by Robert L. Sellers Jr
part 1 of 3
Summer 1874: Rock Valley, Wyoming
Running-Deer casually made her way through the woods, looking closely at the bark of the trees as she passed and the leaves of plants covering the ground around her feet. With the blessing of the spirits, roots of the plants she sought would be more plentiful here in the heat of the lowlands.
She had climbed the ridges with the healer Crazy-Bear days earlier in search of supplies that would replenish those used during the spring. The high temperatures that the spirits sent also meant the ridges would feel cooler in the thinner air. Now on their way down, the thick heat of the valley was proving to have been a better choice for their search than the high ground above them.
Shunned by most of the tribe since her first season with them; the exotic result of a French-Canadian trapper and Ute Indian mother had proven skilled at learning from the wily old Sioux healer who had patiently taught her. He had taken her in when no one else cared for her. If not for his patience with the young orphan, she would have certainly been lost to the wild.
Now, as the young warriors reached manhood and discovered what they had dismissed in cruel ignorance, she just as easily avoided their advances; managing to remain without child or mate as others of her age brought new life to the village. The frustration of those who thought her not enough Indian to be part of their tribe yet woman enough for their bed brought her much amusement.
Willowy and lithe from years of climbing high rocks and running steep slopes, her skin appeared just darker than those of her adopted tribe, while the color of her waist-length hair matched that of the black bear who often kept her company while she collected roots and flowers.
Intent as she was while studying the trees and plant life, she almost stumbled over the body of a man as it lay hidden in the tall grass at the edge of a clearing. Looking up as she moved around the body, she was just as startled to discover a saddled horse nearby that was looking at her from the clearing. Its powerful jaws worked the grass as it studied her and showed little concern for the stranger’s sudden arrival.
Stooping down for closer look at the body, she gasped and fell back onto the ground when she realized it was that of a white man. No doubt a soldier like the ones who had run her people off their land and forced them into areas that had little to support them.
Angrily kicking at the dirt as she got back to her feet, she turned from the dead man to continue her quest.
The forest would claim what it could from what the spirits had left behind.
It was a soft plaintive groan wracked with pure agony that caused her to stop and clench her fists in frustration, arms rigid at her sides.
The spirits had yet to come for him as he lay clinging to this life rather than moving on to the next.
Raising eyes filled with anger to the sky, she glared at the cruel spirits that were testing her with this man.
The depth of pain the groan had carried with it caused her to struggle with showing him more mercy than her people had received from his.
Venting resigned frustration with a low growl at the woods around her, she carefully turned back to look at the man who quite possibly had been amongst those who had burned and destroyed their camps.
Crazy-Bear’s teachings would not allow her to let this man die if the spirits had put him in her path for a reason that only they might understand.
The man lay sprawled on his stomach, shirtless with long white hair that streamed over muscled shoulders. Blood mixed with dirt, branches and leaves lay thick over his upper body. She found more blood and bruising as her eyes moved down his back to discover torn pants that clearly differed from those of the white man’s soldiers.
This man’s pants were brown and had no stripe as the soldiers had on theirs. She could even see a dark stain of blood soaked into the fabric of one leg.
Her eyes narrowed as they moved to the nearby horse that was slowly chewing grass and remained unperturbed with her presence near its fallen owner. It also did not look like the breed the soldiers used. It was like the wild horses she often rode when the spirits allowed her.
Another plaintive groan from the man caused her to kneel in concern and gently roll him over onto his back.
The raw open wounds of his chest brought her hand to her mouth in horror, gasping at what she saw. The ground could do ugly things to a body, if the spirits allowed it.
Perhaps he was just one of the many settlers who crossed the mountains to join the other white men that passed before him.
Now she knew her choice was clear. Find Crazy-Bear and let him decide the fate of this white man. She could not just leave him here to die. The spirits had plainly shown their desire to see him live.
She rose and quickly made her way back through the forest showing that her name said much about her speed and agility.
* * *
The old Indian healer mumbled prayers as he crouched over the wounded white man, gently crushing the roots of life above his wounds. Crazy-Bear was proud of his almost daughter knowing that the spirits were guiding her as they had guided him in his youth.
Skin wrinkled and hair gone gray, the strength of his youth had become wisdom that he was able to share with her. His almost daughter had become his strength now.
Although women were not taught the combat skills of men, he chose to defy the tribe and teach his almost daughter how to defend herself. She had quickly shown that her ability to learn his medicines was equal to her intensity when training and challenging him in their lessons.
She sat near the fire, gently mixing the mud that would seal this man’s injuries. From what he could see, the horse must have been running from something terrible to drag him such a great distance.
From the lines etched upon the man’s face, and the dark tan of his skin, he was someone who worked outdoors and carried much experience from his life.
They removed what remained of his pants only to discover the wound to his leg, which may have been what caused the horse to throw him in the first place. When she had shown him the bullet found in the buckle of the saddle, Crazy-Bear realized someone had shot at this man and missed. Perhaps it revealed yet another sign that the spirits wanted him to remain alive.
Just the night before, the spirits had come to him in a vision, bringing sign of a quest for his almost daughter.
Chanting as he had thrown spirit dust over the fire, he had seen her leading this man to a city of white people and watching over him as he rested and healed. They showed him visions of them together for several seasons. He was saddened not to see children to be for her.
He told her of the visions as he took the mud and began to apply it. The language they shared was a broken mix of her father’s French and the healer’s Sioux languages, allowing some privacy between them when others of the tribe were nearby.
“Father, this can not be. I will not help the white man who has hurt our people.” She sighed, knowing argument would be useless against the wishes of the spirits. She simply could not understand why they had chosen her for this punishment.
“Daughter that I have loved as my own, speak not of what the spirits have given you but of how you can give them what they desire.”
Watching the flames hungrily taste the wood, she thought of the white man they found and wondered how the spirits might use him to change her path in life. It saddened her greatly that they had been displeased with her for avoiding her turn at bringing life to their village or for having ignored a warrior they had chosen as her mate, thus making them angry.
The white man had finally stopped groaning as Crazy-Bear applied the medicine, showing that the power of the spirits were healing him and that he would live.
“Tonight,” the healer said softly as he rubbed the palms of his hands over the wounds, “we care for him and tomorrow we make a bed that you will pull with his horse.”
“The spirits mean for us to part?” She asked sadly, watching the only man who had ever shown care for her after her parents had died.
“The spirits teach us that we travel this road in life to meet again when they call for us. Fear not, for I will meet you again and share stories of our travels.”
As she rubbed the dirt between her hands, she thought again about what the spirits had chosen for her and why they had put this white man in her path.
* * *
The sun removed shadows from the valley below them as she said her farewell to the healer and climbed onto the soft leather of the white man’s saddle.
She was not enjoying learning to ride a horse using a saddle. Why the white people made things difficult was beyond her. Ever so slowly, she managed to master the leggings and straps as they moved lower into the valley.
Crazy-Bear told her of the white man’s medicine maker that lived at the trading post, giving her words to say to him that would bring white man’s medicine.
She did not enjoy going where she had never been welcomed. Several times, she had gone with Crazy-Bear only to find that the white man thought they were better than those who had lived on this land long before they had ever found it.
As she neared the settlement, she saw the chimney of the store through the trees and prepared herself for whatever the spirits had yet to show her.
* * *
Billy Bates and Sam Addison could hardly believe their eyes as they watched the barelegged Indian squaw in her tight buckskin riding slowly down the street.
The thick beads she wore around her neck only showed promise of what lay beneath them. Her long straight Indian hair fell back behind her and lay over the saddle.
Spotting the man on the litter, they smiled, realizing he would probably not care what happened to her while he lay sick or hurt. He might even thank them for taking care of her for him.
“Come on, let’s see where she takes him and then find ourselves a little fun with her.” Billy whispered with a smile as the two young men followed her progress.
Billy, the self-proclaimed leader of the two, was taller by several inches and thinner than his friend and constant companion. Both had brown hair that ran wild to their shoulders. Together, they had enjoyed finding mischief and causing mayhem to pass the time while away from work during the summer.
The squaw’s bare arms and long legs looked strong and powerful, like Indians the passing cowboys often told them about. Maybe she was dumb enough to do just as they told her and not kick up a fuss. She was just a simple Indian after all. Neither had ever had a dark woman before and looked forward to trying one.
They watched as she guided her horse up to the trading post and climbed off, giving them more to look at as she walked around to check on the man. Watching her squat down, they realized it was truly their lucky day.
* * *
Finding the man still asleep beneath the blanket, Running-Deer stood and walked toward the store only to find a big white woman with brown hair piled high atop her head, frowning at her as she approached. The woman wore a stained apron over her skirts and carried a long broom that she held in both hands.
“What’d you do to that man, Indian?” the woman asked curtly, drawing a complete blank from Running-Deer who had no idea what she had just said.
“Doctor, please?” Running-Deer started. “This man hurt and need medicine. I help with man get medicine. Please?” She struggled with the words Crazy-Bear had patiently taught her. She had never tried to learn the white man’s tongue and now regretted it. The spirits were clearly trying to teach her a lesson.
“You do that to him, Indian?” The woman replied; eyes narrowed as she glanced behind the tall squaw. Her thoughts went to the shotgun her husband kept handy and wondered if she might need it.
Running-Deer watched the white woman’s expression and saw the doubt and suspicion that clouded it. Carefully she shook her head and tried again realizing her mistake with the wrong words earlier. “Doctor, yes? Man needs doctor now, and medicine. Please?” There, she’d said it the way Crazy-Bear had meant her to say it the first time.
Silently she cursed the difficulty that the white man’s tongue brought with it.
The woman eyed the squaw carefully. “You stay out here while I go fetch him. Don’t you go stealing nothing while I’m gone, ya hear me, Indian?” The woman latched the door behind her as she hollered for her husband. “Hank! A damn Indian squaw wants Doc for the man she done hurt! Bring up the shotgun will ya? We might need to run her off when he gets here. Damn Indians!”
Running-Deer realized the woman had not wanted her to follow, so she returned to the man she had carried behind the horse.
His skin was not as pale as it had been the day before, perhaps showing the power of the spirits as they had used Crazy-Bear’s hands and medicine to heal him.
Her palm against his forehead told her his head had cooled as well.
* * *
Matthew Labbo frowned when Hank the storekeeper came to get him, claiming some Indian squaw had brought in a wounded man that needed his attention.
With a hand resting on his hip, he reached back with the other to massage his neck as he got up and stretched, rolling his head around on his neck, releasing soft creaking.
Pulling up his suspenders, the press of the abusive heat reminded him that his straight razor would need sharpening... again. Running the palms of his hands over what remained of his already short blond hair; he began to suspect that if this heat kept up much longer, he’d probably have to shave himself bald to be anywhere near comfortable.
Growing up in the south Texas heat had taught him that trick. Well that, or the dark beauties of Mexico might have, he mused with a smile.
He found himself once again questioning his choice to practice medicine way out here on the frontier, where the added burden of carrying a badge often mixed with dispensing care.
They’d explained it to him quite clearly when he’d first arrived that both jobs were his to do as he pleased. He soon discovered that one couldn’t be done without the other this far out from regular civilization.
Twenty-eight years old and still getting used to the new life he had become part of, he grabbed his medical kit and made his way out front. Putting on his wire rimmed spectacles; he stepped out into the heat.
Normally not one to wear a gun belt while tending to patients, he’d learned to wear one initially. That was at least until he found out what had happened and what might be waiting for him.
Copyright © 2005 by Robert L. Sellers Jr