods or you will bring shame upon our family.'

Red Moon's threats made shivers run down my spine. Ashamed I went to my teepee. Spotted Fawn groaned while unconscious. I once again called for the medicine man and offered him our late father's buffalo hide, but he said, snatching the leather from my hands, he could do nothing to help her.

I didn't find peace that night. Over and over again the moments at the Little Bighorn passed through my mind: Spotted Fawn's sigh as she was shot. Her blood saturating the earth. The faces of the soldiers, who had pointed their guns at me. And Crippled Cockroach, who, while wounded, saved my life—that of his enemy.

When I finally fell asleep, the Gods tormented me. I saw Spotted Fawn's face change into that of my mother, who had died years ago, during a devastating epidemic. Rapid Wind, became the drunk farmer that killed my father. In my nightmares I screamed and cried. But then, at the break of awakening, a hand wiped the tears from my cheeks.

I woke up and reached for the fingers that I had imagined touching my face only moments before. They were gone, but I knew I had not been comforted by a tribesman. Red Moon wouldn't understand but the Great Spirit had spoken to me. Crippled Cockroach and I, we were connected by a power greater than race or pedigree.

* * *

The next morning, the man with the red moon tied a rope around my neck and ordered me to follow the caravan on foot. 'And if you don't want to walk, we'll drag you,' he shouted in broken English. I knew he meant it. He would probably take pleasure in it. If I had my Colt, maybe I would have saved myself from further torment  . . . But even suicide was no more than a farfetched dream at that point.

We went north. My rope was strapped to the packhorse of the plump medicine man. When he ran his hand over my scabby beard, I smelled the strange herbs he continuously seemed to chew.

The sun had just reached its highest point, when I tripped, fell to the ground and swallowed a mouthful of dust. The packhorse ignored my agony and pulled me through the sand. I felt the grit bite my cheek, while the rope around my neck slowly strangled me.

I vaguely heard the dampened sound of leather moccasins come closer, while I desperately wrestled with the rope for a gasp of air. A woman helped me up on my feet. She gave me a stick to support myself and disappeared before I got a chance to thank her. I was certain though it had been the girl with the white feather.

The Sioux camped on the banks of the Yellowstone. Under the watchful eye of the youth that scalped Henry, I was forced to gather firewood. When I tried to pick up a branch my leg gave out. A rough leather whip lacerated my back. The lad laughed while he hit me. My hands found a boulder the size of my palm. A tug on the rope around my neck and a slap with the rock was all it would have taken. I didn't. They would have made my death last for days. Even revenge wasn't worth that kind of suffering. Instead I crawled to the boy, murmured apologies, and kissed his feet.

* * *

From a distance I watched how Rapid Wind harassed Crippled Cockroach. I wanted to stop him, but he would get nothing but furious and tell me to bugger off. And when I'd ask Red Moon to intervene, I would only make things worse.

Exasperated I rushed to my teepee. Spotted Fawn had faded into a comatose state on the way to Yellowstone. I took her hand. It was cold. The sun would never warm her again. I cried until dark. Then I got up, folded her hands on her chest and kissed her forehead. In silence I picked up my meager belongings: my beaded necklaces, my moose hide and Spotted Fawn's dagger.

Crippled Cockroach lay on the ground, tied to a tree next to the pony herd. The horses would warn the men if he tried to escape. I walked over, put my fingers on his lips and cut the ropes. His fists swung through thin air, while he tried to defend himself against his assumed foe, but he calmed down as soon as he saw me. His smile was overwhelming. I felt his hand run down my cheek, like in my dreams. I helped him up. With his arm around my shoulders we stumbled towards the river. She was our only chance. If we left traces my brother could follow, we would be caught before dawn.

* * *

Two months had passed since our escape. We didn't know whether Red Moon, White Feathers brother, ever came close catching us. We never saw a trace of him or his men.

It was only the two of us and White Feather was irresistible. Although we had nothing but gestures and looks to communicate, it felt like she knew me inside out from the day we first laid eyes on each other. Freed from every burden we once knew, we traveled across prairies, through almost impenetrable forests and along jagged cliffs. We were hungry and cold, but I had never been happier.

Near death we stumbled upon a log cabin. The old recluse who lived there, invited us in. White Feather dropped to her knees by the fire and thanked the man mumbling her incomprehensible gibberish.

I gratefully accepted the cup of water the old man gave me. The earthy tasting liquid caressed my tongue like Irish whiskey.

The old settler looked me in the eye and nodded as if we were in mutual understanding. He said: 'If you gather firewood, then I'll put food on the table.'

I emptied my cup and took the ax from the chopping block. After a while, the smell of freshly roasted meat spread through the forest and made my stomach growl.

Suddenly, a scream silenced the bluebirds. On my still reluctant leg, I stumbled back to the cabin. I found White Feather crying and screeching in the doorway, her dress covered in blood. I glanced inside and saw the old man lying on the floor. His pants were down to his ankles. My beloved's knife was there where the settler's masculinity once had been. Perplexed, he stared at the piece of meat he held in his hand like a delicate bird. Within two steps I stood in front of him. The ax rushed through the air, splitting his skull.

We buried the man in a shallow grave. That night the scavengers feasted on his flesh. It was all he deserved.

* * *

We no longer counted the days. White Feather and I didn't have much but we had each other. I sold game at the Benson's Landing trading post. Everything else we needed, White Feather foraged in the forests surrounding the cabin.

It was early October when I travelled north to Benson's, to sell some beaver pelts. In the general store, I bought bullets for the rifle that had once belonged to the old settler. Now it was our primary means for catching big game. 'Any news?' I asked the young shopkeeper while handing over the money.

He whispered, like a child telling a secret: 'A gang of Sioux has burnt down some farms. Troops from Fort Smith have been sent,' he raised his fist, 'to give them what they deserve.'

'Where are they?' I asked anxiously.

'They are said to be in the massive forests south of here.'

I ran outside, mounted my horse and urged her to a merciless gallop. It was the smell of burning wood that told me I was too late. Plumes of smoke billowed above the treetops. The creaking and crackling of the flames was accompanied by euphoric outcries.

When I reached the cabin, I heard White Feather screaming for dear life. My love was down on her stomach. A large Indian sat on top of her, pulling up her skirts, while another tied my ax to his horse. Still on horseback I aimed my rifle. The bullet ravaged the chest of the man who assaulted White Feather. The other Indian was quick-witted. He grabbed his bow. An arrow pierced the flesh of my mare. She tripped and I smashed to the ground with a terrifying blow. Dazed, I saw the Indian, his tomahawk raised above his head, rushing towards me.

Only a couple of feet away from me, he suddenly fell to his knees. White Feather stabbed him over and over again. Her eyes were dark of demonic frenzy.

The sound of a horn echoed against the spruce trees. As if they both had waited for the same signal, soldiers and Indians rushed the clearing with guns blazing.

In the midst of chaos and hatred, I took White Feather into my arms. Bullets whizzed over our heads. Whatever might happen to us; the Great Spirit had predestined our love—on earth and beyond.

The End

Martin de Brouwer MSc (1988) is a real estate developer turned writer, living in The Netherlands. He publishes historical fiction and non-fiction for multiple magazines and short story anthologies. His latest novel, De Heerlijkheid, (some words just don't have proper translations) is currently under review by several publishers. You can read more about him and his work on

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Medicine Girl
by Raymond Paltoo

Sarah walked down the short drop to the creek, dawdling because of the stunning beauty of the glorious sunset reveling in its all too-transient glory. She carried her empty wooden bucket slung over her left arm. It was getting on in the evening, and the sun was slowly sinking over the horizon, all big and flaming red. She had heard that this was supposed to be a harbinger of a hot day on the morrow. She had never seen the sun this way, living out east as they had done all their lives. Since the wagon train had left the town of Independence, Missouri, and moved west, the air had been much clearer, and she could see much farther out on the level plains. To find a free-flowing creek on the flat land was a blessing, as water was a very precious commodity out here. She walked upstream from where the boys were watering the horses and cattle, searching for clean running water uncontaminated by the boys and the animals. As she dipped her bucket in the stream, she thought she heard a noise, a low moaning sound coming from the rushes which grew in abundance at the river's edge.

Her bucket full, she turned to go. As she reached the top of the bank, she again heard that low groaning sound as if it was coming from an animal in distress. She carefully laid her burden down and walked over to the reeds. She gasped when she saw a man sprawled in the mud with an arrow sticking out from his back. He must have bled a considerable amount as there was a puddle of red around him.

Furthermore, he was an Injun, not like the ones they had seen at the Fort hanging around the trading post. He was dressed in a breechclout with soft-looking buckskin leggings, and his upper body was bare, except for a necklace of carved wooden symbols strung on a thin leather string. That's what he was, she thought in alarm. A real wild Injun!

Curiosity overcame her good sense, and she drew her skirts around her and crouched beside him. She had seen wounds before, and her Pa was a pretty fair hand at healing, besides being a preacher man. She thought that he would know what to do. She left the wild Indian lying there, picked up the full bucket, and swiftly made her way back to the camp where her Ma was cooking with the other ladies. It wasn't a large wagon train. Just about nine or ten Conestoga Wagons bunched up in a circle for protection as was customary in the evening. She called to her Pa, who was helping put the cattle inside the protective ring, and for some reason, she wanted this to be between just her Pa and herself. She gave her Ma the bucket of water and then approached her father.

"Pa, I saw a wild Injun down by the river. He was bleeding something awful and looked almost done for. There is an arrow stuck in his back. Can you and Mr. Buck do something for him?" she asked anxiously, referring to the Wagon Train scout.

"Sarah, they may be Indians as you say," he replied quietly, firmly correcting her, "but they are God's creatures." She felt the Preacher mode come over him now. "You were right to keep quiet. The folks in the other wagons may be all for ridding themselves of him. For some of them, the only good Indian is a dead one. I will take Buck and go down to the river. You stay here with your Ma and heat some of the water. We will need to remove the arrow and clean his wounds."

With that, he and Mr. Buck, whose name she thought may have been related to his habit of wearing only the softest and most ornate buckskin garments. He had boasted unashamedly that the clothes had been made for him by one of his Indian wives. Sarah had been fascinated by his descriptions of his various sojourns among the tribes over the last twenty years, especially his casual mention of the several wives he had accumulated over that time. He was a tall, powerfully built man who smelled of uncured leather. He was careful to shave his face very clean almost every day because he said Indians did not have much facial hair, and he did not want to upset his wives. With a certain wistfulness, she recalled that she had looked forward to her first overall bath in weeks on the dusty trail. Personal hygiene was an oft-overlooked factor on their trip west.

The two men brought the wounded Indian warrior into the wagon circle. He was awake and talking with Mr. Buck, albeit slowly and painfully. Buck translated for all. "He is a Comanche. He was looking for his personal Medicine, so he headed North to look for it when he ran into a bunch of Kiowas, who are their natural enemies."

"But Mr. Buck," Sarah spoke up, "aren't they Indians too?"

"Missy, you make the same mistake that all white people who talk about the noble savage make! They are not all the same. Most of the tribes are in constant warfare with the others. For land and territory, horses and women. I guess most the same as the white man. Only we do it in a little more civilized way with courts and lawyers and politicians." And he chuckled with that pronouncement. She had not thought of that and looked at the Indian with new eyes. She saw him as a human being for the first time. He was young, barely reaching manhood by her measurements. "Why! I might be bigger'n him," she thought, looking at his lean, wiry frame. She cleaned his wound with care, marveling at the softness of his bronze skin, and Mr. Buck poured some raw alcohol onto his wound. She knew it must hurt, but he did not even wince, just gazed at her with his steady coal-black eyes. They cut away the arrow and pulled it out. He lost consciousness mercifully when Mr. Buck used his steel knife to cauterize the wound.

The next morning her father came around and said, "we may have to stay here for a few days, Sarah. Your Indian told us that there is a War Party of Kiowas planning to attack the train. We can fill up with water, fatten the cattle, and rest the oxen. In the meantime, we will be getting ready for the Kiowas as your Indian fella told us."

She was not pleased that the wagon train folk called him her Indian fella, but she continued to see about him. He progressed steadily over the next few days, and soon his appetite increased, and he was able to take in solid food. His eyes would follow her with a faintly puzzled expression on his face as she went about her daily chores. She had the feeling that he was taking in the wagons and surroundings and spoke to her father and Mr. Buck about it.

One day she was bringing him some water in a tin cup when she noticed that he had put his ear to the bed of the wagon. He was listening intently. He waved to her and motioned her to call her father and Mr. Buck. He spoke earnestly to them, and they soon started to get their guns and ammunition ready for combat. Like most women of that era, she knew about guns and had shot small game for food. There would be no shrinking violets in this rough country. The wagons were already positioned in a circle, and the cattle and horses herded inside. The women and girls filled up the water buckets in case of fire, and the men sought cover behind the large wagon wheels. Her father motioned her to go into their wagon, where the young Indian was recuperating. He, sick as he was, had heard the drumming of the horses' hooves long before they arrived. Everyone was quiet as Mr. Buck said to the others, "When they come, pick out one man and aim at him. Remember to fire only when you are sure. You may not get another chance." The Indian gestured to Buck, and Buck slipped him a six-gun and a pack of cartridges. At Sarah's questioning look, Buck said with a grim smile, "They are most likely the ones who nearly done him in. I think he would enjoy some retribution."

The Kiowas came at a rapid gallop encircling the wagons and fired a rain of arrows mixed with scattered shots from a few repeating rifles. They were breathtaking riders steering their horses by the pressure of their knees while they shot. Horses screamed as they went down. Sarah was conscious of people yelling and screaming and children crying. The Indian had pulled himself upright and was taking deliberate aim while he fired. When his gun was empty, he gave it to her, and she refilled the cartridges and handed it back to him. Suddenly two of the Kiowas jumped off their horses and onto the bed of the wagon. They whooped as they saw her with her long blonde plaits. With a sudden thrust, her Indian ally pulled her behind him and fired. He smelled of old hickory smoke and the recent antiseptic application. But, as close as he was to her, she could feel his body jerking as the bullets meant for her thudded into his lean muscular body. He rallied long enough to squeeze off two more shots, which finished the two Kiowas who fell off the wagon.

She turned to see the blood oozing from the bullet wounds and realized that no matter what she did now, it would not help him. He stared at her intently until his eyes lost their focus, and his gaze turned blank, staring, perhaps into infinity.

It was over. Sarah climbed down from her perch in the wagon and went looking for the others.

She spoke to her father and Mr. Buck and told them what had happened.

"I'll be durned; he was right! He told me that he had seen you in his Medicine dream," old Buck said, "I guess he knew that his time had come, and he owed you something for taking care of him. Indians are strange! But they do have a strong sense of personal honor."

She began to weep quietly then. Gratitude for his unselfish act seeped into her consciousness. She felt hopeless that she could not pray for him because she did not even know his name. But he had given her life. She knew that with certainty now. She hoped that God would know it and understand who he was while she prayed!

The End

Ray is a retired Urologist living in Tampa, Florida. He was born in 1945 in the Caribbean and worked his way through College and Medical school in Canada. After specialization he went to the Caribbean where he started a department of Urology for the government of Trinidad. He returned to the USA where he practiced in Southwest Kansas. He was a two-term secretary of the Kansas Medical Society. He is currently living and writing in Tampa and has published one novel, "ReBirth", dealing with humanity arising from a post nuclear holocaust. He writes western and science-fiction stories.

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Blanchard County
by Robert Gilbert

The remaining days of warmth were dwindling; the air was turning continually cool, noticeably becoming thin, and changes to the season were slowly being felt. All around that part of upper Colorado, I felt the last dying embers of a temperate summer slowly being replaced with occasional chilly breezes wafting down from Wyoming. Around there we called it the welcome of autumn. Sunny days becoming shorter, darkness would take away the hours. Soon, the embrace of fall meant a blanket of red-orange leaves from barren trees would dominate a portion of scenery, a backdrop peppered here and there with tall pines, erect as arrows, jutting out of the hard earth and dusty trails. The recycle of seasons was gradual but inevitable, destined to leave hues of beautiful foliage all around, awaiting the first nod of winter. That was what I felt: a noticeable chill in my lungs. I raised my duster collar a bit to protect me from the continual nip across my face, and I often wondered when the oatmeal color clouds would open up to once again to pour out the heated comfort of a glowing sun.

At the moment, though, the place where I stood was near the rapidly moving Clay River. I watched as the ferocious current splashed wildly against rocks and boulders of various sizes, cutting through curved earth in an extended flow, and snaking out of sight. The river began some distance north o' there, maybe two miles upstream. Ever'body we knew told the same story 'bout that sizeable spread o' land, as Blanchard County weren't exactly the most hospitable place to be in. I'd been through there before on other business, and I had to agree that it wasn't one o' my favorite places, no matter what season of year it was.

The townsfolk back in Cheyenne River often mentioned that Blanchard County wasn't fit for decent people. Matter of fact, it was often brought to my attention by Nade Lackey, the town sot, who loved nothin' more than to recite his biased opinions, yelling his rants out in harsh tones across the open space of the Thunder Basin Saloon.

Nade explained to me in his pronounced Alabama drawl, "Ya know somethin', Marshal Brothers? Blanchard County ain't no place to be friendly. I'd bet my last two bits on that. True as my word, that place ain't nothin', all 'cause o' two ruthless people givin' orders, spoutin' off at the mouth and tellin' people what to do. Them scoundrels, Bob Tibbins and his brother Enos, are to blame. Them two scare ever'body in that county plumb silly, just ta make sure things in that countryside meet their satisfaction. They do things their way, and they mean business. That's why those snakes push people 'round. They got some nasty ways o' persuasion too. Their heavy influence gets their point across, I s'pose, unfriendly as it is. Course, I reckon you already know them two are up ta no good, no matter what them folks say in Meredosia Springs, smack dab in the middle o' the county."

I listened to Nade and agreed with a nod but said nothing in response. At the same time, Nadine Merit, the saloon whore, walked over to freshen my coffee. She deliberately blocked my view of Nade when she bent over. She poured slowly, makin' sure to expose her ample but well-used utters in my direction, hopin' to entice me into some pleasure later. When she smiled, the crack between her lips revealed rows of burnished yellow.

At Clay River, I did my best to coax my bay a bit farther downstream, where the current began to settle into a lazy waterway. The river continued to bathe against rock formations, now releasing a gentler trickling sound instead of the vibrant, intense rush I'd heard upstream. In that spot, it wasn't all that deep, but it was suitable to carry what remained of Doss Troyer's body with its ripples. He was facedown, and his head continued bobbing against a cluster of rocks. It didn't take long to guess that he'd taken a shot in the back and was probably dumped where he was found. Not only that, but the fresh wagon wheel ruts near the river's edge let me know Troyer was shot elsewhere and his remains were emptied there. I couldn't rightly tell if he was dead before he was offloaded, but it sure did look that way to me.

The day before, back in Cheyenne River, a youngster of no more than 14 came in to my office. The kid was out o' breath, shivering slightly as he stood in front of my desk and said, "You gotta help us, Marshal." The boy had a thin build, and dark, wild eyes that were widened in alarm, he spoke in a troubled voice, choked and raw.

"What's your problem, son?" I said, easing back in my chair. "Hey, ain't you Doss Troyer's boy, Haggy?"

"Yes, sir, that'd be me."

"You been comin' to town with your pa ever' so often for supplies, ain't ya?" My eyes fixed on a young man dressed in light brown work clothes, faded suspenders and unpolished boots. He gave the impression that seasonal farm work around their homestead was finished, just in time for autumn's arrival.

"Pa had a run-in against the Tibbins brothers. They ain't but bad awful scum, Marshal."

"I'm listenin'," I said, leaning farther back in my chair and knitting my fingers together behind my head.

"Chores was all done by afternoon," the boy continued. "Got 'em done quicker than usual 'cause coolness sets in earlier ever' day now till spring."

"Go on," I pressed as his young eyes widened with concern.

"Pa said, 'Let's go to Meredosia Springs.' See, he knows I really favor that new Winchester in Mr. Strong's mercantile. Been lookin' at it for a pert' long time. We hitched the wagon, and off we rode. We followed the outer bank o' Clay River maybe a half-hour or so. Pa knows a longer way, through Upper Narrow Bend, but it was too cold for just an easy ride."

"So ya ride the short Clay River run?" I asked, in a quiet but resolving firmness.

The youngster's black eyes sharpened as he continued, "Yeah. When we got to town," he said, his tight expression relaxing into a steady smile, "we pulled up in front of the mercantile and stepped off the wagon. Was feelin' real good 'bout lookin' at that rifle. Jus' plumb tickled."

"I'm guessin' your wonderful story has some conflicting emotions to it," I said.

Instantly, his smile faded. "Yeah. Even 'fore we set foot in the store, these two men come up and had words with Pa, hard, mean-soundin' words. They claimed some money was due them 'cause o' some property situation, somethin' about our land not all bein' ours. It was grownup stuff. I don't know for sure."

"There's nothin' wrong with your land," I said. "Your pa mentioned the feud to me before. I'm guessin' them two are named Bob an' Enos, right?" I asked with a note of impatience.

The boy agreed, nodding.

I stood and walked the boy to my office door and opened it. Right away, a cool burst of air brushed against our bodies.

"Haggy, go on back home now and let me take care of business. Like ya said, this is grownup stuff."

"What ya gonna do 'bout it, Marshal?"

"Well, for starters, sounds like I'm gonna have a serious discussion over in Blanchard County. We'll talk again soon."

With a worried look on his face, the kid mounted up and rode north and west, and I watched dust kick up until he was out of sight.

Later, after I found Doss Troyer's body, I returned to Cheyenne River. I fetched two trusted townsfolk to take a wagon ride to retrieve the deceased. Directions were given, and soon thereafter, the sound of hooves and wagon wheels disappeared into the north end of town.

Word spread quickly about the situation, and I soon found myself in the company of Mrs. Morgan, our school teacher and the mother of three children. "I can take care of Haggy as long as he needs me to," she generously offered. "My husband and I can help work the Troyer land till he's old enough and settled on his own."

After that discussion, I mounted up and rode out to the Troyer spread, as it was my grim duty to tell young Haggy about his pa. The boy didn't say much after welcoming me inside. His cheeks were red and glossy with tears, and he didn't have to guess why I was there. The silence loomed between us like a heavy mist, until he finally managed to put some words together.

"Dead, ain't he?" he said, slow and painful.

I nodded and explained where his pa was found. "He's being brought back to Cheyenne River," I said. To give the boy some comfort, I tried to mention Mrs. Morgan's kind offer, but Haggy showed little interest in that.

More tears spilled, and his face twisted into a glowering mask of rage. After a bit of sobbing and angry fist-poundin' on their kitchen table, the orphan finally began to calm down and did his best to express a warm glow in his smile. "Nice of that teacher, I guess," he muttered under his breath.

"Yeah, real nice," I said. "They're good people."

We rode together back to Cheyenne River. Words between us were few, and when he did speak, it was a slew of upsetting revenge talk, followed by sniffling over memories of his pa and the years they'd spent together. His mind was young and sharp, and his recollections were many.

The next day came early for me. In my office I sipped from a cup of coffee and I pondered my plans for the day ahead. As it turned out, Mrs. Morgan was also up early and was standing in front of me before I finished the next swallow from my tin utensil.

"Things are gonna be fine, Marshal," she said in a warm tone. "Our family will take care of Haggy as if he's one of our own. No doubt to that fact."

"Thank you," I said, my voice relaxed.

"He'll get good schoolin' from me and turn into a fine young man. Also, the crops on his land will be taken care of. No doubt about that either."

"I'm blessed by what you're doin'," I said, then took my time to finish the last sip of brew before it got cold. I stood, smiling with satisfaction, then bid her goodbye. It was a relief to know Haggy had found himself a good family to take him in.

Silence lengthened in the office after the kindhearted teacher left. I knew it was my responsibility as a lawman to find answers to the questions, namely over a land dispute and the Tibbins brothers that many claimed were carrying on with a hard hand inside the boundaries of Blanchard County. I grabbed a rifle from the gun rack near my desk, put on my heavy coat, locked the door, and walked in the direction of Adloff Stable at the edge of town.

I found Tom Adloff shaping a horseshoe, with sparks dancing in every direction. He momentarily stopped and watched as I saddled my bay. "None o' my business, Warren Brothers," he said, turning away from the anvil.

"What do ya mean by that, Tom?" I asked, arching my brow at him.

He nodded toward my rifle. "When you carry that, it tells me our lawman is on serious business someplace, maybe someplace in Blanchard County. Course, I'm only guessin', Marshal." His eyes studied me for a long moment.

"You have a pretty good idea," I said matter-of-factly, in a husky whisper.

"Ever'body in town knows what happened to Doss Troyer," Tom said, deep and dusty.

"You take care o' your business here, Tom, and I'll do mine as I see fit, accordin' to the law." I pulled my bay away from the stable, stuck my foot in the stirrup, and eased over a cold saddle. When I glanced down, Tom was already standing next to me.

"You goin' through Logan Pass?" he asked, his voice hardened.

I nodded, looking in his direction.

"Near Cade Beckem's place?"

Again, I nodded.

"Do me a favor and tell that ol', stubborn buzzard that I have his harness ready. It's been sittin' here nearly two weeks. Don't know what in the hell he's been doin' up there. Maybe he just plumb forgot. You hear me, Marshal?"

I lifted my collar to ease against the increased chill, then turned to leave Cheyenne River with a shallow "Yes" in my voice that died away over my shoulder.

Logan Pass wasn't that far, maybe ten miles, but the terrain was rough. It led steadily upward on a hardened trail of crusty earth that unsteadied the hooves every now and then. All around me was a passage of elegance; autumn's true character bursting into visions of oranges and yellows and reds among the pines. I'd been through there several years prior, and it was delightful to see that none of that spectacular scenery had in any way disappeared. I took my time to examine the unhurried season as coolness took over. The nippy breeze across my face was a crisp farewell to the warmth of summer.

My mount trekked another mile before we reached ol' Cade Beckem's place. Strange as it was, I found him standing outside, payin' no mind to the swirl of biting air. It was as if he'd been expectin' comp'ny.

"Marshal Brothers!" Cade bellowed, welcoming me with his distinguished, loud voice. "You here for a visit? Been some time since we last met."

I dismounted and grabbed his hand for a shake, strong as ever. "Got business in Blanchard County," I said in a composed voice. "I need to collect some information when I get to Meredosia Springs."

Cade's smile vanished, wiped away by a hard, serious expression.

"Can't stay long, Cade," I said, "just passin' through."

"Well, a man's gotta do what a man's gotta do. Surely you can spare a minute to put yer bay in the barn and stop in for some coffee." His features softened, and his invite sounded friendly enough. So, as he turned to walk toward his cabin, I stabled my horse and made my way to his front door.

The aroma of coffee swelled the kitchen, and steam billowed out of the cups as he filled them. We sat on hard chairs, facing each other.

"I can tell somethin's wrong, Marshal. You ain't wearin' happy on that face of yours. Matter fact, you don't looked pleased one bit," Cade said, with an inquisitive edge in his voice before he lifted his cup for a first sip.

"Doss Troyer was shot in the back," I blurted, "then dumped in Clay River."

"Hmm. Well, it's startin' to make sense why you're up this way then, I reckon. Maybe it concerns certain people in Blanchard County, those who ain't too friendly like. Also, that rifle o' yours speaks for itself. You're up to some awful business, ain't ya?"

"Troyer has . . . er, had boundary problems. His son Haggy mentioned that to me."

"Yeah, Marshal, I've heard tell o' that before, some scuffle over a small patch o' land."

"I know it's old news, Cade," I said, then finished my coffee. "I can tell ya, though, that the land belonged to Troyer. There's nothin' more to be said 'bout that."

"If you're so sure 'bout that, what information are you needin' to collect?" he pestered. "I'm guessin' you've got questions for those Tibbins boys," he said as his mouth took on an unpleasant twist.

"It's plain to see that Enos and Bob want to get their hands on that land, even if it means killin' somebody."

The line between Cade's lips tightened.

"I've got hard questions to ask, and I need some straight answers," I continued. "I'm sure the Tibbins brothers will feed me some bullshit stories that have nothing to do with Troyer, but I'll find out the truth one way or another."

"Be careful, Warren. Them two are rough to wrangle. You oughtta let me come with you, for a little added protection. Ain't got nothin' better to do anyways. All the chores are caught up 'round here for the rest of the day and even into tomorrow. What say you 'bout that idea?"

I stood, ready to leave, but I did give some serious thought to Cade's offer to partner up with me. It was kind of him, but I wasn't sure if he would be a true help or just be in the way. After I made my decision, I looked at him sternly and said, "Naw, it's best you stay here, Cade." I then offered a polite, thin-lipped smile. "Mighty kind of you though."

"No argument here," Cade said. "Hey, if ya change your mind 'fore you get to Meredosia Springs, just turn around and come on back. There's still plenty of hours left in the day. Winter ain't darkenin' the skies early just yet. I'm happy to help you, uh . . . handle the situation if ya need me."

Cade walked me out, but he stayed on the porch while I went to the stable to retrieve my bay. We stood together for a moment, and I thanked him for the coffee and offered another firm handshake. I then mounted up, ready to ride.

Cade remained on the porch, waving at me, and I started to ride off. When I stopped and shouted for him, he walked closer.

"Sorry, Cade. I near forgot, but I got a message for ya."

"A message? From who?" Cade asked.

"Well, before I started out, I stopped at Tom Adloff's business. He wanted me to remind you that he's got your harness all fixed up and ready. Said it's been a couple weeks, and he's pretty anxious for you to come get it."

"Damn!" Cade commented, snapping his fingers. "I'm a-gettin' old, Warren. Sometimes my memory fails me. I'll ride over there right quick. Thanks for lettin' me know."

I nodded, tipped my hat at him, then slapped reins on the sides of the bay and into a steady gallop I rode.

The next part of my travels wasn't quite as long a stretch. First, I rode into Blanchard County. About two miles beyond that was Meredosia Springs. I found myself surrounded by even taller pines and earthy shrubs that populated both sides of the elevated landscape. The road ahead made a slight S-turn before it carried me to the outskirts of town.

It was a slow, easy ride through what remained of the business end of a possible ghost town. Most of the buildings were empty, and the clapboard siding was hangin' loose or completely gone. The nails were rusty, and the paint was chipped, and everything was dusty and lonely. Even the ladies' fashion shop was burnt to a crisp, nothin' but a shell of black timber with a couple yards of filthy lace and silk covered in ashes and dirt on the floor. One mannequin still stood on the boardwalk, a female form, and her shapely figure was full of bullet holes, as if she was used as target practice for some trigger-happy cowboy. Strong's Mercantile didn't look too busy either; I only spotted one customer inside. The barbershop was completely dark, and the red and white post out front was resting on the boardwalk. I figured the owner had given a last trim and shave a long time ago.

I moseyed forward, darting my eyes from one tattered business to another. I wasn't sure if anyone even still lived in the town, but it was rumored that the Tibbins boys owned all the establishments in Meredosia Springs. I was sure they really didn't, but it didn't seem to matter. For the most part, everyone was gone.

When I reached the place where I hoped I'd find someone inside, I dismounted, tied reins to the hitch rail, then climbing a few steps to enter the Meredosia Land Office. There was somebody there, a man in the back, shuffling papers around as if he was nervous. I had to wonder if someone had already tipped him off about my arrival.

When the Land Office clerk finally moved to the front counter, his gray eyes narrowed and hardened. He seemed far more jittery than any man his size should have been. "Y-Yes, sir?" he said in a shaky voice. "You lookin' for some land to buy? I got plenty of nice acreage for sale all around this growing town. You saw it yourself as you rode in, didn't you?"

For an answer, I nudged my overcoat open and showed him my badge. "I'm not lookin' to buy," I said.

"Oh. Well, are you sure? I mean, we got some real nice government-owned land you can get on the cheap, maybe build yourself a fine home there. It's a good plot, very inexpensive."

"No, mister, what I need from you is some information," I said, in a tone that left no room for doubt about how serious and urgent it was. "I need to look at the survey ledger concerning the line that separates the properties owned by Troyer and Tibbins."

When I made that announcement, the man behind the counter became even more nervous than before, if that was even possible. Sweat beaded up on his forehead, and he lifted a finger to pull at his damp collar. He took a noticeable gulp before he asked, "Are you in question about that boundary line, Mr., uh . . . Lawman?"

"I'm Warren Brothers. U.S. Marshal from Cheyenne River," I corrected.

"Yes, sir," he said, his voice trembling with anxiety. He then walked to the back and began shuffling through more documents and books. Moments passed before he finally brought the survey ledger out to the counter.

I thumbed through the book and found the page I was looking for. I studied the survey Doss Troyer had shown me before. It proved what I reckoned it would: The land was his, and the Tibbins brothers had no legal claim on it. As usual, they were up to stirrin' trouble, and ol' Doss had paid dearly for their greed. "How do I get to the Tibbins spread?" I asked, my voice harsh and raw.

"Back through town the way you came, M-Marshal," he stuttered. "Just go east on Logan Pass. Before you reach the dogleg curve, turn left on a thin dirt road. Head down that a ways, maybe a quarter-mile, and you'll find the Tibbins property."

I walked across the room, but as I reached for the door handle, I turned to look at him with a frozen glare. "Mister, I thank you for your help, but hear me out. This is a serious warning," I said in a husky voice. "Don't you mention a word 'bout me bein' here, not to anyone! If anybody asks, you don't know me, you've never seen me before, never even heard of me. You got that?"

He nodded and stared at me, his eyes wide and his bottom lip trembling.

I unhitched the leather from the rail, mounted up, and began to ride east. As I turned away from the Land Office, I knew his curious, round face would be watching from behind those wire-rimmed glasses of his. I also knew he wouldn't tell a soul he'd seen me, because I'd scared the daylights out of the man.

I took the left turn on the dirt road, just as he told me to. The path was well worn but hard to see, thin and lean and almost hidden. After I rode about a quarter-mile, I approached my destination in a slow gait. When I saw the house just up ahead, I dismounted and pushed my bay behind some overgrown brush. Retrieving my Winchester, I slowly made my way to the house.

Everything seemed peaceful and calm. On the far side of the house was an unhitched wagon, and I recalled that Haggy had mentioned a wagon they used to go to Meredosia Springs was missing from their spread. I quietly worked my way to the wagon to take a look inside. The first telling thing I spotted was a large amount of blood. Also, I saw a torn piece of fabric that matched the shirt Troyer's body was still wearing when I found him.

Suddenly, I could hear the movement of hooves behind me. I didn't have to turn around to see who it was, 'cause the voice spittin' words at me was recognizable.

"Somethin' of interest to you out here, partner?" the voice questioned.

The next sound I heard was guns being cocked.

The hard voice continued, "Pardon us, but we sorta like to question strangers who come lurkin' 'round our place."

I quickly moved behind the back of the wagon, near the rear wheel, and immediately aimed my rifle in their direction. "I'm Marshal Brothers from Cheyenne River," I warned. "I'm here to arrest both of you for the murder of Doss Troyer."

After laughter from both brothers, Bob grinned and said, "Ain't gonna happen, Marshal."

Suddenly, gunfire erupted, and hooves stomped violently as the startled horses jerked and reared and moved about in confused circles, kicking dust up all around them. Hot lead whizzed around me. I ducked once, then twice, then raised up to continually fire until my rifle was empty. When the dust settled, I saw the two brothers lyin' dead in front of me, next to their snorting horses. Enos was already dead, but Bob lifted his head for a moment. He gurgled up blood as he tried to offer his final curses to me. It didn't take long for his eyes to close and his head to fall onto the cold dirt.

The trail back to Cheyenne River was peaceful and quiet. The wind on my face was even chillier than it had previously been on my journey. I rode on, with two bodies in tow behind me, lifelessly piled over their own two horses.

Another mile ahead was a aged ol' sign on a broken post. It brought great relief to me but another sweep of sadness for poor young Haggy's pa. I read those words out loud as the horses plodded along behind my bay: "LEAVING BLANCHARD COUNTY."

The End

Robert Gilbert is the author of RUN WITH THE OUTLAWS (amazon), a collection of ten Western short stories. Hooked on Westerns began when Gilbert lived in Hollywood, California as an entertainment writer. He spent numerous occasions on the Western backlot of Warner Bros. studio. Ten of his short stories have been published in Frontier Tales over the last six years. Visit his website at:

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The Livery is Short a Horse
by Pamela Ryder


A local youth held in the courthouse lockup broke out sometime last night. William Antrim, who also goes by William Henry McCarty and William Bonney, had been accused of stealing food from the Cave-In Café. Sheriff Whitehill accepted responsibility for Antrim's departure up the chimney. "I should have figured it," said the sheriff. "He was just a little feller." In addition, Sheriff Whitehill reports a set of six-shooters is missing, and the livery is short a horse.

- Silver City Sentinel, Sept 25, 1875

The horse was a Choctaw piebald, the great-grandson of a brindle mare called Ofunlo—the Owl. She was named for her owlish eyes and her wise ways by the family Shakcuckla in the clan of the Beloved Crayfish People.

In the fall of 1831, the brindle mare wore tiny bells that the family Shakcuckla tied to her mane so they would hear music as they trudged the thousand miles in silence, and the bells tinkled as she walked with the other Choctaw horses the pintos and the buckskins and the yellow duns—and the other families of Choctaws—the clans of the Reed People and the Divided People as they passed through the groves of cherrybark oak and palmetto and touched the trees and told the sweet gum and tupelo goodbye, there at the beginning of the long Trail of Tears on the flat-topped Mississippi ridge between the Petickfa Creek and the Creek of Black Water.

For a while, they went along a barely trampled path, but by the final trek of the Choctaw thousands—the tens of thousands—it was worn away to shoulder deep and deeper still, so that settlers of the countryside sitting on their porches or tilling the fields or hunting in the wildwoods would hear the faint tinkling of bells and the footfall of the multitudes, but would see only the heads of horses passing by on that tunnel of a trail.

For a while, the brindle mare had carried what little the family Shakcuckla had been permitted to bring: parched corn and dried pumpkin and smoked strips of flatfish and chub, and they shared the corn with her, and they drank as she did from the streams and springs. And when all they had carried was gone, the brindle mare showed the family Shakcuckla the sprigs of peppergrass and the hogweed trailside and the family clans of the Beloved Crayfish people and the Reed People and the Divided People went into the meadows as far as the soldiers allowed them to go. And they fell to all fours and pulled at the peppergrass and the hogweed with their mouths like horses.

For a while, the brindle mare carried the lame grandmother called Pokes With Her Little Finger until they reached the border of the Arkansas Territory. There the old woman climbed down and sat herself in the dust and decided to die.

For a while, the brindle mare carried the young boy called Plays Where Tadpoles Live, and as the boy rode he remembered the pools along the Creek of Black Water where the tadpoles wriggled through his fingers, and he saw them in his mind before he died in a fever. The mother of the boy was called Sits In Pretty Places and she put a bit of peppergrass and a pumpkin seed in his slack mouth and she wound his body in strips of blanket. The father of the boy was called Drinks The Juice Of Stones, and he asked the soldiers if he might stop and build the illi a shol—the high bier—for the body of the boy so it would return to the power of the sun. But the soldiers put their hands on their rifles and said there was no time, no time, you must go on, and the father of the boy tied the body as high as he was able to a limb of a loblolly pine. And with the brindle mare Ofunlo beside them and the tiny bells in her mane tinkling, the mother and the father of the boy they left tied to the loblolly pine walked on.

For a while, the woman called Sits In Pretty Places walked beside the brindle mare and beside the man called Drinks The Juice Of Stones until she could walk no more.

For a while more, the woman rode on the back of the brindle mare until they neared the end of the Trail of Tears, and there the snow began, and her pains came on. The brindle mare stamped and pawed the earth at the woman's cries and at the smell of birth waters that seeped out of her. The soldiers lowered their rifles, and the woman climbed down from the brindle mare leaving a circle of blood where she had sat, and the last of the family Shakcuckla in the clan of the Beloved Crayfish People were permitted to stop, to build a fire, to take shelter under the brindle mare. The snow blew hard around them and the water in the hollow hoofprints of the horse became cups of ice, and in the night the baby they named Brought To The World In A Blizzard was born. The woman called Sits In Pretty Places held the child to her body but come morning they both were the color of the snow. The man called Drinks The Juice Of Stones tied them together. He threw the rope that bound them over the limb of a honey locust and the snow on the limb filtered down in a small separate storm as he hoisted the two of them hand over hand as high as he could to the power of the morning sun. The sky had cleared. The wind had stilled. Small stars, little flames in the bright fallen snow. A nuthatch circled down the trunk of the honey locust. A tree creeper crept. A crow and his consorts alighted beside the bodies. Somewhere beyond lay the land of Indian Resettlement. The brindle mare nickered and stamped and the snow that had settled in her mane flew around her. And with the brindle mare beside him and the last of her tiny bells tinkling, the man called Drinks The Juice Of Stones went on.

He did not look back to see the crows in the honey locust. He knew the crows would come as that is what crows do. He knew they would take the meat of the woman and the child into their mouths and their stomachs and fly away higher than the highest limbs of the honey locust that he could ever reach.

And he walked on.

The man called Drinks The Juice Of Stones of the clan of the Beloved Crayfish People, and the families of the Reed People and the Divided people walked on. Come dusk, each took their turnip and spoonful of parched corn from the soldiers and they ate sheltered under their horses and looked out into the night where the small cold lights of fireflies flashed and the glowing heart of Hashok Okwa Huiga rose from the swamp smoke and floated on the forest mist. Come dawn, they lifted the dead into the trees, and they walked on.

They walked on. The brindle mare called Ofula and the piebalds and the buckskins and the yellow duns all walked on to confluence of the Red and Kiamichi Rivers where whooping cranes foraged in the shallows, but at the arrival of those thousands of the displaced and dying, the cranes rose together in a great wave of white on their black-fringed wings with the tangles of wet river-reed dripping from their strange back-jointed legs. The brindle mare and the other Choctaw horses trembled and shied at the sight of it and the cranes circled above the river in the shape of a bright cloud for as long as their wings would hold them in the air and finally the birds turned and rode the north wind away from the river, away from the dying and the nearly dead, there at the new Territory of Indian Resettlement at the end of the Trail of Tears

The man called Drinks The Juice Of Stones—of the Family Shakcuckla in the clan of the Beloved Crayfish People—lived. The mare called Ofunlo lived. She had never been saddled. She had never worn a bridle or harness. She had never pulled a plow. He fitted her with a breast collar and withers strap. He backed her into the traces, then hitched her to the whipple and the whipple to the plough. He stood behind her at the edge of the field he had cleared and he talked to the mare and told her what must be done, what they must do. What she must do. Then he walked behind her and placed his hands on the handles of the plow. Ofunlo, he called, and she turned to look at him. He called again and flapped the reins onto her rump. Ai! Ofunlo, he said, Ai! But she stood waiting for him to climb on her back or lead her forward as he had always done. Drinks The Juice Of Stones dropped the reins. He went to the row of wet ditches along the length of the field and cut a wand of willow switch. He took up the handles of the plough and called Ai Ofunlo and snapped the switch to her rump. She had never been struck. She lunged forward at the pain of it and turned around in her traces to look at him. Ai! he called. She pulled against the breast collar and the withers strap, and the plough blade made its furrow-cut as she went on. She went on.

In 1845, at the age of fifteen, the brindle mare Ofunlo was bred and bore a filly. The man's new wife named her Fichik—Star—for the mark on her forehead.

In 1860, Fichik was bred, and she too bore a filly. The man's daughter named her Shapo—Hat—for the white patch between her ears.

In 1870, Shapo bore a colt. The man's son named him Bakoa—Piebald—for his color, and in 1875 sold him to a cavalry officer who was passing though the Land of Indian Resettlement near the Kiamichi River, on his way to the Territory of New Mexico. And who, upon his arrival in Silver City, boarded his Choctaw piebald in the City Livery while he had a bath at the Bedrock Bath & Spirits, a hot meal at the Cave-In Café, and a woman at the Half Moon Dance Hall. That evening, a local youth by the name of Billy Antrim—also known as William Henry McCarty and Billy Bonney—who had been arrested for thievery and held in the courthouse lockup, escaped by ascending the chimney, scrambling down from roof to ledge, entering the livery and finding there among the stalls of boarded horses a fine Choctaw pony, a piebald. The air was sweet and rich with the smell of hay and their droppings. Billy stood listening. No sound but the flit and flutter of barn swallows in the roof beams. The soft nickering of the horses at his presence. The grinding of grain in their mouths. The piebald Indian pony stopped chewing and looked at the squirrely boy standing in his stall.

Hurry up there and finish your dinner, said Billy. We ain't got much time.

The End

Pamela Ryder is the author of two novels in stories and a short story collection. Her website is

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