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!