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JOHNNY HUNTER


ALSO BY

Richard L. DuMont Hunkpapa Sioux


Edited by David M. Johnson

JOHNNY HUNTER

Copyright Š 2018 Richard L. DuMont All rights reserved. Except as permitted under the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, no part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, or stored in a database or retrieval system, without prior written permission of the publisher. This book is a work of fiction. The characters, incidents, and dialogue are drawn from the author’s imagination and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

Published by H2O an imprint of BHC Press Library of Congress Control Number: 2017964747 ISBN: 978-1-947727-25-0 Visit the publisher: www.bhcpress.com Also available in ebook


TABLE OF CONTENTS Chapter One

GRAY MAN..........................................................15 Chapter Two

SPIRIT CANYON................................................23 Chapter Three

SLED RIDING......................................................30 Chapter Four

GAME DAY..........................................................43 Chapter Five

BILLY HUNTER...................................................53 Chapter Six

BACK TO SCHOOL..............................................59 Chapter Seven

SUNDAY MASS..................................................63 Chapter Eight

MILES CITY REMATCH.......................................66 Chapter Nine

RABBIT HUNT....................................................74 Chapter Ten

DANCE................................................................83 Chapter Eleven

SNOW STORM....................................................92 Chapter Twelve

ALONE................................................................101


Chapter Thirteen

CLINIC................................................................107 Chapter Fourteen

SARAH................................................................114 Chapter Fifteen

MASSAUM.........................................................122 Chapter Sixteen

FAMILY CRISIS..................................................128 Chapter Seventeen

DANGEROUS ROADS........................................134 Chapter Eighteen

FUNERAL...........................................................140 Chapter Nineteen

MILES CITY CONSTRUCTION............................147 Chapter Twenty

SUNDAY MORNING.............................................161 Chapter Twenty-one

CROW GAME.....................................................173


JOHNNY HUNTER


Chapter One

GRAY MAN

J

OHNNY HUNTER WOULD never forget that cold day in early No-

vember when he learned the truth about the secret ceremonies. He had often heard the tribal elders speak of these ceremonial dances, usually in whispers. The old men used strange-sounding words like Maheo and Vosta, words that held a magical appeal for the fourteenyear-old Cheyenne. Once he had asked his father about the secret ceremonies. “That’s just a bunch of bull,” his father told him, a hint of anger in his voice. “The only secret dancin’ going on around here is in the minds of those crazy old men. You forget about Cheyenne dancin’ and magic and work on gettin’ good grades and playing basketball. I don’t want to hear you talkin’ about it anymore.” He hadn’t asked his father again. When dealing with Billy Hunter, it was best not to rock the boat. That day had been much like any other on the Cheyenne reservation for Johnny. After classes at St. Andrew Indian School, he had practiced basketball with the eighth grade team, the Chiefs. Like ev15


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ery day after practice, he rode home over rough roads on the ancient yellow school bus, sitting next to his best friend, Richard Amos, as they drove past the other boys’ homes. The homes were much like his: small, made out of concrete blocks or wood, and in a desperate need of paint. Some had broken windows covered with plywood or a sheet of plastic. Most had broken-down cars or pickup trucks rusting away in their yards. The bus stopped by his house and he climbed down the steps, carrying his backpack on one shoulder. He waved goodbye to his friends on the bus, watching it pull away. As he walked up the driveway to his home, taking large strides with his long legs, he heard shouting coming from inside the faded whitewashed concrete block house. The voices belonged to his father and grandfather, and they were arguing again. Johnny laid his backpack on the ground, found his basketball under the bushes near the gravel driveway, and wiped off the mud on his faded jeans. He dribbled the leather ball on the packed dirt under the basket rim. There wasn’t a net on the hoop and the backboard was warped from the rain, but it worked fine for the young Cheyenne. He faked to one side, jumped in the air, and flipped the basketball cleanly through the rim. Johnny chased after the ball, the wind whipping cold against his neck, lifting his long black hair off his shoulders. He pulled up the collar of his sheepskin jacket and blew on his hands for warmth as he picked up the smooth leather ball. Looking up at the Montana sky with his deep black eyes, he saw dark, heavy clouds, which would probably bring the first real snow of the season to the Northern Cheyenne Reservation. Johnny felt cold and wanted to go into his house, but he could hear the argument still going on inside. He would wait. Dribbling with his left hand, he bounced the ball into his right hand, fell back, and fired toward the rim; the basketball again dropped through the hoop. As he grabbed the ball, the front door flew open and his grandfather stomped out. 16


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Gray Man was over seventy years old, but still as strong as most Cheyenne half his age. He slammed the door shut behind him. Just as quickly, the wooden door flew open and Johnny’s father, Billy “Walking Bear” Hunter, stepped outside into the frigid evening air. He was wearing jeans and a faded yellow T-shirt. His black hair was cut short in a flattop. He held the remains of a pint whiskey bottle in his hands. Johnny ran to step between them. Although he was only fourteen, Johnny, at just under six feet tall, was already taller than his father. This time he thought they might actually come to blows. “Don’t hit him, Dad!” Johnny shouted. “Get out of the way,” his father said. Billy’s voice sounded harsh, rough. “I ain’t goin’ to hit the old buzzard. He’s just got to me today with his bull crap about the old days. I’m sick of hearing it.” Gray Man stepped forward until just six inches separated the two. He raised his hand and brushed back his long, gray hair. “You act like there were never days when our people lived free and wild on these plains. Before the white man came, we were a great…” “Before the white man,” Billy interrupted. “Hell, that’s ancient history. It’s the 1970s, not the 1870s. All we got is now, today, and that means dealing with the white man.” Billy took a drink from the bottle and wiped his mouth on his arm. “If we don’t believe in our ancestors, we’ll end up just like the whites,” Gray Man said. His dark eyes burned. He was a big man with a full face and a large nose surrounded by leather-like skin. “The white people have money and fancy houses, but they are not happy.” “I’d like to be unhappy like they are,” Billy said. “Things ain’t like they used to be and there ain’t no way to stop the wind from blowin’. We’ve got to act like the whites to make it in the world today.” “You are wrong,” the old man said, his voice deep and firm. “The Cheyenne can control their own destiny. Maheo has always helped us in the past, and he will help us to survive as a proud people in the future. 17


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“This boy,” Gray Man continued, pointing to Johnny, “this boy is the future of the Cheyenne. He must be taught the ancient ways and beliefs.” Billy stuck his finger in Gray Man’s chest. “You better never teach my son that ancient mumbo-jumbo. He’s goin’ to make good in the white world. If he gets good grades and works hard enough on his basketball, he’ll win a scholarship and get away from this damn reservation forever.” “Dad, please,” Johnny said, pulling his father’s arm. “Don’t yell anymore. It just makes you madder.” But it was Gray Man who stepped back. “Johnny may leave here, Billy, and make a lot of money in the white world, but he won’t be happy. Money is a white man’s invention, and the Cheyenne don’t need it. All a Cheyenne needs is this land to be happy.” Gray Man turned and marched around the low house to the stable. He entered the small, wood building, quickly led a brown mare out of her stall, and climbed on the horse’s back. Without a saddle, his long legs hung nearly to the ground. Kneeing the mare, Wakah, in the sides, he raced past Johnny and Billy. “Aiee! Hahu!” he shouted. “I am Cheyenne!” In spite of himself, Johnny smiled. It upset him when his father argued with Gray Man, but he couldn’t help admiring the old man for sticking to his guns. Gray Man would not change. “What’re you smiling at?” his father asked, his voice raspy. Johnny felt the hair on the back of his neck pop up. “Nothing, Dad, just smiling.” He looked at the ground. “Don’t you be taking that old man’s side. He’s all wet about the Cheyenne ways, and you stay out of his way when he’s talking about the old days. Ya hear me?” “Sure, I hear you.” His voice cracked as he spoke. The cabin door opened. “Johnny, come in now. Supper’s getting cold,” his mother said. She stood in the doorway, holding it halfway open. 18


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“What about me?” Billy asked. “Is my supper ready?” Mrs. Hunter glared at her husband and disappeared inside, hastily pulling the door shut behind her. Johnny picked up his backpack and followed his father into the house, which was warm and smelled of rabbit stew and whiskey. Billy sat down at the plain wooden table, lit only by a single light bulb hanging above them. He poured another drink into his tin cup and slid the bourbon bottle under his chair. Billy was heavyset, his once-hard stomach now hanging over his belt. His face was pockmarked, distinguished by a hawk-like nose. He had never been a handsome man, but the years and whiskey were making him old before his time. His short black hair was speckled with gray. Johnny hung his coat on a hook above the cot that served as his bed. The room was small and crowded by the fact that Gray Man slept on another bunk. Gray Man had lived there since his wife, Johnny’s grandmother, died while Johnny was still a small boy. There was a single chest of drawers and a small desk with a lamp where he did his homework. He walked back to the kitchen, washed his hands in the sink, and sat down. Mrs. Hunter picked up the steaming black kettle with a gingham rag and set it down on the table. “There,” she said, glaring at Billy, “serve yourself.” She returned to the wood burning stove and stuffed small branches into it. When it was filled, she banged the iron door shut. “Come on, Minatare, don’t stay mad at me. Come and eat. I didn’t start the fight with the old man tonight.” When Minatare did not answer, Billy swallowed the rest of his whiskey. “Go on, Hunter. Go talk to her. She’ll listen to you.” Whenever his father called him Hunter, the boy knew it was a serious favor he asked. Although his grandfather always called him Hunter, his father usually stuck with his Christian name of Johnny. “Can I get you some firewood, Mom?” Johnny asked her. 19


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“No, I don’t need any more just now. Sit down and eat your supper before it gets cold,” she said. Her eyes looked very tired to him. She was not yet forty, but she looked much older; her skin wrinkled from too many hours gardening in the sun, and her hair was streaked with white. She washed a few dishes in the sink. “I can’t eat when you two are mad at each other,” he said. She dried her hands and patted his face. “You’re a good boy, Johnny. Why don’t you go after your grandfather and I’ll keep supper warm for the both of you? By the time you return, we’ll have made up.” Johnny smiled. “Sure, Mom. I haven’t had a chance to ride my pony all week.” The boy slid on his sheepskin jacket and wrapped a blue scarf around his neck. He hugged his mother and said, “So long, Dad.” Without looking up from the table, his father waved. As Johnny went out the door, he saw his father reach below his chair and pull out the whiskey bottle. It made him feel sad. As he walked to the small corral, Johnny’s horse greeted him with a mighty trot. Thunder was a mustang, small in size but a beautiful brown and white pinto. The horse stretched his neck over the fence rail and nuzzled his face in the boy’s chest. “Hey, Thunder, you glad to see me? Come on, get out of there. We’ve got to go find grandfather again.” Johnny stroked the horse’s face and rubbed his ears. Billy’s horse, Little Girl, raised her ears and pushed against the stall rail. “Sorry, Girl. Not this time. I know Dad doesn’t ride you much anymore. I’ll try to take you out sometime later this week.” He patted her head. Johnny opened the door, slipped the old leather reins over Thunder’s head, and climbed on the horse’s bare back. The pony danced to one side and then galloped through the gate and down the driveway toward the Badgers’ place. Gray Man usually went there to talk to his friend, Logan, whenever he was angry or upset. 20


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The Badgers, both well into their eighties, were a childless couple who lived about a mile from the Hunters in a wooden one-room house that was built by Logan Badger for his bride long ago. They eked out a meager living by raising a small garden, some chickens, and by trapping muskrats in the reservation streams. Johnny’s family often shared their food with them. Mrs. Badger was in the yard, feeding her chickens when Johnny rode in. She was wearing a faded red scarf, a black coat, and a pair of black rubber boots. “Hello, Johnny,” she waved to him. She tossed another handful of corn on the ground where several white chickens pecked away. “Can you come in for some mint tea? You look cold sitting up there.” “Not today, Mrs. Badger. I have to find my grandfather and bring him home. Is he with Logan?” “Sure is. They rode off together into Spirit Canyon to do the old dances.” She pointed a bony finger toward the canyon. Johnny sat on his horse and watched the old woman. Surely she was kidding him. “C’mon, Mrs. Badger, no one does the old dances except when the tourists come in the summer.” She grinned a nearly toothless grin. “I’ve said all that I wish to say. What you believe is your business. It’s getting cold out here. Are you sure you won’t come in for tea?” She pulled her big wool coat tighter around her thin neck. “Can’t do it. And I’m really not cold. I gotta go find Gray Man and get him home for supper.” “Okay, maybe next time.” She smiled again, her face wrinkled deeply but her eyes bright. “When you reach the canyon, go in quietly. You may just get a big surprise.” She walked across the porch into the shack, pulling the old door closed behind her. An orange cat tried to get in with her, but she pushed it out with her foot. Johnny leaned forward and rubbed his horse’s neck. “What do you think Mrs. Badger is trying to tell us?” he asked. “Do you think she really knows something?” 21


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He gently tapped the mustang with his knees. “C’mon, Thunder, we better get to Spirit Canyon quickly. It’ll be dark soon and then we might never find those two old men.”

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Chapter Two

SPIRIT CANYON

M

ANY YEARS AGO, when the Cheyenne were still free to roam

wherever they wanted, a large rockslide had blocked the natural entrance to Spirit Canyon. The only way into the hidden canyon was a twisting, narrow trail that was barely wide enough for a man on a horse. The trail cut its way through many layers of rock as the colors changed from a dull gray to a dark red near the bottom of the valley. A river long ago had worn the canyon walls deep and smooth, and the Cheyenne had come to this sacred place for many winters to fast and worship their gods. Johnny let Thunder find his way along the trail, a trail they had been on before. He felt uneasy whenever he rode into Spirit Canyon, even in broad daylight. There were so many bends and twists on the path that it was impossible to see ten yards ahead, and the wind howled constantly as it whipped through the pines. “I’ll be glad when we get there,” he said to his horse. “This place is creepy. Gray Man always says that the wind carries the voices of all the murdered Cheyenne, calling for revenge against the white man.” 23


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They came round a huge boulder into the bottom of the canyon. Under the sheer wall on the east side, Johnny saw smoke and light from a big fire. He heard drums and singing, but the rocks formed a natural wall in a half circle from the cliffs and prevented him from seeing his grandfather. “Maybe Mrs. Badger knows what she’s talking about,” he whispered to Thunder. He slid easily off the pinto horse and dropped the reins. “You stay here while I sneak over there and see what’s going on.” The horse wandered off and began cropping the brown grass. Johnny crouched down and ran across the field to the rocks, quickly climbing over the cold boulders. He crawled to the top and stopped. His eyes opened wide when he looked below him. Dancing in a great circle around a roaring fire were over fifty Cheyenne men and women, most of them dressed in fringed sheepskin shirts. Their faces were painted red and white, and everyone wore feathers or beads. Three drummers pounded the primitive beat while they chanted the ancient songs of the Cheyenne. The fire leapt higher and higher as the dancers swirled around in the circle, waving hatchets and spears to Maheo. There were faces that were familiar to Johnny, yet they looked different in paint and feathers. He didn’t understand the meaning of the dance, but the drum beating and the chanting filled him with a strange feeling that united him with the Cheyenne dancers. It was as if he had always been a part of these ceremonies. His people danced as they had for a thousand years. The drums pounded faster, building speed like a racing locomotive, until they suddenly stopped. The dancers sat down as if they had received a silent command from their leader. Gray Man stood alone by the fire. The old man wore a white buffalo robe and a fur hat with two great buffalo horns sticking out on both sides. He spread his hands to the night sky. “Thank you, Maheo, for bringing all these Cheyenne people to our campfire on this cold night,” he called out in a loud chant, his 24


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voice echoing down the canyon. “Our numbers grow with the passing of each moon. The young people are coming more and more. I am old, a son of yesterday, but these young ones are our future. They are the sons of tomorrow. Someday they will be the leaders of the tribe. We pray to you, Maheo, the Great Spirit, and to the people in the Star Country to guide us through these difficult times.” Gray Man dropped his arms to his side. Logan Badger slowly walked through the crowd. In spite of the cold, Logan was not wearing a shirt as he approached Gray Man. “Are you ready?” “Yes, Logan, bring the child to me,” Gray Man said. Logan waved his hand to the back of the crowd and two Cheyenne men, wearing their hair in braids, strode forward, carrying a small girl with black hair on a stretcher. Her brother walked next to the litter, holding the girl’s hand. Setting the stretcher beside the fire, the two braves retreated into the crowd. Johnny watched as his grandfather stood over the girl. “What the heck’s going on?” he wondered, trying to see the girl’s face from the rocks. “What is her name?” Gray Man asked the boy. “Susan,” the boy said, quietly. “No, her Cheyenne name.” “Naka.” “Ah, Naka, the she-bear, a good name. How long has she been sick?” Gray Man placed his wrinkled hands on the girl’s forehead. “For about two months, Gray Man. She got sick on her seventh birthday back in September, and she hasn’t been well since then. She can’t eat and she’s real weak, but the agency doctor says he can’t find anything wrong with her. Mom’s worrying herself sick, too.” The boy’s eyes were misty, wet with tears. “Do your parents know you have brought her to me?” Gray Man asked. 25


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“Mom does,” the boy said, his voice cracking slightly. “Dad says your medicine is a bunch of crap, but Mom got my uncles to bring us here anyway.” Gray Man patted the youth’s head with his large hands. “Go and sit with your uncles. I will do what I can to heal Naka.” Kneeling next to the girl, Gray Man dipped his fingers into two small clay pots. Then, as he painted a red and yellow stripe down the girl’s face, he began chanting words that Johnny had never heard before. Jeez, Johnny thought, Grandfather’s a medicine man. All this time living with him and I never knew it. Gray Man stood over the girl and covered her with the white buffalo robe. He picked up a small drum decorated with large white and brown feathers. He started pounding on the drum while he slowly danced in a circle around the stretcher. Moving near the center, the medicine chief threw sand-like powder into the fire, which flared up in a large fireball that lit the sides of the canyon. Gray Man then picked up a turtle shell rattle and knelt down again. Shaking the rattle over the sick child, he shouted to the stars. “Mistah, be gone! Leave this little one and go back to the depths of the earth that is your home. By the power of Vosta, the sacred white buffalo, I command you to leave the girl.” The three drummers started pounding the big drums again, and Gray Man jumped up and resumed his dancing. He slowly circled the sick girl, chanting to each of the four directions. When he faced east again, he threw more powder into the fire, and once more, it flashed brightly against the canyon walls. As the drumbeat slowed down, Gray Man started to stagger. The old man stepped backward and fell to the ground. His body grew stiff, jerking slightly as his eyes rolled back in his head, only the whites visible. The drums stopped but no one moved to help him. “Grandfather!” Johnny shouted, standing up on the rocks. “What’s wrong?” 26


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He slid down the boulders and landed on his feet on the ground, quickly running through the crowd. He felt the blood rising in his face. “What’s the matter with everybody?” Johnny yelled. “Somebody help him. He’s had a heart attack or something worse.” None of the Cheyenne moved. Johnny pushed through the crowd and bent over Gray Man. “Grandfather, can you hear me? It’s Hunter.” He felt a strong hand on his shoulder, pulling him away. “Don’t worry. He is okay,” Logan whispered to him in a hoarse voice. He held Johnny close to him. “Gray Man is in the spirit world now, but he is fine. He will return to us quickly.” As soon as Logan stopped speaking, Gray Man suddenly sat upright, spread his arms, and fell back on the dirt. Rolling over on his stomach, his breathing relaxed and he opened his eyes. The old man struggled to his feet. His face showed no surprise when he saw Johnny. He looked past him for the sick girl’s brother. “Come,” Gray Man called, waving to the boy, “your sister is well. In my vision, I saw the evil monster Mistah chased from her body by the sacred buffalo Vosta. She is no longer sick.” The crowd, which had been watching Gray Man intently, turned to the litter. A buzz of excited voices raced through the Cheyenne. The girl sat up and looked around, her dark eyes opened wide. She pulled her blanket over her shoulders and smiled at her brother. “It’s okay, Naka,” he said. “We brought you here so that the medicine of Gray Man would cure you.” She smiled weakly and brushed her tangled black hair from her eyes. “I—I’m so hungry. Is there anything to eat?” The Cheyenne crowd laughed and closed in around Gray Man, shaking his hand and patting him on the back. Johnny’s grandfather clasped their arms and laughed with them. “Enough of this,” he shouted, raising his hand. “Let’s dance to show Maheo how grateful we are for his blessings.” 27


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The drums started again, and the Cheyenne began dancing, shouting, and whooping as they shuffled around the fire. Johnny watched the girl, her brother, and their uncles walk through the dancers toward the canyon entrance, knowing he had seen her cured but still not believing his eyes. Gray Man put his hand on Hunter’s shoulder. “What are you doing here?” “Mom sent me after you for supper,” he said, “but I can see you wouldn’t have come home anyway. Do you come here a lot?” “Often enough,” Gray Man said. “Will you tell your father what you saw? He will be very angry.” “Angry ain’t the word for it. If he found out I stayed and watched this dance, he’d pound my tail good for me. No, I don’t think I’ll tell him. Besides, he wouldn’t believe you cured a sick girl anyway.” “Do you believe I cured her?” Gray Man asked. As he spoke, the gray in his eyes reflected the blazing fire. Johnny was not sure if the fire was merely a reflection. “I believe it, I guess, but I sure don’t understand it. How can shaking a rattle and singing a song make someone well? It doesn’t make sense.” Gray Man frowned at him. “It makes sense to these Cheyenne.” He waved his arm across the dancers. “The spirit world cured her because these people believe in our old way of life. Perhaps someday you too will believe.” “I’d like to. You sure have sold all these people on your medicine.” “It would make my heart soar if my only grandson believed in me and the ancient Cheyenne ways. But it grows late. You had better go home now, Little Hunter, and tell your parents that you couldn’t find me.” Johnny brushed the hair back out of his eyes and crossed his arms in front of him. “I’ll go if you want me to, but what I’d really like to do is try dancing a little bit. Is that okay?” he asked. He was already bouncing his feet to the drumbeat. “I won’t stay long.” 28


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Gray Man’s eyes shone through the deep wrinkles on his face as he broke into a grin that covered his entire face. “Go dance, Hunter,” he said, placing both hands on his grandson’s shoulders, “and may the bones of our fathers fill your heart with Cheyenne spirit from the past.” Johnny ran into the dancing circle and let the beat of the drums flow into him. Feeling strange at first, he soon forgot about everything but the drums and chants, and he danced around the fire. He found himself next to another young Cheyenne whose hair was braided with two eagle feathers. The boy’s face was painted orange. “Good to see you here, Johnny,” the boy finally said in a voice that sounded familiar. Johnny looked closer at him. “I don’t believe my eyes,” he shouted. “It’s Richard Amos!”

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR Richard has a life-long interest in Native Americans and their culture. As a boy, he always played the Indian in cowboys and Indians. He has been writing since high school, producing short stories, poems and novels. He is a graduate of Xavier University and took creative writing courses at the University of Cincinnati. A Vietnam veteran, he resides in Cincinnati. He is currently working on his next novel.


Profile for BHC Press

Johnny Hunter by Richard L. DuMont  

Imprint: BHC Press/H2O Genre: YA/Teen/Historical Publication Date: 5/17/2018 Book Description: Johnny Hunter is a Cheyenne boy growing up on...

Johnny Hunter by Richard L. DuMont  

Imprint: BHC Press/H2O Genre: YA/Teen/Historical Publication Date: 5/17/2018 Book Description: Johnny Hunter is a Cheyenne boy growing up on...

Profile for bhcpress

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