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CONTENTS Col u m n i s t s

Hold Tight, Cowboy

Back In The Day

4

44

Dusty Richards

J.B. Hogan

Heroes & Outlaws

Indian Territory

30

104

Bes t o f th e Wes t

Velda Brotherton

John T. Biggs

Rod Miller

11 33

The Passing of No 16 Part III

Spirit Trail Darrel Sparkman

54 69

Return to Yosemite

The Telegraph Tree Linda Broday

131

Wayne E. Cowan

The Promise John T. Biggs Riding the Shortgrass Country

John J. Dwyer Field of Strong Men–Part I JC Crumpton

142

20

Ro d M i l l e r

84

The Most Dangerous Man in Country Music J.B. Hogan

The Ranch Boss

Geor ge “Cl ay” Mitchell

48

Out of A Job, Not Earning A Dime Part III Dust y Richards

92

108


Submission Guidelines Galway Press is Oghma Creative Media’s western imprint, and Saddlebag Dispatches is our quarterly e-magazine. We are looking for short stories, serial novels, poetry, and non-fiction articles about the west. These will have themes of open country, unforgiving nature, struggles to survive and settle the land, freedom from authority, cooperation with fellow adventurers, and other experiences that human beings encounter in the frontier. Traditional westerns are set left of the Mississippi River and between the end of the American Civil War and the turn of the twentieth century. But the western is not limited to that time. The essence, though, is openness and struggle. These are happening now as much as they were in the years gone by. Query letter: In the first paragraph, give the title of the work, and specify whether it is fiction, poetry, or non-fiction. If the latter, give the subject. The second paragraph should be a biography under two hundred words. Manuscript formatting: All documents must be in Times New Roman, twelve-point font, double spaced, with one inch margins all around. Do not include extra space between paragraphs. Do not write in all caps, and avoid excessive use of italics, bold, and exclamation marks. Files must be in .docx format. Submit the entire and complete fiction or poetry manuscript. We will consider proposals for non-fiction articles. Other attachments: Please also submit a picture of yourself and any pictures related to your manuscript. Manuscripts will be edited for grammar and spelling. Submit to submissions@saddlebagdispatches.com. Put Saddlebag in the subject line.


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H

ey pard, we made it back and even stronger. I hope you and yours had a wonderful Christmas/ New Year’s holiday. As the boss man around this outfit, I must thank our Creative Director, Casey Cowan, for his hard work to get this issue out and start back where we left off last summer. His kidney stones were not only painful, but something he didn’t need on top of all he does. But he is back running full steam. My Resistol hat is off to you, big man. I hope you the readers see the improvement he brought to you in the new design and set up. By the way if you would like free back issues one or two of this magazine email me at dusty@saddlebagdispatches.com. I will send them. Now let’s get down to business, this past six months we lost some great men in the ranks of writers of the west. One was Cotton Smith of Kansas City, a past president of WWA. Cotton and I were great friends and I feel we both brought the organization forward in our terms of office. Cotton wrote with a strong heart about the West through his eyes. We will begin a serialized story for you to enjoy starting in our Summer issue. Cotton, we will look forward to meeting you again in that big pasture in the sky.

We also lost Dale Walker of El Paso, another past president of WWA. He teased me a lot about writing about the history of the Civil War battle at Pea Ridge, Arkansas about thirty miles from my house. I still have no plans for that book. His card was history and he taught college. But Dale, too, left a legacy with us at WWA that helped build its strength. Hats off to a great person. I was with Frank Roderous at the Western Fictioneer’s Conference in St Louis. We had some grand visits that weekend. Only such a short time earlier. John Boggs at the WWA Roundup Magazine asked me for a blurb about our loss of him. I think this sums Frank up. “They only made one Frank Roderous. One great guy whether you were a beginner or an old hand I made that trip to St. Louis with him. He had a different slant on things lots of time. Made you think too. I’ll damn sure miss that great old SOB.” To his widow goes our thanks, her wonderful care of him made him last a lot longer. I get asked a lot about many more fallen heroes in the western genre. I miss Elmer Kelton, the quiet man who wrote so many tough books. I also miss my good


5 friend and mentor Jory Sherman, who handed me my application for Western Writers in February, 1985 at a conference in Branson, Missouri. Robert Conley, who could drink so many of us under the table and who spelled out to me so many great things about what an Indian thinks about and why. And don’t forget John Dunkalee, the guy who wrote the book on being the orneriest man to ever wear boots. God bless them and their families. Please take a moment to remove your hat and ask God to tell them we miss them. Tell them have to have the coffee on and a fire built we’ll have lots to tell them when we join them around the old campfire again. On a less somber note, I hit a major milestone with the release of The Mustanger and The Lady from Galway Press this January—the 150th novel published under my name or the various pseudonyms I’ve used. Then,

what do you know, but a film company optioned it for a screenplay. I have loved western novels since my mother read me Will James’ “Smokey.” Roy, Gene and Hoppy entertained me growing up with Western movies. Then I became friends with people like Elmer Kelton, Cotton, Frank, Bob and Dick with many more. Now, I’ve bridged the gap between the written word and the silver screen, and it’s an honor. If you’ve submitted a story to me and you have not heard anything from me, please check back. I do not have a secretary—things get shuffled. Look for Mustanger at your local bookstore, and my latest book in the Chet Byrnes Ranch series, Pray For the Dead. Adios amigos. And until the next issue set the wagon tongue to point north before you go to bed. It might be cloudy in the morning. —DR


6

Dusty Richards At His Best The Mustanger and The Lady Brings the West to Life Like Never Before

T

he Mustanger and the Lady evokes a far-off time to us, here in our busy, hightech world—a time of wide-open spaces, quiet nights with a million

this place and time shines through, giving the book a realism that rings true right to the very end. Through the rivalries between warring bands of Natives and the struggles of the

stars glittering overhead, shifting alliances, and vigilante justice. This is the time of the Old West, when men and women had to count on each other in the face of a hard land that took no prisoners, gave no quarter. This is the story of Vince Wagner, a hard-bitten cowboy whose chance meeting with May, a young woman on the run, turns both of their lives upside down. Vince has to adapt to having someone near him who isn’t used to life in the arid scrubland of Arizona, and May has no choice but to learn how to survive in a place far removed from the comforts she has always known. And lurking in the background is the sinister figure of Kyle Allison and his gang—who are desperate to get May back and maintain their stranglehold

authorities to maintain some rule of law in this lawless era, we see clearly how people lived in a time that seems far removed even though it is only a little more than a hundred years ago. As we turn each page, we come to care about the characters, whose depth can’t fail to carry the reader along in the hopes that Vince and May will finally be free of the threat of Allison and his cronies. But whether that happens is something I’m not going to reveal—you’ll just have to read the book yourself. I don’t hesitate to recommend The Mustanger and the Lady. Dusty Richards is a master of his craft, and doesn’t appear to be slowing down even after 150 books. Open any one of his stories and you’ll find yourself transported back to

on the whole region. The story plays out in a richly evocative landscape, with characters that might have stepped out of a classic John Wayne western. Dusty Richards’s intimate knowledge of

the Old West—and you won’t be able to put it down. The man is a storyteller of the first order. —Gordon Bonnet Author of Lock & Key


7

Spirit Trail Blazes New Path Sparkman Delivers Historical Adventure Accurate as it is Breathless

D

arrel Sparkman snuck right up on me like the intrepid Ghostrider or the relentless Buffalo Shield of his memorable new Western adventure Spirit Trail. Compulsively readable from the first page, Sparkman’s story stealthily ferries the reader from an Old and very Wild West vengeance saga to a heartrending odyssey of yearning, restoration, and redemption. Of all this moving and twistytrailed journey’s many attributes, none loom larger than the three-dimensional human authenticity of its characters. There is Sean MacLeod, the Ghostrider himself, blazing a Josey Wales- or Hugh Glass-like path of comeuppance after the slaughter of his loved ones… Buffalo Shield the fearsome Blackfoot warrior and medicine man with his own scars inside and out… Ellen Mackey, the tough but tender, beautiful but damaged heroine… Hawk, the enigmatic Osage chief… even Charbonneau the vile French trader of furs and flesh. All evince fascinating human complexity. Sparkman has crafted a page turning story that gathers velocity and power as it proceeds. For this reviewer, who has been consuming historical tales for better than half a century, few things in life are more satisfying than an adventure of

the American West that delivers action, suspense, and romance, keeps the reader guessing—and increasingly anxious about what is to come—then delivers a climax whose pulsating physicality is surpassed by its heart and nobility. To ride the many trails and follow the evasive aspirations of the Ghostrider,

ican Indians, the naturalism of Frazier’s Cold Mountain, the ambiguity of McMurtry’s beautiful and terrifying West, and the wry Native characters and humor of Carter’s Josey Wales tales, Sparkman knows his terrain, its reds and whites, its wildlife and weapons, its tribal feuds north and south, including Osage vs. Cherokee and Blackfoot vs. Nez Perce, and the cycles and rhythms of its endlessly varied landscapes—and deathscapes. Indicative of his ability to evoke the imagery of Spirit Trail’s universe are the many Western films whose own spirit and footprints run through this book, including The Searchers, Last of the Mohicans, Jeremiah Johnson, and especially the current blockbuster The Revenant. In the end, Spirit Trail proclaims for a generation that knows little of its own national heritage, just how difficult and costly was the “winning” of America. Harder still, it declares, was the changing of hardened, wounded “Missus” Mackey, Buffalo Shield, and hearts. Yet Darrel Sparkman leaves us others, all of them frequently at odds the parting treasure that both change and cross purposes with one another, and hope are not only desirable, but then close the book with a knot in one’s possible. Even, perhaps, in our own, throat and tears in one’s eyes is a literary loss- and sorrow-stained lives. payoff of the highest order. Channeling the nonmonolithic —John J. Dwyer nature of Fenimore Cooper’s AmerAuthor of Stonewall


11

THE PROMISE by

John T. Biggs

N

elva Riley practiced smiling in the early morning hours while her baby boys were still asleep. She thought of it as exercise—keeping her happymuscles in shape in case the opportunity ever came again. Her smile looked good in the dusty little compact mirror. Beautiful, was the word that came to Nelva’s mind— pretty at the very least. Maybe the prettiest girl on the Big Rez. Her smile could still turn a man’s head. Nelva proved that to herself once a month on her shopping trips to Window Rock. Those Navajo boys liked her just fine. She said, “Pretty,” out loud to remind herself how it sounded. Richard Daniels used to say that word a lot before everything went wrong. Her smile broke up at the edges when she heard a transmission grind into a lower gear—the sound of trouble driving up a mountain road. Nelva stepped outside and watched a cloud of dust follow her best friend’s pick up truck into her dooryard. The expression on Arizona Begay’s face told her everything she needed to know. Her babies’ daddy was looking for her again. Nelva Riley didn’t have time to think about being pretty anymore. Richard Daniels left the Rez for months at a time, long enough for Nelva to think he’d finally given up on her, but he always came back. A man didn’t forget about a woman who blinded him in one eye with a rock. “He had it coming,” Nelva told Arizona Begay. “’Cause he tried to shoot me when he found out I was pregnant.” Richard didn’t want a baby, but later changed his mind. He even tried to get the Navajo police involved—like they would help a Cherokee from Oklahoma find his Laguna baby momma.

She said, “There’s lots more rocks in the desert and he’s only got one eye left.” “It’s a crazy world,” Arizona Begay said. She was Nelva’s only friend on the Big Reservation. Or anywhere else, for that matter. “Back when he didn’t want any babies, twins would have made him double mad,” Nelva said. “What’s he going to do when he finds out?” “He never will.” Arizona crossed fingers on both hands for good luck. “Just stay out of sight.” No problem. Nelva had been holed up almost full time in the same old abandoned hogan in the Short Mountains for two years. That’s where Arizona put her when she found her wandering in the desert a dozen miles outside of Naschitti. •

Arizona saved Nelva Riley’s life that day. She turned her old GMC pickup into the desert. Drove right to Nelva ten minutes after she got away from Richard. She opened the door of her truck and said, “Old lady Wauneka told me you’d be here. She’s a listening woman.” Arizona acted like that explained everything. “Now get in before the vultures come.” Nelva turned in a circle as if she might be about to get a better offer. All she saw were creosote bushes and rocks. She climbed into the truck and shut the door. “Fasten your seatbelt.” Arizona wouldn’t move an inch until she heard the buckle snap.


12 She said, “Nothing happens on the Rez that I don’t hear about.” Arizona was a U.S. Public Health Service nurse practitioner who visited every Indian on the Big Rez who ever got sick, and that was just about every single one. People trusted her. “Got me a Navajo name,” she told Nelva Riley on that first ride to the Short Mountains. “But I’m an outsider just like you.” She was born in Hugo, Oklahoma a little over forty years ago to a Choctaw mother and a mostly Choctaw father. “But there must have been a Navajo hiding in the woodpile some time back,” Arizona said, “For me to wind up with a name like Begay.” Nelva wondered what would bring a Navajo to a woodpile in Oklahoma. But she didn’t ask any questions, because Arizona Begay wasn’t asking any either. There’s a lot of empty land on the Big Reservation,

more than all the other reservations combined. Nelva guessed the Navajo were glad of that because they liked to live way apart, not right on top of each other like the Pueblo. Nelva didn’t say anything about tribes or clans. The Navajo didn’t have much use for Pueblo, and maybe Choctaw didn’t either. She sat in the passenger seat of that GMC pickup truck, and listened to Arizona talk. “Heard about your considerable troubles.” Arizona said, and that was pretty strange, because Nelva thought her troubles had just started ten minutes ago when Richard Daniels kicked her out of his car and tried to shoot her. “I can see you’re pregnant.” That was even stranger, because Nelva found out for sure earlier that week. She put her hands across her belly like she could protect her baby, and kept her eyes on the woman who’d just saved her. It was the quietest


13 she’d been in her whole life. Nelva thought she must be finally learning Indian ways. Arizona drove her to an old Hogan, “…where Hosteen Bigwhiskers used to live.” The old man had been a famous singer who knew ceremonies for curing everything from bad attitudes to tuberculosis. “Hosteen Bigwhiskers is a funny name.” Nelva hoped that wouldn’t stir up any trouble, because some people were pretty sensitive. “Hosteen means Mister—sort of,” Arizona said. “What about Bigwhiskers?” Nelva usually got herself into trouble saying things she shouldn’t, but Arizona was busy showing Nelva how to use the pump and light the kerosene lamp. “Nobody will come up this way because Hosteen Bigwhiskers died inside this hogan,” Arizona said. “Navajo don’t like places that might be haunted, and they make a point of ignoring strangers.” The locals would talk about Nelva among themselves, according to Arizona, but they wouldn’t talk about her to Richard Daniels, and pretty soon, he’d just give up and go away, like strangers on the reservation usually do. “They won’t help a one-eyed Cherokee from Oklahoma.” Arizona promised he’d be gone in a week, two at most, and then Nelva could have her baby in an Indian Hospital back in Albuquerque. There were two things Arizona didn’t know back then. Richard Daniels never would give up, and twins were on the way. Nelva was going to live in that haunted hogan for a good long time if she wanted to keep herself and her two baby boys away from their angry one-eyed father. Of course, Nelva didn’t know those things either. All she knew for sure was, Richard Daniels hadn’t killed her in the desert, and a friendly stranger brought her to this weird hideout. Nelva would have thought this place was downright awful a week ago, but considering the alternative it looked pretty good. “It’s best to hang your worries in a line and then take them off one at a time,” Arizona told her. She had lots of interesting things to say that Nelva Riley never heard

before. She said one of them right before she climbed into her truck and drove away. “Chi pisa la chike.” That’s how Choctaws say goodbye. It means I’ll see you later no matter what. Whether we’re alive or dead, we’ll see each other again. “A sacred promise,” Arizona explained. Nelva thought that was pretty cool. •

Two years is a long time for a pretty Laguna girl to live alone on the Navajo Rez with no company except for Arizona Begay and two baby boys. “The one-eyed witch,” Arizona said. “That’s what the Navajo call your babies’ daddy. They think the patch he wears keeps the evil inside his right eye until he wants to let it out.” Richard Daniels came and went for two years, asking questions about Nelva and her baby. All he’d found out was Navajo are good listeners. “He still thinks there’s just one child,” Arizona said. So did everyone else, because Nelva’s twins had been born in Hosteen Bigwhiskers’s haunted hogan, delivered by Arizona Begay, and Nelva was careful not to let both of them be seen together. “He goes home,” Arizona said. “For weeks at a time. Sometimes months.” “But then he comes back again.” Nelva was ready to leave the Short Mountains and the Big Reservation, and take her babies to live in some civilized place like Albuquerque or Santa Fe. But Arizona said the one-eyed witch would find her there. “Cherokee know how to get white people on their side,” Arizona said. “But they don’t stand a chance with Navajo. You’re better off here.” Nelva said, “Chi pisa la chike,” just because Arizona liked the way Choctaw words sounded when someone else said them. “Chi pisa la chike.” Those were the only Choctaw words Nelva knew, and she thought they might have magic power. She crossed fingers on both her hands the


14 way she’d seen Arizona do. For good luck, even though she mostly didn’t believe in good luck. “I hope Richard Daniels never finds me,” Nelva said, as if she’d just blown out the candles on her birthday cake. “He won’t,” Arizona told her. “Because you’ve learned an important Indian trick.” “What trick is that?” “You’ve learned to be invisible,” Arizona said. Nelva wondered if the nurse had been on the Rez too long. •

Being invisible meant people pretended you weren’t there. Like a dripping kitchen faucet no one wanted to fix, or the dull look in your youngest baby’s eyes that you didn’t want to think about. Nelva named the first-born twin Daniel, and she named his brother Richard. One half of their daddy’s name for each of them. Danny was the quick one. The first to smile, the first to stand, the first to walk. He started saying words while Richard sat there being slow and sweet. How could she not like the quick one most? He was the best in every way, except for being kind of naughty. And Nelva didn’t mind that. Not when he said, “Mamma,” clear as a bell. Everything Danny did was cute and smart. Richard mostly sat and watched the world. “Don’t worry,” Arizona told her. “Babies run on their own schedules, and they’re all different, even if they look exactly the same.” Nelva didn’t think her boys looked exactly the same. Danny was lively and Richard wasn’t. Danny had to get his way and Richard didn’t care. Danny pushed Richard aside and crawled up on Nelva’s lap like king of the mountain, but Richard . . . “Somethin’s wrong with him,” Nelva said. “I’ve known it from the start.” His smile didn’t look quite right. His cry sounded weak and he never seemed as hungry as Daniel. “If they weren’t born at the same time, the

difference wouldn’t bother you.” Arizona listened to Richard’s heart. She checked his temperature. She tickled the bottoms of his feet, thumped on his chest, and pronounced him fit. “Can’t custom-order babies,” she said. “Got to take them like God makes them.” Nelva said, “I never was too religious.” She picked Danny up and held him on her lap while Richard drew crooked lines on the dirt floor of the hogan. “Truth is, most mothers have a favorite,” Arizona said. “It’s easy to hide it when one child’s older than another, or one’s bigger, or one’s a boy and one’s a girl. It’s harder with identical twins. Danny’s smarter than Richard. That’s just a fact, like if he was taller. Only you wouldn’t care which one was taller. Brains aren’t everything.” Arizona picked Richard up and gave him a loud kiss on the top of his head. Richard put both arms around Arizona’s neck, pressed his lips against her cheek, and smeared it with baby saliva. Danny wouldn’t do that. He never showed the slightest signs of affection. For the first time since the twins had been born, Nelva considered that maybe it was Danny who was missing something. Arizona sat Richard on Nelva’s lap beside his brother. “Plenty of room for two babies there.” She looked at her watch, like she always did when she couldn’t stay. “It ain’t like I don’t love Richard.” Nelva kissed her slow sweet baby. “I love Richard plenty.” Arizona opened the door to the hogan and stepped outside. “Got to go see old lady Leaphorn in Crown Point.” She looked at her watch again. “Poor old thing’s diabetic, and her little toe’s turned black.” She waved and shut the door. Nelva listened to Arizona’s pickup truck go bumping down the almost-road and wondered why she didn’t say goodbye in her usual Choctaw way. Richard smiled at her. Danny didn’t smile at all. He’d found a scab on Nelva’s knee and was trying to make it bleed. “Chi pisa la chike,” Nelva called out. “Too bad Arizona couldn’t hear me,” she told her babies. “It’d be nice to make her smile.”


16 •

Two bad things happened in the late fall when the weather turned cold. The one-eyed witch came back to the Reservation, and Baby Richard started running a fever. Arizona brought the bad-daddie news and children’s Tylenol to Hosteen Bigwhiskers’s haunted hogan. “Got him a lawyer this time,” Arizona said. “Got him a letter from the Cherokee Nation asking for tribal cooperation. But he’s got no friends on the council and he’s still got that evil eye hidden under a patch, so I wouldn’t worry.” The only trouble was, Nelva wasn’t Navajo. She didn’t speak the language, or know much about the customs, or have any right to live on the Big Rez even if it was in a haunted hogan. Sooner or later, she figured Richard Daniels would find some talkative Navajo who’d mention seeing smoke from the old abandoned Bigwhiskers outfit where no one was supposed to live. “That won’t happen,” Arizona said. “Richard talks too much like a white man. The Navajo can’t hear a man who talks like that.” She said Richard acted like a white man too. “He tried to pay some boys for information.” Disrespectful things like that didn’t go over too well on the Rez. Nelva never thought of money as insulting, but maybe if somebody was too proud of having it. If they flashed it around where there wasn’t much. Money had all those white dead presidents on the front, and pictures of buildings on the back, where important men made bad decisions. But money came in handy. It bought food, and ice, and factory-made clothes, and Children’s Tylenol that didn’t seem to be working very well on Baby Richard. Arizona said, “Give it time,” but patience was hard for a mother with two babies when one of them was sick. “Little ones spike high fevers,” Arizona said. “A hundred and three is nothing.” Nelva was supposed to keep Richard warm, and feed him broth and give him the Tylenol as directed and wait two days until Arizona came around to check him out again. “Two days ain’t nothing,” Nelva said, trying to sound

confident. She didn’t have a cell phone any more, but that didn’t matter because they didn’t work on this part of the reservation. Besides, Arizona was always right about almost everything. But the inside of Richard’s throat turned the color of a ripe tomato, and he cried full-time for a whole day and a whole night. Then he stopped crying, and just lay there with his eyes glazed over, staring at something only he could see. Nelva never believed the old stories about Skeleton Man, who came when it was time to die, but right then she wished she could remember more. Maybe there was a prayer or a chant, or something she could do now that Richard couldn’t swallow the Children’s Tylenol anymore. God didn’t seem to be listening so she prayed to Hosteen Bigwhiskers’s ghost. Richard wouldn’t take a sip of water or a spoonful of broth. His fever was a hundred and five degrees according to the plastic thermometer that lit up with numbers when Nelva stuck it onto his forehead. Arizona was supposed to be back to check on Richard—where was she? Nelva didn’t have a watch. Didn’t need one because things on the Rez happened when they happened and there was nothing you could do about it. Even in Crown Point. Even in Gallup. Even if she suddenly realized that Richard was her favorite son and not Daniel after all, and the spirits were punishing her for not figuring that out earlier. Nelva’s mind was spinning like a bullet fired from a Richard Daniels’s 9 mm pistol when Arizona’s noisy pickup truck pulled into Hosteen Bigwhiskers’s dooryard. She ran outside, shouting senseless strings of words no one could possibly understand except for a reservation nurse who talked to frightened mothers every day. “Calm down,” Arizona told her. When that didn’t work, she pushed Nelva out of the way and went inside to see to baby Richard. Arizona carried her black bag full of white man’s medicines that could cure every disease in the world. “How long has he had the rash?” Arizona ran her fingers over Richard’s belly. She plucked his loose skin


17 between her fingers, and watched it fall back into place. She listened to his breath sounds with a stethoscope. “What rash?” Nelva could see the fine red speckles covering Richard’s chest and belly now that Arizona had him undressed. Arizona took a syringe from her bag, loaded it with magic juice that could bring babies back from the edge of death. Skeleton Man wouldn’t get Richard. Neither would the grim reaper. Death had lots of disguises, but none of them would get the better of Arizona Begay. “Please.” That was a word Nelva’s mother told her would get her anything. Sometimes it worked. She hadn’t loved Richard nearly enough, but she could make that right if death would go away and come back much later on. “Punish me another way.” Nelva looked at the ceiling when she spoke. So her words went out the smoke hole in the center of the hogan’s roof and right to Heaven.

“That’s no way to pray,” Arizona told her. Nelva hadn’t realized she was praying, but that’s what prayers were for, right? Bargaining with God for something you don’t deserve. She’d be more religious later on, if that’s what it took, but right then she wanted Richard back. Sweet, slow Richard, who never complained and loved everyone even if they didn’t love him back. “We’ve got to get him to the hospital in Gallup,” Arizona said. “He may have rheumatic fever.” The hospital, where they take your name, and ask for identification, and tribal affiliation. The place where Nelva hadn’t gone to have her babies because the one-eyed witch was on the reservation. Come to kill the mother of his child. Come to take his baby back to Oklahoma to be raised by a Grandmother who had given up hope of another generation.


18 Nelva didn’t argue. Richard’s life was more The social worker had a pencil and a clipboard and important than where he lived it. And Arizona was lots of questions Nelva didn’t want to answer. already starting her pickup truck. Daniel was already “The child’s tribal affiliation?” the social worker strapped into his toddler seat in the extended cab. asked. “We have to know so accounting issues can be Nelva was already starting to picture the way her life settled properly.” would look without Richard in it. “Laguna,” Nelva said. “Last name Riley, first name Richard. He’s an only child. His daddy’s dead.” • • • Nelva told her, “I was visiting a friend up in the Short Mountains when Richard got real sick.” She knew what would happen as soon as women and “What is your friend’s name?” The social worker men in green scrubs took baby Richard and hooked tapped her yellow pencil on her front teeth and waited him up to bags of fluid that ran into his arms and legs for Nelva’s next lie. through needles. He didn’t cry. He was a brave baby “Hosteen Bigwhiskers.” She knew that was a mistake, who never did anything wrong and now his fate was in but it was too late to take it back. That’s how it is with lies. the hands of doctors hired by the U.S. Public Health They can’t be explained away once they’re in the air. Service to keep sick Navajo alive. The social worker circled some letters on her form The men were mostly white. The women were and said, “Everything seems to be in order here.” For a mostly Indian. They had lots of questions for Nelva few minutes, Nelva believed her. about where she lived and what she was doing in Gallup “I have to go finish some paperwork in another room,” with a sick baby who didn’t have any business on the the social worker said. “Make yourself comfortable.” Navajo Reservation. Nelva wondered how long ago white people stopped They would treat him anyway—just like Arizona taking things with guns and started using paperwork. promised when she dropped Nelva at the front door and She watched the clock on the wall and pretended drove away with Daniel, “So the one-eyed witch won’t everything would be all right for almost an hour. Then know about him.” she tried the door. The less Richard Daniels knew about Nelva and her Locked. Everything was definitely not in order. babies, the better things would go, because everybody The room had a steel door that wouldn’t open, and a knew that when a Cherokee from Oklahoma got his picture window that looked out onto the hallway that teeth into something, he would hold on forever. The way led to the room where baby Richard was hooked up to a pit bull holds onto a dogcatcher’s hand. The way a wires and tubes. white man holds onto Indian land. Maybe this was the way they did things in Indian The doctors and the nurses put Richard into a hospitals. They locked the mother in a room while room with a clean floor and clean walls, onto a bed they made her baby well again. There was no smoke with sides that came up. They hooked him to wires hole to carry her words to heaven, so Nelva cried that ran to television sets with twisting lines and instead of praying. numbers on the screens. She took a step back from the window when she saw Nelva had forgotten about rooms like this one, where the blonde social worker with the snake tattoo leading a baby could be alone except for the machines that kept Richard Daniels down the hall. track of him while a white social worker with blonde The door to the conference room opened. Arizona hair and a tattoo of a snake on her arm took his mother Begay stuck her head inside. “C’mon, Nelva. You’ve got to another room. to get out of here.”


19 “But Richard . . .” Nelva followed Arizona out the door, down the hall, out of the hospital. She wanted to say something that would make everything better again. Something that would transport her and baby Richard and Arizona Begay back to Hosteen Bigwhiskers’s haunted hogan where no one could ever find them. But the only thing she could say was, “Where’s Daniel?” “An old friend of mine is watching him.” Arizona said. “We’ve got to go right now, before Richard’s daddy sees you.” “Richard . . .” Nelva almost made it to Arizona’s truck when she turned around. She took a step toward the hospital, but Arizona stopped her with three words. “What about Daniel?” She didn’t need to say anything else. Nelva had another son. The one-eyed witch didn’t know about him. Maybe she could keep it that way. If she was careful. If she abandoned Richard right now. If she just walked away as if he didn’t matter—but he did. “There is always tomorrow,” Arizona said. “But you can’t get Richard back if his daddy kills you.” Was there any doubt? Richard Daniels would kill Nelva if he got the chance, even inside the Indian hospital. Even in front of the blonde social worker with the snake tattoo. “There’ll be another day,” Nelva said. It might take a while, but she and Richard would be together again. If it took the rest of Nelva’s life. Even if it took longer. She promised. Nelva Riley crossed her fingers the way she’d seen Arizona do a thousand times before. “Chi pisa la chike.” The magic Choctaw words made her feel better, at least for the moment. She looked out the back window of Arizona’s pick up truck as they drove away. The hospital got smaller much faster than she expected.

The End

John T. Biggs

J

ohn Biggs has two dilemmas: he’s seen the magic that surrounds everyone, and he can’t stop writing about it. Born in Herrin, Illinois, John fell in love with Oklahoma when looking for a job. It was nothing like the movies had led him to expect. The dust bowl was over. Cowboy hats were as popular as ever. Horses too, but people mostly rode around in cars or pickup trucks when they had serious traveling to do. Oklahoma had a diverse population, and he knew he’d have to write about it sooner or later. One of John’s stories, “Boy Witch” took grand prize in the 80th annual Writer’s Digest Competition in 2011. Another won third prize in the 2011 Lorian Hemingway short story contest. He’s had over sixty short stories published in one form, and four novels: Owl Dreams, Popsicle Styx, Sacred Alarm Clock, and Cherokee Ice. His next, Clementine, will be released in April.


20


21

The story until now: Number Sixteen, a bucking horse owned by Andy Bowen’s Rough String Rodeo Company, is inexplicably shot and killed in a rodeo arena pen at the fairgrounds. Deputy Sheriff Hugh Morgan suspects a cowboy, Rowdy Galvin, of killing the horse and arrests him on that suspicion and for drug possession. “Wolf,” a drug dealer trying to collect a debt from Galvin, has been pressuring him to win prize money at the rodeo to pay him off, and even threatens up-and-coming bareback bronc rider Tanner Lambert to throw the competition to improve Galvin’s chances. Ignoring the threat, Lambert rode his horse and sits in first place on the score sheet.


22

W

es Simms sat in his bronc saddle with his feet in the stirrups, as if sitting on a horse rather than on the ground in the shade of the cottonwood trees at the fairgrounds. Using a knotted sock like a powder puff, he dusted rosin onto the swells, pressed against them with his thighs, and rocked the saddle fore and aft. The motion and pressure heated the rosin, which created a sticky bond between the saddle and his chaps as it squeaked and creaked. His friend Tanner Lambert sat nearby, fiddling with his bareback rigging and tinkering with his spurs, even though his work at this rodeo was done. His score of eighty-six points earlier that afternoon would likely earn him a paycheck and, depending how this evening’s riders fared, he might even hold his first-place position and take top money and the championship buckle. “I reckon I’m as ready as I’ll ever be, Tan,” Simms said, unbuckling his chaps. “Let’s wander on over to the hamburger stand at the arena and get us a cool, refreshing beverage and a gut bomb.” “You’re gonna die of a rodeo burger overdose, as many of them things as you eat.” “Aw, hell, Tan—them things is good for you! Look what a fine figure of a man I’ve become on a diet of little else but burgers and ice-cold sody pop.” Simms rolled his chaps and stuffed them in his gear bag, laid the stirrup leathers over the seat of the saddle, and threaded one stirrup through the other to make a nice, tight package. Satisfied with its condition, Lambert zipped the last of his gear into his war bag, rose, and hitched up his britches. He undid the big shiny buckle on his belt and drew it up a notch. “Well, good or bad, I guess I need something in my stomach. My back bone is rubbing the inside of my belly button plumb raw.” Stock contractor Andy Bowen squatted against the wall of the cinder-brick hamburger shack, taking advantage of the scant shade it offered as he sipped beer from a bottle dripping with condensation. Standing above him was Deputy Hugh Morgan, with the County Sheriff himself standing at his side. Sending Simms to

the window with his food order, Tanner Lambert sidled up to the wall beside Bowen to listen in. “There wasn’t a thing we could do about it, Hugh,” the sheriff said. “That cowboy produced a witness as to his whereabouts most of last night, and the judge let him go.” “What about the drug charge?” the deputy said. “Wasn’t that enough to hold him?” “You know better than that. Simple possession. He made bail, and that was that.” The deputy tossed his gnawed toothpick aside. Bowen sipped his beer, and asked, “What about my dead horse? Morgan here thinks Rowdy did it.” “Like I said,” the sheriff replied with an impatient sigh, “he has an alibi.” Morgan laughed and bit into another toothpick. “Alibi my ass. Some skanky drug ho who’d swear under oath the moon was made of green cheese if it would get her a fix.” “Still, she claims Rowdy Galvin was at her place partying till near morning—long after that horse was shot. Besides, she wasn’t the only witness.” “More meth heads,” Morgan said. “How the hell did Rowdy come up with bail money?” Bowen asked. But before anyone could offer an answer, the red pickup with a case of ’roid rage announced its presence with a low rumble of exhaust pipes and the incessant thump, thump, thump of stereo speakers. The small crowd beside the concession stand watched the truck slink across the parking lot and roll to a stop next to Rowdy Galvin’s wreck of a car. The driver’s side door opened and Wolf, almost instantly, appeared on the ground beside it. Bubba lowered himself out of the passenger door in a more deliberate manner, reached back inside and pulled out Rowdy Gaines, lowering him by his shirt collar to the ground. The big man pushed and carried the cowboy to his car, opened a rear door, and shoved him into the back seat. Wolf leaned into the car through the opposite window, screaming at Galvin loud enough to be heard over the noise of the truck, but not loud enough to be understood by the audience at the hamburger stand.


23 “Well, hell,” the stock contractor said. “I’ll bet cut diamonds against cow dung that’s the answer to my question, right there.” The sheriff instinctively set his hand atop the service revolver holstered to his belt. “I don’t think you’d find anybody to take that bet.” “Hmmph!” the deputy said. “I’d almost bet somethin’ more than bail money passed from Wolf ’s hand to that judge’s.” “You had best mind what you say, Morgan,” the sheriff said. “Aw, hell! Everybody knows he’s got half the legal system in this part of the state on his payroll.” “That’s no cause for you to be making unfounded accusations.” Another frayed toothpick hit the dirt, and another found its way between Morgan’s molars.

Tanner Lambert and Wes Simms sat and watched and listened and sipped soda pop and chewed hamburgers. Andy Bowen stood up, drained the last of his beer, and tossed the empty bottle into a nearby trash can where it landed with a clang. “Well boys,” he said as he wiped his lips with a shirt sleeve, “much as I like your company I got work to do. The stock for this evening’s performance ain’t goin’ to sort itself.” Across the parking lot, Rowdy Galvin half cowered and half relaxed in the back seat of his car, his awareness dimmed by the euphoria of the meth smoke that swirled inside his head. Through the haze, he could hear Wolf ’s nonstop harangue. While he couldn’t quite string it all together, he knew it went something like this: “I’m tellin’ you, asshole, my charity in your direction is more than used up. Now you got bail money on top


24 of what you already owe me. There ain’t enough prize money in this here rodeo to cover it—if, that is, you can win any of it. But I’ll tell you this, asshole, you better win enough to put a good-size dent in your debt or I’ll turn Bubba loose on you.” And so on. And so on. Right now, Rowdy Galvin wasn’t sure he could remember how to find the bucking chutes, let alone manage an eight-second ride on the hurricane deck of a feisty bareback bronc. Maybe, he thought, just maybe, I smoked a bit too much this time. And he wondered if he even cared. He was still wondering the same thing later as he glided across the parking lot toward the brightly lit rodeo arena. The last of the horses in the grand entry were tailing their way out of the arena when he finally found his way behind the bucking chutes. His bronc was easy to find—it was the only one in the row of chutes without a bareback rigging already on its back. “Damn, Rowdy!” Tanner Lambert said. “Get a move on! The chute boss has already threatened to turn your horse out.” Galvin only stared. Lambert pulled the gear bag off the cowboy’s shoulder, ripped open the zipper, and handed Galvin’s bareback rigging to Simms. “Wes! Get this cinched up on Rowdy’s horse!” he said as he unfurled the chaps from the bag. Galvin stood as Lambert strapped the chaps around his waist and fastened the buckles inside his thighs. “Rowdy, you think you can ride?” Galvin laughed. “Hell, kid, I was ridin’ broncs when you was still shittin’ yellow. Help me with my spurs. I can ride anything with hair on.” The cowboy sat down with a plop and wrenched at his boots. Lambert brushed his hands aside and jerked the boots off, then helped him pull on his bronc-riding boots and tightened the spur straps and ankle straps. “Where’s my damned horse?” Galvin said. “Put me on him, and I’ll show you boys a thing or two about bareback ridin’.”

“You sure, Rowdy? You don’t look so good.” “You ain’t much to look at yourself, Lambert. You just hide and watch—I’m gonna ride that bronc, and win this sumbitch.” Given his condition, Galvin’s confidence was misplaced. He wedged his gloved riding hand into the handhold, set his spurs, and nodded for the gate. By instinct alone he marked the horse out. When the powerful lunge of the horse’s second jump popped his spurs loose, he let them roll up the horse’s neck all the way to the front of his rigging, then reached back down to grab another spur hold over the points of the bronc’s shoulders. Then, it all went wrong. Galvin’s timing and reactions, dulled by the drug, could not keep pace with the speed of the horse’s moves. When his spurs next rolled high toward the horse’s withers, he did not react quickly enough to grab a new hold. So, when the horse dropped its head and dove to the left on the way back to the ground, Galvin’s left foot flopped over the neck and he found himself with both feet on the right side. The bronc’s next upward leap left the rider’s head and shoulders behind, and Rowdy Galvin was helplessly hanging nearly upside down. Fortunately, he was dangling on the side of his riding hand—had he been over his hand, his wedged glove could not release from the rigging’s handhold and he would have been hung up and flung around like a stuffed bunny in a dog’s jaws. Instead, he opened his hand and the horse’s next lunge jerked it loose and he hit the arena dirt on the back of his neck and shoulders. Unable to catch his breath, the stunned cowboy lay there until the rodeo clown reached his side, but waved off the help, rolled over, struggled to his hands and knees, and managed to find his feet. “No score for Rowdy Galvin,” the announcer said. “All that cowboy will take home is the appreciation you give him, so let’s hear it for Rowdy!” Applause filled the arena as Galvin shuffled back to the bucking chutes and through the narrow gate to the contestant area behind.


25 There was no applause, however, from Wolf or his sidekick Bubba. The drug dealer sat with no reaction save a surly stare. Before the chute gate opened for the next bareback rider, the pair left their seats on the front row of the bleachers. Wolf pushed his way through clusters of people and barely noticed the police officer guarding access to the area behind the chutes as he bulled his way past him. “Hey!” the cop said. “You’re not allowed back here!” But Wolf paid no attention, shoving his way through the bronc riders until he found Rowdy Galvin, sitting against a rail fence pulling off his boots. “You sonofabitch!” he said, grabbing the fallen bareback rider by the front of his shirt and hauling him upright. “You were supposed to ride that horse! You were supposed to win!” As the startled cowboys looked on, Wolf slapped Galvin on the side of the head, rattling his jaw and knocking his hat to the ground. Several cowboys moved to intervene, but hesitated when Bubba made himself big. “Knock it off, Wolf,” Galvin said. “I’ll knock it off all right, asshole! I’ll knock your head off!” Wolf ’s fist drew back, but before he could unleash the blow, Galvin, still clutching the riding boot he’d pulled off, swung it in a wide arc and landed it upside the drug dealer’s head. This time, it was his hat that was knocked askew, the backward cap spinning off his head and landing in the dirt. But it was his cheek that felt the brunt of the blow, as the long-shanked bareback riding spur ripped a bloody gouge.

Turning loose of Galvin’s shirt, Wolf staggered backward. As he stopped, he reached behind his back, swept the tails of his unsnapped shirt aside, and pulled a semi-automatic pistol from the waistband of his pants. “You stupid asshole,” he said through clenched teeth, and fired a round at the dazed cowboy. Bubba or no Bubba, one of the watching cowboys dove for Wolf ’s waist while Wes Simms grabbed him around the chest and shoulders from behind. As they all tumbled in a heap, Tanner Lambert reached out and grabbed Wolf ’s wrist and wrenched the pistol from his grip. Enough diminutive bronc riders lined up in front of Bubba to make him think twice about intervening to rescue his boss. “Best give that to me, Tanner,” Andy Bowen said softly to Lambert. The young cowboy looked at the gun in his hand as if surprised to find it there. He passed it to the stock contractor. By that time, the local policeman was in the middle of it, his unholstered weapon wavering between Bubba and the confined Wolf. Soon, Deputy Hugh Morgan rushed onto the scene, shoving cowboys out of the way as he came. He found Rowdy Galvin bleeding on the ground with a couple of cowboys tending to him—one holding him off the ground in his lap, the other applying pressure to the wound, both hoping the paramedics in the ambulance outside the gate would get there soon. Wes Simms sat spraddle-legged on the ground with Wolf sitting in front of him, held tight in the cowboy’s strong arms.


27 “How’s he?” the deputy asked with a nod toward the gunshot cowboy. “How the hell do I know?” the cowboy pressing against the hole in the hollow below Galvin’s collar bone. “He’s bleedin’ like a stuck pig.” “Serves the horse-killing sonofabitch right,” Morgan shouted. That drew a burst of laughter from Wolf. “Morgan, you dumb ass. That idiot cowboy never shot no horse and you know it.” Morgan snarled and pulled his county-issued Glock 17 service revolver from its holster, but before it cleared, Andy Bowen leveled Wolf ’s Sig Sauer pistol inches from the deputy’s nose. “I wouldn’t do that if I was you, Morgan,” he said between clenched teeth. “What the hell?” the startled deputy said, his hand frozen on the Glock’s grip. “Rowdy never shot that horse,” Bowen said. “I told you that.” Morgan’s eyes shifted toward Wolf and back. “Maybe it was him, then,” he said, prompting another burst of laughter from the drug dealer. “He might have done it. That’s his Sig in your hand, ain’t it? I’d say it takes a nine-millimeter round, same as what killed that horse.” More laughter from Wolf. Andy Bowen didn’t even blink. “What about that pistol of yours, Deputy?” Again Wolf laughed. “What about it?” the deputy spat as he viciously gnawed at the toothpick clenched between his jaws. “Unless I miss my guess, it’s a nine-millimeter, too.” “It sure as hell is,” Wolf laughed. “And if you look around in Morgan’s car, I’m bettin’ you’ll find a not-altogetherlegal suppressor that’ll fit that Glock like a glove.” “How do you know that?” Bowen asked. Again Wolf laughed. “On account of I bought it for him for another job a while back. Right off the internet. I didn’t want anybody hearin’ anything when I sent him to shoot that stupid horse, so I told him to be sure and use it.” “So you put him up to it? You got Morgan to shoot Number Sixteen?”

“I sure as hell did. Even recorded the call on my cell phone.” Andy Bowen’s brow furrowed and his eyes squinted as he turned his full attention to the deputy, reaching out with the pistol until it was so close to the lawman’s face his eyes crossed as he stared, wide-eyed, at the hole in the end of the barrel. Things were quiet the next morning at the fairgrounds. Hamburger wrappers skittered around beneath the bleachers as a gusty breeze kicked up clouds of dust in the arena. The hamburger stand was closed up tight, the panel that had shaded the customer window now lowered from its props and locked down. The only activity was behind the catch pens, where a diesel truck and trailer, with “Rough String Rodeo Company” painted on the sides, was backed up to a loading chute. Tanner Lambert and Wes Simms, lacking anything better to do, stood beside the ramp next to stock contractor Andy Bowen as a stream of bucking horses clopped up the chute and into the trailer, rocking it on its springs as they jostled for position inside. Now and then Bowen popped a stock whip, the noise reminding the animals to keep moving as a couple of helpers urged them through the alley from behind. When the county sheriff’s patrol car rolled to a stop a few feet away, Bowen and the boys left the others to see to the loading and walked to the car. The sheriff stepped out with a tall foam cup of coffee in hand, and the quartet squatted in the shade of the cruiser. “’Morning, gentlemen,” the sheriff said. “Had I thought, I’d have brought you all some coffee.” “Already been topped off, Sheriff. Think nothin’ of it,” Bowen said. The young cowboys eyeballed the cup with a look that said they had yet to have breakfast, or even coffee. “Thought you might like to know what’s up,” the sheriff said. Bowen nodded. Lambert and Simms settled in, knowing that breakfast would wait a little longer, but not minding the delay. “That cowboy, Rowdy Galvin, is going to be fine.


28 Bullet didn’t really do much damage, hitting him where it did. He’ll be in the hospital a few days and laid up a while longer.” Simms said, “I don’t guess he’ll be gettin’ on any broncs for a while.” “No, he won’t. But if the man’s got a lick of sense, he’ll use the time to get off that damn meth.” He turned his attention to the stock contractor. “How is it you were so sure he didn’t shoot your horse?” “Like I told Morgan, Rowdy’s a bronc rider. Sometimes a damn good one. Ain’t no cowboy would shoot a horse that way—especially one like Number Sixteen.” “So what made you suspect my deputy? If it wasn’t Galvin, Wolf looked more likely.” “Maybe so. Especially after he was askin’ around about who was likely to win the bareback riding, and why. So

while it was his idea—spur of the moment kind of thing; had he thought it through he might have realized it was a bad idea—I figured he wouldn’t want to get his hands dirty. People like him get to thinkin’ they’re important, and they pay others to take on the unpleasant tasks.” The sheriff tipped his hat back and scratched his forehead, then sipped his coffee. “But why Morgan?” “Don’t know. Didn’t really dawn on me until last night in that mess behind the bucking chutes. He just wouldn’t leave off tryin’ to blame Rowdy, never mind that it didn’t make sense. So I figured there had to be a reason he wasn’t willing to look any further. Like you say, Wolf was in the mix but up until then, Morgan hadn’t shown any interest in bracing him for anything—even pushin’ drugs. The man had to be hidin’ somethin’. Then when Wolf ’fessed up and said he put your deputy up to it, I realized my suspicions was right.”


29 After another sip of coffee, the sheriff said, “Morgan’s made a pretty good deputy over the years. It never occurred to me he might be in Wolf ’s pocket. But, like he said himself, that dealer’s got a bunch of law enforcement folks around this part of the country on his payroll. All that aside, Wolf is damn sure going to prison this time. And maybe he’ll be willing to use some of the dirty cops in his network as bargaining chips.” “What about your deputy?” Wes Simms asked. “He’s locked up. Transported him to the jail over in the next county. Wouldn’t do to house him with criminals he might have arrested. Though I admit I was tempted. The county attorney will be drawing up charges first thing tomorrow morning. It’ll be a long list. I don’t think we’ll be seeing much of Hugh Morgan for quite a few years.” “Just make damn sure shootin’ Number Sixteen is on the top of that list of charges. And don’t let him bargain his way out of it—horses like that don’t come along every day.” The sheriff stood and scuffed at the dirt with the toe of his shoe. “One more question, Bowen—could it have worked?” Bowen thought for a moment before replying. “I suppose it’s possible. But only just. In the first place, Rowdy would’ve had to be in shape to ride, which he wasn’t, thanks to Wolf. On top of that, all the other bareback riders, including Tanner here, would have to put up poor scores. Gettin’ Number Sixteen out from under Lambert might have helped some in that regard, but the boy’s got it in him to win money on damn near any horse that’ll go out there and jump and kick a little.” “What about Wolf ’s threats?” the sheriff asked the young cowboy. “Oh, no doubt him and that ox that follows him around could’ve messed me up pretty good. But they’d have to catch me first. Besides, if it was to come down to it,” Lambert said with a smile, “I’d have fed them ol’ Wesley, here.”

The End

John T. Biggs

J

ohn Biggs has two dilemmas: he’s seen the magic that surrounds everyone, and he can’t stop writing about it. Born in Herrin, Illinois, John fell in love with Oklahoma when looking for a job. It was nothing like the movies had led him to expect. The dust bowl was over. Cowboy hats were as popular as ever. Horses too, but people mostly rode around in cars or pickup trucks when they had serious traveling to do. Oklahoma had a diverse population, and he knew he’d have to write about it sooner or later. One of John’s stories, “Boy Witch” took grand prize in the 80th annual Writer’s Digest Competition in 2011. Another won third prize in the 2011 Lorian Hemingway short story contest. He’s had over sixty short stories published in one form, and four novels: Owl Dreams, Popsicle Styx, Sacred Alarm Clock, and Cherokee Ice. His next, Clementine, will be released in April.


30

I

n 1833, when Peter Mankins, Sr. was 63 years of age, he accompanied his son, Peter Mankins, Jr., who was born in Floyd County, Kentucky, after 1809, to Arkansas. They settled along the Middle Fork of the White River in Washington County. Young Peter was destined to become an Arkansas folk hero of some great stature. Known as Pete, Mankins owned a prosperous farm in the valley adjacent to one owned by Johnson Crawford. Between these two farms flowed the Sulphur Springs branch that emptied into the Middle Fork. At one time the settlement was known as Mankins. Pete married Narcissus Mills-Mankins, the daughter of Isaac and Rachel Mills of Indiana. She is buried at Reese Cemetery (died 1863) along with their 15-year-old daughter Millie (sometimes spelled Milley) who passed away in 1861, and Esther Hanna, Pete’s second wife, who died in 1900. In the listing of graves located at Reese, compiled by McConnell, Peter Jr., is not found. Pete gained his folklore reputation long before the Civil War, when he became a part of the Evans train that headed for California and the gold fields in April of 1849. The train was a joint financial effort of both

white and Cherokee businessmen who wanted to go west, strike it rich, and bring their gold back to Arkansas for the benefit of all. These brave souls made up a wagon train of about 40 wagons, most pulled by oxen. They not only set out for the gold fields, they also blazed a new trail that would later be used to drive cattle to the beef hungry western settlers. It became known as the Cherokee Trail. This trail, its origin, and route has been authenticated by Dr. Jack E. Fletcher of Sequim, Washington, who has done extensive research on the trail and written a book on it as well as documenting its history in Overland Trail (Vol. 13, No.2.) While it utilized parts of the Santa Fe and the Oregon and California Trails, much of it was blazed by these courageous men and women. Pete Mankins served as lieutenant, along with Thomas Tyner, under Lewis Evans, the first sheriff of Washington County, Arkansas, and captain of the wagon train. A late snowfall dusted the shoulders of all who left out on that April morning, winding out of Fayetteville into the Prairie Grove Valley, the wagons stretching for miles through the lush grass, belly-deep on the oxen and horses.


31 There was no newspaper in Fayetteville to cover that momentous occasion, but J. H. Van Hoose celebrated the 36th anniversary of their leaving by writing a story for the Fayetteville Weekly Democrat dated April 15, 1885. He wrote from his memory of the trip, for he went along. He mentioned others who did so as well, among them Judge Hiram Davis, Ed and Herman Freyschlag and their two unmarried sisters (later named as Barbara and Hermina,) and John Van Hoose, who at the age of 57 walked all the way to Feather River, California, being on the road nearly six months. Oddly, the three men who died during the trip were all named Nathan. The three Nathans: Thorp was buried near where Denver City would rise, Cosby died at the journey’s end, and Lewis died soon after. Everyone else lived to return to their homes in Arkansas. The two Freyschlag sisters decided to remain in California and did not return.

Pete Mankins was true to his word, though he was forced to remain in California after John Van Hoose and Porter Dickerson returned to Arkansas. Unlike many who came home with nothing to show for their efforts, Mankins earned his first sizeable fortune in the gold fields only to see it lost when spring floods washed out his dam in the Sacramento River bed. Eventually he returned with $4,000, including one nugget so big it brought him $416. He chose to bring that particular nugget home with him when he returned by boat through the Isthmus of Panama, traveling to New Orleans and making his way overland back into the Ozarks. More about this Arkansas folk hero next time. —Velda Brotherton is an award-winning nonfiction author, novelist, and regular contributor to Saddlebag Dispatches. She lives in Winslow, Arkansas.


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Riding the Shortgrass Country by

John J. Dwyer “And straight I will repair to the Curragh of Kildare for it’s there I’ll find tidings of my dear.” —Irish folk song June 1872 Oklahoma Territory Ma fretted that a terrible homesickness might overtake Patrick, the dreamer and poet of her six sons. Plague took Sean after the British exiled him to their Australian penal colony for taking corn to feed his starving children. Michael died on the ship crossing the Atlantic crammed with immigrants—including the remaining O’Rourke brothers—fleeing the potato famine that cut down or exiled a third of Ireland. Daniel fell riding with General and Reverend Gano’s Texas cavalry during the war on the other side of Indian Territory at Second Cabin Creek after the boys joined up with their Tipperary cousins from Galveston. Dysentery from a bad tank on a drive up Jesse Chisholm’s Trail like this one, just other side of the salty Cimarron, took Seamus. Only Patrick and Joseph remained to carry forth the family name— now Roark due to the Anglo-American nativists “who fought us a thousand years over there, then were waitin for us when we got off the boat over here”—in this grim beautiful country. Exiled. Patrick’s lonely heart ached, the very word bitter even to acknowledge. Never I think has the pain cut so deep as now. Never again shall I smell Ma’s black pudding or fried potato bread simmering in the stone fireplace as I come in tired and hungry from the fields. Never shall I spy Da still reading the family Bible by candlelight, the ancient St. Brigid’s Cross he loved and slept with after Ma’s departing—hewn from Curragh limestone

and passed down from generation to generation of O’Rourkes—at his side, while he pondered how to gather food enough for the family the next day with all the potatoes rotted away. Never again shall I feel the magic of the River Boyne lapping over my waist as I spear salmon and trout, and the lovely stream courses ahead through our land of heroes and history, legend and lore… Tara, seat of the ancient High Kings… Slane Hill, where St. Patrick vanquished the Druids with his own Paschal fire and ushered in the faith of the Savior that would save the land… Drogheda, where the “pious and godly” Cromwell slaughtered our people by the thousands and murdered the brave priests who stood up for the poor folk of the land and the Christ alike. So had the English outlawed those priests, those servants of the common folk, from our own country. So had they stolen the rights of the Irish great and small, wealthy and poor, Presbyterian and Catholic. So had they disallowed a man to buy more land on which to build and produce, or even to buy land at all with which to raise his own family. And so had the ancient O’Rourke home place dwindled to barely more than a single acre. This of all thoughts, with all that it had meant, the bitterest. Land is a man’s very own heart and soul, Da told us from the time we could walk. It’s his place, his kingdom, his sanctuary ’midst this vale of tears, till the next world where the streets are gold, the rivers crystalline, the home place a bigger mansion the poorer the righteous was on earth, and a man’s fields forever emerald and forever stretching in every direction, yet loved and enjoyed by all, and not tainted with a man’s pride, nor coveted by any. But not the greatest farmer nor cattleman in all old Ireland could call forth a living from the remaining plot for a clan the size


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of ours, especially once the blight hit the potatoes with which old Da shrewdly seeded our wee fields to the last inch. Then, Patrick remembered, they were leaving, Sean first under the glare of English guns, his wife Anna and their little ones wailing as the redcoats dragged him off to his twenty-five years “Down Under.” How I would’ve liked to lay them red-coated cockadoodledoos down under six feet of black Kildare clay. Or maybe six inches. Next fell Peter, stricken with typhus after moving to the dread workhouse so’s the rest of the family might have a better chance on the homeplace . Then Ma, dying of exhaustion, worry, and heartbreak. And me and the others, saying goodbye forever to our home, our family, our country. Patrick’s throat tightened and hot tears flooded his eyes yet as he remembered Da standing alone out front the old stone and mud house, waving bye to the boys, invoking upon them the defense of the great Brigid of Kildare, baptized by St. Patrick himself, patroness saint of Ireland, protectoress of her people. “Sure, she’s one of us, boyos, she’s a Kildare lass!” he hollered. Kildare—Cill Dara, “Church of the Oak,” named for where Brigid built her fifth-century devotional abode, under a large oak less than five miles from the O’Rourke place. From it grew the first enduring convent in Ireland, and the greatest Christian learning center anywhere in the land. Them boot-licking lackeys of the English were coming soon for taxes he could not pay on that last acre. But he would not leave the old place. He would not leave Ma, buried in the grove behind. Nor the two little girls, the older sisters I never knew, laid next to her these years since they passed from cholera spawned by starvation. They died the week after that devout Christian magistrate George Trevelyan, director of England’s famine relief

effort to Ireland, returned a ship packed with Indian corn given by the Irish of America back across the Atlantic. Fearful he was that our people might grow too dependent on the English government that had fought so long and hard to subdue us! More and more, in the five years since the war ended, had all these remembrances of home visited Patrick. If he closed his eyes, the plains of south Kildare leapt suddenly into view once more. The breeze sweeping over them from the Wicklow Mountains ahead blew back his tawny hair and refreshed his cheeks. Then he was galloping old Brian Boru across the sweeping range of the Curragh to meet sweet Mary Kennedy under the sprawling, one-hundred-foot-high Green Ash at the Gibbet Rath, on the far end of the plain from the O’Rourke place. Patrick’s great-grandfather, Sean the Elder O’Rourke, spent his last night in this life together with his beloved wife Kate—and the St. Brigid’s Cross—under the same Green Ash as he made his way to surrender to the overwhelming English force during the United Rebellion of 1798. Many notches on his war club, but now unarmed and trusting to the honor of his foe, he was massacred along with several hundred other Presbyterian and Catholic Leinstermen. Kate named the son conceived that night for the shape of the ash leaves that had garnished her sleeping husband through those last treasured hidden hours together—Lance. Those same leaves were the color of Sean the Elder’s eyes, and Patrick’s, too. More than ever, he seemed more back in the old Shortgrass County than in the present. Why it’s the plains of the Curragh, sure, and them low mountains of Wicklow in the distance.


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With a start, he noticed the lance-shaped leaves festooning his own shoulders and thighs as he slouched on his mount next the remuda as another June dawn bloomed like a tiding rainbow. Looking around, he noticed a Green Ash looming at least fifty feet high overhead, and shading the open plain in all directions. Peering out away from the rising sun was the rolling southwestern Indian Territory expanse some were beginning to call the land of Oklahoma—Choctaw for “red people.” It stretched wide and open before him, guarded in the distance by its own mountains, the Wichitas. For a moment, he did not know whether he was in the old Shortgrass Country or—the new. So far away it is here, yet how alike they are, he realized, startled, shaking the fog from his head. They even smell the same. He drank in the dry redolent fragrance. He had no more time to think on such matters because that is when he realized it was no whippoorwill or owl singing in the brushline beyond the spare horses. The cattle herd had stampeded across Beaver Creek— Little Beaver, not Big—as the storm crashed an hour ago. He and his one remaining older brother, Joseph, were nighthawking the remuda and now found themselves stuck with it this side of the swelling, rushing creek, while Colcord and the others swarmed across ten miles, nearly to Wild Horse Creek, slowing the rampaging beasts. Patrick harbored a bigger worry. Usually two or three head sated even the Comanches who confronted drovers on the Chisholm. Some of the boys heard when they crossed Red River couple days ago, though, about a nasty band of renegade Quahadi Commanche— maybe even Quanah Parker hisself—stirring up trouble along the 98th Meridian.

That’s right where we are. The meridian separated the Chickasaw country from the wild land the Comanches—and some Kiowas and Apaches—roamed that didn’t favor the reservations. Separated the South from the West, and all that was alike and different between the two. Then yesterday the Scottish merchant William Duncan told Colcord the raiders had scalded out a mixed blood Chickasaw family somewheres north of Duncan’s new store, but south of Rush Springs. The Quahadi weren’t looking for no two or three head. They wanted the country emptied of “civilized” red and white men alike. General Gano would find a way to get that remuda across the creek, away from the Quahadi, and back to the herd. The great Cherokee chieftain, Stand Watie, their collaborator at both Cabin Creek battles and elsewhere—He danged sure would have, and would’ve probably found a way to bushwhack the Quahadi while doing so, Patrick thought with enough conviction that he gave a short nod to nobody. Plus, Joseph got a cherry-cheeked colleen waiting to marry him up at Abilene, Kansas. Time to move. The first arrow caught Joseph square, back of his left shoulder, just as they got the remuda moving. Patrick’s keen eyes caught a glimpse of the motley band emerging from the brushline across a damp dark red arroyo fifty yards away. Several sported bare chests and breechcloths, a couple of those with loose-fitting deer leggings, a couple without. Two of them wore unbuttoned, faded Yankee bluecoats, and one a bloody white wedding dress. How did we let them get that close? Other than uttering a quick grunt of pain, all Joseph


36 did was spur his horse and get the others galloping down a broad slope and through a thicket. Patrick hurtled forward from the drag, but a mounted Comanche—this one buck naked and with a face painted black as midnight, his ears and nose pierced with wooden rings—emerged from behind a cedar tree, no more than five feet from the Irishman. The Indian raised a tomahawk, but Patrick spurred his horse into the rearing foe, tumbling animal and rider, the one crushing the other. Then bullets and arrows sang past him and he galloped down the slope, through the thicket, and out onto a broad plain. Sure it’s the very likeness of the Curragh. He winced at seeing Joseph take another hit, not an arrow this time. When a saddle horse went down in front of Patrick and nearly took him down with it, he jerked in his rein, spun around his mount, and yanked his Winchester out of its damp scabbard. The

half dozen remaining Natives—four black face-painted Quahadi and two Kiowa, though no Quanah Parker— burst from the thicket thirty yards back. A couple of the Comanche loaded and fired arrows at him on the gallop from under their horses’ necks while leaning nearly upside down. Patrick drew a bead and took down the lead rider with a bullet to the chest. One Indian lit out back toward the Green Ash. Patrick kept jacking forward the lever and squeezing the trigger, but the remaining Indians returned the fire with both bullets and arrows. He dropped a Kiowa’s horse with a shot to the animal’s head, one leg of the unhorsed rider getting crushed in the fall. Then a cluster of arrows tore into him and his horse, one penetrating his outer thigh and two more the chestnut’s flank. When a Kiowa lance buried itself in the sweating animal’s withers, the game creature finally went down, Patrick narrowly escaping its crashing body.


37 He came up shooting, splitting the skull of one of the oncoming bluecoats. Then hooves pounded from the opposite direction. He spun, raising the Winchester to fire, but saw bleeding, pale Joseph coming for him, reaching down an arm from astride his own wounded horse. Another arrow thudded into Joseph’s side, nearly knocking him out of the saddle, as Patrick swung up onto the crupper of the animal. Staggered, Joseph turned his foaming horse away from the Indians and spurred him hard. They made it only a few yards before another arrow ripped through Joseph’s neck and stuck, blood spasming from both sides of the wound and his mouth. A bullet brained the horse and he went down, snapping off the arrow sticking out of Patrick’s leg. Patrick screamed and nearly fainted. Struggling to a sitting position on the coarse ground, the front of the arrow buried in his leg, he realized a bullet had slashed through his shoulder. Shaking his head to clear his vision, he saw the last two Indians only a dozen yards away, stalking toward him on foot. Bright warpaint decorated the Kiowa’s bare torso, and tattooed geometric shapes on his bronzed blank face. The Comanche sported the wedding dress and deerskin moccasins, his face a black painted mask except for smiling brown teeth. Both brandished large hunting knives. A few feet away, Joseph gasped and sputtered, his blood staining the scorched yellow grama and buffalo grass and red soil. Patrick could not spot the Winchester, so he jerked out his .45 Colt. Seeing this, the Indians sprang apart, then straight for him. Blinking sweat out of his eyes, he drew down on the closer of the two, the Kiowa, who rushed upon him and raised the long knife, and Patrick fired and fired again. In the frenzy, his first couple of shots missed. The Kiowa lunged for him, but the next shot burst open the warrior’s breechcloth, sprinkling blood and bits of buckskin and genital flesh on Patrick’s head and chest, and knocking the warrior off his feet. Patrick leaned forward and emptied the remaining chambers of the .45 into the same gaping wound, the Kiowa laying on his back, feet toward Patrick, shrieking and tossing like a marionette as the big bullets split him open. Still he is trying somehow to get to me and finish me. Only then did Patrick remember the Comanche,

who had foolishly stopped to slice Joseph’s scalp from his head. Just as the knife tore into his brother’s crown, Patrick aimed his Colt at the Comanche and pulled the trigger, which clicked on an empty chamber. Wedding Dress stopped and eyed Patrick, loosed a frightful war screech, then leapt for him. The Indian raised his bloodied knife to strike, and Patrick grabbed for his own Bowie knife, but did not have time to aim it. I’m going to die. He tensed to receive the fearsome blade as the Comanche fell upon him. Saint Brigid, most holy, dear Patron of our Isle, oh, keep us meek and lowly whatever foes beguile! Patrick managed to grab the hand that held the knife, inches before it struck. Lying on his back on the ground and locked in a death grip with his foe, his heart cried out words unutterable. As once thou didst on Curragh’s holy ground, ask that God’s saints may bless us with blessings not a few! The knife fell to the ground. The blackened face stared inches above him, hideous and sweating onto Patrick’s cheeks, stinking breath puffing into his nostrils. The Indian seemed to go limp, but hate yet flickered in his eyes. My God, they are gray, not brown. The Comanche opened his mouth and leaned forward to bite off Patrick’s nose, as though that were all his relentless hate could now accomplish. What can we fear of evil, with thy protection, Brigid…. Scarlet blood gushed warm from the Comanche’s mouth onto one side of Patrick’s face. The gray eyes rolled back into Wedding Dress’s head and Patrick shoved him off, then took his own Bowie knife and with a surge of energy, severed that head from its dressgarbed body. He tried to sling it far away, but only had the strength to chuck it a few feet. What happened? Patrick lay on his side and looked around. “Joseph!” Every part of his body hurting and several parts bleeding, he crawled to his brother and cradled his ravaged head. “Oh Joseph.” He wept. Joseph tried to speak, but only more dark blood came. “Don’t talk, brother. Don’t talk,” Patrick said, stroking his blond hair and sobbing.


38 With herculean will, Joseph steadied himself and after a moment, the blood pour slowed. “Da,” he quickly uttered, looking Patrick straight on. Then, glancing back toward where the Roarks had nighthawked, “Tree.” Then his blue eyes saw no more. Patrick peered into Joseph’s face, begging God for more. Oh, make our faith still stronger, our patience yet more sure. And teach us that the victor must to the end endure. Realizing there would be no more, grief and confusion overcame him as he pulled his brother’s head to his chest and rocked him, wailing across the prairie. “No . . . no!” he screamed, directing the words to God but his heart too overwhelmed to voice His name. Then it was that Patrick, like so many of his clan and countrymen, began to crave in bad times the alcoholic spirits to which older drovers had introduced him on the cattle trails from Texas. He took a couple of drinks during the war, but quit when he heard how hard Lee, Jackson, and Stuart opposed it. Once he saw Old Jack order a captured Yankee trainload of whiskey kegs split open with axes and burned. Some of those leather-tough, battled-hardened Texans wept

when he did it, and others cursed him. But others marveled and quit John Barleycorn, and quit other bad things, too. Now, it cost a man his job if the trail boss found liquor on or in him during a drive, so there was nothing of the sort to drink for Patrick closer than trail’s end at Abilene. He let out a long sigh, snot bubbling from his nose. At the point of utter despair, more of those famed ancient words of his people taught him by Da from the cradle came now without asking, without sound. Pray for us, then, St. Brigid, thy children we would be, and guide us up to heaven, to Patrick and to thee. For a moment, nothing sounded but the scattered whirring of cicadas and a hushed warm breeze wafting over him from the open plain that spread before him to the south. But I am the only one left. They are all gone, and so is Da back home, and Ma before him. It left him shattered. He looked up as a hawk soared overhead in the shimmering cloudless cobalt sky. Home. Where can home ever again be? I have no more home. His head drooped and he wept hot tears onto Joseph’s still face.


39 “Tough man him.” He turned his head to locate the female voice. Approaching him, rifle in hand, came a reed-thin, middleaged Indian woman, a lovely shape to her weather-beaten brown face, crow’s feet of sorrow extending out from both eyes. Exhaustion from the heat, the fight, and loss of blood conspired to muddle Patrick’s thinking. If she intends me harm with that Remington, I’ll die here with my last brother. “Ma’am,” he sputtered, “I, uh—” “Who was he?” she asked. “Uh—my brother Joseph.” She stared down at Joseph. “He save you.” Tears filled Patrick’s eyes again. “Several times— today, on other drives, in the war.” Her black eyes shot over to him. “War?” “Yes—the War for Southern Independence.” “You fight?”

“Well sure.” “Who with?” “Why, with General Gano, and General Watie.” Her head cocked back ever-so-slightly and her clear eyes grew misty. She opened her thin cracked lips to speak, but no words came. He peered at her, suddenly very thirsty. “You—you around here during the war?” “Husband lead Chickasaw Mounted Rifles. Ride with Stand Watie, Cherokees.” “Oh, ma’am, I—we—fought alongside them boys all over Indian Territory, in Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri. Aye, the Chickasaws was brave boys, ma’am. None better.” Though she looked away, he saw tears boiling in her eyes and her strong chin quivering. “You know they was last to quit, ma’am, last in the whole South, and only ’cause the Yanks was starvin out their women and children down in” —he saw her forming more words, and his voice trailed off— “Texas.”


40 “One son die dip-diphtheria Middle Boggy, one die fight Honey Creek,” she said, looking him in the eye. “Husband die last battle Cabin Creek.” “Ma’am, my brother Danny fell there.” They shared a long plaintive look. “Me not have long left,” she said, looking away again. “White doctor say gots a cancer.” “Why I’m very sorry, ma’am.” A thought struck him. “Ma’am, did you shoot that bast—that Comanch’ in that dress?” She looked out over the land. “Your brother laying same line Chickasaw, Comanche land divides. Comanche been raiding Chickasaw land whole life. Kill another son, daughter. Now these devil Quahadi. Make war for everyone—Chickasaw, whites, peaceful Comanche, Kiowa, Apache. Look dress—devils.” Disgust distorted her lovely face for a moment, then she sighed, looked down, fetched a pipe and tin of tobacco from

a coat pocket, and made her a smoke. Puffing the fragrant leaf, she relaxed a bit, then sighed again, resigned. “Most bad Indians gone back Texas or reservation or killed. But now no one family.” He nodded, glanced down at Joseph, and again burst into tears, despite himself. She watched him. When his sobs slowed, she spoke. “You not Texas.” He cleared his throat and wiped his eyes with a blood-caked sleeve. “Most recently I am, ma’am, but mostly from County Kildare—uh, Ireland.” As though for the first time noticing Patrick’s wounds, she moved toward him and bent down to examine them. “Fix up right away, hurt bad. Lay down.” She turned, pulled out a hunting knife, sliced the cinches from Joseph’s dead horse, then dragged the saddle over to Patrick. “Pillow,” she said, eyeing his ashen face and propping


41 up his head. She fetched Joseph’s canteen and gave him water. “Hurt you now or die. Stay awake or die.” As she built a fire and cauterized the knife, he tried to rise, slurring his words. “I got to find the herd. They’ll think I—“ “Brother get horses cross creek before save you,” she said, giving him his own Bowie knife so he could bite the handle as she got at the chunk of arrow buried in his leg. “Others catch cattle. You scream. Stay awake.” He did both about as long as it took her to dig to the tip of the arrow. •

She was two days tending Patrick before his fever broke and he woke. The trail boss left the boy Colcord as well as one of the older hands to keep watch for other renegades, while he grazed the herd a few miles the other side of Little Beaver Creek. Drovers patrolled the whole area. Four spaced shots from anyone would bring all hands and the cook galloping down on the trouble spot. “Keep leg maybe, but walk limp,” the Chickasaw told Patrick as she puffed her pipe. “Shoulder good.” He blinked his eyes clear. If he kept his leg still, it gave him a dull pain, but mostly throbbed. The less dangerous of the wounds, his shoulder, burned like blazes. He cleared his throat. “Uh—ma’am? Uh—have you any corn whiskey or the like?” She tamped more tobacco into the bowl of her pipe. “Whiskey no good Indian.” She eyed him. “No good Irish.” He blushed, humiliated. “Aw, sure I’m sorry, ma’am, I should never have asked ye such a thing.” He noticed a gray pallor covered her face. Looking closer, he detected her grim expression. “You all right, ma’am?” “Die soon,” she said, puffing. “You dream, talk much. None home, none family.” She peered at him. “None mother.” He blushed again, then gasped as pain seared his wounded leg when he moved it even slightly. The woman puffed again.

“Adopt, give this land,” she declared. Patrick saw Colcord peak at her from under his sombrero. “Chickasaw all share land, but family build home, buildings, raise cattle, keep what use, build,” she went on. Patrick had heard about the system. Communal ownership, but private usage and profit. All five of the great Indian republics that suffered their Trails of Tears practiced it. Didn’t seem like a bad plan at all. “Adopt—who?” She glanced at him. “Me? You adopt me?” He traded shocked looks with Colcord. “Only one live our families,” she said. “Keep land, build. Build new family.” They stared again at one another, saying more than they could have spoken. He glanced back at the lithe, handsome Colcord, the smartest, toughest, and best all-around cowboy he knew. Now a smile covered the boy’s face. Looks like Charlie thinks it’s a dandy of a deal. He shrugged, glaring at his wounded leg, remembering to keep it still. “Sure, and I reckon the thrill of the trail’s gone for me, ma’am. Been coming up the Chisholm for some years now, almost since the war.” He glanced around the amber shortgrass that stretched in every direction, mixed in with some tallgrass and garnished by lines of scrub oak, pecan, hackberry, and cottonwood trees. “And it—it reminds me of home here.” “Said that while sleep,” she said. “Time make new home.” “Well, all right then, but I’d be obliged if you didn’t, well….” He looked at her. “If you didn’t go anywhere too soon—” He stopped upon seeing the stone St. Brigid’s Cross resting on a blanket next to her. He had not seen it since they left home more than seven years before. He assumed Da kept it close by him. “But— how—” “Brother say father, tree,” she said. “Found buried tree see you stay last night.” Tears filled Patrick’s eyes again. “It’s—a special family memento, hewn from our own land,” he said to Colcord. “But—how did it get all the way here from Ireland?”


42 She handed him a couple folded sheets of parchment. “These with.” With his good arm, he held it and read aloud.

Affectionately yours, Your brother Sean Then after that,

To my beloved eldest son Sean Dunn O’Rourke, May this sacred cross be ever a light on your way and a hope in your heart, just as it was for the desperate man for whom the sainted Brigid first wove its likeness, and just as it has always been for our people, wherever in the world the Lord may lead you. A piece of your old home place, and the love of your Ma and Da, accompany it. Ever, your loving father Below that, in different handwriting, appeared, Brother Michael, I entrust this precious family treasure into your safekeeping, as a remembrance of God’s faithfulness and promises to our clan.

Brother Daniel O’Rourke, I shall not survive us brothers’ great quest across the sea to a new life in America. It is upon your shoulders now to carry forth the old family touchstone as a testament to God’s mighty works on our behalf. With much love, Michael Dwyer O’Rourke On the next page, Seamus, Joseph and Patrick say I sha’nt last the night. Take and guard this remembrance of our family’s days and God’s works,


43 as have I and our brothers before me, from Ireland across the great sea, to Boston and Texas and now this Indian Country for whose freedom I give my life as our forefathers in olden times gave theirs for Eire and our people. Your brother Daniel

John J. Dwyer

Then, Young Joseph, This Oklahoma finally got me, but withal, I’m proud it’s here they’ll lay me to rest. I fought for it and died in it and now it’s time for you to live and build it. It’s a new chance and a new hope for us all, without the tyranny what tortured our people from ancient times. I love this Oklahoma country, because here an Irishman’s good as any bloody Englishman—and maybe two! Seamus Ethan ROARK! And finally, Patrick, Sure it seems all the other brothers have departed but you and me, and each had the chance to pass along fine words to the next. But this is a wild land and in case I don’t, here’s my words. We’ve sweat and froze and bled and some of us have died in this Oklahoma, yet withal I think it’s a lovely place, and its southern reaches look so like our old home, they seem to me the ghost of the Curragh of Kildare itself. I think maybe Ma has brought us to a new Shortgrass Country like the one she loved so well. Joseph Lance Roark Slán go fóill When Patrick looked back at the Chickasaw woman, he knew her days were done. His heart full to bursting, he knew that thanks to her… to Joseph… to all the others… his were about to begin. “Chuisle mo chroi,” he whispered.

The End

J

ohn J. Dwyer is longtime Adjunct Professor of History and Ethics at Southern Nazarene University. He is former History Chair at a classical college preparatory school, newspaper publisher, and radio host. His books include the non-fiction historical narrative The War Between the States: America’s Uncivil War and the novel When the Bluebonnets Come, both from Bluebonnet Press; the historical novels Stonewall and Robert E. Lee from Broadman & Holman Publishers; the upcoming two-book historical narrative The Oklahomans: The Story of Oklahoma and Its People; and the upcoming historical novels Shortgrass and Mustang. John is a native Texan who grew up in Oklahoma. He graduated with a journalism degree from the University of Oklahoma, did post-graduate studies in history at OU, and earned his masters degree from Dallas Theological Seminary. He lives with Grace his wife of 28 years, their daughter Katie, and their grandson Luke.


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B

efore I delve into the remarkable story of A. W. Arrington, Fayetteville’s earliest well-known author, I would like to pay my respects to the late Poet Laureate of Fayetteville, Miller Williams, who passed away on January 1, 2015. Miller was a much-liked man, long-time director of the University of Arkansas Press, author and reader of the official poem for President Bill Clinton’s second inauguration. He was also a fixture on Saturday mornings at the Fayetteville Farmer’s Market on the Square. Thank you, Miller Williams for a lifetime devoted to literature and poetry. And while I’m giving my respects to late local authors named Williams, let me give a shout out to John Williams and his absolutely wonderful novel Stoner. Stoner is the protagonist of this outstanding book, which is not to be confused with a story about weeded-up surfers. Elsewhere I’ve told people Stoner should be required reading at least in all English Departments world-wide. The good news is that I’m told John Williams’ work is steadily gaining traction around the world even though he’s been gone some twenty years now. But now … on to the amazing A. W. Arrington.

According to an article by Ted R. Worley in the Winter 1955 issue of the Arkansas Historical Quarterly, Alfred W. Arrington was born in North Carolina in 1810. It is believed that he was a child prodigy and a highly popular youth evangelist. By the age of 20, anyway, he appears as a Methodist preacher in Indiana. Arrington had a reputation for being a gifted orator and at about six feet, one-hundred and eighty to two hundred pounds, was a commanding physical presence as well. The ladies, in particular seemed to like Arrington, and he them. In 1832, Arrington displayed the volatility of his nature, which would be his hallmark, by renouncing his ministerial calling. In fact, he turned completely around, “doing a 180” in modern parlance became a “militant infidel.” You can’t spin that around any further can you? Rejected by his devout former followers, Arrington went to New Orleans where in the fall of 1832 he was again presenting himself as a Methodist minister but was quickly asked to resign by observant church fathers. Arrington then moved on to the Arkansas Territory, first landing in Little Rock, before being reinstated briefly by


45 the Methodists of central Missouri where he was yet again expelled from the church. This was in 1834 and Arrington landed upon his quick-moving feet once more, this time in the little Ozark Mountain town of Fayetteville, Arkansas. Seemingly able to move from social pariah to mainstream respectability at the drop of a hat, Arrington married Sarah Conner, daughter of a prominent family that had come into Washington County even before it had been officially created in 1828. Arrington then studied law and by 1838 was a practicing attorney in Fayetteville, the county seat. The year 1839 was one of the most extraordinary in Fayetteville history and Arrington was right in the thick of things. In addition to the town’s growth and its newfound status as the center of northwest Arkansas, three major tragedies occurred during this remarkable time. Early in the year a large group of Cherokee passed through town on their Trail of Tears march to Indian

Territory. An incident occurred on the Fayetteville Square and a local man, Willis Wallace, killed one of the traveling Cherokee, Nelson Orr. Wallace would later be acquitted of this killing, a decision that outraged A. W. Arrington. Then on successive weeks in June, a family named Wright was murdered at their home in Cane Hill and the ongoing internal feud among the Cherokee relating to the signing of the treaty that led to the Trail of Tears erupted in violence. Three leaders of the Treaty Party, Major Ridge, his son John Ridge, and kinsman Elias Boudinot, were all killed. Major Ridge was cut down just inside the Arkansas state line. Arrington’s role in the aftermath of all these events would be the germ from which his later literary career would grow. Fiercely opposed to Wallace’s acquittals (Willis Wallace later killed another man in Fayetteville and also got off on that charge), the summarily convicted and executed


46 men blamed for the Cane Hill Wright murders and generally exorcised by this and the subsequent Cherokee killings, Arrington very nearly had a shooting skirmish with Wallace and his supporters on the Square in Fayetteville. Following these events and after serving in the Arkansas legislature, Arrington left Arkansas, and his wife Sarah, to become a lawyer and judge down in Texas. In the mid-1840s, his books about his experiences began to appear under the pseudonym Charles Summerfield. Among his works are: Desperadoes of the South-West (1847) and The Rangers and Regulators of the Tanaha (1856). The following description of the one-quarter Cherokee woman Rose Quinet during the Wright Family murder trial in 1839 is presented as an example of Arrington’s style of writing in which, as Ted R. Worley has noted, “facts…are imbedded in a mass of highly imaginative detail.” “Gentle reader…you must have noticed…one star in the moving constellation of serenest, or sweetest, or sunniest beauty, more beautiful than all the rest; a slight, childlike brunette, whose eyes beat all the diamonds in the world, w h o s e hair falls in slender wavy curls, unbraided free, far down her shoulders, and around those veiled rosebud breasts, twin pillows for

sleeping Eros…You could span her waist with the clasp of your two hands. Her dark brow is pensive as night, when coining out of all its stars celestial songs for the ear of the poet…Had I all the wealth of the world, an empire for my heritage, a throne instead of a writing desk, a sceptre in place of a pen, I would give it all to possess such a treasure, and reckon the exchange a great bargain! Such is the beauty of…Rose Quinet, the Cherokee quadroon, affianced to Ellerey Turner, the youth accused of murder.” Desperadoes of the South-West, Charles Summerfield (A. W. Arrington), Wm. H. Graham (New York), 1847, pp. 24-25. A few quotations about Arrington may serve as a general look back at this multi-faceted man. “His brilliance seems to have been handicapped by an erratic disposition.” William S. Campbell, 100 Years of Fayetteville, 1928, p. 91. “He was very erratic in his manner of living and lacked mental balance. He renounced the ministry and became an infidel and later renounced his infidelity. He frequently indulged in fits of dissipation and did many things to destroy the confidence of the people in him.” Bench and Bar of Washington County, Arkansas, O. E. Williams, Washington County (AR) Historical Society publication, 1961, p. 7 He “was a lawyer, legislator, and hyperbolic author who composed a number of exaggerated tales about northwest Arkansas’ desperadoes.” Archibald Yell, William W. Hughes, University of Arkansas Press, 1988, p. 46. “He disliked the restraints of society and…the instability of purpose which distinguished him up to middle age was an effective obstacle to his attainment of definite eminence in either literature or law.” Bench and Bar of Illinois, John M. Parker, 1899, p. 162. Clearly A. W. Arrington was a complex man, passionate, wild, brilliant, and an author of remarkably flamboyant prose. Following a post-Christmas stroke, Arrington passed away on December 31, 1867 at the age of fifty-seven. —J.B. Hogan is Past President of the Washington County (AR) Historical Society, an award-winning novelist, short story writer, and poet. He lives in Fayetteville, Arkansas.


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50 “I’m just grateful to have written 150 books,” said Richards. “I like to write. Early on, I just didn’t know how to put it in any order. I still don’t have complicated stories.”

L

egendary Western author Dusty Richards knows all about the concept of hard work. His routine often has him up before sunrise to write before the day begins. Even on the morning of this interview in mid-February, he’d already written out 10 pages of his newest book. “I’m just grateful to have written 150 books,” said Richards. “I like to write. Early on, I just didn’t know how to put it in any order. I still don’t have complicated stories.” Richards approaches the main character as himself in the role but observes as an artist. “When you write that someone is riding a horse, the reader will know what that looks like,” said Richards. “What I believe, all that I have to do is to try to make the reader believe that character from the inside out. What are his thoughts? Is he sad? Is he happy? We all have experienced the lack of confidence. It’s human nature. So, when my

characters experience that, the reader knows what that feels like. My people are not Supermen, but they have to be extraordinary humans.” Richards writes his books with the audience in mind. The first things he does when he starts a new book is to establish where the character begins and goes from there. “Never let a reader ask the question: Where are we?” said Richards. “You want them to think about the character.” Richards takes the reader inside of one character instead of bouncing from different points of view to tell his stories. “It’s just my style and how I write,” he said. “I want the reader to live for this person.” Richards is home within the wild west. He spent his early years in Washington state but was mesmerized by the early cowboy serials. When his folks moved to Arizona, it was just another step in Richards’ long


51

“You’ve gotta shoot at a whole lot of ducks to actually hit one.”

journey to become closer to being what his mother always dreaded for him... a cowboy. “She used to tell me that I was going die in a bunkhouse without any family,” Richards said. “It wasn’t until I sold my first western did she really stop worrying about me.” He did well in school growing up with A’s and B’s, but never really studied and skipped school a few days. While he did graduate college, taught school for a bit, worked as an auctioneer, rodeo announcer and at Tyson Chicken for over 30 years, it was his love for the Old West that kept drawing him back. His work on a ranch—and even at the rodeo— throughout his life only augmented his storytelling. “It adds to what I’m telling, Knowing about windmills and knowing how to fix them is something cowboys would have to do. So, that helps me with my writing.”

A large part of Richards’ popularity as a writer has to do with this knowledge and the authenticity it lends to his novels. From revolvers to rifles to mining, if it’s not something he’s done, he’s researched it, probably from reading old newspaper articles. Richards talks with a boundless, contagious energy. During the course of his interview, he launched into a lecture on rise of the American West after the Civil War and how it was tied to moving of cattle from Texas to the other parts of the United States. The nuance of cattle trails from Texas to Kansas City... how the railroad stretching across the country created the collusion of two worlds... and how the railroad stops could make or break early towns and settlements if stopped at the town or not... was as artfully told as any of his stories. “It’s American history, our history. Those cattle drives


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were our crusades,” Richards said. “It was cheap to buy cattle in Texas and sell it for a big profit in Missouri, but it required going across tough country.” And his enthusiasm for the culture of the Old West has resulted in more than a few honors and accolades, to say nothing of the respect of his contemporaries. “Dusty has surpassed Elmer Kelton and is right up there with [Louis] L’Amour,” said New York Times bestselling Western Historical Romance author Linda Broday. “Truly a great writer.”

“Dusty is a natural born storyteller,” said fellow Western author Brett Cogburn. Richards spends his time writing, teaching writing to budding authors, and traveling, especially touring Wyoming and Montana. When in school, Richards made up westerns for his book reports knowing his teachers wouldn’t look up to see if the books were real. “There was a disdain for westerns back then. The teachers didn’t like them, so I knew I could get away with it,” said Richards.


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Richards felt his latest release, The Mustanger and the Lady, was good enough to be published when he wrote it twenty years ago, but initially it was turned down. So, he worked on it some more and set it aside. It wasn’t until Oghma Creative Media founder Casey Cowan got a hold of the manuscript did it find new life. “Casey thought it was a John Wayne story,” Richards said. The book is slated to become a motion picture, the first of his stories to make it to the big screen. The long road doesn’t bother Dusty, though.

Richards wrote almost a dozen books before managing to sell his first one—Noble’s Way—in the early ‘90s. “It’s kind of like duck hunting,” he said. “You’ve gotta shoot at a whole lot of ducks to actually hit one. Don’t give up. Keep writing. Find yourself a writer’s group and pay attention to what works and what doesn’t work.” With 150 published novels under his belt, and many more on the way, Richards obviously practices what he preaches.


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M

ama never said a word the entire funeral. She quietly cried, tears cascading down her face to be soaked up by the handkerchief she held over her mouth. Zeke could not stop trembling. Every muscle in his body shook, but the worst tremors began in his shoulders and rumbled across his chest until he felt like something wanted to burst from beneath his very skin. With the edges of his eyes filled with tears and his vision blurred, he cast occasional glances at his two brothers. Rondal stood to Mama’s left and held his arm around her shoulders, brown eyes puffy and dark. On her right Jerome clenched his hands into fists tight enough that his knuckles whitened and veins popped up beneath the skin. Jerome, the eldest of the three Willis brothers, glared over their father’s coffin at Abner Scott, pursing his lips together in a thin line and flaring his nostrils with each breath as his chest filled and emptied like a blacksmith’s bellow. “Ezra Willis loved his wife, his sons, and his community,” Parson Jim Watkins said. He held his worn, leather-bound Bible in front of him, open to some passage or another, but the man never looked down at the pages. With the scriptures resting in his left hand and his right placed gently on top, he looked out at the people gathered in the cemetery west of town. He addressed the crowd in his best Sunday sermon voice. The man possessed a talent that made Zeke feel like the man’s eyes locked right onto him, but he could never tell if the parson met his eyes or not. Zeke tried to listen to the parson’s message, but he could only think about how he would never talk to his father and never go fishing or hunting with him again.

“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.” Zeke could not help but to look across at Abner, their father’s business partner, but the man Jerome held responsible for Ezra’s death. Marshall Charles Baker told them it had been an accident, a misunderstanding. Their mother had gasped, her eyes wide and her mouth agape when Jerome had spit on the marshal’s boots. Funny how with their father gone, Abner was free to pursue a business decision that their father had opposed, Jerome had pointed out to Marshal Baker. Abner’s nephew, Luke Drinkwater, stood beside him—a young man who had spent the last four years since the end of the Civil War being run out of town after town all across Texas for gambling and fighting. Until his uncle had taken him in and given him a job, according to what their father had told them. It seemed Abner felt he could use Luke’s skills with the revolver in settling some outstanding debts of his own. The man did appear more intimidating when he had his roughshaven, lanky nephew staring at his associates and creditors with cold blue eyes from behind him. A jagged knife scar that ran from his left cheekbone to just below his ear only added to his ominous appearance. Parson Watkins droned on, but the man’s words only buzzed in the back of Zeke’s head. His gaze drifted from Abner to Jerome and back. The older man who had often ate dinner with them on many Sunday afternoons did not meet Jerome’s glare, and he kept digging at the ground with his boot heel. Luke stood behind his uncle, moving a large wad of chewing tobacco from one side of his mouth to the other. He


57 looked over once, and Zeke was certain he had winked. Jerome never quit staring at Abner, and his skin above his shirt collar began to mottle with red. It felt like no time had passed at all when four men— local parishioners from the Presbyterian church, Zeke had learned before the service—lowered his father’s coffin into the ground. Four women, probably the wives of the pallbearers, sang “Amazing Grace.” Zeke never could understand how anyone would willingly butcher a hymn that should have been sung as beautifully as the poetry of its words sounded. He tried his best not to cringe but couldn’t stop himself when the women keened in high-pitched voices that burst from the tops of their nasal passages. While the hymn wailed, friends, acquaintances, and some people from the town Zeke had not seen more than a couple of times in his life all filed by to offer their condolences. He kept his head down and muttered, “Thank you,” or nodded whenever someone spoke directly to him. Occasionally he would shuffle his feet back and forth, digging the toe of his boot under a clump of grass and trying to lever it free. He couldn’t hide from this moment any longer. His father, the one person who had been stern with him, disciplined him, laughed with him, and taught him to be a man was gone. He never doubted his father loved him, but now he would wonder for the rest of his life if the man knew how much he loved him. He glanced up when no more feet appeared in his view. Rondal had led Mama over to the wagon, his arm still holding her protectively. Jerome stood stiffly in the same spot he had been the entire service and continued to glare at Abner and Luke while his father’s former partner talked to two men leaning on a pair of shovels.

Marshal Baker was talking to Mama and Rondal. Zeke took another look over at Abner before turning and walking toward the wagon, pulling on the back of Jerome’s shirt as he passed him. “Come on. The marshal’s talking to Mama.” Jerome grunted and used his left thumb and forefinger to pull at the corner of his mustache. After a few tugs, he followed Zeke. When they got there, Marshal Baker shook his head in answer to some question Rondal had just asked. Jerome cleared his throat and stepped up beside Baker, not caring that Rondal had asked him something before they had arrived. He looked the older man in the face and furrowed his eyebrows. “When are you going to arrest Abner Scott, Marshal?” Jerome glanced over his shoulder. “Since when do you let someone get away with murder?” “Jerome Michael Willis,” Mama said. “You were raised better than that. Now you offer Marshal Baker your apologies.” He dragged his left foot across the ground and kicked at the bridge of his other foot, shoving his hands into his pockets. “Yes, ma’am.” Jerome reached out with his hand and offered it to Baker. “My apologies, Marshal. Please forgive my rudeness.” Baker shook Jerome’s hand and curled the corners of his mouth into a quick smile. “Nothing to forgive, Jerome. I can’t presume to know how hard this must be for your family.” Jerome sniffed once. “I imagine not.” He shrugged. “I just don’t know why you can’t arrest him. We all know he wants to sell the two thousand acres to the Missouri,


58 Kansas, and Texas Railroad, but Pop wanted to keep it pasture for the cattle coming up from Texas.” “I know,” Baker said. “That’s not reason enough to arrest a man for murder, Jerome. You know that.” “Sure,” Jerome said. “But Abner owes a lot of money to Tommy Lee and Robert Sackett. They brokered the deal between Baxter Springs and the Missouri River, Fort Scott, and Gulf Railroad. Abner would get out of his debts and the Sacketts would get bilked when the MK&T Railroad lays down an extension here.” “Jerome.” “Sorry, Mama,” Jerome said. “But it’s true, and you know it.” “What do you need to make the arrest?” Rondal asked. His deep voice rumbled from his chest. He rarely spoke more than a couple of words, letting his actions talk for him. Everyone looked up at him where he sat beside Mama, the reins held loosely in his gloved hands. He lifted his shoulders when the marshal didn’t respond. “It sounds like you need something specific to be able to arrest the man. I just want to know what that specific thing is.” Baker frowned and scratched behind his right ear with his finger. “Sure.” He put his hands at his side and exhaled. “A confession would be the best thing.” Zeke turned and watched as Abner and Luke left the graveside, walking toward the fence where they had tied up their horses. An idea about how to get that confession brewed in the back of his mind. Behind him, Marshal Baker and his brothers talked about witnesses

and other legal matters to which Zeke only halflistened. He watched the two men ride out between the red brick pillars at the front of the cemetery and down the dirt track. The summer had been especially dry, and each step of their horses’ hooves stirred up little puffs of yellow-brown dust. When Zeke reached the cemetery entrance, he leaned against one of the pillars, catching Abner’s eye as the man took a quick glance over his shoulder. The lack of rain had already leached any vibrancy from the oaks that lined the south flank of the road, their branches reaching over part of the lane. Both riders hugged the right side, staying in as much of the shade as they could find. But the western horizon had large clouds billowing across the horizon, and the wind had picked up since the funeral began. Zeke felt tense in his joints the way he did every time a big howler rolled through. The rain would be welcome. The two men had ridden around the first bend in the lane by the time the wagon with Mama and Rondal pulled up beside him. Jerome reined his cream gelding up on the other side and handed Zeke the lead to his black mare. “What’re you doing out here?” Jerome frowned, a deep furrow channeling his sweat to the bridge of his nose. “We’re heading back to the house for supper. Rondal’s gonna fetch Mister Selma this evening if we can before the storm arrives. We need to see if there is any way we can stop the sale in the courts.” Over at the gravesite, the pallbearers and their wives were talking with Parson Watkins. Zeke squinted his


59 eyes and watched as Marshal Baker walked over to the two men still shoveling dirt into their father’s grave. His father really was gone. “What good’s that gonna do?” He jumped into the saddle. “Didn’t Pop try that?” Jerome scowled at him. It was best not to provoke his older brother when he had made a decision, but their parents had always told him he hadn’t been gifted with a bounty of common sense. He let out a long sigh and wrapped the reins around one hand. “Just mind your manners tonight.” Jerome clicked his tongue and nudged his horse after the wagon that Rondal had already started toward home further west. A slow grin pulled Zeke’s lips tight as he winked at his brother. “I’m gonna head into town for a bit.” Jerome twisted around in his saddle. “For what?” Zeke shook his head. “I haven’t needed a wet nurse for many years now. Just ’cause Pop’s gone doesn’t mean I suddenly need one now. You just take care of Mama, and I’ll take care of me.” “Don’t come back smellin’ of beer.” Jerome nudged his gelding into a trot. “That’s the last thing Mama needs today.” Jerome’s growl always made Zeke feel like a young kid. “Just you worry about yourself,” he called after his brother, and his mare twitched at his shout. He patted her twice on her neck before stroking her side and leaning over. “Sorry, girl.” He pulled her around toward town. “Let’s go see what we can do. We’ll show them I can be just as important to this family as they are.” He took the same course Abner and Luke had when

they left the cemetery. He didn’t meet or even see a single person the entire ride until just outside of the town. Long deep rumbles of thunder rolled in behind him by the time he passed the Crowell Bank building and rode down Military Avenue with its saloons and bathhouses. He looked at the horses in front of them, searching for either Abner’s old roan or Luke’s dappled stallion. He found them in front of the Silverlight, but he wandered past to the Diamond Hotel and tied his mare to the post out front. Instead of going into the hotel, he leaned against the side of the building so he could watch the street. Over the next three hours, people came and went, bustling up and down the avenue. Many of them looked at the clouds above and walked faster. The sky darkened even more and a few fat drops of rain fell out from the clouds that had deepened the late afternoon into a dim twilight. Dust and dirt exploded up with each drop that hit the ground—long arid and parched, it sucked up the moisture almost as quickly as it fell. An overburdened wagon loaded with packages and dry goods hurried by the Diamond heading north out toward the edge of town, the driver whipping the team to increase its speed. A carriage pulled up in front of the hotel, and Zeke watched as a family bustled out and rushed into the foyer. The father stayed behind, looking up at the driver and giving him instructions with a wave of his hand down the block. Nodding, the driver snapped the reins and started the horses down the street. Wearing a black overcoat with wide lapels and thick cuffs over a high-


60 buttoned waist coat, the man glanced briefly over at Zeke after he turned and started up the stairs into the hotel. He carried a top hat—black as pitch—in the crook of his left arm. Zeke smiled in return, his grin widening when the rain that had gone from a spattering of heavy drops to a thick curtain of water forced the man to lower his head and sprint for the hotel door. After a few minutes of pouring, water collected at the edges of the boardwalks. Dirty puddles spread from the edges of the avenue and crept toward the middle of the street. A few people braved the downpour. One man rode up from the south on a chestnut roan like the rain wasn’t the nuisance that it was. He either ignored Zeke or just didn’t see him as he passed. Zeke lifted the collar of his overcoat to cover his neck and pulled the brim of his Boss down to keep the rain out of his face. He felt at his waist to make sure the Colt 1851 hadn’t dropped from his belt or gotten wet. Long streaks of lightning, followed by crashes of thunder loud enough to ring his ears, flashed overhead. Shadows flitted in and out of sight as the storm intensified. He thought about giving up and heading into the hotel lobby to stay dry, but the front door to the Silverlight opened. Yellow light from the saloon’s gas lanterns split the dark, holding back the blackness on either side like Moses parting the Red Sea. Framed inside the light, Abner shook his head and waved his hand around. Zeke expected to hear either raucous voices or the pounding of the piano when the door opened, but nothing came to him over the downpour and rolling bass of thunder. He stood and walked over to his horse, taking the reins in his hand and

leading her across the street. He kept his right hand over the grip of the Colt to make sure it didn’t fall out. Lightning flashed, and the instant crash of thunder startled his mare. She pulled her head back and almost snatched the reins out of his hand. He cooed to her, trying to keep her calm. By the time Abner had reached his horse to loosen it from the post, Zeke had secured his mare by Abner’s roan. The older man looked up when Zeke pulled the revolver from his waist and shoved it under his ribs. His brows lifted, and he licked his lips. “You need to come with me, old man.” Zeke yelled it as loud as he could to make sure Abner heard him above the driving rain. “We need to have us a little talk.” Jerking his head over his shoulder, he motioned to the alley that led behind the Silverlight. Abner closed his mouth and nodded once. A slow trickle streamed down Zeke’s spine from the wind-driven water that found its way under the back brim of his hat. Abner stopped and shouted something, but the storm ground the words into nothing Zeke could understand. His heart pumped harder, and the rush of blood roared through his ears louder even than the storm. “Just keep moving,” Zeke said, motioning with the pistol. After they rounded the back of the saloon, the building blocked most of the wind and rain. Abner turned, facing Zeke with his back against the saloon’s exterior wall. A lone window cast a yellow glow onto the ground a few steps away to the right. “What’s this about?” the older man asked. “Does


61 your mama know you’re doing this?” “Never you mind, you murdering cheat.” He pulled the hammer back on his revolver. “I know you had my father killed, and I want a confession so it’s all legal.” Abner creased his brow, shaking his head back and forth. “You been drinking?” “Not a drop.” The lightning still streaked overhead, casting bursts of light alternating with shadows down the alley, but the storm had started to move off, and the thunder took longer after each flash to rumble. “You’re not getting out of this, old man.” “Get out of what?” Abner’s lip curled in a snarl. “You better put that away before someone gets hurt.” He nodded slowly. “Why did you not think of that when you and your nephew decided to murder my father?” The man rubbed his temples with his fingertips. “I know the marshal told you it was an accident. I was standing right there when he told Jerome.” “An accident you two staged.” He sneered. “I bet you had it planned all along.” Abner put his hands in his pockets. “Do you know how crazy you sound?” “Ha,” he laughed, rocking his head back. “No more crazy than you trying to convince anyone that you weren’t looking to make a quick sale and get your debts taken care of.” “You have this all wrong, boy.” “How so?” He waved the barrel of the gun toward the man’s chest. Blinking several times, Abner answered, “It was Luke

that pulled the trigger. Not me. We came into the office and your father raised that ten-gauge of his he always kept by the desk whenever he did the books.” Zeke wrinkled his nose. “You’re trying to tell me that my father started it.” “No.” Abner squeezed his eyes shut briefly and shook his head from side to side. “I’m just saying that it was a misunderstanding. Luke thought your father was going to shoot him, and he drew.” “Why would he think that?” Abner looked up at him. “Because of the argument we had earlier that evening. Your father and I had a pretty big disagreement.” “So you had him killed for it?” He lifted the gun and pushed the end of the barrel into Abner’s chest. “No.” Abner pulled his left hand out of his pocket and swiped it across his forehead, wiping the water away. “Now put that gun away.” He shook his head. “I need a confession, old man. We’re not done here until you admit to what you’ve done.” “It was an accident,” Abner said through clenched teeth. “Don’t point that gun at me.” “Confess,” he said, leaning in closer to the man. Lowering his eyebrows, Abner glared at him. “I said don’t pull that on me. Not unless you can back it up.” “You don’t tell me what to do.” He pulled his lips back in a snarl. “Now you confess to what you’ve done.” Abner leveled his gaze straight at him, meeting his stare. “Put that gun away.” He clipped each word off short and quick.


62 Pointing the barrel down at Abner’s thigh, he said, “Why don’t I give you a reason to confess?” “Last chance, boy.” “Or what?” He sniffed. “Confess.” Abner’s left hand snapped down, pushing the revolver to the side. Zeke squeezed the trigger, but the shot went wide and splashed into the ground. A glint of light flashed off metal as Abner pulled his right hand free of his pocket. The blade of the Bowie knife slipped in under Zeke’s ribs and tore through his lung. Zeke gasped, his eyes widening. He coughed and staggered a couple of steps back. The Colt weighed heavy in his hand, and he tried to pull the hammer back. But Abner stepped up to him and knocked the gun to the ground. “I warned you, boy,” Abner said. “I warned you.” His legs collapsed beneath him, and Zeke fell back onto his elbows in the light from the window. He squinted as he looked up into the dark sky. Rain splattered against his face, but he could only feel a sharp pain in his chest that sent needles through him with every breath. “Help me,” he said, reaching out to Abner. “I’m sorry.” Abner shook his head. His shoulders drooped, and he grimaced. “You shouldn’t have done this. This shouldn’t have happened.” Zeke sucked breath in, and it wheezed. Something firm pressed up against his chest and wouldn’t let him take a full breath. His hand was warm when he took it away from his stomach. He looked at it but couldn’t see anything in the dark but its outline. He blinked a couple of times and then lay onto his back. Abner stood above him, looking down and frowning. Zeke felt tired and closed his eyes.

Jerome sat at the kitchen table while Mama visited with Missus Eaton, who had her hands full taking fresh bread out of the oven. He sat in the seat next to the head of the table—his Father’s chair—because he wasn’t ready to step into those shoes yet. Rondal burst in through the front door, stopping to shake the rain out of his hair and stomping his boots against the floor. “Did you need any help with the gear?” Jerome asked his brother. Smiling, Rondal shook his head. “Nope.” He walked over to the stovetop, taking a mug off the cupboard. Billows of steam rolled up as he poured himself some coffee. He took a quick sip and then tucked his lips in and winced. With the cup in his hand, he moved to the table and sat opposite Jerome. Long moments passed in silence while the two women moved about the kitchen, putting plates and silverware on the table. After the table had been set and the stew had been ladled out, Mama poured herself a cup of coffee and sat beside Rondal. She leaned her head on his shoulder and closed her eyes. Her chest lifted as she took a deep breath, and then slowly relaxed as she let out a long sigh. A tear squeezed out of the corner of her eye and glistened in the flickering light from the kerosene lantern hanging above the table. Rondal reached his right hand across his chest and stroked her hair a couple of times before she blinked and sat up. “Let’s eat,” she said. “Put that down and join us, Florence. Please.” Missus Eaton set the bowl used to mix the bread


63 dough into the wash basin before turning to the table. “Okay, Peggy.” She sat beside Jerome, smoothing her apron over her lap before pulling the chair closer. “I just don’t want you worrying about cleaning up the dishes or anything like that,” she said to Mama. “Not today, anyway. I bet your boys and I can handle it.” Mama grinned, her eyes blinking as she reached across the table and grabbed the other woman’s hand. “Thank you, dear. You are a boon to this family.” “Think nothing of it.” Florence smiled back and covered their hands with her other one. “You did the same for me when Harold passed two years gone now.” Mama looked at Jerome. “Would you say grace?” Jerome grimaced and shook his head quickly. “I’m not feelin’ very thankful right now, Mama.” She pursed her lips and raised one eyebrow. “If we have breath in our bodies, we have something to be thankful for, Jerome.” She clasped her hands together and set them on the table in front of her, closing her eyes. “Now, if you please.” He snorted but closed his eyes. “Lord, thank you for this food before us. Please, bless it so that our bodies may be nourished. Amen.” Mama opened her eyes and reached across the table, taking his hands in her own. “Thank you.” He barely heard her whisper but knew that he had done the right thing for her. Nodding, he grabbed a piece of bread and dipped it into the stew. The moment it touched his lips, the door shook with several sharp knocks. He finished his bite, and then let out a long sigh as he pushed himself away from the table. “Who could that be?” Mama asked.

The storm that had been raging outside had started to dissipate, so the wind only blew a little bit of water in through the door as Jerome pulled it open. He squinted in the feeble light that came from the lanterns behind him. A broad shape stepped out of the shadows up onto the porch. Jerome recognized Parson Watkins and frowned. “Evenin’, Parson.” He stepped aside so the man could come in out of the rain. “We just sat down for supper. Would you like a bowl of stew? Mama and Missus Eaton made some fresh bread to go with it.” Parson Watkins ducked under the threshold and stepped inside. He brushed water off his sleeves, and then nodded at the women and Rondal. “Sorry to intrude, Missus Willis, but I cannot stay for supper tonight.” The parson lowered his head and took off his wide-brimmed hat. “If you do not mind, I need to speak to your sons outside for a minute.” Mama tilted her head. “Won’t you come in, Parson?” She stood, grabbing a towel from the table and wringing it in her hands. Rondal looked up at her. “It’s okay, Mama. We’ll be right back.” He rose and walked over to the door, following Parson Watkins outside. Jerome stepped out after them and pulled the door shut. He licked his bottom lip once and sucked on his teeth. “I didn’t want to bother your mother, boys,” the man began. “You have all been through a lot, and this isn’t going to get any easier.” His eyes drifted from Jerome to Rondal. He took a deep breath, and his cheeks puffed out as he let it out in a rush.


64 “What’s this about, Parson?” Jerome asked. Rondal stood beside him but far enough from the front window that he almost faded into the gloom that wrapped around the house. Jerome could hear his slow steady breaths, and every now and then, his brother would cluck his tongue behind his teeth. The habit had always annoyed Jerome, but a thousand thoughts would be rushing through Rondal’s head right now. He reminded Jerome of a duck—calm and serene on the surface, but his feet were churning without end under the water. “It’s Zeke, isn’t it?” Rondal asked. The evening rainstorm had cooled the air considerably from the heat earlier in the day but blood rushed to Jerome’s face, and sweat beaded up across his forehead. He hated when Rondal did that. Nothing seemed to surprise him, and he always seemed to know what was going on before anyone else

did. Their father had once said that Rondal had either angels or demons whispering in his ears, but Rondal shrugged it off and said he just paid attention. Jerome didn’t know which to believe, but he never doubted his brother when he got those feelings. Parson Watkins frowned, and Jerome figured he was trying to see Rondal’s face. He started to respond and then stopped to clear his throat. His face relaxed, and he said, “Yes. Yes, it is. Did you know he was going into town after the funeral?” Jerome nodded. “Yah. He said he was headin’ into town.” “What for?” the parson asked. Shrugging, Jerome said, “He didn’t say. I figured he needed some time alone.” Rondal coughed, and Jerome looked at him. His brother raised his left eyebrow. “What happened, there, Parson?”


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The man put his hat back on and squinted into the dark. “He confronted Abner in town behind the Silverlight. There’s been an accident.” “What?” Jerome shouted. He jerked his head around to make sure the door stayed shut and lowered his voice when it didn’t open. “What happened? Are you sure it was Zeke?” A sudden pressure on his right shoulder let him know that Rondal had reached out to him. His brother took in a deep breath and let it out slowly. Jerome hated how he did that too. He seemed to be able to calm everyone down. You couldn’t get upset or stay mad at a person who never got upset back. Except for Zeke. Rondal’s calming behavior riled him to the point he would scream at Rondal just to see if he could get a reaction

out of him. Rondal would only smile in response and walk away, shaking his head. Jerome silently thanked his middle brother for that characteristic now. He copied Rondal, taking a deep breath in through his nose before letting it out in a long, slow exhale. “Sorry, Parson. What happened?” Parson Watkins squinted both eyes and rubbed them with his fingertips. After a moment that seemed to Jerome like it had dragged out forever, he looked up at them. The gas light from the kitchen came through the front window and lit up one side of his face, while shadow covered the other. “Zeke was stabbed in the chest.” The parson shook his head like he wanted to say more but remained silent. “I’m afraid he’s gone, boys.”


66 Jerome snorted twice through his nose, more heat welling up over his chest and rushing up his neck. He opened his mouth, but Rondal squeezed his shoulder at the same time. His knees wanted to buckle. Behind him, Rondal stepped closer, his face coming into the light from the shadows. Jerome’s jaw clenched at the look in Rondal’s eyes. Anger didn’t belong on that face, but Jerome could see something dangerous stirred deep inside his brother by the way the corners of his eyes twitched. The grip on his shoulder tightened, and Rondal dug his fingertips in harder. “A witness said that Zeke had pulled a pistol on him,” the parson said. “But Abner never came to Marshal Baker to say it was self-defense.” Jerome frowned. “What do you mean?” The grip on his shoulder relaxed enough it no longer pinched his skin. “The witness said Abner came rushing out of the alley and ran into the Silverlight. He and Luke came back out,

jumped on their horses, and took off north of town.” Parson Watkins motioned off the porch. “I have a wagon. The Marshal wanted me to give you a ride into town.” “That’s okay, Parson.” Jerome shook his head. “We can get there quicker on our own horses.” The parson stared at the two brothers. “That’s what Marshal Baker didn’t want. He said you are to ride with me or stay home until he can get out here.” Jerome looked over at Rondal. His brother pressed his lips together and sucked air in through his bottom teeth. Finally, he met Jerome’s eyes and nodded. “Okay, Parson,” Jerome said. “We’ll ride with you.” Rondal walked back into the house, and the parson watched him until the door shut. “What’s he going to do?” Jerome shrugged. “Probably tellin’ Mother we need to go.” “Is that wise?” the man asked.


67 He nodded and stepped off the porch. “Rondal somehow always knows what to say to her.” They both climbed up into the wagon but didn’t have to wait too long before Rondal came out. His brother never said a word as he jumped into the back of the wagon. After he settled down with his back to the sidewall, he rapped on the boards. “Okay, Parson,” Jerome said. “Let’s go.” Jerome thought he heard a cry behind them after they rode out of the lane, but it could have been the wind through the trees or an owl coming out to hunt. He looked in the back of the wagon but could only see a shadowy outline where Rondal sat. None of them spoke all the way into Baxter Springs, and Jerome feared what they would find at the end.

To Be Continued...

JC Crumpton

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ome are born with a silver spoon, but award-winning author JC Crumpton came out of the womb with a pen and a notebook. A cancer survivor, when not writing, reading or working as an analyst, he will often be on the trails or in the gym training for an ultramarathon or powerlifting (complete with grunts and screams in appropriate places) or volunteering for various charities. His work has appeared in Aiofe’s Kiss, Beyond Centauri, and The Penwood Review among others. He has several projects coming out with Pro Se Press and Oghma Creative Media. JC received his undergraduate degree in English with a Creative Writing Emphasis from the University of Arkansas and worked seven years for a daily newspaper, compiling a list of over 1,000 bylines.


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ean MacLeod stood on the front porch of his cabin, deep in the forest surrounding the upper Missouri River. He paused to lace up his leather boots, tucking the pant legs of his buckskins inside. His shirt was still inside the cabin, and the early May morning was cool on his skin. He took a deep breath, enjoying the curious and merging light of early morning when the sun was up but hadn’t penetrated to the depths of the forest. It had rained the past two days, and the forest air smelled fresh and clean. The sleepy calls of the finches and sparrows came from the bushes behind the cabin. High above, in the bright morning sun, an eagle floated on the warming breeze. The hard sound of a crow, calling in the distance, interrupted the peaceful sounds of the morning. He listened intently for a moment. No other calls answered the first, which was odd in itself since crows are usually gregarious creatures. He didn’t like that… not at all. He and his four brothers had cleared this land and built the cabin a year ago. Grass was finally starting to grow and they’d transplanted several blooming bushes like sumac and wild rose. Sean was proud of what they’d accomplished in a short amount of time and was content with his world. Now he had a new home, beautiful wife, and son. Above the low, rushing sound of the river just over the

ridge came the ringing of a hammer on metal. The blacksmith at the trading post was up and working. Sean smiled. When the blacksmith, Finias MacGregor, was up and working… everybody was up because he made so much noise. The trading post of his adopted father would be open for business. Angus MacLeod had opened his trading post years before close to where the Yellowstone River came into the upper Missouri. Now, with pressure from competing fur companies, business was slow and Angus talked of selling out to one of the competitors and moving on. Sean’s adopted status put him pretty far down the list of family hierarchy. With all the brothers above him there wouldn’t be an inheritance, but that was all right. It would be better to make his own way and not depend on someone else. At twenty years of age, and full-grown since he was fourteen, Sean was a veteran of many trips up and down the river and had crossed through the forests many times. It was always a dangerous journey, and he had the scars to prove it. He was certain he could provide for his family. It was a good thing Angie couldn’t care less about riches. All she seemed to want was the baby and her husband. If the trading post closed or moved, he and Angie would stay in their home. Just as strong arms encircled his waist and he felt a na-


70 ked, soft body pressed against his back, the cry of young Angus sounded from inside the cabin. Rapid-fire French came from behind him in a muttered curse and he laughed. “Such a dirty mouth.” She tightened her grip with her left hand while her right hand wandered lower. “You didn’t mind my dirty mouth last night.” He turned inside her arms and brought her to him, pulling gently on the back of her long, black hair until she lifted her lips to his. “Angie, you know how I love you.” He kissed her again, holding her tight until she fought for breath and sagged against him. “To the end of time.” He pushed her away with a chuckle and a swat to her butt. “Now go feed the boy. And put some clothes on.” She jumped from the swat and pretended to pout. “I’d hoped we would have some time for ourselves this morning.” Sean shook his head, smiling ruefully. She was insatiable, and he loved her for it. His gaze lingered on her body, causing him to doubt his words even as he uttered them. “Tonight.” He didn’t want to wait until nightfall. She paused at the door and turned to look at him, her silhouette painted by the soft glow of the fireplace. It was obvious she was aroused. He marveled at her beauty. Her long, black hair hung to her waist and framed dark, brown eyes. Expressive eyes. Her skin had an alabaster glow, and when no one was around but the two of them, she loved to show it. Young Angus was a year old today, and her body had regained its shape. God, she was beautiful. The raucous call of the crow came again, this time from another direction. Watching the forest closely, he backed up to the door. Just inside and within easy reach was his Kentucky rifle. It always stood beside the door, along with a musket. He charged both weapons with fresh powder every morning so they’d be ready and waiting. It was a morning ritual with little meaning since they were at peace with all the tribes, but he did it anyway. After a few minutes of watching and listening, he relaxed and went inside. Angie had dressed in her blue homespun dress, with a low bodice bordered in lace. She’d put her long hair up in a bun, adorned with a perky little white lace hat. When he’d

made fun of the hat, she’d told him angrily that all French women wore them. He was smart enough not to argue. She had the top of her dress off her shoulders and pulled down as she fed little Angus, rocking serenely as she watched Sean come in the door. He stood watching her for a moment. “That’s a beautiful sight, Angie. I never tire of watching you. If I had a painting of you like this, I’d cherish it forever.” She smiled at him and said in a mocking tone, “You’d better just paint it in your memory. I don’t think you’d want some itinerant painter to see me like this. You know, sometimes I wish you would tire of me a little. The way I feel, we may have another mouth to feed in a few months.” “I can’t see myself ever tiring of you, and you damn well know it.” His voice was gruff with emotion as he watched her. Turning her attention back to the baby, she switched him to her other breast. “This boy eats as much as you do.” He bent to kiss her forehead, and then kissed his son on the head. “Yes, but men my size can’t live on milk alone.” Angie shoved him away with a laugh, and then pointed toward the stove. “Go and build up your strength. There’s meat in the fry pan, and there should be bread and milk left.” She caressed the boy as he suckled. “Look at him. He’s already big for his age, and turning blond. He’ll be a big man like his father.” She giggled and looked up at him. He looked at her quizzically. “What?” “I’m just thinking. You stick out like a sore thumb, you know. Everyone around here is short, with dark coloring. Most of the trappers, your family, and the Cree Indians are all that way. I would pass for a Cree maiden. But you are much taller and bigger.” She looked at him slyly. “And easily the most handsome. Some of my friends are jealous and wonder if you’ll take a second wife.” He shook his head and smiled at her. She always made him feel ten feet tall. “That’ll never happen.” She gave him a languid look. “Oh, I don’t know. If you keep me having babies just so you can watch them suckle, I may need the help.”


71 Eating breakfast, and listening to her sing softly to the quality. But, on closer inspection, the canoe rode too high in the water to be loaded down with furs. Curious. feeding baby, he thought of the day he met her. As the men disembarked and tied up the canoe, Angus was suddenly by Sean’s side, holding out a rifle. Tak• • • ing it from his father, his eyes never left the men coming In the fall of the year 1818, business had gone well at the toward them. “Who are they?” He’d never heard such venom from his father. “It’s Baptrading post. After the buying season was over, Sean and his tiste Charbonneau and his partner in crime, Santee.” A gasp brothers loaded most of the furs bought during the summer onto barges and sent them down the river to market. Some came from within the store as his mother heard the words. of the furs would go to Canada, and part would go south to “They deal in slaves, not furs. I can’t believe they would dare Kawsmouth at the junction of the Kaw and Missouri rivers. to stop here. Be careful, Sean. Charbonneau has killed many The rest would go east to Saint Louis. There would be a men. He’s a sneaky bastard.” Sean stepped out of the trading post’s door to meet time of rest and rebuilding during the winter months. Sean watched a wide canoe drift up to their dock, them, his rifle pointed at Charbonneau’s belly. “What’s paddled by two men. Their cargo was in the center your business here?” The men skidded to a stop, eyeing the rifle pointed covered by buffalo robes, and it was odd for them to be trading this late in the year. The furs would be very low at them. Both were armed with muskets, but didn’t at-


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tempt to use them. Each had a knife and pipe ax at their waists. The man called Santee wore greasy buckskins and a leather widebrimmed hat. His buckskins looked so stiff with dirt he could take them off and stand them in a corner. He was a small man whose face showed the ravages of bad living and whiskey, with watery eyes and a blue-veined nose red as an apple. It was an education to watch him fidget in place, casting eyes toward the store. Sean prayed he’d never need a drink that bad. Charbonneau was the direct opposite. A huge man, standing well over six feet, he wore homespun pants and a loose red shirt. Leather boots came to his knees. He grinned at them as he stopped, putting on an expansive air of being everyone’s best friend. Looking past Sean toward Angus, he said. “Ah, my friend Angus MacLeod. Long time, no? We just stopped by to do a little trading. My friend Santee has been without a drink for a week.” He pointed at his partner and laughed. “As you can see, he needs a shot of whiskey.” “He needs a shot, all right. But not of whiskey. More like a lead ball.” Angus spoke contemptuously. “We don’t need your kind here. You’re not wanted. It will take us days to rid the post of the stink of your presence.” Charbonneau jumped forward, face flushed with anger, only to stop when Sean buried the barrel of his rifle in the man’s gut. “Bad idea.” Charbonneau backed up, rubbing his belly and looking vehemently at Sean. “I don’t know you.” “You don’t want to,” he said, emphasizing the answer by another jab in the gut with the rifle.

From behind the slavers, toward the river, there was a muffled scream. It looked like something was struggling under the covered cargo on the canoe. Suddenly, a girl leaped from the canoe onto the dock, throwing aside the buffalo robe. When she saw the cluster of men, she ran toward them, keeping a wide berth around Santee and Charbonneau. When she caught her breath, she started talking rapidly in French, and then when she saw Sean didn’t understand, repeated it slower in English. “Please. My name is Angelina Delavault and I need your help.” Charbonneau moved swiftly and tried to grab her, but she shrank away from him. “Look here, you….” Sean grabbed his arm, spinning him away. “Ease up, mister. That’s no way to treat a lady.” The Frenchman fought against his grip. “That’s no lady, as you call her. She’s just a servant, and a damned uppity one, too.” Sean looked at her. The torn white blouse barely covered her breasts and she wore a buckskin skirt that had seen better days on a much larger woman. Dirty and scuffed moccasins were on her feet. She was poorly dressed, but held her head high. Even under all the grime, she was beautiful. He could tell she’d been tied up by the red marks on her wrists. “You’d be pretty if you had a bath,” he said, mentally kicking himself as soon as the words came out. Surprisingly, she didn’t take offense. “I’d love to have a bath.” She smiled and looked directly at him, and it seemed in that moment the world narrowed to just the two of them. “But that bastard Charbonneau wants to help me.” Looking back, he fell in love with her at that moment. Even with her troubles, she had spirit and a sense of humor. Charbonneau again tried to take control. “Hey, I bought her indenture from some folks upriver a few days ago, and she’ll do as I say.” Angus spoke up in a mocking voice. “Can you prove this? You have papers?”


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Charbonneau smiled, deprecatingly as he shrugged. “Yeah, somewhere.” Sean turned back to the girl. “You’re indentured?” She shook her head. “Stolen.” “She’s lying. It’s her word against ours. She’s just a flighty girl who doesn’t know what she’s saying. That’s why the people got rid of her.” Both the slavers eased back toward their canoe. Sean started after them, but Angus stopped him. “We’ll have no bloodshed this day.” Then he shifted his attention to the slavers. “Charbonneau, look around you. There are at least fifty men in my employ. They all know you. I’ll also send word to the other posts along the river. If you return to this area, my men will have permission to kill you. Don’t ever come back.” Charbonneau stood on the little pier, looking at them. Even at the distance, it was easy to see the hatred in his eyes. “It’s a free country and you can’t keep—” The ball from Sean’s rifle threw up splinters between the man’s feet. He immediately reached out and Angus handed him another rifle. It took the two men about a minute to jump into their canoe and paddle down the river and out of sight. “We should have killed them. We’re going to regret this,” Sean said, watching the men disappear. Angus snorted. “That’s your Welsh blood talking. Killing shouldn’t come so easy. Besides, we have no actual proof.” “There are no courts here. I think we have proof enough and she’s standing before us.” He turned to the girl. “Were you alone in the canoe?” He was worried that they should have checked under those robes. “It was just me.” Now that the ordeal was over, she was shaking and trying not to cry. He took Angelina by the hand, led her into the post, and explained the situation to his mother. Before Mary married Angus, her name was Sparrow. She was a Cree Indian, and even Angus would admit she ruled the trading post and all

who stepped into it. She immediately took the girl toward the living quarters in the back, but not before giving her husband a dark, meaningful glance. Sean thought she agreed with him about killing the slavers. When they talked to her, they found out Angelina’s parents died in a raid. The raiders were a western tribe she’d never seen before she was captured. Soon after, Charbonneau bought her. Since all her family had died, she stayed with them at the post and became like a daughter to Mary. She followed Sean around constantly—not that he minded—and they often talked for hours. A few months later, Mary suggested it was time he took a wife and that Angie was a prime candidate. Somehow, Angie agreed. He didn’t resist either of them. •

His thoughts were brought back to the present when Angie got up from her rocker, sat little Angus down on a rug to play, and came to their rough-hewn table. She nudged him with her thigh as she stood beside him, rubbing his shoulders with her strong hands. “I mended your shirt and it’s hanging by the door. Don’t be late this evening. Remember, I’m going to fix a special supper for you and have a cake for little Angus. Maybe some bear meat or catamount will help build up your strength for later. You seem a little tired this morning.” “Don’t worry about my strength, woman.” He grabbed at her and she laughed, avoiding his grasp. He couldn’t keep his hands off her, and she knew it. “What will you do today?” “Little Fawn is coming over later and we’ll work on her new dress. We should have it finished today.” She smiled at him and giggled. “There is a boy she wants to show it to. Knowing her, I’m not sure how long it’ll stay on her.” He nodded and laughed at her joke. He knew and


74 approved of her friendship with the Cree women living close to the post, even if their ways were different. Angie had laughed at him once and informed him the ways of the French were a lot different from the English or Scots too, and that’s why he loved her so much. He couldn’t disagree. He turned serious a moment. “Be careful going out today. There’s a new camp over by the river, and I heard they’re Bloods. They’re new to us.” She shrugged it off. “Don’t worry. We’re at peace with the tribes, and the Cree are allied to the Blackfoot so these Kaini won’t let them make trouble. Although, Little Fawn told me yesterday they won’t do trade with the post, and are trying to discourage everyone else from trading with us.” “Well, they’ve probably been paid off by Hudson’s Bay or American Fur to create a rift between us. They’ll probably be gone soon, but be careful of them. Just fire a shot and barricade the door if anything looks wrong, and we’ll come runnin’. We’re only a couple of minutes away, over the ridge.” She kissed him on the cheek. “You worry too much. Now, go. I have work to do.”

Sean walked into the front door of the trading post and stopped a moment to enjoy the sights and smells of all the goods for trade. Aside from the furs stacked to the ceiling at one end of the store, there were spices and dried herbs. Gunpowder and oil, metal tools and arrowheads, along with cloth and cooking utensils covered the walls and benches. Leather English-style saddles and bags were prominent in one corner with bridles and halters. Even growing up, he’d always loved the store. His mother waved as she and a couple of helpers stacked furs in a corner. He turned and could see Angus overseeing the loading of a barge down by the dock. The blacksmith cursed and yelled as he tried to catch one of the horses that needed shoeing. Two men came out to help and they finally herded the horse, a piebald mare, into a chute built in a corner of the corral. Horses were becoming good trade items, if they could keep thieves from stealing them. The horses weren’t too common until recently. Since they’d finally arrived in the North


76 Country, mainly from the Nez Perce and southern tribes, it seemed as if everyone wanted one. Whether it was for a pack animal, or to ride, horses saved a ton of work and time. Walking into the store, he was immediately immersed in haggling and trading with a couple of trappers who said they’d just come in from the Yellowstone. He’d never seen them before, nor had anyone else. It was irritating because they didn’t seem to have many furs, or have much interest in trading. He felt like they were just haggling to waste his time. By the time he finished with them, it was midmorning and he paused for a drink of cool water. The long-handled dipper fell to the floor as his brother Daniel came bursting through the door, wideeyed and yelling. “Sean, there’s smoke coming from over the ridge. It looks like from your place.” He didn’t waste time talking as he exploded out of the door and outdistanced everyone in the race to his

home. He could hear several men running behind him, making little sound. He knew they were veteran fighters and Sean knew Angus would keep a good contingent back to guard the post in case this was an attack. He stopped at the edge of the clearing, and for a moment it was as if he’d run into a wall and couldn’t drag his feet forward. Fire was every settler’s nightmare, and one reason many kept to their earthen floors, so sparks from the fireplace wouldn’t catch hold. The roof of the cabin was already falling in from the flames shooting high into the sky. Smoke and sparks from burning embers floated lazily back to the ground. All hope of an accidental fire from their fireplace left his mind when he saw the bodies at the center of the clearing, next to an outside table and chopping block. He broke into a stumbling run. At the edge of his vision, he could see men from the post fanning out and surrounding the clearing.


77 He came to Little Fawn first, her body sprawled out and riddled with arrows. The new dress she was so proud of was torn and dirty at the foot of her naked body. He stopped for a moment, his heart in his throat, afraid to go forward. Finally, he steeled himself and went the final steps to Angie’s body. She lay between two overturned, homemade chairs. Kneeling beside her, his hands reached for her and then stopped. She, like Little Fawn, was naked and lay on her side facing away from him, her backside muddy from blood mingling with dirt. Both her legs pointed in impossible angles, and blood covered her from what seemed like hundreds of wounds. His eyes blurred with tears as he saw all the cuts and scratches on her. Like wild animals playing with their prey, they had taken their time with her. His heart nearly stopped when she groaned. Gently rolling her over, he held her head in his lap. She’d fought them… fought them hard. Her fingernails were torn and a couple had bits of flesh hanging from them. There was a stab wound just under her ribs, a killing blow administered after they were through with her. The blood from the wound barely trickled. He shook his head. There was no hope. His tears dripped on her face as he watched her struggle a moment against the pain, and then she seemed to relax and looked up at him. It nearly killed him that she tried to smile, only to have it end in a grimace. Her voice came out in a feathery soft whisper. “I’m sorry.” She clutched at his arm, pulling at him. In a stronger voice, she said. “Angus?” He looked at her with blurry eyes, shaking his head and he could tell she knew. “I love….” He stopped. She was staring at him, but the light in her eyes was gone, never to shine again. With a deep cry of anguish, he pulled her body to him. He didn’t know how long he held her, until he noticed a ring of feet and legs surrounding him. At the touch of a hand on his shoulder, he looked up and his mother was there. “Let us have her, Sean.” Tears streaked down her cheeks. “Let us have her.” Behind her were his brothers’ wives, and they were all openly crying. Daniel’s wife held a blanket. They helped him to his feet as the women covered his wife with the blanket and tried in vain to straighten her bro-

ken body. Finally, they helped the men put her on a plank to carry away. It wasn’t until they moved her that he saw what her body was covering. Stooping, he picked up a medicine bag usually worn around a warrior’s neck, and a red sash of cloth torn off during the struggle. His fist closed around the medicine bag. Looking in the distance with a fierce anger showing on his face that made men step away from him, he spoke the condemnation. “Kaini! The Blood clan of the Blackfoot.” One of the trappers who stayed around the post came to them holding a handful of arrows. “These are all Blackfoot arrows.” The man spoke to Angus instead of Sean, handing him an arrow and pointing out the markings. “They didn’t pick up their arrows, which is strange because they had time to do it.” The man shook his head. “They always pick them up if they can. They don’t like makin’ arrows any better than we do.” “They must have been promised more.” Angus broke the arrow in half, throwing the pieces into the dirt. “It looks like they got plenty of horses too.” His brother Daniel came walking up. He was the eldest of all the brothers and second only to Angus at the post. “I’m sorry, Sean. It’ll be hours before the ashes are cool enough to find little Angus.” They all turned as one and looked at the still burning home. One of the men said in a hopeful voice, “Maybe they took the boy with them?” “No.” Sean could barely speak. “He’s too young to take along, and there weren’t any women in that camp to care for him. I just hope they killed him before he burned.” His voice broke before he continued. “It’s my fault. I should have known… should’ve been more careful.” Another party of about twenty men carrying long rifles loped into the clearing from the direction of the river. One of the men looked at Angus and shook his head. The men responsible for the killings were gone. Daniel spoke to his father urgently, pulling at his sleeve. “If we leave now, we can catch those bastards. Let me take some men.” “No. Did you notice the Cree aren’t going crazy at the death of Little Fawn? Something’s going on and we can’t


78 When he heard people coming, he was already placing his son in a grave. Bare to the waist and covered in ashes, he locked gazes with his father a moment, and then watched as Angus turned abruptly and walked back toward the post. A few more men showed up with shovels. “Is this where you want Angie’s grave?” one of his brothers asked. When he nodded, they started digging. The sun was high in the sky when they finished. All the words that needed to be said had been murmured in quiet deference. His mother stood close by, along with all his brothers and their wives. When he looked at the women, he expected to see sadness, but instead saw fear. He didn’t blame them. It was supposed to be a time of peace. Most had heard of this kind of violence, but none had seen it in their young lives. They clung tightly to their husbands, seeking reassurance the men couldn’t give. Angus walked up to him leading a roan stallion already saddled. There was a bedroll on the back and food pouches hung from the back of the saddle. His rifle, longbow, and skinning knife hung across the front of the horse. All the arrows they’d found were put in a pouch and hung with his bow. He relished the responsibility of sending the arrows back to their owners. Sean stared at his father with sadness. It looked as if the man had aged in the last few hours. “How did you know?” Angus shrugged his massive shoulders. “You should see yourself. Your eyes are cold as ice. While you look calm, I sense anger and a thirst for blood that may never be slaked.” Angus held his hand up, stopping Sean’s response. “No one blames you for how you feel. Would it do us any good to ask you to stay? We may need the help if • • • they attack again.” “You have enough men to defend the post.” He put In the early hours of the next morning, Sean found the charred body of little Angus where he’d been left in his hand on his father’s shoulder and squeezed. “I can’t his crib and wrapped him in his shirt, covered with his stay. And be assured that with every day that passes, mother’s blood, offering a silent prayer of guilt and apol- the numbers of our enemies will be less.” “It’s war, then?” ogy. He should’ve been a better father. He should’ve proHe was already looking toward the forest. “For me, tected them. Should have. The litany went on in his mind not for you.” without pause or absolution. leave the post undermanned. At least, not now. They may be trying to draw us out and leave it unprotected.” At his words, the men headed back toward the post. Some drug their feet in reluctance, some cast angry looks back at Angus MacLeod, but they all went. He could hear his brother talking to his father, but the roaring in his ears nearly drowned him out. “What about Sean?” “Just leave him, but post guards around the area.” Angus watched his adopted son awhile. Mary was just coming back from the post and he stopped her from going to Sean, shaking his head. He pulled her to him and hugged her. “You know his history. Right now, there is a war going on inside him for his soul. I doubt if he knows we’re here. We’ll know in the morning if he is ours, or if he’s returned to his ancestors.” Together, holding hands, they turned and walked away. Sean heard all this as he stood staring at the house that had become his son’s funeral pyre, watching the flames destroy all his hopes and dreams. Images of Angie and little Angus filled his mind, but they were images of laughter and intimate moments. Finally, he fell to his knees. He thought he should cry and try to mourn for his wife and son, but all he felt was deep anger. An inward heat burned at him with a fire greater than the one before him. A log popped in the inferno of their home and sent more flames into the air. As he watched, his mind filled with visions he’d never seen before, visions of fire and battle, of the clashing of metal and men fighting for their lives and screaming their anger. He violently shook his head and couldn’t dislodge the visions, and when he closed his eyes, it was worse.


79 “I could ask for volunteers. We could send some men with you.” He shook his head. “The men have families and you need them here. Their interests are here and this is for me alone.” “It doesn’t work that way, Sean. What they did to your family, they did to all of us. We may react in different ways, but we are still family. If you’re at war, so are we.” Angus looked around the clearing at his family and Cree friends that circled them and sighed. “Well, we’ll hold out for a while. We have many friends.” “I’m sorry.” “Don’t be. You didn’t seek this trouble and must deal with it your own way. Besides, we only had a tenuous hold on you from the start, and I knew this day might come. Things may have been different had your family lived. They were your anchor.” He drew his hand over his face

and sighed. “Say goodbye to your mother and brothers and be on your way. Don’t drag it out and make the pain worse. Remember the good times.” Before Sean could turn to his family, a collective gasp came from one side of the crowd. The circle of people parted to show an old man leading a horse into the clearing. The horse was a Palouse stallion and anyone could see it was a trained warhorse of the Nez Perce. He noticed his own horse shying away from it in fear. The Blackfoot and Nez Perce were deadly enemies and there was no doubt where the horse had come from. It was the spoils of battle. The old man came to stand a few feet in front of them. His once great frame had shrunk with age, but he held himself straight with pride. A single eagle feather adorned his scalp lock, and his buckskins looked soft and new. “Bear Hunter.” Angus breathed softly, taking a step toward the man. “We thought you were dead.”


80 “Soon,” the old man replied softly, and inclined his head toward Angus. “Soon enough, I will go away. But, the spirits give me no rest and have led me here to do one last thing.” Sean was irritated at the interruption. “Who is this man?” Angus turned to him. “This is Bear Hunter, a great warrior. He’s the one who brought you to us many years ago.” “I will speak!” The old man’s voice carried the ring of authority. Few tribes had any sort of written language. Many of the chiefs and warriors were great orators and the spoken word passed their history down from generation to generation. The circle of Cree Indians and trappers from the post crept closer to hear what he had to say. The man drew himself up and Sean could see the once proud warrior that he’d been. “I am Bear Hunter of the Piikani, the Piegan Blackfoot.” People in the crowd repeated his words to those too far away to hear. “When you were a small child, our people fought a great battle at a place we called Crossed Timbers. It was a remembered battle and your mother and father killed many of our people. I watched in wonder as your wounded mother killed even more men as she stood over the body of her husband. Our young men were full of pride,

and since she fought by the knife, they sought to kill her as she fought them… by the knife. She was fierce and proud. We had never seen anyone such as them. The warrior woman finally fell from our arrows, and each of us walked by to touch their yellow hair and count coup. They were mighty warriors. In their honor, we buried them and did not defile their bodies. We heard later that they were from a land far away and once battle came to them, they went crazy with battle lust. This I have seen. It is true.” Bear Hunter took a step toward him and looked deep into his eyes a moment. He felt the old man was looking into his soul and shook his head to get away from the stare. “When they were finally killed, we saw they were protecting you. Even though you were a child, our braves saw the same fierceness in your eyes, and they wanted to kill you as we would a wolf cub, but I would not let them. I tied your hands and took you away.” Sean thought he saw a gleam of a smile in the old man’s eyes. “We had to gag you or you would have cut us with your teeth and I finally had to knock you in the head to stop you.” Bear Hunter drew himself up to his full height and said, “I do not know of this land you came from. I can only thank the Great Spirit no more of you have come.”


81 He turned to his horse, took a rolled blanket down from it, and handed it to Sean. Curious, Sean knelt and unrolled the blanket out on the ground. Sun glittered off the blades. “Fighting knives,” Angus breathed out. “Spanish blades.” Bear Hunter nodded. “These are the knives your parents used in the battle after they sent all their arrows into our men. Our warriors finally had to swallow their pride and shoot them from afar. We could not get close without dying.” Sean stood, holding the two knives. Longer than a regular hunting knife and shorter than a saber or sword, the thin blades were bright in the noonday light. The handles were made of ivory or some kind of bone, and felt like an extension of his body. Looking closely, he could see dried blood staining the blade close to the handle. The knives must not have been used or cleaned in all this time.

He looked at the old man. “If this is Blackfoot blood, it’s fitting that I should return it.” Bear Hunter inclined his head, and then looked around at all the people and their anger. “All should know this. We are not at war with these people. Only the Kaini, or the Bloods, have taken the war trail. It is a bad thing they have done and I cannot see an end to it.” Turning back to Sean, he said, “I have known this day would come. Since I picked you up and held you close to my heart, I have known it. I could feel the spirit of your parents passed on to your heart. Now, the Spirit Trail has come to you. I feel sadness for you that it is a trail of vengeance and death. I am old and have seen too many winters. This thing I have learned in my time on this earth. Do not let this anger consume you, or it will eat your mind and your very living will be as


82 death.” He looked around the ring of faces. “This is all I have come to say. I will speak no more.” Bear Hunter strode forward and stripped Sean’s stallion of its saddle and supplies. He then traded the horse Angus brought for Sean for the warhorse he’d ridden in on. With a spring in his step belying his age, the old Indian leaped on the back of his new horse. Holding his palm out toward the people gathered there, he wheeled the mount and yelled, “Kitatama’sino! I shall not return.” The Cree warriors responded in kind by raising their weapons above their heads and their voices in a mighty shout. Angus’s voice caught his attention. “Where will you go?” He tore his eyes from the retreating warrior and looked at his father and mother. “Wherever they go, I’ll follow.” Realizing his words sounded like a marriage vow, he shrugged and turned to his new horse. “Honestly, I don’t know.”

“You will be tested. I’ve taught you all I know about trading, and living. And about fighting. Remember it. Most Indians know nothing about a rapier or sword. They only know the knife and tomahawk. Use your training well.” Angus’s deep voice seemed to catch in his throat a moment. “Don’t flaunt your training, Sean. I only pray it will be enough.” He remembered the relentless training he and his brothers had received from Angus, usually during the slow winter months. Limber sticks and switches gave way to wooden swords, and then the real thing with padded clothing. Angus tried to temper the fighting with trading and books, but Sean had embraced the training early. The footwork during a fight and measuring an opponent’s skill became almost like a dance. But it was a dance of death. He looked at his father and gripped the man’s shoul-


83 der with his hand. “You’ve treated me well and I thank you. Now, it’s up to me to make my own way. If that journey is over dead Bloods, then so be it.” •

It was a beautiful horse, and it stood quietly as Sean put his saddle on it and tied on his gear. He scratched its ears and the animal finally acknowledged him by rolling its eyes and flicking its ears. Speaking softly, rubbing its neck and head, he waited until he was sure it was used to him. “I’m going to name you Thunder and we will get our revenge against the Blackfoot.” After he mounted, he rode over to the graves of Angie and little Angus. The sun was warm on his shoulders, and the air was fresh and clean. The summer breeze blew the smoke to the north, away from the charred ruins of his home. A sharp shake of his head pushed away the bad images and brought clarity to his mind. His family would never enjoy another day like this and he felt guilty that he could. Angie would never welcome the feel of the sun on her body again. With determination, he tossed away the sight of her mutilated body and kept the image in his mind of her nursing their son as the morning light caressed them through a window. He nearly reached out to touch her. Angie. “You will be avenged.” Without another word, he turned toward the river to follow the trail of the Bloods. •

Find Spirit Trail today in paperback or e-book at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or iBooks.

Darrel Sparkman

D

arrel Sparkman resides in Southwest Missouri with his wife.

Their three

children and eleven grandchildren live

nearby. His hobbies include gardening, golfing, and writing. In the past, Darrel served four years in the United States Navy, including seven months in Viet Nam as a combat search & rescue helicopter crewman.

He also served nineteen years as a

volunteer Emergency Medical Technician, worked as a professional photographer, computer repair tech, and was owner and operator of a greenhouse and flower shop. Darrel is currently retired and self-employed. He finally has that job that wakes

Paperback ISBN: 978-1-63373-129-5 E-Book ISBN: 978-1-63373-130-1

you up every day with a smile. Spirit Trail is his first book in a new Mountain Man/Western Series published by Galway Press.


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Y ( h t f (


Yosemite is famous for its many waterfalls. Yosemite Falls (the Middle Cascades of which are pictured above) is the highest waterfall in the park, dropping 2,425 feet from the top of the upper fall to the base of the lower fall. Even more famous are the park’s iconic granite monoliths, including (clockwise from upper left), Cathedral Peak, Half Dome, Sentinel Rock, and Mount Watkins.

87


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89 Bridalveil Fall, with the Cathedral Spires and Sentinel Dome in the immediate background, as seen from a long-distance shot from the south. While not as iconic as the famous “Valley View� of the same formations, it is no less captivating.


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The Ahwahneechee tribe believed a malevolent spirit dwelled within Bridalveil Fall, guarding the entrance to Yosemite Valley. According to legend, those leaving the valley must not look directly into the waterfall, lest they be cursed.


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El Capitan is a rock formation on the north side of Yosemite Valley, near its western end. The monolith extends about 3,000 feet along its tallest face, and is one of the world’s favorite destinations for rock climbers and BASE jumpers.


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D

o you like real country music? I mean Webb Pierce, Lefty Frizzell, Hank Williams, Sr. kind of country. Not some watered down modern pop version that fills the radio airways and your TV shows today. Well, if you do, I have some good news for you. The Dave Bright Band, fronted by Dave Bright himself, plays that real country music you’ve been wanting to hear again. Yes, sir, Dave Bright plays straight up country, what he likes to call Honky Tonk Country and Hillbilly Blues. That’s the ticket. The kind of music you’d hear in a roadhouse on the way to Austin or coming back to Fayetteville. It’s the kind of sound you seldom hear today in

the modern uber pop version of something Nashville likes to present as country. Saddlebag Dispatches recently sat down with Dave Bright to have a conversation about his music and band. Here’s some of that conversation. SD: You grew up in Fayetteville, tell us how that led to your music DB: My dad’s a trumpet teacher at the university (University of Arkansas, retired). My dad asked me probably third grade if I wanted to play an instrument. My brother played, my sister played, obviously my dad


94 played. And I said “yeah.” He said what do you want to play? All I could think of was drums. My other options were horns … you know. The only one I could think of I could play in a rock band would be drums. SD: So you wanted to be in a rock band? DB: Oh, yeah! SD: What kind of bands were you in back in the early days? DB: Early days would have been with a couple of my buddies in church. We didn’t play church music. Here’s the deal, we had a really cool youth director and he always really supported us. He was a musician. He taught the guitar player early on. He basically would get us up when we went to youth group. And we would back him up on like the sing along church songs. Kind of a house band. But then he’d turn us loose at the end. And we’d get to play whatever we want. We’d play AC/DC and Guns and Roses, Black Crowes. More rock and roll. SD: Were you in bands as a young man before you took off traveling and playing? DB: Well the first band that I played in I was twentyone, right at, and that was the first band I traveled with. Randy Crouch and Flying Horse. He’s out of Tahlequah, Oklahoma. I think they call him a Godfather of Red Dirt music or something like that. We traveled quite a bit: southern and central Illinois, Mississippi, Louisiana, like New Orleans, you know, Arkansas, Missouri, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Colorado, Arizona. That was our loop. I did that for about five years. SD: You’ve traveled in other places and played in other locations, you want to tell us a little bit about that? DB: I got a real job at Sound Warehouse, the record store in Fayetteville there. I was staying at home more. Trying to figure out what I was doing. I was wanting to

move to New Orleans that’s what I really wanted to do. So I spent about a year or two, probably close to two, really studying New Orleans drummers and the music. While I was doing that and not playing with Randy so much, I took a kind of temporary job with Jason Davis. He had a band called Baby Jason and the Spankers. He’s still around. Plays with Earl (Cate) and them. His bass player and his drummer quit. He had all these gigs booked and I told him I couldn’t be in his band ‘cause I was trying to move out of town but I’d help him finish out the gigs he had booked. I don’t want to leave anyone hanging like that. We played in Nebraska, we played in Memphis. SD: So then you finally did get to New Orleans? DB: I found an apartment in mid-city, which is just what it says, it’s in the middle of the city, pretty close to uptown, pretty close to the fairgrounds, pretty close to the French Quarter, close to the lake (Pontchartrain) all that. So I went down there, found a place, signed the lease. Then my buddy Jason Boland, who I knew through Randy (Crouch), his drummer got married and they were really thinking that he wasn’t going to be in the band anymore and pretty much put the offer on the table for me to play drums with them, which I had to say no because I’d already signed a lease in New Orleans. Ended up the drummer didn’t quit the band. He got married but kept playing, so. That could’ve changed everything. They’re still on the road. They’re still traveling. SD: So the New Orleans experience ended up being a good one, though? Did you play in different bands down there? DB: I did. I played in anybody’s band who would hire me. And the great thing about New Orleans and one of the reasons I loved it, ‘cause we would go down there and play, and I just noticed how everybody played with everybody, down there. You met somebody, they found out that you played, they’d have your number and you were on the list, and they’d give your number to somebody else if they were looking for a drummer. In some places I’ve heard and I’ve


95 seen a little, you know like Austin and Nashville and I’m sure LA and those places it’s real competitive and nobody wants you to succeed, they want to be the ones. I never felt that in New Orleans. All the musicians down there supported each other. It was great man. But, yeah, I played with several folks, one of the main guys I played with was Mike Hood. He had several names for the bands we played. Seems like he was always changing them. One was The Root Doctors. He’s like the house piano player at Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop on Bourbon Street right now. He’s a great piano player. But that’s

where I met Brad, he was playing with Mike. Brad Helms, he’s my guitar player now. He’s also the original lead guitar player in Charliehorse. He moved up here (Fayetteville) after Katrina. The first gig I played with him I remember we played a wedding over in Ocean Springs, Mississippi. We all loaded up in the Suburban. Went over there played a wedding, had a great time, ended up getting a gig that night for a place called Monkey Fish.


96 “Oh, yeah, nobody’s doing it, I mean it’s a lost genre of music that was great at one time and they just act like it never existed. They’ve ruined the country music genre.”


97 SD: Dave Bright is a major Arkansas Razorback fan. Tell us your Monkey Fish, Razorback story, Dave. DB: We ended up coming back to that Monkey Fish and playing several more times and I remember one time in particular we were playing down there and the Razorbacks were playing Ole Miss of course we’re in southern Mississippi most of those folks are more into Southern Miss or Mississippi State. It was that game where we went into like six or seven overtimes (in 2001, Arkansas defeated Ole Miss 58-56 in seven overtimes), so I had them turn the TV around where I could see it from the stage and I’m watching it more than I’m actually paying attention to the music but everybody else was, too. It was one of those games. SD: Why did you come back home?

DB: I got to missing my friends. I came back for a visit, me and my buddy Brad both came. The first time we came back was for Christmas but we came back during the summer and my friends were having a crawfish boil over just right off of Lafayette there on Willow. We were going to be the band for the crawfish boil. My buddy Chad flew in from Montana where he was going to school and we drove up from New Orleans. Chad was playing bass, Brad was playing guitar. They met the night before and we went through a few songs at my folk’s house and then went and played the party the next day didn’t play any of the songs we practiced at my parent’s house, ended up playing a bunch of funk and Meters tunes maybe we played a couple of country songs. But it was just a blast, we had a great time. I felt really good about being home. Ended up going over to Oklahoma and visiting Randy. We were supposed to be gone for like a weekend, we were gone for like for a week


98

and half. Came back and lost all of our gigs (in New Orleans) I was actually putting in applications at grocery stores … which wouldn’t hire me. SD: What did you do then? DB: I ended up going down on Bourbon and going into a place called Patout’s (Cajun Cabin) where my buddy Kellan (Klosterman) was playing. I was still down there looking for work. I hadn’t made up my mind to come home yet. I filled in for the drummer for this house band at Patout’s (for) this guy Jimmy Thibodeau, he’s an accordion player, a Cajun guy and, oh yeah, another guy

I played with down there was Steve Lafleur had a band called Mamou. I played with him at a place called La Estrada just right across the street. So I went in there, I just asked Jimmy, man, you know anybody needing a drummer, he’s like, man, off the top of my head I can’t think of anybody but what do you think about playing some washboard. I said, does it pay? He said yeah, man, it pays. You get the majority of the tips we take in, and if you sell CDs, man, you know we’re selling them for $20 apiece. I think I got $8 dollars a CD. So, I actually made pretty good money, man. They played like, I think, I can’t remember how many days on and how many days off. So anyway I ended up playing washboard for quite a while.


99 And while I was down there, too, I was working at a place called the Magic Bus, it was a record store I worked there like two or three days out of the week. That was a fun place, it was like used CDs and records. I got a lot of good stuff working there. But that trip was what made me really realize that I wanted to get back to the Ozarks, fresh water, water I could paddle, some hills. Believe it or not I even was missing winter. Not missing it any more. SD: We know you play the drums, guitar, and washboard, what other instruments do you play? DB: I’ve played drums since about the fourth grade on…congas and percussion, mandolin… (when) I picked up the guitar that’s (the mandolin) kind of fallen to the wayside now. Every once in a while I pull it (the mandolin) out and pick around on it. I like to play it when other people are singing. It’s a hard one to sing and play. The register’s just too high to really sing to. SD: Who are your musical influences? DB: On the drums, Levon’s got to be right up at the top. Richie Hayward from Little Feat. Zigaboo Modeliste from the Meters. A lot of jazz drummers. SD: How about on the straight Country side? DB: I like the old guys, man. I like Bob Wills. Hank’s my guy, Hank, Sr. is my very favorite. Faron Young. Love Webb Pierce. Let me go in here and go through my CDs. SD: Who are your favorite musicians, singers, bands and who are you listening to right now? DB: Man, I love Jason Boland. That’s one for sure. A guy named Chris Knight. I really like Chris Knight. Hayes Carll. A guy named Travis Lindville who actually plays with Hayes Carll. He’s a songwriter, too, and a really great guitar player. Travis is out of Chickasha, Oklahoma. He does all kinds of stuff…Sturgill Simpson lately I been listening to.

SD: How did you decide to play Honky Tonk Country and Hillbilly Blues? DB: Well, I was playing with Charliehorse and we were kinda winding down, you know. Charliehorse is kind of country rock and I’d been listening, I’d always listened to a lot of country but I’d been really listening to, like I said, Hays Carll and some of that stuff. And as we were kinda winding down I wasn’t playing as much, I was living in a little apartment with my girlfriend and we didn’t have room in there for my drums and I was kinda Jonesin’ for music so I brought my mandolin over trying to get back into playing that a little more but it wasn’t working very well. I borrowed a guitar from my buddy Luke (Webb) and bought a Hank Williams song book. He had just bought a guitar from our buddy Bayard who makes guitars, Bayard Blaine (formerly of Three Penny Acre). He was my neighbor when I lived out on the farm, the Josh Brown farm. He (Luke) had just bought a guitar from him (Bayard) and I was like, man, let’s play, you got a new guitar let me borrow your old one now that you got a new one and so I did that for a while. Then I ended up borrowing another guitar from another friend Teddy, Teddy Sablon, he’s got a band called Guta around here, then I bought my own. But anyway, I just started learning Hank songs and I learned some Hayes Carll songs and some Chris Knight and stuff like that. But then I just decided I wanted to concentrate on the old stuff. I kinda figured, you know, you start at the beginning and whatever comes out after that is yours. SD: Is part of the reason you play Honky Tonk Country and Hillbilly Blues in reaction to the state of Country music today? DB: Oh, yeah, nobody’s doing it, I mean it’s a lost genre of music that was great at one time and they just act like it never existed. You know? They’ve ruined the country music genre, yeah, you can’t even call it … now Dale Watson he’s started a new name for it, he’s got a new name and they’re doing their own awards and everything and it’s called Ameripolitan. It’s probably very similar to


100 Americana but his thing is, he’s all about the old country tradition and the Ameripolitan group encompasses rockabilly and western swing and Cajun and Bluegrass and country, like what we think of as country. They have their own awards and stuff. It’s just getting going right now. He just started it last year or maybe two years ago. SD: What other musical projects are you a part of ? DB: Well, definitely Charliehorse whenever we get back together—this year, it’s been about five or six times, which is good. Recently I went down to Russellville and Ozark with my buddy Richard Burnett, he’s got a band the Strange Derangers, which you gotta check out. They’re great. He also has a band Honeyshine. He plays with the guy who used to be my bass player, and now plays steel with me, and his name is Tom Anderson.

SD: You play with a heck of a lot people around here. DB: As many as will play. I’m really fortunate to have great musicians that want to play with me. SD: Do you have songs of your own? DB: Yeah, I do. I’ve written maybe six or seven but there’s only about four maybe five that I’ve kept. Maybe I’ll go back to the others. Same genre (Honky Tonk Country and Hillbilly Blues). SD: What are your plans and hopes for the Dave Bright Band? DB: Well, I guess, I hope that people like it, first of all. And have a good time when they hear us. I would like to take it as far as it’ll go. I think a lot of that depends on


101 how much I put into it. As far as, you know, booking and song writing and stuff. Yeah, I mean, my goal is right now to be playing regionally and be able to pay the guys with me a decent amount. I hate asking people to play with me for free, for sure. You know, finding the places that like the style of music that I play and want to hire me.

J.B. Hogan

SD: Does the Dave Bright Band have a regular lineup of players? DB: Yes, to a degree. Definitely Brad Helms, and I use another guitar player Chris Parker. He actually does guitar work. He’s got his own business. He sets up and builds guitars. Josh Wardlaw on bass and a guy named Owen McClung and sometimes Chris’ wife, Jennifer Parker. Tom Anderson is also a bass player that I’ll use but lately if I got another bass player he’ll play steel … and then if I can pick up a fiddle player and I got enough money to pay him, there’s a couple of fiddle players around that I’ll use. I lost one of them, he moved to Colorado. And then, Cody Marriott he lives up in Missouri so I hate ask him to drive down here but he’s a great fiddle player… and then another fiddler player that I use is Chuck Onofrio, he lives in Eureka (Springs), but he’s on tour a lot. SD: What would you like to talk about that we haven’t covered or that you want people to know? DB: I would like to thank Casey (Cowan) and Oghma (Creative Media)…that’d be the stuff I’d like to add. At the end of the conversation, Dave played one of his own songs called “Boot Heels.” It sounded great and we look forward to hearing more from him and his group real soon. Keep an eye out for the Dave Bright Band playing in your neck of the woods, you won’t be sorry you did. This is real Honky Tonk Country and Hillbilly Blues played with enthusiasm and skill by the up and coming Dave Bright Band. Don’t miss ‘em folks. —J.B. Hogan

J

. B. Hogan is a prolific and award-winning author. He grew up in Fayetteville, Arkansas, but moved to Southern California in 1961 before entering the U. S. Air Force in 1964. After the military, he went back to college, receiving a Ph.D. in English from Arizona State University in 1979. J. B. has published over 250 stories and six books, including the novels The Apostate, Living Behind Time and Losing Cotton, a book of poetry and short fiction titled The Rubicon, Fallen, a collection of short stories, and a local baseball history book, Angels in the Ozarks. Each of them are available on Amazon.com. J. B. serves as Past President of the Washington County (AR) Historical Society. He plays upright bass in East of Zion, a family band that specializes in bluegrass-flavored Americana music. Find out more about J.B. at www.thejbhogan.com.


102

A New Messiah The word spread like wildfire through the tribes of the northern and southern plains; a new spiritual leader had emerged. Indians were about to regain ownership of America. The earth would open up and swallow white soldiers and settlers, the buffalo would return, and all the Indians killed in battle would come back to life. As a bonus, the horse (the one positive contribution of the white man) would remain. For once, the European invaders’ superior numbers and high tech weapons wouldn’t matter. Their God had declared himself on the side of the Indians. Who could blame him? He had sent his son to save the white men and they had nailed him to a cross. Smart money said God was ready to start over and put the Indians in charge, if only they followed a simple set of instructions. The plan sounded completely reasonable to the plains Indians, the Cheyenne, the Arapaho, and especially the Lakota. Native American legends were filled with messianic leaders who showed up at the last possible moment to save the tribes from a seemingly unconquerable enemy. That moment had been reached. White invaders had

driven the Plains Indians to the brink of starvation by killing off the buffalo, and since the Civil war ended, the U.S. Army was turning its full attention to resettling the big game hunter tribes on reservations. If a hero didn’t show up soon the traditional way of life would be lost forever. The last charismatic Native American messiah had been the Lakota warrior, Crazy Horse. He had visions of a world without white people too, but his methods involved a fair amount of blood letting. Crazy Horse had large Plains Indian following, and quite a few military successes, including a significant battle at Little Big Horn. But he and his warriors were eventually hunted to the ragged edge of starvation by the U.S. Army and in 1877 he surrendered. Four months later Crazy Horse was bayoneted by a military guard. His messianic days had run their course. It took eleven years for the new spiritual leader to emerge. This messiah wasn’t a firebrand warrior with magic face paint like Crazy Horse. Wovoka (Chopper) was a Piute Shaman who had grown up with white Christians near Carson City, Nevada. He read the Bible, spoke fluent English and even had a Christian name. Local settlers called him Jack Wilson.


103 Wovoka had no grudge against white people. He simply wanted them to go away. Late in 1888 he had the first in a pair of visions that showed him how it could be done. That revelation came with a fever. His temperature climbed so high his soul broke loose from his body and traveled to the spirit home of all the Native American ancestors who had been killed in the struggle with the white man. The animals they used to hunt were there as well waiting for the opportunity to live again. Wovoka could bring them all back to life and they would show him how in another vision. A few months later, during the solar eclipse of January 1, 1889, the ancestors made good on their promise. Wovoka was chopping wood when they transported him back to the spirit world and showed him the details of the plan. The Christian God was present in this vision, and he promised Wovoka that the end of white expansion and return of traditional tribal ways was a simple dance away. The dance God described was a traditional Piute Round Dance. In addition to joining hands and dancing in a circle, there were several rules of righteous behavior the Indians were supposed to follow:

Wovoka (Jack Wilson) shown here in the reservation style hat for which he was known. The Piute shaman continued to be a respected Medicine Man after the Massacre at Wounded Knee.

1. Do not harm anyone. 2. Always do what is right. 3. Treat one another justly. 4. Cleanse the body often. 5. Remain peaceful. 6. Be truthful. 7. Abstain from alcohol. 8. Do not refuse to work for the whites and do not make any trouble for them. Jack Wilson’s vision emphasized cooperation. He discouraged the practice of mourning, because the dead would soon be restored to life. He preached patience and didn’t make the mistake of predicting when the transition to the new world would take place. Many of his followers believed the change would happen with the changing millennium (from the 1800’s to the 1900’s). No one expected the religious movement to spread across the continent as quickly as it did.

Participants in the Ghost Dance would join hands and move in a circle. They would often continue until they passed out from exhaustion.


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Their was no specific date when the dead ancestors and the buffalo were supposed to return, but the dancers hoped the prophesy could be rushed if the dances were large and energetic enough.

Wovoka wasn’t the first Piute shaman to have a vision involving the Round Dance. The Northern Piute, Wodziwob (Grey Hair), had a vision calling for the Round Dance in the 1870’s. His vision didn’t include Christianity, or the mystical re-incarnation of the dead, or the elimination of the white man. Wodziwob believed the dance would bring about a Native American renaissance. His prophesy spread for a few years among the Piute, but the continual white encroachment on Indian lands, and the exploits of more flamboyant heroes like Crazy Horse and Quanah Parker made the Round Dance cult lose popularity. Wovoka’s vision came after all alternatives were gone. It took hold and moved across the country with what must have seemed like supernatural speed. In less than a year the warrior tribes of the northern and southern plains were sending riders from reservations in Oklahoma and the Dakotas to seek advice from the Piute shaman personally. The Lakota Interpretation Plains Indians were open-minded when it came to mysticism. They adopted bits and pieces of theology

from Christianity and from other tribal religions and didn’t seem to be troubled by contradictory doctrines. Symbols were highly valued. Even symbols that were never meant to have religious significance were believed to hold power that could be transferred to a warrior if he had a sacred attitude. Braves would ride into battle with crosses and details of U.S. flags painted on themselves and their horses expecting to capitalize on the power of their white enemies. If a spiritual message was confusing, so much the better. The Lakota’s supreme being was called Wakan Tanka (The Great Mystery), after all. They didn’t expect to understand theological details. Kicking Bear, and Short Bull, were two Miniconjou Lakota who made a pilgrimage to see Wovoka. By the time they returned to the Pine Ridge Reservation in Dakota Territory, the Piute Round Dance was renamed the Ghost Dance. That should have served as a warning that Jack Wilson’s peaceful prophesy was about to acquire a violent spin. The Lakota added Ghost Shirts as a critical feature of the dance. These magic shirts were supposed to make the dancers bullet proof, another sign trouble was on the way. The Pine Ridge Ghost Dances began with invoca-


105 tions, prayers, and exhortations, after which dancers joined hands and moved frenetically in a circle. Sick people participated in hopes of being cured. Dancers fell unconscious. Some experienced trances and visions that expanded the scope of the Ghost Dance Cult to include things Wovoka had never envisioned. The U.S. soldiers on the Pine Ridge Reservation were understandably nervous. In early October, 1890, Kicking Bear visited Chief Sitting Bull on the Standing Rock Reservation. He wanted to spread the word about the magic victory over the whites that was sure to happen as soon as enough Indians participated in the ceremony. Sitting Bull was skeptical of things like bullet proof shirts and the dead coming back to life but he agreed to allow Kicking Bear to teach the dance, at least until the Indian Agency put a stop to it. It didn’t take the agency long. They forcibly removed Kicking Bear from Standing Rock and sent Indian Police to arrest Sitting Bull. The arrest of the Iconic Lakota Chief who defeated the Custer at Little Big Horn went about as well as anyone should have expected. In the ensuing shootout, Chief Sitting Bull was killed. On Dec. 28, 1890, fourteen days after Sitting Bull was shot the army was ordered to disarm and relocate any Lakota who would not stop the Ghost Dance Ceremony. A major target of the round up was Chief Bigfoot. His band was mostly made up of women and children whose husbands and fathers had been killed in battles with Generals Custer, Crook, and Miles. Big Foot’s band would dance until they collapsed to be sure their dead warriors would come back to life. They surrendered to the cavalry at Pine Ridge and were escorted to a camp near Wounded Knee Creek. The following morning, the military ordered all Indian weapons to be surrendered and burned. A medicine man called for resistance, claiming the Ghost Shirts would protect the Lakota from army bullets. An unknown gunman fired the first shot. Soldiers opened fire. In a matter of minutes 290 Lakota were killed, most of them were unarmed women and children. Thirty-three soldiers died in the exchange, mostly from friendly fire.

Ghost Shirts were never part of Wovoka original prophesy. Dancers believed the shirts would make them bullet proof.

There were many styles of ghost shirts. Some were simple and some were elaborate.


106 Cooler Heads Prevail The Southern (Oklahoma) Cheyenne and their long time allies, the Southern Arapaho heard about the Ghost Dance from their northern relatives. The idea of eliminating the white man through magic rather than by warfare appealed to them at least as much as it did to the Lakota. They started organizing their own versions of the Ghost Dance in the summer of 1890 a few months before the massacre at Wounded Knee. Before long, almost every camp along the Canadian and Washita Rivers held all night dances two or three times a week. Like the Lakota in South Dakota, the Oklahoma Plains Indians developed their own variation on the dance. A Southern Arapaho man named Sitting Bull added a unique element that became a standard feature of the southern plains Ghost Dance. After the ceremony had been underway for several days he stepped into the circle and made hypnotic passes with an eagle feather in front of dancers. Hundreds of them went into trances. People who had been in this trance sang songs that described Wovoka’s world of the ancestors. The dancers and singers and people slipping into trances and describing a place where there were plenty of buffalo and no white people convinced the Oklahoma settlers that an Indian uprising would break out soon. The Indian wars were still fresh in everyone’s mind and

Penny Dreadfuls were on sale that portrayed the Cheyenne and Arapaho as bloodthirsty savages. Not to be out done, newspapers in El Reno, Oklahoma City, and Guthrie published stories that sensationalized the Ghost Dances and whipped white residents into a frenzy. A military confrontation like Wounded Knee would have been a certainty if the War Department hadn’t sent Lieutenant H.L. Scott of the 7th Cavalry to assess the danger. The lieutenant visited Cheyenne and Arapaho camps from December, 1890 (when the Wounded Knee Massacre took place) through February 1891. It would have been easy for him to interpret the activities exactly the way the military had done at Pine Ridge. The dancers looked the same. They followed the same religious premise. In the past, Cheyenne and Arapaho had engaged and defeated the U.S. Army in decisive battles, including Little Bighorn. Fortunately Lieutenant Scott kept a cool head. He concluded that the Ghost Dance Ceremony was a harmless religious activity and posed no danger to white settlers. If this young soldier hadn’t exercised wisdom and restraint, Oklahoma could have had a Wounded Knee style massacre of its own. The Ghost Dance ceremony lingered as a large movement for only a short time after the disaster at Pine Ridge. In the spring and summer of 1891, the Southern Cheyenne and Arapaho sent delegations to visit the

Most of the Lakota casualties were unarmed. Many were women and children.

A shot was fired by an unknown gunman and in seconds 290 Lakota were killed.


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After Wounded Knee Wovoka never stopped believing in the truth and power of his visions even after the massacre at Wounded Knee. There was talk of arresting him, but local Indian agents considered him to be, “an intelligent Indian and peaceably inclined.” They helped him obtain an allotment where he lived a simple life in a house made of rough timbers. He stopped promoting the Ghost Dance,

but Wovoka’s notoriety as a prophet didn’t fade. He earned a substantial income as a Piute holy man and supplemented it by selling “power objects” like red paint, feathers, and reservation style hats to white collectors. He never left Nevada in the two years it took the Ghost Dance cult spread across the plains, but after the disaster at Pine Ridge he made trips to reservations in Wyoming, Montana, and Kansas and even to the former Indian Territory of Oklahoma. Wherever he went, Jack Wilson was treated by regional tribes as a great religious figure. In 1916 the Mason Valley News reported he was considering a visit to President Woodrow Wilson to offer advice on ending the European wars. That visit never happened, but he was photographed at a Warren G. Harding rally, probably because Harding selected Charles Curtis, a Sac and Fox from Kansas, to be his vice president. Stories of Wovoka’s supernatural powers never stopped circulating among the Piute. It was said that he continued to make prophesies that came true, that he survived being shot, that he brought rain, and even that he raised people from the dead. He was considered a great Medicine Man until the day he died, September 29, 1932. True believers expected him to come back, and of course there were rumors that he did. Wovoka is buried in the Shurz Piute Indian Cemetery in Mineral County, Nevada.

Mass burial of Wounded Knee Lakota casualties.

Wovoka’s grave at Shurtz Piute Indian Cemetery in Mineral County, Nevada.

prophet Wovoka and brought back some “sacred medicine paint” and specific instructions for conducting the ceremony. The dances weren’t held as frequently as before and attendance dropped off, but they were still attracting reasonably large numbers. In October 1892 they sent another delegation to visit the messiah. Wovoka astounded them by saying he was tired of so many visitors and they should go back home and tell their people to stop dancing. At first the Oklahoma Ghost Dancers refused to believe the message from Wovoka was genuine, but when he refused to correspond with them the ceremony’s popularity declined. A form of the dance was incorporated into the Native American Church and is still performed today as a ceremony of cultural restoration but the tribes no longer expect the white man to disappear or the dead to rise again, or the buffalo to come back.


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T

he next morning Dailey thanked his new-found friends Sam and Bee for all their help trying to apprehend Cyrus Connors. Then he rode south. Fort Worth was a good week’s ride away. But it made no difference. He was still determined to find Heidi’s killer. In the southeast Indian Territory, rain slowed him making his way on one of the Texas Roads, as they had named all those dirt tracks headed south. Wearing his longtail yellow slicker, he came to a crossroads. He could smell the smoke of a fire and saw a large tarp stretched tree to tree to make a tent. He rode in close and hitched his horses. Coming under the dripping edge, he nodded to the young Indian woman who waved him to come inside. Once under the shelter, she pointed to a serving table. “We have hot beef stew and fry bread ready. It is sure raining, isn’t it?” “Lots of water is coming down.” He followed the route she’d shown him. “The meal costs twenty cents,” an older Indian woman in an apron said. “It is for all you can eat.” He paid her with coins. She nodded her approval and filled a bowl with the steamy stew. Then she gave him a piece of fresh-fried squaw bread from a covered skillet to keep it warm. “You can have more. They taste better hot.” With her spoon, he sat cross-legged on the dry grass to eat his rich smelling meal. He took a large bite of the bread, then set it on his leg and looked around. The large tent worked well keeping things dry. It was secure enough the wind gusts only shook it some. His first mouthful of the stew brought lots of saliva. First goodtasting meal since he’d left the Orr’s. He’d found no reason to stay long in Fort Smith. From there he’d sent a telegram to Hurley and Lorrie to tell them he was going south to look for Connors in Texas. That he was thinking of them and was doing fine so far. With that, he rode the ferry across the river and headed south. Three days later in a rainstorm he found this shelter and some great food under a tent with two Indian women. “My name is Hannah.” The younger Indian woman dropped on the grass beside him. “You may be our only

customer if this rain does not quit.” “It hasn’t quit has it?” He looked at the gray light outside under the dripping edge and the run-off. “No. Are you going home to Texas?” “No ma’am, I’m looking for a killer.” “What is his name?” “Cyrus Connors.” She didn’t answer him right away. Instead, she pulled off some blades of the new grass. They were in between her fingers and she finally threw them away and stood up. “Did I say something wrong?” he asked. “Yes.” “I don’t understand?” “Two days ago, he took my sister Nanna with him. He is going to marry her in Texas, he says.” “Sorry. But he’s a famous outlaw. He has a wife and children up in the Indian Territory.” “I told her not to go.” “What is wrong, Hannah?” Her mother came over. “He says the man that Nanna left with is a killer and he has a wife and children up north.” “Maybe it is another.” “He is about thirty years old and dark-faced. He wore a gray hat when he shot my bride.” She looked troubled. “Why did he shoot her?” “She saw him first and she ran to protect me. I couldn’t stop him or her.” “That is very sad. Hannah and I both told her not to go with him. She wouldn’t listen.” “What can we do now, Momma?” The woman turned her white palms up. “Nothing but pray.” “Will you wait for me?” Hannah asked him. “What for?” “I want to go find a horse and go with you.” He shook his head. “I won’t know who she is to find her.” “Yes. If you find him you will find her. Then I will bring her back.” Her plans shocked him. “How will it look, you riding off with a man?”


111 “I don’t care what it looks like. I want my sister back alive and safe.” Filled with emptiness, he shook his head in defeat. What the hell could he do about stopping her from going along? There was no way to stop her, so he caved in. “Find a horse. I plan to leave here at dawn.” Her mother smiled like it was good idea. “And I will feed you breakfast. Need more stew?” “Yes, ma’am. It is sure good.” Her mother took his bowl to refill it. “She will find a horse to ride. She is serious. They both are very close. I hope he has not hurt her.” “I hope so too.” “You are a good man. Not many of the like come down this road anymore.” The rain quit in the night. He ate her mother’s breakfast. She served the two of them thick, hot biscuits, and thick,

white gravy. Seated on the ground beside him, Hannah— who he guessed was in her late teens—ate with him. “That woman he shot was your wife?” she asked. “No, my bride. We were to be married the next second.” “That is so sad.” “I must push hard. Nothing fancy. You can cook for me. You aren’t ready to leave, I will have to leave you. We will respect our own privacy.” “Thank you.” She nodded. “I’m grateful to go along.” “No problem.” After the meal, she helped him load up his panniers and things. He put her blanket roll and small sack of clothes under the tarp of his first horse. When she was mounted on a paint mare, he climbed on Brody and they went south. That evening, they crossed the Red River Ferry and camped in the open ground under the big cottonwoods a short ways from the store. Lots of folks


112 camped there when they got that far or before going on into the Territory. They were in Texas. He asked at the store if they had seen a man fitting Connors’s description ride through with a teenage Indian girl. They had and he was two days ahead of them. Dailey never said why he wanted Connors, and Hannah had stayed outside on the porch. “They are two days ahead of us?” she asked, walking with him back to camp. “Yes. They never said where they were going. I guessed they didn’t know. Two days they could be close to Fort Worth. It is a big city and finding them will be hard.” “There are two of us to look for her and him.” “It is still a very big and busy place with lots of other people to look though.” Miss Confidence said, “I bet we find ‘em both.” “I’d like to.”

“That’s why. You’re a determined man.” “Sometimes I wonder if I ever will find him.” She shook her head and the braids on her back moved. “How did you find this woman to marry?” “I stopped at a store for matches.” “But that was something. Spirits led you to her.” “I guess.” “Spirits will lead us to him and her.” He glanced over at her. She’d decided something. That was the way it was. He had hardly noticed her being along with him. She worked hard when they made camp, cooked most of the meals, and kept to herself for the most part. He’d noticed the two of them drew stares—a white man with a squaw was what most folks figured. The next day they arrived at his sister’s house. She saw him and ran out to hug him. “Why dad-gum, John,


113 you finally came by to see me and my younguns. My, you look good. She your wife?” “No, that is Hannah. She’s going after her sister who is with a man who killed my bride.” His sister frowned at him. “He did what?” “He shot my bride seconds before we were to be married. He’s an outlaw Indian. She’s worried about her sister who ran off with him. We’re just traveling together. Nothing else.” She shrugged, “Randal is gone to do some day work. The kids are still in school. Come in Hannah. I’m Connie. I’ll make us some coffee.” Hannah nodded and slipped off her mare. “Thank you.” She looked around coming to the house. “You have a fine place here.” “Could be better. Five kids are a lot to raise.” In Connie’s kitchen, Hannah took a seat. “Dailey is like a brother me. I can see why you like him so.” “She and her mother have tent café up in the Indian territory,” Dailey said. “Well, is that busy?” “Sometimes. It was raining when the spirits sent him to me.” “Raining?” Connie gave them mugs and put a bowl of sugar and canned cow on the table. “They weren’t busy,” he said. “Worst rain I’ve been in and it was sure nice to get under their tent and eat hot food.” “I bet so. Where is this killer?” “Fort Worth.” “Wow, that’s a big place.” “The spirits will show us where they’re at,” Hannah said. “What will you do when you find your sister?” “Take her home.” “What if she won’t go with you?” “I’ll tie her belly-down over a horse and take her home.” Amused by her response, Connie poured fresh Arbuckle in their cups. Then she took a seat. “What have you been doing, John?” “I was learning how to tend a store when this all happened up in Kansas. Her father wants me to come

back up there and work for him.” Connie made a face. “I thought you were a cowboy?” “I was, but they don’t need as many as they use to.” They laughed. He had a nice visit with his brother-in-law that evening, and the next morning they saddled up and rode south. “She was a nice lady,” Hannah said, riding beside him. “My favorite sister and there are three more.” “They live around here?’ “No, all over Texas.” “Will we be there in another day?” “I think so. We can go into the stockyards district. I think he might be in that area. We will simply have to see.” “If he is not here. Where will you go?” “I’ll learn where he went.” She shook her head and braids. “In such a big place, you may never find him.” “You may never find your sister.” “I’ll find her.” “How?” “My spirits will lead me to her.” “Have these spirits led us here?” She nodded as if it was nothing. Her proud answer made him laugh. Her dark brown eyes cut him for doing that. “You will see.’’ They camped one more night then rode into the stockyard district. He went to Rogers Livery and dismounted. A gray haired man jumped out of rocker on the shady porch. “That you John Dailey?” “Sure is, Orville Rogers.” They hugged. “Been a long time.” “Who is the woman, your wife?” “That’s Hannah. She’s here looking for her sister.” The old man said something in Indian to her. She smiled. “Choctaw.” “Well, you brought a real fine lady with you. Welcome to Fort Worth, Missy.”


114 Dailey would have sworn that Indian girl about blushed over his words. “I need to store my things and put these horses up for a few days. I’m looking for an outlaw.” “Which one?” the stable hand asked. “Cyrus Connors.” The man never replied. Dailey had the saddle in his arms and was headed for the tack room. “You know him?” Dailey asked as the two walked together. “He was here yesterday.” “Was an Indian woman with him?” “Yeah.” “Did he leave?” “This morning.” “Where did he go?” “I-I think San Antonio.” “Did the woman with him look all right?” He made a pained face. “She—looked battered.” Son of a bitch! He was facing Hannah when she looked up. “What’s wrong?” she asked. “He’s went to San Antonio.” “Already? Was she—” “She was with him.” He lowered his voice. “He said she looked battered.” Her dark eyes narrowed in despair. “What will we do now?” “Take up his tracks and go after them in the morning. Tonight I’ll get us a room. We need some supper.” “Will they let us sleep in the hay?” she asked. “I suppose so. I’ll ask him.” She nodded. He could tell she was upset over this new information. But she knew all that he knew about the situation. How were Hurley and Lorrie? He’d send them a wire about his plans. Dailey and Hannah were only one day too late to have taken Connors. This chasing him was getting real old. They went by the telegraph office and he sent Hurley and Lorrie a long telegram. Then the two of them ate in a café. Hannah looked like she had shrunk since she left

her home in the territory. She sat across from him in the booth and picked at her food and he knew she was eaten up by their failure to find Connors and Nanna in time. Dailey was bad off too, but didn’t want to show his disappointment. Nothing but a forest fire or his own death would prevent him from capturing Heidi’s killer. He didn’t deserve to live. Her sister looked battered. That information gouged him in the gut. But he feared if Nanna ever resisted Connors about anything, he’d harm her. That made Dailey sicker and he didn’t even know her. “Eat up,” he said, concerned that her moping would weaken her. “We’ve got miles to cover in the next few days.” “It will do no good. I fear he will kill her next.” “She’s Choctaw, isn’t she?” “Yes, but even they can only stand so much.” “If I knew one thing that would speed us, I would use it. Now you eat.” “All right.” They slept in the hay. Had breakfast in a café before the sun came up and rode south. She told him in late afternoon that she thought they would never get out of Fort Worth that day, but they camped in the country that night. Some men and woman he stopped on the road said someone answering Connors and her sister’s description had passed through earlier. But he couldn’t push their animals much harder, even after talking to a blacksmith who’d reshod one of Cyrus’s horses—the pair still had a day on them. Dailey was amazed how he could pick them up, where they’d been while they tracked them mostly by finding someone who actually reported seeing them. Those two had avoided Austin and swung west. He was concerned all day about losing their trail. But in a livery at Marble Falls, he learned that a man and woman answering their description had rode on south. Dailey and Hannah again ate in a café and then camped outside of town. Their bedrolls were lined out on the ground close together. On his knees ready to crawl in his own, he asked her, “Are you as tired as I am tonight?” “Maybe more.”


115

“You can’t be more tired than I am.” He fell quickly asleep in my bedroll “Wake up,” she whispered in his ear. His eyes flew open to look at the stars. She was lying beside him. Her hand cupped to his ear, she said, “Someone is stealing our horses.” With a nod that he heard her, he rolled over and drew his six-gun. He tried hard to get his bearings right as he got up. On bare feet, he ran low to a cedar bush and then rose up and searched around. Someone was trying to muffle Brody with a hand on his nose. They were walking away from camp leading him. Dailey half ran to the next cedar. How many more rustlers were there? One was going away with his horse and the others horse outlines he could

see were only a short distance away. They must have got Dailey’s saddle horse last. One way to find out was charge them. “Drop that rein or die!” he shouted and fired his revolver. The other horses spooked, but his own would not go far. The man on the lead rope dropped it and ran for their other horses. Dailey hated to shoot in them. It might kill some of his own horses. There was nothing else going to stop the rustler. He got a good aim on the man’s back and shot. The thief went down. “Henry’s shot. Let’s get out of here.” They left in a clatter of hooves. Dailey caught Brody. The other two packhorses and her paint mare came back to him. There was another loose saddle horse that she caught.


117 “You saved our horses anyway,” she said. “Is he going to die?” Dailey had already checked the shot rustler’s pulse and stood up. He had no pulse. Standing above the body, he shook his head. “He’s dead.” “What now?” “We better take him to the authorities. It will be another damn delay, but I don’t want to be arrested for his murder later either.” “Should we eat something?” she asked. “Aw, we have jerky. We can eat that on the way while we pack his body into town and maybe get on our way again.” She nodded. “Who was he?” “The ones with him said he was Henry.” “Two more of them?” “Yes. And he ain’t hardly much more than a boy.” He regretted it all happening, but they for sure needed to keep their horses. She made an angry face. “He’d have stolen your horses if you hadn’t.” “I agree, Hannah. It just delays us some more, that’s all.” She squeezed his arm. “I am glad you know my name. You have never said it since your sister’s house.” The law in Marble Falls came out of the jail to examine the dead man’s body. The big deputy took a handful of his hair and raised it up to see his face in the lamp light. “Yeah, he’s Henry Wright. His pa will sure be mad over this.” “Listen, he was stealing my horses.” Dailey was a little on edge by the man’s words anyway. “You wasn’t wrong shooting a horse thief and your squaw said the same thing you did. I believe he was stealing your horses last night, Mister Dailey. But that fact won’t make his pa any happier that he’s dead.” “Fine. Do you need us any longer?” “I want you to stop by the doc’s office and look at an Injun girl he’s tending. She ain’t conscious and we don’t know her name.” Dailey glanced over at Hannah. “How long has she been here?” Hannah asked, looking upset. “A day or so. A man found her lying by the road. She’d

been badly beat up and he brought her in. Thought she was dead. Doc says she may live. But you said—” “Yes. We’re looking for an Indian girl and the guy who is with one.” “Doc’s place is two blocks south on the right. And oh, Dailey, thanks for bringing his body in. You sure saved me a long investigation.” They rode to the doc’s. Neither of them said a word on the short trip, but he felt sick to his stomach over what they’d learn from the lawman. The sign said Doctor Walter Shaver. He dismounted and they hitched their horses at the rack. The fine two-story house stood before them in the rising sunlight and he nodded. “Here goes,” he said, making her go first this time. A woman came to the door. “Ma’am, a deputy told us you had an injured Indian woman here. Could we see if she is Hannah’s sister?” He indicated her. “Oh, yes. She’s much better this morning, but still hasn’t spoken.” They went to the back of the house and she led them in the room. There on the bed was a badly bruised-faced girl with two swollen black eyes. He had no doubt who she was. “Nanna?” “Hannah? How did you find me?” “Well, she does have a name and she’s talking,” the woman said. “Doctor Shaver will be pleased.” Hannah took a seat on the edge of the high bed. “This great man is with me and the spirits led us here to find you.” They hugged each other gingerly. Then Hannah slid off the bed, stood, and hugged him. “Oh, I owe you my life for bringing me here to her. Bad as she looks, she will heal and she has learned some hard lessons.” “Yes, you’re right—a hard lesson.” He patted the back of Hannah’s head. Tears were streaming down her light brown face. Feeling helpless, he hugged her tight and then fished out his handkerchief to dab her face. He had really come to believe they would never see her sis alive. Spirits must be working, but Cyrus Connors was getting further away.


118 Damn, Dailey wanted Connors in his grasp. But he’d better wire Hurley and tell him where he was, and that he would be there for at least a day longer if the old man wanted to return his wire. “I’m going to put our horses in the livery. I think we’ll probably be here for a day or so.” “I’ll go with you,” Hannah said. “You will need help.” “No, you stay here and comfort her. I’ll be fine.” Still wet-faced, she hugged him tight. “I am so grateful. You are my best friend.” He left Hannah at the doc’s house to put their horses in the livery. Once they were unloaded, he started back afoot. Then he recalled he needed to send those two a telegram. Maybe they could answer him. How lucky had they been to find her? Such a vast land and if not for those damn horse thieves, they would have ridden on. Maybe there was something to Hannah’s thinking about her spirits.

Dear Hurley, In Marble Falls Texas. Connors has been here. Will stay a day if you want to send me a message. He told the telegrapher he’d check back for a return message. The man agreed. Back at the Doc’s, Hannah was sitting in the lobby. “She is sleeping. But she says she is better and the doctor told me she is a strong person or she’d already died. Her ribs were broken from him kicking her.” “She’s lucky to be alive.” He was amazed because he knew Connors had tried to kill Nanna in his rage. Then she spoke in a lower voice. “But she’s not with his child. She lost it after she came here.” He nodded. That was a good thing, but she’d be sore for a long time. “We better go find a place to eat.” “I am terribly expensive for you to take long.”


119 “When I get broke, I’ll complain about that.” “Sometimes you are not serious enough toward me.” “Hannah, you’re a hard worker. You have earned much more than you have received in my feeding you.” She didn’t say a word for half a block. “You called me that twice. I’m glad for that. I know I’m Indian and you have been called a squaw man, but does that not bother you?” “Hell, woman, I’m looking for the killer who shot my bride. That is all I think about. How to get him is my main goal in life. If I overlooked you I am sorry.’” “I know what you must do. I would simply like to continue on with you.” “You found—” She reached out and hugged his arm. “Yes, I found her. But in these last days I have found you.” He looked up at the sign. Good Food Café. He

indicated for her to enter. A large grizzly man stood in their path when we stepped in the door, blocking our way. “You read that sign out there?” “Yeah, says Good Food Café.” “We can go some other place,” Hannah said, acting taken back by him and ready to leave. “It says, No dogs. No Niggers, No Indians.” “Mister, if you don’t step aside, I’m going to blow the damn daylights out of you.” “Better listen to him, McMurray,” the large deputy said, standing behind the man. “He shot Henry Wright for stealing his horses last night. I know this guy, he’s damn tough.” “In that case, have the second table, Thanks Monk.” The man wiped his hands on the towel he had wadded up in them and stepped aside. “Thanks,” Dailey said to the deputy.


120 The deputy smiled, tipped his hat to Hannah. “Was she the one you were looking for?” “Oh, yes and she will be fine now. Thank you twice.” The deputy left and they were seated. A waitress took their order and he sat back in the chair and said to Hannah, “Sorry.” “You sure impressed the law man anyway.” Hannah had a smile for that. Their meal was a typical plate lunch. He decided they’d look elsewhere for their next one. “That doctor tell you what he thought about when she could be moved?” “Maybe weeks.” “I can leave you money to get by with.” “She is in good hands. They don’t care that she is an Indian. They have been nice to her. I will go on with you. I can cook, do other things, and I hope I can get the spirits to help you find him.” “I believe in your spirits helping you. I am not ready for a wife—another one in my life.” She glared at him. “Did I ask you to marry me?” “No.” “Good. I said I would help you. Pack horses and all. I was the one who woke you when they were stealing your horses. See? You need me.” “You have been super help. I appreciate everything you have done for me. But-but it is awkward—oh, never mind.” “Then I can ride on with you?” “What choice do I have?” She went back to eating like she was starved. Then she stopped and said, “None, I would follow you anyway.” “I have a lady in Kansas who is waiting for me.” Hannah shrugged. “She can wait.” He didn’t know what that meant, but it made his mind go forward even deeper in the mud of his confusion. The telegram came from Kansas and Hurley had wired a hundred dollars for expense money. Busier by the day, Hurley said, and they sure needed him whenever he finished his job. But they understood his determination The telegram read:

We are fine. Lorrie is a great housekeeper and cook. You did a wonderful job finding her. She says you promised to come back for her. I sure want you back. I have three young men hired to help me. Our business is really growing. Wire me again. I know you must be near out of money so I have sent you a hundred dollars. “That is her name, Lorrie?” “Yes that’s her name. A lady I met on the road and sent her up there to look after him. He’s a hell of a businessman, but Heidi did all his housework and stuff. His wife died years ago. When I walked in his store, two guys had the drop on him and were holding him up. I stopped that and during the fight he fainted. But hey, he was a working fool. Well, we better decide if we sleep in the livery hay or—” “Livery hay is fine with me. I will tell Nanna we will be back for her and I will take her home.” He agreed to that easily. “We’re going to run him down. Thanks, you did save my horses and have helped me a lot. I wouldn’t be here otherwise. Tell her your deal and I’ll probably be asleep when you get back.” “I know. We’ll get up and go when the sunlight comes.” “Yes, early birds get the worms, my daddy always said. Truthfully I never wanted them.” She laughed and went back to see about her sister. •

Dawn found the two of them back on the road. It was a cool morning, but the Texas sun would heat it up quickly. He felt more at ease, but when Conner had her sister with him, lots of people took note of them, especially a man with an Indian woman. Dailey wondered if folks would notice Connors by himself. That was the main way he’d tracked him, was by word of mouth. Connors was headed in a general direction south and toward San Antonio. But it was near dark before a freighter that he stopped said he’d seen him on the road early that morning going south. Day two, no one he waved down would talk to him or they had not seen such a man. They camped on a


122 creek that night, and he was having growing doubts they were anywhere near Connors. When it became dark, she took a bath in the water and returned to the small campfire, looking fresh. He was too tired to consider bathing by then and turned in. Next night, they reached the Guadalupe River and he took a bath. While he was at it, he washed his clothes and wore a towel in camp to let them dry. She heated water and shaved him by the firelight. It was obvious she’d done that before and he never bothered to ask her where. He knew less about her than any woman he’d ever been around that long. He didn’t consider himself a lady’s man, and sure never fancied any ideas like that. But he figured she’d tell him if she wanted him to know about her life, and since he had no place in it, he figured she saw no need in telling him about it. There were no leads saying that Connors had been this way by anyone they spoke to. Less than a day’s ride from San Antonio, he was feeling he might have failed and lost the man. He’d scour the town and speak to lawmen—by this time Connors probably was thinking about a robbery to raise some money. That’s what his woman said he’d do, rob banks and stagecoaches. Texas was getting plum civilized and the Rangers were back— carpetbaggers were gone at last. The law wasn’t letting things run wide open any more. She finished up shaving him, and with a wet cloth in her hand, searched for any soap or whiskers she’d left on him. She turned his face to the firelight and examined him close. “What will you do next?” “Talk to the law. Sheriffs and Rangers. Maybe someone heard of him or saw him. I knew when he didn’t have her along with him folks would not notice him by himself, not like they did seeing an Injun woman along.” “That the same for you?” “I bet so.” “You want me to leave?” “No, he’ll show up.” “Good, I wasn’t going to leave that easy.” He laughed. No, she probably wouldn’t, but only an Indian woman would say it like that.

When they got to San Antonio, the large sheriff’s department’s man he spoke to hadn’t heard about Cyrus Connors, but he took his name. The Ranger station knew nothing. So he made camp on the river and left her there at night while he went to check out places like cantinas and saloons that Connors might be in if he was in town. During the daytime, the two of them visited blacksmith shops, livery stables, and even the stockyards. He was about to give up when he was stopped on the street by a man he knew from Abilene, Kansas. “John Dailey, how the hell have you been?” “Holt Karnes. I hardly recognized you in that expensive suit.” “Why last time I saw you was in Kansas. I’d lost all my money in a card game and you staked me to twenty.” Dailey nodded. “You were in bad shape. You must be doing better today.” “I am, and I’ve been doing better ever since then. I made some profitable drives to Kansas and own a large ranch now. Don’t gamble any more, neither. What are you doing now?” They went in a saloon and he told Karnes about his deal and how he was looking for her killer. When he finished the beer, Holt said, “I can find that scutter in two days if you let me and if he’s here. Where are you staying?” “Camped out on the river west.” “Why, hell, you’ve got to move over to my ranch today and stay with me and the wife.” “I have an Indian woman with me.” “That don’t matter. We can find him if he’s around here. My wife won’t mind you and her being there. She’s a dandy, that wife of mine. Her name’s Julie and she will love to meet you and her. You move out there today and I’ll draw you a map. Meanwhile I’ll put out the word that I need to find this guy for you.” “He’s a killer, so don’t take him yourself.” “Aw, hell I hire people to do that.” When he parted with Holt, he hurried back to camp. He felt a little brighter. It wasn’t time to give up yet.


123 When he finally reached camp, she rose to meet him. “Learn anything?” “We’re moving to a guy’s ranch to camp and he has lots of leads to help us.” She looked suspicious. “Where did you meet him?” “Years ago in Abilene. I loaned him twenty dollars after he’d got roughed up in a card game and lost all of his money, and he ain’t never forgot me. He’s rich now.” She pouted like she was deep in thought before she smiled. “Spirits, huh?” “Yeah, you’re right. They’ve struck again.” “Good.” “We better get loaded up. We may have found a friend we need. Oh, he said his wife’s name is dang, oh, yes—Julie. He told me she was a real nice gal.” “Guess we’ll see.” “Why Hannah, you would get along with the devil.”

“I thought I did every day.” Arms full of a packsaddle, he scowled. “That ain’t fair.” She came up with the second packsaddle and pads and elbowed him in the back. “Can’t you smile anymore?” He straightened and looked after her, thick braids swinging behind her. Was he being that serious? Considering the circumstances, and the turn of events losing Connors’s trail, he hadn’t felt very comforting to himself, let alone her. “I’ll try to buck up, girl.” She was adjusting the pad and the cross buck in place on the horse’s back. “It sure wouldn’t hurt none.” “And don’t you lift those panniers. I can do that.” “Oh, now I am Miss Priss and can’t do that?” “They’re too damn heavy.” He stepped over with some effort to sling the first one on the horse’s back. “So what? They have to go on the horses.” He hoisted the second on, elbowed the horse’s butt


124 over, and hung it on him. She finished up the saddling number two and he hung the first one on him. “Catch your breath,” she said. “Hell, Hannah, I have been right on his tracks for over a month. Then I flat lost him.” “If he was so easy to catch the U. S. Marshals would have had him a long time ago. That man is a fox and besides he is a real smooth talker. Nanna was no pushover. She went with him with mother and me screaming for her not to go.” He moved her aside with a headshake over her orneriness and then hoisted the last pannier in place with her helping him get the straps over the cross bucks. Next she took hold of one side of the tarp and together they covered the load. He started the diamond hitch on that one and she tarped down the other loaded packhorse. In minutes, they were saddled and moving on the Fredericksburg Road going west. He had Brody in a running walk and felt a little better. Connors was no simple outlaw. She was right. Maybe his friend Holt with all his connections could learn something about him in San Antonio. We rode up to a nice ranch set up off the main road. A fine looking woman in her twenties came out on the porch at sundown. He removed his hat. “You must be Julie, ma’am. My name is John Dailey. That’s Hannah. I knew him in Abilene—” She blinked in disbelief. “He said you saved his life one night.” “That’s kinda stretching it, but I helped him.” “He told me that story many times.” “Well, he said to come out here and camp.” “Camp, my foot. You two can sleep in this house. I can show you where to put your horses as soon as I get a lamp lit.” “I better tell her we aren’t married,” he said, when he went back to Hannah to gather the horses. She elbowed him. “You don’t have to.” Then she began undoing one of the diamond hitches. In the dying light he frowned at her. “Hannah, don’t be doing that.”

“Oh, I’m not. But I wanted to let you know that I didn’t care.” She poked him in the stomach. “Thanks.” He folded up the tarp and she had the other one ready to hang over the corral. Julie came with her lantern and showed him where to store the panniers off the first horse. Hannah unsaddled that one and he hauled in the other pannier to the tack room. “You two make a good working pair,” Julie said. “This isn’t your first unloading party is it?” “No, we can load and go fast,” Hannah said. “I guess you two have a story to tell me.” “I’ll let him tell you. I am a caboose on this train,” Hannah said. Julie was amused. “I have enough hot food ready to feed you two. I’m excited. I never thought I’d meet the man who saved my husband’s life and here he came to see me.” He was a little embarrassed by her words as they headed to wash up on her back porch, dry their hands, and go in her well-lit kitchen. “Sit down. I can serve you. Tell me why you’re here.” “I was up in Kansas and stopped in a store, found two men holding it up and had a shootout. The man who owned it wanted me to go to work for him and he had a daughter. We became engaged and on our wedding day, a brother of one of the men I shot rode up to shoot me and instead shot her while she was trying to save me.” “Oh, no.” Julie looked horrified. “I had a run-in with one of his kin up at Wichita, then I made a raid on his family place in the Indian Territory, but he got away. Then down near the Red River he took Hannah’s sister and ran off. We trailed them to south of Fort Worth. At Marble Falls we found her sister. She will live but he beat her up badly. It was good we found her, but we lost his trail down near San Antonio. Met Holt there and he told us he’d try to find him for me or learn where he might be at.” “Then?” “Hannah and I are not married. She wanted to find her sister. We did that and now she is helping me try to find Cyrus Connors.” “Wow, I bet you two are ready to sleep. Holt will be back tomorrow night or the next day. He may have some answers


125 for you, I hope. Hannah, you can sleep in the library. Dailey, you get the last room upstairs at the end of the hall. The library bed is a smaller one. All right?” “Yes. We’re grateful. Thank you so much,” Hannah said. “She’s right and, we are tired,” he said. “A few days’ rest won’t hurt us. We appreciate your accepting us.” “Hey, anyone who saved my man can move in my place and stay here as long as you want to.” “Oh, it wasn’t that big a deal.” “You listen to Holt’s side of that story and you will know who saved his life.” Dailey shook his head. She showed them to the rooms. He closed the door when she left. Enough starlight was coming in the open window he didn’t need a lamp to undress by and climb in the fresh bed. Peaceful place. He soon fell asleep. Would he ever capture her killer? He hoped. •

Julie was up early and made a large breakfast. After the meal, Hannah took over washing the dishes. He thanked Julie and went for a look around the place. The corrals were built stout. Holt’s saddle horses were all good stock, no hammerheads in the lot. He had a few first-calf heifers bumping a calf in a small pasture where they could be watched. Two young shorthorn bulls bawled at him for some feed. He decided Holt was feeding the pair to get some growth on them before he turned them out with his cows. The barn was in great repair and the blacksmith shed set up to fix things. Hay stacks and all, Holt made a good ranch manager. Dailey met the older Mexican man who worked the place. “Señor, can you hear the windmill squeaking?” “No, why?” “Oh the señor can hear a tiny creak and he will say, ‘Pedro you need to grease them.’” He shook his head under the sombrero. “I don’t hear so good no more.” “You’re fine. No squeak. This place is certainly neat.” Pedro’s face beamed. “Gracias, señor. We’re very proud of this ranch too.”

“You should be. It’s a great place.” Dailey went on back to the house. He needed to wire Hurley and Lorrie again. It might be some time before they left this place unless Holt found something shortly about her killer’s whereabouts. The two women were working bread dough on the table. “You find anything needs fixed?” Hannah asked him. He shook my head and winked at Julie. “She treats me like that all the time.” “That’s good compared to the usual things I do to him,” Hannah said. “I’ll pour you some coffee but you can’t have Pedro. The way Holt runs around I’d be in bad shape without him.” “He’s a grand old man. He said his hearing is getting bad and asked was either of the windmills creaking. He said Holt had the ears of an eagle.” Julie poured him coffee. “You can leave Hannah here. She’s a worker too.” Hannah frowned. “Don’t tell him that. He looks for excuses enough to leave me behind anyway.” “Oh, I’m sorry.” “I’m not leaving her unless I think it would endanger her life to go with me.” “See, you aren’t as disposable as you thought,” Julie said. “What is that word?” “Means he’s not going to throw you away.” “How far is the closest telegraph key?” he asked. “Fredericksburg. If you have a fast horse you can go and get back by supper.” He stood astraddle a kitchen chair and hurriedly drank his coffee. “I promise I will be back, Hannah.” She shook her head. “Remember. I’m Indian and I will track you down if you don’t.” “I know. I’ll be back for supper, ma’am,” he said. Brody needed a quick brush job ’cause he’d rolled over and over to stop the itching. Then the saddle was thrown on him and Dailey rode in a short-lope for town. The town was on the river and he found the telegraph office easily.


126 Hurley and Lorrie, Dear John Dailey, I am in this town for a few days. Lost his tracks but some leads. It will be best if I marry Lorrie. I know you are many miles away Staying at a friend’s ranch. Hope to get leads. More later. still chasing Heidi’s killer. But something has arose and we both love each other. We both still want you to return and be partners in our store He paid the telegrapher the thirty cents, told him his business. If you need more money wire me. Please bless our union. name and where he was staying in case Hurley sent one back, then thanked him. He wasn’t much of a drinker, “What did it say?” so the row of bars had little appeal. He swung up in the “He is going to marry a woman I sent to be his keeper. saddle and reined Brody around. No problem in that, she is a good woman. That’s how “Hey, ain’t that you, John Dailey?” things work out. I’ll answer him.” He spun the gelding around and saw an old acquaintance coming down the boardwalk on a stiff leg. Dear Lorrie and Hurley, “Yeah it’s me. Billy Yarnell,” the man said. I wish you two the best in your marriage. I am close to finding “Why, Bill, what happened to your leg?” him I hope. I still plan to return and be your partner. I am staying “Horse went down in a prairie dog hole in a stampede. with a friend near San Antonio. God bless both of you. Them boys tried to set it. They did their best. Wasn’t a real doctor around anywhere up there. Hell, man, I can He paid the boy and tipped him plus gave him his answer walk and swing it over a horse’s butt. Only been throwed to their wire. Then he excused himself to walk the youth twice since I got in this shape.” out to his horse and see him off. When the boy rode off, he “Good to see you. I’m staying at Holt’s place.” discovered Hannah standing behind him in the twilight. “You’re sure looking good, hoss.” Bill waved him on. “I saw your reaction to the letter when you read it “I’ll see you again.” aloud. Did you still consider her as your intended?” Dailey was back at the ranch in time for supper. “Sort of. Yes, but that—” Holt was there when he returned. “I am sorry. I thought you were without a woman.” “Your man Connors is staying with some tough “I have been—well, I met Lorrie before I met you hombres in the barrio. I think I can get a few lawmen and I couldn’t promise her anything. But she was in a to back us and we can take him in custody down there. tight place up there at Wichita. I simply liked her, and I A couple of Ranger buddies of mine who remember knew Hurley needed a housekeeper and I paid her way you said they’d help us.” up there when he wired me back he wanted her.” “Sounds good.” He nodded at Hannah. “More spirit “Are you hurt then?” work, huh?” “No. I loved Heidi. I lost her and I want her killer “What’s that mean?” Holt asked. brought to justice. I have that one thing grinding at my “Oh, Hannah gets some help for this job from her guts. He’s still loose and free. “ Choctaw Spirits.” “I know your guilt. My sister running off with him She smiled and laughed. “He even believes in them.” was my fault.” After supper, a young boy on a sweaty pony brought He shook his head. “But you came on with me after a long telegram for. He asked if there was a reply. we found her?” Dailey told him to wait for his answer, then took “I did. I knew you needed help, even if you could not the telegram in to the living room to read under the see me there I knew you needed me.” brighter light of a lamp. He opened his arms and hugged her. “In a short while we will get him. Then when my mind is clear of


128 this whole thing—when it is over we can go somewhere in the wilderness and find ourselves.” Her tears soaked into his shirt and she shook in his arms. Had the spirits spoken? • • • In the coolest part of the Texas morning, the hooves of five horses clopped on the hard caliche street. They rode up in the shadowy half hour before dawn, past the wood sellers’ line of burros burdened by sticks for firewood cooking. Other burros were bearers of water. A rooster or two crowed. Dailey had an empty spot in his belly and a large-mouthed monster inside that cavity chewing at his guts. Three Rangers he’d just met accompanied him. Their tin centavo-stamped badges glinted on their vests under the stars. His friend Holt dismounted when they stopped. “The second door is the place.” One of the Rangers looked at the rooflines so he could identify that house he’d indicated and then slipped between the two houses with his gun in hand. He would cover the back door. The head Ranger Brant went to the first door. It was locked. He and the other officer lined up and both used their boots to smash it open. “Hands in the air. We are Texas Rangers and you all are under arrest under the authority of the Texas Criminal Court.” Dailey and Holt slipped in behind them. Dailey could only see some haggard looking forms in the dim light raising their hands as they got up. Which one was Connors? “Light a lamp,” Brant told a woman. “And be quick. Rest of you keep your hands high and get up against the wall over there.” Dailey heard feet scrambling across the roof and ran for the back of the house. He simply knew it was Connors getting away and he must have been sleeping up there. “Throw down your gun or I will kill her.” That must be Connor’s voice and he was talking to the Ranger in the back yard. The Ranger held up his hand to stop the others and held the gun barrel to his mouth to warn anyone seeing him. Connors was coming down the stairs with a woman hostage

but Dailey could only see her skirt. He stood back under the straw-roofed porch and Connors couldn’t see him. “Don’t try nothing hombre,” Connors warned the Ranger in the back yard. His gritty boot soles were taking his time descending with her. Dailey had his gun cocked and aimed at the opening where the outlaw would soon appear. The woman ahead Connors was crying in fear. Then he made the next step that showed his boots, next his pants legs, at last his waist and bare back. Dailey shot for his heart. She pitched forward. Through the veil of gun smoke Connors went down head first. Then Dailey holstered his gun and ran to see about the woman. She was holding her arm, seated on the ground, but his wife’s killer was not moving, sprawled face down in the dirt. The gun was gone from his grasp and the Ranger joined them. “Good shooting. We could really use you back on the force.” “I might like that, but I have a store to help run in Kansas and a young lady who I need to talk real serious to after this event. But other than all that I wouldn’t mind being a Ranger again. Those were the best years in my life. Thanks for the offer.” “You got him?” Holt asked, joining him. “Yes. We better see about her arm,” Dailey said, motioning toward the woman. “She took a bad fall.” “You all right?” Holt asked, still sounding concerned. “I’ll be fine. We get this all this business over I need to go back to your place. Hannah will wonder where I am.” “You’re going back to Kansas?” “That’s my plans right now.” Holt shook his head looking relieved that it was over. “Whew, I ain’t been in anything like this in a long time. Not since our cattle driving days back up in Kansas.” “Yeah, all you Rangers,” I said to them. “Thanks a lot. I’ve been trailing him from way up there in Kansas.” “Yeah, we heard he shot your bride up there.” “He did.” But he was dead at last. Brant spoke up. “You two can go. We can take care of the rest of this business here.”


129 Dailey agreed. “If I can ever repay you guys, let me know.” “Be safe,” Brant said, and they all shook hands. •

Mid-day, when she saw them coming up the lane, Hannah came on the run, in a brand new blue dress. Why, she looked prettier than a frosted cake. Dailey stepped off Brody and tossed the reins for Holt to hold them so he could catch her in his arms. “It’s all over. He’s dead, ” He kissed her. “Them damn spirits are still working for you. Reckon you’d marry me?” “Silly, of course I will, Squaw Man.” All four of them laughed. It was a great day for him in the Lone Star State, and having Hannah for his future wife would be another great adventure. He really looked forward to riding back with her to Kansas. They had a busy store to help run up there. He had forgotten all about it, but he’d better wire his partners that they were coming back. He was so busy enjoying having Hanna in his arms to kiss and hug her tight with no restrictions, he’d plumb overlooked the store. They could get married any time. This time he wasn’t taking any chances on missing out. They’d start their honeymoon right there that night.

The End Hey Partner, I hope you enjoyed this latest story. Thanks so much for being my supporters. If you have any questions or comments, email me at dustyrichards@cox.net. Check out my website at dustyrichardslegacy. com, follow me on Facebook or Twitter, or send me a letter by snail mail at PO Box 6460 Springdale, AR 72766. —DR

Dusty Richards

D

usty Richards grew up riding horses and watching his western heroes on the big screen. He even wrote book reports for his classmates, making up westerns since English teachers didn’t read that kind of book. But his mother didn’t want him to be a cowboy, so he went to college, then worked for Tyson Foods and auctioned cattle when he wasn’t an anchor on television. But his lifelong dream was to write the novels he loved. He sat on the stoop of Zane Grey’s cabin and promised that he’d get published. And in 1992, his first book, Noble’s Way, hit the shelves. Since then, he’s had 140 more come out. He is a sought-after speaker and master of ceremonies, and has served as President of Ozarks Writers League, and Western Writers of America. If he can steal some time, he also like to fish for trout on the Buffalo River. Find out more about Dusty and his many books at www. dustyrichardslegacy.com


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the

Telegraph Tree by Linda Broday

Kansas Prairie 1880 “Come on, Belle, get on out of there. You’re a dumb cow, you know that? How on God’s green earth did you find what is surely the only mud hole left in all of Kansas?” Maura Killion blew a strand of chestnut hair from her face and stared at the brown and white Jersey bogged down up to her hocks. Belle’s frightened bellows and eyes rolling back in her head struck a blow to Maura’s heart. Tears clogged in Maura’s throat. She sagged against the milk cow, cursing this godforsaken land that had stolen her husband before he’d even known he was to be a father and left her all alone with a broken spirit. If not for her baby girl, Allie Rose, she’d give up completely. At three months old, the babe depended on her for survival, so she had no choice but to keep going. When Maura’s milk dried up four days ago, fear paralyzed her. Allie would die without nourishment from the cow. She glanced at the infant lying in a basket at the edge of the bog. How the child could sleep with all the racket was a mystery. Even when awake, Allie seldom ever cried. It was as if she, too, had lost the will to live. Sudden anger swept through Maura. Giving up was not an option. God help her, she’d fight to give her baby girl the right to thrive and grow up strong. Though the thick mud of the buffalo wallow sucked at her legs, gripping them like bands of iron, Maura made her way to Belle’s wide rump. With loud shouts and a mighty shove, she applied the last of her waning strength. The cow must’ve sensed her desperation because

somehow, someway, Belle managed to pull herself out. Maura collapsed into a sobbing heap under the mid-morning sun. This was too hard. She raised her head and stared at the vast blue sky that seemed to swallow everything, leaving nothing but empty dreams, loneliness, and sorrow. She’d scream if she had energy left. This land took and took, giving nothing back except endless days and hopeless nights. Maura wearily pushed aside the drowning sensation. Gathering the wicker basket cradling Allie, she yelled to the cow, “Come along, Belle, you ornery critter. If you happen to find yourself in another mess today you’re on your own. I’m done for.” Belle’s last bellow of indignation seemed to say she took exception; nonetheless she followed along docile as a lamb. With the mud in Maura’s shoes creating sucking sounds, she trudged through waves of tall brown grass toward the little soddy that sheltered them. No matter how big a toll this land took on her she’d keep putting one foot in front of the other. For Baby Girl and for the slim hope that someday her struggle would all be worth it. She had no other choice. •

An angry howling wind battered at the door all night, insisting she let it in. Feeling as though she’d only crawled into bed, Maura rose and started her day.


132 Allie stared silently from a crib fashioned from a crate Maura had lined with part of an old frayed quilt. Apparently, Baby Girl hadn’t slept either. When Maura’s time had come three months ago, she gathered her fortitude and delivered the baby herself. Mrs. Fletcher, who lived on a farm eight miles away, promised to help with the birthing, but the wind and emptiness drove the woman mad. She’d taken her own life two months before Allie arrived. Now, with Mrs. Fletcher gone, no one remained within twenty-five miles. Maura changed Allie’s diaper, then put the babe in a sling contraption tied around her neck, and went out to milk Belle. Thirty minutes later, she patiently spooned milk into Allie’s mouth. She returned the babe to the sling and trudged out to hitch the plow to her mule. Time to plant a garden if they expected to eat. Halfway through the plowing, she stopped and leaned against the mule to catch her breath. A spindly tree no more than five feet high standing at the edge of the homestead snagged her attention. It was the only tree as far as the eye could see, and the branches spread wide as though challenging the wind to rip it out by the roots. She’d often wondered who’d planted it. Other nesters? Had they been dreamers who yearned for a bit of green? She’d noticed the tree before but had never heard it whisper in the wind. Never heard it call to her. Until now. Speak your heart, it seemed to say. As though in a trance, she dropped the mule’s reins and went into the soddy. Finding a scrap of paper, she dipped a goose quill into a small bottle of ink.

No one would ever read her scribbles. No one would ever hear her heart’s hope, but she felt a calm wash over her for having voiced her thoughts. Feeling somewhat renewed, she spooned more milk into Allie’s rosebud mouth before returning to her plow. •

During the night, a snarling pack of coyotes awakened Maura. They were very close to the soddy. She rose and lit the lamp. Snatching up the loaded Winchester that had belonged to her husband, she opened the door about six inches. At least half a dozen pairs or more of glittering yellow eyes stared back at her. The way they bared their razor sharp teeth and lunged at each other’s throats, they had to be from rival packs. She stilled her trembling. Opening the door a little wider, she aimed at the predators and pulled the trigger. One went down. Three of the pack pounced on their brother, feasting and snarling. Orange flame shot from the barrel of her rifle again, then again. At last, pulling the dead coyote, they retreated into the safety of darkness. Fear crawled up her spine. They were still out there whether she could see them or not. And they sensed her terror. They’d kill her without hesitation. Holding the lantern up high, she inched toward a large dark form lying several yards away. Her cow? Relief made her knees weak when she found it was a dead antelope brought down by the coyotes. A quick glance at the barn assured her she’d remembered to bar the door earlier. She couldn’t take any chances with Allie’s only milk supply. I fear I’m going mad like Mrs. Fletcher. This blessed silence Allie! She had to get back to Baby Girl. is a curse. Dead dreams and solitude fill the unending days. But she had herself to think about also. This meat I yearn for a touch, a smile, and the sound of another would feed her for weeks. Her clothes hung on her human voice. I long to be loved, cherished, kissed. To know because she’d had so little to eat. I matter. Did she dare to fight the vicious coyotes for what she could salvage? After punching a hole in the paper, she found a piece Without hesitation, she grabbed the antelope’s hind of yarn. Marching across the partially plowed furrows, leg and yanked. Halfway to the soddy, the coyotes started she tied the paper onto one of the limbs. closing in. They would risk death to get the fresh carcass.


133 She put the rifle to her shoulder and fired. One lunged at her and she shot it. Bone-chilling snarls echoed in the night air. Unable to remember how many shots she’d fired, panic gripped her. If she ran out, they’d swoop in for the kill. Maybe she should abandon the antelope and let them have it. Allie’s life and hers depended on this food. She’d not quit. She couldn’t. Tightening her grip and using her remaining strength, she managed to drag the antelope up next to the wall of the soddy. No time to rest her aching muscles. She hurried inside for a sharp knife and began cutting off chunks of the meat while keeping one eye out for the desperate, hungry predators. By the time rosy ribbons of light finally spread over

the land, she’d washed off the blood and went in to feed Allie. The babe had become even more listless and that struck fear so deep into Maura’s soul she couldn’t breathe. Over the course of an hour, she managed to trickle some nourishment into the child’s open mouth without strangling her. But she needed more. Sobbing with frustration, Maura had to find a better way of getting milk into Baby Girl or her daughter would surely die. Gathering her sharp knife, Maura again tempted fate, going out to harvest the antelope’s stomach. She’d heard tales of such things serving as a feeding implement for babies. Willing to try anything, she gently removed the stomach and formed a makeshift pouch by sewing it tight with some of the animal’s sinew. Several washings with hot water made it ready for use. She quickly filled it with milk.


134 Minutes later, Allie sucked greedily from a pinhole olive branch, some hope of better times like the bird left unbound. Once full, the babe gave her a weak smile. once had to Noah. This was going to work. Maura said a quick prayer of Maura stared across the unending waves of brown thanks and knew just how to share her joy. grass that stretched as far as the eye could see. She needed to believe. She needed something besides toil and exhaustion. • • • Most of all she needed to feel alive again. This couldn’t be all there was. There had to be more. That morning Maura got out her paper and wrote: Thanks be to God from whom all blessings flow. I have food and I’ve pushed death away from my door yet again. I won’t let it have my baby. I won’t let it silence my hope. Then trudging across the furrowed garden to the little tree, she tied it to a branch. Now two notes fluttered in the breeze like little doves carrying messages. She desperately wanted one to return with a green leaf, an

Though exhausted by the long previous night, she kept busy. When dusk came she thought back over her day and all she’d accomplished. The dead carcasses lay well out of range of the soddy for the wild animals to finish devouring. Her food stores were replenished. The antelope stew with its thick juice simmering on


135 the stove filled the dwelling with a delicious aroma. She moved over to stir it, remembering the joy she took from serving this dish to her dear husband. Of course, they’d had cornbread to go with it then. She’d had plenty of flour and meal in those days. He’d come in after a full day’s work, sniff the air, and a smile would spread over his face. Then he’d put his arms around her and nuzzle her neck. Tell her how much he loved her. Oh God, how she missed that man. She brushed away a tear and glanced over at Allie. Maura had fed her every two hours. Color had begun to come back into the babe’s wan little face, a testament the makeshift bottle would do its job. Before complete darkness descended, Maura got out her paper and tore off another piece. Is there anyone out there? Am I and my baby the only ones left on this earth? I desperately need to know, to hope. When she closed her eyes in sleep, she dreamed of a man with laughing gray eyes and strong callused hands. •

The image stayed with her when she awakened. Who was this man of her dreams? Her husband’s eyes had been dark brown and he’d had a withered hand. A strange sound met her ears. A baby’s coos. Maura peered into the wooden cradle. Allie was staring at her hand and cooing. “Hey there, little darlin’. How’s my girl? I hope you’re hungry because I’ll have some warm milk as soon as I get Belle in the mood of giving.” Tears stung her eyes. She lay back on the pillow, contemplating this wonderful gift she’d been given. And so began her day. After feeding Allie, she put the child in the sling around her chest and went to work. She had to get seed into the ground. More spring rain would hopefully come, and she wanted to have her plot of land ready.

But before she got started, she tied her late night note onto the little scraggly tree. In a way, it was like talking to God. No one would ever read them, but they helped relieve her frustration and voice the deep loneliness seeping into her soul. With the notes rustling in the wind murmuring words of hope, she went about the job of living. •

The next morning after feeding Allie and herself, she got out her writing implements. I dreamed of strong arms around me, holding me with love. Am I destined to never know that again? I yearn to hear another’s heart beating softly next to me, feel his touch on my body. I cannot bear the thought of living the rest of my days all alone. Once more, she tied it to the tree. Then she jerked back. One note did not belong to her. It had a bright red string. She always used a length of gray yarn. Who could’ve put this strange one there? Maura quickly glanced around, scanning the flat land. Nothing. No evidence of another human within sight. Nothing but this note to say another had walked near. She fumbled at the red string with trembling fingers. At last she got it untied it and read: You are not alone. I am here. I care. You matter to someone. You matter to me. A tear trickled silently down her cheek. Someone felt her pain and took the time to let her know. She carefully retied it to the branch and again surveyed the area. Still no movement anywhere. Over the next three weeks, Maura and this mysterious person conversed back and forth. She learned his name was Sam and that he worked for Western Union Telegraph Company as a lineman in charge of repairing broken telegraph poles and downed lines. She savored each of the lonely widower’s messages.


136 One of Sam’s notes read: If wishes were dreams I would hold you in my arms, darling Maura, and never let you go. Each time the sun goes down I kiss you goodnight and dream of your beautiful face. What do you wish for, pretty lady? She quickly penned a reply. Sam, you don’t know how much you’ve come to mean to me. My wish would be for your strong arms around me, your lips on mine, our hearts beating as one. I dream of meeting you beneath the stars and walking hand in hand across the heavens.

to Julesberg, Colorado Territory. I’m so sorry. Knowing you has meant the world to me. I wish you well, dearest Maura. Think of me from time to time with fondness, as I will you. When the wind blows from the west and gently touches your face it’ll be my fingers caressing you. Pain doubled her over. He was gone. Maura fell weeping into the cushion of tall grass. Once again she had no one to talk to, to share the lonely day’s struggles with. No one to care. Sam had surely died also even though she had no grave to visit. •

One month went by then two more with each day Their conversations through the notes brought Maura much comfort and strength. Though they never crawling straight into the next. Nothing to break the monotony. met, she developed a deep abiding love for this man. Nothing to ease the isolation. Each morning she couldn’t wait to visit the tree and see Nothing to bring solace when the rigors of life beat the new notes waving gaily in the breeze. He was the green her down. leaf, the olive branch she’d desperately wanted to find. After carefully removing each note, Maura tucked Her heart skipped several beats when she received them safely away and avoided the place that had brought this one: her much happiness. Yet, when the morning sun’s golden rays caressed the What is the face of love to you, dearest Maura? outstretched branches of the sad little tree, she paused for just a moment remembering the man named Sam To which she immediately replied: who had taught her to dream again. She’d felt his touch, his kisses even though they’d existed solely in words. It’s what’s inside a person’s heart, deep down past the scars Because of Sam and the strength he’d given her she of hurt and grief. You wear the face of love, darling Sam. was able to go about the business of living and caring Maura floated through the days, feeling loved and for her darling daughter. He’d given Maura much more cherished. Sam was the answer to her heart’s yearning. than he knew. And when the wind blew from the west, He’d given her strength and hope and courage. No task she felt him watching over her. Allie grew and continued to thrive. The child babbled was too difficult or impossible. His words of love made her feel like a woman again. She’d almost forgotten continuously. Maura taught her to say “Mama” and made a point to laugh at her silly antics. what that felt like. On a sweltering summer morning in August, she Then one day this message came that shocked her to casually glanced out the window while she prepared her core: breakfast. Something waved from the little tree. Her imagination My job in this part of Kansas is over. They’re sending me


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played a cruel joke on her for sure. Still, Maura ran outside to get a better look. Shielding her eyes against the sun, she could barely see a glimpse of red, but it was there. Trembling, she grabbed Allie and raced across the small field from which rows of corn, squash, turnips, and other vegetables grew. When she drew closer, she saw a man sitting beneath the branches, propped up against the trunk. He grinned wide. She slowed to a walk. What if this stranger had evil on his mind? Her rifle still rested on the wall of the soddy. Something inside told her to keep going. His laughing gray eyes held kindness like the man in her dream. A voice whispered she had nothing to fear. Five yards away from him, he pushed to his feet. He stood over six feet tall. “Sam? Sam, is it you?” “It’s me. I’ve wanted to meet you for a long time, Maura.” He held out his hand. “Come here.”

In a daze, Maura lowered Allie to the grass then went into his welcoming arms. “I thought I lost you,” she whispered. “I found that no matter how hard I tried, you’re impossible to forget. I had to get back here. So I quit my job and rode night and day to get here. I was afraid my ugly mug would frighten you. That’s why I didn’t come to the house and knock on the door either today or all those times when we tied our messages to the Telegraph Tree here.” The Telegraph Tree. What an apt name. She stepped back to drink in the sight of him. A long scar ran from his cheek to his square jaw, but she’d never felt safer. He was beautiful. She took his hands and noticed they bore big calluses. “Sam, this may sound odd, but I dreamt of you before we ever started corresponding. At the time, though, it made no sense to me.” “It must’ve been Heaven’s way of an introduction.


139 The Good Lord appears to be an architect in these matters.” Sam knelt to say hello to Allie and brush her soft golden curls. “I used to hide in the tall grass and watch you both. I saw how hard you worked and wished for the courage to knock on your door. You’re the kind of woman I always wanted, nothing like my wife who could barely stomach the sight of me after I came back from war.” Maura’s heart broke for him. “Let’s forget the past. We’ve had too much sorrow.” Sam rose and gently caressed Maura’s cheek. “Do you mind if I kiss you?” “I thought you’d never ask,” she whispered. Tenderly, he put his large hands on both sides of her face and pressed his lips to hers. At that instant, Maura knew she didn’t want to be anywhere but in his arms. It was like a beautiful dream. If that’s all it was, she didn’t want to wake up. She got out all of their notes she’d kept. With his help, she tied them all back on along with new ones each of them penned. The tree was awash with glorious color and hopeful dreams. They discussed marriage and the fact it would take a long time to be wed. Neither wanted to wait six months or a year. An old symbolic custom came to mind for just such a situation. Maura turned to him. “Let’s jump the broom, Sam.” That evening as the sun floated low on the horizon, Maura and Sam pledged their love for all eternity beneath the limbs of their tree. Then laying the broom on the ground, they held hands and, taking a big leap, jumped over it. Allie Rose, who refused to budge from Sam’s arms, laughed and clapped as though she understood everything.

The End

Linda Broday

L

inda Broday is a New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of six full-length western romance novels and seven short stories. Watching TV westerns during my youth fed my love of cowboys and the old West and they still do. I reside in the Texas Panhandle on land the American Indian and Comancheros once roamed with ghosts lurking around every corner. I love research and looking for little known tidbits to add realism to my stories and I often make a nuisance of myself at museums and libraries.

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Bronze castings of sculpted Western art are common. And most of this stuff, while well done, is commonplace. Following—attempting to follow—the example of Frederic Remington, sculptors have fashioned a never-ending parade of horses in every gait, Indians in battle regalia, longhorn steers, stately elk, raptors with wings unfurled, and buffalo. Most are well rendered, some feature detail that’s photographically accurate in three dimensions, and some capture a moment with precision. You can spend hours studying bronze sculptures, and I have done so. And while my knowledge of art and artists is scant, one name stands out, to my mind, as the best sculptor in the West today: Jeff Wolf. The fact that I have known Jeff for our entire lives doesn’t enter into the equation. The fact that Wolf was a rodeo cowboy, and many of his works grow out of that experience, probably does. I’ve tasted more than my share of arena dirt, so anything associated with rodeo—especially at the roughstock end of the arena—is of interest. My favorite of his works—a monumental piece called “Rodeo” on display at the county fairgrounds in Good-

Best of the West sculptor Jeff Wolf at work.

ing, Idaho—is beyond compare. A violently bucking saddle bronc, bull, and bareback horse are entwined in a twisted dance, with the cowboys aboard riding their way to high scores. Every detail is perfect, but it is the overall


141 Artist Jeff Wolf beside his creation “Rodeo” at the Gooding, Idaho, fairgrounds.

These details of “Rodeo” show not only the speed and motion captured in the sculpture, but the intricacy of the design where hooves and hats fight for position and notice.


142 with the technical ability and creative skill to render impression the sculpture makes that is most impressive. subjects well. Jeff’s experience climbing into buckYou can see the power in the pitching animals, hear ing chutes and straddling the backs of broncs grunts and groans and bellers and bawls, taste the and bulls adds a measure dust and smell the sweat. of expertise that few othThe choreography in the arrangement is ers can match. And it is striking. Hooves and horns, free arms and flyobvious that feeling, firsting tails, turned-out toes and determined hand, the speed and power of faces share space where there doesn’t roughstock informs his imaginaseem to be room for it all. It creates a tion and flows through his fingers dynamic of fast action and magnifinto the clay. icent motion that doesn’t seem Jeff Wolf ’s other rodeo art will to know it is frozen in time, be found in places as prestigious as captured in cold metal. the Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame in Colorado Stand close to “Rodeo” Springs, Colorado, as well as private collecand you can’t help but tions. And while it is his rodeo sculpture flinch when a flying hoof catchthat most appeals to me, depictions es your eye, or a flashing horn of arena action represent only a thrusts into view. fraction of Jeff’s work. “Rodeo” isn’t the result, He has studied wildlife solely, of artistic talent. There Jeff has created numerous rodeo-themed sculptures, including “Ultimate Rush.” extensively, once sharare numerous sculptors

“Too Close to Call” interprets the excitement of horse racing.

Jackass meets jackrabbit in “Are we cousins or just a pair of jacks?”


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Years in the saddle gave Jeff an understanding of horses, cattle, and cowboys.

Jeff’s sculpture is informed by firsthand experience. Photo courtesy of James Fain.

ing breathing space with a mule deer buck in in the rodeo arena, translates into art that shows the brush. While growing up on the Triangle the artist knows whereof he speaks when his Ranch in central Utah, he learned up close hands tell stories in clay. Which means his sculpthe anatomy of cattle and sheep, even hogs tures are not only physically remarkable in the and deer, in the slaughter house and butchaction and motion they capture, his arer shop operated by his grandfather. Riding tistic interpretations reflect, even enherd in Utah and buckarooing in Nevada hance, the emotion and spirit of the provided intimate knowledge of the subject and situation. ways and means of cowboys, workThe first public recognition of ing cowhorses, range cattle, and Wolf ’s artistic talent came at the tender stock dogs. And long hours in the age of eight, when Western Horseman saddle riding a big circle offered magazine featured a buffalo he had time to study birds on the carved from a bar of soap. He wing, jackrabbits on the has pursued art ever since, on run, antelope in flight, a full-time basis for decades and other creatures of the now, and intermittently in West’s wide-open spaces. earlier years as he worked on All that firsthand ranches and followed the With only his dog as an audience, a cowboy cuts loose in “Sagebrush Serenade.” experience, like that rodeo circuit.


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Predator and prey share the stage in “Circle of Life.”


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A boy, a horse, a dog, and a fishing pole foretell an enjoyable afternoon in “Good Time, Sunshine and Friends.�


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The “Stock Detective” is on the lookout for rustlers.

Determination walks with this buckaroo in “Beans for Breakfast, Broncs for Dessert.”

Jeff’s rodeo sculpture is informed by firsthand experience. Photo courtesy of James Fain “Serenade” so beautifully captures the scene that you can almost hear the haunting flute.

Jeff Wolf works nowadays in a studio in Utah County, only a few miles from the ranch on which he was raised. You can learn more about this Best of the West artist online at www.jeffwolfstudios.com.


Saddlebag Dispatches—Spring 2016  

Where Stories of the West Come to be Told!

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