markwildyr.com, Post #138
Photo: Courtesy of Pinterest
NEWS FLASH: JMS Books has contracted with me for the publication of Wastelakapi… Beloved. At long last, the fifth book in the Cut Hand Series will be published. Tentative issue date is January, 2021. The publisher has also shown interest in republishing the first four books in the series should I be successful in reclaiming the rights.
Ergo, it’s not surprising that my post this week comes from that manuscript. I guest-posted on Don Travis’ website (dontravis.com) excerpts from the Epilogue, Chapter1, and Chapter 2 on September 24 and October 1, so I’ve selected a scene from the beginning of Chapter 3 for this post. John (Medicine Hair) is talking to his brother-in-law Captain Gideon Haleworthy. Let’s see what happens.
* * * * *
According to Gideon, a murder trial was about to begin in Federal Court in Sioux Falls up on the Missouri River. The defendant was familiar to me. I had fought at Drexel Mission alongside a Brulé named Tasunka or Sanika-Wakan-Ota and remembered him as a pleasant-faced young man with a somewhat awkward manner. His white man’s name was Plenty Horses.
As Gideon told the story, Plenty Horses had been sent by the government to the Carlisle Boarding School in Pennsylvania for five years. He returned home just in time to witness the Wounded Knee massacre. Ironically, Carlisle was the same school I falsely claimed to have attended to explain away both my obvious education and why no one knew me at Pine Ridge. After the battle at Drexel Mission, I returned home with the body of my beloved while Plenty Horses rode for Stronghold Table in the badlands of Pine Ridge. The Brulé rose after the massacre and repaired to this natural fortress to protect themselves against an attack by the very soldiers who had murdered their kinsmen at Wounded Knee.
On the seventh of January of this year, Lt. Casey rode into the stronghold with two Cheyenne scouts. He claimed to have come to determine if the uprising could be settled peacefully. The chiefs refused to talk to him because they planned to meet with General Nelson Miles on the following day. As Lt. Casey turned his mount to leave, Plenty Horses raised a Winchester hidden in his blanket and fired into the back of the officer’s head. The young Lakota was arrested and taken to Fort Meade near Sturgis, South Dakota to be tried for murder.
Landreth’s question about whether Bird and I acknowledged the “war” was over–asked in such a strident tone–fell neatly into place when Gideon said the Brulé’s pro bono lawyers planned to defend him with the claim the parties were at war. The thinking was that the slaying of one combatant by another was not murder.
With that understanding came another answer. The sheriff’s hostility toward Bear and me, and now Winter Bird, was motivated at least in part by fear. He likely considered Indians as mindless, no-account savages who didn’t have the backbone to stand like a man alone, but who instantly became sly and treacherous when there were two or more of them. He wasn’t singular in that opinion.
This both empowered and alarmed me. I glanced at Bird. He’d paid close attention to Gideon’s telling, but was his grasp of English sufficient to follow my brother-in-law’s rapid Yankee speech? My friend’s eyes let me know he’d followed enough of it. That increased my wariness. When a man knows someone fears him, he may pursue the matter too vigorously. Besides, this raised another question. Did Landreth consider the war over?
Gideon must have missed our reaction to his revelation because he moved on to other things. Timo Bowers, the Yanube City blacksmith, was still going strong although he must be in his sixties by now. Most men would have retired to the grave well before that age, but his profession kept him in better shape than most. During my eighteenth summer, he had been the first man to bring me to ejaculation.
Caleb Brown still ran Brown’s Emporium, established by his uncle, the original Caleb. He remained a steadfast friend during all the troubles. He and Timo and Andre were the reason why it was impossible to hate all white men.
Then Gideon brought my attention back to him. “John, how are you really doing?”
I waved away his question. “I’m functioning. That’s about all I can expect. Matthew… Matthew was a great loss.”
He nodded. A blond curl fell over his forehead, making him look younger than his thirty-two years. We were of an age. “I understand, you know,” he said.
I looked him straight in his blue eyes just like a white man. “You understand what?”
“I understand what your relationship was. And I saw for myself the depth of the feeling… uh, the love you shared. I can’t imagine violence taking Rachel Ann away from me like that.”
The hair on my neck bristled, but I took a breath and relaxed. While Gideon and I did not view things through the same eyes, he was a decent man capable of more understanding than most of his kind. “How long have you known?”
“Quite some time now. You weren’t obvious about your relationship, but I have some insight into the Strobaw family that most people don’t, so I figured it out. I also know the family secret,” he said.
I raised an eyebrow.
“I know you and Rachel Ann and your siblings are half-breeds, not quarter bloods.”
“I wondered when Rachel Ann would share that with you.”
“Only recently, and she revealed the reason for the deception. To make it easier for Cuthan to inherit the Mead. But she never revealed your and Matthew’s secret.”
The European part of my brain prompted me to ask a question. “Do you think less of me now that you know I loved a man?”
He shook his head. “No one who truly knows you could ever think of you as anything but a man. A good man.”
“You realize, of course, that’s what got Otter and James murdered.” I referred to my spiritual grandfather and his mate, retired Major James Morrow.
He hesitated before nodding mutely.
“And the same thing could happen to me.”
“If it does, it won’t be because of me. I respect you too much to decry you to anyone.”
“I wasn’t sure. We’ve crossed swords before,” I reminded him.
“We look at things from different perspectives, that’s true. I don’t know about you, but I’ve learned from that.”
“You gave me my name and my reputation, you know.”
He pursed his lips. “I did?”
“Back in ’83, I repeated what you told me about those unusual sunsets and blue moons and lavender suns caused by the eruption of Krakatoa over on the other side of the world. The tribesmen I was talking to instantly named me Medicine Hair and declared me a shaman.” I laughed with a trace of irony. “I told them I learned those things from the army’s telegraph, but they decided I had medicine, anyway.”
“Be damned. Didn’t know. Hope you don’t blame me for…?”
I held up a hand. “It wasn’t you who sent Matthew and me to Pine Ridge. It was that shóta, that snake, Raven. He’s the one who ambushed an army patrol in my front yard. By the way, I know you came with the rest of the family to rebuild this place. I appreciate that.”
Gideon shrugged. “Wasn’t anything.”
I laughed. A genuine one this time. “I imagine not. You merely had to find time during the middle of an Indian war to come help your Indian in-laws rebuild a farm your own command had burned to the ground.”
He was silent for a long moment. “I was there, you know.”
My jaw dropped. Something moved in my belly. Had I fired on Rachel Ann’s husband like those families ripped apart in the American’s Civil War?
“Not at the… uh, battle,” he said. “But they called in reinforcements when some of the tribes rose afterward.”
“There was no battle, Gideon.” My voice turned bitter. Chill bumps rippled my back. “It was a massacre pure and simple. A rifle went off. No one will ever know whose, and the soldiers on the hill opened on us with everything they had. They even shot some of their own troops who’d come down to disarm us.” I paused, but he made no response. “Were you at Drexel Mission, too?”
He shook his head. “We remained at Wounded Knee Creek. I looked for you, John. None of the bodies had been buried by the time we arrived, and I walked the whole area afraid that with the next step, I’d find you or Matthew. I didn’t learn about Matthew until later.”
Rachel Ann interrupted that awkward moment and put both of us to work shifting the furniture in the little house so everything was the way she wanted. Bird had disappeared into the blacksmith shop at some point during my talk with Gideon. I was teaching my Lakota friend the foundry trade and discovered him an apt pupil. He took pride in learning to become a mazkape, as the Lakota called a blacksmith. He did not emerge from the building again until after Gideon had taken his leave for the fort. Doubtless, the sight of that blue uniform bothered him beyond tolerating.
* * * * *
Website and blog: markwildyr.com