by Joe B. Slater
Copyright 2017 Joe B. Slater
Through the smoke hole he floated into the darkening sky, across the silver ribbon of the river, and down over a field of tents with bodies lying in front like baked loaves, as dark figures walked through, impaling some and leaving others. Behind them came the dogs.
He woke face down and drooling, with dirt in his mouth. He spat and crawled away from the heat of the rocks to the edge of the tipi and lifted it to suck in the air. He lay there with his cheek in the dirt and his heart pounding and tried to clear the smoke and the dream from his brain. Then he took a deep breath and crawled on all fours along the wall until he found the opening. He staggered into the night and vomited.
“You are all done, then, huh, Quinn? Cooked enough, huh?” The man stood. “Come over and sit by the fire. Now we wash you off and see if it took. Come, sit.”
The Indian dumped half the bucket of water over Quinn’s head and the rest over his crotch and legs. “I did the big sweat once.” He draped a blanket over Quinn’s shoulders. “It cured me of the drink in three days. Pretty good, huh?”
He squatted at the edge of the coals and hooked an iron pot and pulled it to him. Then he flipped the lid and put his face in it. “Tea’s done!” He poured two cups. “How you feel, now, lighter? Or you still want that heavy shit?” He laughed.
When Quinn found his voice it was a croak. “I feel fine, Tree, just fine. I just need to get my bearings.”
“Almost finished. Have a little tea.” Standing Cedar held out his hand to the horizon. “Only one more prayer and it’s done.”
“When can I get my clothes? And my shoes. I’m tired and cold, Tree. I didn’t sleep so good.”
“You wasn’t sleeping, Quinn. You’re tired because you didn’t sleep. In the morning you can bed down and stay down as long as you want.”
“And get my clothes.”
“Soon. See? It’s getting light. Tanuy has left with the big moon. Behyu arrives with this sun, the White Man’s spring. A pretty nice time for any man in the world, don’t you think? The birds are awake. Let’s just sit and listen and watch.”
The sun was glowing beneath the horizon when the Indian told Quinn to stand up. “You don’t have to do this one. It’s not part of the healing. I just like it. You can leave the blanket or throw it off. As the sun rises, I want you to pray with me—I will say a line and you repeat it. If you don’t get it, don’t worry. We will pray until the sun clears the earth and then we are done. Just so you know you are not offending your Jesus god, I will tell you the prayer. Something like this: ‘God of all things, You have given me all I have. Throw away all our sins now and bless me.’”
“Do I do anything?”
“I like to hold out my arms,” he said, “but just stand there and watch the sun. Anything else is up to you.”
As the sun cut into the sky, Standing Cedar began to chant, pausing between phrases, and Quinn did what he could to stay with him.
ųnrik’ų ke ki.
When the bowl of the sun had cleared the edge of the earth, the Otoe fell to his knees and Quinn knelt next to him. The Indian sat back on his heels and looked at the White Man. “I’m finished, Quinn. No poison made by man will have control over you ever again. Not whiskey, not morphine, not opium. Nothing. I suggest you not tempt the cure, but it is true. It works. You will see. Now you can go to bed.”
Quinn woke to the smell of meat and corn and onions and felt hungry. He slipped into his shoes and pulled on the black overcoat and walked out into a village of women and children cooking, sewing, and shelling corn.
“I went through your things, Quinn. You don’t have much.” Standing Cedar reached into his vest. “I like this pipe you got.” He lit it with a Lucifer match and passed it to Quinn. Then he lifted a pouch from around his neck. “Before the sweat, I took the medicine pouch Lucy made for you. She saved your life, but she didn’t do you no favors after that.”
Quinn held out his hand for the bag.
“I didn’t look in it, Quinn. Don’t worry.” He wrapped up the leather thong and handed it all to Quinn.
“The morphine was my own doing.” Quinn said. “A nurse in St. Louis let me know that fact in no uncertain terms and said I had bigger pains to numb than my eye. I was dying, and Lucy saved my life. I recall she suggested I join you for a sweat that night before the New Year’s dance. Do you remember? When she led me through the camp?”
Standing Cedar grunted and nodded.
“So, it’s my doing, Tree, and thanks to you now, it’s gone.”
Standing Cedar led Quinn to where they had sat the night before. “And that nurse in St. Louis—you still got other pains? I don’t know if the big sweat could take that out of you, Quinn. There’s only so much it can do.”
“It’s a start. I need to think about where I go from here. How about you, Tree? You want to go with me to stake a claim? Maybe one for yourself? It wouldn’t cost you to take a look.”
The Indian shook his head. “You know what happens when I file a claim, Quinn? I become an American citizen! Just like that!” He laughed. “And then where would I be? If there was a war, I’d get killed by both sides! Anyway, we mixed-up breeds already have our land here. The Bureau is cutting it up and putting our names on the pieces so we know who owns what here on the reservation. If we don’t like that, they say, there are places in Indian Territory they will give us.” He snorted. “They will give us Indian Territory!” He scuffed his moccasin in the dirt. “You can go make a claim on the land, Quinn, but you can’t own it. The men in Washington may tell you it’s yours, but it ain’t. And if they decide to take it and give it to someone else, they can. And you can bet they will.”
As Standing Cedar spoke, Quinn remembered his friend Rafe talking about the place he had farmed for three years before the railroad took it.
The Indian continued. “If they want it, they’ll take it. So my advice is, you go ahead. Claim some piece-of-shit ground that nobody wants between two rivers that are both hard to cross. Maybe the stretch between the Big and Little Blue River is a good place to look.” He laughed. “It’ll give you good protection from the Indians who are on the warpath because you stole their land.”
“You serious, Tree?”
“I am and I ain’t. Since the Minnesota hangings and the Dakota slaughter, the young bucks in the free tribes are getting hard to control. We don’t have to worry down here. Too far away. But if I was working along the trails west, I’d travel with lots of folks who could shoot.”
“What about your people here?”
“Ah! We are all tamed. It’s the White blood in us. Makes us want to put up fences and farm small plots of dirt and raise chickens.”
Quinn puffed on his pipe and waited.
“They took away our right to hunt, Quinn. We can’t cross the Missouri to hunt anything, but we are allowed to kill whatever deer and antelope we can find from here to the Platte. Go above that and we run into the Pawnee. To the west we meet the Arapaho. We are not a warrior people, and since living with the Whites, we have forgotten many of our ways. The buffalo will soon be gone anyway, so it’s best we learn to farm. Lucy was right. Learn the ways of the White Man or your children and grandchildren will starve. She didn’t mention that you might get killed before you see them starve. Maybe I will go out with you, Quinn. You can teach me a thing or two that I could come back and use here, maybe.”
“I could use a hand and would enjoy the company, Tree. You could see if you like it.”
“If I went, it would mean leaving the reservation without a Medicine Man for a while, but more and more they need me less and less. I wish Lucy would come back. The Bureau sends a White doctor over here once or twice a month to look in our mouths and stir our shit and blow stuff up our noses. Where’s the fun in that? Medicine should be something you do, not something that is done to you, you know?
“It’s like magic, Tree—it works or it doesn’t. What you and Lucy do works. That’s all that matters to me. What became of her, Tree? Where did she go?”
“To where she was before, I guess.”
“Do you think she’ll be back?”
Standing Cedar nodded. “Yes. Her people are here. This is where she belongs. After her time healing the fighting White Men is over, she will return and she will bring back to us what she has learned.”
“Did she ever tell you why she went?”
“No, but I think she’s confused about who she is. Her grandfather sent her to Boston when she was eight years old. He was an important man, a chief here until he died. He founded the town up there.” Standing Cedar waved his arm. “Deroin. That’s where she got her White blood. He was the son of a Frenchman and an Otoe woman. Lucy came back when he died and tried to start something.
When she came back it was clear she was a New Indian. Not like me, not a Blanket Indian. She brought back ideas and ways that were not of our people. She set up a school and began to teach children during the day and the women at night. Soon after, she brought three White Women to the reservation and announced that we were going to be one of the stations on what was called The Lane Trail.”
Quinn nodded. “Maybe one was Marion Lewis, the woman who brought me here from across the river after I was shot. Her husband and me were going to file a claim in Nebraska together. She said she took runaways from the Trail and got them up as far as Civil Bend.”
“Might be,” Standing Cedar nodded. “Might be one of the women. One of them got Lucy to go to the army and work at their hospital. And then she went to follow the men who were fighting. She came back once, once before you came here, and stayed with an old crazy woman on the edge of the village. Then she went back to the battlefield. I didn’t get to see her much. I thought then that I was a big Medicine Man. Important. She wasn’t interested in the old ways, I thought then. But I was wrong. She knew the old ways.
We all knew Lucy as an owl woman. I don’t mean to say she was a member of the Owl Clan, although she was that, too. I am a member of the Ioway Owl Clan. The old ones call her kind ‘Wapunka Inihkacin.’ Her Otoe name is Marata, ‘Echo Woman,’ because it is said that she speaks to owls in their language. It is said that women like her deal with spirits that are gone and want to come back, or with spirits who struggle with death and do not embrace it. These do not accept the way of things. We all know that everything in the world comes in and goes out in its own time, but there are spirits who fight the leaving and find a way to come back into the world of the living, and it is said owl women know how to deal with them. People go to them to handle ghosts that cause trouble. It is said they know how to put them down. It is said they sometimes help the powerful ones come back. Maybe a fox who comes back as a man or even a man who comes back as a woman. Some say that the most powerful owl women can do it by themselves—take turns as owls and then as women. And as owls they can turn themselves back when they want. They fly soundlessly at night and see things a man can’t see. Maybe that is why she went to the battlefield and why she went back again.
Some say she was in love with a White Man, and that’s why she left. She told me that she was run out of the hospital camp, not on account of her officer, but because she was too good as a nurse. The White Women, maybe it was the sisters at the hospital down there, I don’t know, they said she was a heathen witch and was placing spells on the men she cared for and that some she killed outright. They went to General Dodge. He said she was valuable to him and they said if that was so, then she could take over the whole hospital and they would leave. Lucy came back to the reservation until things cooled off.
That’s when you were brought here and she healed you. She was here about a month, and then she was gone again.”
The Indian stood. “But let’s go eat. It’s almost time to go to bed again.”
Everything tasted good at that meal, and when the storytelling around the fire was over, Quinn went to Standing Cedar’s lodge and bedded down.
Thinking he had no sleep left in him, Quinn lay on his mat and tried to put together what Lucy had told him three months ago about bringing him back from the dead.
“After they shot Rafe, Marion thought you would die, too, Quinn. She needed to get as far away as she could before the men came back, so she took you down the river. She dragged you in on a sled covered with a big black coat. And while we laid you out on the floor she told me about the man who shot out your eye and killed Rafe. She was nearly froze herself, so I sent her away and I knelt down and put my ear to your mouth and I felt no life. Shot, bled out, frozen, I didn’t know.
We Otoe believe that death is a process of leaving. That the spirit is tied to the body with a silver thread that spins out for three days, becoming thinner and thinner until it breaks. So I had hope. I brought coals in a bowl and stones from the fire pit to surround you. I cut away your clothes and covered you with a blanket. I sat with you until the hour of the owl and then gathered from the medicine hut my things and came back and did what I was told.”
Whether asleep or awake then, Quinn heard a voice like an echo from somewhere far away, spoken in a language he could not speak but understood.
Head to the east. The door is open.
Wash the wound and cover it with soft deer skin. With lavender and cedar mixed with buffalo fat anoint the eye, then the ears, nostrils, lips. With red clay mark the forehead and the soles of the feet.
With sage in a shell clear the room, fanning the smoke with an owl’s wing, and sweep the body from head to foot and pray the chaos of the elements to quiet and bring life, or to settle out and let the soul escape and not follow him away.
Then light the sacred pipe. The bowl of the pipe ringed with owl feathers is the lungs. The stem is the wind pipe, to blow back life into the body. Kneel and light the pipe. Lift in each direction as you sing: ume’li, byuwahu, ure’ku’li, byuwere. Stand and walk round the body four times. Sing behu, mansje, nato xqanyi, tany. Kneel and lay the pipe on his chest, bowl to his feet. Then lift your arms and sing.
mank’oge, hinda, pox linge
may je-gi wo-chi ‘exi
Alone in the dark, Quinn felt an owl circle down from the dark and sit on his chest, light as a feather. It looked into his face left and then right, and when her talons dug into his chest, Quinn felt no pain, only pressure, as she pulled and lifted him and carried him off to a tree high in the clouds, then perched on a limb beside his head and sang to him.
In the morning the voice was still in his head. Han-we-gi-lo ma-yan-da, the owl had sung.
“What does it mean, Tree?” Quinn asked at breakfast.
Standing Cedar nodded and repeated the words. “And there’s a line that comes before it, Quinn: may je-gi wo-chi ‘exi. It reminds us that life is difficult. The last line, there is no way to express it in English,” he said, “because you don’t have a thought for the words. The closest for Jesus people is ‘I hope we go to heaven.’ For us it expresses a desire to live right now, as well as to live on after death at the same time. To live and to die is the same. We all say that.” He laughed. “Maybe instead of going off and farming you should go become an Indian. Not one like me, though. I’m not a real Indian anymore. None of us here are anymore. We are not even a people. You could be a better Indian than me. Go west and find a small band and ride next to them. Share their food. You don’t need to talk to them. If they think you would make a good Indian, they’ll adopt you.”
“And if they don’t, I just ride along and find another small band until one takes me?”
The Indian scowled and shook his head. “No, Quinn. If they do not adopt you, they might just have you for supper. Certainly they will kill you. Maybe they’ll eat you.” He broke into a fit of laughter that went on until Quinn held up his hands and the Indian quieted.
“I don’t know what I’m going to do, Tree, but I do think your people need you more than I do.” With that Standing Cedar broke into another fit of laughter.
As he laid out his gear that night, Quinn thought back over the last nine months, over the people who had kept him alive and their gifts. His watch. Marjorie’s husband’s black coat and his brogans. The buffalo coat Lucy gave him and the medicine pouch. The Duke boots from the Redlegs. The knife Tough gave him to put out the eye of the man who blinded him, and the sabre. The two long guns, gifts from Col. Hoyt—a Sharps rifle that could kill a man at 200 yards and a rifled, double-barrel shotgun that could tear the lungs out of a horse.
He fell asleep with his hand over his medicine pouch.
On the way to St. Joe he went over his list—a wagon, mules, implements for the first season, and tools to build a shelter. Staples for the first six months. A shovel, an axe, hammer and tongs, two buckets, and lead and powder for a year. Fish hooks and braided lines.
Buying two good mules took the better part of a day because he wanted a matched pair.
“Good mules is hard to come by,” the broker said. “The army has drove the price up to as much as a horse.”
Quinn agreed. “They brand them and break them and run them into the ground, and then they cut them loose.” He pointed to the animals in the corral. “How many of those—the horses, too—with US on their ass did you just ‘pick up’? You got a bill of sale for each of them?”
The broker turned and walked away. Quinn leaned against the corral rail and watched the animals. The broker came back. “I’ll sell you that black one,” he pointed, “and this brownish one over here. They ain’t matched, but I’ll give you a good price. And I’ll give you a bill of sale.”
Quinn knew the paper was worthless, but he shook the man’s hand and made the broker throw in the harness before he settled on a price for a wagon.
With money left over, Quinn stayed the night, enjoying the food and reveling in the companionship of others.
The first morning on the trail he spent time getting the mules to work together. Well before sunset he pulled away from the trail and built a hot fire. With hammer and tongs on a granite boulder he forged two running irons. The mules were easy enough to brand, but the gelding knew something was coming. When Quinn was finished, the U had become a Q and the S an 8. The first night on the trail he hobbled the animals close and fell asleep looking at the stars.
The next day the going was even slower than the first. The trail was 20 yards wide and full of ruts and holes. On the hillsides the spring rains greased the grooves and it was nearly impossible to get the mules to drag the wagon out of the ruts to break new ground. Between the hills where the road narrowed, the swales hid ruts deep enough to break an axle. On sharp hills the brake grabbed the wheel and the wagon slid ahead, pushing the tongue into the double tree.
The Big Blue River was out of its banks when he got to the ferry. The man sitting under a tree with a bottle in his lap splicing a rope didn’t look up as Quinn tied the reins to the brake lever, swung down, and walked over.
“Got anybody across yet today?”
The man shook his head. “Nope. Not open fer business.”
Quinn looked across the river. “Your barge is across the river.”
The man looked up and nodded. “My barge is across the river.”
“And your mule. Where’s your mule?”
“I lost him.”
“Lost your mule? What did he? Wander off?”
With one hand on the bottle and the other on the rope, the man struggled to his feet and kicked the tangle of ropes. “These goddamn things. You know how to splice a rope? And it’s got to be smooth enough to go through them pullies.”
“I’m sorry about your mule. He go down river? Maybe he made it to ground.”
“Naw. He’s OK. Unless they already et him. Fuckin’ Indians stole him when I was on the other side tryin’ to get this goddamn thing through the goddamn pulley.” He held up a frayed end of the rope.
Quinn took off his gloves and stuffed them in his back pocket. “Anything I can do? My name’s Quinn, by the way.” He stepped forward and offered his hand. The man looked at the rope and then the bottle and laughed. He dropped the rope and shook.
“My name’s Jensen.” He paused and squinted. “And you can give me one of yer mules.” The man toed the rope onto the pile. “Let’s see…. There’s an old thinkin’ puzzle that comes to mind. Maybe you know it: You got a barge on one side of the river and a mule on the other, assumin’ you got a mule, that is. If you can get on that mule and take the tow rope over to the other side of the river, you can hook it up to the barge and pull it over. Do you know that one?” He looked up and squinted.
“Assuming the mule can swim,” Quinn said.
“Don’t think too hard on it, Mr. Quinn.” He looked across the river. “You’re headed west. How far?”
“At least across this river.”
“Me, too. Don’t suppose you want to sell me a mule?” He shook his head. “No, guess not. Come on. Tie up your rig and sit, and we’ll have a drink and tell some stories until the river goes down.”
“How long you suppose that’ll be?”
“If we don’t get rain, a couple days.”
He waved the bottle and Quinn shook his head. “Not good for the eye.”
“I didn’t want to ask, but since you brung it up, what happened?”
“Oh, not the bad eye. The good one. I drink and go blind in that eye, too.”
The man stomped his foot and laughed. “You got that! Especially with this shit. Must be made with wood chips. I should really stop drinkin’, too. But I would think with a wound like that, drinkin’ would be a natural comfort. But you don’t drink, huh?”
Quinn shook his head. “After this,” he pointed to his socket, “ I drank a lot of whiskey and ate a lot of morphine and the two nearly killed me. An Indian at the Half-Breed Reservation gave me a sweat and cured me of both.”
“An Indian did it for you, huh? Ain’t that somethin’? I heered about them sweat lodges, but I didn’t know they was about the cure.”
“It worked for me, and now I’m heading out to the Little Blue to look for a place.”
“You won’t have any trouble finding a spot. South of the Platte is all good until you get out to the sand hills. Along the trail here you might have a little trouble getting’ away from folks. A hunnert sixty acres ain’t much to keep people away, even if you plop yer place right in the middle. My advice is just don’t go buildin’ in no ravines. If the spring floods don’t wash you out, you run the risk of gettin’ trapped by fire.”
“Range fire? This is pretty close in. You got the trees and the rivers to break ‘em up, don’t you think?”
“Naw! Indians start ‘em. Chase out what game is left. Can’t blame ‘em much. It’s what they live on, and God knows the big game’s all about gone. Then them Indians’ll just have to learn to raise cattle. That wouldn’t be a bad idea, now, would it?”
“Not to us, it ain’t. I’m not sure about the Indians.”
“Fuck them Indians.” Jensen kicked the dirt. “I hope they all starve.”
“You want to tell me how you ended up on the wrong side of the river without your rifle, Mr. Jensen?”
“I had just got a wagon across when the tow rope started unwindin’. So here I was, me and the mule on this side and the barge on the other. The farmer drove off, and when I tried pullin’ the barge back, the rope just snapped and spooled through the pulley and came on across empty. Bein’ the problem solver I am, I anchored this end so’s I wouldn’t lose it and I lasooed the tiller and grabbed the piece I been workin’ on and pulled myself across usin’ the rope. I figgered I’d splice the ends and put her back in business. That’s when three Injuns rode up and took my mule. Just like that. After I quit cussin’ and hollerin’ I brought the whole damn tangle back across and been workin’ on it since. Don’t suppose you want to sell me a mule, huh? No, guess not, even if I can fix the rope, without a mule I’m outa business.
Jensen took a drink and held up the bottle again. “You sure?”
Quinn shook his head. “I can’t get you a mule, but I can help you get the barge to this side.”
“I’d say I know what yer thinkin’, Mr. Quinn, and thank you. But if you do get across and tie that mule to the barge and get it in the water, the current’ll just drag the animal in and they’d both be gone.”
“You finish splicing that rope. I’m going out for a walk—maybe shoot something for supper. I’ll bring back some wood.”
Quinn came back with a hare gutted and skinned.
Jensen had a fire going in his stove with beans boiling and fatback frying. He was sitting with his pile of rope trying to weave a splice into two frayed ends. “Tell me, Mr. Quinn. You really got a plan fer gittin’ my barge across?”
“I surely do. But let me get this bunny cooking. You got a pan?”
“Cut him up and put him in with the fatback. There’s a lid in the bin there.” He pointed. “And a stump over there.” He waved his hand.
Quinn slapped the carcass down, pulled his knife, and knelt. He instructed Jensen on his plan to rescue the barge from the other side of the river while he cut the rabbit at the joints and pulled it apart.
“Cinch one end of the rope to the clevis clamp on the single tree. Give it some slack and run the other end of the rope through your snatch block here. Run it through the pulley and hitch it to the other mule. One mule on each end with a pulley between. Then get your lasso, rig a chest harness for yourself and tie it to the river mule. Lead him to the river and grab hold of his tail and tell him nicely to take you across. Promise him anything. If that doesn’t work, hit him with a stick.”
Jensen picked up the bottle and took a drink.
Quinn stopped his work. “Is this getting too complicated for you, Mr. Jensen?”
“And you’re volunteerin’ to do what?”
“I’m running this side of the operation.”
“You want to tell me how, or do I just trust it’ll all come out good?”
Quinn used his knife as a pointer. “This mule takes you to the other side. There’ll be some drift downstream for sure. Me and the other mule,” he pointed, “will be on the positive end, so if he seems to be going down river I just say “Git-up mule and pull your mule back like I was fishin’. Give mine another start until she learns how to do it. You, of course, can hang on to the tail or the rope. Just keep your head up.”
Jensen took another drink. “I’m glad you’re not drinkin’ Mr. Quinn. It leaves more fer me and I need it. Once we get to the other side what happens?”
“Hook the mule to the barge and get him to drag it to the water. Then run your rope through the barge pulley, cinch it off and say ‘Git-up, mule!’ We’ll still have you on the snatch block. That doesn’t solve all your problems, but if I find a wandering mule between here and the Little Blue, I’ll send him your way.”
“I’m gonna trust you on that, Mr. Quinn. Now dump the meat and cover it. You got any salt?”
Quinn pulled a sack from his pocket and held it up. “Got it right here.”
“And maybe you can come over and show me what you know about rope splicin’?”
Quinn sat and picked up the frayed ends and squared them off with his knife. “The trick is to untwist the strands back a ways. Maybe two feet. Then lay one over the matching one from the left rope with one from the right.” Quinn demonstrated. “Then begin weaving one over the other and back under. The last little bit will be tight, but don’t worry. When you can’t pull them through anymore, just trim the ends.”
He passed the project to Jensen and pulled out his pipe and lit it. Quinn salted the meat, fed the stove, tended the fire, and stirred the food while Jensen worked and drank. Quinn laid his bedroll under the wagon and came back to find Jensen asleep amid his pile of rope. He went to the stove and dumped the meat into the beans and stirred the pot. “It’ll be done by morning,” he thought as he pulled the pot to the back of the stove.
He walked over and toed Jensen. “See you in the morning,” he said, and crawled under the wagon and slept.
Quinn and Jensen ate and spent the morning retrieving the barge. The river had gone down considerably and the operation went off smoothly. Quinn hitched his mules back onto the wagon and wished Jensen good luck. Before sundown he found a rock-lined ford downriver and drove across the Big Blue and continued west toward the Little Blue River.
For two days he rode under sunny skies into a wet spring breeze. The going was slow, but he was in no hurry. The ruts got the mules to pull together. He watched their rumps and dreamed of pulling stumps, dragging logs, and hoisting beams. He planned his cabin, and he promised himself pencils and plenty of paper at the next post.
The soddy would come first, and then a barn, he thought as he sat in the wagon under the tarp on the fourth night. He sang to himself and his animals and made up lyrics so the words wouldn’t be trapped in his head the next day. Then he designed a sling bed that he could hang under the wagon on nights like these.
His eye socket ached in the morning, so he washed it out with salt water. The patch smelled bad and he decided to boil it and not wear it for a day. He had told Elizabeth it was like going naked, because of the reactions of people who stared at his face without the patch, and she had run her fingers over his face and said he was beautiful. Out here he felt it was healthful, and he often turned his face to the sun to warm the socket.
It took a week to travel far enough for Quinn to feel he’d left civilization. He stopped where a creek fed into the Little Blue and then rode above the flood plain, tied up the wagon, and saddled his horse. He rode up the creek, finding the natural crossings until he came to a rise where he could see the wagon and a faint fog of dust kicked up by the trains heading west. To the east was a grove of timber. “As good a place as any to start,” he thought.
The first week he worked setting up a permanent camp outside the grove—a fire ring, a corral, and a crude shelter topped with a canvas, with rough log walls on the north and west to cut the wind. He hunted small game and had little luck fishing in the creek, but he caught more shad and catfish in the river than he could eat. Evenings he laid out carcasses on the rocks and watched the ravens run off the crows. Nights he dreamed of livestock—cattle and hogs and chickens. He was in no hurry to file a claim, but he wanted to stake out his parcel so he could go on dreaming.
The second week he rode and walked and rode some more, familiarizing himself with the landscape, letting the earth talk to him. The streams and ravines told their stories loud. The short grasses whispered secrets about thin soil covering sand and about a spring hiding a cache of limestone. The grove silently told him the direction of the prevailing winds and the nests and dens of creatures that ate the nuts that fell and those that ate the creatures that ate the nuts that fell.
When he was satisfied he had everything he wanted in a farm, he cut and peeled birch poles to mark the corners of each of the forty acre plots. Later he would plant a line of trees along the perimeter, and maybe hedgerows in closer, but for now he wanted the white poles shining in the sun, marking his plot. He laid out the parcels on both sides of the creek.
When he was satisfied with the layout, he went to the spring and dug up limestone boulders and chiseled a “Q” on the best face of each and buried them next to the birch poles.
The rains kept him under his tarp drawing plans in the dirt with a stick, congratulating himself on his good fortune.
Teaching the mules to pull a plow took time, so he scaled back his expectations. He’d fish and plant a garden in the morning—put in a potato patch first, and some squash. In the afternoon get behind the plow. Sow the oats and then scythe down the cover grass. Get to planting corn if and when he could. Early or late, he’d use whatever came up as feed for the horses. Drying what he killed and caught would keep him through the winter. If the Indians could do it, so could he.
When he got the potatoes in the ground he rode to Beatrice to file his claim. He sat in a saloon drinking coffee and drawing a map of the four parcels with identifying landmarks. Then he drew a larger map of the landscape—the Little Blue, the creek, the grove, and the spring. When he was satisfied he walked to the surveyor’s office and presented his papers and introduced himself.
The man at the desk pulled out a map from a pigeon hole and unrolled it on the counter, anchoring it with an ink pot and drawing tools. He placed Quinn’s drawings on top. He pulled a handful of pencils from a cup and laid them in a square on the large map. “About here is where you’d be, right?”
He adjusted the pencils slightly. “Bet you didn’t know the first legal claim under the Homestead Act was filed right here in Beatrice. Midnight on New Year’s this year. Mr. Daniel Freeman. Good name for the first claimant, wouldn’t you say?”
“Freeman? Yes, I’d say so.”
“Oh, but he was White.” He shook his head. “Niggers are encouraged, don’t you know, equal as a White Man.” He scanned the map with his hand. “Whereabouts are you now?” He ran his finger along the line marked “L. Blue.”
Quinn pointed to his second drawing. “The river’s down here, and I’m up here along Rose Creek.”
“Rose Creek. Let me put that in there.” He took a pencil from a cup and wrote on Quinn’s map. “Just so we both know which creek it is, can you tell me about where Reverend Marks is got his mill?”
When Quinn paused, the agent shook his head. “I just want to make sure you’re on the right creek, Mr. Quinn. I’m not quarreling with your claim. If it’s the Rose Creek that’s on our plat maps, we can locate you without surveyin’. Tell me, is there a little settlement there? Right close to where the creek runs into the Little Blue?”
When Quinn found his words he could only say, “My map is correct. I know my neighbors. Liberty Farms is five miles east and the Comstocks are further down.”
“Did you ever ride further on up the trail?”
Quinn shook his head.
The man snorted. “I see.” He straightened his back and scratched his jaw. “What made you choose this part of Nebraska Territory, Mr. Quinn? You got relations out here? From your way of talkin’ and that name, I’d guess you’re from Ireland, am I right?”
“Born and raised in County Queens. I came here six years ago and worked the railroads until I could stake a claim.”
“Waitin’ for the Homestead Act.” He nodded. “And your family, did they come here with you?”
“They came two years later.”
“No, I mean, are they out there on the claim with you?”
Quinn leaned on the counter and looked away. “No. I’m alone. I lost my family in a storm. Nine months ago, so I’m on my own now.”
The man bunched up the pencils and slid them into the jar. Then he pushed Quinn’s drawings aside and rolled up the map. “I’m sorry about you losing your family, Mr. Quinn.” He tightened the furled map. “And I’m sorry you came all the way from Ireland to stake a claim, but you’re just going to have to wait. Only legal Americans can file a claim under the Homestead Act. And you don’t qualify under Preemption, either. So if I was you, I’d go file my citizenship papers before I found me a good plot of land, and then I’d come back and we could go from there. And be sure to bring along what papers you have to prove intent of citizenship before you apply for your claim.”
The ride back to Rose Creek would be long, he thought. Free land! Nothing is free! Quinn had never thought about citizenship. Standing Cedar’s quiet rant about owning the land gave him some comfort. The Indians take the land as they find it and only concern themselves with ownership when they are forced into a corner to fight among themselves. He mused on Ireland’s own centuries-old fight with England and the bullying Irish landlords who enslaved the yeoman farmers. Why should it be different here?
His reminiscences stirred emotions in Quinn—the sadness and the helplessness he felt surrounding his father’s loss of his farm. He determined to plant his crops and worry about citizenship later. In the fall, after the corn was in, he would take a ride to Omaha and sort it out.
He decided to treat himself to a meal and a good night’s sleep. He put up his horse at the stable and walked to the Beatrice Hotel, where he sat at a table and drank coffee and wrote lists. Supper was served at a long table in a room just large enough to move chairs back to sit. Plates and bowls of food were passed first to hotel guests and then on down to those who paid money for their board or worked the fee off with their labor. The silence while food was on the table reminded him of supper with the Sisters of Charity. The talk picked up when plates were cleared and coffee and apple cobbler with clotted cream were brought out.
Quinn’s contribution to the conversation was minimal, and he interrupted with questions that weren’t relevant to the stories the guests were telling each other. Those traveling west wanted to hear stories of Colorado and California, but the regulars wanted blood. They told stories of massacres, both of and by Indians, one outdoing the next, adding details known only to the dead.
When the conversation reached a lull, Quinn got in a few pointed questions about farming, but the locals weren’t interested. “I’m not buying livestock until I’ve taken in a year’s crop,” he said, “but I am interested in a dog or two, maybe a cat.”
“You can catch yer own,” the woman clearing plates said. “If you want a town mutt. If you want a cow-working dog, I’d suggest heading to the Eubanks. They have good ones, ones they use on their own cows, and they have ‘em to sell to the folks on the trail. You might have to put an order in, but that’d be the way to go.”
“And they have cats? I don’t need one yet, but I know once I take in some grain…”
“Yer right on that one. Better get several. They have a tendency to get et by coyotes. Or get a fat momma cat. Feed the little toms to the coyotes and keep the girls.” She burst into laughter.
The man across the table announced to the table as the woman was leaving. “Her husband’s name is Tom. She don’t call him Little Tom to his face,” he waved his hands in the air, “but…you know.” That brought laughter from the locals.
The mention of dogs, cats, and coyotes prompted stories about the eating habits of the Indians, stories Quinn had heard with different recipes attributed to the Irish. He was tempted to interject a remark about Indians and babies, but he simply nodded and smiled and held his tongue.
After dinner he sat next to the parlor stove and visited with the guests and smoked his pipe.
He undressed and slid between flannel sheets. He wanted to stay awake and enjoy the luxury of a bed with a roof over his head, but he fell asleep before he had finished his thought and dreamed of Irish Lords riding through the village with wolfhounds.
Rows of corn and squash followed sowing of the oats. By the end of May a blush of green fanned out from Quinn’s camp. He rose at dawn to fish and spent the day in the grove cutting and trimming timbers. He ricked the large timbers there and piled the smaller ones to drag down for the corral. He left twigs on the branches and piled them on the wagon for the fire. He lashed the poles to the double tree and pulled them into place for the corral and a lean-to he thought was good enough to winter the animals.
In June he dug holes below the frost line and planted and braced poles for his house. Then he began cutting and laying up sod. When the walls were three feet high, he pulled his pallet in to sleep. Nights he lay looking at the stars dreaming of the house he would build in the spring, a proper house. He listed the books he wanted to buy on his next trip. And a whistle or a flute. He would make his own table and chair. Buy a kerosene lamp to put on the table. He made lists.
Lucy rode up one day in the middle of August on a little paint pony while Quinn was up toward the grove loading bundles of oat hay onto the wagon. She hailed him and walked the horse up. Quinn met her half way and held his arms out. “Lucy! Lucy, welcome!”
“Help me here, Quinn.” He grabbed her reins and then held her stirrup and she swung down. She put a hand on his forearm and looked up at him. She touched his face and smiled. “You look good.” She took the reins from him and looked around. “You picked a beautiful spot.”
Quinn hummed his thanks and waved to the west and south. “The trail and river below and a bit of a plain up here. See?” He pointed east. “That’s the one corner.” He turned. “Across the creek—you can’t see it—is the other. Let’s go down to the house.”
As they walked he asked how she found him. “Oh, I have my ways.” She looked up at him. “Standing Cedar said you were going to the Little Blue. No mystery there.”
“And you. You’re back from the war in one piece, I’m happy to say.”
She laughed. “More than one piece, I’d say. I brought back a little soldier.” She stopped walking and held her stomach. “A good baby. No trouble at all.”
One morning two months later, Lucy woke him before dawn. “Stay here, Quinn. I will do this alone.” When he insisted on going with her, she looked steadily into his face. “This is a woman’s thing. I have helped bring many babies into the world and ours will be no different.” She went to the corner and picked up a basket, then threw two blankets over her shoulder. At the door, she looked back. “If you need to keep busy, you can sort beans or shell some corn.” Quinn smiled at his assignment. “But do not come to the creek. I will be back with the baby when it is finished.”
Lucy had cleared a nest along the creek well in advance of this day. She had lined it with pine needles and sweet grass, had even lain in it and nestled down. She had holes dug into the sand for her feet and a skin of water lay at hand. In the morning gloom she spread a blanket over the nest and leaned back under the second blanket. She lay listening to the creek and the morning sounds of birds, and when the contractions came, she pulled the basket closer and waited. The birth did not come quickly, but Lucy made no sound as the sun rose high. Finally a dizzying push delivered the baby from her and she sat up and held it under the arms high and shook him, and the infant squawked. She lay back and held the boy to her breast and let him find her nipple.
With a final contraction the placenta slid out. She sat up and took the knife and the leather thongs from the basket and tied off and cut the cord. She picked up the baby and stepped into the creek and lowered him squalling and let the water wash over him. Then she wrapped the infant’s middle in wool and swaddled him in the blanket that had covered her. She walked into the creek and squatted down and let the water wash over her bottom and the buckskin dress she wore. She carried the blanket she had lain on to the creek bank. She gathered the formless mass and washed it, then wrapped it in the blanket and dowsed that, too, in the creek until it ran clear. With a spoon from the basket she widened the stirrups in the sand, laid the blanket in the furrow, covered it, smoothed it, and placed her baby atop. She knelt and from the basket she took an owl’s wing and swiped it several times over her baby in all directions and then over her head and to her breast. With her tools back in the basket, she picked up the child and walked to the house.
He had a fire in the stove when she arrived and they sat in the chairs he had made and talked about the baby. She turned away questions about the details of the birth, just that it was a good one and that she hoped for more.
Four days later they named the baby Michante, which, she told him, means My Heart.
The autumn of 1863 was Quinn’s Indian summer. The harvest was good, the weather warm, and the animals fat. He took a trip to Liberty Farms and brought back a cow and her calf that was ready to be weaned. “Not for the baby,” she said. “I’ll have milk for him until this time next year.” She grabbed both breasts and they leaked. “At least.”
“No, for us, for the winter. We’ll take the cream and give the calf the milk, make butter ahead, and spend our time when we’re snowed in packing things away like squirrels. This’ll be the last season in the soddy, Lucy. By this time next year the house’ll be finished and we won’t have to live in a burrow.”
“This is not bad, Quinn,” she said. “My people prefer to live near the earth. Rugs on the ground and a raised pallet—no need for tables and chairs.”
“Or stoves. Or wooden floors.”
“Well, now, stoves are a different matter.” She reached for his hand and looked at him. “Yes, I want our house, but I’m in no hurry. This is good.”
Snow came late, and when Advent arrived, Quinn made a show of cutting a tree from the grove and putting it up outside the door and hanging things on it. Nuts and cones and bones and stones and pieces of cloth. Lucy tied berries and pieces of suet on strings to feed the birds, but it only attracted scavengers in the night.
He bought a tin whistle and some books from a peddler on the trail. She carved a flute out of wood and a whistle out of bone and taught him to play them. Together they made a drum and danced. He read Mrs. Stowe’s book to her while she wove and braided and sewed. Together they made two fur hats. They sat around the stove and cracked nuts.
They wandered through the landscape of their lives and talked about the two people they had in common, Marion and Standing Cedar. He told her about his time with the Redlegs and the Bushwackers, and she talked about her life in Boston. They talked about dreams—night dreams and day dreams. She liked the dream of him wearing his father’s watch and riding on a train that was attacked by Indians who tore the hands off the watch. She said it sounded like a morphine dream, and he said no, that it was only last week.
“I want to raise our son in the White Man’s world,” she said. “Not because it is superior, but because our people are dying and I want my son to live and thrive.” She talked about what she learned in Boston—about her mission to return to help her people, her work to abolish slavery, and how Indians are like Negroes. She told him about bringing the Lane Trail through the reservation and the network of people who formed it, and he talked about slave-stealing and contraband and the corruption within the army.
“There will always be slaves,” he said, “and there always will be masters.” And for the first time, they argued. She had read much of what he had read and more—taught by a different kind of priest, but still it was a disciplined study of western civilization, with a different view of American history. She had knowledge of American slavery that went beyond the books. She knew much of the Bible and readily compared chapter and verse to her people’s religious world-view.
“Tell me your people’s stories,” he said.
“What kind of stories?” she asked.
“The stories you tell your children.”
“We have Wórage, stories much like your histories, and then we have Wéka, stories we tell more for entertainment. These are like your sagas and epics—stories of heroes, stories of good and evil, and they may only be told during winter.
“Then let’s have the stories for winter,” He said.
“But first,” she said, “a story from you.”
He began the story of Scheherazade and ended it with, “And so the king kept Scheherazade alive day after day, because she interrupted her story every night in a place so suspenseful the king could not be satisfied and kept her alive until the next night. After 1,001 nights Scheherazade confessed she had no more stories left to tell. The king, of course, had fallen in love with her and he decided to marry her rather than kill her. She became his queen and they lived happily ever after.”
“That is a good story,” Lucy said. “And I can match it.
There is a story—you have not heard this story—about Hare and Sharp-Elbows. One day Hare shot an elk with his lightning bolt arrow and ordered the animal to go to the edge of Sharp- Elbows’ village and die there.
With that she told the story of how Sharp-Elbows steals Hare’s lightning-bolt arrow and kills Hare’s cousin. She ended her story. “And that’s when I started back home.”
“What does that last bit mean?” I asked. “‘I started back home.’ What’s that?”
“It’s the way all our stories end. It pays homage to the original teller by reminding the listeners the narrator originally told the story to a village he was visiting. It is like your ‘they lived happily ever after.’ It’s what we like to hear.”
Quinn wrote down the stories she told and she wrote letters. He asked her to teach him her language and he started a dictionary of sorts when she refused to help him think of the right word. She taught him the language of prayers and her healing and he wrote those down, too. She made a medicine bag for their son. She asked Quinn what he thought should be in their son’s medicine bag.
He asked her about the power of faith, how important was it to believe in the healing. “The words we have for faith only reflect our experience with people or our anticipation of the future, as in ‘this follows this—as it always has been.’ So your notion that you are an important part of what happens or how things work does not exist with us. We would think that ‘faith’ and ‘hope’ are strange notions because we accept things as they are and would never think that we could effect the future by how we feel or think.”
He told her about Catholics and saints and miracles, and she said, “You could say we believe in miracles,” she said. “Yes, miracles happen, but they are ordinary things, and yes, there are saints, and they are ordinary, too.
She explained how her people migrated from the north hundreds of years before and how they became mixed up with each other—Ioway, Missouria, Otoe. He told her about the Vikings discovering America and she laughed and said, “For who?”
They sat quietly through the gray days and at night lay warm beneath their buffalo robes and listened to the wind.
By the end of the winter, he told her he thought he would make a good Indian, and she said, “Quinn, you are a good man, but you will never be an Indian. I am happy with you just the same.” She touched his cheek and said, “You will never let go and live outside your skin. You will always have guilt to hold you in.”
He said, “And what about you, Lucy?”
“I will always have shame.”
They lay in their bed with their son between them.
“Do you think he looks like me?” he asked.
“Why shouldn’t he look like you? But it’s too early to tell. Wait and see.” She looked down at the boy. “Does he look like me?” She laughed.
“He is my son, Marata, because he is your son. But I don’t know how that is possible. You’re not the Virgin Mary, and I’m not St. Joseph. Do virgin births run in your family? I have no problem claiming him and loving him as if he were my own, but you came here carrying him in your belly and …”
“And you were sure then, that…what?”
“I didn’t know what…who was the father. Who is the father.”
She raised up on her elbow and reached over the baby and touched his face. “You are. As sure as I am his mother.” She moved her hand to his chest. “You are. I could explain to you how that is possible, but perhaps it would be better if I showed you.”
She curled the sleeping baby in her arm and stood. “Let me put him on his board.” She walked over and tied him in. “And I’ll show you. If you’re ready.”
She came to the bed. “You don’t remember the night Marion brought you to the reservation.”
“No, but you’ve told me. Standing Cedar told me, and Marion told me.”
“Did they tell you that when you came, that you were nearly bloodless and frozen and I stayed with you for three days and three nights and when you woke up you were alive?”
“Yes. You saved my life. You and the morphine.”
“No, Quinn. I gave you life. Let me explain and then I’ll help you remember. And it wasn’t the morphine. Morphine helped with the pain after you came back, and the morphine would have eventually killed you. Hollowed you out. I know. I’ve seen in the hospitals. It was Otoe medicine that brought you back.”
Lucy went to the shelf above the stove and brought down a crock bottle covered by a small cup. “It was this that did it.” She held out the bottle. “And now I’m going to show you the power of the old ways. Sit up.” She poured a cup of the liquid and brought it to him. “You will drink this and then lie back quietly and do as I say. Then you will understand.”
Quinn laughed. “What is it? You’ve got to tell me what’s in it before I drink it.”
“You don’t trust me, Quinn?” She looked down and smiled. “After all I’ve done for you?”
Quinn nodded. “Give it to me, then. One gulp.” He took the cup and drank. “Oooh! That’s nasty!”
“While we’re waiting, I’ll tell you what’s in it.” She took the cup and bottle and returned them to the shelf. “The medicine is a mixture of herbs I used while working at battlefront hospitals. The basic recipe is from The Old Woman No One Pays Attention To—the one who left her dying village to come and live with the Otoes. And I refined it, added to it.
This one is the best I’ve ever made, and you’re the proof. Maiden’s Wattle, Thong for the Leg, tobacco, mushroom, and honey. I crush them all together and boil. It cures all sorts of ailments. But for you I added what we call Stinking Reed. It is a plant we often pull up from the marshes and dry for fuel. I thought what was unusual about it is that it traps insects and eats them. And grows incredibly fast and no animal feeds on it. It can live almost anywhere. Mixed with the others, it is magic!”
She toed his thigh. “Are you beginning to feel anything yet? No? While we are waiting, let me explain about our medicine and why we wear medicine bundles around our necks.
When you left the reservation in January, I gave you a medicine bundle, the morphine powder meant to keep you from the pain that was killing you. White Man’s medicine. A small part was medicinal—herbs to cure common ailments. An even smaller part was magical, and in this I mean that it works because it came directly from me to you.
The Ioway and the Otoe have bundles that we carry for a variety of purposes—some are carried by individuals and most are held for certain purposes by doctors or chiefs. There are war bundles and peace bundles. Medicine bundles and sacred bundles.
There is one original bundle, a sacred bundle it is said that goes back to Wahre’dua, that gives the wearer power to control the elements, the beasts of the ground, and the fowls of the air.
The story goes that Wahre’dua decided it would not be good to give to man one bundle that controls everything, so he divided the contents into separate bags and gave them out to the different tribes, to give no tribe an advantage, but to give each tribe a unique power.
Now, I am of the Owl Clan, and there are powers passed down through blood which is in me, and you know the power of the owl. The Ioway name for the barred owl is Manoke, so we are Manoke. Besides my blood, I have also been given the sacred bag by Old Woman No One Pays Attention To. She gave me the Pigeon War Bundle. Pigeon is the mother of the air and always knows where she is and from whence she came. The old woman was from the Pigeon Clan and when the people in her village died she came to us. The Lutce Waruhawe bundle is used especially to locate the enemy, to protect the tribe from scouts and spies. And this I used when I went to the battlefield.”
She knelt next to him. “How are you feeling?”
Quinn looked at her and smiled.
“When I first went down to Corinth, I went as a nurse. I went to care for the sick and wounded and it was awful. I went to General Dodge and offered my services as a spy. I convinced him I could pass through the lines if he gave me a mission. He agreed and gave me a map. ‘See what you can find,’ he said. During the day I did what I could for the men in the tents. At night I reported to Dodge and came back in the morning. Because I had the freedom to come and go from the General’s tent, the nuns and nurses in the hospital told terrible stories about me—that I was a witch, that I had bewitched the General, that we were lovers. And they complained to him and accused me of poisoning some of the men who were already dying.
Then the nuns threatened to stop working, and I was sent away and I came back to the reservation and that’s when you came.
Are you feeling anything yet?”
Quinn hummed a yes.
“Then close your eyes.
When you came to me, bloodless and cold, I warmed you and gave you life. Otoes believe that sex makes babies, it gives life. The White world believes that women take energy and life from men in the act of love, so men often hold tight to themselves, to not give up much. Otoes believe the energy flows both ways. Sex is an exchange of energy through emotion—whatever emotion is going on between lovers. Hate, fear, love, or nothing at all. And it is a balancing out of the emotion between the two, perhaps that is why the woman who is forced absorbs the hate of the man who forces her and gives fear back to him.
Are you seeing anything yet?”
Quinn turned his head and opened his eye and she was lying next to him.
He tried to say, “You’re beautiful,” but his mouth only sucked air.
“Yes. Now lie still and don’t forget to breathe. Back then you couldn’t. Now I’m going to show you.”
She slid her leg over Quinn and sat on him.
She bent down and nipped the side of his neck. And Quinn felt a feathery lightness in his loins as something smooth stroked him, his legs, his belly, his crotch. He closed his eyes and felt warm. He fell asleep and dreamed.
During those magical seasons they worked side-by-side. Before she came to him in August, he had already dragged the timber poles in for the house and ricked them. They pegged in the mud sill and framed the house. With wedge and hatchet they split dry cedar for shingles. With a two-handed whip saw they ripped the logs down the middle and learned that cutting logs while they are green is best—the drier the log, the harder the wood. Quinn set up a system of “up and down” ripping, one person lying in a pit below the log in the sawdust, the other straddling it on top. They laid the cut logs in place on the floor of the house over “sleeper logs” and waited for them to cure. Next year they would refit them and fill them with oakum and clay. They would keep the soddy for a chicken house and leave it against the north wall for insulation. Chickens would come in May.
She went hunting and fishing with him. She carried the boy on her back when she rode the horse. She did not like the mules much because they did not like her. She made a bed on the floor of their house and on clear nights they slept there under buffalo robes and looked at the stars.
Quinn was planting beans when he saw the dust of the riders to the east. By the time he got to the house, Standing Cedar was sitting on the porch with Lucy, and Michante was playing in the dirt. Four braves squatted in the shade of the house. Quinn tied his mules to the corral post and walked up the steps to greet his friend.
“Welcome to our little farm, Tree. What do you think? Having second thoughts about becoming a citizen?” He smiled.
The Indian shook his head. “I’ve got a good job, now—Sheriff of the Half-Breed Reservation, and this is my posse.” He gestured at the four braves. “I’ll have to admit, it is an unpaid, self-appointed position, but it could work into something good. Maybe organize to protect the reservation from full-bloods and Whites. Maybe.” He laughed. He leaned forward in his chair. “We’re trying to find the Agent who made off with this year’s allotment money. $13,000. The people are pretty upset. Three years ago the last one did the same thing, and nobody went after him. This time things are gonna be different. We can’t let them take our land and bribe us and then steal the bribe.”
“Do you need any help finding him, Standing Cedar?” Lucy asked.
The Indian shook his head. “He’s a White Man in Indian territory. We’ll find him.”
Lucy stood. “Can you stay for supper? We’ve got plenty, and I’d like to hear the news from the reservation. If you want to sit out here for a while, I’ll get some cider and put the beans on the front of the stove.”
Standing Cedar smiled. He waved his braves up to the porch.
Lucy walked down and put her son on her hip and went back up into the cabin.
“There is trouble on the horizon,” Standing Cedar said. “The plains tribes are being driven from their hunting grounds. The reservation Indians are being cheated and starved, and the peaceful tribes are being betrayed by their own people as well as the Whites. Lean Bear was shot while riding under a white flag and the Cheyenne Dog Soldiers have offered the war pipe to the Sioux, Arapaho, Kiowa, and Apache. A week ago, a rancher at Walnut Creek Station was killed and his Cheyenne wife taken. Things are not good. Go to the reservation, Quinn, until the soldiers can come and protect you. Take your wife and child to safety. Bad things are going to happen.”
“I have a house to finish and crops to put in, Tree.”
Lucy came to the door. “We need not worry, Standing Cedar, nor should you.”
The four of them ate supper inside while the braves ate on the porch. Quinn was excited about his plans for the farm and extended another invitation for Standing Cedar to stay.
“I’d go with you to file your claim—go to Omaha, if necessary.” Quinn told his friend of the trouble he had with the Claims Agent. “You think about it, Tree. Spring is here.”
The Indian promised to stop on the way back.
The spring of 1864 was dry, and June brought no rain at all. On the first day of July, grasshoppers came at sunrise on the wind and ate everything that was green and then went after the bark on the trees. Quinn, Lucy, and their son sat it out in their soddy and listened to the gnawing on the roof. In the morning, the few insects that had not moved on were cannibalizing each other. Dust followed the grasshoppers and the sun did not shine clearly for weeks. Quinn was ready to give in.
Lucy was adamant. “I will not go back to the reservation. We will stay here and eat what we have, and then we will eat the mules or one of the horses, but I will not go back. We can go north to live with the Dakotas. Or we can go west and live off the land.”
Rains came at the end of July and August began as a false spring. Grass sprung up and trees budded.
Standing Cedar and his braves rode through Indian Territory and into Texas, where they trapped the Agent and found he was carrying more than half of the money he had stolen. The man had sent a few dollars to his wife, he said, and the rest he had spent.
The braves were for killing him on the spot and taking the money, but Standing Cedar argued for bringing the man back and turning him over to the Agency for White Man’s justice. “It needs to be plain to the men in Washington that we are being cheated and robbed of our money. This man’s trial according to their law will show that. We will be rewarded by our own people. Without that, we are no better than the White Man.”
Standing Cedar and his braves overtook many small bands of Sioux and Arapaho on the trail east. When questioned the braves told the same story, “The summer has been dry. The game is scarce. We are going to St. Joe to resupply our tribes for the winter.”
When Standing Cedar and his men arrived at Quinn’s farm, Quinn’s son was playing in the yard and his mother was sitting in the shade.
The Otoe slipped off his horse and walked to her. “I see you are still here, Echo Woman, and your son. Is your man close by? We did not see him.”
She looked up and smiled. “We are still here, Standing Cedar. And you are back as you promised. Quinn is still here, too, not far away. And I see you have found your thief. Congratulations. Bring that chair from the porch and come sit out here and tell me about your hunt. But first, see to your men, and make sure that the White Man is comfortable.” She laughed. “And you can pull down some oat hay for the horses.”
When the men and the horses were settled in the shade of the house, Standing Cedar told his story. “And on the trail back we overtook many bands of Indians from many tribes headed east. All warriors, no women. Some we camped with, and they all told the same story, that the summer was not good and the buffalo were gone and that they were headed for St. Joe to get supplies to keep their tribes alive through the winter. This is not good, Echo Woman. They will hunt and steal along the way. If they find a weak White Man, they will take what he has and maybe kill him and his family. Things are not good. When I rode through in the spring I urged you to return to the reservation. I ask you again. Come back with me until the soldiers can arrive and keep you safe.”
“This is not a war between tribes, Standing Cedar. This is between the Whites and the free tribes. We will be safe.” Lucy picked her son up and walked up the porch steps and turned. “I’ll cook supper. Quinn will be back in the morning. Stay the night, Standing Cedar. Maybe you can protect us until then.” She smiled.
Standing Cedar walked to his men. “Take the horses and the man to the creek and water them. Come back and we will eat.”
He walked into the house and pressed her further. “Tribes that are sworn enemies are traveling east together,” he said. “Bad things are going to happen along the trail.”
While she cooked, Lucy questioned her friend about the Agent and his capture. She asked him about his braves.
“We’ve been on the trail for nearly three moons. I should get them back to the reservation before they decide to revert to their nature and join the tribes heading east. But we’re nearly home. Spending the night here will be good for them.”
When he heard the shots, Standing Cedar ran to the porch and saw three of his men on their horses chasing the Agent at the end of a rope up from the creek, waving their rifles and whooping. The prisoner was dodging bullets that kicked at his feet. He broke into a run and threw himself on the steps, pleading for his life.
“Let us kill him, Standing Cedar,” one said, “and take the money.”
Standing Cedar held out his palm to the men and shook his head. He pointed to the brave holding the rope. “Red Shirt. The whiskey. Where did you get it? Where is Afraid of Sky?”
The brave straightened his back and shook his head. “No whiskey. This is our prize. We want our money.”
“We told the people we would bring back the Agent and the money he stole. It is their money. It is our duty.”
“The people did not chase this man to Texas. The people do not know what money he has left. You can do our duty. You can take him back and leave us with the money. That is a good trade, I think.”
Lucy stood in the doorway with her son on her hip.
Standing Cedar shook his head. He looked at the three braves who sat their horses quietly. “Get him on his horse. We are leaving.”
“You bargain like a White Man,” Red Shirt said. “Give us half the money and you can take the Agent back. Give us half and we will go.”
“No. We take him back and return the money.”
Red Shirt threw down the rope and got off his horse and walked to the porch. He waved his rifle. “We helped you find the man you wanted. Do not be a White Man, Cedar Tree. Pay us and we will go.”
He took two steps toward the porch and grabbed the rope tied to the Agent’s wrist and pulled. Then he pushed the rifle into his chest and shot him.
Standing Cedar lunged at Red Shirt, but the brave turned the rifle.
“Now there is no reason to go back, Standing Cedar.”
A shotgun boomed from the porch and Red Shirt fell.
Standing Cedar turned to the doorway. A shot rang out from behind him and Lucy fell. Another shot chipped off the door post and Standing Cedar reached for the shotgun as the braves wheeled their horses. Another shot tore into Lucy’s back before Standing Cedar could empty the second barrel.
He turned her over, ignoring the squalling toddler who had crept to his mother’s body. He gathered the boy in his arms and carried him into the house. He bounced him in his arms and found a piece of jerky and the boy quieted and the man sat him in a corner.
Then he went to the porch and lifted the woman. He carried her in and laid her on her bed.
The afternoon was closing, and clouds of dust were coming up from the west. Standing Cedar tied the toddler onto his bed rack and propped him back in the corner, ignoring the boy’s cries. He dressed Lucy’s horse and then his own and rode across the creek and up a hill where he saw a train of Indians heading east. War parties in feathers and paint. He rode down to the house and packed food and cartridges and things he might trade and tied it to Lucy’s horse. Then he strapped the boy on to balance the load. He loosened the thong from the carbine’s saddle ring on his horse and slid it behind the boy’s board. Then he ran the thong through the shotgun’s trigger guard and tied it. He had close to $9,000, enough to live on for the rest of his life, enough to raise a child among the Whites in the east. Not so easy here, where the tempers were hot. He could turn and ride north to the Dakotas, through the land of the Pawnees. If he got to the Dakotas, he might be welcomed by the fugitives from his own reservation. Or he could return to the reservation. Return to his wife and raise the child. He led the paint up the creek and looked south toward the Republican River.
He rode cross-country through the night. As the sun rose he dry-camped in the trees and did what he could to keep the boy quiet. He fed him some of the corn mush he had brought and shot a hare. He sliced it open and ate the heart, liver, and kidneys. He skinned it and hung the carcass. He wrapped the boy next to him and slept.
The next night he made a fire and cooked the hare from the night before. He chewed it for the boy and fed it to him. “We’re going to be all right, boy,” he said. He had forgotten the name that Lucy had called the boy. He remembered the English word, but not the Otoe. Was he going soft in the head, not to remember his own language? It was Heart. Lucy had called him Heart. “Nahje niche,” Standing Cedar addressed the boy. “Like your mother. Nahje niche. If I could bring her back, if I could trade my life for hers, I would.”
There was no comfort in saying it. He wrapped the boy up next to him and slept hard.
When he woke he knew he was not alone. The fire was cold and the morning gray. The boy still slept, but Standing Cedar unwrapped him, stood him up, and made him pee. Then the Indian peed on the ashes and looked around.
The two ponies were still pegged, and he did not think they had made the sound that woke him. He hurried to pack them. He drank from his skin and gave the boy a drink. He sat the boy on the horse, swung up behind him, and pulled on the other horse to follow.
Rather than heading cross-country toward the rising sun, Standing Cedar looped in a circle and picked up the tracks. A single pony had ridden to within twenty yards of his camp and had turned and rode away. Dew on the grass had been shaken off, and Standing Cedar believed the visitor had come before dawn. He had been foolish to make camp and cook the rabbit.
Caught in open country, his best chance was to run for it. He spurred his horse into a trot and then into a full gallop as he pulled the trailing pony alongside. In ten minutes he would pull up and mount her and give the gelding a rest.
When he saw a line of horses on the horizon, he pulled up and waited. To his left were riders headed toward him. They were in full feather and paint, with fresh scalps on their lances. Without a word, the leader pointed his lance toward the line of riders ahead. He shook the lance and Standing Cedar followed them.
As he approached the horsemen on the hill, the line of riders encircled him. Standing Cedar’s first thoughts as he approached the Chief was, “He seems large because his pony is small.” And then, “He seems big because his head-dress stands so high and the trailing feathers almost touch the ground.”
Standing Cedar clutched the boy and sat tall.
The Chief said something he did not understand, and Standing Cedar dropped his reins and held his left hand flat and parallel to the ground. Then he dropped it. “I am Standing Cedar of the Otoes. We are on our way back to the Half-Breed Reservation.”
The Chief said something and a warrior rode up and took the lead rope from Standing Cedar and led the trailing horse away. The Chief spoke to his men and one of them responded. The brave spoke to Standing Cedar. “You are a long way from home. Follow us to our camp and we will talk.”
With that the troop turned as one and the Chief lead the way.
They rode into a camp that was on the move. There were no tipis, no women, and the war ponies were tied to picket ropes near the fires, not tended and away from camp. Pots and bedrolls were being tied onto pack horses. As the troop rode through camp, all work stopped. The Chief dismounted and led two of his men to a fire at the center of the camp. The brave who spoke Otoe rode up to Standing Cedar and signaled him to dismount.
When Standing Cedar moved to untie the boy’s board, the man said. “Leave it. Come.”
Standing Cedar followed him to the Chief and his two men, who were seated at the fire. The Chief made a gesture. “Sit,” the Otoe brave said.
The Chief talked directly to Standing Cedar, and his three minions laughed. Then the Chief spoke at length to the translator and the Otoe spoke to Standing Cedar.
“He said to tell you we are Arapaho and are on our way to the city of St. Joseph to replenish our supplies for the winter. The buffalo hunt has not been good and the fur on the rabbits tells us the winter will be cold. We laughed because that is what we told every White Man we passed on the trail.” The Otoe smiled. “We are not Arapaho. We are Sioux.”
The Chief spoke and the Otoe translated.
“Does it look like we are on a shopping trip, Mr. Otoe?” the chief had asked. He turned to his two men and they laughed.
“What do I call you?” the Chief said. “I already have an Otoe. What is your name when you are with your people?”
“My name is Standing Cedar, out of the Owl Clan of the Ioway and my people are Ioway-Otoe, part of the Half-Breed Reservation near Deroin.”
“Standing Cedar. I am called many things, but today I am Two-Face, and we are late for some killing. Remember this as your lucky day. You met Two-Face and did not die. My men have already unloaded your treasure, such as it is, and we will send you on your way and you will not see us again as long as you continue to travel east.”
“Thank you for my life and the life of my boy.”
The Otoe held up his hand for Standing Cedar to say no more.
“Do not thank me,” Two-Face said. “We are on the killing road and have said our prayers. We do not wish to kill you and we cannot be encumbered by a child.”
Standing Cedar remained seated with the translator as the three Chiefs left the fire.
As he led Standing Cedar to his horse the warrior said, “Two-Face leaves you your rifle because these are perilous times, Standing Cedar, and out of respect.” Standing Cedar mounted his horse and the Otoe handed the boy up and said, “I am still Otoe. Do not head east or south. There is big trouble planned. Ride north and cross the Platte, to the land of the Pawnees. They have not smoked the war pipe. There is trouble as far as the Arkansas.”
Two weeks later Standing Cedar approached the Half-Breed Reservation from the east and noticed plumes of smoke on the horizon. He kicked his pony into trot. The women were beating at lines of smoke creeping through the stubble surrounding the village. In the distance fields were in flames.
Children ran ahead and behind as he rode into the village. Chief Medicine Horse waited in front of his lodge.
“Welcome, Standing Cedar. Come sit with me and tell me of your travels.”
“If you would, Chief Medicine Horse, help me understand the fires that burn.”
“Lucky that we were lazy and cut the oats nearest the village. Bad luck that the wind shifted. We lit the edge of the wheat as a backfire, but it got away from us. It will be OK. Welcome home, Standing Cedar. You can see what news we have for you.” He waved his arm. “What news do you have to tell us?”
Standing Cedar told a short version of his story, that he and his braves had tracked the agent to Texas and got word that the man had fled to Mexico and that by the time they reached the Rio Grande, his braves had lost interest. “They said they didn’t want to ride into the land of the Chiricahuas. “They were not afraid,” he said. “I don’t think. They wanted to go where they wanted to go. On our way to Texas we had met warriors from many tribes riding east. The word was that Tall Bull had sent out the war pipe to the chiefs and that there was much plunder to be had along the trail from Denver to Marysville. They were looking for an excuse not to return to the reservation and lose face. Killing me wasn’t a good option, so they announced they were riding back to join up with one of the war parties and to hell with the reservation.”
“I wish them luck,” said Medicine Horse. “If I was young man I would join them. This reservation life is no good. While you were gone, Standing Cedar, an agent from Washington came with papers and maps that showed us what we owned. Not what the tribe owned, but what each of us owned. They put our names on pieces of the map and, they said, that is yours to farm and that is his to farm. How they decided who got the good ground, I don’t know. Some people just got rocks. Some even got two sides of our river. Did they get a bridge to cross to the other side? Hah! And we can do nothing about it. Except fight with each other, and we do.
The Whites have set fires to our fields twice. They say they wanted payment for what the Dog Soldiers did to the settlements and stations along the river and that they would continue to burn fields until we paid. Our braves ride far south of the river and raid settlements and bring back their plunder to sell, but it is never enough. It has been a bad summer and the people are hungry.”
Standing Cedar rode to his lodge and found his wife gone. He rode back to Medicine Horse. “Where is Maxúdòwemi? Where is Four Clouds Woman? She is gone and all my goods!”
“Yes, she is gone. I should have told you,” said the Chief, “but I knew you would find out soon enough. I saw that your hunt for the Agent had failed, and I did not want to ruin what little happiness you felt on returning home.”
Quinn was called away from the farm three days before Lucy was killed. On August 6, two men from the Thompson ranch, along with a soldier in a Union jacket, rode up and asked Quinn to join them in a hunt for the band that had attacked a mule train five miles up the trail. Other men from down trail, they said, were being recruited and would meet up with them if they could.
“Keep the boy in the house, Lucy,” Quinn said, “Keep the shotgun ready and don’t go outside for any reason.”
The riders met another group on the trail and sent them west while they cut north. They camped that night and had no luck the next day finding the band that had attacked the train. The men decided to head back to their homesteads and wait for more news.
When Quinn rode up to the house he found an Indian in the yard and a White Man dead in front of the porch. He ran in and found his wife on the bed and no trace of his son. The dog was nowhere in sight. Outside he found tracks of many horses. Lucy’s horse was gone and the cow and the mules were in the corral. He circled the house and ran to the creek calling his son’s name, then ran back into the house calling. The house had been ransacked and the shotgun and cartridges were gone. He went to his wife and gathered her into his arms and wept and howled and wept some more. He lay with her through the night.
When the morning came he stood for a long while looking at her. Then he undressed her and straightened her body and brought water from the rain barrel and washed her. He combed and braided her hair. He found her owl wing and her medicine bag. At the creek he cut sweetgrass and dug clay from the bank. He looked for feathers and found none. He walked far from his tilled plot and found sage and pulled it up and brought it back and stripped leaves into her shell. Unhinging the door he set it across the two chairs and arranged sweetgrass as a bed and lifted her onto it.
He undressed and washed his body with rainwater. He removed his eye patch and cut long tufts of hair from his head and his beard and tied them with twined grass and arranged them around her head. When he was ready, he cut lines in his legs and torso with a knife and mixed the blood with clay from the bowl. Then he anointed her head, her hands, and her feet with the paste. He tied her medicine bag around her neck and smoothed it onto her breast. From the stove he brought coals to set atop the sage and blew on it until it smoked. Then, with her owl wing, he smudged the room and stood over her body and sang the only prayers he knew, fragments from the big sweat and words he remembered from her.
may je-gi wo-chi ‘exi
He dressed her in her buckskin dress and her beads and lashed her to the door. He put his eye patch on and dressed himself in buckskin. Then he covered her with a buffalo robe, wrapped the bundle with rope, and dragged the door to a cottonwood tree. He climbed the tree with the end of the rope, looped it over a limb, and climbed down. Then he hoisted the body to a crotch in the tree and tied off the rope. He climbed the tree again and sat beside his wife.
As the sun sunk below the horizon he chanted until the moon came up, and then he lay beside her. For two nights and two days he watched beside her.
At dawn he went back to the house and gathered what was left of her things and rolled them into a blanket—her owl wing, the shell, the Lutche Waruhawe bundle, the bag of herbs from the shelf, the jar from above the stove.
He packed his horse and released the mules and the cow from the corral and called the dog out from under the porch. He dragged the bodies of the two men into the house and piled bundles of straw in the doorway and lit them. Then he mounted his horse and rode south. Spooked by the smoke, the cow ran off. The mules followed him for a mile, the jenny in the lead. The dog loped alongside him.
Two miles from his house Quinn met a pair of mules, who stood by and waited until he passed and then followed him. On a knoll a mile further on Quinn saw the herd spread across the hillside, with no tender in sight. Fifty yards from the burned-out settlement his dog stopped and whined. There were no buildings left. The remains of oxen and horses were being picked over by crows and ravens that flapped into the sky as he rode up.
Quinn didn’t bother to get off his horse. He called his dog and urged his horse into a trot and headed for the Little Blue Station. A mile from the Station he found what remained of a wagon train, animals dead and whiskey barrels scattered out into the grass.
Way stations along the trail were spaced about a day’s ride from each others. The Little Blue Station was no more than a grassless site up from the trail with corrals and sorting pens for the mules and oxen. Herders, drovers, and teamsters were protected from the elements and the Indians by a 20 by 20 foot hole dug into the side of a bank shored up with logs and backfilled with dirt. In the rear, a sod chimney poked out of a roof supported by poles and covered with hay and dirt. The door and two windows faced the trail to the south. Quinn got off his horse and looked. There was nothing in the hovel.
He rode on.
Farmers and ranchers had settled along the trail for the last 15 years under the principle of Preemption, waiting for the Homestead Act to pass. The larger ranches had become small settlements, as relatives and friends were called to join those who first ventured out. Further up from the trail sat men like Quinn—miles off the trail and not interested in the passing commerce they might dip into from the trains heading west. Wanting to be left alone.
And he was alone today on the trail. He rode east for four miles and found Joseph Roper’s farm burned. Another three miles to the Kelly ranch. Burned. He was cautious as he approached “The Narrows.” Here the trail ran close to the river and was bounded on the north by bluffs formed by wind-blown loess soil. William Eubank had built a settlement above the flood plain on an alluvial fan and he and his sons claimed ground that ran north for five miles. Quinn skirted the “home place” and rode up to William Jr.’s farm. Not destroyed, but no one there. He rode down to the trail and came in from the east. The home place was burned to the ground. No one there.
He rode on four miles to Oak Grove, home of the Comstock family, and then to Joseph Eubank’s place two miles on.
Quinn rode off the trail and slept.
When Quinn got to the Kiowa Station he learned that every camp, homestead, and wagon train along the trail from Liberty Farms had been hit over a three-day period and that word had come that war parties were attacking settlers and forts as far west as Julesburg. Survivors along the Little Blue had packed what they could and were headed east to Marysville. Quinn’s hopes were raised when he heard that, while Liberty Farm had been burned and Joseph Eubank killed, three of the family and a nephew had been taken and might be alive.
People around the fires that night at Kiowa were eager to share what news they had.
“We don’t know all who’s missing,” one of the men said. “The Comstock boys rode back and buried what bodies they could find, but they won’t know until they reconnoiter a bit more. From the Eubanks, two women and two children, a boy and a girl—little ones. Don’t go back by yourself, Mr. Quinn. You can’t do any good going out there. Stay here. We could use your gun. They might get you on the road. And if he’s still alive… And if he is…” The man broke into sobs.
In Marysville, Quinn walked through the camp filled with hundreds of wagons. The Beatrice Sun reported that Black Kettle had offered to broker a peace, that Governor Evans had requested the Colorado militia be transferred into the Colorado Third Volunteer Regiment, and that Stanton had authorized funds to recruit a new “100-day” regiment. The Marysville newspaper quoted the Governor’s proclamation. One of the men read.
“Here it is—the Governor himself giving us official permission to get back our property from those thieving savages. Here it is.
Now, therefore, I, John Evans authorize [
__]all citizens to go in pursuit of all….” He paused and read ahead. “Here we go “…in pursuit of all hostile Indians on the plains, I hereby empower such citizens, or parties of citizens, to take captive, and hold to their own private use and benefit, all the property of said hostile Indians that they may capture, and to receive for all stolen property recovered from said Indians such reward as may be deemed proper and just therefor.”
He folded the paper. “And it says if you join up to go fight Indians in the militia, you’ll get paid cash money. One hundred dollars.”
“That oughta flesh out the regiment quick,” said one in a Union coat. “You get free ‘Its’ and you get a hunnert dollars. A hunnert dollars and everthing you can fuck, kill, or eat.” He shook his head enthusiastically. “I could do that.”
“Fuckin’ savages deserve anything we kin do to them.”
Assent all around.
“This thing about Black Kettle. You believe that?”
“I don’t believe nothin’ about no Indians ‘cept what I want to do to ‘em. An I’m gonna make it my life’s work.”
“If I can’t go back, I’m headed to Texas.”
“They got their hands full down there.”
“I heard Governor Evans is going to get Kit Carson to come help him drum up volunteers.”
“We don’t know that.”
“It’s just what I heard.”
“Chivington. Chivington is who I heard.”
With that Quinn took off the next morning for Fort Riley to see Major Benjamin S. Hemming.
“We have word that the Arapaho Chief Left Hand has negotiated a trade with the Dog Soldiers. There is no boy listed about your son’s age. Three women, two girls—16 and 3, and two boys—both about 8. We’re holding out to see if they got more. We don’t want anything to do with the Arapahos. We’re trying to get Left Hand to turn them over to Black Kettle. Wynkoop up at Fort Lyon trusts him just a little more. I don’t know what they want, whether it’s money or whiskey or what, but they’re not dealin’ with me. Black Kettle’s little chief One-Eye says that if we will agree to a meeting, his big chief will get the captives. But we don’t know.”
“And where is Left Hand? Black Kettle?”
“We don’t know that either. My guess is the reservation on Smokey Hill River. They’re not the ones fightin’, so we can’t go in there without starting another war. Let them come to us, if they want. We find ‘em we’ll keep an eye on ‘em, though.”
Quinn rode west along the Smokey Hill River Trail to Fort Lyon and looked up Col. Ned Wynkoop.
“We put a call out for the friendlies to come in. Black Kettle is a friendly Cheyenne. Left Hand is a sneaky sonofabitch, but he won’t fight. He might bring some Arapahos in. We guarantee if they come and camp within the sight of the fort they won’t be shot. If we can get our militia units reassigned from Missouri, we’ll go into the reservation.”
“Have you heard anything about anybody they’re holding?”
Wynkoop nodded. “Yesterday. Our scouts say yesterday the Dog soldiers came in and met with Left Hand to make a trade.”
“You might not want to believe this, Mr. Quinn, but there are good Indians that are not dead, and I trust two of them. One is George Bent and the other is his brother Charles. They’re Cheyenne half-breed sons of a trader who’s been here even before the Fort. You can talk to George. He comes in every once in a while. Just have to wait, I guess.”
When Bent showed up, Quinn asked him if he could take him to Left Hand and speak for him. “I can pay.”
“I can take you there, but I don’t need to speak for you, Mr. Quinn. He speaks good English.”
Quinn sat with Bent in the Chief’s tipi and heard what he had to say.
The Chief began. “The Cheyenne Dog Soldiers have come to me with news that Tall Bull has captives he wants to get rid of quick. I don’t want them, but I will get them if someone can take them.”
“Did Tall Bull describe who he had? Where they were taken? I am looking for my little son, who was taken in a raid along the Little Blue River.”
Bent translated. “He asks ‘When was your baby born?’ How old is he?”
Quinn told him.
Left Hand shook his head. “Women, mostly, and boys not yet men. Tall Bull says he is also dealing with Two-Face.”
Quinn looked at Bent for help.
“Two-Face is nothing,” Bent said. “Two-Face is not a man.” Bent looked at the Chief.
The chief looked at Bent. “Tooxu’oo’ betsono wooxeiht.”
Bent uncrossed his legs to get up. Left-Hand stopped him. “Find the half-breed Joe Beralda.” He turned to Quinn. “It would be good if you find your boy soon.”
That night, camped outside the reservation, Quinn pressed Bent for the meaning in what was said. “I thought you said I didn’t need a translator. What did he say?”
“Left-Hand didn’t speak English because there are no words in English for his thoughts.”
Bent nodded. “Two-Face is not a chief and he’s not a Dog Soldier. He claims to be a number of things, but he belongs to no tribe and has a small band of warriors who fear him and think he is invulnerable. Left-Hand said he is an evil man, evil incarnate. He referred to him as ‘Sharp-Elbows,’ a reference to a legend of many nations. There are stories that Sharp-Elbows is not human, that he is the son of a woman who seduced the sun god and was punished with a melting face. He is part human with two faces, and you can’t tell which face is looking at you. It is said that if you see both faces at the same time you will be paralyzed by fear and die. He tortures his women. Like Left-Hand says, maybe talk to Joe Beralda. He deals in women and children. He might be able to make a contact if you have money.”
Quinn rode back to the fort with Bent and offered to pay him. Bent held up his hand and shook his head. “Find your boy, Mr. Quinn. If you find Two-Face, I will pay you.”
Wynkoop welcomed Quinn back and asked for an account of his visit with Left Hand.
“And yes, we can get Joe Beralda to talk to you. I can get him here by tomorrow. He’s a no good sonofabitch. He trades in kids—steals them from Indians and White People alike. He’ll steal your kid and then get paid to go rescue him. Like I said-- no good sonofabitch.”
“I’d like to talk with him, anyway.”
“I’ll see what I can do in the morning.”
Quinn travelled with Joe Beralda through Indian camps looking for Two-Face, and they were met with faces of stone. After a week, Joe said they weren’t getting anywhere and he left. With snow threatening, Quinn returned to Fort Lyon and found that Black Kettle and Left-Hand had delivered captives to Wynkoop and that the Colonel had taken the Whites and five Chiefs to Denver to return the captives and make peace.
Buoyed by the news, Quinn rode to Denver.
Quinn bought a newspaper and read about the release of captives taken along the Little Blue in August. He read the story Laura Roper told and learned about the children that had been rescued with her. A separate story listed the others missing and thought to be alive. No boy his son’s age was listed.
That same day, Quinn delivered a letter to the Pioneer Hotel in Denver.
“Dear Miss Roper. My name is James Quinn. I homesteaded the farm five miles west of Liberty Farms and I’m looking for my son, who was captured by Indians in the raids along the Little Blue, perhaps on the same day you were taken. I am happy to see that you were returned and would like to visit with you to see if there is something you might tell me that would help me find my son.
Laura Roper left a message for him and they met at the hotel.
“You’re not from the newspaper, are you? I already talked to the newspaper and I’m afraid I told them things that wouldn’t be good if they put them in the paper. You’re not, are you?”
Quinn shook his head. “No, I’m from the Little Blue. Just looking for my son.”
“I’m sorry about your boy, Mr. Quinn. I know I’m lucky. I’m lucky they let me go and that they treated me good…”
“…after they quit trading me. After Black Kettle got me. And Left Hand wasn’t too bad, really. The hardest part was the traveling. We were always moving. I was with the Indians for two months and we were moving all the time, never stayed more than two days in one place. We rode nearly every day, and sometime all night. I never got to sit and rest. I almost welcomed getting to a village and getting beat up by the squaws. Pulling my hair mostly and kicking me. They didn’t scare me, but the warriors did. They were the Cheyenne Dog Soldiers, and they were the ones who killed and scalped. When I got to the Sioux and the Arapaho, it was better. It helped that somebody spoke English to me, you know? Left Hand did, but he didn’t talk much. A half-breed named Joe Beralda was really nice to me and told me they wouldn’t kill me, or they would have by now. That was after riding the first day and all that night. That kind of talk gave me courage, and a couple of times I rared up and fought back and they just laughed at me. When I didn’t die then, I knew they were keeping me to trade.
I don’t know the name of the Dog Soldier that captured me. General Wynkoop asked me that, but I know he was a chief and he kept me for a month and traded me to an Arapaho for five ponies—to Neva. His brother’s name was Notay. They talked English and told me they thought it wasn’t right for me to be held here and that I would be given up soon.
But they didn’t keep me. They gave me back to the Dog Soldiers and they sold me to the Arapahos that had me before.
Neva came one day and told me his cousin Black Kettle was making a deal with the soldiers. It was getting cold and the buffalo hunt had not been good. The Indians needed warm blankets for the winter and I might be traded for goods. I didn’t know it at the time, but they were also trading little Isabelle Eubank and two eight-year-old boys. When I heard that from Neva, I asked about Mrs. Eubank and little Willie Joseph, and Neva said they were sold to Two-Face right away and he took them away somewhere.
That was sad news. The happy news was that the four of us were brought to the field outside the fort and handed over to some soldiers. I was so happy to be among White People again, people who talked to me and cared about me. I was questioned by the commander of the fort about some things—mostly names of the ones who owned me. And I talked with Joe Beralda.”
Quinn interrupted. “Joe Beralda was at the Fort? How could that be? He was out with me looking for Two-Face.”
“I don’t know about that, but when he came back to the Fort, they put him in a cell. I saw him. Col. Wynkoop told me he was there because the Cheyenne had turned him over to the Whites for betraying them. Joe said it was Two-Face. When we were brought in to the fort, five of the big chiefs went with us, so they were dealing with some things I didn’t know about and it took four days before we started out for Denver. The chiefs and 500 soldiers. By that time the travelling was welcome and not hard. I got to talk to White People along the way and eat good food. On the way to Denver one of the men said they had executed Joe Beralda, and I wish they hadn’t. Anyway, when we got to Denver we stayed at the Planters Hotel and caused quite a stir. They took our pictures and asked us questions.”
With no hope of learning anything from the returned captives, Quinn decided to look up the 100-day unit being organized at Camp Weld north of Denver.
The sentry directed him to the Third’s gunnery sergeant to sign up.
“Can you write?”
Quinn nodded. “Yes.”
“Then fill out these forms.” The sergeant handed him papers and a pencil.
Quinn stood at the counter while the man went about gathering gear.
“You come here just to join up, or you live here?
“Neither. I’m from Nebraska. I been looking for some people.”
“Haven’t found ‘em, huh?”
“Nope. So I thought I’d join up and kill some Indians.”
The sergeant put his palms on the counter. “You lost people, didn’t you? I can tell. Indians?”
Quinn shook his head dismissively and filled out the form.
The sergeant pulled out a form and a pencil and began writing.
“You been in the Rebellion?”
“I was there.”
“Both. A little of both. Does it matter?”
“Not to me it don’t. I jes’ want to know if you can handle yerself. I’m not in charge of pickin’ men, but I got to put down what I think they should do—put them in the line, or what. Don’t suppose you kin fire a cannon. You good with a rifle?”
Quinn shook his head. “You got a shotgun?”
The man laughed. “We’ll issue you a Sharps carbine and ammo and we feed you. You kin take anything along you want, but we don’t issue shotguns.”
“A rifle then’ll do.”
“Rifle it is. You’ll be in the First Regiment under Captain Soule, and I’ll put a note in about your eye. He looked up at Quinn. “If that’s OK.”
Quinn nodded. “It’s OK.”
“Kin I ask how you lost it?”
“It’s OK. Now. The pay ain’t great, but you kin keep whatever you kin git. Stop by the armory with this chit and draw it. You bring a canteen, a bedroll, and good shoes, and a coat and cap with you. No regulations about that.”
“How about a horse?”
“You need a horse?”
“This is a cavalry unit, ain’t it?”
The man laughed. “We ride out there on horses. More like mounted infantry. You need a horse, we’ll give you a horse. Your enlistment won’t be long, 50 days, an you get a hunnert dollars, same as if you signed up at the beginning and you got to bring the horse back. Washington gave the Colonel rights to raise a hunnert day regiment at a hunnert each and that’s almost up. You stay after that, you stay for no pay. For the fun of it, if you like. You got any questions?”
Quinn shook his head and put the pencil on top of the form. “Just tell me where I bunk and when the next meal is.”
“Barracks eight. Eat at five. You want to go over and meet some of the new boys you can go over now.”
“Thanks Sergeant.” Quinn snapped off a salute and grinned.
Quinn found his bunk and decided to wait to visit the armory. Supper wasn’t for a couple of hours, but he decided to visit the mess and see if he could get an idea of what was up for the regiment.
The men were sitting around smoking and telling jokes. Someone was leading a song to the tune of “When Johnny Comes Marching Home.”
“We are the men of the Bloodless Third!”
“We are men of the Gutless Third!”
“The women will faint and the men will scream…”
“Shut the fuck up!”
“No, you shut up!”
“You make my face hurt!”
“What you mean, you dumb shit!?”
“Anybody got anything to drink? Anybody got a bottle?”
“Who’s in charge?”
“Who are you assigned to?”
“To go kill Indians.”
“It don’t matter.”
“You ever kill a Indian?”
“It’s a job like no other. But it’s still a job.”
“You won’t get rich, but you’ll have fun.”
“Catch it and keep it.”
“You been on any hunts?”
“What about scalpin’?”
“It’s like takin’ a pelt, just like skinnin’ a bunny.”
“Easier than a buffalo! More money, too. A Sioux scalp in Texas’ll bring ten times what a buffalo’ll bring.”
“How do they know?”
“Ever skin a buffalo?”
“You hunted buffalo?”
“You got a good horse that don’t spook, you kin jes’ ride up alongside them and kill ‘em.”
“Not an Indian though.”
“Them’s sneaky bastards.”
“Worse than Meskins.”
“They pay fer scalps?”
“In Texas. Don’t matter if they’re Meskins or Indians. They can’t tell. If you git a little one, jes say it’s off the top of the head and that’s all they had.”
“Ever not be able to pull it off?”
“Once, when I didn’t do it right. I left a flap and had to drag him a few feet.”
“Practice makes perfect.”
“Ever scalp a snatch?”
The man took off his hat and held it out. “What’s this look like to you? See this hat band? I trimmed it so’s it wasn’t so straggley.”
“Yer shittin’ me!”
“Thought about braiding beads into it. I cut it off, hung it on my saddle horn first and stretched it out later to a good size over the cantle before it dried. When I got back I tanned it.”
One of the men stood. “Come on, now! This is ridiculous!” He stood and walked away.
The hat was passed around for inspection.
“And this…” He held up a pouch. “You would think is a tobacco pouch. Know what this is? Indian pecker skin. You take the whole works and peel it off later. Now it’s white as yours, ain’t it, Jim?” He elbowed the man next to him and laughed.
“How do you tan something like that when you’re out on the trail? Or do you wait til it gets all crusty and you take it home and show it to your wife…”
“Don’t be stupid, Stupid. Tannin’ anything is easy. Here let me show ya.” He took the pouch and held it out. “You do this while it’s fresh. You can turn it inside out and scrape it, stretch it on a little board, if you want. First you cure it. Just sew up the nutsack and piss in the front.”
“ God Damn! Yer fuckin’ kiddin’ me!”
“Or get one of yer buddies to piss into it. Just fill it up as best you can and tie the end shut. Hang it out somewhere where you won’t mind the smell. After about a week you can tan it and bleach it out with brains.”
“Oh shit! I heard these stories like snipe hunts! Now yer going to tell me where to get the brains. From the buddy that pissed in it in the first place? Oh, Jesus!”
The man put the sack back in his pocket. “O.K. That’s enough. Gimme my hat back. Tell you what. Anything I got, except the hat, is fer sale.” He pulled a bag from his pocket. “Like this little item. Anybody want to buy this?” He held it up. “A shot bag made from an Indian’s tit. You kin get a lot of these yerself. Good for almost anything you want to hold in it.”
“Did you buy these or take ‘em? I don’t know…’
“Just wait and see. You’ll git you some. My advice is when you go in there, you got to think about what you can take out. Fergit blankets and buffalo robes and beads and shit. Look fer something unusual, something you can stuff in yer bag. If it’s a head, make sure it’s a little one.”
Some of the men laughed.
“Or you can shrink it when you get home, huh?”
“I rescued a whole face from an Indian tipi once. Beard, lips and all. Sold it to a trader.”
“Ever see a man scalped that lived?”
“I’ll tell you what I’m goin’ for—White Man’s scalps!”
“White Women’s scalps!
“They’d bring great money down in Texas, I’ll bet.”
“You kin jes go into collecting whatever you like. Hands, fer example, they shrink up and dry on their own. Or dry ‘em over the fire. They turn black no matter what anyway.”
“Ever eat any of them?”
“Don’t be stupid. They stink.”
When the giggling stopped, a man who had sat quietly raised a finger. “We didn’t invent this kind of war. It’s been going on since time began. The Assyrians collected Greek tongues. The Jews collected Philistine foreskins. The point is this—if you understand your enemy, you can defeat him. The Christian believes that on the Last Day souls will be reunited with their bodies whole and go to Paradise or Perdition. The Cheyenne believe that the soul hangs around for a few days after death and that if a body is mutilated, it must take that ravaged body with it into the afterlife. You want to stop them from torturing our women and taking trophies? Put the fear of their God in them—killin’ them ain’t enough.”
The room quieted.
One of the men asked him about officers.
The man looked at him. “Why?”
“I thought maybe they could tell me what we’re going to do, where we’re headed.”
“You want to know where you’re headed, go tell them where you want to go. You’re a volunteer. You can volunteer to quit if you want to and you can tell them to go to hell.”
“Nah!” the soldier replied. “It don’t work that way.”
“Cause this is the army is why not.”
“How about this, then? You go up and tell them you just volunteered to be an officer—that the men elected you—and you want to know what the plans are. Does that work for you?”
“I know. In these cobbled together units, the men choose the man they want to lead them into battle. If you have any trouble with them, you can say it’s just like the Spartans. Tell them the men are ready to go and hungry for booty.”
“But I don’t want to be no officer, no sir.”
The man who knew Jews and Assyrians said quietly, “Well, that’s the way war goes, boy. You wait til somebody tells you what to do and then you do it. At least you get to sit in one spot. In a real war, they move soldiers around all the time, just to keep ‘em tired and to keep ‘em from killing each other.”
“This ain’t a real war and we ain’t soldiers.”
“No, we ain’t,” the man said. “We’re hunters. We hunt in packs. Drive ‘em to the center and kill.”
Quinn stayed for a month. They moved out the morning of the 20th and got through the pass before the snow began. On the plains the horses plowed through drifts up to their chests. Col. Shoup drove them fourteen hours a day. The men fell asleep in the saddle because it was warmer and drier than sleeping on the ground. At night they slept again sitting by the fire. By the time they arrived at Fort Lyon they were sick and exhausted. It was nearly dark.
Col. George Shoup stood on a knoll outside the fort and called for dismount. When the men were settled he held up his hand.
“I know you men are tired and want to go inside and get some grub and warm up a bit. Get a good hot meal and then we’re going to ride on and muster outside the village. It’ll be an all-night ride, so change your socks and bundle up. We don’t sleep on the ground til this is over.” He pulled his watch from his vest. “It’s almost five. You got til eight to get ready. Give your horses to my men and fill your bellies with beans. Whiskey and cigars after supper.” He laughed.
“You are free til then to entertain yourself at will as long as you stay in camp. You will be ready to move out at Col. Chivington’s command.” The comments were a mix of curses.
“I want you to know that you and your brothers in arms are being led by a veteran soldier and tactician who has proven himself in the War of the Rebellion and in the Indian Wars. Tomorrow we will be in good hands when we meet the enemy. Now let me introduce to you your commanding officer, Col. John M. Chivington.” The men were silent.
An imposing figure at 6 feet 4 inches and 240 pounds, Chivington stood nearly a foot taller than Shoup. He stood before the 700 men gathered outside the fort and raised his arms. “Men. We are gathered here to gird our loins for battle. You have volunteered, and I have been chosen. I have been chosen twice, the first at my religious calling and the second at my military calling. Like St. Paul, God chose me for both. The task is the same—to save souls for the Lord. Before my commission I was an Elder in the Church, and I served the Union until I asked to be reassigned to Fort Riley to fight the savages. Tomorrow I will lead you into one more battle in the crusade against the great heathen hordes, against the savages who rape and kill and mutilate our women and children. We are going to purge them from the earth with fire and sword, and damn any man that has any sympathy for the Indians. For any of them, man, woman, and child. We will strike them down! The former commander of this fort has been relieved and replaced with a man of God, a stalwart man, a righteous man, Col. Anthony, and he shares my hate for the heathens and I myself heard him say that men such as Ned Wynkoop had by God better get out of the U.S. Service. So, boys, tomorrow we go out together to give witness to the prophecy in Second Timothy 2:19 –Nevertheless the foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, The Lord knoweth them that are his. Amen.”
A few mumbled “Amen” and here and there scattered cheers.
“I know it’s been a long march,” he said. “Dismissed.”
The men led their mounts through the main gate of the fort and gathered with their companies and sat on their bedrolls waiting with their cups between their knees and their tin plates in hand.
Quinn struck up a conversation with Second Lieutenant Cramer from the garrison. The men quieted to hear him speak.
“We went over the battle plans, over the maps. This’ll be a turkey shoot.”
A few close to him gave him supporting comments.
“But it ain’t right in a couple a ways. Col. Wynkoop called the Arapaho and Cheyenne in and offered them sanctuary next to the fort. They came in and were here for almost a month before Anthony replaced him. That happened while you guys were plodding through the snow. Anthony chased the Indians off and said things had changed. Now I think that’s wrong. They’re friendlies. We go in there with howitzers and rifles from a superior position, it’s murder. They got two ways to run—into the river or along the river, and we’re gonna be there.”
“Did you tell that to Chivington?”
“Damn right, I did! And some of my fellow officers agreed that we were bound by Col. Wynkoop’s promise to the Indians. I don’t remember what Chivington said exactly, but he quoted some Bible shit or something and said, ‘You want to know the motto of the Fourth Crusade, Cramer?’ He said it was emblazoned on somebody or other’s coat of arms. And he quoted the Bible again. ‘And you know what that means? God knows his own.’ He repeated it. ‘God knows his own. You will take command and you will take orders or you will be shot or court-martialed, or you will be court-martialed and then shot. Understood?’ With that he furled his maps and left.”
Col John Chivington arrived at the flats outside the village on November 29,1864 well ahead of the 400 men from Denver and the 300 from the garrison.The sun was not yet up. The captains led their troops to their assigned stations and sat their horses. Soule’s men from Company D, First Regiment, were assigned to the bluff overlooking the village to the south. Lt. Wilson’s companies had been sent to cut off the Indian ponies from the village and were running them away from the camp. Company G swept around to the east, and K crossed the dry creek bed boxing in the first village.
Frost was still on the tipis and smoke curled from a few fires as Anthony’s men rolled up the four howitzers. Some of the Indian ponies broke through Wilson’s men and ran into the camp. Two of the women below shouted warnings and men and children came running out. A white-haired old man came out of his tipi and raised a pole with an American flag on it. Another ran out waving and shouting at the men lined up above.
Quinn had never been in battle. He had heard the stories about the noise and the confusion, about the chaos and disorientation. Company after company were given the order to fire down on the village. Through the smoke and noise braves lined up in almost military lines and fired back. The cannons fired one after another. One old man stood in the smoke with his arms folded and waited to be shot. Soule was signaled to fire, but he refused to give the order to his company.
Chivington rode up and ordered the men to fire, and some of them did.
When the mass of braves had scattered, some running into the creek and across, others along the bank, Chivington gave the bugle the signal for the charge.
The cannons turned from the village to the creek and peppered the banks with canister.
Quinn watched men in his company slide down the bluff firing, stopping to reload, and going from tipi to tipi shooting. Some of the squaws ran out in front of the men and opened their blouses to show their breasts and they, too were shot. Men who had brought sabers hacked at bodies that were down. A little girl stuck in the mud was shot and pulled out and shot again. A squaw in the center of the camp pulled her two children out of the tipi amid the firing and slit their throats before falling on the knife herself.
When resistance from the village was put down, one company was directed to work downstream and another upstream to clean out the Indians firing from hollows in the banks.
Quinn let the butt of his rifle drop and skidded down the bluff and walked through the village. Soldiers were coming back through, dispatching the wounded and taking trophies. Quinn turned away from the butchering and focused on dragging a few of the wounded from the gore to a place in the trees beyond the camp. He came to the lodge that had raised the flag, the flag that was no longer there. Inside he found an old woman, bleeding, with a child in her arms. The boy’s medicine bag and an eagle bone whistle hung around his neck.
The boy was wailing. Quinn took him, tied him in his blanket, and lifted him over his right shoulder and grabbed his rifle. He held his other hand out to the bleeding old woman. “Can you walk?” he said. He took her elbow and let her stand, then took two steps toward the opening in the lodge and held out his hand. She pulled a blanket around her shoulders and moved to him.
The tipis had been pitched tightly together and gave Quinn cover as he led them along the back and into the trees. He settled the two behind some brush and pulled his pistol from his belt, cocked it, and handed it butt first to the woman.
“Shoot any White Man who comes for you,” he said. “But don’t shoot me.” He smiled down at her and pointed to himself and shook his head. “Not me.”
Quinn went back to the village and performed a grisly triage in choosing which victims to drag to safety. He managed to get five of the wounded to the copse below the bluffs. On the last trip he met Chivington on his black horse leading six officers through the village. The colonel held up his hand, drew his sabre and pointed it at Quinn. “Arrest that man. Take him to the pickets and put him in chains.”
Without a weapon, Quinn held up his hands. One of the officers waved him over and gave him a hand. “Two up, now, sir,” he said.
Quinn stepped into the stirrup and swung up behind. The officer split off and rode back through the camp and up the bluff. He slipped his foot out of the stirrup and gave Quinn a hand down.
“Can you find your horse, sir?”
Quinn looked up at him.
“Find your horse, sir, and no one will know you’re gone, I can promise you that.” The man grinned. “I can’t see shooting a White Man today, even on the Colonel’s orders. Go your way. Find your friends.” With that he gave Quinn a ragged salute and turned and rode away.
Quinn mounted and rode up the hill past the bluffs overlooking the carnage. He watched Chivington and his retinue passing back through the camp raping the dead and setting fire to the lodges. A man on horseback was dragging a woman tied screaming to the back of his horse.
Quinn rode down to the river. Corpses were trampled in the mud. He came to a rifle pit with three barrels showing over the edge. “Good Indian! Good White Man,” he hollered. No other words came to him. With that, an Indian stood with his rifle. It was George Bent, and he struggled to get out of the pit. Quinn got down and helped him up and onto his horse, then mounted behind.
They rode past a sentry at the edge of the village and Quinn saluted. George Bent called the man by name and he waved them on.
A fog of smoke and vapor began to float into the flats along the river as Quinn and his covey of refugees huddled beneath the trees. Bent, wounded by a bullet to the thigh, suggested it would be safer to remove to a cave the Cheyenne had used to store their winter goods.
Along with an old man, four women, one suckling infant and three toddlers, Bent and Quinn slipped through the trees.
Quinn left his rifle, canteen, and his pistol and rode back to the fort, where he found Soule and Cramer and some of the men from his company.
“Where’s Chivington?” Quinn asked Soule.
“He took the Third out after the ones that headed west. Anthony’s got the fort. I brought my men back here, the ones that didn’t go after Chivington. This’s been a bad day, Quinn, a black day for the regiment.”
“I’ve got ten survivors, three of them wounded, in a cave close to the village. I need medicine, food, and blankets. Can you get it for me? I’d like to be gone by midnight.”
“Sure,” Soule said. “We’ll get you fixed up and out of here as soon as we can. Remey. Get him some horses. Quinn, you want a fresh horse?”
Quinn nodded. “I’ll ride one of yours and trail mine. I don’t want to lose the one I got.”
“Remey, get a dozen. Saddle them and rig them to trail. Olsen, get blankets, morphine, iodine, bandages, and some whiskey. And food. And bring a couple rifles and some ammo. Pack it on one of the horses and come back when everything’s ready. Quinn, we’ll feed and water you and send you on your way.”
Over a plate of beans and bully beef Silas Soule recounted the day while Quinn ate.
“My impulse was to turn my back on the village and hold up my arms in surrender, as though I was the one being attacked. The men, they turned to me for direction, for orders, and my response was to run back and forth and in circles as if I were a mad man. Anthony rode up and signaled for my company to advance. A few did and some just stood there, and others threw down their rifles and walked back to the horses.”
“I know, Silas, I was there. A few of us just stood and watched. That was the worst.”
“I thought it was impossible to save any of them, Quinn, but you did. Even some of our men—Charly Autobee saved John Smith’s squaw and Winser’s squaw and brought them up to the horses. I don’t know where they are now. And John’s son Jack was with him, helping his mother. Jack was one of us! He was supposed to be there as an interpreter! He was shot cold—executed—by one of Dunn’s men. They say Chivington gave the man Jack’s horse. We came back and some of Wilson’s men rode up to the fort right behind us and said they were going out after all of Old Man Bent’s family and was any of them here. They wanted new horses and said they wanted to wipe out the stain of all the half-breeds. I said ‘Fuck you and your horses,’ and they went after little Charley Bent, but I ran him into the fort. George Bent got killed in the village—I don’t know if he got shot by them or us, but I saw him go down. And his brother Robert? While all this was going on, Major Anthony pulled him off his horse and marched him down into the village to watch. We couldn’t a done nothin’, nothin’ more’n what we done.”
“George’s not dead, Silas, but he’s shot. He’s one of the ones I got in the cave. Him and Black Kettle’s wife and Yellow Woman and Magpie. Them, an old man and his squaw and four kids. Is Robert still alive?”
“Anthony brought him back to the fort and he’s locked in the stockade. Anthony won’t let anyone get to him. What are you going to do with them, Quinn, after you get them doctored and fed?”
“I thought maybe you could help me out with that. The stragglers from the village will try to make it to the Cheyenne reservation. They’re on foot and Chivington’ll catch them sure. And then he’ll go in there and who knows what will happen? I can’t take my people to the reservation, but I don’t know where else to go with them.”
“I can send somebody to the rez and tell them where you are. They might tell us where to go.” Silas thought for a moment. “I’m thinking either Bent’s Old Fort or to Big Timbers itself. Old Man Bent’ll be at one of those places and he’ll put up more than a fuss if Chivington tries to take anybody from his place. That’s it, then. I’ll send Cramer. I’m sorry, Quinn, damned sorry about the whole thing.”
“It’s not over, Silas. They killed Black Kettle and White Antelope and all their followers. They were the good ones. Nobody wanted peace more than Black Kettle. If I was an Indian, I wouldn’t rest until I had killed as many Whites as I could. I rode with the worst of the worst in the war and I saw nothing to match this. God damn!” Quinn’s voice carried the timbre of a prayer. “Cry havoc! and let slip the dogs of war. That this foul deed shall smell above the earth with carrion men, groaning for burial.” He shook his head and whispered. “Nothing compares to what we did today, Silas.”
“Is that Shakespeare?” Soule asked.
“Yup. He gave the lines to Marc Antony.”
Silas Soule nodded with Quinn. “It sounds right. A few suffer for the many and a few cause the suffering of us all.”
“That sounds right, too. Who said that?”
“Me, Quinn.” Soule smiled faintly and nodded. “It was me said that.”
Quinn got to the cave at sunrise and pulled the brush and prairie grass from in front of the opening. He found the refugees along the back huddled together for warmth. He passed around blankets, food, and whiskey and used the brush and grass to build a fire in front of the cave, where he brought the wounded to work on. He passed on the news from the fort to George Bent and asked the man’s advice about moving to Big Timbers.
“The sooner the better, Quinn. I’m afraid Chivington’s going to send men back and do even more damage to the dead. He knows some of us will want to come back to bury the corpses. I wouldn’t be surprised if he posted some men to sit and wait.”
“I’ll ride out and see if the way is clear. Then I’ll get the ponies and you get the people up and ready. We’ve got to take our chances out in the open and hope some glory hunter doesn’t come along and kill us all.”
The day’s ride to Big Timbers was slow and careful, with stops to rest and check wounds. Old Man Bent was solicitous of Quinn’s refugees and pressed no one for their stories. “It’ll wait. Let’s see what we can do to get somebody down here to take care of these people.” And with that he sent riders to Ft. Lyon as well as to the Cheyenne reservation. “Spread the word that we have survivors. And bring back anybody who can help.”
In the morning, William Bent gathered an audience to hear the stories from those that wished to tell it.
Quinn started in the middle and told about finding Medicine Woman in the lodge. “My heart stopped dead when I saw that boy in her lap. I was sure it was my son.” And with that Quinn sobbed and turned away.
The men sat quiet and waited.
Quinn began again. “My commanding officer refused to order his company to fire. Many of the officers and men refused to be a part of it—just walked away. And some just sat, literally sat, and watched the carnage.”
From there Quinn told what he saw and did in the village, at the cave, and on the journey to Big Timbers.
William Bent stood and began pacing. “This is not going to end here, by God! I’m going to see to it. I still have some pull with men who can buy and sell the bastards who do this sort of thing. It ain’t over by a long shot! And if it comes to it, I’ll burn down their goddamned fort if I have to. I did it once, and I’ll do it again. I can go down and hire the whole goddamn Mexican army. This shit cannot happen.”
He turned to his eldest son. “Have you seen Robert and Charley?
“They’re both at the fort. Silas Soule said they locked Robert up for his own protection, and Charley? Well, Silas said he was safe. That’s all I know.”
The old man pressed George to tell him of the attack and interrupted with questions as he went along.
“Given our position in the village and the numbers against us, nothing could have saved us. It was not a battle. It was not a fight. It was a massacre. The worst of it was, they saw it as a shoot, like harvesting game. I was sitting in a hole—all three of us had been shot—and I could hear them laughing and talking about what they were doing to us and what they were planning to do to the dead on their way back.
The rest of it? Something keeps me from seeing the whole thing, like I got a blind spot in my memory because I was in part responsible for it. Two things saved us from total annihilation. One was the soldiers’ greed for anything they could take away. They stopped killing to take trophies. Another was their utter lack of discipline. They went after the easy kills—women and children who were down—and they spent their bullets on the dead. When they couldn’t dig us out of our holes because we fired back at them, they simply left. They wouldn’t fight a man on equal terms.
From the start they made the mistake of trying to capture our ponies. I think they tried to cut them out and rope them. Our ponies were used to running free as a herd and for men on foot taking them to ride. The soldiers tried to round them up as if they were cattle—they should have just run them off. They wanted to catch a few for themselves and chased them toward the camp.
I came out of my lodge when I heard the horses and ran toward the creek, where I saw troops on horseback coming at a trot. I turned back and got my rifle and watched White Antelope go down in a volley. He was holding nothing and wearing only his breech-clout. He stood there with his arms crossed. Black Kettle was in front of his lodge with an American flag. Medicine Woman came out with a white flag and she was shot and went down. That’s when I ran. First upstream for two miles and then made my way back down. I was shot in the hip and jumped into a hole in a bank with two wounded braves. Waves of riders passed us by. I was not a warrior on that day. I was a White Man—a coward and a conspirator. It was me who helped convince the Cheyenne they were safe after Anthony chased them away from the fort.”
William Bent interrupted his son. “I don’t want to stop you, boy, but I need to get something going here. Alvin, go get the men and send them out. We need to find where Chivington went and I want to know what’s going on at the Fort. I want to know if my two boys are still there and why in God’s name Robert was put in the stockade. If you don’t bring both of them back with you, there better be a good reason why. Alvin, you go there yourself, and take a dozen men with you. Make a scene. God damn! Makes me want to become an Indian! And I could do it, by God! I could do it!” He turned to George. “Go on, son. Tell the rest.”
“I think that’s about it. Quinn could tell you more about what really went on. He wasn’t running or hiding in a hole all day.”
Quinn went back over his story, starting with his enlistment in Denver, and, along with George, speculated about what they didn’t know.
The next day William Bent brought the news that Black Kettle was alive and back in camp. George and Quinn joined The Peace Chief in his lodge and prompted a reluctant Medicine Woman while she held the boy in her lap. “Two-Face captured this one and traded him to Long Nose who traded him to Black Kettle. He paid three ponies for him, not to keep him, but to give him to Wynkoop to find his home.” She held the boy at arm’s length and raised him high. “Or he could stay with us and grow to be a strong warrior, maybe a chief.”
With Black Kettle, Quinn and George Bent went over the casualty list.
“I need to write them down,” George said to the Chief. “All the names. To remember.”
“It is easier to say the names of the people who lived,” Black Kettle said.
“Then we start there. And after we have finished, we will remember the ones who are missing,”
“This is my doing,” said Black Kettle. “I am the one responsible. No White Man is to be trusted. Not even you, Quinn.”
Quinn nodded. “I understand. Although I have a friend, an Otoe, who once said I would make a better Indian than he. He trusted White Men, even though they stole his tribe’s annual allotment money twice. He was a half-breed and said he had lived too long on the reservation. When I asked what it would take to become an Indian—at the time I asked in jest—he told me to find a bunch of Indians and ride alongside them, and if they asked you to supper, you would become part of them.”
Black Kettle looked at Quinn. “What kind of Indian was your friend that he would say such a thing?”
“He was making a joke. He said he thought the phrase ‘had you for supper’ and ‘invited you to share supper’ was confusing.”
Black Kettle nodded. “It is said that Indians are not funny.”
Quinn smiled, remembering Standing Cedar’s sense of humor. “What would it take, do you think, for me to become an Indian? And is it possible? If it is not, then it is time for me to leave.”
“Becoming one of us is not hard. I think you have already done what you need to do. Your son is Indian, and your wife. There is no ceremony. We give you a name and create a link to the tribe and you become one of us. Who would you like to be?”
“I would be your son, Black Kettle, if I could. But if what you say is true, I would like to discover who I am. I can tell you who I was: James Quinn from County Queens, Ireland. The Irish, too, have a history of being oppressed for centuries by the same kind of men who would push you off the edge of the earth. Our people had their land taken from them as well, and they were forced to farm it and give the best fruits to the men who took the land in the first place. They gave back to us the rotten fruit that was left. They poisoned us, killed us, and brought us into slavery. Many of the Irish were brought to this country as slaves to work the cane fields to make molasses for the British to make their rum, the poison they freely give to your people as well as mine. My people and your people could be as one. Name me what you will for now, and when I am ready to choose a name, I will do so.”
The chief shook his head. “That is not how it works. You may choose the name you want, but you will be saddled with the name others choose for you, so be patient. It is best to wait.
“It is customary in these situations to give a gift to the chief when you come into a tribe.”
Quinn smiled. “I, too, have heard that the Indian has no sense of humor.”
George Bent reached out. “This is true, Man With No Name. For Indians, an exchange of gifts is like a handshake to the Whites. What can you offer?”
Quinn paused, then stuck out his leg. “Help me with this, George. I can’t get them off sitting like this.” Quinn lifted his left foot. “Just grab the heel and pull.”
When the boots were off, Quinn folded the tops and presented them to the chief. “These are Duke boots, made of the finest leather in Spain. They were given to me by a great warrior, and next to my son they are the things I have prized most in life. They are yours, Black Kettle.” He held them out before him. The Indian took them and nodded.
“I will keep them and wear them with pride. Thank you. And in return, what do you wish? Is there something I have that can replace this prized thing?”
“Give me the name of the man who killed my wife and took my son.”
“That would be hard to say,” Black Kettle said. “I will ask Left Hand and the other chiefs. Two-Face might know. He knows much of those who trade in women and children.”
“The men at the fort said that both chiefs were killed in the raid.”
“They also said that of me,” Black Kettle said. “It was hard to count the bodies because of the mutilations. Even those who went back to bury the dead could not tell. But I know that Left Hand and Two-Face are not dead.”
“Two-Face does not die. Sharp-Elbows does not die.” Medicine Woman said. “It is possible to conjure up a spirit who would tell us who killed your wife and took your son,” she said, “but we might get the spirit of Two-Face himself.” She laughed.
By the time Chivington led his captives into Denver, Tall Bull had sent the war pipe to the tribes and called for a council of the 44 Chiefs.
Quinn heard the news in Black Kettle’s lodge. “I passed the war pipe, Quinn, because someone must stand for peace. Someone must be there at the end and beg to bury the dead. It is not that I want to live with the White Man. What I want is time to prepare to make a better end than what might be. If there is hope for my people, it is that they might live to disappear into the country of the White Man. Come live with us and we will help you find your son. Take an Indian wife. Have more sons. Help us hold off the death of my people until you are old and can tell your children what we were like, who we were as a people. Help us hold off the White Man.”
The reports came to the camp the next day that after the village massacre, Chivington had taken his men along the Arkansas River in search of the main camp of Arapahos. He had not ventured into the Cheyenne reservation. Chivington had taken his prisoners to Denver and made a spectacle of displaying more than 100 scalps and other grisly trophies between acts at the Pioneer Opera House, along with a narration of the battle.
Quinn spent the month at Smokey Hill River with Medicine Woman and George Bent, listening to stories as they healed from their wounds. Nights he lay beneath his robes thinking of Lucy. He calmed himself with her voice and the stories she told, and days he spent writing.
He unpacked his memory along with his things and took inventory of his life with her—the bag of herbs, the shell, the small crock and cup, the pigeon bundle, and his own medicine bundle. He lulled himself to sleep with Standing Cedar’s song.
And he wondered about his friend.
After listening to Black Kettle and George Bent, Quinn reflected on the impossible position of the native peoples facing the White Man’s push into the west.
Quinn was eager to share his experience. “In our war, what happened at Sand Creek would not happen. The White generals on both sides have a high sense of honor and they know, once the fighting is over, that they will have to live with those they fought.”
“And they see their enemy as one of them. You hear the phrase ‘brother against brother,’” said Bent. “When the White Man fights the Indian he fights vermin. It is said that Chivington was proud of saying ‘Nits make lice. Kill them all, big and little.’ The men who killed us did not see us as men.”
“The renegades that I rode with,” Quinn said, “had much in common with Chivington. These men, men who were not part of the armies and fought outside the laws of the White Man’s war, are every bit as capable of the kinds of atrocities as Chivington. Off the battlefield, in the countryside, in the bush, anything is permitted. Taking women and children captive was impractical. Rape, murder, and torture were effective means of terror.”
Bent nodded. “I, too, fought in your war. I was a member of Price’s Missouri Volunteers, part of Green’s Missouri Cavalry. Charley and me signed up, but Charley was sent home—too young and scrawny. I was with Beauregard when I was captured and held prisoner at Gratiot in St. Louis. That was September ’62. It was the same Christian Brothers Academy I attended until May ’61, when I joined up. By the time I got there a second time they had turned it into a Union prison. I was released on a signed pledge that I would not raise arms against the Union. It is my guess that my father found out where I was and sent word I was to get home.” Bent laughed. “Then I went back to my people. It is curious that we might have faced each other.”
Prompted by Bent’s talk of Gratiot, Quinn recounted his experiences at the prison and the hospital and rattled off names—Hoyt, Jennison, Bolton. “There was a nurse, Elizabeth Stiles. And you were guarded by a company of old men who shot at the windows if anyone dared to show a head or limb. ”
“No one was going to go out a window. One man got shot throwing out the chamber pot!”
George described the primitive conditions of the prison. “They prevented overcrowding by allowing people to die or escape to make room for the in-coming.” He laughed. “I did all right because I was used to the deprivation, the cold, the hunger. Others gave up or fought over the food. I staked my claim to a corner and told everybody I was an Indian and they left me alone. And then word came and I was free.”
Quinn sat and smoked in silence.
“Where will you go from here?” Bent asked.
Quinn shrugged. “I need to find my son. There are still captives out there that have not been returned. I’ll talk to as many chiefs as I can find. Someone will know.”
But Bent did not think it was a good time for Quinn to press the chiefs about a White captive. “We will not give up your plan, Quinn, but remember, Black Kettle is still your best chance. He has made the trades, and he knows of your search, as does Left Hand.
The war chiefs are gathering at Cherry Creek, and it is sure they will pass the war pipe to avenge the dead at Sand Creek. They will not wait til spring. Let me take you there and see what I can do. My hip is moving good and I need to get back on a horse. Come with us to Cherry Creek and you can watch the gathering of the tribes. It will be quite a spectacle. When it is decided, I will take my first ride with the Dog Soldiers. While you are not permitted to ride with us, I will find a place for you in the ranks. Fight alongside if you like when the time comes, or sit with the Peace Chiefs and watch. You will be in no danger unless you seek it out.”
Quinn joined Bent, Howling Wolf, and Bent’s stepmother Island on a four-day ride to the gathering of 3000. Black Kettle was there with all the Southern Cheyenne, as was Roman Nose. Bent named off the tribes and their chiefs. He took especial care to point out Chief Tall Bull, leader of the Dog Soldiers dressed in buckskin, feathers, and paint and carrying no western weapons. “Over the years Cheyenne braves, impatient with their tribes’ dealings with the Whites, began forming their own warrior societies within their tribes, sometimes denouncing their chiefs and waging wars of their own.” He pointed out the rebel bands, each with their signature head dress, paint, and garb. “The Bowstrings, or Wolf Soldiers. The Crazy Dogs with their fringed tunics and antelope horns. The Fox Soldiers with their bodies painted black. The Elk Horn Scrapers and the Bull Soldiers. These warrior societies are respected not only for their prowess in battle, but also for their resistance to the White Man’s ways. They have gathered here to learn what their mother tribes will do and if it is a fight, they will join them.”
George’s brother Charley had already joined with the Dog Men and his reunion with his brother and stepmother was a celebration. He talked about his capture from the fort and being chained like an animal and harassed by the soldiers. He was thankful for his father’s intercession but blamed him. “He is a big part of the problem. He has made money off of us for 40 years—if the Cheyenne go on the war path he loses money. What kind of man does not protect his wife and children?”
Charley vowed revenge, not just for Sand Creek, but for all the indecencies he suffered at the White Man’s hands over the years. “When I got back to the ranch, father dressed me like a White Man and shaved my mustache. I was double-damned. I could not pass for White, and when the word got out that I was a Reb, it was just a matter of time before somebody went after me. I took two good horses, and headed out cross-country. I knew they would find me, and they did. I passed their initiation and became one of them. We took Tall Bull’s orders and headed west to Julesburg, raiding along the way. When we got to the fort, Cripple Bird and me scouted the area and the town. I dressed up like the half-breed I am and rode through—went in there and traded robes for ‘firewater’ like a drunk Indian. The fort’s got only 50 or 60 men, but lots of horses. We won’t be able to breach the walls of the fort, but if we can draw them out we can kill them. The Overland Station is in Julesburg less than a mile off from there and wide open. The river runs along the north side, the road along the south. In between they’ve got their adobe corrals. If we can keep the cavalry pinned down in their fort, the station and the town is ours for the taking. It’s got no more than 50 men, men hired to run the place, and my bet is they won’t fight.”
The war chiefs wasted no time. Criers went out that night through the camps announcing the decision and the directions for mustering the braves. George told Quinn that he would ride “eating dust,” at the end of the lines of warriors. A mile back will be the women in charge of camp support and the boys who would be in charge of the pack horses and mules. “We will take everything, kill everyone. A squad of Bowstrings will escort the women with our plunder back to Cherry Creek after the raid, out of harm’s way. What we cannot take, we will burn and move on. Charley has already gone ahead with his Dogs to watch. I am assigned as part of the squads policing the march. You will see a kind of order and discipline you did not see in your war.”
Before leaving that morning, Quinn was given over to George’s stepmother Island. “She will ride with the warriors because she fights with us. Ého’néhevêhohtse. You can rely on her for your safety. We will meet at camp in two days—before the attack. A’tavo’ėstanéheve!”
Quinn retired to George’s lodge and talked with Island.
“What was it George said about you when he said she fights with us?”
“He said I had wolf footprints. It means I can take care of myself. And I can.”
“Is it unusual for a woman to join the Dog Soldiers?”
“I know of none, but when they admitted my boys, I went to Tall Bull and challenged him. ‘I am as good as any of the Bents,’ I said, ‘and I am pure Cheyenne. I will fight any man in the camp to prove it. My weapons.’ I think he was looking forward to an hour of entertainment for his men and he picked the biggest warrior and assigned him the duty of besting me. When it came time to lay down the challenge, I chose to give him a war-club on horseback. The unseated warrior loses the challenge.
My advantage was my horse. While I had never been in battle, I rode every day and trained my horse to follow my knees. No blanket, no bridle, no reins. He could rear at my command and was not afraid of going down. The afternoon of the contest I rode up on my horse empty handed and was greeted with hoots and laughter, mostly directed at my opponent. The rule of the contest was to face your opponent at about 50 yards and to ride toward him and unseat him. The brave’s horse was big and fast, and when the spear was dropped he charged forward. I urged my pony into a trot, head into him, and when I was five lengths from him I leaned down and turned into the charging horse and put my pony into a rear. The momentum of his horse carried him toward me into a slide as my horse came down in front of his head, and both rider and horse went down.
My horse is fearless and follows my command. In battle a horse is twice worth the man. I could not have bested him if it was not for my pony, and I think he would die for his rider.
I had one more ordeal, an easy one.” She held out her forearms to display two long wounds. “A slice of flesh, and I gave them two. I am now a Dog Soldier, and respected as such. Dogs are rebels and it is not such a surprise that they would take a woman into their ranks. No more living as a squaw. No more White Men or half-breeds.” She laughed.
“No more William Bents and no Joe Beraldas.”
She nodded. “How I live is allowed. In ordinary times all a woman needed to do is to put a man’s goods outside the lodge and close the flap. I could not very well put William Bent’s moccasins outside his fort.” She laughed. “Yellow Woman left the Old Man right before I did, so William was shamed. William swore that Joe Beralda stole me and he would get revenge. A typical White Man! I stayed with Joe no more than two months and then put his moccasins out the door. He is dead now and no regrets. He was a little man with little concerns. I would rather ride with the Dogs.
I did not respect him and I do not respect William Bent, although I love his sons as my own. Owl Woman was my sister, and when she died he took me and my sister Yellow Woman. Charley is Yellow Woman’s son and he hates his father. And with good reason. What kind of man leaves his wives and children to be murdered in their sleep? You have met them all. Robert is the only White one, don’t you think? Although George can pass for a Mexican. Robert is a good man, went back with his father to Washington to raise hell about Chivington. The Old Man can do it, and he will. He can’t get revenge on me, but he will see to it Chivington is broken or killed.”
After a two-day ride, the tribes camped five miles from Fort Rankin. Island found Quinn in the camp. “George has already gone ahead as part of the bait for the trap. You will want to stay here tonight and watch the men prepare for battle. They will not sleep, but will spend the night with the Medicine Man following the rituals he prescribes. I have arranged for someone to escort you in the morning. Tomorrow stay back and out of the way if you can.” She smiled.
Before dawn Dog Soldiers assigned to each tribe led their men to the sand hills south of Fort Rankin. Quinn and the warriors with him were shepherded by Island’s squad and nestled in a crease running to the river. She gave the signal to dismount.
Quinn did as he was told and stayed down and out of sight until the masses of Indians rose and charged. He mounted up and followed in the dust and watched the Bluecoats give up the only chance they had by dismounting and fighting behind their horses. With that over quickly, Quinn rode to the edge of Julesburg and watched the raiding of the town. A few men stayed to protect the telegraph, sending messages for help. Howitzers from the fort lobbed case and canister into the town to little effect, as the raiders and their ponies stayed on the quiet side of the buildings.
Quinn was tempted to ride in closer, but caution and good sense prevailed. “I might be mistaken for a White Man,” he said to himself.
He dismounted and held his horse close. Then he sat and smoked. The sun arced through clouds and a wind picked up and Quinn smelled snow. He mounted his horse and rode back to the crease in the hill and looked back. The women and boys were already leading pack horses single file back to the camp. He rode down and joined them.
As he rode he reflected on the day. It was not as horrific as he thought it might be. The soldiers who had ridden from the fort went down in a fight and were scalped. He counted fifteen on the ground. He saw three men from the town killed and scalped—no women. And he thought every warrior would make it back to camp.
The amount of plunder hauled away from the town was overwhelming. They had not burned the station, and on the way back Island had confided in him that the Chiefs were talking about returning in a day or two to clean out the goods they couldn’t pack away in one afternoon. “There’s no one to defend the town, and we’ve killed half the troops. They’ll stay walled up and wait for reinforcements. If we hit them in the next few days, it will be easy. Tall Bull is sending some of the women north with the horses and cattle out of harm’s way.”
At camp three days later, after the pack animals had been unloaded, George joined Quinn and Island in his lodge and told his story.
“Big Crow had picked ten of us to act as decoys to draw the soldiers from the fort. We were able to follow a ravine to within an arrow’s shot of the fort. Charging the fort yelling and firing at the sentinels, we feigned a ride past and heard their bugle call and saw them burst through the gate. The Bluecoats raced after us as we headed away from the fort and toward the station, as we slowed ever so slightly like a crippled prairie chicken to let them catch up. Once we got them to the station, we were out of rifle range from the fort. We turned to the sand hills, and that’s when a handful of hot heads decided they would ride out and count coup. Yelling and firing they rode out from a hummock alerting the troops, who pulled up ready to fire on the five or six boys.
That’s when Tall Bull signaled the charge and the soldiers wheeled and raced back to the fort. I’d say there were maybe 20 of them, and we heard a bugle call and most of the men dismounted and stood to fire as the ten of us rode over the top of them, smashing with war clubs and firing with pistols. Half the warriors with Tall Bull rode toward the station and the other half folded toward the Fort. I saw Charley chase down a man on foot and lance him. Crooked Timber took a pistol to a soldier on the ground and grabbed his horse.
When we had dealt with the men on foot, we joined the charge of the station and the town. As we predicted, the hired hands grabbed horses and took out toward the river. I will let others tell what they saw and did. You were there, and you have stories. We will have a long night of stories, singing, and dancing.
This our first big fight and we must learn from it. Our discipline must be tighter. It must change. I have talked with Tall Bull. The young ones who sprung the trap early will be whipped and their war ponies shot. We have also talked about some foolish warrior behaviors we must control. Counting coup has been part of our culture from the ages. It made sense when we raided other tribes and stole their horses—to beat them and let them live for another day. That brave and honorable practice must stop. We are out to kill Whites, not to prove that we can kill Whites. Even Big Crow, who has proven himself in many raids, chased a man in the town down and lashed him with his quirt and didn’t kill him.
It is not my place to talk with Big Crow, but I have asked Tall Bull for permission to talk with the Chiefs and voice my complaint.
But let us not be critical tonight. More horses are coming in loaded, and the scalp dances will begin soon.
Quinn wondered at his place with the Cheyenne under the protection of George and Island. He was not one of them and never would be. He had no clues about his son.
The camp of more than 1000 warriors and 2000 in support moved to White Butte in Midwestern Colorado. There the chiefs held another council. The larger group would continue north into safety of the Black Hills. Separate smaller raids would be conducted along the way to take the pressure off the emigrants. The Cheyenne would raid between Julesburg and Denver. The Arapahos would stay in the Julesburg area to keep the reinforcements to the Rankin fort occupied. The Lakotas would attack stations, ranches, and trains east of Julesburg. Among the chiefs, Black Kettle argued two things: the attacks had proven to the Whites the combined tribes were a force to be reckoned with; and the winter was cold, supplies were dwindling, and the horses were gaunt. “Winter is never a good time to wage war, especially against an army hunkered down in a fort,” he said.
George argued that the Whites had not suffered enough for the massacre at Sand Creek. Deterrence was also a factor. He agreed with Black Kettle that the Indians could not win this war, but they must go on and punish.
Quinn travelled with George and Island and 100 warriors and raided American Ranch three miles from Valley Station, where they ran off 500 head of cattle and burned barns and stacks of government hay and corn. Pursued, they cut out the lean and the sickly and left them to be rounded up by the soldiers. They continued along the Platte Road, feasting, dancing, and drumming at night and raiding during the day.
Three weeks after the Julesburg raid, Quinn rode with George and a band of warriors on a night raid. As they rode away in the dark and the drums and chanting grew faint, Quinn fell behind and looked at the stars in the cold, clear night and thought about forgiveness, about killing his own. He had not murdered a White Man, so what was to be forgiven? In war, everything was forgiven. Or nothing was forgiven. And who was it who forgave? The dead? Those left alive? God? Quinn didn’t know, and it bothered him. He remembered Lucy’s words. “You will always have guilt. And I will always have shame.”
They attacked the Harlow Ranch in the middle of the night, killing five men and capturing a woman and her son. They burned the ranch and the stacks and started back to camp. George tied the woman onto a horse and trailed it to one of the pack ponies. Part of the plunder was a case of whiskey, which George allowed the men to take but not to open. At dawn George Bent came with the news that they were not headed back to camp but were headed north and that part of the group was lagging back to draw off cavalry, a half-day away. “The sooner we get moving, the easier the ride. The women will be here, shortly, so pack your goods and load them. Your horses are outside. You are in charge of the woman and the boy. Ride fiercely, Quinn!”
On the trail north Quinn gave the woman the reins, sometimes riding beside her and sometimes ahead. He introduced himself and made attempts to engage her in conversation, and when they stopped to water the horses he helped her down.
“When you have spent as much time with Indians as I have, you’ll begin to appreciate your native tongue. You don’t have to reply, but if I rattle on it’s because I like to hear it coming through my ears and not just inside my head. It’s an Irish thing. If you feel inclined to break up my monolog, just jump in.” With that he began by telling her of his return to his house and finding his Lucy. “My boy is gone, God knows where, but I am sworn to find him. I am along on this ride solely to pick up any news from the Indians as to his whereabouts. For now, you are riding along with me at their convenience. I wouldn’t try to escape—every horse in this company is faster than yours—and your best hope is to stick with me. Tonight I have a meeting with my friend Black Kettle and Medicine Woman.” And with that he told the story of the massacre.
Quinn did not get his meeting with Black Kettle that day or the next. The band was in fast retreat from light cavalry. Harassing bands trailed them to slow down the troops. Tall Bull wanted to keep well enough ahead.
George came to explain it to Quinn the third night. “That crack cavalry unit has been joined to some renegades. They’ve got the redskins after us.” He laughed. “Besides their Pawnee scouts, they’ve got a company of misfit prisoners of war riding along. With a company of white-trash drovers to keep them in line. They are moving fast because the Pawnee know the country and they like to ride. Do you remember General Dodge? From Corinth? I do. Beauregard went up against him and we lost. Dodge got the great idea to find all the Confederate Indian prisoners—I could have been one of them if I had been found—and give them pardons if they would join up to fight other Indians. What do you think about that? The Pawnees are our historical enemies. We’ll see how they stand up to battle when we meet up with Red Cloud on the Powder River.”
On the fourth day runners came back with the news the Northern Cheyenne and Red Cloud’s Oglalas were three days away. Bent’s company was directed to split off and conduct raids on two stations to further slow the cavalry’s advance. The mass of the company pressed on into more rugged country, buoyed by the news that buffalo were plentiful and that their pursuers had slowed.
The next day Bent’s advance riders alerted him to a small unit of a dozen riders in partial uniforms strung out ahead, and George signaled the order to give chase. The party was easily run down and dispatched.
Cutting open the packs of the dead men, the braves were horrified to find scalps, body parts, and other trophies. George ordered the men to drop the bags and called Quinn. “Examine what we have here, Quinn. My men may not touch the remains of our tribe, only women and holy men. It is forbidden, and no ritual will cleanse it. We will see if these belong to our people.”
The braves stepped back and some turned away.
Quinn got a blanket, knelt down, and laid out what he found, sorting with his knife. Shriveled fingers with rings still attached. Dried, round skullcaps—not cured strips of scalp stolen from Indians. More than twenty. Other hairy parts even Quinn did not want to see or touch.
George stood over him and lifted one scalp with the tip of his lance. Braided into the scalp lock was a small seashell. “Little Wolf,” he said. He pushed it aside. “These men were part of Sand Creek.” He sorted through the others with the point.
Turning over a fresh, light-haired scalp he said quietly, “This is one of yours. Where have these men been? And did they scalp their own?” He nudged another apart. “This one is certainly an old Cheyenne woman, a friend of Medicine Woman. See the braid? Many of these were taken at Sand Creek.” George Bent turned away. “You are in charge of the remains. Wrap them up and take them away. I will tell the men.”
The fury that followed the announcement terrified Quinn. He had seen the Cheyenne in battle fight, kill, and scalp. He walked away from the savagery visited on the corpses of the soldiers and held his horse. Bodies were ripped open. Lungs, hearts, and entrails were pulled out. Genitals, tongues, and eyes were cut and smashed. Every body was pulled apart with bloody hands until only the heads remained. Almost ceremoniously the heads were scalped in strips like peeled apples and the strips attached to lances. Then the heads were placed on boulders and smashed with rocks. When the fury had spent itself, George handed out the whiskey. The men sat in the gore and drank and wailed. Quinn made camp, set a fire, and the men roasted body parts. They stayed there the night and no one slept.
As the sun rose George ordered the men to mount up. He took Quinn aside. “Tie the package behind you. I will send criers ahead to the camp that they may be prepared. The pack ponies will go ahead of us and I will lead the warriors. You and the woman must ride separately in the rear.”
Quinn heard the drumming a mile from the camp, slow drumming like he had not heard during the long nights of celebration. As he rode to within sight of the tipis he heard the chanting and the wailing.
George Bent rode back with a brave, who took the White Woman’s lead rope. Bent told Quinn to wait outside the village. “He will take the woman away from camp for her safety. I will be back.”
When he returned, Bent led Quinn through a gauntlet of mourners, first women and children, then lines of the warriors. Everyone wore some evidence of mourning. The women had gashed themselves, children’s faces were charred black, and warriors’ faces were painted. They rode to Tall Bull’s tipi and a Medicine Man came out. George Bent got off his horse and signaled Quinn to stay. The Medicine Man held the bridle while Bent entered the tipi and came out minutes later.
“Stay on your pony and do not be afraid. You will be part of a cleansing ceremony. It is best for you and the village and the dead that it be done.”
Quinn’s horse was lead to the center of the village and the lines of mourners collapsed behind him. The Medicine Man turned the horse and gave the bridle to a young brave. Then he faced the throng and sang, and as he sang, the mourning cries quieted and the camp began to join in.
Quinn understood none of the words, but his throat was choked with emotion and he swayed forward and back and singing sounds that had no meaning to him.
The singing Medicine Man was given a large smoldering dish, and he saluted the sky and the earth and the four winds and swirled the dish over and under the horse and around Quinn. The bowl was taken from him and replaced with a feathered knife and the drums began. The Medicine Man’s singing became a spoken prayer that rang over the drums and the chant of the crowd as he circled the horse three times.
The brave holding the bridle gave it up to the Medicine Man, who pulled the horse’s head up and plunged the knife into its neck.
Quinn was not ready as the horse fish-tailed and went down.
When he woke he was lying beneath a robe in a tent surrounded by women. The camp was quiet. Tall Bull entered the tipi ahead of George Bent. The men stood over Quinn.
“You have done well, Quinn,” said Bent. “The village is grateful for your part in bringing home the remains. It is unfortunate that our mourning has been interrupted and we must again break camp and continue north. Our ceremony will conclude once we reach the Powder River. Runners have alerted us that the cavalry and their bastard Indians are again on the march. Please prepare yourself. A pony is waiting.”
The women closed the circle and helped Quinn dress. His wool and worsted was replaced with soft buckskin, his shoes with beaded, fur-lined long boots. They placed a tall beaver hat on his head and slipped a long, fur-lined vest over his shoulders. They wrapped a wide belt around the vest and cinched it. One of the women handed him a knife and he slid it into the belt. She motioned for him to follow her through the door.
His horse was a sleek mustang, and his goods were wrapped around his sabre and packed behind his saddle, his rifle tied in front. The White Woman and her boy sat their horse next to his. They were garbed in hats and buckskin and vests and were mounted freely, not tied. The squaw in charge led Quinn’s horse to him and motioned for him to mount then took the bridles and led the two horses to the middle of the camp.
George Bent rode up and motioned Quinn to ride alongside. “We are still a half-day ahead of them and can keep them back there without incident. We’ve got more than a two-day ride and will not set camp until we get there. It will be hard and slow. The woman and her child are in your care. Feed and water them and their horses with you. I will meet you at Powder River.”
With that he rode ahead.
They were welcomed into the camp of the Northern Cheyenne with feasting and dancing into the night. Sarah and the boy were led away and Quinn was taken to a tipi.
He was awakened in the morning by his squaw, who brought him a dish of savory stew with bread, and he ate hungrily and crawled back beneath the robes content.
George Bent came to visit.
“Today you have a choice to make, Quinn,” said Bent. “Because of your service in this event, you are offered the Harlow woman. To take her is one way of becoming one of us.” George smiled. “Short of being eaten.” He laughed. “It seems so long ago we sat with Left Hand and talked about your son. I have not forgotten what pain is in your heart, and we are no nearer to finding news about your son or your wife. You may use the woman as you choose. Perhaps to open the lips of one who might help you. A trade. A gesture of good faith. Or simply a message that you will do what we do, live as we live. You may learn to like her, and she may be thankful that you have her and not some wild Indian.” He laughed again. “I would not give up hope. Perhaps talk with Black Kettle again. My people know you saved Medicine Woman, that you saved many of us. That terrible package you returned to the tribe will count as something. Unknown blessings are on the roads we do not see.”
Quinn wanted to say some words of appreciation. More than a thank you. Not for the offering of the woman, but for George Bent’s Whiteness. Bent spoke English, and he spoke the language of a White Man’s heart, and Quinn was touched.
Bent nodded as if he knew. “I am not one of them, either, Quinn, and I never will be. But I behave as if I am because that is my choice. I am nominally a Chief, perhaps because of my bravery, my prowess in battle—I think I’ve earned it. But it might be because I am valuable to them as a man who is neither White nor Indian. Valued but not entirely trusted. Take the woman as part of your lodge. It will be a good sign no matter how you use her. You will find a way.”
Quinn stood. “I will take her. Thank you and thank Bull Bear for the gift. I would offer a gift in return, but I have nothing of value. But take this as a gesture.” He pulled out his pipe. “And tell Bull Bear it has been with me since I came across the big water. It has come with me from the house where I was born. Tell him it is an Irish Briar, and that it is a good pipe.” He handed the pipe to George with two hands and Bent took it.
“It is a good gift. I will have the women prepare the Harlow woman and bring her to you tonight.”
“And the boy? Will he come, too?”
Bent shook his head. “The boy is dead. White White, he is the brother of the woman who was a friend of Medicine Woman—wearer of the braid. He came to camp from the scouting band that had been away for a week and learned of the defilement. He found the woman and beat her, and before anyone could stop him, he killed the child. I am sorry.”
Quinn stifled his feelings.
“I, too, am sorry.”
When the woman was brought to Quinn’s lodge, she came in a beaded buckskin dress and moccasins with her hair braided. Her face was swollen. She was carrying a plate of food Quinn thought was put together by the women from cans taken on a raid. It was colorful—candied fruit and corn oysters covered with catsup. The rim was sprinkled with cornmeal. He took it and thanked the women. They stepped out backward.
The woman was quiet, even calm. Quinn gestured for her to sit, and he placed the plate of food in front of her. “I am sorry about your son, what you’ve been through. Are you hurt bad?”
When she did not respond, he asked, “Is there something you need?”
She shook her head.
“You have been given to me as a gift, a gift I must accept. This is not my choice, but I will treat you well. You will live, and I want you to make the best of it. ”
He pointed to the plate. “Are you hungry?”
She shook her head.
“Well, Sarah, we must eat some of this or we will offend someone.” He picked a piece of candied rind and held it up. She shook her head. He popped it into his mouth and chewed. “Not bad, but it could use a little catsup.” He picked up an oyster and dipped it. “Now that’s better. You?”
She did not respond.
“You’ll eat when you are hungry. Tonight they will not disturb us.” He pointed to the pile of buffalo robes. “We will sleep there. Together we must. A woman will come in the middle of the night and be sure of that. I have no designs on your person, so rest as best you can in these circumstances.”
He picked up the plate and set it next to the door. “I will leave you to it. There is a water jug here.” He pointed and left.
When he returned she was beneath the robes.
The morning came with a new plate at the door—stewed meat and corn mush. Quinn was surprised by a crock of tepid, bitter coffee with two cups. He brought the breakfast over and sat with the plate in his lap and poured. He pointed to the plate. “Hungry yet?”
She was still under the buffalo robe and sat up. “Thank you.” They ate, dipping the pieces of meat into the mush. “Better than the fancy fare of last night,” Quinn said, “don’t you agree?”
With no one on their trail, the company slowed and camped early. They were in the country of the Northern Cheyenne, their cousins—separated by forty years and the miles. The following afternoon they rode into a valley along the Little Powder River and were greeted by lines of Cheyenne dressed in their finest. After an exchange of gifts, the chiefs went aside for their talk. The women and children set up lodges and cooked for the evening meal. Quinn could not help but notice the difference in the camp—the people, the clothes, the lodges.
While the Southern Cheyenne wore fabric garments, their Northern cousins all wore buckskin or hides. Their lodges, more permanent than the tipis the women were setting, were made of sturdy poplar poles and brightly painted buffalo skins. When Quinn remarked on the differences, his friend said, “Wild Indians, don’t you think? No one’s been up here bothering them, having babies with them, trying to civilize them. They’ve only had to deal with the Sioux. But just wait. It is only a matter of time before gold, silver, or furs bring the White Man’s pestilence.”
The celebration and feasting, the dancing and drumming, went on for days and nights. Quinn watched and ate and wearied of the monotony. He asked George for a meeting with Black Kettle and got it.
Chief Black Kettle and his wife sat on robes in a spacious lodge with light filtered through brightly colored hides. Two other Chiefs sat next to the Peace Chief. Black Kettle motioned for George and Quinn to sit across from them. “It has been a long ride and I am happy to be here with my cousins to welcome the spring.” He nodded to the Chiefs and to Quinn and George. “You are here, I am told, to inquire about your son lost in a raid. Your search has been interrupted and now you are again asking for our help and I will give it. Before Sand Creek I suggested you find Joe Beralda, and Joe Beralda is dead. Despite the White Man’s reports,” he turned to his wife. “Two-Face is not dead.” He smiled at her. “It is true, as I said, that he has captives. That is what he does, and I have traded with him before.
While we are not certain, it is said that he has a White Woman and two White boys—no information other than that. He is camped apart along the main river with his following. No one goes there, but some sharp eyes have watched. I will give you an escort who can bring you to him. If, indeed, he has your boy, you must bring something to trade. I have seen your woman, and it would not be impolite to offer her.”
Quinn rode north along with three escorts and Sarah. One of the braves peeled off and rode to the top of the ridge overlooking the river. Quinn and his party were stopped at the mouth of a canyon below by three Indians in full body paint and led to a single brilliantly-painted tipi standing alone near the river. One of Quinn’s escorts translated. “You are to wait here and Two-Face will be with you shortly.” One of the painted guards opened the flap. “Help yourself to food and drink and be comfortable,” the escort said. Without instruction, Quinn’s other escort stood outside the door.
Quinn and Sarah stepped through, were seated, and were left alone.
The night before, Quinn had prepared Sarah for what was to come. “I do not know what will come to pass, but I need to know if Two-Face has my son. Your presence there is a good-faith gesture that I am willing to trade. I will not, of course, give you up, and Two-Face will not take you from me by force because I have both Northern and Southern Cheyenne nations behind me.”
Quinn repeated his reassurances. “Sit quietly and do not accept either food or drink. You will not need to speak or respond in any way. If you need anything, reach out and touch me.”
Quinn’s escort announced Two-Face before he opened the flap.
Quinn did not know what to expect, but the man who stepped through the portal was as fine-featured as he and a head taller. His skin was dark with an oily sheen. Quinn stood and the man extended his hand. “I am pleased to make your acquaintance, Mr. Quinn,” Two-Face said. “I have heard so much about you. Please sit.” The Indian slid down with his legs folded. “And this is Sarah Morris.” He nodded to her.
Quinn corrected him. “Harlow. Sarah Harlow.”
Two-Face smiled. “And you are here to trade…something for something, yes?”
“Yes, something for something, although I have very little of value and wish to trade on your good will and my name. If we can come to terms, I can acquire what you need. I have heard that you are famous for rescuing women and children from death at the hands of savages, and that is why I am here. You have done a great service to my people by returning women and children to their families. I have met with them and they tell me that you treated them well and to thank you for your kindness.”
“You have shown much tenacity, much courage in seeking me out. As a tribute to your service to the Cheyenne I would like to offer you a gift outright—no trade. It is yours.” With that he clapped his hands and a painted brave stepped through the flap carrying a package wrapped in a silver fur. The brave handed it to Two-Face, bowed, and left.
Two-Face unwrapped the package with his eyes on Quinn. He set the fur aside and with both hands as an offering handed Quinn a shotgun.
Quinn drew in his breath and moved to stand, then relaxed and accepted the gift and set it in his lap. “As I have said, I have little to offer in return.” He rolled his cavalry sabre over his shoulder. “An in-kind gift, but poorer by far. It is not a presentation sword, but a working sabre from France, with a silver hilt. It was given to me by a valiant soldier turned renegade. He is my friend. Please accept it with my thanks and your friendship.” Quinn held the sabre in both hands and presented it.
Two-Face accepted it and held it in his lap and clicked the sword once out and back into its scabbard. “A fine weapon. I thank you for your gift.” He nodded.
Both men sat quietly.
Quinn broke the silence. “I am here because I have suffered two great losses, my wife and my child. I sat and watched the life thread run out from her body for three days and left her. With him I have had no such pleasure. He is gone. My wife is an Otoe, and she told me many stories, and this is part of her that is with me to this day, and I will share with you a story she told.
With that Quinn rested his palms on the shotgun and began.
“There is a story, I’m sure you have heard the story, of Hare and Sharp-Elbows.
One day Hare shot an elk with his lightning-bolt arrow and ordered the animal to go to the edge of Sharp-Elbows’ village and die there. Hare was going there anyway, and it would save him the trouble of carrying the animal. Elk did as he was told, but when Hare arrived, he found nothing but elk guts. He went to his grandmother’s house and questioned her and she told him Sharp-Elbows had pulled the arrow out of the elk and ate the animal.
‘I don’t care too much about the elk,’ said Hare, ‘but I need that arrow back.’ He turned to his cousin, his grandmother’s grandson, and said, ‘Go to Sharp-Elbows and retrieve my arrow.’
‘Oh, please,’ the old woman said, ‘do not send him. Sharp-Elbows will kill him.’
‘That is not likely,’ Hare said. ‘Your grandson is a chief and it is unlawful to kill a chief.’ He turned to the young man. ‘Go!’ And he went.
The young chief went to Sharp-Elbows and said, ‘That arrow you pulled out of the elk belongs to my cousin Hare. He is not upset about you eating his elk, but he would like to have his arrow back.’
Sharp-Elbows ignored him, and the young chief insisted. With a grunt Sharp-Elbows said, ‘If you want it, come and get it.’ He held up the arrow. When the young man reached for it, Sharp- Elbows slashed at him with an elbow and gutted him. ‘Hang him up,’ he told his warriors. ‘We will eat him later.’
When Hare heard the news he rushed to Sharp-Elbows’ lodge. ‘I sent someone to you to retrieve my arrow and he did not return.’
Sharp-Elbows pointed to Hare’s cousin hanging upside down. ‘I expected you to come for it yourself.’ He held up the arrow.
Now Hare was prepared. He had asked his grandmother to borrow her whetstone and had slipped it over his ribs. When Sharp-Elbows slashed at him, his elbow broke on the stone. And when he slashed again, Hare pivoted, breaking his attacker’s other elbow. Then he pulled the whetstone from beneath his robe and broke both knees in turn. With his enemy at his feet, Hare picked up the arrow. ‘Now that I have what I came for, I will show you how to use this.’ He held the arrow over his head and released it and the arrow flew from his hand and pierced Sharp-Elbows’ middle, pinning him to the ground. He took down the body of his cousin and turned to the monster writhing on the ground.
‘How can you live when my friend is not?’ He pulled the arrow from Sharp-Elbow’s body and as the life force left him, his cousin revived.
Hare ordered Sharp-Elbows’ wives to burn his body. ‘When the flesh is gone, rake out the bones and pound them into the earth with rocks. Then throw yourself into the fire.’
And they did.
And that’s when I started back home.”
Two-Face nodded. “I see she told you a good story, and, yes, I have heard that tale,” said Two-Face, “I have one for you that you may not have heard. You know about Hare. This story is about how Rabbit lost his tail.
There was a time when Iktinike lived in a village with Rabbit, who thought he was smart and was always playing tricks on Iktinike. So Iktinike went out to the horses and put one to sleep on the ground and called Mouse. ‘Mouse! Here is a dead horse. Call Rabbit and tell him to help you drag it to the village.’
Mouse went to the village. ‘Rabbit,’ she said, ‘come help me drag a horse that died to the village so that I may cut it up. I believe you are the only one who can figure out how to do it.’
When they got to the sleeping horse, Rabbit looked at the animal and said, ‘This will be easy. Tie my tail to his and I will pull him back. I have done this thing with elk and deer many times.’
When Mouse had the tails tied tightly, Rabbit said, ‘Ho! Let’s go!’ And he began to pull. At that the horse woke up and was frightened and ran away. He dragged Rabbit around over rocks and logs trying to get rid of him.
Then he ran into the village and Iktinike shouted to the people, “Look! Rabbit is doing something with that horse!” And the people laughed. Finally, the horse stopped in front of its owner’s lodge and the man calmed it and cut Rabbit’s tail short and freed Rabbit from the horse.
Now Rabbit was ashamed and did not return to this lodge, even though he had a beautiful wife and six lovely children. He grew smaller and smaller and now he lives out in the rocks somewhere, and when people walk up and want to talk to him, he runs away.”
Two-Face set the sabre aside.
“And who are you, Mr. Quinn, Hare or Rabbit? Are you one who kills a god, or are you one who loses his tail and runs from villagers? Both? Neither? Or is everything just a story?”
Two-Face smiled. “You have been searching for me for a long time. During the massacre you rode behind me and found your horse and rode back to save those in the cave. Before that I rode with you through the villages looking for your son—and you wonder why you saw so many stone faces?”
Two-Face laughed. “It is said that the Cheyenne turned over Joe Beralda because he had betrayed them. Isn’t that what you heard?” He grinned. “I would say that, if I were a White Man. In truth, the soldiers executed Joe Beralda because he ran off with William Bent’s wife. ‘He had a wife and couldn’t keep her.’ Isn’t that the way your children’s song goes? He was already dead when you were riding around the countryside with me looking for me.” He laughed. “Old man Bent could have saved himself a trade—it did cost him that and some respect. Joe Beralda would have died in a raid in November anyway. As you know, the woman ran off to become a Dog Soldier and will become famous as a warrior.” Two-Face grinned wide, showing perfect white teeth
“What did you do with my son?”
“I never had your son.”
“How did you get the shotgun?”
“I took it from an Otoe half-breed who said he was taking his son back to the reservation. He gave me all his goods, but I did not take the son because we were on the killing road. I did not need the boy.”
George Bent prepared Quinn for the long ride with a pack horse, supplies, and a detailed map with suggested trails and places to avoid. Once Quinn was mounted, George handed him a hard leather arrow case with a single arrow in it. “If you are challenged—if you are not attacked first—hold this arrow in front of you and you will be safe. All Cheyenne will recognize it as the sacred arrow of the Dog Soldiers. It is one of three that every Dog Soldier carries into battle. At his last stand he fights from one knee, with the arrow driven through the front of his breech clout into the ground, and fights to the death.”
Quinn slung it over his shoulder. “I will find you when this is over and we will begin again.”
“Live fiercely, Quinn!” George Bent called out as the pair rode away.
They stopped well before sunset and unpacked. “We’ll cold camp here. The Pawnees and the cavalry are just over that ridge.” He pointed. “We’ll pass them tomorrow morning early. They shouldn’t give us any trouble.” He looked at her. “Unless you want them to. Tell me now and I’ll let you go. I cannot guarantee that you will be safe with me, but I wouldn’t bet my horse on being safe with them, either. If I can get you to American Ranch you can go your way from there. I will ride on to the Half-Breed Reservation just west of the Missouri on the Kansas-Nebraska border. It is my belief that my son is there. You are welcome to ride with me or to any point between here and there.”
“I have nothing to return to, Mr. Quinn. No family. Nothing at American Ranch. Nothing at Harlow Ranch. And by the way, I am not Sarah Harlow. My name is Sarah Morris.”
“Why did I not know that?”
“Are you surprised that we were not properly introduced?”
“No, it’s just that—“
“George Bent knew the name of the ranch he burned, but he didn’t know the names of the people he killed? My husband worked the ranch with the Harlows. And you should know my husband’s name, and the names of my two children—William, Jacob, and Jonah. Morris.”
She repeated the names.
Sarah Morris stood with clenched fists and shook her head. “You know nothing about me. You thought I might try to escape. You said, don’t run, you got a slow horse. I heard George Bent say I should be thankful that I was with a White Man. I’ve heard the stories of women murdered, raped, driven mad. So.” She grasped her skirts. “So. Thank you.” She moaned, doubled over, and walked away.
Quinn unpacked the horses and hobbled them close. He spread the blankets and robes, dragged a log over, and set out meat and bread and water. He called out to her. “We’ve got more than an hour before dark. Do you want to stretch your legs?”
When she didn’t reply he walked toward the ridge and wondered if, indeed, they would have no problem getting past the troops. He decided to look for a way around, to cut away from the ridge, just to be safe.
Quinn walked away from the trail, marking the way with cairns. When he found an arroyo running away he was satisfied and walked back under a rising moon.
She was under her robe and she sat up when he walked into camp. “Why didn’t you tell me you were going to be gone? What were you doing?”
“Next time you do that, leave me with something. A gun, a knife. Something.”
“Would it do any good?” He walked over to his saddle and slid out his carbine and brought it over. “Here.” He leaned it against the log. “Or do you want a pistol? You might scare away a varmint and bring the troops. Just know out here sound carries for miles. Keep that in mind on the trail.”
He sat on his bedroll and took off his vest, belt, and boots. “We’ll leave well before sunrise, after the moon sets. Get around them and be able to ride freely for a couple days before we have to be on watch again. Now get some sleep.”
“Mr. Quinn. Answer me two things. Did you kill White People?”
“Not in this war. You know what I’ve been through. I think I’m capable of it, but I didn’t. And your next question—how many Indians did I kill?”
She waited. “No. My next question is would you have traded me? If Two-Face had your son and wanted me in trade, would you have given me up?”
“I told you, no, I wouldn’t.”
“I know what you told me, but would you? What would you do to get your son back?”
Quinn put his hat over his face and didn’t reply.
Six hours later they packed up and moved out quietly, leading the horses. By noon Quinn had picked up the trail and they rode until sunset.
On the way south Sarah peppered him with questions about the War, about farming, about Ireland. He was silent when she asked about Lucy, and he turned many of her questions back on her about her life. In the times of quiet he considered that both of them had survived with no good reason, and that they had lost their greatest treasures with no good reason.
Quinn and Sarah were led into the main village of the Half-Breed Reservation by a parade of children and dogs. They dismounted outside the main lodge and waited next to their horses. A man pulling up his pants and walking behind the dancing children shuffled down the street.
“Welcome to the reservation, friends! Will you come in and sit and we will talk?” He looked at Quinn. “I don’t remember your name, but I remember you. You are Standing Cedar’s friend, no? Standing Cedar does not have many friends, so you must be looking for him, huh?” He waved at the lodge. “Come in, come in!” He waved them to follow.
When Quinn stepped through the door a pain shot through his heart. He was in the room where she brought him back to himself, brought him back to life.
“My name is Medicine Horse.” He held out his hand and Quinn took it.
“I’m James Quinn, and you are right. Standing Cedar does not have many friends.” They both laughed. “This is Sarah Morris. We have ridden far, from the Powder River in the Black Hills, to talk with my friend. Is he here?”
“No, he is not, but before we track him down, let me sit with you and share some tea and learn about the world beyond this…” He searched for a word and smiled faintly. “…place.” He gestured toward the table and held out a chair for Sarah and the two sat.
Medicine Horse stepped out and came back with cups and a pot.
Over tea Quinn patiently answered Medicine Horse’s questions about the Black Hills and glossed over everything except the massacre at Sand Creek.
Medicine Horse waved both hands in front of his face. “Oh, that was a bad one. We got many people in here running from that slaughter. We’re safe here. Civilized. So civilized we hide runaway Negroes, although our part in that will be over soon.”
It was Quinn’s turn to ask questions and Medicine Horse told him what he knew of the war. “It’s almost over, Mr. Quinn. That war, anyway,” Medicine Horse said. “The new one will be on us.”
Quinn nodded. “I believe you are safe here.”
Medicine Horse held up a hand. “How long will we be here, before they move us? Whites are already poaching and jumping our claims.”
He clapped both hands on his knees. “But there’ll always be a need for a Medicine Man, huh?” He laughed and shook his head. “Standing Cedar once had this job and he gave it up. Went to become a real American citizen and farm like a White Man. You asked where he went. He said he was going up along the Little Blue and stake a claim. Hasn’t been back since then, and that was, let’s see, Húma yochíña, the month of the Elk’s Whistle, it was.
“Then I know where he is. Did he come through with a little boy? Or a woman?”
“No. You know he had no children and his wife left him. Married a greedy White Man who took her for her place on the rolls. That’s not gonna work out, I know. When you see him, don’t bring it up, or don’t tell him I said anything. After she left, the heart went out of him and he just wanted to get away from here, I think.”
Medicine Horse looked into Quinn’s face. “When you see him, tell him he can come back and be Medicine Man again.” The man nodded. “We need a good Medicine Man.”
The Indian had run out of words, and Quinn thanked him for the tea and the news.
“You know where to find him, now. Will you stay here the night? We have empty lodges and food. Share with us and leave in the morning.”
Sarah looked at Quinn and he smiled. “I think that is a good idea. This is, indeed, the most civilized place I know west of the Missouri River.”
With that Medicine Horse lit up a smile. “Come. Leave your horses. We will see to them.”
He led them to a permanent lodge off the path and swung the door open and gestured. “This is your home for tonight, and another night and another, if you wish.” They stepped through the door. The room had a bed, two chairs, and a table with a kerosene lamp. “My boys will bring your packs, and I will stop by later and we will eat. Now rest.” The Medicine Man left.
Sarah put her hand on Quinn’s arm. “Thank you for bringing me here, for staying.” She spun away and sat on the bed. “When was the last time you slept on a real bed?” She bounced and felt under the mattress. “Feather mattress.” She reached further. “Good old rope-strung bedstead.” She laughed and flopped back.
Quinn sat in one of the chairs. “My life began twice here in this village.”
Sarah sat up.
“Standing Cedar took me through a sweat here. The first day of White Man’s spring, he called it. I suffered from the soldier’s sickness, morphine, and the Irish sickness, whiskey. He cured me of both. Six months before that Lucy brought me back to life after I had been shot.” He pointed to his face. “I went from here to the Little Blue. Then Lucy came, and you know the rest.”
Smoke curled from the chimney at the back of Quinn’s old chicken coop. A small platform not much larger than a stoop served as a porch with a single chair. As Quinn and Sarah rode up, a dog came out. Quinn put his hand down for Sarah to pull up as he turned his horse to the house.
Standing Cedar came out and ruffled the dog’s ears. “It’s about time you got home! What’s been keeping you? I was about to come looking for you.”
“Hello, Tree. I see you made yourself at home. Where’s my boy?”
“Get on off your horse, Quinn. He’s fine. He’s safe. I knew you’d be back.” The Indian stepped down and put his hand out to the rider. “Come on.” He waved the hand.
Quinn swung down. Standing Cedar’s hand was still out and Quinn took it. “Where is he?” Quinn released his hand.
“He’s at the La Flesche school in Omaha. A good place for him. Lucy would approve.” He looked up at Sarah. “You want to introduce me?”
“Sarah, this is Standing Cedar. Standing Cedar, this is Sarah Morris.”
“Welcome to Quinn’s homestead, Missus. Step down and rest a bit.” Standing Cedar held her stirrup and she dismounted. He turned to Quinn. “Come up on the porch.” The Indian made an exaggerated step up to the platform. He put his hand on the chair. “Sit here, Missus, and I’ll get some cider.”
Tree hopped up the step and into the dark.
Sarah took the chair and Quinn sat on the edge of the platform. Standing Cedar came out with a crock and three cups. He poured. “I’ll just pull the beans to the front of the stove. Be back in a minute and we can talk.”
Quinn and Sarah drank cider and watched the pink glow in the west. “It’s beautiful here,” she said. “I can see why you chose it, why you want to come back to it.”
“I’m not sure that I do. Memories. What I built’s gone.” He shook his head.
Standing Cedar came out and sat down next to Quinn on the platform and put his cup on the ground between his knees. “The boy is safe, Quinn. He’s in a good place. I brought him there right after…right after Lucy’s death. We’ll go see him. Start off tomorrow, if you like.”
Quinn shook his head. “In good time, Tree. Tell me about Lucy.”
“I was there. It was my men did it.” With that he told the story in fits and starts and interjections of sorrow and rage.
“I shoulda just given them the money and taken Lucy and the boy and the Agent with me. But I was trying to do what was right, and it cost Lucy her life. She got Red Shirt, I’ll say, with that two row. Saved my life. The braves put two shots into her and she went down. With her dying and the boy…I didn’t go after them. I laid her out, grabbed the boy, and we ran. Took the river trail north, thinking to avoid the raiders I knew were out there. I got him to the Omaha reservation and came back here to find everything burned out. So I moved in here and waited for you to come back.”
Tears were on the Indian’s cheeks. “I’m sorry, Quinn. I loved her, too, and it ripped my heart out. My heart is still gone.”
Quinn sat quiet. Then he sighed deeply. “You saved my son, Tree, and for that I am grateful.”
Quinn began his own story. “I came back from searching for the raiders to find her on the bed with a dead Indian and a bound dead White Man in front of the porch. No scalps were taken and I figured the killers had been chased off. But then I thought that if Whites were off after the killers, they would have done something for Lucy, maybe the Agent, and they would have scalped Red Shirt.
With all this and Michante gone I thought, could it be Whites took my son and maybe he was safe with a family? I mourned my wife in the traditional way. ” He pointed toward the cottonwood. “And I burned everything before I left. I followed tracks north and lost them. Then I came back and rode down the river trail past the burned-out stations and ranches and figured it had to have been Indians. I got to Marysville and learned the extent of the attacks along the trail as far west as Julesburg. If my son was alive and out there, my search would be with the Indians.
That took me to Black Kettle, George Bent, and finally to Two-Face. The shotgun was the key. He told me he had taken it from an Otoe near the Platte, a half-breed who was on his way to the reservation. With that news I had the hope that you had made it back and that I would find you both waiting for me at the reservation.
When you weren’t there, Medicine Horse sent me this way.
“We will start for Omaha in the morning, Quinn. After we eat I will tell more, show you some things. Your son is in a good place, and he will be there when we come.”
Quinn and Sarah followed the half-breed into the house carrying the chair. “Sit, Missus, please. I’ll go get a couple of stumps.” He lit a kerosene lamp on the table and Quinn followed him out.
“Is she going with us, Quinn? I don’t want to ask, but is she somebody I want to know about?”
“She is, Tree, and she’s going with us if she wants to. There’s time. We’ve got lots to talk about.”
The men dragged the stumps into the house. “We can leave these in here—or get ones a little more level—until I can make a couple chairs. You sit, Quinn. Beans are comin’!”
Supper was hot and spicy. While Tree cleared the tin plates and washed them off, Quinn brought in their gear and spread out the robes and blankets on the floor.
Standing Cedar pointed to the small raised platform in the corner. “You get the real bed, Missus. Quinn and me’ll take the other two corners. Before we turn in, though, I want to show you a few things. Sit back down, you two.”
He went to a box next to the bed and pulled out two sheets of papers and brought them to the table. “The school treats him like a prince up there. I didn’t tell you, there’s a lot I got to tell you, but I left some money with La Flesche for your son’s care.”
“Some money?” Quinn asked.
“Money I got from the Agent—$9000.”
“It was the allotment money the Agent made off with. He got $13,000, but by the time we found him he had spent some. I’m not ashamed of it. I told myself that I had done the right thing all the way and look what it got me. So I’d try another way. If we hadn’t gone after that thief, the reservation would not have gotten the money anyway, so what did they lose?”
“And you gave it to La Flesche?”
Standing Cedar smiled and shook his head. “This Indian’s no fool, Quinn. I don’t know these people. I told them I’d pay for his keep and for quarterly reports.”
Standing Cedar laid out the two pages. “I get quarterly reports.”
The top of the page resembled a ledger sheet complete with an inked grid of red and black lines with headings for balance, expenses, and income. At the top was the date and the account name: Nahje Niche Quinn.
Quinn pointed. “What is this?”
Standing Cedar sat. “That’s what I could remember about his name. I knew Lucy called him affectionately, but I could not remember. I’m sorry, Quinn, but we can fix that.”
“The name, though, you gave him. What does it mean?”
“It’s Otoe for ‘Pain in the Heart.’ It’s all I could think of.” He shrugged. “So?”
Quinn looked down at the paper. He turned it over. An elegant, spider script noted details of the boy’s health—his weight, length, appetite. It noted developmental behaviors and two bouts of illness—the eel thing and catarrh. There was a note about pox.
“What’s this?” Quinn pointed to the note.
“I know about those things, being a Medicine Man. Finally, the White doctors figured out some of what was killing us and now they do what we do. They scrape up scabs and dry them. Then they grind them and blow them up our noses. We don’t get the pustulence disease anymore. It works!”
Quinn frowned and shook his head.
Quinn was up the next morning in a hurry to be off. “What’s the best trail to take, Tree, straight over to the Missouri? I don’t want any trouble.”
“I would say the old Otoe trail almost straight across. There’s a rock ford across the Big Blue and you skirt Beatrice. Then you want to just hit the river and go straight up. Avoid the Pawnees and that damn Platte River.”
Quinn began loading the pack horse and Sarah came out with her bedroll and handed it to him.
Standing Cedar handed Quinn his roll. “And I can tell you about the damn Platte River.”
Quinn pointed to the bags on the ground. “Let me finish with these, Tree, and let’s get on the trail. We got a long ride and you can tell me along the way.”
The three rode abreast with Standing Cedar in the middle with the trailing horse. “I just wanted to tell you about the Platte and the Pawnee.”
Quinn nodded. “I think we all know about the Platte. Tell us about the Pawnee.”
“Two-Face’s Otoe told me the Pawnee hadn’t smoked the war pipe and to cross the Platte and not to go east or south. I considered going back to the reservation but took his advice and rode north, not knowing where I was headed, just to get away.
I didn’t know I was at the Platte when I got there. I thought I was just crossing a stream. Then I crossed another and another and the sand got softer and soon my horse was knee-deep and floundering. I got off my horse to walk, thinking I’d ease the weight on the horse. That’s when I saw a line of Pawnees on the other side. I was out of range of their arrows, but if they had a rifle…well. Maybe they did, maybe they didn’t. I pulled the horse around, though, and they didn’t follow.
With Cheyenne and Sioux to the west and south, the Pawnee to the north, east was where I was headed. Echo Woman had told me stories of how the women on the Lane Trail had moved runaways to Nebraska City. Maybe, I thought, I could make it to there and then decide. And that’s what I did.
I asked around there, not mentioning John Brown or Jim Lane or anything. Just mentioning that I was Lucy Deroin’s brother, figured if they didn’t know Lucy, OK, and if they did, OK, too. If they seemed interested I told them I wanted to find a place for her son, she being recently deceased. Somebody found somebody else and that one took us in. The boy and I spent three days there and we were put on a riverboat to Omaha with letters of introduction to Joseph La Flesche, after, of course them telling me he was a wonderful man. Mr. La Flesche was half-breed, they said, but was an Omaha Chief, too. We got to Omaha and, well, you’ll see when you get there.”
“When did you decide to ride out and move into my chicken house?”
“I had nowhere to go. No woman. Nothing to farm. You can’t rely on gifts you get as a Medicine Man nowadays. You seemed happy and invited me to come out with you more than once, so I thought it would be OK.
I wasn’t going to squat on your land, Quinn. Just stay there while I got a place of my own. After I brought in the stove from the ashes and cleaned up the place, I went and staked out 120 acres just up the creek—on both sides, like you did. I like the way you put out those tall, white poles. Easy to find, so I just followed them up the hill and in a day had it done. I rode in to Beatrice, told them I was filing on Crooked Creek and drew some crude pictures for the Agent, like Indians do, and he said, ‘How do I know you are a citizen? Are you an Indian?’ I said, ‘Yes, and a White Man, too, and that makes me two times a citizen, more citizen than you.’ He said, ‘Can you prove it?’
You told me your story about that sonofabitch, and I was prepared. I pulled out a signed document—a copy of the Indian rolls from back on the reservation—and pointed to my Otoe name and my White Man name. He tried to argue that Indians got their own land, parcels on the reservation, and I argued with him, showed the sonofabitch that those 360 acre parcels were every one of them in a woman’s name. ‘Do you know what kind of tribal system we got?’ I said. I didn’t want to go into it, but when he shook his head I said, ‘It means the wife is the boss. She owns everything. My woman put my moccasins out of the tipi and married a White Man. Now what do you think of that?’
He gave in on that point and allowed me to file my papers. I paid, got some numbers, and went outside town and slept. I thought, I’m going to get that sonofabitch. Next day I went into town and asked around if there was a White Man looking for a day’s work. A clean-looking White Man who spoke good English and could read and write.
I found one, in a saloon of course, and told him my plan. I wrote out the particulars and gave it to him. I gave him a drawing and told him the plot was the 160 acres straddling Crooked Creek a half mile up from where it met the Little Blue. For twenty dollars he would go to the Bureau and file a claim in your name. ‘Make sure you get a receipt for the filing fee and a record number from the plat map,’ I said.
The end of the day, he came back, I gave him his money, and he gave me the paperwork. I left him in the saloon and rode out of town. Pretty good, huh?”
Quinn held out his hand and stopped his horse. Standing Cedar kept riding but stopped ahead and looked back. Quinn pulled up next to him.
“When you first said Crooked Creek I thought you made a mistake. When you said you paid this guy $20 to file my claim on Crooked Creek, I thought, ‘My place is on Rose Creek and you filed both claims on Crooked Creek!’ Tree, did the Agent even show you a map? Rose Creek!”
“I asked for Crooked Creek because I know Crooked Creek. Crooked Creek is on the map. If you want to argue, you can go in and look. We’re riding by Beatrice. You can just go in and look.” Standing Cedar shrugged, pulled on the lead, and kicked his pony.
The trail east to the Missouri was clear and easy. As the three headed north Quinn talked about the years he spent laying track and digging drainage for rail beds waiting for his family to come over.
When they came to the Three Mile Creek he suggested they take it toward the river. “Let’s go off here, Tree. Come. I’ll show you where it started.” And with that he pulled his horse east on what could have been a game trail.
He led them across a ravine and a stream and up into a sunny meadow, where a roofless soddy stood, collapsing into the side of a bank. Quinn led them over. “That’s it,” Quinn said, pointing to a pile of boards covering a hole in the ground away from the house. “That’s where we waited it out, down there.” He got off his horse and pulled the boards away and stepped down three, ducked his head, and disappeared.
When he stepped out of the hole he pointed to a ravine to the west. “I made my way up from the river and found her hunkered down in here. The cyclone passed and when we came up everything was gone but that.” He pointed at the soddy.
“Let’s camp here tonight. Tomorrow we can make Nebraska City before noon and stay in a hotel and eat White People food. What do you say? You got money for that, don’t you Tree?” Quinn laughed.
Around the fire that night Quinn told the story of his near drowning the night of his daughter’s wedding, of floating down the Missouri for miles holding on to a nearly empty crock of whiskey. “The whiskey that night saved me.”
Standing Cedar paid for two rooms at the hotel with supper and baths. Sarah was practically giddy. “Oh, Tree! This will be so good. A hot bath. I can wash my hair!”
“We’ll order up some White People clothes, stay an extra day, if you want. What you think, Quinn? We can’t go to Omaha lookin’ like reservation Indians.” He laughed.
“And Quinn and me look more like wild Indians.” She held out her arms. “You don’t look bad in buckskin, Quinn, but this ain’t a good look for a lady.”
Standing Cedar passed out gold pieces. “You go get your bath, Sarah. And Quinn, find a barber.
They were served supper alone in the parlor and recounted their day.
“I had my bath in my room,” she said. “Got extra hot water and she said to stay as long as I wanted. She helped me wash my hair and braid it. Do you like it?”
Sarah’s waist-long hair had been piled in thick braids around the crown and bunched in the back. “Very pretty,” said Standing Cedar. “And I must say, your gown is very flattering.”
“Oh, this old thing!” she teased. “I bought this off the rack. Tomorrow I’m picking up a tailored dress. They were both so reasonable, I couldn’t pass it up.” She reached out across the table. “Thank you, Tree, for this special day.”
Standing Cedar smiled.
She turned to Quinn. “And you, Mr. Quinn. When was the last time anyone saw you without a beard?”
Quinn shook his head. “I don’t know. Years. I’ll have to admit it feels a bit unnatural.” He stroked his chin. “I’ll get used to it.”
“And you, Tree, you don’t look any different than you did this morning,” she said.
“I thought I’d wait to clean up. I can maybe get clean clothes tomorrow on the way out.” He pulled his shirt to his nose. “These smell OK, though.”
Sarah smiled. “But your day. How was your day?”
“Unremarkable. I rode out of town to where I used to camp and then rode and found the people who took me and the boy in six months ago. I wanted to thank them again for their kindness. We spent the afternoon talking about the Negroes fleeing the War. They’re still coming up, they said. They asked me about what they called my war. I told them I was fine, that I was off the reservation, homesteading, and safe from both wild Indians and Whites. They got a laugh out of that.
They gave me some presents—I should have brought something for them—I’m forgetting the Indian part of me already. Two bags of seeds for me and something for the boy—a map, with their home place clearly marked. The map goes down as far south as Kansas City and as far north as the Dakota Territory. ‘Maybe he can look at it from time to time,’ the woman said, ‘and when he grows up he can travel and see where he came from. Maybe come down here for an education. When he gets old enough.’
And remembering my White Man’s manners, I asked her what that would be, and she said real proud that they were Presbyterians, and that their church was starting an Otoe University on Sioux Street, corner of 13th and 14th. Can you beat that? Otoe on Sioux Street? What are these White People doing?”
“This is not your Indian sense of humor again, is it, Tree?”
Standing Cedar shook his head. “Not mine! It seems there is a race to save our heathen Red souls, Quinn. The Catholic Church got a school and the Episcopals got a seminary for women.”
After coffee and apple cobbler, Standing Cedar stood and excused himself. “I will take that bath now. Good-night to you both and I’ll see you in the morning.”
The next morning Quinn took them on a carriage tour of the town, complete with a visit to the docks, where they watched transfer boats push barges of cargo across the river. “I worked both ends. Loaded in the morning, rested on the way across. Unloaded, and slept on the way back. Sometimes twice a day. I don’t know how I did it.” He turned to Standing Cedar. “Maybe that’s why becoming an Indian looked good to me.”
“But not nearly as good as being a sodbuster, right, Quinn?” said Standing Cedar. “Let’s go buy me a new set of clothes or two. And you, Mrs. Morris, I believe you have a dress waiting for you.”
The three of them had supper in the saloon with the boarders and caught up on the gossip about the War. It will be over soon, they heard. Petersburg had fallen.
The next morning Quinn had the horses packed and ready before breakfast.
“We can take the Otoe trail straight north along the river,” Standing Cedar told them. “It’ll take us two days to Bellevue. An easy ride. We’re in no hurry.”
Quinn agreed. He had ridden the trail in a single stretch. “It’s a two-day ride. You’re right, Tree. We’re in no hurry.”
It took them three, the first two of them in the rain. And when they got to Plattsmouth, the line for the ferry across the swollen river was backed up a quarter mile. They decided to dry out in a hotel and be up before dawn and cross.
Standing Cedar gave history lessons at supper. “This has been Otoe country for many, many years. At one time we lived on the big lake with the Winnebago, but then we came down here to hunt buffalo and stayed. Nebraskier is what the White Man heard when we called this “the flat water.” So now it is Nebraska. It was Otoe country, til we gave it up. We can hunt up here, but then we gotta go home to the reservation, and we travel through country farmed by White People. That won’t last long. They’ll move us all out to a place nobody wants.”
He looked at Quinn. “I’m glad your son is gonna be White. And I’m glad I stole the $9,000. At least we’ll be safe, and he’ll be OK.”
Quinn nodded. “I hope so, Tree.”
They skirted the town and rode another day north to the Mission overlooking the Missouri River.
“A pretty nice place, don’t you think?” Standing Cedar asked. “I could live here.” They walked their horses through the gate to the church, dismounted, and tied up.
“Wonder why they need walls and gates up here? Who’s gonna get in?” Tree said.
Quinn shook his head. “It’s the White Man’s way,” he said. “Walls and fences and gates. They build them ‘just in case.’”
A man in a black cassock came down the steps of the church and shook hands with Standing Cedar. “Welcome, my friend.” He turned to Quinn and Sarah. “Welcome to the Mission. I am Father Hamilton.”
Standing Cedar introduced his friends.
“I imagine you are here to see your son, Standing Cedar. I hope you are not disappointed that he is not here. I saw him only yesterday. Iron Eye’s school has outgrown the mission and he has moved it to the Big Village on Blackbird Creek. If you follow the trail for a mile or so you will come to it.”
The Big Village was a marriage of Indian and White. Traditional earthen lodges were set back in an arc with framed wooden houses running back into them as spokes in a wheel. They rode up to a blacksmith working horseshoes at a forge. “Follow the trail to the bluffs and you will find him there,” the White Man said. “Look for a lodge the size of a hotel. A lot of people live there.”
The forty-foot earthen half-timbered lodge sported an entry tunnel and a vaulted ceiling rose to 9 feet. Stretched and painted buffalo hides at the eaves lit the single room with a glow. At one end sat a young woman in a gingham dress reading to children on mats in a circle at her feet. Beyond the circle an older woman in a matching dress sat on a stool and fed a cluster of toddlers from a large bowl.
Standing Cedar led the others.
“I am Standing Cedar and have come to see my son, Quinn, Grandmother,” he said in Ioway.
The woman set the bowl on the mat and bent down and stood Quinn’s son on his feet and turned him. “Here is your father,” she said in English. “Go to your father, Nahje.” She pushed him forward.
The boy held up his arms. Tree took him and lifted him and handed him to Quinn, who held him at arms’ length and then hugged him for a long moment and set him on his feet. He crouched down and looked at the boy. “Michante. Michante, my son,” he whispered.
The boy began to cry.
The woman brought him over to her stool and folded him in her skirts and shushed him. “He is an unusually brave and fearless boy.”
Quinn crouched apart from the boy and looked at him as the boy turned into the woman. “It’s the eye-patch, Grandmother. Pretty frightening even to me.” He smiled. “You go ahead with the children, and when you are finished perhaps we can talk.”
The woman called over to the girl reading to her group. “Suzette. Pass out the slates and then make tea for our guests, thank you.” She nodded to a table and chairs. “Joseph will be back at noon and I know he will want to talk with you. Feel free to look at our lodge and go beyond to our fields. We are proud of what we do here.” With that she herded the toddlers over to the children with the slates and engaged them.
The young girl set the table with crock cups, spoons, and a pot of honey. As she worked she introduced herself. “I am Suzette, Joseph and Mary’s eldest.” She nodded to the woman and the children. “My mother, and these are my brothers and sisters. By blood or adoption. Your son fits right in, doesn’t he?”
Standing Cedar spoke. “I want to apologize and explain that I have been the source of a bit of confusion, Miss La Flesche. Mr. Quinn is the boy’s father.” He nodded at Quinn. “I brought the boy here as a safe place to live and be raised among the Omaha.”
Suzette smiled and shook her head. “It is good that he is here.” She excused herself and went for the tea.
While they waited, Quinn watched his son. He had noted his grey eyes and his brown hair, and he thought of his own brother who had disappeared on the streets of London. The boy was slender and strong, with straight legs. Michante would have no trouble in the White Man’s world, at least by appearances.”
Suzette came back with the tea and relieved her mother, who came to the table with a slim folder.
“Before you talk to Joseph, let me give you the latest report on your son.” She slid the folder to Standing Cedar.
Tree opened the folder and looked at the woman. “Just so you know, and I have told your daughter, I am not the little one’s father. Mr. Quinn here is, and I apologize for bringing the boy here falsely, but it was necessary.”
“I can’t say that I knew, but I knew.” The woman smiled at Quinn. “You have a fine son, Mr. Quinn. Let me tell you about him.”
“He is learning English, but he also has picked up words and phrases from the other children—some Sioux. The women have begun to call him Napayshni Tate, meaning Courageous Wind. It is a good name, don’t you think?”
Quinn laughed and looked at the papers in front of him. “Nahje Niche Quinn. Napayshni Tate. Michante is what his mother named him, for her heart.”
“He’ll keep the name Quinn, of course, and later he will have a choice—maybe none of these. However, do be aware that he has been baptized Michael Quinn.” She pointed to a certificate in the folder. “He needed a Christian name, and he was named after the angel.”
“The Archangel, not to put a fine point on it,” Quinn thought to himself. “But a good Irish name, nonetheless.”
“We have set aside a few other things that Standing Cedar brought with him, and we will keep them for your son, unless you would like them returned to you—a beautiful beaded medicine bag and an eagle bone whistle. I know what those mean, Mr. Quinn. He also brought a map, and they are included in your son’s packet.”
When Joseph La Flesche returned at noon he came in to greet the children and was introduced to Quinn, Tree, and Sarah. He had nothing but praise for Quinn’s son. “If you would allow it, we would adopt him into our tribe. It is already apparent he is a warrior. But I know what your concerns are. He will be educated for the world, Mr. Quinn, that I assure you. I would like to confer with you at length this evening, if you can stay. This afternoon I have pressing business at the Mission but will return in time for supper. Can I count on you? Mary and Suzette will show you around and find a place for you to sleep. And you will want to spend time with your son.” With that he shook hands all around and left.
The three ate under the trees and toured the village with Suzette. She gave them background on the school and the Mission.
Quinn remarked that they had stopped by the Mission. “Father Hamilton said the school had outgrown the Mission space. Do you have your school here in the lodge? I imagine this is large enough.”
Suzette looked down. “We have outgrown the Mission and have moved the school to the lodge here, yes. But the reasons are complicated, partly based on fear. My father can explain it to you better than I, so I will let it to him. I can tell you that we have classes for girls and classes for boys—different schools, actually, but based on Omaha discipline and Christian values.
Some of the children come for day classes, and they stay until dinner and go home. Others live here at the school, and their day starts with prayers at five, breakfast at six, classes and dinner at noon. The girls learn sewing and women’s work before they are free to play in the afternoon. Boys work the farm plots in the afternoon. Supper is at five and chapel at six.
Joseph La Flesche returned to the lodge that evening in a heat. “The War is nearly over. Father Hamilton is nowhere to be found, and Indians of all tribes are flocking to the Mission and many on their way here for protection. We have already taken in the Ponca and the Winnebago—more than a thousand of them in the last six months because of hunger. Now they are here asking us to protect them from the Sioux, who are running amok. Right out here on the reservation, between here and the Mission, a party of boys and their mothers were out gathering rushes when they were attacked by Sioux in war paint—six of them killed and scalped, and three of the plucky boys hid and escaped. Were they Sioux? White Men in paint? We’ll never know, but some are dead and many are afraid.
And now we must prepare for the worst. The lower house of the Territorial Government of Nebraska passed a resolution March 18 to remove us from the Territory. We have done everything we could to accommodate their wishes, to prove to them that we can live with them, live as they live.
Standing Cedar, I know from whence you come. The Otoe reservation is established, under the protection of the Deroin family, and you have been apportioned land that I believe is secure. We, on the other hand, are not so fortunate. We are new and our Agent is so corrupt that none of the promises spelled out in our treaty have been honored. We are being cheated on the allotments. We gave away ninety percent of the land and our hunting rights in return for this space along the river in the hopes of learning to farm and live a sedentary, peaceful life, to live as Whites live.
While I am not ready to admit defeat, I will say to you that your son would be safer on the Otoe Reservation. I am sending my family north into the Dakotas to live like wild Indians until I can assure their safety.”
With that, Joseph La Flesche, Chief Iron Eye, shook his head. “I will send my daughter Suzette and she will care for you this evening. Please accept our meager hospitality tonight, and tomorrow, please take your son with you, and Godspeed to you all.”
The party left early with Michante seated in front of his father. They rode past the Mission, teeming with horses and people, and took the trail to Omaha City.
When they got to the oxbow north of Omaha, Standing Cedar suggested they take the boat south. “I got money. What am I gonna spend it on now? We’ll stay in a good hotel tonight and get up and catch the early boat. We’re on our way home, folks.”
Quinn volunteered to book passage while Standing Cedar and Sarah got the rooms and arranged for supper.
When they walked their horses up the ramp the next morning the sky was turning pink. They gave the horses to the ostler, took their bags, and climbed the stairs to the top and looked over the rail.
“Now this is the way to go, huh, Quinn? I could do this every day.” He waved his arm at the sun. “Remember that morning after the sweat? I never seen a sunrise like that since.”
Quinn picked up his son. “Me, neither.”
They watched it come up.
When the boilers chugged the stern-wheel in gear, they headed out into the channel as the water churned one way and then the other as the boat slipped into the current.
“Time to find a place,” said Standing Cedar. “We can sleep up here or the deck below. What do you think? Mrs. Morris? You’re quiet this morning. Would you find a place for yourself with a little privacy?”
“Thank you, Standing Cedar. It’ll give me an occasion to walk about. Let me take the boy. He needs to run around.”
Sarah Morris slung her bundle over her shoulder, took Michante’s hand, and headed for the stairs.
Standing Cedar leaned over the rail next to Quinn. “What’s next, Quinn? Where we going? St. Joe? You wanna go to the reservation? The homestead? What about Sarah?”
“You been waiting till she leaves to ask all these questions, Tree?”
“Of course. I don’t want any hard feelings.”
“I don’t know what’s next, we’re headed south to St. Joe, and when we get there we can decide if we want to go to the reservation. If you want to, we can. I don’t know what’s best for my son. I’ve never really was much of a father. My father was a good father, but I just worked to keep my family safe. Now I don’t have much, except the homestead.” He looked at his friend and smiled. “I think. If the homestead is on Crooked Creek.”
Standing Cedar nodded. “We can wait and see. Decide when we get there, huh? But what about Sarah? What is her story, Quinn? I’m afraid to ask her. Hell, I’m almost afraid to ask you! How do you find a White Woman in Indian country, unless you steal her or you kill her husband?”
Quinn turned from the rail. “She’s a gift.”
“You traded for her.”
Quinn turned back and looked at the horizon. “No, she’s a gift.” With that he began the story with George Bent and his raiders finding the scalps in the packs of the 100-dayers and ended with the Medicine Man sacrificing the horse.
“She was offered to me and I thought I’d better take her.”
“But that’s not all, is it, Quinn? She came from someplace, she was going someplace, and now she’s here.”
“All this is a long story, Tree, and I’m not ready to tell it. Maybe later.”
“Not ready to tell, what, Quinn?” Sarah said as she walked up carrying the boy.
Both men turned to her.
“My story?” She looked at Tree.
Quinn nodded. “Yes.”
“What part of my story? Your part? You don’t know my story. And I don’t know yours.”
She turned to Cedar Tree. “Or yours.”
“Grab your bedroll.” She started off. “You coming?”
Sarah led the way down to the second level and to the cowl beneath the bow. “This is it.” Her blanket was rolled out. “Michante and I will sleep up next to the bulkhead out of the wind. You might want to take either side.”
The men dropped their bundles.
She held the boy’s hand. “Now, if you want my story, as they say in the business, you’re going to have to buy this lady a drink. And Daddy, you can take charge of your son.”
She led them down the stairs to the salon. Sarah ordered a whiskey. Quinn held his son in his lap.
“What do you want to hear? How far back do you want to go?” She rolled the glass in her hand. “Before I start, I want Quinn to answer one question—and he knows what it is, don’t you Quinn?”
When he didn’t speak, she said to Tree, “Did he tell you about Two-Face?” She turned to Quinn. “Did you tell him about Two-Face?”
“Do you know about Two-Face, Standing Cedar?”
“No, I don’t. I’m a reservation Indian and I don’t know much.”
“I don’t know much, either, just that he might have been my new husband if the courtship had gone bad. You tell him, Quinn. You tell him.”
Cedar Tree winced. Quinn got up, handed the boy to his friend, and walked away.
“We had a little ranch, about five miles from the American. George Bent and 100 braves—Quinn was along with them and had been for I don’t know how long—had raided the ranch a couple weeks before and driven off the stock. Most of the party went with the cattle north and a smaller group went on raids along the river. We were staying at the Harlow ranch helping out and they came at night.”
Sarah drank. “They burned us out and killed the men and Mrs. Harlow. My husband took me and the boys in the corner before he ran and told me to take them and step outside. “Don’t run,” he said. “Just walk out and stay away from the fire. Hold their hands and don’t run. You might be captured, but they won’t kill you.” Then he knelt and hugged the boys and gave me a quick hug and ran out the door. We followed and watched him try to make it through, but they tomahawked him and he went down. The Indians dragged the three of us to their horses. Jacob was squalling. He wasn’t even two. And one of them shot him and left him lay there. They tied my hands with Jonah in front of me and one of them led us away alone into the dark. I was crying and Jonah was crying, but I tried to keep him quiet and we rode for what seemed like hours.
Before dawn part of the main party caught up with us—it was even smaller than the group that attacked us—and we rode well past sunrise and pulled up. George Bent handed me over to Quinn. ‘You’re in charge of her,’ he said.
As we rode, Quinn reassured me that we were not going to be killed. He told me why he was riding with the Cheyenne—about his boy, about the massacre. He cut my bonds so it was easier to ride and told me not to try to run.
We were on the trail for four days when two riders came in. They had found a dozen soldiers riding ahead, and Bent decided to go out after them.
We couldn’t keep up, of course, and by the time we got there the killing was over. What happened after was truly awful, worse even than watching my husband and child butchered. Bent had found in the soldiers’ packs scalps that were taken at the Sand Creek massacre and the Indians went into frenzy. Bent gave them liquor and they tore the bodies apart and roasted them over the fire.
She finished the glass and waved for another.
“The next morning Jonah and me were put on a horse and rode with Quinn at the end of the party to the main camp, where I was led off to a tipi and kept there until the next night.
The following morning there was a fuss outside the tipi and a brave came in and dragged me and Jonah out and he beat me in front of the women. Then he picked up my son, held him over his head, and threw him to the ground and stomped on him again and again. I went mad and attacked him and he beat me unconscious. When I woke, my baby was cleaned up and lying wrapped up next to me in the tipi. The women washed me, braided my hair, and changed my clothes and took me to Quinn’s tent. I do not know what became of my son’s body, but I hope and believe that the women were caring enough to bury him.”
Sarah drained the glass.
“On the ride north Quinn told me that the man who killed my boy was named White White. When he found that the packs of scalps from the soldiers’ raid had his sister’s hair, he went mad and claimed he had a right to kill us.”
She motioned to Standing Cedar to pass her the child. She gathered the boy and bent over him and wept.
Tree waited. “Let me go find Quinn.”
Quinn was on the top deck watching the water go by.
“Did she get her story told?” Quinn turned and leaned back against the rail. He looked at his friend. “I told her I wouldn’t give her up and I didn’t.”
“Come down and we’ll eat supper. She told me about her son and she’s pretty upset. Come on, Quinn.”
She was sitting with the boy in her lap. The men sat across from her.
“The choice was never really there, was it, Quinn? Two-Face didn’t have your son, so you don’t know, do you?”
“Mrs. Morris, you can only judge a man by what he actually does. Or a woman, what she does, not what she might have done. You can fester your life away wondering ‘what if,’ and you get nowhere. You have lived through hell, lost your husband and boys. I have lost my wife and found my child. None of this has been by any of our own doing. Be thankful for your life.”
It was the boy who kept the three together on the trip down the river. He flitted from one to the other, crawled stairs, and cried to go see the horses. He slept among the three of them, ate from their plates, and allowed each and any of them to clean him up after he shit.
How to deal with that became a point of conversation.
“You could do what we do in the wild,” said Tree. “Just go bare ass. Pants just get in the way, especially babies. Just watch ‘em and clean ‘em up. Pretty soon they get tired of the mess and figure it out.”
Sarah was of the opinion that it was a good occasion for training. “Self-control begins at an early age, Tree, self-regulation, and the earlier the better. I will take it upon myself to demonstrate. What worked on my two boys will work with Michante. By the time we get to the Little Blue, he will know when to go and how.”
Quinn was without opinion, but he cleaned up after his son nonetheless.
The Missouri River was at flood and the trip became an adventure. The channel was gone. Trees and dead animals ran past them in the current. Silt and sandbars grounded them. The boat was pulled in at Nebraska City for repairs and Quinn suggested they end the river trip.
“We can outfit ourselves here as well as St. Joe. We don’t need to go back to the reservation, Tree. We can wait.”
“Tell you what, Quinn,” he said. “We’ll get what we can here and if we need another trip we surely can do that. I need to buy mules and you know mules. We can bring back a cow and some chickens. And tools. Sarah, you help me think of the things I need to outfit a real house. A new stove, for one. Iron pots. Glass for windows. What else?”
Sarah made up a list and Quinn made up a list.
Three days later, with four horses, two mules, a cow, and a crate of chickens, the train to the Little Blue took out with Quinn and Sarah on the bench with Michante between them.
Piled behind them in the wagon were Standing Cedar’s purchases: a stove and a single-share plow with a small disk. And tools—a whip saw, a buck saw an axe and a hatchet; coils of rope, two pullies, a draw knife, two wedges, a hammer, a maul, a brace and an assortment of auger bits; a corn knife, a scythe, a hoe and a rake, a hay fork, two buckets and a shovel and a spade.
Sarah braced her purchases in baskets behind the seat: bolts of fabric, skeins of yarn, thread and needles and pins and a scissors; candles and soap of all sorts, combs, a mirror; iron pots and pans and spoons, a handful of tin cutlery, two large knives, a cleaver, and a copper cauldron big enough to scald a shoat. “Leave it up to me, Tree. I’ll stock the place with enough staples to get us through the summer. Then we can make a trip to civilization and see what we need. I sure am glad Tree stole that money!” She laughed.
Standing Cedar took Quinn for a ride up the creek to survey the half-section of land the two of them had staked out. Tree showed him the home site he had picked out next to the creek and overlooking the Little Blue valley. They dismounted and sat.
“I was hopin’ you would take me under your wing, show me how to do it, Quinn. After all, you were the one who encouraged me to come out here and do this. We could live like a small Indian tribe before the Whites came along—where we work together and share everything. I got money and you got the know-how. What do you say?”
“This was my dream, Tree, all the way back to Ireland. A farm and a family. It looks like I got what I want.”
“Not like you thought, though.”
Quinn shook his head.
But things are settled now with you, aren’t they? Settled between the two of us?”
Quinn nodded. “None of it was your doing, Tree, and you saved my son. Putting him in La Flesche’s school was exactly what Lucy would have wanted.”
“But now that’s gone.”
Quinn nodded. “And she’s gone.” Quinn stood. “Look down there. What do you see, Tree?”
“A good place to build.”
“I see ashes. I see all the burnt-out places we set fire to from Julesburg to the Black Hills. Let me help you set up a tipi here, and let me stay with you. Mrs. Morris can stay in the soddy with Michante.”
“What you thinking about Mrs. Morris? She has taken to the boy.”
“I can’t very well send her away. What would you do, Tree?”
“If I was White? I’d ask her if she’d have me. She’s healthy and strong and could help around the place. Not to mention those long winter nights.”
Quinn spent his days hunting and fishing, while Standing Cedar and Sara plowed and planted. The three spent their evenings together in the soddy, with Quinn writing, Tree drawing up plans for a number of buildings, and Sara knitting.
When the corn was up, Tree took Quinn to the top of the knoll above his tipi and they looked over the little valley.
“Quinn, I think you need a sweat. Short of that, some medicine. You’re all clogged up. You want me to stir up something for you?”
“I thought you’d given up medicine to become a farmer, Tree. There’s nothing wrong with me. Anymore, I just don’t want to farm, is all.”
“You want to go and see if you can become an Indian? Again?” He shook his head. “Being an Indian ain’t so great.”
Quinn looked at his friend. “I never thought I could be an Indian—I thought that was a good joke between us.
“Tell me, though, that it didn’t seriously cross your mind.”
Quinn folded his arms. “When Lucy was with me. I wanted what she had, wanted to know what she knew. Now that she’s gone….”
Quinn turned and walked away.
Standing Cedar followed. “She’s not gone, Quinn. She’s here. She’s in Michante. She’s in you. You just have to find her and talk to her.”
Quinn turned. “Then help me find her, Tree. Help me find her.”
That afternoon Standing Cedar asked Sarah if she would take Michante and sleep in his tipi tonight. “Without me and Quinn, of course. We need this place and we don’t want to keep you up. You can have it back in the morning.”
The two of them prepared well before sunset. Quinn laid out Lucy’s things—the shell, the bag of herbs, the crock and the cup, the owl wing, the pigeon bundle. Standing Cedar brewed the tea from Lucy’s bag of herbs while Quinn cleaned off the door in the cottonwood and brought up two buffalo robes. The two of them went to the river and cut sweetgrass, and Tree went in search of sage.
When he returned, Quinn was up on the platform arranging the sweetgrass and bundles of his hair on the robes.
Tree stood below and waited.
When Quinn climbed down, they went to the rain barrel, stripped, and washed. Tree dressed and threw a blanket over Quinn and had him stand on the porch while he lit the sage in the shell and, with the owl wing, smudged the soddy and then Quinn.
“Now we begin,” he said.
The two of them climbed the cottonwood, Quinn with the crock and bundle of Lucy’s things, Standing Cedar with the shell. When Quinn had drunk off the tea in the crock, The Indian had him lie between the robes while he smudged the platform, and he sang, ume’li, byuwahu, ure’ku’li, byuwere.
Then he lifted his arms and chanted.
(He is sick)
mank’oge, hinda, pox linge
(great owl, hoot owl, screech owl)
(my brothers, pity us)
may je-gi wo-chi ‘exi
(this earth is difficult)
(day happy land-in)
Standing Cedar stayed until Quinn floated away, and in the dream that followed, he rose up through murky air, with the orange sun hanging on the rim of the horizon, and looked down on the faded buffalo hides, their flaps blowing in the wind.
After fighting first alongside the Redlegs and then the Missouri Bushwackers in the Civil War, James Quinn rides into Nebraska Territory to escape the war, under the illusion that he can file a homestead, settle down, and farm. Into his life comes the Otoe woman who healed him and brought him back to life. She bears his child. He loses her and his son and spends the next two years, first with the White Man and then with the Cheyenne, in search of those who took them from him. His half-breed friend Standing Cedar and the demonic renegade Two-Face lead him back to his center and then back home.