Cougar straightened from limbing the final tree fer the day, set down his axe, and headed fer the canvas water bag hanging from a majestic blue spruce we’d never cut down in a million years. Early in the year as it was, we were all sweating something fierce. Not from the heat but from the extreme exertion involved in any logging operation.
Tam and I’d worked the falling saw earlier in the day, then switched to turning downed trees into logs. Jack’s job, with the help of whichever young Ute wasn’t pulling Box Boy duty that day, was in charge of getting the bark off.
I was secretly glad he got stuck with the peeling, that being my least favorite part of the process. He didn’t seem to mind, though, and he was fast at it. Using a flat shovel, the man could skin a log in less time than it takes to get in trouble with your wife when she smells another woman on you. The Indian boy would follow behind with the draw knife, getting the little bits and pieces the shovel missed.
Jack was also our top expert at log moving, whether turning ’em with the Peavey to git at the other side or hooking up the choker so Blaze could tow ’em down to the drying stack. The big mare packed a lot of pulling power under her bay hide; only seldom did we see her sweat.
“Enough, you think?” Tam asked, eyeing the log pile.
“Should do it.” We’d be tackling the Prosser home next, git them outa that patched-up tipi as soon as haying season was over. The logs would be dry enough fer building by then. Then house #3 at the main ranch yard, a domicile fer me and Marie and little Sadie. Git us outa Tam and Laughing Brook’s place.
There was a strange horse at the hitch rail. I put my field glasses back in the case and caught up to the wagon. Jack was driving, with Coug and Tam riding on either side as we came down the final slope below the spring.
“No critter I know,” I told ’em. “Good looking buckskin, rifle in the saddle scabbard. Saddlebags are stuffed, and the roll behind the cantle looks like he’s been traveling. Couldn’t make out a brand.”
“Well, we’ll know soon enough.” We all slipped the hammer thongs off our shooters, jist in case.
When the fellow stepped out of the main house, it was purty clear he was an honored guest, not trouble with a capital T. My wife come out right behind him, packing her .44 Russian on her hip like always but not looking like she figured to have to use it.
“You made it!” I hollered out to Sergeant James Q. Bodeen, now retired from the Army.
“You can put up your horse in that back corner stall,” I indicated the one on the right, “There’s oats in the barrel and hay in the loft. We’ll introducer her proper to the others in the morning, make sure they’re okay together.”
“Thanks. Jist need to git her curried down first. Easy, Moon; I’m jist combing out the burrs. Dawson, you realize this flighty thing got so spooked by a rattler that she run right through a whole patch of cockleburrs before I could think to say boo?”
“She does seem a mite hot blooded. Thoroughbred?”
“Half. The rancher raises remounts fer the Cavalry. Army buyer wouldn’t have this one, said that new moon crescent of white on her forehead made her stand out too much.”
“Huh. Army’s still stupid as ever when it comes to buying decisions, I see.”
“That it is. Tell me, is what little Reggie told me even half true?”
“Depends.” Of them all, Reggie Tamson–now four years of age–had the biggest mouth. “What’d he tell you?”
“That his Daddy would give me eighty acres jist fer working here. That can’t be true, can it?”
“Close enough fer Reggie work. Tell you the details over supper.”
“The short wages fer the first year ain’t a problem,” Jim told us between the steak and the apple pie. “It’s not like I got a lot of day to day expenses. Hard to believe, but I never did take up tobacco or drink, even in the Army. Not even,” his eyes twinkled, “after busting Custer in the chops got me busted back down from Captain to Private. I’m in.”
“Good to hear it.” My sentiment was echoed all around the table, even by the kids. “We figure to start branding tomorrow. Not them community affairs you might have heard about, neither. There’s enough of us right here, ‘specially with you thrown into the mix.”
Frankly, we handled our branding without outside help fer a number of reasons. Tam had even made up one of his notorious lists.
Reasons for Staying Clear of Other Ranchers When Possible
1. Don’t need the help. Five men (if Bodeen comes) plus women and kids enough.
2. Don’t trust outsiders handling our stock. We got our own ways.
3. Don’t need to be obligated to take time away from Flywheel. Being sociable is plumb overrated.
4. Too many folks out there think the only good Indian is a dead Indian. We got a fullblood Cheyenne woman, her eighth-Comanche husband, a breed son with a rep as a shootist, and three fullblood Ute boys on the premises.
5. Too many secrets. Example: Buffalo in the Box.
When I showed Jim the list, I had to explain the #2 item. “We are ranchers, meaning we do raise beef fer meat. But we go a little easier on the critters than most, don’t see no need to rough ’em up jist fer kicks and giggles or out of brain-dead stupidity. If a cow gits in trouble calving, we give her all the help we can. Not many others out there see things as we do.
“Guess one way to say it is, I don’t wanna end up shooting some idjit between the eyes fer abusing his own horse or insulting Tam’s wife or something equally ignorant, so we jist keep all the idjits away from the Flywheel and vice versa.”
“Works fer me,” Bodeen nodded. “You have no idea how many soldiers I beat half to death over the years fer jist such infractions. Which was a good thing about being a noncom instead of an officer, except that half the idjits I really wanted to clobber were officers.”
Most of us chuckled at that. This burly ex-soldier had helped save Marie by convincing the world she’d died from an Army bullet back when she was still outlaw Trisha Cobb. There were many layers to the man–but he jist looked like he could do some clobbering.
It fell to me to walk him to the bunkhouse. His new roommate, who fer tonight happened to be Leaf, the smallest Ute, didn’t seem too worried about suddenly having to share the place with a “new” white man. Give him a chance to practice his English, maybe, which was already remarkable. A sight better’n my Ute, anyway.
“Tell me,” I said, pouring shots of whiskey fer me and Bodeen from my hip flask. Didn’t dare leave a bottle, not with the Utes in residence. Iffen we let them boys git a taste of the white man’s firewater, old Squirrel Talker would have our scalps, and he’d be right to take ’em at that. “We been reading about Custer saying he wants to be President. You think that could actually happen?”
“Hell, Trask, how would I know? You of all people know the soldier in the field is the last to be told anything that matters. I can tell you one thing, though.”
“He ain’t getting any saner. You seen him since the day you spit on his horse?”
“I didn’t exactly spit on his horse. Spit at him, missed, the gob landed on a rock and jist splashed a little baccy juice on his horse’s white sock.”
“Close enough fer guvmint work. Well, I did happen to cross his trail jist a few weeks back. Didn’t see him personally, but we got us a new sergeant in at the Fort. My replacement, since I give notice I was going to be mustering out.
“Sergeant Paul Namon had been with Custer when he got his orders to head on down our way. Said there’s never been an instruction he’s ever received with more gladness. Colonel Custer is…out of it, I guess you could say. He ain’t the worst of ’em, never was, but I do believe he’s become the most foolishly arrogant senior Cavalry officer in the entire Indian Wars. Namon says the man is absolutely convinced he can whip any bunch of Indians in the country with nothng but the Seventh Cavalry to do it.”
I thought about that, watching the Indian boy stoke up the fire. The evenings were still more than chilly enough to make a bit of heat welcome.
“What do you think about all this, Leaf? You think the Son of the Morning Star can beat up on every red man out there with six or seven hundred cavalry troopers?”
“Honest Injun?” he asked, grinning at me mischievously.
“Snowball in Hell.”
Bodeen and I both laughed aloud. I told him, “You’re pickiing up a whole bunch of our white man sayings, warrior! Honest Injun!”
“Well,” James Q. summed it up, “bottom line, I see it like this. Custer’s rep was made in the War Between the States and after that by slaughtering Indian villages full of women and kids and damn few warriors. But the man seems to be believing his own press, and iffen he gits a chance to take on a whole sea of red men with the Seventh, he’ll take it.”
“Sounds about right.” I got up to go; Sadie would be wanting me to tuck her in fer the night. “And iffen he does that against people like the Lakota and their allies, he’ll either magically whup ’em and ride the wave of that victory all the way to the White House…or he’ll end up dead in the field.”
I paused at the door long enough to finish. “Don’t reckon I’m foolish enough to voice my opinion many white-man places outside this ranch, but I surely don’t want to see that rat bastard President. Gotta root fer the Lakota on this one.”
By the third of June, preparations to start haying were in full swing. The new Buckeye mower had arrived, the dump rake had been checked thoroughly to make sure it hadn’t suffered through the winter, and the herds were all back on their high country summer pasture. We were good to go.
Farther north–in Montana, fer instance–the first cutting wouldn’t begin until somewhere around the Fourth of July. Here in southeastern Colorado, we’d be starting a full month earlier. If we didn’t get three good cuttings this year, I’d be surprised.
Cougar finished counting the replacement sickle blades, reporting. “Two hundred ten, as claimed. Three boxes of rivets. Two ball peen hammers and the two iron mini-blocks we had the blacksmith work up. Two spare cutting bars.”
“Good,” Dawson nodded. “Nobody’s telling us the best thing to use under the cutting bar when you’re knocking out a busted blade and riveting a new one in place, but those ought to do.” One hammer-and-block set would go out with the man doing the mowing every morning. The other would stay in the shop. “Hey, ain’t that Doc Chouteau’s buckboard?”
“It is,” I agreed, “and that’s the dinner bell. One thing about Doc. When he comes to call, he knows how to git here at high noon.”
I passed the potatoes to Doc, asking, “And how’s the lovely Julie doing?”
“Crazy Rifle, you and my expert assistant will never see eye to eye, but she’s doing quite well, thank you. Just got in a new batch of dime novels, her only real weakness.”
“Wha–really? That cold-eyed lady favors them shoot-em-ups?”
“Not really. I’m pulling your leg. Perhaps you’ll put her in one of your tall tales. She could be featured as the spinster assistant to the brilliant physician, unable to break her unspeakable addiction to tenth rate literature.”
“Ah. Honey, this mulligan is awesome.”
“Thank you, husband, but I have the sense our medical friend didn’t simply come here for good food and small talk.” Laughing Brook dimpled at the doctor. Come to think of it, she dimpled every time he showed up.
“You’re quite right, my astounding Cheyene princess. Tam, take a look at this.” He reached down beside his chair, pulled the morning newspaper from his bag, and passed it across the table..
The headline was splashed clean across the entire front page.
QUANAH PARKER SURRENDERS!
On June 2, 1875, Quanah Parker, last wild War Chief of the Comanche, led his band to Fort Sill in the Indian Territory, where he formally tendered his surrender to Colonel Ranald MacKenzie of the 4th Cavalry Regiment, United States Army.
The Comanche Wars are over.
Reaction from settlers throughout….
“Excuse me, people. I’ll…be back.” I passed the paper to Dawson, got up from the table, and left the house without another word.
Smokey hadn’t been ridden fer some days, what with all the haymaking preparations going on. He was more than ready to stretch his legs, and I let him do it. Across the big calving meadows at a dead run, only slowing, puffing and blowing, as we reached the steep slopes leading toward Dry Gulch Pass.
The Hidden Lakes once again felt as though I must be the first human ever to see ’em except fer the two funny-face bulls and eighty-four cow-calf pairs hanging out along the west side of Eyeball. I dismounted and started walking, fer no particular reason except that it somehow had to be done this way, leading the grulla along behind me. I’d know it when I saw it.
It turned out to be a flat-topped boulder near the southeast corner of Butterfly Lake, seventh in the chain of nine. A tall pine snag stood at the back edge. I picketed Smokey, took off his bridle, and left him to graze the spring-green grass while I talked with my back against the rough bark.
“Quanah Parker,” I said aloud, “as Dangerous Man, I failed the Comanche a century ago, unable to drive out the enemies of our people, falling before their muskets in a useless gesture of defiance.” Energy began to flow into me, or up from within me. I could not tell which.
Straightening, beginning to pace slowly about the rim of the huge boulder, I kept speaking. “Now you too have failed the Comanche, except that you have shown wisdom beyond what I could access back in the day of Chief Green Horn, as the Spanish called him. I was the first Comanche war chief ever to lose against the white man. You were the last Comanche war chief ever to carry the fight to the white man. We are different, you and I, yet we are one and the same.
“I love you, my Brother!
“And yet, and yet…and yet that means nothing. The only thing that has meaning is what we can do for the good of all from this day forward. The past is the past, be it my past life a hunnert years back or your decision to give up the war yesterday. What is done is done.
“I know you. I know that as you have fought, so you must have surrendered not for yourself–we are ever ready to die, you and I–but fer the others. I know of this MacKenzie. Had you not yielded as you did, MacKenzie would have slaughtered every member of your band, right down to the unborn children in the wombs of your wives.
“Our old way of life is gone. It is ever thus. Change comes. Those who can adapt, live. Those who cannot or will not, die. I had to die and live again to learn this. You learned it already.
“See the eagle!”
I had glanced upward, only to stare intently at the great golden bird winging high above, not spiraling on the air currents as such are wont to do, but flapping swiftly and surely above the high mountain valley until it disappeared over the ridge to the southeast.
Toward Fort Sill.
Carrying my words to my Brother, the great Comanche Chief, Quanah Parker.
There was more. I could not tell you all I said that afternoon, the promises I made to myself, to the Comanche who was my mirror image, and to each and every member of my tribe, the Medicine Bull clan of Flywheel Ranch. Five strong men, four women of no lesser strength, five and a half children–
Yes, five and a half. Penny was pregnant again.
No, I could not tell you all that. It would be boring and redundant. Besides, much of it was lost to my conscious memory the moment the words left my lips.
By the time I stepped back up on Smokey fer the ride home, the sun was setting. It would be full dark, or near it, by the time we got through the pass. What I’d done I’d had to do, but it was time to git my wits back about me. When we passed the tree holding the bullet that had nearly taken the lives of Marie and baby Sadie, I was on top of my game once again, alert to my horse’s ears and eyes, aware of my weapons and anything out there that might make ’em necessary.
Jist at that moment, I heard two words spoken inside my head.
You’re welcome, I replied, and thank you.
Quanah Parker, checking in.
When we finally left the treeline, easing down the last open slope, headed fer the ranch yard where one pit fire had been lit as a welcome home beacon, I got around to asking my horse,
“Well, Smoke, whaddya think of all that?” Meaning, of course, my entire lakeside rant.
“What is there to say, boss?”
“You got a point, big fellow,” I told him. “You got a point. Let’s go assure some folks we’re still alive.”