By Wendy K.
This is a Lancer-ized version of the movie Dances With Wolves with Scott Lancer in the Kevin Costner role. I take absolutely no credit for this story. All the credit goes to Michael Blake for writing the book and the screenplay and to Kevin Costner for bringing them to such vivid life on the silver screen. As for me, I’m just borrowing them for a little while and embellishing upon the wonderful framework they so kindly provided.
This story definitely qualifies as an AR because I’ve tinkered with both the movie’s plot/timeline as well as the Lancer plot/timeline in order to make everything fit together.
I hope I did both of them justice and that you find the result an enjoyable read.
Cavalry officer Scott Garrett Lancer felt very small and insignificant. Everything was immense, from the cloudless sky to the rolling ocean of grass. No matter where he looked, there was nothing. No trees, no buildings, no roads, not even the faintest trace of wagon wheel ruts. Just vast amazing empty space. As he rode his horse, Cisco, alongside the supply wagon, Scott’s mind was cast back to the events that had led him to this incredible place.
Fort Sumter had been fired upon and the Union was in jeopardy. Feeling the need to do something, Scott had joined the army where his education and experience with horses had landed him a choice assignment as an officer in a cavalry unit. This dismayed his grandfather, Harlan Garrett to no end. He had plans for his grandson that did not include being riddled with bullets on a blood-soaked battlefield.
But Scott hadn’t been feeling very inclined to listen to what his grandfather wanted, no, demanded of him. The young man, through a well-meaning outside source, had recently been made aware that his Grandfather had been keeping certain details about his father, Murdoch Lancer, from him. The young man had always labored under the impression that his father wanted nothing to do with him and had left him in his Grandfather’s care. That couldn’t have been further from the truth. His father, a California rancher, had made numerous attempts to contact Scott and had even once shown up in Boston with the intention of taking him back to California to live with him, only to be thwarted by Harlan Garrett every time.
It also turned out that he had a brother. After Scott’s mother had died, Murdoch had remarried and had another child, a boy named Johnny. Apparently, the wife, Maria, had run off taking little Johnny with her but, after many years of searching, Murdoch had tracked the boy down in Mexico. His mother had been dead for some time and the adolescent Johnny, who had been on his own, had started down a path that would lead him straight to jail or worse, to a hangman’s noose. It was fortunate that Lancer had found the boy when he did.
When Scott confronted his grandfather with this information, the older man had not denied it. He had instead gone on about how he had great plans for Scott, mapping out the young man’s life without any consideration for his grandson’s own wants or desires.
Taking matters into his own hands, a furious Scott had sent a letter off to his father, telling him of his interest in corresponding and perhaps going to California to visit him, maybe even to live. But before Scott heard back, the war had started and, always a staunch abolitionist, the conscientious young man had felt duty bound to enlist.
It was during the war, at a place called Yellow Tavern, that Scott was captured and sent to Libby Prison where the conditions were horrific. Finding some like minded soldiers among his fellow inmates, plans were made and an escape attempted. But what they didn’t realize was that their plans were known to the Confederate guards. One of the men, Dan Cassidy, delirious with fever, had revealed the details of the plot. An ambush was waiting and sixteen men were killed. The only one to escape had been Scott who, over time, managed to surreptitiously make his way back to the Union lines where he was, much to his horror and dismay, regaled as a hero. The last thing he felt like was a hero. He had been lucky that night, nothing more, and even though there hadn’t been anything he could have done to stop it, the deaths of those sixteen men weighed heavily on his soul.
Seeing that the time he’d spent in prison had taken its toll, the young officer was given the choice to become a civilian again. Knowing that a life confined to his Grandfather’s stuffy accounting office awaited him in Boston and that there had been no reply from his father, Scott chose to remain in the cavalry. He found that the life suited him. He did, however, request a post further west, away from the blood, gore and misery of the war that continued to grind on with no end in sight. And perhaps when his time in the army was up, he would try again to contact his father.
Harlan Garrett not amused.
“I want to see the frontier,” Scott had tried to explain to his nearly apoplectic Grandfather. “Before it’s gone.”
All his life he had heard tales of the west and the wild savages that lived there. It all seemed so very different from the gas lamps, cobblestones and genteel drawing rooms of Boston. The tales had captured his imagination as a child and had remained a major preoccupation into adulthood. Scott had always been a solemn, introspective person and this wide-open country spoke to his soul in a way that was profoundly satisfying.
He would have been having the time of his life were it not for his traveling companion.
Timmons was the greasiest, dirtiest, most foul individual Scott had ever had the displeasure to meet. The wagon master was heading to Fort Sedgewick, Scott’s new post, with supplies and some letters for the soldiers already there. Scott had been forced to tag along with Timmons since he didn’t know the way to the fort.
Scott shuddered as he remembered the strange behavior of the Major in Fort Hayes who had directed him to Timmons. The sweaty, obese man had seemed off somehow, his erratic behavior and odd mannerisms creating a flutter of unease in Scott’s gut.
He reached a hand inside his tunic and pulled out a folded piece of paper. It was his orders. He unfolded the parchment and ran his blue-gray gaze over it yet again but no amount of study could make the words any clearer or make him feel any less disquieted.
His name was misspelled twice. The obviously intoxicated major had clumsily dragged his sleeve over the ink before it had dried, and the official signature was badly smeared. The document was not dated, either. All in all it looked more like a scrap of rubbish than an official army document.
The interview itself had been just as disturbing. In his eagerness to be posted, Scott had gone straight to the Major’s office. The man’s bloodshot eyes had held his for a long time. When he finally spoke, the tone was blatantly sarcastic. “Indian fighter, huh?
Lieutenant Lancer had never even seen an Indian, much less fought one. “No, Sir, although I suppose I could be if I had to.”
They stared silently at one another for what seemed like a long time before the major began to write. He wrote furiously, oblivious to the sweat cascading down his temples. Scott could see more oily drops forming on top of the nearly bald head. The man’s bushy side whiskers and remaining hair that fringed his head were lank and greasy looking.
The major paused in his scribbling only once. He coughed up a wad of phlegm and spat it into an ugly pail at the side of the desk. At that moment Scott wished for the encounter to be over. Everything about this man made him think of sickness.
The major finished writing and handed the paper over. “I’m sending you to Fort Sedgewick, the furthest most outpost of the realm.”
Lieutenant Lancer stared down at the messy form. “Yes, sir. How will I get there, sir?”
“You think I don’t know?” the major said sharply.
“No, sir, not at all. It’s just that I don’t know.”
The major leaned back in his chair, smiling smugly. “I’m in a generous mood and will grant your boon. A wagon loaded with goods of the realm leaves shortly. Find the peasant who calls himself Timmons and ride with him. My seal will guarantee your safe conduct.”
During his time in the Union army, Scott had learned not to question the eccentricities of officers. He had saluted smartly, said, “Yes, sir,” and turned on his heel. He had located Timmons and had been riding out of Fort Hayes in no time. The cavalry officer had been heartily grateful that he would not be serving under the obviously unstable major and kept his fingers crossed that the men of Fort Sedgewick were made of stronger stuff.
Lt. Lancer had every reason to be concerned about the stability of the man whose office he just left. The demented fellow had chosen that day, of all days, to come completely unhinged. He had hated this godforsaken place so far from the comforts of civilization and had decided to kill himself, ending his misery once and for all. And he had done that very thing, rather matter of factly, with his service revolver, mere minutes after sending Lancer on his way. The topic of the major and his messy end were the talk of Fort Hayes for many days after. Unfortunately, no one remembered the handsome officer who had been in the dead man’s office for no more than a few minutes.
Scott was startled out of his reverie by the slowing of the wagon. Timmons was pointing out something in the buffalo grass close by as they came to a halt.
A splash of white was lying in the grass not twenty feet from the wagon and both men climbed down to investigate. It was a human skeleton; the bones bleached white by the sun and the skull grinning up at the sky.
The blond lieutenant knelt next to the bones. Grass was growing up through the rib cage along with arrows, roughly twelve of them, sticking out like the quills on a porcupine. Scott pulled one out and inspected it carefully.
As he ran his fingers along the shaft, Timmons cackled over his shoulder.
“Somebody back east is wonderin’ ‘Now why don’t he write?’”
The fourth day on the trail passed much the same as the ones before it; without event. And so did the fifth and the sixth. Lt. Lancer was disappointed about the lack of buffalo. He did not see a single animal. Timmons said the big herds sometimes disappeared altogether but then they’d be thick as locusts when they finally did show up.
They hadn’t seen a single Indian either, and Timmons had no explanation for this. He did say that if he ever saw another Indian, it would be too soon - A bunch of thieves and beggars, the lot of them.
By the seventh day Scott was only half listening to Timmons. As they traversed the last few miles to their destination, he was thinking more and more about arriving at his post and wondering what Fort Sedgewick was like.
Captain Curtis, hatless, dirty and unshaven, wiped the sweat from his brow and stared dully at the weeping sore upon the land known as Fort Sedgewick. Under normal circumstances, the little fort would be filled with the sounds of men going about their duties. But there had been no duties for many days, even busy work had fallen by the wayside, and the quiet broke the Captain’s heart.
There were no horses in the flimsy corral that not so long ago had contained fifty. In the two and a half months they had been here, the horses had been stolen, replaced, and stolen again. The Sioux had gleefully helped themselves to every last one of them.
His eyes drifted to the supply house just across the way. Aside from his quarters, it was the only other structure still standing at Fort Sedgewick. It had been a bad job from the start. No one knew how to build with sod and, two weeks after it went up, a good part of the rood had caved in. One of the walls was sagging so badly that it seemed inconceivable that it was standing at all. Surely it would collapse soon.
It doesn’t matter, Captain Curtis thought, disinterestedly.
The supply house was empty. It had been empty now the better part of a month. They had been living on what was left of the hard tack and what they could shoot on the prairie - mostly rabbits and guinea fowl. He had wished so hard for the buffalo to come back. Even now his mouth watered at the thought of a juicy piece of buffalo meat. Curtis swallowed hard and blinked back the sudden sting of tears.
There was nothing to eat and he was hungry. So very, very hungry.
As he listened to the terrible silence of the place he knew he could wait no longer. Today he would have to take the action he had been dreading; Even if it meant disgrace, the ruin of his career or worse.
He shoved the ‘or worse’ out of his mind and glanced once more to the horizon to the east, hoping against hope that there would be a supply wagon there but his prayers were not granted.
With a heavy sigh, he walked fifty yards across open, bare ground to the edge of the bluff and stared down at the quiet stream meandering gently a hundred feet below. A coating of miscellaneous trash lined its banks, and even without the benefit of a breeze, the rank odor of human waste drifted up to his nostrils and stuck there. Human waste along with whatever else was rotting down there.
The Captain’s gaze swept down the gentle incline of the bluff where numerous sleeping holes were carved into the slope like pockmarks. Three times he called out for Corporal Duffy before there was movement in front of one of the holes. A painfully thin man in a baggy uniform appeared and a hollow-cheeked face looked up at him sullenly.
“Assemble the men in front of my quarters. Everyone, even those unfit for duty.”
The soldier tipped his fingers half-heartedly against the side of his head and disappeared back into the hole.
Ten minutes later the men of Fort Sedgewick, who looked more like a band of hideously abused prisoners, had assembled on the flat, open space in front of Curtis’ hut. There were eighteen of them. Eighteen out of an original fifty-eight. Thirty-three men had gone over the hill, chancing whatever had awaited them out on the prairie. Curtis had sent a mounted patrol of seven men after the biggest bunch of deserters. Maybe they were dead or maybe they had deserted too. Either way, they had never come back.
Captain Curtis cleared his throat.
“I’m proud of you all for staying,” he began.
The little assembly of zombies said nothing.
“Gather up your weapons and anything else you care to take out of here. As soon as you’re ready we will march back to Fort Hayes.”
The eighteen men were moving before he had even finished the sentence, stampeding like drunkards for the little holes in the bluff, as if terrified that the captain might change his mind if they didn’t move fast enough.
It was all over in less than fifteen minutes. Captain Curtis and his scarecrow-like men staggered out onto the prairie and chartered an easterly route for the hundred and fifty miles back to Fort Hayes.
They were never seen again.
The stillness around the abandoned army fort was complete. A solitary wolf appeared on the bluff overlooking the stream and the dilapidated buildings. It paused to sniff the breeze blowing towards him. The smell of man was still quite strong even though the place had been deserted for some time. Deciding that this dead place was better left alone, he trotted on.
The only sign of life was the ragged piece of canvas flapping gently over the doorway of the collapsed sod structure. Had it not been for the lettering, crudely gouged in the beam over the lintel, Scott would not have believed that this was the place. But it was spelled out quite clearly. The two men sat silently on the wagon seat, staring at the pitiful ruin that was Fort Sedgewick.
At last, Lt. Lancer hopped down and stepped cautiously through the doorway. Seconds later, he emerged and glanced at Timmons who was still sitting in the wagon.
“Not what you’d call a goin’ concern,” the wagon master commented.
Scott didn’t answer. He walked to the supply house, pulled the canvas flap aside and leaned in. There was nothing to see and in a moment he was walking back to the wagon where Timmons was staring at him expectantly.
“May as well unload,” the blond said matter-of-factly.
“What for, Lieutenant?”
“Because this is my post.”
Timmons squirmed in his seat, confusion plain on his grubby face. “But there ain’t nuthin’ here.”
Lt. Lancer glanced around. “Not at the moment, no. But we can’t leave the fort unmanned any longer than it has been already. I will remain here. You’ll have to go back and notify the soldiers at Fort Hayes about the situation here.”
A silence passed between them, a silence that carried the tension of a standoff. Scott’s arms hung at his sides while Timmons fingered the reins and spat over the side of the wagon.
“Everybody’s run off…or got kilt. It ain’t safe for you ta stay here by yer’self.” He was glaring at the Lieutenant, as if he was speaking to an idiot. “We might as well turn ‘round and head back.”
But Scott Lancer had no intention of heading back. Whatever had happened here at Fort Sedgewick needed to be investigated. Perhaps everyone had run off or perhaps they were all dead. Perhaps there were survivors, struggling to reach the fort even now. Someone should be here if that happened.
And there was a deeper reason for staying, something beyond Scott’s strong sense of duty. There were times when a person wanted something so badly that they would ignore any obstacles in their path. Lieutenant Lancer had wanted to experience the frontier more than anything in the world - even more than an eventual meeting with his father. And now he was here. He knew deep down inside that it was important that he remain. His destiny demanded it of him; he could feel it in his bones. What Fort Sedgewick looked like or what its current state of disrepair was didn’t matter to him. His heart was set.
“This is my post and those are the post’s provisions,” Scott’s eyes never wavered and his voice was steely, indicating he would brook no argument.
A smile broke out on Timmons’ face and he laughed. “Are you crazy, boy?”
Timmons said this thinking that the lieutenant was just a pup and a tenderfoot; that he probably had never been in combat and had not lived long enough to know anything. The words coming out of his mouth had the ring of a fed up father….or grandfather.
Scott Lancer may have been fairly young but he was definitely not a tenderfoot. He had seen harsh combat in the war back east. He had managed to escape the hellish conditions of a Confederate POW camp and make it back to the Union lines, surviving by his wits and the skin of his teeth. He could be one tough customer when the situation called for it and this situation did.
The words ‘are you crazy, boy?’ had tripped a switch inside his head. Scott’s grandfather had said something similar upon learning of his enlistment in the army. And in the same tone of voice, too.
~ Have you gone insane, Scotty? ~
Timmons’ smile began to fade as he watched Lancer’s gray-blue eyes flare with determination. He gulped as the officer softly caressed the handle of the big revolver he wore at his hip. He saw the Lieutenant’s index finger slip smoothly through the trigger guard.
“Get your ass out of that wagon and help me unload.” The frosty tone of those words had a profound effect on Timmons. He didn’t bat an eye or bother to make a reply. In a matter of seconds, Timmons had tied the reins to the brake and jumped down from his seat. He walked to the rear of the wagon and began to unload supplies as fast as he could. The sooner he unloaded, the sooner he could leave. The sooner he could leave, the sooner he would be away from Lt Lancer, who had obviously lost his marbles.
Timmons drove away a little less than an hour later, empty wagon rattling loudly. He wanted to put as much distance between himself, Fort Sedgewick and its lone occupant as he could before dark.
Scott didn’t allow himself to relax after Timmons drove away. He spent the rest of the afternoon and evening stowing his supplies and working on adequate shelter for the night. He would construct something more permanent first thing in the morning. But now it was growing dark. Suddenly he was very tired and he flopped down, fully clothed, on the little bunk he’d made amongst the supplies and laid his head down.
His ears were overly sensitive that night and sleep was long in coming. Every little noise was amplified in the darkness and begged to be investigated. There was a strangeness to this place that he hadn’t felt during the day. Just as he would begin to nod off, the snap of a twig or a tiny far off splash in the stream would jolt him wide awake again. This went on for hours and it eventually wore him down, leaving the door open for doubt to creep into his mind. He had been a fool to leave Boston. He had been a fool to enlist in the army. He had been a fool to remain here alone. The Indians would find him here and he would be dead within a week.
It was a very long time before Scott was able to sleep.
As the days went by, the cavalry officer found himself wondering what happened to the men of Fort Sedgewick. If they had been attacked by Indians, then where were the bodies? Why had they been living in those little caves dug into the side of the bluff? Had the overwhelming vastness and isolation of the prairie driven them mad?
To take his mind off these disturbing thoughts, Scott kept himself busy with chores around the fort. There was a great deal to do. The place had been abandoned for quite some time and things were in a terrible state of disrepair.
The first order of business was the corral. Cisco was a well-trained horse but he couldn’t be depended upon to not wander off forever. After that it was the small hut that Scott was using for his own quarters. Then he set to work on the garbage choking the banks of the little stream.
Fastidious by nature, he found the dumping ground to be a complete disgrace. Bottles and trash were strewn everywhere. Broken bits of equipment and shreds of uniform material lay rusting or rotting on the banks. Worst of all were the animal carcasses, in varying stages of decay, which had been dumped willy-nilly along the river. Most of them were small game, rabbits and guinea fowl but there was even a whole antelope and part of another.
He worked all morning and well past noon, stripped down to his long undershirt, trousers and a pair of old boots. There were more carcasses sunk in the stream itself, and his stomach churned queasily as he dragged the oozing animals from the stinking mud. He was lucky that the water hadn’t become poisoned and unfit to drink as a result of all the refuse.
Scott piled everything onto a large square of canvas and bundled it into a huge pack. Using Cisco, they lugged the awful cargo to the top of the bluff.
By mid afternoon the stream was clear and flowing more freely. Scott stretched languidly, feeling a swell of pride at all he had accomplished. His back had tightened at the unaccustomed work and he was sore, but it was a good feeling. It was indicative of a hard day of honest work and therefore, satisfying.
With one last look around for any stray trash, the lieutenant climbed to the top of the bluff and confronted the pile of debris that rose nearly to his shoulder. He poured a gallon of fuel oil on the heap and set it ablaze.
For a time he watched the column of greasy, black smoke billow up into the empty sky. But all at once he realized what he had done. He should never have started the fire. Out here a blaze of this size was like setting off a flare in a moonless night. Someone was bound to be drawn in by the column of smoke and that someone would most likely be Indians.
There were six of them and they were Pawnee, the most terrible of all the tribes. They were ruthless and efficient in regards to dealing with an intruder in their territory, deciding in a split second whether the interloper should live or die. If it was decided that the unfortunate trespasser should die, the Pawnee saw to it with speed and precision. When it came to dealing death, the Pawnee were masters and all of the tribes on the plains feared them like they feared no other.
What had caused the six Pawnee to stop was something they had seen. A wisp of smoke was curling up into the air about a half a mile away.
From their vantage point on a low rise they could see the smoke clearly but they could not see the source, since it was hidden behind several rolling hills. They debated on what to do. The six were split, three for ignoring and three for investigating. As they debated back and forth, one brave, the fiercest among them, remained steadfast in his resolve. He wanted to swoop down on the hidden campsite immediately and as the discussion dragged on, grew more exasperated and sullen.
Finally, in a fit of pique he interrupted the others, his words scornful. “I would rather die than argue about a single line of smoke in my own country. You are all a bunch of mewling cowards not fit to be called Pawnee.”
With that, he wheeled his horse about and headed down the slope, towards the smoke. With one final glance at one another, the others followed.
Timmons was squatting by the fire, his fingers wrapped around the skillet handle, when the first arrow hit him. It drove deep into his right buttock and the force of it knocked him clear across the fire. He heard the war whoops of the Indian hunting party and the cries sent him into a panic. Without pausing to look back at his attackers, he crawled, whimpering, into the gully and clambered up the incline, a brightly feathered arrow jutting from his ass.
Seeing that it was just one man, the Pawnee took their time. While the others looted the wagon, the fierce warrior who had shamed them into action galloped lazily after Timmons.
He caught the teamster just as he was about to clear the slope leading out of the gully. Timmons never saw the horse or its rider. He heard the sound of hoof beats coming closer and, for a split second, he saw the stone war club. Then it slammed into the side of his skull with such force that the teamster’s head split like a ripe melon.
The Pawnee rummaged through the supplies, taking as much as they could carry. They unhitched the team of mules and burned the wagon. As they rode away, they passed Timmons mutilated body without so much as a second glance. They had taken what they needed from it. The wagon master’s scalp now dangled from the lance of the fierce Pawnee brave.
After several days of walking on eggs and constantly scanning the horizon, Scott realized that he had somehow escaped notice, though he had seen a wolf watching him from the bluff occasionally. He wasn’t sure whether he was relieved or disappointed. He ate a good dinner that night and sat down to write an update in his journal.
April 12, 1864
I have found Fort Sedgewick to be completely unoccupied. The place appears to have been left abandoned for some time. There is no sign of the men who were supposed to be stationed here.
I don’t know what to do. This fort is my post but there is no one to report to. Communication can only take place if I leave and I don’t want to abandon my post. Timmons should reach Fort Hayes any day now so I am confident that others will be here soon.
Supplies are abundant and I am keeping busy by performing clean-up duties and repairs.
There is a wolf that seems intent on the goings on here. He does not seem inclined to be a nuisance and, aside from Cisco, is my only companion. He has appeared each afternoon for the past two days. He has milky white socks on both front paws. If he comes calling tomorrow, I will name him Two Socks.
Lt. Scott Garrett Lancer, U.S.A.
Scott made a habit of riding Cisco once a day. It helped to keep the horse from growing fat and allowed the officer to become familiar with his new territory. Each day, they rode out in a different direction, sometimes as far as ten miles from the fort. The prairie was glorious, alive with wildflowers and teeming with game. It was a sight he knew he would never grow tired of. The buffalo grass was the best, rippling and waving in the wind like a brilliant green ocean, as far as the eye could see. But he saw no buffalo and no Indians which disappointed him greatly.
Two Socks’ daily visits also became a habit. He appeared in his customary spot on the bluff each afternoon. After about a week, Scott took his silent visitor’s comings and goings for granted. Occasionally he would notice the wolf trotting into view, but more often than not, the lieutenant would glance up from some task and there he would be.
One evening, with much cajoling on his part, Lancer even got the wolf to come close enough to take a piece of bacon from his hand.
It was Saturday, bath and laundry day. Scott grabbed up everything he could find that needed washing and stuffed it in a rucksack, searched out a chunk of soap and headed down to the river. Once there, he laid everything down on the bank and, after only a few moments of hesitation, he even removed the clothing he was wearing and added it to the pile. It wasn’t as if anyone would see him and it was a heady, decadent feeling to be naked, with the wind and sunshine caressing his pale skin.
Kicking Bird had left the camp before dawn. He knew that his leaving would not be questioned. Being the tribe’s medicine man for many years and well respected, he rarely had to account for his actions. He did his job well, seeing to the day to day welfare of the band. His duties were many and varied: mediating squabbles, healing the sick, attending councils, listening to the Great Spirit and watching for signs of import.
The shaman was not on a special mission. He had simply ridden onto the prairie to clear his head. He was worried about Stand With A Fist, his adopted daughter. The young woman was very depressed and Kicking Bird feared that the girl would do something drastic. He had come to the peace of the prairie to think of a way to ease Stand With A Fist’s pain. It was here, away from the clamor of the camp, that Kicking Bird could hear the Great Spirit most clearly.
It was while out on this ride that Kicking Bird came upon the soldier fort. He was confused by the lack of activity; he had heard disconcerting stories about their abundant numbers. On more than one occasion he had heard people say they were as plentiful as the stars. This gave the shaman an uneasy feeling in the pit of his stomach.
And yet, on the basis of his actual experience with the Pale Faces, he felt they deserved his pity. They seemed to be a sad race. Those poor soldiers at the fort, so rich in food, so poor in everything else. They shot their rifles poorly, they rode their horses poorly. They were supposed to be the white man’s warriors, but they weren’t alert and they frightened easily. Taking their horses had been laughably easy, like plucking berries from a bush.
These soldiers were a great mystery to Kicking Bird. They were without families and far from their chief. With the Great Spirit everywhere, for all to see, they worshipped things written down on little strips of green paper. And they were so dirty.
The shaman could not understand how they could be said to flourish when they had not lasted even one season here on the prairie. And so he was very surprised when he arrived at the fort to find it clean and well kept, with no sign of any soldiers but with a good looking horse in the corral.
Part of being a shaman was being curious; he had to have a closer look.
Unselfconscious about his nudity, Lt. Lancer dawdled as he made his way back along the stream. There was just so much to see. Every tiny plant, every buzzing insect, the sweet smell of the grass seemed to attract his attention. Everything was remarkably, vibrantly alive.
He trudged up the slope, enraptured. As his head cleared the rise, he saw the Indian pony. In the same instant he saw a silhouette, creeping in the shade under the awning over his quarters. A split second later the figure stepped into the sun and Scott ducked down, settling into a dip just below the bluff’s lip, heart pounding and face pressed into the dirt.
Butterflies in his stomach, he listened frantically for any sound from the camp below. His mind raced as fantastic images danced across the closed lids of his eyes. Fringed pants. Beaded moccasins. A hatchet hanging from a belt. The heavy, shining hair spilling halfway down his back, black as a raven’s wing. The dark, deep set eyes. The hawk-like nose. The skin the color of red earth.
Scott knew it was an Indian but he had never expected something so wild, so different from anything he had ever imagined.
The cavalry officer stayed crouched below the bluff, his butt grazing the ground, beads of sweat coating his forehead. He could not grasp what he had seen but he was afraid to look again.
He heard a horse nicker and, sucking up his courage, peeked slowly over the bluff. The Indian was in the corral. He was walking up to Cisco, a looped length of rope in his hand and crooning softly to the nervous animal.
When Scott saw this, his paralysis evaporated. He stopped thinking altogether and started acting. He leapt to his feet and scrambled over the top of the bluff. He shouted out, his bellow cracking the stillness like a rifle shot.
Kicking Bird jumped straight into the air. When he whirled to meet the voice that had startled him out of his skin, the Sioux medicine man came face to face with the strangest sight he had ever seen.
A naked man.
A naked man marching straight across the yard with his fists balled, his jaw set and skin so white it hurt the eyes. Kicking Bird stumbled backwards in horror and surprise, breaking through the corral fence to land on his behind. He quickly righted himself, raced across the yard and vaulted onto his pony, galloping off as if the devil himself were on his tail. Not once did he look back.
Scott watched as the Indian rode out of sight. Breathing a huge sigh of relief he turned to see Cisco staring at him curiously. It was then that he was reminded of the fact that he was completely naked.
April 27, 1864
Have made contact with a wild Indian. One came to the fort and tried to steal my horse. When I appeared he became frightened and ran off. Do not know how many more might be in the vicinity but am assuming that where there is one there are sure to be more.
I am taking steps to prepare for another visitation. I can’t make an adequate defense but will try to make a big impression when they come again.
I am still alone, however, and unless troops arrive soon, all may be lost. My presence here must have been reported at Fort Hayes by now.
Lt. Scott Garrett Lancer U.S.A.
P.S. The man I encountered was a magnificent looking fellow.
Scott spent the next two days preparing for as many of the worst-case scenarios his imagination could come up with. There were a lot of them. At any moment, he expected to be ridden down upon by an Indian war party out for his blood.
He stashed tools, lamp oil, several kegs of nails and other miscellaneous materials in one of the old dugouts along the bluff. Then he covered it with a piece of canvas tarp and spread several yards of dirt on top of it. After several hours of meticulous landscaping, the spot looked like a natural part of the slope.
The blond officer carried two boxes of rifles and a half a dozen small barrels of gunpowder and shot onto the grassland. The he dug up the sod and shoveled out a deep hole in the earth beneath it. The rifles and other ordinance went into the hole and were quickly covered up. He marked the place with a bleached buffalo rib, which he stuck up at an angle a few yards away from the spot.
His afternoon rides were pared down to short circular patrols that he made around the fort, always keeping his post within sight.
Two Socks appeared as usual on the bluff, but Scott was too busy to pay him much attention.
He took to keeping his high-topped riding boots shining, his hat dust free and his face clean shaven. He no longer went about in his shirtsleeves, but wore his jacket at all times. If he was going to go into battle or be killed by Indians, he would do so looking like an officer in the United States Army should.
He went nowhere, not even to the stream or to the privy, without a rifle or a pistol and a beltful of ammunition.
Everything was a ready as he could make it. All he could do now was wait.
The meeting convened at sunset and lasted long into the evening. All the braves were inside the tipi while the rest of the villagers gathered outside to speculate about what the warriors might be discussing.
After an hour’s worth of preliminaries they got down to business. Kicking Bird related his story and when he was finished, Ten Bears, the chief, solicited opinions from the others. There many and they were varied.
Wind In His Hair was the most daring brave among them, an impulsive but seasoned fighter. He thought they should send a party immediately to ride down and shoot arrows into this white man. If he was a god, the arrows would have no effect. If he was mortal, they would have one less Pale Face to worry about. Wind In His Hair would be more than happy to lead the party.
His suggestion was rejected by the others. If this person was a god, it would not be a good idea to shoot arrows into him. Killing a white man had to be handled with a certain amount of delicacy. A dead white man might bring many more live ones.
Stone Calf was known to be a conservative. No one would dare question his bravery, but it was true that he usually opted for discretion in most matters. He made a simple suggestion. Send a delegation to parley with the white man.
The council ended without resolution, Ten Bears deciding to think on it some more before making a decision.
But there were those who were unwilling to wait. Three young boys, on the verge of becoming braves, decided to go and try to steal the white man’s horse. Since Ten Bears had made no firm decision as of yet, they were technically within their rights to do so. Besides, to accomplish such a feat would raise the esteem with which the rest of the tribe regarded them. Three boys against a god. That would be something people would sing songs about for many seasons to come.
And so it was that Smiles A Lot, Otter and Sleeping Frog, rode out of the camp under the cover of darkness and headed towards the soldier fort. The boys may have been young but they had learned well at their fathers’ knees. They were Sioux and about to undertake the most serious action of their young lives.
It was the sound of the whooping and the galloping of horses that woke Scott from his slumber. But by then it was too late. The blond grabbed his gun and scrambled to the door of his quarters, frantic to save Cisco, but knocked himself senseless on the low lintel in his haste.
The young braves-to-be had melted into the night taking the white man’s horse with them. Everything had gone perfectly. Taking the horse had been easy and they had not even seen the soldier. The boys didn’t stop for any back slapping or gloating. They rode full out, determined not to stop until they reached the safety of the village.
They were only two miles from the soldier fort when Cisco decided to let his own wishes be known in regards to the current goings on. And it was his wish to stay with Lt. Scott Lancer at the soldier fort.
They were at a full run when the buckskin horse wheeled sharply away, pulling Otter off of his pony. Sleeping Frog and Smiles A Lot tried to give chase but Cisco evaded and outdistanced them with an unhorse-like intelligence.
Scott was just coming around when Cisco trotted casually into the compound, looking quite smug. The groggy lieutenant gathered in the Sioux lead line and checked the horse over for cuts as the sky turned pink in the east. Within a few minutes, both man and horse were bedded down for a quick nap before the full break of day.
Later that day they tried again. But this time it was a party of five adult braves, not children, who went to steal the white man’s horse. They rode out of the village and onto the prairie at a steady pace, taking it easy to conserve their horses. They rode grimly, unsure of what they would be facing, but not afraid.
The plan was simple: take the horse. If there is a white man, don’t shoot him unless he shoots first. If he tries to talk, don’t talk back. Just take the horse and see what happens. Wind In His Hair wouldn’t have admitted to anyone, even under pain of death, but he felt a wave of relief when they were in sight of the soldier fort. There was a horse in the corral, a good looking one, but there was no sign of the white man.
Scott still felt a little out of it after such an eventful night and the bump on the head. He decided a quick bath and a shave were the first orders of the day and headed down to the creek to wash the grime from his body. It was while he was preparing to shave, lather all over his chin, that he noticed Two Socks sitting atop the bluff. The wolf had his head cocked as though listening to something. The blond frowned but continued on with his ablutions. When Scott looked up again a few moments later, the wolf was gone and the sound of Cisco’s distressed whinny echoed across the water. It was then that the lieutenant heard the five horsemen thunder along the bluff.
Grabbing his revolver, Scott scrambled up the slope, reaching the top just in time to watch the braves ride off with Cisco.
This was getting to be a habit.
They all got a good look at the white man as they rode off with the buckskin colored horse.
He was standing on the edge of the bluff. His face was covered in something white and there was a gun in his hand. All this was seen in glances back over their shoulders. They were remembering Wind In His Hair’s instructions. With one warrior holding Cisco’s reins and the rest bunched around, they tore out of the fort in a tight grouping.
Wind In His Hair hung back. The white man hadn’t moved. He was standing still and straight, his gun hanging by his side.
Wind In His Hair could have cared less about the white man. But he cared greatly about what the white man represented. It was every brave’s most constant enemy. The white man represented fear and the unknown. It was one thing to withdraw from the field of battle after a hard fight, but to let that fear keep him doing anything at all? Well, Wind In His Hair simply couldn’t allow that to happen. By confronting the white man, he was confronting his fear as a true Sioux warrior should.
He took his pony, swung him around and galloped down on the white soldier.
In his wild scramble up the bluff, Lt. Lancer was everything an officer in the United States Army should be. There were no other thoughts in his head but to engage the enemy and to keep his horse from being taken. All of that left him the moment he cleared the lip of the bluff. He wasn’t sure what he had been expecting but what he saw was amazing. It was a pageant so breathtaking that he was unable to do anything but stand there and stare, mouth agape.
The furious rush of the ponies as they pounded past. Their shining coats, the feathers flying from their bridles, manes and tails. The men on their backs, riding with such grace and abandon. Their rich dark skins, the lines of muscle standing out clearly on their arms and chests. The gleaming, braided hair and the painted faces.
It was a blur of color and motion that moved together like a flock of birds. Scott was shocked to stillness by the sight and could do nothing but watch, full of wonder and amazement, as the men rode off with Cisco.
One of the braves had turned around and was heading back towards him, riding fast. Scott drew his revolver and took careful aim but resolved not to fire unless it became absolutely necessary. He simply waited as the horse and rider came barreling down on him. He did not think about getting run over. He did not think about dying. He simply stood his ground, gun pointed steadily at the man and horse in front of him.
When Wind In His Hair was within fifteen feet of the soldier, he pulled up his horse. Straining to hold his restless pony still, he glared at the motionless white man. The figure was absolutely rigid. Wind In His Hair could not even see him blinking. The man was alive and he seemed unafraid.
Wind In His Hair appreciated the white man’s lack of fear, but at the same time, it made him very nervous. The man should be afraid. How could he not be? Wind In His Hair felt his own fear creeping back and it made his skin tingle.
He raised his lance over his head and roared out his defiance of that fear.
“I am Wind In His Hair! Do you see that I am not afraid of you?”
He repeated it again just to make sure.
“I am Wind In His Hair! Do you see that I am not afraid of you?”
The white man didn’t answer and Wind In His Hair felt satisfied. He had come face to face with his enemy. He had challenged the white man and the white man had done nothing. It was enough. He spun the pony around and dashed off to join his comrades.
About three miles from the soldier fort, Wind In His Hair came across Cisco, heading back in the general direction of the fort and the rest of his party gathered around Horn Bull, who was on the ground. The brave had been pulled from his horse when Cisco had decided he didn’t want to go with these Indians any more than he had the other bunch.
It was a very dejected group that made the rest of its way home in silence.
Lt. Lancer watched dazedly as the warrior rode away. The words were still echoing in his head. Well, the sounds of the words, anyway. Though he had no idea what they meant, it had been obvious that it had been a declaration of some sort.
Gradually, he came out of his daze. The first thing he felt was the revolver in his hand. It was suddenly extraordinarily heavy and he let it drop from nerveless fingers. He took a few faltering steps and then sank slowly to the ground, feeling as weak and drained as a new born kitten.
Lt. Scott Garrett Lancer was tired. Tired of waiting for things to happen. Tired of reacting instead of acting. Tired of being a target and of making a poor impression.
It was time to do something.
And so, the next day, Scott bathed, shaved, put on his best dress uniform, shined his boots, polished his tack and saddle and curried Cisco until he gleamed. When everything was ready, he headed out in the general direction of the Indian village. He wasn’t exactly sure where it was but he felt fairly confident that he would be able to find it without too much difficulty.
After riding at a steady pace for about an hour, Lancer noticed a modest hill, if it could be called that, with a very large, solitary oak tree standing sentinel on it. He’d noticed the slope a ways out and decided that, since he’d seen no sign of the village as of yet, it would be a good place from which to scan the surrounding countryside. He might even climb the tree for an even better view.
Scott was halfway up the rise when the wind brought a strange, sad sound to his ears. Proceeding with caution, he cleared the hill’s crest and saw a person sitting a few feet down the hill, at the base of the tree. The person’s back was turned and so Scott couldn’t tell if it was a man or a woman. But it was definitely an Indian.
A singing Indian.
Scott cleared his throat in an attempt to catch their attention.
He tried again, louder this time, but before he could see if it worked, a strong breeze blew his flag into his face. When he managed to brush the clinging fabric away, he found the Indian had turned to face him.
Stands With A Fist had come to this place to put an end to her pain. The death of her warrior husband at the hands of a Pawnee war party six months ago had left her utterly bereft. Instead of easing over time, the pain and loneliness had grown, until it was like a cancer inside of her. Unable to go on in the face of this overwhelming despair, Stands With A Fist had taken a pony, one of her husband’s favorites, and ridden out onto the prairie. She rode for almost an hour before she happened upon a spot that suited her purpose, a place where the Great Spirit felt near.
To one who lived on the prairie it would pass for a hill. To anyone else it would seem more of a bump on the land. There was a single tree at its crest, a venerable old oak that had somehow thrived in this place.
It was a very lonely place and it was just right for what Stands With A Fist had planned.
She slid off her pony, sent it galloping away with a slap to its flank, and sat down at the base of the oak. A warm breeze trickled gently through her auburn hair as she pulled her knife from its sheath. She closed her eyes and rocked slowly back and forth. The words to a song slowly took shape in her head. Stands With A Fist opened her mouth and the words tumbled out, as sure and strong as if it had been rehearsed numerous times.
It was her death song.
Her singing was slightly off key and sometimes her voice cracked. But she sang with her whole heart, the purity of her pain clear in every note. It was a simple song, celebrating the virtues of her dead loved one and how glad she was to be on her way to join him.
Stands With A Fist paused as she sang and deliberately sliced at her forearm with her knife. She opened her eyes slightly to peek at the cut she had made. The blood was coming well. She resumed her singing, holding tightly to the knife in one hand, while her blood slowly dripped onto the ground.
Stands With A Fist slashed at herself several more times in the next hour. The incisions were shallow but they provided a lot of blood and this pleased her greatly. As her head grew lighter, her determination grew stronger. The singing was good. It told the whole story of their lives together in a way that talking couldn’t.
At last, she made up a beautiful verse imploring the Great Spirit to give her an honored place in the world beyond the sun with her love. Stands With A Fist was coming to the end of the song and that meant it was time to say good-bye.
Tears welled as she slashed yet again at the soft skin of her inner forearm and gave a little gasp. The cut was deep this time and she could see red gushing out with every beat of her heart. She could try to stop the bleeding or she could go on singing.
Holding her head high, Stands With A Fist chose to sing.
It wouldn’t be long now.
Because of the breeze blowing in her face, she never heard the rider’s approach.
She couldn’t have said what it was but Stands With A Fist knew there was something behind her and she turned to see. The young woman only caught a glimpse of the face below the hat before the gust of wind whipped the brightly colored flag around the man’s head. That one glimpse was enough. The man was a white soldier.
Stands With A Fist stared, dumbfounded, at the startling sight. The colored flag, the shining pony and the sun glinting brightly off the buttons on his uniform. And now the face was revealed again: a handsome face with sculpted cheekbones and eyes the color of the sky after it rained. What she could see of his hair underneath his hat was the color of winter wheat. Stands With A Fist blinked several times, blood loss making her unsure if she was seeing a vision or a real person. Nothing moved but the flag which fluttered jauntily in the breeze.
Then the soldier shifted his seat on his horse. He was real. Stands With A Fist rolled to her knees and scrambled down the slope, terrified beyond rational thought.
Scott was shocked when he saw the face of the Indian. It was a young woman, only a couple years younger than him. Before he could move or speak, the Indian rolled to her knees and Scott could see that she was covered in blood.
“Oh my God,” he gasped. “Wait!”
At the sound of the word, Stands With A Fist broke into a stumbling run. Lt. Lancer dismounted and ran after her, pleading for her to stop. When he had closed to within a few yards, Stands With A Fist glanced back, lost her footing, and went down in the high grass.
When Scott got to her she was crawling and making a sound like a wounded animal. He finally got a hold of the woman and flipped her onto her back. The Indian promptly reached out and tried to claw at his face.
“You’re hurt,” Scott said, easily batting away the hands. “Let me help.”
For a few seconds she fought but due to blood loss, the steam went out of her fast and Scott had her by the wrists in no time. With the last of her strength the woman bucked and kicked under the lieutenant. And when she did, something odd happened.
In the delirium of her struggle, an old English word, one she hadn’t spoken in years, popped into her head. It slipped out of her mouth before she could stop it.
“Don’t!” she cried out.
Scott was startled into stillness by the English word and he looked more closely at the face of the injured woman. Lightly tanned skin, not red. Auburn hair, not black. Green eyes, not brown. She wasn’t an Indian at all. She was white.
Stands With A Fist’s head fell back and her body sagged. It was too much and she was tired. She moaned a few words in Sioux and passed out.
Scott could tell that the woman was in a bad way. Most of her wounds were superficial, but the deep one in her right arm was dangerous. Blood was still seeping steadily from it. Removing his red sash and taking the flag from its pole, the lieutenant quickly formed a tourniquet and bandages to bind the worst of the wounds. For ten terrible minutes the officer knelt next to the young woman, both hands pushing hard against the make-shift compress and praying that he wasn’t too late.
Finally, when the blood had slowed to a trickle, Scott gathered the slight figure up into his arms and lifted her up onto Cisco’s back. He then held her steady with one hand while he climbed carefully on behind her. To the west, he noticed a cloudy haze, like that of many campfires, hanging low in the sky. It must be the Indian village. It had to be. If they hurried, they could be there before dark.
As Cisco carried them across the prairie, Scott thought about his plan to impress the Indians. He didn’t look very impressive or official now. There was blood on his hands and on his tunic. The woman was bandaged with his sash and an American flag.
As he caressed the soft auburn hair tucked under his chin, Scott wondered how this woman had wound up here in the prairie, alone and badly hurt. A wave of protective feelings for the unconscious woman overcame him and he clutched the slender frame more tightly.
Stands With A Fist wasn’t thinking at all. She was drifting in a twilight where there was nothing but feeling. She could feel the horse swaying under her, the strong arm across her back, the strange fabric of the soldier’s shirt and the firm chest underneath it, warm against her cheek. For the first time since the death of her husband, Stands With A Fist felt safe. All the way back she kept her eyes closed, afraid that if she opened them, the feeling would be gone.
Lt. Lancer’s adrenaline was running high. The land up ahead was dropping away and, as he drew closer, the Indian encampment rose into view before his eyes. There were fifty or sixty conical, hide covered houses pitched along a stream. They looked warm and peaceful, casting long shadows in the late afternoon sun.
He could see people working around the houses. He could hear their voices as they walked along the tramped down avenues between the tipis. There were more people down by the stream. The size of the pony herd grazing nearby amazed him. He heard laughter ring out from among the lodges and for some reason that surprised him. Everything he had heard or seen of these people had been deadly serious. The idea that there was a sense of humor beneath that fierce and savage exterior was almost inconceivable.
Scott sat on Cisco, holding the young woman he had found, and stared at the awe-inspiring site before him. It was beyond anything he could have imagined and, at the same time, he knew that this was why he had come to the frontier. This was what he had yearned to see.
The blond cavalry officer made a kissing sound with his lips and gently nudged Cisco down the slope with his knees. They’d only gone a few feet when he saw a woman and two children wading along the nearby banks of the river. And, more importantly, they saw him.
The woman screamed as she let go of the water skins she was hauling, scooped up her children and ran for the village. The whole time she was crying out, “Wasicu! Wasicu!” at the top of her lungs.
Scores of dogs began barking, women shrieked for their children and war cries rang out from the braves. The entire band thought it was under attack. It was like a nest of hornets that had been poked with a stick.
As he drew closer to the village Scott could see men running everywhere. He had not expected to create such a stir. For the first time in his life, he knew what it felt like to be an invader. It was a feeling he didn’t like. The last thing he wanted was to be seen as a hostile intruder so when he reached the open area at the edge of the village, he pulled in his reins and tugged Cisco to a stop.
He then dismounted and, taking the unconscious Indian in his arms, stepped a few paces in front of his horse. That was where he stood, waiting, holding the wounded woman like some bizarre traveler bearing an even more bizarre gift.
The whole band had gathered at the village edge, warriors and young men in front, women and children behind them. The girl was heavy in Scott’s arms and obviously hurt. But aside from murmuring among themselves, the villagers made no move forward to meet him. A group of older men, apparently men of some importance, went into a huddle and began whispering urgently to each other.
Scott let his eyes wander over the women, children and braves who were staring at him with a mix of curiosity and fear. When he glanced at a cluster of ten braves, the lieutenant’s eyes found a familiar face. It was the same man that had barked at him so fiercely during the raid at Fort Sedgewick the day before. The brave was staring back with such intensity that the officer almost turned around to see if someone was sneaking up behind him.
Lifting his unconscious bundle slightly higher, Scott called out, “She’s hurt.”
Wind In His Hair looked around at the others and, realizing that no one else was moving, decided to act. He strode forward, stone war club swinging loosely in one hand and making an exaggerated shooing gesture with the other as he yelled at the white soldier.
“Go away! You are not welcome here!”
Lt. Lancer stood his ground and held out the slender form in his arms for the approaching warrior to see.
“She’s hurt,” he stated again.
It was obvious to Scott that Wind In His Hair recognized the person in his arms. The expression on the brave’s face was one of both fear and concern. In a sudden, swift movement, Wind In His Hair tore the woman from Scott’s grasp and dragged her, by one arm, back to where the other villagers were standing. He yelled over his shoulder at the dumbfounded white man one more time. “Go away! We do not want you here!”
Scott stood motionless in front of his horse and watched as the unconscious woman was carried away, hopefully to be tended to. It appeared that the villagers had forgotten he was there and this irked Scott. Part of him had been hoping that the Indians would greet him with open arms and grateful praise for bringing their injured companion home. Hoping they would welcome him into their village to feast and share jokes around the fire. But these were not his people and he was a stranger to them. Scott hadn’t realized quite how lonely he was, living at the fort by himself day after day, but it looked like he was very lonely indeed to have expected such a thing. He felt somewhat foolish and yet disappointed, too.
With a heavy sigh and moving like a man much older, the blond climbed onto Cisco’s back to begin the long ride home.
Three of the braves started after him on their ponies, yipping like coyotes and war clubs at the ready. But they were held back by Kicking Bird telling them that the soldier had not come to fight and that they should let him go in peace. The three braves grudgingly relented, acknowledging reluctantly that a good deed had been done. The white soldier had brought back one of their own and it would be bad medicine to chase after him.
The day after the white man’s departure, once people’s minds were calmer and clearer and it had been determined that Stands With A Fist would recover, Ten Bears called another council. Unlike recent ones, which had begun and ended in confusion, Ten Bears knew exactly what he wanted to do now. He had decided on a plan even before the last of the braves had seated themselves in his lodge.
The elderly chief kept the council short. He listened to preliminaries, throwing in an occasional comment of his own. When the time was right he made an eloquent, perfectly reasonable speech that told of all the stories he had heard in regard to the white man’s numerical superiority and the quality of their guns and horses. After yesterday’s good deed, he thought that the white soldier was surely an emissary. The yellow haired man had shown extreme bravery in coming alone to their camp. Also, he had come to return something that belonged to them, not to steal or to cheat or to fight. One thing was abundantly clear to Ten Bears: for the good of everyone, the white soldier should be investigated. A man who behaved as this one had behaved was bound to be a man of some authority among the whites. It was possible that he carried great weight and influence. They needed to go and speak with the soldier and find out if this was indeed the case.
There was a long silence at the end of his speech. Everyone knew he was right.
Then Wind In His Hair spoke up. “I do not think it is right for you to go and speak with this white man even if he does have a smart horse,” he said. “A chief as great as Ten Bears does not go to ask a puny white man what his business is.”
A tiny twinkle in his eye, Ten Bears shook his head and replied. “I will not go to see the white man.”
He paused for dramatic effect before pointing his finger at Wind In His Hair. “You will go.”
The look on Wind In His Hair’s face was priceless. Ten Bears turned to look at Kicking Bird, who was seated next to him. “And you will go, too.”
Then he closed his eyes and dozed off, ending the council at just the right place.
Over the next few days, Lt. Lancer found that his thoughts continuously strayed to the woman he had found on the prairie. Half a dozen times, he made as if to saddle up Cisco and go back to the village to see if he could find out if she had survived. He always managed to talk himself out of it when he remembered the reception he had gotten. It was clear that they didn’t want him there.
On the third morning, Scott woke well after sunup to the persistent song of a meadowlark. There was a flash of movement as something furry ducked away from the doorway. The lieutenant sat up, blinking. A moment later the blankets were thrown aside and he was tiptoeing toward the entrance. Standing just inside, he peered around the jamb with one eye.
Two Socks had just trotted clear of the supply hut and was turning around to settle himself in the sunny yard. He saw the lieutenant and stiffened. They watched each other for a few seconds. It was Two Socks who finally broke the staring contest by flopping down on the ground. He rested his muzzle on the hard packed dirt between his two outstretched forelegs, like a dog waiting for his master. This pleased Scott to no end. It was nice to have a regular visitor, even if it was a wolf.
Cisco whinnied shrilly in the corral and Lancer’s head jerked in that direction. He caught a flash from the corner of his eye and turned back in time to see Two Socks trotting out of sight over the bluff. Then, as his eyes panned back towards the corral, Scott saw them.
There were eight of them and they were sitting on their ponies, not a hundred yards in front of him along the crest of a slight rise. Two of the braves suddenly moved forward, keeping their ponies to a sedate and non-threatening walk. Scott didn’t move and held his ground in a relaxed way.
He instantly recognized the warrior that had taken the injured woman from his arms the other day. There was something familiar about the other man, too, but he couldn’t place him.
They stopped a dozen feet in front of him.
Lt. Lancer tipped his head forward in the suggestion of a bow and tapped his hand against the side of his head in a slow and deliberate salute. “Welcome to Fort Sedgewick.”
What the words meant was a complete mystery to Kicking Bird but he took them for some kind of greeting.
“We have come from Ten Bears’ camp to make peaceful talk,” he said, drawing a blank look of incomprehension from the lieutenant.
It was obvious that communication would be a little more difficult than either party had expected and an awkward silence fell over the three men as they continued to stare at each other. The silence continued even after the braves had dismounted and been invited to sit down and talk with the soldier in the shade of the canvas awning in front of his quarters. It was then that Scott hit upon an idea. He didn’t stop to think about how ridiculous it was or how silly he must have looked. He just did it. Which was how he wound up crawling around on the ground, making snorting sounds and with jacket stuffed up the back of his shirt, trying to imitate a buffalo.
The two braves were watching him with very different expressions on their faces. The brave that Scott had dubbed The Fierce One looked annoyed and frustrated. He quite obviously thought that the cavalry officer had lost his mind. The man that Scott had started thinking of as The Quiet One was concentrating intently on Scott’s antics when a look of comprehension lit up his face.
“Tatonka!” he whispered excitedly to his companion who just looked disgusted and shook his head.
“Tatonka?” Scott inquired tentatively. “Does that mean buffalo? Tatonka? Buffalo?”
Kicking Bird raised his hands to either side of his head in a rough gesture of horns and repeated the word.
Scott couldn’t help but smile and the two braves smiled back. It was the first step.
On their next visit a few days later, all eight braves came down to the fort and Scott made everyone coffee. He was thrilled to be with people again and was anxious for his guests to stay a little longer than their first brief visit earlier in the week. He milked the coffee grinding operation for all it was worth. Finishing with a flourish, he pulled out the tiny drawer at the bottom, filled with fresh black grounds.
“Voila!” he said with a grin.
The Sioux were mightily impressed. Each took little dabs of the pulverized beans and sniffed. Then they sat quietly while their host poured the grounds into a pot of boiling water, all the while grinning at his guests.
Each brave was handed a cup of the steaming black liquid and they let the aroma waft up to their faces, sniffing cautiously. Scott watched expectantly as they began to sip the heady brew and was surprised when they screwed up their faces.
“Sugar!” Scott exclaimed. He reached behind him and drew out a small white sack, which he handed over to his guests. When they didn’t appear to know what to do with it, the officer pantomimed tasting with his fingers.
Wind In His Hair very hesitantly dipped his finger in the bag and pulled out a small pinch of the substance and put it on his tongue. The look of delight on the brave’s face caused Scott to laugh out loud with pleasure.
Several hours later as the Indians rode away, gifted with some tin cups, a bag of coffee and another of sugar, Scott wished he had thought to try and ask about the young woman from the prairie. Maybe next time.
It was decided that the Sioux would invite the white soldier to visit the village. It was important that the white soldier see them as a people worthy of making treaties with. To do that, the white soldier needed to see them with their families and how they lived. So he was to be invited here by Kicking Bird and be his guest in his tipi. Because of his temperament and shamanic outlook, Ten Bears felt that Kicking Bird was the best man for this job and the two men discussed it. The chief continued to be worried about the language barrier and told Kicking Bird of his concerns. It was vital that they make talk with the white soldier and find out about those who would be coming behind him. The chief and the shaman looked at one another with serious expressions. There was only one person in the village that could help them.
Stands With A Fist.
Kicking Bird was initially reluctant to approach his adopted daughter with this. The girl was still in mourning for Red Eagle and to further traumatize her by dragging up old memories of a terrible time would not be helpful. As a matter of fact, it just might make things worse.
The shaman loved his adopted daughter very much and hated the thought of hurting her in this way. But after thinking long on the subject, he realized that this was important to all of the Sioux people. Kicking Bird knew that Stands With A Fist could be relied upon to handle this and do her duty for her people.
The medicine man left Ten Bears’ tipi and went in search of his daughter. He found the young woman tending hides with some of the other women.
“Stands With A Fist,” he said softly. “I would speak with you.”
The young woman looked up from her work, wide-eyed. After a moment, she followed him into the tipi.
The tension was thick inside the tent. Stands With A Fist had a strong feeling that Kicking Bird was going to ask something of her that she wasn’t sure she was ready for. Since the death of her husband, she hadn’t felt up to meeting very many challenges and she could tell that this would be a big one. Even Kicking Bird seemed nervous.
“Sit,” the shaman said, and they both dropped to the floor. “How is the wound?”
“It is healing,” Stands With A Fist replied, her eyes looking everywhere but at Kicking Bird.
“The pain is gone?”
The young woman just shrugged. The Sioux do not lie so she chose to say nothing. Because there *was* pain. It just wasn’t the physical kind. She felt as though she could be knocked over by a light breeze and shatter into a million pieces. She toyed with the fringe on her tunic while Kicking Bird groped for the words he wanted.
“You are unhappy here?” he asked.
“No,” Stands With A Fist shook her head, auburn hair gleaming. She took a shuddery breath and blinked rapidly to avoid letting the tears fall. “It’s just that I am missing my husband.”
Kicking Bird nodded sympathetically and then decided to get right to the point.
“The white are coming. More of them through our land every year. The white soldier, the one who brought you home. I have watched him and think his heart is a good one.”
Stands With A Fist’s heart began to pound. “I am afraid of him. I am afraid that he will try to take me away. I have heard that they take people away…I am Sioux now.”
Kicking Bird reached out to pat the young woman on the knee.
“No one will take you away,” the shaman soothed. “Every brave in the village would fight to keep you safe.”
“What is it you want of me?”
“I want to hear the white soldier’s words; I need your help to understand them.”
Stands With A Fist shifted uneasily. “I do not remember the white tongue.”
“Yes you do,” Kicking Bird persisted. “You just need to try. It is important that you put your fear behind you and do this thing for your people.”
Stands With A Fist looked fearful, anguished and guilt stricken all at the same time, tears running down her face. Panic was setting in and her breathing hitched. “I can’t!”
Kicking Bird remained stoic and resolved on the outside even though his heart ached with sympathy for his daughter’s pain. “You must.”
“I can’t! I can’t!”
Stands With A Fist scrambled to her feet and bolted out of the lodge. Kicking Bird moved to follow but was stopped by his wife, just outside the tipi. They both watched as the young woman ran towards the edge of the village and onto the open prairie beyond it.
“Will she do it?” Kicking Bird’s wife asked. “She seemed upset.”
Kicking Bird was frustrated and it showed on his face. “She is being difficult.”
Black Shawl looked at her husband in annoyance. “Well, she is the one who is crying. Perhaps the difficulty is yours.”
Stands With A Fist ran and ran and ran but there was no escaping the memories and visions in her head. She headed out onto the prairie, tears in her eyes and not caring where she ended up. At last, chest heaving and legs wobbly, she collapsed in the tall grass and sobbed.
How could Kicking Bird ask this of her? To have to remember the terrible events of so long ago was more than she could bear in her current fragile state. Stands With A Fist was Sioux now. There was nothing left of the white girl she had been. The white tongue was as foreign to her as the surface of the moon. It wasn’t fair.
Eventually she quieted and the sobs became hiccups and little hitched breaths. Stands With A Fist wiped at her eyes and thought of her husband who was now gone. She missed Red Eagle so much. It made her smile to remember how he had looked at her and how his arms had felt around her. Red Eagle had made her feel safe. As Stands With A Fist drifted off to sleep, exhausted by her emotions, she realized she had also felt safe in the white soldier’s arms.
From the top of a small rise, Stands With A Fist watched.
There was a little sod house that was built into the side of a hill. A crude table thrown together with planking sat in front of the house. Seated at the table were four grown–up people: two white men and two white women. The four were talking, and Stands With A Fist could understand every word.
Three children were playing blindman’s bluff further out in the yard, and the women kept an eye on them as they chatted about one thing or another while the men smoked pipes. On the table in front of them were the scattered remains of a late lunch: a bowl of boiled potatoes, several dishes of greens, a pile of gnawed corn cobs, a turkey carcass and half-full pitcher of milk. The men were talking about the lack of rain.
She recognized one of them. He was her father.
There were two other smaller people, children really, lying in the buffalo grass growing out of the roof. At first, Stands With A Fist didn’t know who they were but suddenly, she was closer and could see them clearly.
She saw herself as a girl and she was with a boy about the same age. His name was Willy. They lay side by side on their bellies and watched as a group of Indians came in from the prairie. There were a dozen of them, all on horseback. Their hair stuck up and their faces were painted black.
“They look like Pawnee,” Willy whispered.
Christine’s father began to talk in signs to one of them, a big Pawnee with a scowl on his face. She could see right away the talk was not good. The Indian kept motioning towards the house, making the sign for drinking. Christine’s father kept shaking his head no.
He waved them off but they didn’t move. Then he threw his hands into the air, and the ponies tossed their heads. The Indians still didn’t move and now they were scowling.
Christine’s father said something to his friend standing by his side and they turned their backs on the Indians to head inside the house.
There was no time to yell a warning. The big Pawnee’s hatchet struck deep into her father’s shoulder with a sickening crunch. He grunted as if he’d had the wind knocked out of him. But before he’d gone more than a few steps, the big Pawnee was on his back, hacking furiously as he drove him to the ground.
The other white man tried to run but arrows knocked him down halfway to the door of the little sod house.
Terrible sounds flooded Christine’s ears. Screams of terror were coming from inside the house along with the mad whooping of the braves.
Willy planted one of his boots on her behind and sent the seven year old girl rolling down to the spot where the roof ended and the prairie began. She ran then, wild with fear, as fast as her little legs would carry her. She fell several times, scraping her knees but she bounced back up every time, the fear of dying keeping her going.
Grunting and crying, she scrambled up the embankment and ducked into a small hole obscured by a thick clump of grass. It was a tight fit so she curled herself into a ball and shifted around so that her view was back in the direction of the little sod house. She could see over the lip of the hole’s entrance for several hundred yards down the draw. No one was coming but there was thick black smoke rising from the direction of the homestead.
Her hands fiddled with the tiny crucifix she wore on a chain around her neck. She held it tight and waited. It was there, the next day, that Kicking Bird found her.
Lt. Scott Lancer sat quietly in the tipi of Kicking Bird along with his host. The Sioux medicine man had an impatient and nervous look on his face. To Scott, he appeared to be waiting for something. While they waited, the cavalry officer cast his eyes about the inside of the tent with great interest.
Kicking Bird sighed inwardly at Stands With A Fist’s tardiness. It was his daughter’s not so subtle way of letting him know she was not at all happy about doing this. The situation was quickly becoming awkward and Kicking Bird smiled ruefully at his guest who smiled back.
Both men jumped when the flap at the tipi entrance was pulled back and Stands With A Fist finally entered. Scott couldn’t help but stare. It was the woman he had found injured on the prairie.
Kicking Bird was oblivious to the tension now that Stands With A Fist had arrived.
“We have been waiting,” the shaman rebuked his daughter. “Talk to him.”
The young woman nodded once, took a deep breath to steady herself and looked the white soldier directly in the eye.
“H-hullo,” she stammered tentatively.
Scott perked up immediately and broke into a grin, blue eyes sparkling.
“Hello!” he replied with enthusiasm.
Stands With A Fist paused and licked her lips, brow furrowed in concentration. So used to speaking nothing but Sioux for so long, she was having a hard time wrapping her tongue around these strange words. “T-the s-s-soldier f-fort-”
That was the last thing that Scott had expected to hear. He frowned. “Wait.”
Stands With A Fist looked startled at the interruption.
“What are your names?” the blond asked with a smile.
Kicking Bird looked from his daughter to his guest and back again. “What? What did he say?”
“He wants to know our names,” Stands With A Fist replied softly.
Kicking Bird felt shame. In his haste to get the answers he needed he had forgotten his manners. “Of course. The white soldier is right. Introductions should come first.”
Stands With A Fist nodded and pointed to her father. “K-kick…kick….more kick.”
“Kicking?” Scott hinted gently and Stands With A Fist nodded.
Scott nodded respectfully at the other man and repeated the name slowly and clearly. “Kicking Bird.”
Turning to Stands With A Fist again, he asked. “Is he a chief?”
The woman shook her head. “He...h-he is a h-holy m-man.”
A holy man? Scott was surprised though he couldn’t say why. “And you? What is your name?”
Stands With A Fist paused, confused. The words she needed eluded her. She decided to try and demonstrate them. Rising gracefully to her feet, she stood firmly, proudly, before him, looking directly into his eyes.
“Get up? Stand up?” Scott asked.
Stands With A Fist gave a small negative shake of her head and planted her feet more firmly.
“Stands?” the blond officer tried again. “Your name is Stands?”
The auburn haired Indian nodded but indicated that there was more. She raised her right hand and made a fist, all the time keeping her eyes on the white man before her.
“Stands With A Fist?” Your name is Stands With A Fist?”
She nodded and then sat back down beside here father.
Stands With A Fist, Kicking Bird, I am Lieutenant Scott Lancer,” Scott pointed to his own chest.
The going was slow that first afternoon in Kicking Bird’s lodge. The time was eaten up by Stands With A Fist’s painstaking attempts to repeat Lt. Lancer’s words. Sometimes it took more than a dozen repetitions, all of them excruciatingly laborious, to produce a few simple sentences. Even then, the pronunciation was far from perfect.
Kicking Bird was greatly encouraged. Stands With A Fist had told him that she remembered the white words well enough. The difficulty was in getting her mouth to shape them properly. The medicine man knew that practice would bring the rusty tongue around fairly quickly. He looked forward to the time, hopefully soon, when the conversation between them would flow freely and all their questions would be answered.
The only thing that they were able to determine during that first afternoon was that the Loo-tent-ant had not seen any buffalo. This was something that weighed heavily on all of the Sioux. Perhaps it was time to make an appeal to the Great Spirit.
Two Socks’ visits were becoming more frequent and lasting longer. He was likely to pop up at any time and make himself right at home. It was on more than one occasion that Scott would glance up from his journal entry to find the wolf lounging on the other side of the fire, yellow eyes blinking curiously as he watched the man scribble on the pages.
Scott had not seen his Indian neighbors for several days now and he was feeling somewhat lonely and abandoned. After all the urgency to communicate, there was no sign of them. He thought back over his visit to the Sioux village and decided that it had been a good one. He allowed himself a mental pat on the back, thinking he had done a fairly good job of creating good will between his people and theirs.
The Sioux made excellent neighbors. On the whole, they were well mannered and friendly. Scott felt very comfortable with them and hoped that they would reappear soon. He couldn’t imagine why he hadn’t heard from them.
If he didn’t see any sign of them tomorrow, he would go and pay them another visit. It was the neighborly thing to do, after all. Yawning and stretching, Scott banked the embers of his dying fire and headed off to bed.
To his great delight, Two Socks curled up just outside the door of the little hut and went to sleep.
Lt. Lancer woke with alarm well after midnight, when the darkness was at its thickest. His sod hut was trembling and raining little clots of dirt down on him. The earth was trembling, too, and the air was filled with a hollow rumbling sound.
He swung out of bed, listening hard. The rumbling grew louder and whatever was out there was drawing close.
Pulling on his pants and boots, Scott grabbed his rifle and slipped outside. The din was even louder now, almost deafening, and it filled the prairie with a great reverberating thunder. Scott lit a lantern and headed out along the bluff, his curiosity pulling him along. He hadn’t gone more than a hundred yards before he was hit with a wall of dust. It was a great billowing cloud rising into the night sky.
Within the thick dust, Scott was able to make out a flash of movement and he heard the bellowing of great beasts.
It was the buffalo.
One of them swerved out of the dusty cloud. Then another. And another. The sight of them as they rumbled past was so magnificent that the moment would be forever frozen in Scott’s memory.
There were thousands of them pouring over the embankment, across the river, and up the other side in a torrent of horns and hooves. What their destination was, Scott couldn’t even begin to guess but they moved steadily onward with all the certainty of a homing pigeon.
Scott dropped his lantern where he stood and broke into a run. He stopped for nothing except Cisco’s bridle, not even his shirt. The cavalry officer could think of nothing but getting to the Sioux village and telling them the good news. He jumped onto Cisco’s back, kicked the horse into a gallop and pointed him towards the Indian camp. Laying his bare chest on the buckskin’s neck, Scott let the horse run.
The village was ablaze with firelight as Lt. Lancer raced into the hollow where the tipis were clustered. Scott could see the flames of a large bonfire and the silhouettes of the buffalo headed men who were dancing around it to the rhythmic beat of the drums and deep chanting.
At any other time, he would have stopped to appreciate the spectacle but tonight, it barely even registered. Just as he barely registered the miles he had ridden or the sweat and dust covering his body, or the way Cisco was breathing like a bellows beneath him.
Only one thing was in his head as he rushed his horse up to the people gathered around the fire: the Indian word for buffalo.
He shouted the word out loudly but was drowned out by all the drumming and chanting. The villagers had yet to notice his presence. As he neared the group he tried to pull Cisco up, but the horse had reached runaway speed and didn’t respond to the tugs on his bit.
Scott charged into the very center of the dance, scattering Sioux in every direction. With a supreme effort the lieutenant managed to pull Cisco up. The horse’s hindquarters brushed the ground and his hooves pawed madly at the air. Lancer couldn’t keep his seat and he slid off the sweat-slicked animal, crashing to the earth with an audible thud.
Before he could move, a half-dozen infuriated warriors pounced on him. They rolled over the ground in a chaotic ball. The whole time, Scott was screaming out “tatonka” as he fought against the punches and kicks that were pummeling his body.
Suddenly there was no one on him. He was lying alone on the ground, staring up through sweaty bangs at a plethora of Indian faces, all richly decorated with paint. One of the faces bent closer. Kicking Bird.
“Tatonka,” the white man rasped out. His chest was heaving as he sucked in air, his voice no more than a whisper.
Kicking Bird leaned closer.
“Tatonka,” Scott gasped again.
Hope flared in the medicine man’s eyes. “Tatonka?”
“Yes,” Lancer said, a smile breaking out on his face. “Yes, tatonka.”
Exhausted, Scott closed his eyes for a moment and heard Kicking Bird’s deep voice bellow out over the silently waiting crowd.
It was answered with a roar of joy from the throat of every Sioux. For one brief moment, Scott thought his goose was cooked. Blinking away the fatigue in his eyes, he realized that strong arms were bringing him to his feet. When the army officer looked up, he was greeted with scores of beaming faces and quite a few hearty thumps on his back.
Everyone went. The camp by the river was left virtually deserted when the great caravan moved out at dawn. Scott was absolutely astonished at how quickly everything was broken down and packed up. The sheer size of the column, the racket it made and the level of organization would have made any general proud.
But what Lt. Lancer found most extraordinary of all was his own treatment. Literally overnight he had gone from being a person regarded with suspicion to one of genuine standing within the community. The woman smiled openly at him and the warriors shared jokes. Calls of “Loo-tent-ant” were heard throughout the long line of people snaking across the prairie.
In treating him this way the Sioux revealed an altogether new side of themselves. Gone was the stoic, guarded façade they had shown him in the past. Now they were a cheerful generous people and it made Scott feel warm inside.
The trail left by the buffalo was ridiculously easy to find and follow. It was a swath of trampled and churned earth several hundred yards wide that went to the horizon and beyond.
It was mid-afternoon when things took a somber turn. In a wide hollow in the prairie, the band came upon a sight that made Scott feel ashamed. He counted twenty seven buffalo corpses, untouched except for their missing skins and tongues. Although no one else seemed affected, the smell of spoiled meat made the lieutenant’s stomach gurgle unpleasantly.
Being raised as he had been by an accountant, Scott couldn’t help but do some quick math in his head. Twenty seven buffalo at so many pounds per animal equaled roughly fifteen thousand pounds of decaying flesh, rotting in the summer sun. Only a white man would be so wasteful.
Scott glanced at Kicking Bird and Stands With A Fist, who were riding alongside him. The medicine man was staring at the wreckage, his face a somber mask while Stands With A Fist had tears in her eyes. Lancer turned away then looked back along the column. The whole party was weaving its way silently through the carnage. The voices that had been so joyous all morning were now silent and he could see their faces filled with a deep sadness.
It was several hours later, at sunset, that the caravan came upon the buffalo herd. While the women and children set to work pitching camp, most of the men rode ahead to scout the herd before night fell and Scott went with them.
Leaving the horses behind a small hill, twenty Sioux braves and one white man started up the long slope. As they neared the crest, everyone dropped close to the ground and crawled the final few yards. The lieutenant looked expectantly at Kicking Bird and was met with a small smile. The medicine man pointed ahead and put a finger to his lips.
A few feet in front of them the earth fell away to reveal a magnificent valley, four or five miles wide and at least ten miles long. Lush green grass rippled like an ocean before them and moving over it, too many to count, was the buffalo herd.
Scott pulled out his telescope and peered through it excitedly. This would be his first really good look at a living, breathing buffalo, the mythical creature of the plains. Kicking Bird looked on with interest, curiosity at the strange device plainly evident in his eyes. Lancer handed over the telescope and watched the medicine man put it up to his eye. He couldn’t help but chuckle at the look of astonishment that crossed Kicking Bird’s face.
After only a few minutes, it was time to head back. There was much to get ready for tomorrow’s hunt and the buffalo weren’t going anywhere.
It was beginning to grow dark as they approached the temporary camp and Scott noticed an impromptu celebration taking place. He could hear raised voices and the beat of drums. A murmur swept through his fellow riders and suddenly the horses surged forward at a run. The men were yipping, high and shrill, like coyotes.
He could see the flames of the fires and the silhouettes of people milling about the camp. They were aware of the returning riders now and some were running out onto the prairie to meet them. Curious, Scott scanned the camp as he rode closer, trying to pick up some clue as to why everyone was so excited.
Then he saw the wagon, parked at the fringes of the largest fire, as out of place here as an elephant. It was obvious that the wagon belonged to white people and it made Scott curious as to how it had gotten there. Were there white people in the village, visiting the Sioux? Somehow that seemed unlikely.
The lieutenant paused when he was within fifty yards. The Indians were dancing about exuberantly as the men who had scouted the herd jumped off their horses. He waited for the ponies to clear out and then searched all the faces he could see.
There were no white ones.
The blond spotted Wind In His Hair and the men of his little party that had disappeared earlier in the day, some time after they had come across the little valley full of dead buffalo. They seemed the center of attention. This was definitely more than a simple greeting. It was obviously a celebration of some sort. They were passing long sticks back and forth and they were yelling.
Scott nudged Cisco even closer and saw right away that he was wrong. They weren’t passing sticks around. They were passing lances. One of them came back to Wind In His Hair and Scott saw him lift it high in the air. The man wasn’t smiling but he was obviously pleased. As the brave let out a long, ululating howl, the cavalry officer caught a glimpse of the hair tied near the lance’s point.
Scott’s blood froze as he realized it was a scalp. A fresh scalp. The hair was blond and curly.
His eyes darted frantically to the other lances. Two more of them held scalps; one was light brown and the other was reddish. He looked at the wagon and saw what he hadn’t noticed before, a load of stacked buffalo hides peeking over the sides.
Suddenly it was all perfectly clear.
The skins belonged to the slaughtered buffalo they had come across and the scalps belonged to the men who had killed them. Men who had been alive that very afternoon. White men. The lieutenant was numb with shock and confusion. He couldn’t reconcile this horrific scene with the kind, generous people he had come to think of as his friends.
He realized that he didn’t know these people as well as he thought. The gap between them was still very, very wide.
But the gap between Scott and the white world was widening too.
He couldn’t participate in this, not even as a spectator. He had to leave.
Skirting along the edges of the camp, he located his gear and went out onto the prairie with Cisco. He settled himself well away from the Indian encampment and spread his bedroll on the ground, his thoughts in turmoil.
Part of him felt satisfaction that the men who had killed those buffalo had been caught and punished. Another part of him felt guilty about being so pleased. Then there was the nausea brought on by what he had seen in the village. He did not belong with the Indians and he did not completely belong with the whites anymore. He was adrift, lost, floundering. He wondered if there was anywhere that he did belong.
It was then that Scott’s thoughts drifted further west, to California, where his father lived. Would he fit in there perhaps? He reflected back on the letter he had sent right before the war started. He had never gotten a reply. Was that because the letter had never reached his father? Or maybe his grandfather had been up to his old tricks when he told Scott there had been no reply. Or maybe, after so long, his father had simply washed his hands of him and hadn’t bothered to answer. Somehow Scott doubted that last one. Maybe someday, when his stint in the army was done, he would try again to contact his father. Right now, he was living his dream and as much as he did want to meet Murdoch, he needed to see this through. Besides, it wasn’t as if there was a post office or telegraph line near at hand.
It was a very long time before he was able to sleep.
Scott was awakened early the next morning by a gentle nudge from a moccasin covered foot at the small of his back.
He lifted the edge of blanket and peered out at the hazy light of morning. Cisco was standing alone in the grass a few feet in front of him. His ears were up.
Then he felt it again, something kicking him lightly in the back. Lieutenant Lancer threw off his blanket and looked into the face of a man standing directly over him. It was Wind In His Hair. His stern face was painted with bars of ocher colored paint. A shiny new rifle was dangling from one of his hands and Scott tried not think about where the rifle came from.
The brave jabbed his toe gently into the lieutenant’s side and smilingly said a few words in Sioux as he pointed out onto the prairie with his free hand. It was time to hunt the buffalo.
They came from downwind, every able-bodied man in the tribe, riding in a crescent shaped formation half a mile wide. They rode slowly, taking care not to startle the buffalo until the last possible moment.
As a novice among experts, Scott watched with interest as the strategy of the hunt played itself out. From his position close to the center of the formation he could see that they were moving to isolate one small, more manageable section of the giant herd. The two ends of the crescent would curve around and meet on the other side, surrounding them completely. It was a classic pincer movement.
Simultaneously, at some unspoken command that Scott failed to see, every Indian pony shot forward. It happened so quickly that Cisco nearly ran out from under the lieutenant. He reached back as his hat blew off, staying just out of reach of his fingers. There would be no stopping or going back for it. The little buckskin horse was surging forward, chewing up the ground as if flames were licking at his heels.
The hunt was on.
Scott had no time to think. The prairie was flying under his feet, the bright blue sky was rolling overhead and in between the two was a wall of stampeding buffalo. In seconds Scott would be close enough to touch them.
The tremendous thunder of ten thousand hooves was deafening. Scott’s rifle slipped, nearly falling out of his sweaty hand. Tightening his grip on the gun and using his knees to guide Cisco, the man fired at a nearby buffalo that was running along side. The bullet shattered one of the beast’s front legs. Its knees buckled and Scott heard the snap of its neck as the bull slammed face first into the dirt.
The rest of the morning passed by in a blur for Scott. His world had narrowed down to riding and shooting, riding and shooting. It wasn’t long before there were enough dead buffalo to feed the tribe all through the long winter to come.
The members of the tribe that had stayed behind now trickled out onto the prairie to begin the butchering process. Shouts and laughter drifted on the afternoon breeze. Off in the distance, Scott could see Smiles A Lot pick out a buffalo and begin the messy work of breaking down the beast for use.
His eye was then drawn to a movement not too far from where the boy was working diligently. It was a large male buffalo heading their way at a full gallop. The enraged beast had a lance dangling from its flank and it was obviously in pain.
Scott shouted at Smiles A Lot, desperate to warn his young friend of the impending danger bearing down on him. His voice was carried away by the wind and the Indian remained oblivious. The lieutenant urged Cisco into a gallop with a kick of his heels and raised his rifle to his shoulder.
Scott took careful aim and pulled the trigger. He missed. Time seemed to stretch and everything moved in slow motion and yet, took no time at all. The buffalo was moving closer. Scott watched as Smiles A Lot looked up and saw the boy’s eyes go wide. The blond had one more chance before the wounded beast would trample the kid to death. Of all the shots he made today, this was the one that truly counted. His sight narrowed down to a pin-point and everything else ceased to exist. Taking a deep breath and sighting carefully down the barrel, Scott took his shot. The buffalo crumpled to the ground and skidded to a stop no more than three feet in front of Smiles A Lot, a bullet hole where its right eye used to be.
Time sped back up and everyone moved at once. The rest of the tribe had gathered around by the time Scott arrived on Cisco. He dismounted and gawked at the carcass like a visitor at a carnival freak show. Even in death, it was impressive. The lieutenant circled the massive body, oblivious to the hands slapping his back and the cries of gratitude and delight at his extraordinary deed. The officer had taken his shot from almost a half a mile away. The man must truly have the eyes of a hawk to have made such a shot.
Wind In His Hair suddenly galloped up with two other braves. He was smiling broadly as he vaulted off his pony and slapped Scott enthusiastically on the back. The brave then pressed a knife into the lieutenant’s hand. He said something in Sioux and pointed at the dead buffalo.
Scott was at a loss, he didn’t know what to do. He stared, perplexed, from the knife to Wind In His Hair’s face and back again.
Wind In His Hair muttered to one of the other braves, making him laugh. He smacked the blond on the shoulder, took back the knife and dropped gracefully to one knee at the belly of the buffalo.
With the nonchalance of an experienced carver he drove the blade deep into the beast’s chest and, using both hands, dragged the knife back, opening it up. As the guts spilled out, Wind In His Hair stuck a hand into the cavity, clearly groping for something specific.
When he found what he wanted, he gave a couple of stiff tugs and rose to his feet with a heart so large that it flopped over in his hands. The brave took a healthy bite out of the quivering, blood covered organ, smearing the lower half of his face a bright red. He then presented this prize to the dumbstruck soldier.
Scott looked around at the braves, women and children who were watching to see what he would do. He searched their faces, hoping for some sign from someone in the crowd that would let him off the hook. No such luck.
Swallowing past his nausea, Scott took the bloody lump of flesh and raised it to his lips. Hoping he wouldn’t gag, he bit into the buffalo heart. It was incredibly tender and melted into his mouth. Compared to some of the things he’d eaten while in the Confederate prison camp, this was ambrosia. He smiled.
His fellow hunters broke out into a chorus of wild cheers.
Upon their return to camp that evening, the feasting and celebrating began in earnest. Everyone had a fire going and over every fire fresh meat was roasting. People ate like there was no tomorrow. When they were stuffed full they took short breaks, drifting into little groups to make idle conversation, to tell stories or play games of chance. When they got hungry again, they went back to the fires and ate some more.
Scott found himself called upon to relate how he had saved Smiles A Lot time and time again. Blue eyes sparkling and blond hair gleaming brightly in the firelight, the soldier mimed out the adventure with a humorous theatricality that had the villagers giggling, especially when he bit into the buffalo meat to show how he had eaten the animal’s heart. Not everyone had seen the real event so he was forced to repeat the story numerous times throughout the night. The result was the same with every telling. By the time he was halfway through, the listeners would be holding their sides, chuckling with glee. Scott didn’t mind. He was laughing too. He had become “one of the boys” and it felt good.
There was one tense moment, however, when he was in Ten Bears’ tipi. Black Fox, wearing Scott’s cavalry hat, came in and sat down. The officer frowned. He had lost the hat during the buffalo hunt and when he’d gone back to look for it, it was no where to be found.
“That’s my hat,” he said he said to Wind In His Hair, who was sitting beside him. “He’s wearing my hat.”
He turned and spoke to the brave. “You’re wearing my hat.”
Everyone grew silent to see how the situation would play out.
Wind In His Hair looked across the fire at the Indian warrior. “You are wearing the Loo-tent-ant’s hat.”
Black Fox was positive that the white man’s hat contained powerful medicine and he wasn’t about to give it up. “I found it out on the prairie. The Loo-tent-ant threw it away. He didn’t want it anymore.”
Wind In His Hair moved around the fire, stopping halfway between Scott and Black Fox. He studied Scott who was staring at the hat on Black Fox’s head. “Well, you can see that he wants it now. If you want to keep the hat, fine. But at least give him something for it.”
Black Fox saw the wisdom in Wind In His Hair’s words. After a few moments consideration, he removed his hunting knife and it’s intricately beaded leather sheathe from his belt. He tossed it to the Loo-tent-ant and then stood waiting.
Scott was stunned. As far as he was concerned, the knife was worth much more than any old hat. He opened his mouth to refuse the offer but stopped himself. Obviously Black Fox felt that it was a fair deal and to refuse might be seen as an insult. Here in this place, after working so hard to develop a relationship with these people, the last thing Scott wanted to do was offend anyone. He would keep the knife.
“Thank you,” he said with a smile. “It’s a good trade.”
Black Fox looked uncertain so Scott said it again. “It’s a good trade.”
With that, the other man nodded and left the tent.
Ten Bears watched it all, silently puffing on his pipe.
Before the night was even half over, Scott felt like he had eaten an entire buffalo. He’d been touring the camp with Wind In His Hair and at each fire the pair had been treated like royalty. They were en route to yet another group of merrymakers when the officer stopped in the shadows behind the lodge and told his companion with signs that his stomach was hurting and that he wanted to sleep.
At that moment Wind In His Hair wasn’t listening too closely. His attention was riveted on the lieutenant’s jacket. The blond looked down his chest at the row of brass buttons, then back to the face of his hunting pal. The warrior’s eyes were slightly glazed as he stuck out a finger and let it come to rest on one of the buttons.
“You want this?” Scott asked, the sound of his words wiping the glaze from Wind In His Hair’s eyes.
The warrior said nothing. He inspected his fingertip to see if anything had come off the button.
“If you want it,” Scott continued, “you can have it.”
He undid the buttons, slipped his arms free of the sleeves and handed it to the brave.
Wind In His Hair knew it was being offered but he didn’t take it right away. Instead he began to undo the magnificent breastplate of shiny pipe bone that was tied at his neck and waist. He handed this to Scott as his other hand closed around the jacket.
When Scott moved to hand back the breastplate, he was met with rejection. Wind In His Hair shook his head and waved his hands. He made motions that told the white soldier to put it on.
Even with the earlier scene with Black Fox still fresh in his mind, Scott felt that this really was too much. Even at the risk of offending his new friend, there was no way he could accept such a marvelous thing as the breastplate.
“I can’t take this,” the blond stammered. “It’s too much.”
But Wind In His Hair wouldn’t hear of it. To him it was more than fair. Breastplates were full of power and took time to make but the white soldier’s jacket was a one of a kind. He turned Lancer around, draped the armor over his chest and fastened the ties securely. The brave then turned the white man back around and regarded him thoughtfully. It looked good.
“Good trade,” he said firmly and then bid Scott a good night.
Eager to avoid the food he knew would be foisted on him if he cut through the village, Scott snuck out onto the prairie and circled the temporary village. He hoped to spot Kicking Bird’s lodge, where he had been invited to spend the night, and go straight to sleep.
On his second full circling of the camp, he caught sight of the lodged marked with a large black crow that indicated the medicine man’s tipi and reentered the village. To his despair, Scott found the fire in front of Kicking Bird’s lodge crowded with still feasting partiers who insisted on hearing the story just one more time. With a roll of his eyes, the cavalry officer obliged, basking in the good cheer of the people around him while he stuffed more meat into his swollen stomach.
An hour later he could barely keep his eyes open. Kicking Bird noticed this and rose from his seat across the fire. He took the white soldier into the lodge and led him to a pallet that had been set up for him against the far wall, not too far from Stands With A Fist’s.
The weary lieutenant plopped down on the buffalo robe and began to pull off his boots. He was so sleepy that he didn’t think to say good night and only caught a glimpse of the medicine man’s back as he left the lodge. Scott let the second boot flop carelessly to the ground and rolled into bed. He threw an arm over his eyes and drifted off to sleep.
Someone was giggling in Scott’s ear but he couldn’t open his eyes to see who it was. They were too heavy. The giggling persisted and now he could hear rustling sounds as well.
Scott forced his eyes open and turned his head towards the sound. He could easily make out the still forms of Kicking Bird’s family, huddled under their buffalo robes. Everyone seemed to be asleep.
Then he heard the giggle again. It was high and sweet, definitely a woman’s and it was coming from a spot on the other side of the tipi. Scott rose up on one elbow to get a better look. The sounds were coming from Kicking Bird’s bed.
In the dim light of the fire’s embers, Scott could make out the forms of two people, their heads and shoulders clearly visible in contrast to the thick dark fur of their sleeping robes. The bodies shifted suddenly; there was an inhaled breath and then a low moan. The lieutenant blushed when he realized that the medicine man and his wife, Black Shawl, were having sex.
Feeling like an ass, Scott sank quickly down, hoping desperately that neither lover had seen his stupid, gawking face staring across at them. He looked over one last time to see two pairs of bright black eyes staring back at him from two bemused and slightly flushed faces.
With a rueful smile, Scott nodded once to the two lovers and rolled over to face the other side of the lodge, giving his hosts what little privacy he could in such close quarters. More awake than asleep, he lay on his robe and listened to the sounds of lovemaking that had resumed behind him.
Unfortunately, the view on this direction was no less troublesome. Scott could make out the shape of the sleeper closest to him. The regular rise and fall of the bedding told Scott it was a deep sleep. The person was lying on their side with their back turned to him. Even still, Scott could tell by the shapely curves and the fall of auburn hair that it was Stands With A Fist.
The young woman was sleeping alone and Scott wondered about her. She might be white by blood but by all else she was one of these people. She spoke the language as if it were her native tongue while English was foreign to her. There was not the slightest hint of captive in the young woman’s demeanor. She was completely accepted as a member of the tribe and Scott could only surmise that Stands With A Fist had been taken when quite young.
The former Bostonian couldn’t help but wonder who the young woman had been before she had come to be with the Sioux. He wondered at the life that might have been and what the auburn haired, green eyed woman would have been called in the white world. Where was she from? How had she ended up here?
Scott was still thinking about it when he finally fell asleep.
They spent less than three full days in the temporary camp, to stay any longer would have been useless. They had all the meat they could possible carry. Just after dawn, everything was packed and the column was on the march by mid-morning. With every travois piled high, the return trip took twice as long and it was getting dark by the time they reached Fort Sedgewick. Several hundred pounds of jerked meat, the product of just one buffalo, were off loaded and stowed away in the supply house. It was a melancholy Scott Lancer who watched from the doorway of his sod hut as the tribe rode away over the ridge, waving goodbye as they went.
The next day dawned sunny and clear. Scott was glad to be back at the fort but at the same time, something was missing. With half closed eyes he yawned and stretched languidly, drifting lazily in the quiet solitude surrounding the hut. Everything was in its place and so was he.
Scott spent the morning and part of the afternoon trying to work around the place. He resorted what was left of the supplies, fixed the corral, did some laundry and made some journal entries. But all of this was done in a half-hearted sort of way and the quiet he had been reveling in earlier now seemed oppressive. He was missing his friends and the lively bustle of the Sioux village.
When Scott was done with his chores and there was nothing else to do, he took a nap. He woke near sunset and the bored, restless feeling had not abated. In fact, it was worse. Not willing to sit around any longer, Scott decided to take Cisco for a ride. Maybe the purposeless, drifting feeling would be better if he was moving. With a sigh, Scott pulled on his boots and went to the corral.
Two Socks was there waiting for him.
When the gray and white wolf saw the lieutenant come through the door he took two or three skittering steps sideways, spun around in a circle and yipped like a puppy. It was obvious to Scott that the animal had missed him.
“Hey there, Two Socks,” the blond grinned down at his furry guest. “I bet you were thinking ‘Now why don’t he write?’ I’m going to take Cisco for a ride. Want to come along?”
Two Socks cocked his head and regarded Scott, tongue lolling.
The wolf turned in a circle and yipped again.
“Great! Let’s go!”
In the weeks and months that followed, Scott spent a great deal of time in the Sioux village. He had been given a tipi of his own and he felt very much at home there. There was a real sense of belonging.
Surprisingly, Two Socks went with him, behaving more like a loyal pet than the wild wolf he was supposed to be. The villagers were a little apprehensive of the beast at first but, when they realized he posed no threat, soon accepted him as just another camp dog. Soon after, he became a regular favorite of the younger children and was often seen playing with them.
Scott returned to Fort Sedgewick periodically, but the visits were driven primarily by guilt and not desire. Even while he was there at the tiny fort, he knew it was more for the sake of appearances than anything else. His sense of duty compelled him to do so.
The officer knew there was no logical reason to stay on. He was fairly certain now that the army had abandoned the post and him along with it. Scott gave some thought to returning to Fort Hayes but then quickly dismissed the idea. It was entirely possible that he would be returning to the Confederate States of America instead of a whole union and the idea held very little appeal. As far as he was concerned, he had done his duty for the US Army and the Union.
The idea of returning to his home in Boston held no appeal either. His Grandfather had his whole life mapped out for him and didn’t really seem to care that Scott might have other plans. The idea of working in a stuffy accounting office married to some witless debutante all so he can produce heirs who would also work in stuffy accounting offices made his skin crawl.
No, what drew him now was the pull of another world, a world he had just begun to explore. His childhood dream of a life on the frontier had come true in a way that he had never imagined.
Another reason for wanting to stay was Stands With A Fist. The attraction the army officer felt for the pretty young woman could not be denied. Stands With A Fist was a puzzle that Scott was determined to solve. How had she come to be here? Where did she come from?
The time that Scott did spend in the Indian village was spent in Stands With A Fist’s company more than anyone else, other than Kicking Bird. The young woman was teaching Scott the Sioux language and her own fluency with English was returning quickly.
In the beginning it was mostly just questions and answers. Lieutenant Lancer told the story of how he had come to Fort Sedgewick and of his unexplained isolation. Interesting as the story was, it frustrated Kicking Bird. Loo-tent-ant claimed to know nothing of the army’s mission or its specific plans. He was nothing more than a simple soldier.
The white race was a different matter.
“Why are the whites coming into our county?” the medicine man would ask.
And Lancer would reply, “I don’t think they want to come into the country. I think they only want to pass through.”
Kicking Bird would come back with, “I have heard it said that the whites only want peace in the country. If that is true, why do they always come with soldiers? I have been told of talks the white chiefs have had with my brothers. I have been told these talks are peaceful and promises are made. But I am told that the promises are always broken. If the white chiefs come to see us, how will we know if they speak the truth? Will the white chiefs keep their word?
Scott was uncomfortable about answering these questions and was as evasive as possible. He could easily see Stands With A Fist and Kicking Bird’s concern for the Sioux people and couldn’t bring himself to tell them what he really thought. If the whites ever came out here in real force, the Indians would be hopelessly outmatched, no matter how hard they fought.
At the same time he couldn’t tell Kicking Bird to ignore these issues. They were valid concerns for the Sioux shaman and he was right to be worried. Scott couldn’t bring himself to tell the truth and he couldn’t lie to these people. It was standoff and the question remained unanswered, hanging awkwardly between them.
Gradually Stands With A Fist began to look forward to the hours she spent in the Loo-tent-ant’s company. Now that he had been accepted by the band, Scott had ceased to be the great problem he had once been. While what he represented still caused her fear, the soldier himself, the man, did not. He didn’t even look like a soldier anymore.
Now that Scott had emerged as a real person, there were things about him to admire: His strength, his bravery, his keen-eyed skill with a rifle. His handsome face and lean, muscular frame. The Loo-tent-ant was a man that any Sioux brave would be proud to call friend….and any Sioux woman to call husband.
The tranquil life of the camp was disturbed when Ten Bears decided that there would be a war party against the Pawnee. The necessary preparations would take several days and the village was a bustling hive of activity.
It was decided that Wind In His Hair would lead the group and Kicking Bird would go along also, providing spiritual guidance. It would be a small party, no more than twenty braves whose purpose was to get rifles and ponies from the Pawnee as well as to exact revenge for the death of Red Eagle, Stands With A Fist’s husband. Ten Bears had waited so long to send the raiding party in the hopes that the dangerous and bloodthirsty Pawnee would have relaxed their guard.
Scott was intrigued by the preparations for the war party and followed Kicking Bird around as much as he could. It was a first rate education for the army officer. He sat in on many meetings at which responsibilities were assigned to each member of the party with care and tact, making sure each brave knew that he was crucially important to the success of the coming mission.
Lancer also got to spend time with Wind In His Hair. Because the brave had fought against the Pawnee on many occasions, his stories and observations were given great weight. Informal classes in warfare were conducted in and around Wind In His Hair’s lodge and, as the days sped by, Scott became obsessed. He was caught up in the strong desire to go on the warpath with his friends. The protective instincts he had been feeling for the little band of people were growing stronger with each day he spent among them.
He went to see Kicking Bird and found the shaman in his lodge. Fortunately Stands With A Fist was also there and could help to translate his request. Scott was afraid that his Sioux was still not good enough to get his point across without her help.
“I want to go,” he blurted. “with you, against the Pawnee.”
This was relayed to Kicking Bird and, except for the slight widening of his eyes, the medicine man seemed unfazed.
“Why do you want to make war on the Pawnee?” he asked. “They have done nothing to you.”
“They are Sioux enemies,” the blond explained.
Kicking Bird didn’t like it. He felt that Scott was rushing things.
“Only Sioux warriors can go,” he said firmly.
“I have been a warrior in the white man’s army longer than some of the young men who are going,” Scott argued. “Some of them are making war for the first time.”
“The white man’s way is not the Sioux way,” the medicine man said gently.
Scott knew he was losing the argument. “I cannot learn the Sioux way if I stay in camp.”
This was difficult for Kicking Bird. His affection for the white soldier was deep. On the other hand, the shaman was wise enough to know that it would be wrong to take Scott on the raid. As he struggled with how to let the blond soldier down easy, a flash of inspiration struck him.
“It would mean a great deal to me if Yellow Hawk would watch over my family while I am on this raid. To know they are so well guarded would put my mind at ease.”
Stands With A Fist looked at her father with surprise, but relayed the message to the anxious blond at her side.
“This thing he asks is a great honor,” she added.
Scott was confused. Who was Yellow Hawk? Why were they talking about him all of a sudden?
“Yellow Hawk?” Scott asked, confused. “Who’s that?”
“That is what all of the people are calling you now,” Stands With A Fist explained. “Because of your hair and your sharp eyes with the rifle.”
Scott was both stunned and pleased. To have an Indian name bestowed upon him made him feel welcome and accepted. But he knew that he hadn’t been completely accepted yet. He was not being allowed to accompany Kicking Bird on the raid. Yellow Hawk sighed heavily.
It was a terrible let down at first. The only thing he could compare it to was being demoted. He had never felt so disappointed. And yet he was shocked at how quickly the hurt passed. Kicking Bird’s family would be under his protection, and the idea of serving them in that role was one he looked forward to instantly. He would be able to spend time with Stands With A Fist and that thought made his heart flutter. Maybe he would be able to get answers to some of the questions that had been plaguing him in regards to the young woman.
Scott turned and smiled down at the waiting Stands With A Fist. “Please tell Kicking Bird that Yellow Hawk would be honored to watch over his family while he is away.”
* In Sioux, Yellow Hawk is pronounced Nee-Ha-Ya Wah-Tay-Na-Ta
Once the party was away, the village settled into a life of simple routine, an endless cycle of days and nights that made the prairie seem like its own little world.
Yellow Hawk fell quickly into step with the pattern, moving through it in a pleasant, dreamlike way. It was a life of riding and hunting and scouting that was physically taxing. But his body adapted well and once he found the rhythm of his day, Scott found most activities effortless.
Kicking Bird’s family required much of his time. The women did virtually all the work around the camp and he felt obliged to monitor their day-to-day lives and those of the children.
Stands With A Fist was exempt from that work because she needed to be available to help Yellow Hawk with his communication. Without Kicking Bird there to direct the conversation, there was a more relaxed feel to their discussion and Yellow Hawk felt that he might finally be able to get some of his curiosity satisfied about the young woman.
His Sioux lessons were coming along nicely, but it soon became apparent that sitting in the lodge placed limitations on how fast Yellow Hawk could learn it. Stands With A Fist’s grasp of English still gave her trouble, too. Some words simply eluded her and she would skip over them, making her communication just as choppy as her pupil’s.
One day, just after the noon meal, when she couldn’t find the word for grass, Stands With A Fist finally took Scott outside. One word led to another and they spent the rest of the afternoon strolling through the village, so intent on their studies that it was dinnertime before they knew it.
The pattern was repeated in the following days. They became a common sight, wandering the village, deep in talk and oblivious to all but the objects comprising their studies: bone, lodge, sun, hoof, kettle, dog, stick, sky, child, hair, robe, face, near, far, here, there, bright, dull, and on and on and on.
Every day the language took deeper root in him and Yellow Hawk could make more words. Sentences were forming and he strung them together with an enthusiasm that caused numerous mistakes.
“Fire grows on the prairie.”
“Eating water is good for me.”
“That man is a bone.”
He was like a toddler who falls every third step, but he kept at it and by sheer force of will he made remarkable progress. Soon Yellow Hawk felt the time was right to ask the questions he desperately wanted answers to. He and Stands With A Fist had become much closer and he knew that the attraction he was feeling was mutual. On the surface, a careful formality was maintained. But underneath, there was affection and a sexual tension that crackled and snapped like wood in a fire. There were soft touches and longing glances but so far neither had been able to bring themselves to speak openly about it.
Instead, Scott chose to pursue the other questions that had been preying on his mind ever since he’d first met Stands With A Fist.
“How did you get your name?” Yellow Hawk asked. “How did you come to be here?”
“M-my white family was killed by Pawnee. Kicking Bird found me and took me in.”
“And your name?” Yellow Hawk asked. “How did you get your name?”
“When I came to live with the People, I was made to work. I worked very hard,” Stands With A Fist related. “There was a w-woman who…beat me? One day she was yelling with her face in my face and I hit her. I wasn’t very big but she fell down. She fell hard. I stood over her with my fist and asked if there was anyone else who wanted to call me bad names.”
Yellow Hawk smiled as he imagined the scene. “Can you show me?”
Stands With A Fist looked confused.
“Can you show me where you hit her?”
The young woman smiled and brought her fist to rest gently against the blond man’s chin. He slowly toppled over and landed in the grass behind the log they were sitting on.
Stands With A Fist laughed at his antics.
Yellow Hawk propped himself up on one elbow and, encouraged by all the information he’d gotten from Stands With A Fist thus far, decided to take it one step further. There was one particular question he’d been wanting to ask for quite some time. If he didn’t do it now, he never would.
“Are you married?”
Stands With A Fist dropped her head and fixed her eyes on her lap. “No.”
Yellow Hawk was on the verge of asking why when he caught a glimpse of a single tear making its way down her cheek. The blond was confused. What had gone wrong? Just as he was about to speak again, the young woman rose to her feet and, with a mumbled excuse, ran off towards the village.
“Wait!” Scott called after her. “I’m sorry.”
It was no use. She was gone.
Devastated, Scott sat numbly, damning himself for having asked the wrong question and hoping against hope that whatever had gone wrong could be put right. But he was at a loss about how to do that and he couldn’t even ask Kicking Bird for advice. The medicine man wasn’t due back with the raiding party for another few weeks.
But maybe there was someone he could talk to. Stone Calf had stayed behind and he was a person Scott felt comfortable with. Perhaps he could prevail upon the seasoned warrior to tell him what he needed to know to make things right with Stands With A Fist.
Decision made, Yellow Hawk stood and strode purposefully towards the village in search of Stone Calf.
After leaving Yellow Hawk on the log by the creek, Stands With A Fist had climbed onto a pony and headed out onto the prairie. She needed to be away from people so she could think and clear her head.
Her feelings for Yellow Hawk were in a terrible jumble. Not too long ago she had hated and feared the white soldier. But for the last few weeks, she hadn’t thought of anything but him. And there were so many contradictions.
With a start, Stands With A Fist realized that she hadn’t given any thought to her dead husband in several weeks. Red Eagle had been the center of her life until so recently, and now she had all but forgotten him. Guilt bore down on the young woman, making her queasy.
When she returned to the village some hours later, her mind was no clearer than when she had left.
Yellow Hawk eventually found Stone Calf sitting under a tree, painting a design on a new shield. He was immediately invited to sit and he did so, curious to watch the warrior at his task.
The two men spoke casually of inconsequential things while the Indian continued to paint and Stone Calf was impressed that Yellow Hawk, so recent among them, was talking Sioux so well in such a short time.
The old warrior could tell that the blond wanted something, and when the topic of conversation shifted to Stands With A Fist, he knew this must be it.
Scott tried to put it as nonchalantly as he could, but Stone Calf was too much the old fox not to see that the question was one of importance to his companion.
“When I first met Stands With A Fist, she was out on the prairie, hurt. She had hurt herself on purpose, why?”
Stone Calf looked sad and solemn as he answered. “She cries for someone.”
“She is in mourning?”
That was a possibility that Scott hadn’t considered. “Who does she cry for?”
“Her husband,” Stone Calf replied. “It is impolite to speak of the dead but you are new so I will tell you. It was around the time of the dark of the year, when the days are short. Red Eagle was killed in a fight with the Pawnee. Stands With A Fist took it very hard.”
This revelation hit Yellow Hawk like a thunderbolt. His mind was reeling and his thoughts were in turmoil. Thanking Stone Calf rather distractedly, he went to find Cisco. He needed to get away and think about all he had learned this day. He decided that it would be best to remove himself from the village and head back to Fort Sedgewick, even if it was just for a couple of days. He had promised Kicking Bird that he would watch over his family while the medicine man was gone and he didn’t want to be gone for too long.
It had been two months since he had been to the little fort and even from a distance, it gave off that same air of abandonment that it had when he first arrived. The latest summer storms had finished off the canvas awning the former army officer had erected upon his arrival. It seemed like an eternity ago. The canvas was badly shredded and flapped listlessly in the breeze.
Field mice scattered as he peeked into the supply house. They’d destroyed the only thing he had left behind, a burlap sack filled with moldy hardtack.
In the sod hut that had been his home he lay down on the little bunk and stared at the crumbling walls. He noticed his journal sitting on one of the camp stools and picked it up. It was odd, leafing through the entries. They seemed like they were written about someone else, someone who no longer existed.
Scanning the entries, he laughed at some of the incidents he’d written about. His life had been made over. The journal was a curiosity now and had no bearing on his future, a future with Stands With A Fist. It was interesting to see how far he had come.
When he reached the end of the little, leather bound book, there were some blank pages. Taking down his pen and an almost dried bottle of ink from the shelf, he wrote, with a sure hand, one final entry.
Yellow Hawk loves Stands With A Fist.
He closed the journal and placed it carefully in the center of the bunk. Rising, he strode out into the dusty yard to find Two Socks waiting for him.
“Hey, boy,” he grinned at the animal. “Did you follow me?”
He reached out his hand and, with gentle fingers, scratched the animal behind the ears. The wolf leaned into the contact so Scott squatted down to rub more enthusiastically at the wolf’s furry sides and back.
“I’ve decided to move permanently to the Sioux village,” the human confided in Two Socks. “I want to eventually make Stands With A Fist my wife. I want her to live with us in our tipi. Is that okay with you?”
Two Socks gave what Yellow Hawk decided was an affirmative yip, tail thumping excitedly in the hard packed dirt.
“Great,” Yellow Hawk laughed, giddy with happiness. “Then let’s go.”
Yellow Hawk arrived back at the encampment just after midday when the village was drowsy from the late summer heat. Scott immediately went in search of Stands With A Fist. He eventually found the young woman in a secluded clearing down by the river, wading in the cool clear water in an effort to keep cool.
Stepping from behind a wild blackberry bramble, Yellow Hawk caused Stands With A Fist to look up from her dawdling, eyes wide.
Neither one spoke, they simply stared at one another, their feelings plain on their faces.
As if guided by some outside force, they moved simultaneously toward each other. Neither could retrace the sequence of how it happened, but a moment later they were sharing a passionate, soul-searing kiss.
Stands With A Fist stopped briefly to murmur, “I am in mourning.”
“I know,” Yellow Hawk answered distractedly.
They were the last words spoken by either of them for quite some time.
They made love all afternoon. When the shadows finally began to fall across the clearing, they sat up and looked about cautiously. There was no one about but they sensed that they would be missed if they stayed away much longer.
Stands With A Fist led Yellow Hawk out of the clearing and they started back, clinging to each other as they walked. When they were within eyeshot of the village, they ducked behind a large oak tree for one last sweet kiss, knowing that they had to be discreet. Stands With A Fist was still in mourning and they could not openly display affection for each other until Kicking Bird released her.
The next days were euphoric for Stands With A Fist and Yellow Hawk. There were constant smiles on their faces, their cheeks were flushed with love and, no matter where they went, their feet never touched the ground.
In the company of others they were discreet, being careful not to show any outward sign of affection. As a result, their language sessions took on a more business like tone than previously. If they were alone in the lodge, they took the risk of holding hands, making love with their fingers. But that was as far as it went.
They tried to meet secretly as least once a day, usually at the river. It was hard to find a quiet place away from prying eyes and the two love birds were going mad with sexual frustration.
They discussed marriage. It was something they both wanted and the sooner the better. But Stands With A Fist’s mourning was a major stumbling block. There was no set period of mourning in Sioux culture. Release could only come from an individual’s father or guardian. In Stands With A Fist’s case, that responsibility fell on Kicking Bird’s shoulders. And there was no telling when the holy man would decide to do that.
They took chances. Twice in the week after coming together at the river, Stands With A Fist slipped out of Kicking Bird’s lodge in the early morning darkness and went to Yellow Hawk’s tipi. Under the enigmatic gaze of Two Socks, the two lovers would lie together, naked under the buffalo robes, until first light, whispering of their plans for the future.
All in all they did as well as could be expected of two people who had been completely overwhelmed by love. They were dignified and prudent and disciplined.
They fooled absolutely no one.
Everyone in camp who was old enough to know what love between two people looked like could see it in the faces of Yellow Hawk and Stands With A Fist.
Most people could not find it in their hearts to condemn the two, no matter the circumstances. Those few who might have taken offense at this breach of etiquette held their tongues for lack of any real proof. Most important, their attraction for each other was no threat to the band at large. Even the older, more conservative members of the tribe admitted that the potential union made sense.
After all, they were both white.
On the fifth day since the two lovers had come together, the peace of the village was disrupted by the arrival of several strangers. They were Kiowas, a half dozen of them, longtime friends and hunting partners of the Sioux. Their story, which they shared, was very alarming.
The Kiowas had started out as a small group, less than twenty men, looking for buffalo about ten miles north of the Sioux camp. They were hit by a huge Pawnee war party, at least eighty warriors, maybe more. They’d been attacked in the twilight, just after sunset, and wouldn’t have gotten away if they hadn’t had the cover of darkness and a better knowledge of the area on their side.
The group had covered their retreat as best they could but it was only a matter of time before the Pawnee would locate this camp. It was possible they had already moved into position. The Kiowas thought there were perhaps a few hours at most to get ready. The attack, which was sure to come, would most likely take place at dawn.
Ten Bears began giving orders. It was clear from the old man’s expression that he was worried. Twenty of the band’s most distinguished warriors were out with Kicking Bird and Wind In His Hair. The men left behind were good fighters, but there were as many as eighty Pawnee coming and the Sioux were seriously outnumbered.
This situation had Yellow Hawk feeling very anxious and uneasy. This was his village now and it was in danger. The man felt an overwhelming need to take part in protecting it. He was mentally calculating how many rounds he had for his rifle and his Navy revolver when he remembered something. As the meeting broke up, he approached Ten Bears, who was speaking with Stone Calf by the fire.
“I have guns,” Scott blurted. “In the ground near the soldier fort there are many guns.”
The old chief’s eyes widened with hope but he didn’t say anything right away. Though he approved of Yellow Hawk, there was something in his old Sioux blood that didn’t fully trust the white soldier. The guns were in the ground and it would take time to dig them up. The Pawnee might be close now and he needed every man here to defend the village. There was the long ride to the white man’s fort and, if the thunder was any indication, it was going to start raining any minute.
As if sensing his indecision, Yellow Hawk pressed his case. “Those guns will make one Sioux brave seem like ten.
The fight was going to be a close one and the old chief knew that the guns would make a big difference. Chances were the Pawnee wouldn’t have very many. Dawn was still hours away and there might just be enough time to make it to the fort and back. Ten Bears decided to take a chance.
“Take Smiles A Lot with you and go quickly.”
Scott and Smiles A Lot rode away from the encampment, taking the straightest, most direct route possible across the prairie.
The sky was terrifying. It seemed as though four storms were converging over them all at once. Lightning was flashing around them like artillery fire, reminding the former cavalry officer all too clearly of the battles he had seen back east.
Rain was beginning to fall in fat, heavy drops when they reached the fort. Yellow Hawk led Smiles A Lot to the spot where he thought he had left the marker that indicated where the guns were hidden. He told the boy what to look for and the two of them fanned out on their ponies, searching the tall grass for a long, white piece of bone.
The rain was coming harder now and the minutes ticked by with no sign of the rib. The wind was howling and the lightning was flashing every few seconds.
After twenty wet and dismal minutes of searching, Yellow Hawk’s heart had hit rock bottom. They were at the point where they were covering the same ground over and over again there was still nothing.
Then, miraculously, over the sound of the wind and the rain and the thunder, he thought he heard a crunching sound under one of Cisco’s hooves. Yellow Hawk called out to Smiles A Lot and leapt down. Soon the two of them were on their hands and knees feeling blindly through the grass. After a few seconds, they found it, broken off close to the surface and nearly hidden by the long grass.
With cries of relief, they surged forward and began to dig frantically. The earth gave up its treasure quite easily and only a few minutes later, two long wooden cases of rifles were being hauled out of their muddy tomb.
Dawn was coming. The storm that had raged all night was gone and the light was stronger now. Suddenly the sun broke over the horizon and minutes later, steam was rising off the ground like fog. Squinting through the early morning mist, Yellow Hawk saw the dark shapes of men, drifting like evil shadows through the willows and the cottonwoods.
The wave of protective feelings that surged over Yellow Hawk at the sight of the Pawnee was nearly overwhelming. They were the enemy and they were on his doorstep, threatening all that he loved. He wanted to fight them. He wanted to kill them. He wanted them to regret that they had ever come against the Sioux.
Gunshots rang out behind him. The diversionary force had engaged the small group of defenders on the other side of the village.
As the noise of the fighting increased, he checked the line. A few hotheads tried to break away and run to the other fight, but the older warriors did a good job of holding them in check.
Again he scanned the early morning mist, looking for the main force creeping up from the river. They were coming up the bank slowly, inching up the incline, shadowy, roach-haired figures with murder on their minds.
Suddenly a guttural cry rang out from the direction of the river. It was the Pawnee war cry. As they charged up the slope, Yellow Hawk waved his arm and sprang out from behind the lodge with his rifle raised. The other Sioux, who had been watching him for this signal, followed suit. The fire from their guns hit the Pawnee as cleanly as a hot knife through butter. It completely wrecked the Pawnee charge.
As they fired, the Sioux counterattacked, streaming down through the screen of blue smoke to pounce upon the dazed enemy. The charge was furious and Yellow Hawk crashed headlong into the first Pawnee he met. As they rolled awkwardly on the ground he thrust the barrel of the Navy colt into the man’s face and fired.
After that, everything became a blur. Running, fighting, gunshots, blood, smoke, screams of pain, rage and triumph. An indeterminate amount of time later, the battle haze left Scott and he realized that the screaming and shooting had stopped.
The Pawnee that could, had fled, leaving their dead comrades behind.
Yellow Hawk looked around in a daze. Refuse was scattered everywhere. There were a great number of Pawnee corpses and a few, very few, Sioux dead as well.
One of the other Sioux warriors spotted him and cried out, yelling his name. Before Yellow Hawk knew it, Sioux fighters all over the camp had taken up the call. As he stood there, listening to his name being called over and over, a fierce feeling of pride welled up inside of him.
This fight had not been done in the name of some obscure political objective. This was not a battle for riches or to make men free. It had been waged to protect homes and loved ones huddled only a few feet away. It had been fought to preserve the food stores that would see them through the winter.
The bright sunshine of early morning spilled across the village. The warriors began a spontaneous dance of victory, congratulating each other with back slaps and cries of triumph. Yellow Hawk, however, headed straight for Kicking Bird’s lodge. He had been entrusted with the safety of his friend’s family while he was away and he needed to make sure they, and Stands With A Fist, were safe.
They were but it had been a very close thing. Stands With A Fist had been forced to shoot a Pawnee brave that had burst into the tipi, intent on slaughtering them all. She was somewhat shaken by the close call but was holding up well. Seeing Yellow Hawk appear in the opening of the lodge, alive and well if somewhat bloody, had done much to settle her nerves.
They were still reveling in their triumph two days later when Kicking Bird and Wind In His Hair returned with the rest of the raiding party. There had been thirty two dead Pawnee and only seven Sioux, one of whom was Stone Calf. Even though the tribe mourned the loss, nothing could dampen their spirits for too long. No one could remember such a one sided victory.
Kicking Bird was glad to be home. He had missed his family and his friends and it would be good to settle into the quiet routine of daily life in the village once again. Yellow Hawk had looked after his family admirably, especially in the face of a very great danger. Kicking Bird would always be grateful to the white man for that.
Also, Stands With A Fist seemed to have snapped out of her deep depression and was more animated and outgoing, as she had been before the death of her husband.
The holy man commented on this to his wife as they snuggled together under their buffalo robes on the night of his return. Black Shawl just chuckled softly.
“Stands With A Fist and Yellow Hawk have found love together,” she said.
Kicking Bird was surprised by this announcement. He lowered his voice even more before continuing the conversation, very aware that the topic of their discussion lay sleeping on the other side of the lodge.
“They have? Since when?”
“While you were away,” his wife replied, serenely. “They are a good match, everyone says so. You will see what I mean when you watch them together.”
“People approve?” Kicking Bird was somewhat irritated with himself for having missed all the signs.
“Of course,” Black Shawl answered with a roll of her eyes. “They are both white. It makes sense.”
When the medicine man’s expression didn’t improve his wife teased him with an affectionate nuzzle. “Don’t feel so bad. You can’t see everything coming.”
The next day, Kicking Bird made a point of watching Stands With A Fist and Yellow Hawk carefully. Black Shawl had been right. The love that the two felt for each other was plain to see in every glance, in every smile, in the way they would reach for one another and then stop, suddenly aware that they were not in private and that there were certain restrictions against doing so.
Kicking Bird took care of that after observing the two lovers for only a few short hours.
He strode up to his adopted daughter as she was gathering wood with Singing Grass.
“Stands With A Fist,” he announced, loudly, making sure that the villagers nearby heard him. “You will mourn no more.”
With that, he walked away quickly, leaving a stunned and delighted Stands With A Fist behind.
Yellow Hawk was sitting in his tipi, working on his new pipe, when Wind In His Hair and Smiles A Lot appeared outside his door. He could see them peeking inside.
“What are you doing in there?” Wind In His Hair asked.
“Working on a new pipe,” Yellow Hawk answered, holding up the wooden pipe proudly. “I think its coming along well.”
“Can we come in?” Wind In His Hair asked.
“Yes, please. Sit down.”
The two visitors took seats in front of Yellow Hawk. They were smug as schoolboys.
“What?” the blond asked cautiously.
Wind In His Hair leaned forward, smirking slightly. “There is talk that you want to get married.”
Scott felt himself start to blush. In the span of a few seconds his face went from a light tan to a deep rosy hue.
Both his guests laughed out loud.
“Who do they say I wish to marry?” he croaked out.
“Stands With A Fist,” Wind In His Hair replied. “Is this not the case?”
“She is in mourning,” the former army officer stammered.
“Not anymore,” Smiles A Lot pronounced with a grin. “Kicking Bird released her earlier today.”
Yellow Hawk nearly choked on the lump that had formed in his throat.
“H-he did?” he asked incredulously.
His guests nodded and Yellow Hawk realized that he was free to court openly. To marry the young woman he loved and to spend the rest of his life with her. To finally be truly happy. “What must I do?”
His visitors glanced around the nearly empty lodge with skeptical expressions. They ended their brief inspection with a pair of sad head shakes.
“You are pretty poor, my friend,” Wind In His Hair said. “I don’t know if you can get married. You must give some things up and I don’t see much here.”
Yellow Hawk looked around, too, his expression growing more discouraged by the second.
“No, I don’t have much,” he admitted. “Can you help me?”
There was a moment of brief silence as the two warriors milked the situation for all it was worth. Wind In His Hair’s lips twitched as he fought to contain a grin and Smiles A Lot stroked his chin thoughtfully.
After a silence that had Yellow Hawk practically hyperventilating with anticipation, Smiles A Lot sighed deeply and nodded at Wind In His hair. The two men regarded their host seriously. “We will do what we can.”
Wind In His Hair and Smiles A Lot had a good day. They dragged their hapless friend from lodge to lodge, explaining to everyone about Yellow Hawk’s predicament. The whole village got behind the idea of taking up a collection for the nervous suitor. Those with plenty of horses were happy to make a contribution. Even the poorer families wanted to give up animals they could not afford to loose. It was hard to turn these people down but they did.
As part of a prearranged plan, contributors from all over camp began bringing horses and other items such as buffalo robes, brightly woven blankets and tobacco at twilight. By the time the evening star had appeared, more than twenty good ponies were standing in front of Yellow Hawk’s lodge along with a sizable pile of other goods. When the former cavalry officer beheld the sight, he was speechless. Such generosity….but would it be enough?
He turned to Wind In His Hair and Smiles A Lot, his expression one of uncertainty.
“Will this be enough?” he asked his companions.
Wind In His Hair made a big show of inspecting the gifts carefully.
“Stands With A Fist is Kicking Bird’s daughter and he is a man of great standing,” he replied. “We will bring the gifts to Kicking Bird’s lodge and hope for the best. If the proposal is accepted, everything will be gone in the morning. If it is not, they will still be sitting there, waiting for you to take them back.”
Nodding nervously, the groom-to-be took the string of ponies over to Kicking Bird’s tipi and tied them up outside while Wind In His Hair and Smiles A Lot helped by moving over the piles of smaller items. He could tell that there were people inside but no one opened the lodge flap. Unwilling to just walk away yet, Yellow Hawk stood and regarded his gifts one last time. The outpouring from his fellow villagers had been deeply touching. But wanting to give something of his own, he unstrapped the big navy colt revolver from around his waist and left it outside the door.
He then returned to his own lodge, sent his tutors on their way, and passed a fitful night of waiting.
At dawn he slipped outside for a look at Kicking Bird’s lodge.
The horses and other goods were gone, presumably removed by Kicking Bird.
His proposal had been accepted.
The wedding took place a few days later. Ceremonies of this kind were normally quiet occasions among the Sioux, but the uniqueness of the couple, marrying so soon after the victory over the Pawnee, had everyone bubbling over with wedding fever. People were eager to participate in the preparations for the celebration. It all went by in a whirl for Stands With A Fist and Yellow Hawk.
The day of the wedding dawned clear and warm. A last hurrah by autumn before the true onset of the long cold winter.
Yellow Hawk paced nervously in his tipi, much as any bridegroom would. Wind In His Hair, whom he’d asked to stand up with him, looked on in amusement.
“Relax, my friend,” he teased. “Or you will wear yourself out before you get to the good stuff.”
Yellow Hawk continued his pacing. “I’m sorry. It’s just that I have never been married before. I’m anxious about being a good husband.”
Wind In His Hair put his hands on the other man’s shoulders and looked him straight in the eye.
“When you first came here, I didn’t like you much. But you have proven yourself many times over. You are a good warrior and a good provider. I know that you will take good care of Stands With A Fist.”
Yellow Hawk nodded his thanks but it was apparent that there was something else on his mind.
“But what about Stands With A Fist?” he blurted out anxiously. “She has been married before and I know she still misses her first husband.”
Wind In His Hair sighed heavily. These kind of before wedding jitters and insecurities were something every bridegroom experienced but Yellow Hawk seemed to be taking them to another level.
“Yes she does but that doesn’t mean that she doesn’t care for you. She has room in heart for both of you. Red Eagle was my friend and we were all sad when he died, Stands With A Fist most of all. But I have given this much thought and I believe that Red Eagle went away because you were coming. Would it help to know that he was just as nervous and unsure on his wedding day?”
Scott let out a huge breath. It did help. He smiled sheepishly at his companion. “I’m being silly, aren’t I?”
Before Wind In His Hair could reply, the flap of the lodge was lifted and Smiles A Lot peeked in.
“It’s time,” he announced with a wide grin.
The groom bent through the doorway of his lodge and stepped out, followed by Wind In His Hair.
Kicking Bird was waiting there, looking impressive in his finery. A few paces behind him, was Stands With A Fist. And behind both of them, the whole village had assembled and was watching solemnly.
The shaman began to talk about what it meant to be a good husband and what was expected of someone who was entering into a marriage. He may as well have been speaking Swahili. Yellow Hawk could not take his eyes off of the lithe figure of his wife-to-be who was clad in a dress of intricately beaded and fringed white doe-skin.
An eternity later, Kicking Bird finally stopped talking.
“Have you heard all that I have said?” the medicine man asked.
Continuing to stare at one another, entranced, neither Yellow Hawk nor Stands With A Fist responded.
“Have you heard all that I have said?” Kicking Bird asked again, louder this time.
The two lovers jumped slightly.
“Yes,” Yellow Hawk replied, embarrassed. The villagers chuckled good-naturedly at his discomfiture.
“Good,” Kicking Bird mumbled and then turned to Stands With A Fist. “If it is your wish to go with this man, take his hand.”
Stands With A Fist stepped forward and took Yellow Hawk’s hand, clasping it tightly.
Kicking Bird nodded his approval and told Scott to take his new wife inside.
The marriage was made as they passed through the doorway. After it was done the rest of the villagers broke up noisily. While the newlyweds were otherwise occupied, the rest of the tribe would feast, sing, dance and drum.
All evening long the people of Ten Bears’ camp came in little groups to drop off gifts. Eventually there was an impressive array of offerings piled outside the lodge. For the time being the generous gestures went unnoticed by the happy couple. On the day of their wedding they saw neither people nor their offerings. On the day of their wedding Two Socks was sent to stay with Kicking Bird’s family and the lodge flap stayed firmly closed.
Inside the tipi, the two newlyweds wasted no time. The flap had no sooner closed than they were on each other. Their kisses were savage and wild, like a hot wind blowing through their bodies. They conveyed all the pent-up emotions the two lovers had been forced to hide for the past few weeks. They fed on each other, as if trying to take in each other’s essence.
Yellow Hawk lifted Stands With A Fist easily and carried her over to a pile of buffalo robes along the back wall of the lodge. Laying his burden gently down on the soft hides, he raised his head to look at his new wife. She was so beautiful that simply looking at her actually hurt.
Stands With A Fist was gazing back at him, all the love and devotion she felt for him shining from the hazel-green depths of her eyes. She was his mate for all time, the other half of his soul. Yellow Hawk marveled again at her beauty. The smallness of her feet, her shape, the lines of her body, the perfectly proportioned form. Stands With A Fist was a miracle to him and he felt that his heart with burst with joy.
Lowering his lips to hers, he proceeded to show her how much he loved her.
Two days after the wedding a high council was held. The recent heavy rains had renewed the withering grass and it was decided to delay moving to the winter camp in favor of the pony herd. By staying a little longer the horses would be able to put on a few extra pounds, which might prove crucial in getting through the long harsh winter to come. The band would stay put for another two weeks in their summer camp.
No one was more pleased with this development than Yellow Hawk and Stands With A Fist. They were floating euphorically through the first days of their marriage and didn’t want that special time interrupted. When the two lovers would actually deign to emerge from their lodge, they were teased unmercifully by their friends who were calling them The Busy Bees. They just laughed at the good-natured ribbing and continued on as they had been.
A few days before they were supposed to begin the migration to the winter camp, Ten Bears summoned Kicking Bird and Yellow Hawk to his lodge. The three men sat quietly for a time, smoking their pipes and talking of inconsequential things.
Eventually the talk came around to the reason for the visit. The white men and how many more were coming.
Yellow Hawk felt himself cringe. It had been awhile since anyone had asked about this and he had been hoping that this topic had been forgotten. He really didn’t want to discuss this but he felt his friends deserved the truth.
“I do not know how many will come but I believe it will be a lot,” he said slowly. “The white people are many, more than any of us could ever count, like the stars. It makes me afraid. The white soldiers have big guns that can shoot into a camp like ours and destroy everything in it.”
Ten Bears had been nodding through this speech. It was what he had expected. The old chief tottered to his feet and took a few steps across the lodge. He reached into the rigging and pulled down a melon sized bundle and retraced his steps to the fire where he sat down with a grunt.
“I think you are right,” he said to Yellow Hawk. “But let me show you something.”
His gnarled fingers tugged at the bundle’s rawhide drawstring. He pushed down the sides of the sack to reveal a hunk of rusted metal about the size of a man’s head.
Kicking Bird had never seen the object before and had no idea what it could be. He leaned forward curiously to take a closer look.
Yellow Hawk hadn’t seen one before either but he knew what it was. He had seen a drawing of one in a history text while at Harvard. It was the helmet of a Spanish conquistador.
“These people were the first to come into our country,” Ten Bears explained. “They came on horses. We didn’t have horses then and they shot at us with big thunder guns that we had never seen. They were looking for shiny metal and we were afraid of them. This was in the time of my grandfather’s grandfather. Eventually, we drove these people out.”
The old man sucked on his pipe, taking several deep puffs before continuing.
“Then the Mexicans began to come. We had to make war on them and we have been successful. Then more people came, the Texans. They have been like all the other people who find something they want in our country. They take it without asking. They get angry when they see us living in our own country and try to get us to do what they want. When we do not, they try to kill us.”
Ten Bears stopped and looked at his guests to make sure they were still paying attention.
“After a time, there was talk of peace but these agreements always got broken. I got tired of this and many years ago I brought the band here, far away from the whites. We have lived in peace here for a long time but this is the last of our country and we will fight to keep it. We have no place else to go and if the white men come we will not leave. But now is not the time for war, it is too close to the season of snows. Spring will be soon enough for us to decide what to do. Tomorrow morning we will strike the village and travel to the winter camp.”
As he fell asleep that night, Stands With A Fist snuggled in his arms, Yellow Hawk realized that something was gnawing at the back of his mind. When he woke up the next morning it was still there but he couldn’t quite put his finger on it. He knew it had something to do with the white soldier fort but he couldn’t say exactly what.
An hour after dawn, when the camp was being dismantled, he started thinking about how relieved he was to be going. The winter camp would be even more remote a place than this. No one would be able to reach them there. He felt a brief pang of regret that he would never see his grandfather again - that they would never get the chance to make things right between them. The pull was still there to one day travel to California to meet his father but it wasn’t nearly as strong now. That “one day” was nothing more than a vague, nebulous time somewhere far in the future. Now his life was here with Stands With A Fist and the other people of Ten Bears’ camp. In the eyes of the white world, he had ceased to exist.
It was then that the realization hit him hard enough to set his heart into a sudden, crazy fluttering.
He did exist…and there was proof.
The full record of Lieutenant Scott Garrett Lancer was written down for anyone to see. It was lying on the bunk in the sod hut at the soldier fort, just waiting for someone to come along and find it.
Yellow Hawk, followed by Two Socks, went to find Stands With A Fist, who was helping Kicking Bird’s family pack up their lodge. The blond man frantically explained his concern to his wife and father-in-law. The two balked at letting him go back to the soldier fort. Ten Bears wanted to be underway by noon and would not wait if the trip to the fort took longer than expected. Besides, it was too dangerous and Stands With A Fist grew uneasy at the thought of the soldier fort. She couldn’t say exactly why but she knew with a dreadful certainty that it would be a very bad thing if Yellow Hawk went there.
But the former army officer was adamant. Their trail would be easy enough to follow if he got delayed and he felt confident that he could handle anything that came up.
He pulled Cisco out of the pony herd and headed out across the grasslands. Stands With A Fist had to wrap her arms tightly around Two Socks to keep the wolf from following him. She buried her face in the soft fur and prayed to the Great Spirit that her new husband would return soon.
The little buckskin was happy to be racing across the prairie. During the last few days he hadn’t gotten much exercise since his master had been occupied with other things. The day was beautiful. The air had turned crisp and there was a light breeze. Cisco flew across the prairie at a ground-eating pace that would bring them to the fort in record time.
The last familiar rise loomed ahead of them and Yellow Hawk flattened down on his horse’s back to take the last half mile at a full run. They blew over the hill and shot down the slope to the old post.
Fort Sedgewick was crawling with soldiers.
Yellow Hawk pulled his horse up frantically. The buckskin whirled and skittered madly and the man was hard pressed to calm him. He wasn’t feeling very calm himself with the sight of the bustling army camp before him.
A score of tents had been erected around the old supply house and the little sod hut. The cannons, mounted on wheeled carts, were stationed next to his old quarters. The tumble-down corral was packed with horses and the whole place was literally boiling over with men in blue uniforms.
A wagon was sitting fifty yards in front of him, and in its bed, staring straight at him with wide eyes, were four young soldiers. The outlines of their startled faces were clear enough for Yellow Hawk to see that they were no more than boys.
The teenage soldiers had never seen a wild Indian but it had constantly been drummed into them that Indians were a deceptive, cunning and bloodthirsty foe. And now they were actually staring at the enemy.
Yellow Hawk saw them bring up their rifles just as Cisco reared. The shots were poorly aimed and Yellow Hawk heard them whiz by as he was thrown clear. He landed awkwardly, his head hitting the hard packed earth with a thump. The blond lifted himself up on shaky arms but bile rose in the back of his throat and the world spun crazily around him. As he flopped back down, he could vaguely make out a fuzzy Cisco-colored blob vanishing over the crest of the hill.
It was then that his line of sight was blocked by a pair of boots. He turned his head to blink up at the man wearing them and saw the butt of a rifle coming down towards his face.
Everything went black.
He could smell dirt. His face was pressed against an earthen floor and he could hear the sound of muffled voices, speaking in English.
“Sergeant Murphy…he’s coming to.”
Yellow Hawk turned his head and grimaced in pain as his badly bruised cheekbone made contact with the rough floor. The clinking sound he heard when he reached to touch his injured face didn’t quite register. The probing fingers made the barest contact and recoiled at the pain that shot along the side of his head. When the agony cleared he became aware of the manacles around each wrist, fastened together with a two-foot length of chain.
He tried to open his eyes but could only manage one, the other was swollen shut. When the good eye cleared, he recognized where he was. It was the old supply house. It had apparently been converted into a temporary stockade.
Someone kicked him in the side. “Hey, sit up.”
The toe of a boot rolled him onto his back and Yellow Hawk scooted away from the contact. The rear wall of the supply house kept him from moving too far. He sat there staring with his one good eye into the face of the bearded sergeant and then at the curious faces of the other soldiers clustered in the doorway.
Someone behind him suddenly shouted, “Make way for Major Stanley!”
The crowd around the opening fell away and two officers entered the supply hut. One was a young, clean shaven lieutenant and the other was a much older man wearing long, gray side whiskers and a rumpled uniform. The gold bars on the older man’s shoulders bore the oak leaf of a major.
Both officers looked at him with expressions of revulsion on their faces.
“Who is he, Sergeant?” the major asked, tone full of disgust.
“Don’t know yet, Sir.”
“Does he speak English?”
“Don’t know that either. Hey, you speak English?”
Yellow Hawk merely blinked stupidly at them with his one good eye.
“Talk?” the sergeant asked again, putting his fingers to his lips. “Talk?”
He kicked lightly at one of the captive’s black riding boots and Yellow Hawk sat up straighter. It was not, by any stretch, a threatening move, but the officers jerked back.
They were quite obviously afraid of him and just as obviously trying, with little success, to hide it.
“You talk?” the sergeant asked yet again.
“I speak English,” Yellow Hawk said slowly, wearily. “It hurts to talk. I think one of your boys broke my cheekbone.”
The soldiers were shocked to hear the words come out so perfectly. And they stared at him in stunned silence. Yellow Hawk was baffled as to why. Yes, he was wearing some Indian articles of clothing but he still wore the pants and boots of a white man. Yes, his hair had a few feathers tied into it but it wasn’t all that long, it didn’t even clear his shoulders. He’d seen other white men with much longer hair than his. Plus, his was blond and his eyes were blue. Well, the one that they could see, anyway.
“Who are you?” the major asked.
“I’m First Lieutenant Scott Garrett Lancer, United States Army.”
“Why are you dressed like an Indian?”
Even if he wanted to, Yellow Hawk couldn’t have begun to explain all that had happened to him.
“This is my post,” he said instead. “I came out from Fort Hayes in the spring but there was no one here.”
The major and the lieutenant held a brief conversation, whispering into one another’s ear. Yellow Hawk tried to hear what they were saying but the ringing in his head from the blows he took earlier prevented him.
“Do you have any proof of that?” the lieutenant asked.
“Under the bed in that other hut there’s a folded sheet of paper with my orders on it. On top of the bed is my journal. It will tell you all you need to know.”
It was all over for Scott. He dropped the good side of his head into his hand and blinked back tears. The band would leave him behind for sure. Even if Cisco made it back to the encampment before they left, it would be suicide for them to attack the fort and mount a rescue. He realized he would never see Stands With A Fist again and his heart broke.
People left the room but he didn’t look up to see who. A few seconds ticked by and he heard the sergeant whisper harshly. “You turned Injin, didn’cha?”
The blond lifted his head. The sergeant was bending over him with a leer. “Didn’cha?”
Yellow Hawk didn’t answer. He let his head fall back into his hand, refusing to look up until the major and lieutenant appeared again. This time the lieutenant did the talking.
“What is your name?”
“Lancer, Scott G.”
“Are these your orders?”
He was holding up a wrinkled sheet of paper. Yellow Hawk had to squint to make it out. “Yes.”
“The name here is Langer,” the lieutenant said grimly. “The signature of the issuing officer is smeared and unreadable. What do you have to say about that?”
Yellow Hawk heard the suspicion in the lieutenant’s voice. It began to sink in that these people did not believe him.
“Those are the orders I was given at Fort Hayes. I can’t help it if the major in charge had sloppy penmanship,” he replied.
The lieutenant’s face twisted up in an expression of dissatisfaction.
“Read the journal,” Yellow Hawk insisted.
“There is no journal,” the young officer stated.
Yellow Hawk eyed him carefully, trying to determine if he was lying. But once again his aching head and the ringing in his ears prevented him from determining if the lieutenant was telling the truth.
Scott was at a loss. What could have happened to the journal?
“We want you to tell us the meaning of your appearance,” the lieutenant continued. He sounded like an interrogator now. “If you are who you say you are, why are you out of uniform?”
Yellow Hawk shifted uncomfortably against the supply house wall. Instead of answering, he asked a question of his own. “What is the army doing out here?”
The major and the lieutenant whispered to one another again. And again the lieutenant spoke up. “We are charged with recovering stolen property, including white captives taken in raids.”
“There are no white captives,” Yellow Hawk said confidently. And it was true, Stands With A Fist was not being held against her will. She was a much loved and valued member of the tribe who would rather die than go back to the white world.
“We will determine that for ourselves,” the lieutenant countered.
The officers again began whispering, and this time the conversation went on for quite a while before the lieutenant cleared his throat. “We will give you a chance to prove your loyalty to your country. If you will consent to guide us to the hostile camp and serve as interpreter, your conduct will be overlooked.”
“Your treasonous conduct.”
Yellow Hawk smiled. “You think I’m a traitor?”
“It certainly looks like it,” the lieutenant’s voice rose angrily. “Are you willing to cooperate or not?”
“There’s nothing for you to do out here. That’s all I have to say.”
“Then we have no choice but to put you under arrest. You can sit here and think over your situation. If you decide to cooperate, tell Sergeant Murphy, and he’ll come get us.”
With that, the major and the lieutenant exited the supply house, leaving Yellow Hawk alone with his thoughts.
Kicking Bird stalled for as long as he could, but by early afternoon Ten Bears’ camp had started the long march towards its winter camp, heading northwest across the plains.
Stands With A Fist insisted on waiting for her husband and became more and more frantic as the departure time drew near, clutching at Two Socks like he was a security blanket. But she wasn’t the only worried Sioux. A last minute council was held just before they pulled out, and three braves on fast ponies were sent to scout the white man’s fort for Yellow Hawk.
They were halfway there when they came across a riderless Cisco.
Major Stanley made his decision later that afternoon. He didn’t want to be bothered with the thorny problem of a savage, half-Indian white man sitting under his nose. He wanted only to get rid of him. The Indian’s presence had already unsettled the men under his command.
Shipping him back to Fort Hayes seemed like the best course of action. As a prisoner he would be worth a great deal. The capture of a turncoat would stand him in very good stead with the top brass. The army would talk about this prisoner and if they talked about the prisoner, the name of the man who had caught him was bound to come up as well.
The major blew out his lamp and pulled up his covers with a self-satisfied sigh. Everything was going to work out nicely, he thought. The campaign couldn’t have asked for a better beginning.
Kicking Bird’s scouts brought the dreadful news in around midnight.
They had counted more than sixty heavily armed soldiers at the white man’s fort. They had also confirmed that Yellow Hawk had been captured. They had seen their battered friend, hampered by shackles and escorted by two guards, be led down to the creek so he could relieve himself.
The band went into evasive action immediately. They packed up their things and marched out at night, little groups of a dozen or less, heading in different directions. They would meet up at the winter camp in a few days time.
Ten Bears knew he would never be able to hold them back so he didn’t even try. A force of twenty warriors, Kicking Bird and Wind In His Hair among them, left within the hour, promising not to engage the enemy unless they could be completely sure of success.
They came for the prisoner early the next morning.
Sergeant Murphy had two men pull Yellow Hawk to his feet and asked the major, “Should we put him in uniform, sir, spruce him up some?”
“Of course not,” the major snapped. “Now, get him in the wagon.”
Six men were detailed for the trip back to Fort Hayes: two on horseback up front, two on horseback in the rear, one to drive and one to guard the prisoner in the wagon bed.
They headed east, across the rolling prairie he loved so much. But on this bright morning in October there was no joy in Yellow Hawk’s heart. He said nothing to his captors, preferring to bump along in the back of the wagon, listening to the steady clank of his chains as he considered his options.
There was no way to overpower the escort. He might be able to kill one, maybe even two, but they would kill him after that. He gave serious thought to trying it anyway. To die fighting these men would not be so bad. It would definitely be better than going back east to face a court martial, time in the stockade or perhaps even being hung. The trial would be a sensation and would no doubt make all the papers back east. As strained as his relationship with his grandfather had become, he couldn’t imagine putting the man through that.
Every time he thought of Stands With A Fist his heart would break. Whenever her face would start to form as a picture in his head, Yellow Hawk forced himself to think of something else. He had to do this every few minutes. It was the worst kind of torture.
Yellow Hawk doubted that anyone would be coming after him. He knew they would want to, but he couldn’t imagine that Ten Bears would compromise the safety of all of his people for the sake of a single man. He, himself, would not do that.
On the other hand, he felt certain that they had sent out scouts and that they now knew of his desperate situation. If they’d hung around long enough to see him leave in the wagon, with only six men to guard him, there might still be a chance.
As the morning dragged on, Yellow Hawk clung to this idea as his only hope. Each time the wagon slowed to struggle up a hill or lurched down into a gully he would hold his breath, praying for the zing of an arrow or the crack of a rifle.
But by midday he had still heard nothing and his hopes of ever seeing Stands With A Fist again were dwindling. The pain in his heart was unbearable.
At about two o’clock, they came upon a river. Searching for a place to cross, they followed it for a quarter mile before the soldiers up front found a well traveled buffalo crossing. The water wasn’t wide or too terribly deep but the marshy grasses along the opposite bank were exceptionally thick and tall. It was a good place for an ambush. As the wagon creaked down the bank towards the water, Yellow Hawk kept his eyes and ears open.
The sergeant in charge hollered for the driver to stop before they entered the stream and they waited as the two mounted guards in the front inspected the crossing for any potential dangers. For a long minute they probed the marshy grasses before turning and shouting for the wagon to come across.
Yellow Hawk clenched his fists and subtly shifted to a squatting position. He could see nothing suspicious but somehow he knew that his rescuers were near.
He was moving at the sound of the first arrow, far faster than the guard in the wagon who was still fumbling with his rifle. Yellow Hawk had the chains on his wrists looped around the man’s neck before the soldier could even blink. It only took a second for the private’s throat to be crushed.
From the corner of his eye he saw the sergeant tumble off his horse, an arrow buried deep in the small of his back. The wagon driver had jumped over the side. He was knee deep in water, firing wildly with his pistol at anything that moved.
Yellow Hawk landed on top of him and they grappled briefly in the water before the blond could work himself free. Once again using the chain between his manacled hands to his advantage, he lashed at the driver’s head and the soldier went limp, sinking slowly into the shallow water. Yellow Hawk gave him a few more vicious whacks, stopping only when he saw the water turn red.
There was yelling downstream and the former cavalry officer looked up in time to see the last of the soldiers trying to escape. He must have been wounded because he was flopping awkwardly in his saddle.
Wind In His Hair and Standing Elk were right behind the doomed corporal. As their horses came together, Yellow Hawk heard the sound of their war clubs as they crushed the man’s skull between them.
Behind him it was quiet. Turning, he saw the men of the rear guard sprawled dead in the water. Several warriors were jabbing lances into the bodies and he was overjoyed to see that one of them was Kicking Bird who turned to greet his friend with a beaming smile.
“What a great fight,” the medicine man crowed. “I am glad to see that you are well, my friend. Stands With A Fist told me not to bother coming back if I didn’t have you with me. I am glad that I will not be disappointing my daughter.”
The rescue party wasted no time. After a frantic search they found the keys to Yellow Hawk’s chains on the body of the dead sergeant. They jumped on their ponies, one of which was Cisco much to Yellow Hawk’s relief and delight, and galloped away.
Several inches of snow fell on Ten Bears’ people, covering their tracks all the way to the winter camp. Everyone made excellent time and six days later all the tiny groups had reunited in the deep, tree sheltered canyon that would be their home until spring. They had spent the winter here for as long as most people could remember. It was the perfect spot, providing forage and water for the people and the ponies as well as protection from the blizzards that raged overhead all winter.
Once they had reassembled, the people of Ten Bears’ camp settled in to wait, unable to rest easy until the fate of Yellow Hawk and the rescue party was known.
At midmorning on the day after their arrival at the winter camp a scout thundered into the canyon with the news that the party was coming down the trail. He said that Yellow Hawk was with them.
Stands With A Fist sprinted up the trail, Two Socks at her heels, calling her husband’s name. Yellow Hawk vaulted from Cisco’s back and ran to meet her. They came together in the middle of the trail and clung to each other desperately, kissing and crying all at the same time with Two Socks bouncing around them and yipping like an excited puppy.
The rescue party let out a hearty cheer at the sight of the emotional reunion.
Yellow Hawk was back where he belonged.
The earlier snow was just a prelude for a fearsome blizzard that struck that evening. People stayed close to their lodges for the next two days. Yellow Hawk and Stands With A Fist saw almost no one.
Kicking Bird and Stands With A Fist did the best they could for Yellow Hawk’s face. They managed to take down the swelling and helped speed his recovery with healing herbs. There was nothing to be done with the broken cheekbone though and it was left to mend on its own.
Yellow Hawk wasn’t concerned with his injury at all. A more important matter was preying on his mind. It was a subject that he struggled with, talking to no one about his fears, not even Stands With A Fist. Most of the time he lay quietly in their lodge, politely turning away visitors who stopped by to check on him and tell him how glad they were to have him home again.
Stands With A Fist tried to get her husband to speak of what was bothering him but was unsuccessful. As they lay together at night, she could only hope that, eventually, Yellow Hawk would confide in her.
The blizzard was in its third day when Yellow Hawk went for a long solitary walk. When he returned he sat Stands With A Fist down and spoke with her about what had been bothering him and the decision he had reached.
The young woman turned away from him and sat for almost an hour, her head bowed in silent contemplation of the sacrifice she was being asked to make. There really was no choice. Her life was with Yellow Hawk. It was as simple as that.
Finally she asked, “There is no other way?”
“No,” Yellow Hawk replied, sorrow in his tone.
Stands With A Fist sighed mournfully, blinking back her tears. “Very well.”
Yellow Hawk held a council. He wanted to speak with Ten Bears. He also asked for Kicking Bird, Wind In His Hair, Standing Elk, Red Crow, Black Fox and anyone else that Ten Bears thought should attend.
They met the next night. The blizzard was tailing off and everyone was in good spirits. They ate and smoked their way through the evening, telling stories about the fight at the river and the rescue of Yellow Hawk.
The blond waited until the conversation started to wane before getting to the point for this meeting. “I want to tell you what is on my mind,” he said.
The men knew something important was coming and they listened attentively, leaning forward slightly so as not to miss a single word.
“I have not been among you for very long but I feel that it has been all my life. I am proud to be Sioux and I love the Sioux way. In my heart and spirit I will always be with you. So you must know that it is hard for me to say that I must leave you.”
There was absolute silence for the space of about five heart beats and then chaos. The lodge erupted with startled exclamations and shouts of disbelief. Wind In His Hair jumped to his feet and stomped back and forth, waving his hands in scorn for this foolish idea.
Yellow Hawk sat quietly through it all, hands folded in his lap and blond head bowed, letting the uproar wash over him as if he were a stone in a riverbed.
Ten Bears held up a hand and told the men to stop talking. When the lodge became silent again, Yellow Hawk continued. “Killing the soldiers at the fort was a good thing. It made me free and my heart was filled with joy to see my brothers coming to help me.”
Yellow Hawk paused to make sure his companions were paying attention. Their lives could depend on it. “But you do not know the white mind as I do. The soldiers think I am one of them gone bad. I have betrayed them. In their eyes I am a traitor because I have chosen to live among you. It may be wrong but it is what they believe.
White men will hunt a traitor long after they have given up on other men. To them a traitor is the worst thing a soldier can be. So they will hunt for me until they find me. They will not give up.
When they find me, they will find you. They will want to hang me and, because you helped me, they will want to punish you as well. You are my family and if I can protect you from that by leaving, so be it. I am willing to make that sacrifice. Stands With A Fist and I have discussed this and we will go together.”
“Where will you go?” Kicking Bird asked, thickly, distraught at the thought of losing not only his newest friend but the young woman he had raised as his daughter.
“Far to the west,” Yellow Hawk replied. “To a land called California.”
There was an uncomfortable silence until Ten Bears coughed lightly. “You have spoken well, Yellow Hawk. Your name will be alive in the hearts of our people for as long as there are Sioux. When will you go?”
Yellow Hawk bowed his head and whispered softly, “When the snow breaks.”
The snow storm wound down during the night and the morning dawned bright and clear. Normally, after a big snow, the villagers would come out of their lodges and gather in small groups to reconnect and socialize. It was always good to be out after being cooped up in their tipis for several days.
But this time was different. There was no laughter. There was no merriment. There was nothing to celebrate. Yellow Hawk and Stands With A Fist were leaving. Their friends stopped by in somber little groups to wish the couple well and to give them gifts of items that they might need on their journey. Things like extra food, buffalo hides, ammunition and tobacco.
At last the only one left was Kicking Bird. He pulled his daughter into his arms and hugged her fiercely.
“Know that you are loved and that you will be missed,” he choked out. “I thank the Great Spirit that I found you that day on the prairie.”
Stands With A Fist hugged her father back just as hard, “I thank the Great Spirit for that day as well. I am who I am because of you.”
She then stepped back, tears in her eyes, and let her father and her husband say good bye.
The two men stared at each other, thinking about all that had transpired to bring them to this place. The uncertain beginning filled with trepidation, those first awkward conversations, learning to know each other as individuals, the firm friendship that the two men had forged. Kicking Bird pulled the blond into a hug just as fierce as the one he gave his daughter.
“My friend,” the medicine man croaked, voice thick with emotion. “No matter where you go, remember that you are Sioux. Be happy and keep my daughter safe.”
“My friend,” Yellow Hawk returned Kicking Bird’s embrace with all of his strength. “By allowing me into your lives and hearts, you have given me a great gift. I will never forget that. I will love and protect your daughter as long as there is breath in my body.”
There was nothing more to be said. Stands With A Fist and Yellow Hawk got on their ponies and headed out of the village. They made their way to the mouth of the canyon and the prairie beyond, heading in a westerly direction.
They did not look back.
One year later….
Murdoch and Johnny Lancer rode at a leisurely pace through the early morning sunshine. Though they still had a great deal of ground to cover, they weren’t expected until lunch time so they felt no need to push themselves or their horses. Their destination was a remote mountainous corner of the ranch, far from the pasture land where the grazing cattle were watched over by the ranch’s many hands.
After another couple hours, the two men and their horses emerged from the birch and pine forest that covered the mountainside and crossed the bubbling stream that bordered a tiny meadow. The open expanse of grass before them was blanketed with wildflowers in a kaleidoscope of colors.
There were two horses grazing contentedly in the meadow, a buckskin and a dappled gray. The buckskin nickered in welcome while the gray continued munching. Barranca nickered back and Johnny called out, “Hola, Cisco. Hola, Cloud.”
At the other end of the meadow, tucked under the sheltering branches of a small cluster of evergreens, was a snug little cabin with a deep front porch and gingham curtains in the windows.
Riding slowly up to the house, the two men dismounted and tied their horses to the railing but before they had gone more than a few feet towards the porch steps, a gray and white blur came tearing around the side of the house and barreled into them.
Murdoch and Johnny both laughed delightedly and reached out to give their furry, four-legged greeter a friendly scratch behind his ears.
“Hello, Two Socks,” Murdoch chuckled. “You’re looking well. Have you caught any fat, juicy rabbits lately?”
The wolf danced in a circle and gave a small excited yip, tail waving madly.
“I think that’s a yes,” Johnny grinned.
Just then the door to the cabin opened and a tall blond man stepped out onto the porch. He had on dark brown trousers tucked into tan doe-skin boots that came to his knees and a white buttoned down shirt under a doe-skin vest the same color as the boots. He greeted his guests with a smile, “Hau, Ate. Hau, Misukala Ki.” *
“Hey there, Big Brother.”
The two men climbed the stairs and shook hands with Yellow Hawk.
“Aké iyúskinyan wancínyankelo,” he said, ushering them through the door. “Iyokipi, tima hiyuwo.”
At his guests’ confused looks, Yellow Hawk blushed. “Sorry, I forgot. When it’s just the two of us, we tend to speak Sioux. Please, come in.”
Murdoch gave his older son an affectionate pat on the shoulder as he passed and thought back to the night that Yellow Hawk and Stands With A Fist had materialized on his doorstep. He had been stunned and delighted. It turned out that he had never received Scott’s letter and they came to the conclusion that it had been lost somewhere en route. What with stagecoach robbers, floods, blizzards and attacks by Indians, the US Postal Service had a great deal to contend with. If the occasional letter or package didn’t make it through, well, it was to be expected.
Murdoch had extended a warm welcome to his son and daughter-in-law and offered them rooms within the hacienda, enthusiastically outlining his plans to introduce the couple to the community by holding a big party. After many long years, his first-born was home where he belonged and the rancher wanted to share his joy with the world.
Both Yellow Hawk and Stands With A Fist had balked at that. The young woman had been away from the white world for practically her whole life and the thought of returning to it sent her into a panic. Yellow Hawk also had his concerns. He was wanted by the army and if word of his whereabouts reached them, it would be disastrous not only for himself and Stands With A Fist but for Murdoch as well. Yellow Hawk couldn’t imagine that the rancher’s neighbors would be all too pleased to learn that Murdoch was harboring a deserter and a traitor who had chosen to live among savages. No, it would be best if they were allowed to live quietly, discreetly, well away from the main house, keeping as much to the Sioux way as they could but with some of the comforts that the white world had to offer - which was how they ended up in the little house they now called home.
The inside of the cabin was cozy and comfortably furnished in a mix of white and Sioux items. There were two overstuffed leather chairs in the sitting area by the fireplace and they had brightly colored Indian blankets draped over them. On the other side of the room, there was table topped with a vase of wildflowers and surrounded by four chairs. The kitchen, along the back wall, had a cast iron stove, cupboards painted bright red and a sink with a hand pump. Above the sink was a window that looked out over a small vegetable garden and a chicken coop. Through a door to the left, was the bedroom where the bed was piled high with buffalo robes instead of traditional bed linens.
The cheerful gingham curtains and embroidered table cloth had been gifts from Teresa. Stands With A Fist had a love of bright colors and Murdoch’s ward was happy to indulge her new sister-in-law’s obsession. She would bring over bolts of bright fabric from Baldomero’s whenever she saw something she thought Stands With A Fist might like.
Johnny removed his hat and looked about the cozy room expectantly. “Where’s that pretty sister-in-law of mine?”
“Here,” Stands With A Fist emerged from the bedroom. She was also wearing doe skin boots, a knee-length calico skirt – blue with tiny yellow and white flowers – and a white peasant style blouse. She also had on a choker made of pipe bone and colored beads.
Stands With A Fist knew that Yellow Hawk’s family didn’t care what she wore. They liked her for her and she liked them. But whenever they came to visit she felt the need to be a little fancier than usual.
For everyday wear she tended to stick with her Sioux dresses made of doeskin. They were comfortable, durable and practical. But she had recently developed a liking for Mexican style dresses for what she considered special occasions, like a visit from the in-laws. The clothes were looser and less restrictive than the bustles, high collars and corsets usually found in Anglo ladies’ fashions. Stands With A Fist recalled the first time that Teresa had laced her into a corset and shuddered. It had also been the last time. How white women got any work done in those breath-stealing things was a mystery to her.
“Hey, Honey,” Johnny moved in to give her a hug. “You get prettier every time I see you.”
Stands With A Fist rolled her eyes and said something to her husband in Sioux causing him to laugh.
“What?” Johnny asked. “What did she say?”
“I said that in Sioux, your name would be Cahapi Wicháceji,” Stands With A Fist replied with an impish grin.
“It, um, means Sugar Tongue,” Yellow Hawk elaborated.
The sound of laugher rang through the homey little cabin.
The rest of the afternoon was spent just enjoying each other’s company. Over the course of the leisurely noontime meal, Johnny and Murdoch caught the isolated couple up on the goings on at the ranch and in the larger world beyond.
When Yellow Hawk and Stands With A Fist first arrived at Lancer, Murdoch had contacted the Pinkertons to do some more investigating and he’d recently gotten back their final report. It turned out that the army, in an effort to avoid embarrassment, had kept the incident regarding one Lieutenant Scott Garrett Lancer quiet, simply informing his Grandfather that he was missing and presumed killed by Indians. It wouldn’t look good for the army if they had to admit that one of their decorated war heroes was now living among savages so they were sweeping the issue under the rug.
Even after all this time, Scott was still debating whether he should send some sort of cryptically worded message to let the old man know that he was still alive. The problem being, he was unsure of how to go about doing so. He couldn’t see his grandfather making the trip all the way out here to California and there was no way he could return to Boston as his grandfather would no doubt insist. The same concern about the army tracking him down applied in Boston just as it did here in California.
Besides, he was pretty certain that his grandfather’s reaction to his choice of bride and current living arrangements would be…..less than charitable. Perhaps it would be best to let the man continue thinking Scott dead since, technically, he was. Lieutenant Scott Garrett Lancer had ceased to exist out there on that vast prairie over a year ago.
Now, there was only Yellow Hawk.
* English translations of Sioux words and phrases:
Wasicu – White Person
Hau, Ate. – Hello, Father
Hau, Misukala Ki – Hello, Little Brother
Aké iyúskinyan wancínyankelo – It is good to see you.
Iyokipi, tima hiyuwo – Please, come in.
Cahapi Wicháceji – Sugar Tongue